A general air of confused joy wafts around “Batman: the Movie.” Part of this is by design, but another level exists when the movie is put into context with the series. I’m not talking about continuity here, at least not in terms of story. More in casting. The underlying “missed opportunity” of the 1966 movie is the casting of Lee Meriwether instead of Julie Newmar as the* Catwoman. I have some thoughts on this, and a weird pseudo conspiracy that may explain some of it.
First off, I want to say that I don’t think Meriwether is bad in the role. She’s quite good. She’s just not Julie Newmar, who has this certain kind of bratty playfulness to everything she does. So no shade on the woman who did the part. It’s different, but why shouldn’t it be — it’s two different people! Second, I can almost imagine Newmar in the role and it not working so great. The other villains are all scene stealers, each grabbing the camera and the scenery and pushing themselves through it. They demand so much attention that it’s difficult to see another scene stealer — arguably THE scene stealer — making things better. Sometimes you need a Ringo.
The excuse for Newmar not appearing in the movie was that she was filming another movie at the time… but that film (“Mackenna’s Gold”) happened to also star Burgess Meredith, who actually DID manage to appear in “Batman: the Movie.”
Something was afoot.
And this is what led me to my theory and possible conspiracy. As I’ve been re-examining the old series, I came across a number of villainous team-ups. Joker and Penguin team up for a three-parter, Joker and Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman in a season 3 two-parter. Egg Head and Zelda the Great for some reason team up not once but twice in the series. And Julie Newmar herself did some team-ups, too.
But NOT with the Riddler, Penguin or Joker.
Julie Newmar appeared in 13 episodes in the series, three of which involved team-ups — one with the Sandman, the other a cameo with Ma Parker. The rest were largely Catwoman solo stories. As I’ve been going through these episodes, I was noticing that Newmar didn’t seem to be adverse to team-ups, and the show was certainly in favor of them… and my idle brain started to wonder.
What if Julie Newmar just didn’t want to team-up with Gorshin, Romero and/or Meredith?
It seems possible. Maybe she knew she’d have her work cut out for her keeping up with those three. Maybe she thought one or all of them were creeps? Maybe she really just thought she worked best as a solo act (really, Michael Rennie’s Sandman is not the greatest screen presence).
Maybe Newmar was most comfortable on her own.
As precedent, I site the second-season episode “That Darn Catwoman,” where Lesley Gore plays her henchperson Pussycat. Gore was a pop singer at the time, and there’s a moment where the show just stops and she sings. It’s set in Catwoman’s lair, yet prior to the song, Newmar excuses herself from the scene.
What for? It was her place!
I’d say the answer lies more in how Newmar wanted to portray herself. There was probably no good way for her to look cool while a present pop star held the spotlight.
I think the same could be applied to Newmar’s declining the film role.
In a way, it worked out for her. Popular polling would no doubt list her as THE Catwoman of the series. She somehow maintained her mystique and legend through her simple absence.
*Even the show’s use of “the” is kinda funny. First off, the series had three Catwomen, thereby undercutting the use of the singular article. Second, it’s odd to me how so many of their key villains use “The” in their name when no such title is given to Batman himself. It’s just a wild show, everybody.