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Biggest Warhol-Batman Shocker!

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Thanks to all who responded to the Batman-Warhol-Postmodernism post. Above, Warhol and superstar Nico from a 1967 Esquire magazine photo shoot. Nico is Batman, and Andy is Robin.

Now take a deep breath. Would you believe that Andy Warhol was once portrayed on American TV by portly Hollywood character actor Walter Slezak? Well kind of… It’s been brought to my attention that there’s an earlier Batman episode that references Warhol more directly than the two I wrote about. In “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” (aired Oct. 12, 1966) Batman and Robin follow a crime trail to a Gotham City art gallery installing its first exhibition of pop art. That in itself is notable: How often does a mass-audience TV show mention a then-contemporary art movement?

One of the fictional gallery’s artists, Progress Pigment, is the villainous Clock King (Slezak) in disguise. Slezak’s artist get-up may not register until you realize that the sunglasses, trench coat, and tie are lifted directly from the group of blue-background self-portaits Warhol did c. 1964. They’re not the most familiar Warhol self-portraits now, but they may have been then. This being network TV, the costume folks added a beret.

“I am Progress Pigment,” Slezak declaims, “the king of pop art and apostle of its culture.” The savvier Nielsen families would have known that the media had crowned Warhol the “Pope of Pop Art.” Slezak/Pigment denounces the gallery’s pop art offerings as “Inferior!” A target of his ire is a painting of Batman. There is a well-known pop art painting of Batman… by Andy Warhol.

“The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” was written by Bill Finger, co-creator of the comics’ Batman character with Bob Kane. (Kane conceived a feathered Birdman; Finger countered with a bat motif.) The TV episode’s anti-popism populism is similar to that of the Joker-as-artist tale. Contemporary artists are impostors, and pop art is a scam. Here too, the poseur-crook-kook is out to steal the really valuable art: the older stuff. Slezak lusts over a blue-chip modern piece, a school-of-Salvador Dalí Landscape With Big Telephone.

“The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” (in three linked segments) is a PNFO click away. Try to figure out how a Ibram Lassaw sculpture got into a pop show! Watch Batman go all L.H.O.O.Q. on a picture of Walter Slezak!!!

ADDENDUM

In case you’re wondering how much Batman’s “Baby Jane” Towser resembled the real “Baby Jane” Holzer, one web essay, “The Case of the Campy Caped Crusader,” offers this impressive face-off. Despite the high ambient cheesiness of production values, the Batman folks did try to get Holzer and Warhol right, for a national audience that mostly wouldn’t care.

Q. Guess who played Batman in Warhol’s 1964 film Batman Dracula?

A. Performance artist/filmmaker Jack Smith, of Flaming Creatures fame.

Batman Dracula isn’t well known because Warhol never licensed the DC Comics character. That allegedly made it impossible to release, and dicey even to show in a gallery or museum. Segments of Batman Dracula are on YouTube. It seems relatively innocuous by post-Lessig copyright standards. You would’t know it was about Batman if “Batman” hadn’t been in the title. Dig the Velvet Underground music and (in the second linked segment) “Baby Jane” Holzer as the second-trippiest Catwoman ever. Sorry, Eartha Kitt has #1 on lock.

Some web sources claim that Warhol’s underground film inspired the camp/ironic/postmodern slant of the Batman TV series. The comic book, and earlier Hollywood interpretations, were strictly Boy Scout. My first reaction was, no way. Since when does Hollywood pay attention to a film no one’s seen?

More to the point: A cheapjack 1943 Batman serial had become a so-bad-its-good goof on college campuses. “Batman and Robin have recently been rehabilitated into high-camp folk heroes,” Time magazine declared in Nov. 1965. The ABC TV show premiered in January 1966. Batman was already a punch line, for reasons that had nothing to do with Warhol.

Nonetheless the TV show’s producers welcomed links to the pop art movement. The Batman people invited Warhol to an A-list screening party for the TV series. It’s no surprise that Warhol went to a party; more notable is that Roy Lichtenstein did a TV Guide cover featuring Batman (March 26, 1966). The publisher must have insisted on a photo of actor Adam West—no Ben-Day dots, please.

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Comments

  1. Whats a Nico? That anorexic hermaphrodite?
    I think the audience got it quite well, its not like its very demanding or important. Entertainment for the effete isnt really any different than for the masses, no matter how much they try to make it so. Still the lowest common denominator.

  2. OMG!!! What decadent self-indulgence by soft spoiled children! With no technical ability, which results from hard work driven by passions, at all. Self voyeurism is all.
    And VU, WTF!!! True creative art results from changes in how We view Ourselves and in society. This is withdrawn arrogance, the true art being created by John Coltrane and Miles Davis at this same time. This takes away from all that is important to mankind, art follows it and builds upon our past to understand Ourselves now, and create tomorrow in truth.

    Truly art collegia delenda est
    Fine art playpens must be destroyed.

    This is but vanity, arrogance and willfull ignorance, let them eat cake!

  3. by John Lenting

    My own art has fermented for over forty years with very little attention and modest success, all this while artists like “Warhol,Koons etc. steal the attention with pieces that existed right in front of our out of focus eyeballs. It just took these jokers to bring it to the forefront by being able to materialize media exposure and the ability to live/survive/mingle in the pinnacle of the art world being of course “New York City”. The average hard working american is not receptive to art that makes you think and is only attracted to work they can relate to (balloon dogs, Brillo Boxes, Silk Screened images of popular figures etc.etc.). The current trend hasn’t changed much, just take a look at the mindless, idiotic programs on commercial television the trash reality crap and then you will get a very good sense of where this so called art is coming from.

  4. My, my…So much jealousy by write-in commentators – who would have thought on a site like this?!

  5. More like disgust and bemusement, sorta like Branford Marsalis about Kenny G. I know, we have talked, and this aint jazz. Its kiddie music. For the weak and effette. Creative Art is dead i guess, certainly has no soul, so why bother? Cant help it, gotta keep going,some one has to, but then again maybe not.
    Those who havent been brainwashed into self congratulatory/ejaculatory debasement get it, one needs to open ones eyes with intelligence, passion and experience of life. These types have none. They dont get out of the house, nature is huge, wonder how many hikes they have been on, look at those massive muscular legs and pecks! LMAO! Sadly.
    Mind, body and soul. these folks need some. pitiful, mature people got better things to do.

    art collegai delenda est
    fine art colleges must be destroyed.

  6. What fun posts.

    We used that Esquire photo as the cover image for Pop Out: Queer Warhol, which I edited with José Muñoz and Jonathan Flatley for Duke University Press (1996). We are really proud of the book, so forgive the plug.

    I came across that photo when I was in grad school and researching Warhol’s reception history. I love it because it says a lot about the elasticity of both Nico and Warhol when it came to gender and their public personae.

    Sasha Torres has a wonderful essay (“The Caped Crusaders of Camp”) on the Batman TV series, she writes of course about the episode you discuss here – she covers a lot of this pop/postmodernism/camp/tv territory – it was always one of my favorite essays in the book.

    In fall 2009, Callie Angel gave a magnificent lecture on Batman/Dracula at a festival on Jack Smith in Berlin. That was the last time I saw her before she passed away – she was a superstar, and is sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of working with her.

    Thanks for sharing this archive.

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