Burt Ward starred in the wildly popular 1960’s television show Batman. Alongside Adam West as the title character, Ward was his superhero sidekick “Robin.” Running a span of three years with 120 episodes, they captured the public’s imagination with the action and the humor of it all and their heroics. This “pow, wham, bang” of a show was even made into the very first Batman film. It’s a legacy that still creates magic on the silver screen.
Just as important is Burt and Tracy Ward’s Gentle Giant organization. It’s a labor of love for large dogs in need. Indeed Boy Wonder! It’s a fact that Ward went from a caped crusader to a canine crusader. Now, for over 25 years, his crusade for Gentle Giants is truly phenomenal. Jump into the bat mobile and jump for joy for all the hard work they’ve done for all our four-legged friends. Here’s my interview with Burt Ward.
Showbiss.net: Batman was produced by William Dozier. I’m an old Hollywood buff; so I know he was married to Joan Fontaine and then married Ann Rutherford until his death.
Burt Ward: Wow! You know your stuff. I’m impressed.
Showbiss: What was this like having Dozier produce the television show?
Burt Ward: Well, he was a very commanding person. You know what I mean? In other words, in his presence, you could spend hours. But, he was polite, firm and to the point and even from the interviews I’ve seen that he’s done on the internet… he had a good sense of humor. That actually was the style of the humor that came across in Batman. I think that he had a great feel for things.
Showbiss: Considering this original TV show; it was a high-end production. You were 20-years old when you started the show and you did your own stunts.
Burt Ward: I wanted to, believe me. The problem was they hired a stunt man for me but he didn’t look like me. He had a rather large nose like Cyrano de Bergerac. So they used me. They wanted close shots as well as long shots. I got to be right in the middle of that, and I got to be good friends with the doctor at the emergency hospital where I visited quite often.
Showbiss: What do you remember about the most dangerous stunt you did?
Burt Ward: Oh, every episode. How about the first show? Even on the first show, four of the first six days I went to the emergency hospital with second-degree burns, broken nose and things like that. You go to the hospital enough and you get to be a little gun-shy. One time I was filming five-feet away from a magnesium explosion. “How do you know it’s not going to hit me in the face?” “Oh, no, no. We have it aimed straight down.” Just before the charge went off… it’s one of those things where you feel you need to take some protection. I felt I was in real danger and I closed my eyes and good thing I did. I would be blind today if I hadn’t. That’s bad.
Showbiss: What lot was the show filmed on?
Burt Ward: Two actually. Desilu Studios and Fox. At the time they both had a lot of shows and some were filmed on the 20th Century Fox lot. Every once in a while when we would do a big street thing it would be shot at 20th Century Fox. There was also a park across from Fox where we shot the “King Tut” (Victor Buono) stuff.
Showbiss: What’s your favorite memory of working with and knowing Adam West?
Burt Ward: Ah, just imagine having a best friend that you saw all the time and every day you had fun working with him. It wasn’t even work it was more like grown-up play. There’s thousands of memories. We did 120 episodes together. Practically, just about every scene that he was in, I was in.
Showbiss: I have albums from Neal Hefti, Nelson Riddle and Billy May… (Who all composed music for the Batman television show) and here we go with Frank Zappa who wrote and produced “Boy Wonder I Love You.”
Burt Ward: Here I was young, all-American and apple pie and here you’ve got Frank plus the Mothers of Invention. They come out and they looked like they were out of the movie Deliverance. Oh my god, they’d play their music and then they would tear up their instruments!
Showbiss: It’s such a trip. Then, you have the classic old guard like Hefti (theme song), Riddle and May doing incidental music.
Burt Ward: I’m telling you. Very, very wonderful, fantastic music.
Showbiss: The amount of talented actors and actresses who guest starred as villains… I’d like to drop that name and hear what comes to your mind. I’ll start with Cesar Romero (the Joker).
Burt Ward: He was the ultimate professional. He was incredibly nice and with a lot of stature as a great actor. You’re awed in his presence. He was an awesome, awesome guy. Amazing.
Showbiss: How about Burgess Meredith (the Penguin)?
Burt Ward: He was a funny character. Nice guy and very smart. He was in those Rocky films; a classic actor and just a pro. Every one of these people were tremendous but he was quite a guy and he played the Penguin with great character.
Showbiss: Okay, here we go, you and Julie Newmar (Catwoman).
Burt Ward: Julie! What a character. Very unpredictable. You never know what she’s going to say and as a result it always made for a little bit of excitement. When you can do something that seems wild and crazy.
Showbiss: When Catwoman called you “Boy Blunder” when you ruined the kiss between her and Batman in that one episode. (Laughter)
Burt Ward: She didn’t like that, no. But she is quite a person. When we would go out and make appearances together… she’s quite a character, you know. And in a very nice way but she is definitely unpredictable.
Showbiss: How would you describe the pop culture phenomenon of Batman and the show’s lasting impression as a cult favorite?
Burt Ward: If you think about it… what we did with Batman had a profound effect on the entertainment industry. I think what made our show so incredibly successful in addition to the color and the great comedy, the double meanings and all of those kind of things; is that we really reached through the television to grab our audience and went directly at our audience. So, people who were watching our show, instead of being like a third party where you’re just watching other people do stuff, they got directly involved with us. They were jumping off their couches as we were jumping off buildings. They mimicked our stuff. We use to say we put on our tights to put on the world.
What really was the most dramatic effect I think of our show; if you look today at all these major movies, most of these major movies are superhero oriented like the latest Avengers, right? These are the ones that seem to make the most money. If you look at the relationships of the characters in these major films is that the thing that Adam and I did is that we could be right in the middle of something serious and have some very simple dialogue between us… if you look at all these movies, they have that. In Thor if you remember, right in the middle of some really dangerous stuff, the characters have a discussion and some comic interplay. These were things that came out of Batman. They were never done before. If you had a police show it was serious. They were trying to catch someone who had done something wrong; they’re trying to save a life. There was never any breakup of the sole direction of going from the beginning to the end. With Batman, we introduced that kind of humor.
Showbiss: I can’t recall any other show at that time that was broadcast two nights in a row for the first season.
Burt Ward: Oh, right, the cliffhangers. That was another great thing. The fight scenes and the colors, oh my gosh.
Part Two: Burt Ward and his wife Tracy’s passion for their charity Gentle Giants and their Gentle Giants Dog Food.
Showbiss: Gentle Giants is an amazing charity organization for 25 years now. How long has your brand of dog food been a part of this?
Burt Ward: 15 years. Here’s the thing. What do dogs and dog food have to do with “Robin?” I say, “Everything.” I like to say I was the caped crusader; now I am the “canine crusader.” If you think about it, what did Batman and Robin do? They saved lives, they protected people from bad things. My wife and I operate the largest giant breed dog rescue in the world called Gentle Giants. In 25 years we have rescued over 15,500 dogs. Every one of those dogs would have been put to death if we hadn’t saved them. For each dog we provide shelter, complete medical care, operations if necessary and then found each and every one of them a safe, loving home.
What makes it particularly unique is that all of the dogs have lived in our house with us! Not in some other building or some other yard or somebody else’s house… they all live in our house. So, at any given time we have 50 or more dogs living in our house with us, for the last 25 years.
Showbiss: You made me think about this. It’s almost like the Playboy mansion except for dogs.(Laughter)
Burt Ward: Exactly. Just imagine living like that 24-hours a day for 25 years.
Showbiss: I believe Doris Day would have been an ally.
Burt Ward: Yes, you’re right and Tippi Hedren. There are a lot of people who really have appreciated what we’ve done. That’s why in January of 2019, I was invited and appeared on Ellen’s talk show. She asked me to be on her show. She feeds her dogs our Gentle Giants Dog Food (gentlegiantsdogfood.com) for the last three and a half years. She’s very into charity and an incredibly charitable person. She knows by promoting what we do it helps the animals.
Bill, if you go to all the trouble to save an animal’s life, you obviously want them to live as long as possible, right? The giant dogs have traditionally the shortest life span. We have breeds here like the Irish Wolfhounds that only live three to six years. When we would lose one of these great dogs such as a Great Dane in seven to nine years, it would just devastate my wife Tracy and I. We vowed that if there was a way to get them to live longer we would do it; so we spent the last 25 years on a special food that is different from any other dog food and this care program. We have dogs living a lot longer because of our dog food and they’re healthy! This is our charity. We don’t take any salary. We sell this food for basically what it costs us. It’s all because we love animals and this has become our life’s work and our life’s charity.
Showbiss: Mr. Ward, Thank you.
Burt Ward: My pleasure. Thank you Bill… “To the Bat mobile!”