Holy Superlatives, Batman! The Movie

Batman Premiere at the Paramount, July 30, 1966, AS-66-54955A-06, Austin American-Statesman Photograph Morgue, Austin History Center

Holy Superlatives, Batman! The Movie

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

by Susan Rittereiser

Many long-time Austinites have fond memories of attending what was perhaps the most successful movie event in Austin’s history--the world premiere of Batman: The Movie “batapulted” onto the big screen on Saturday, July 30, 1966 at the historic Paramount Theater downtown. An estimated 30,000 people--kids and adults (about 15% of the city’s population)--lined Congress Avenue, renamed Batman Boulevard for the day, to get a glimpse of the stars from the popular television series arriving by a motorcade 30 minutes prior to the afternoon show. Adam West (Batman), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin), and Caesar Romero (the Joker) donned full costumes live on stage in front of the theater in the sweltering Texas summer heat. The premiere was intended as a pre-festival benefit for the city’s annual Aqua Festival, then in its fifth year, which took place from August 5-14. The Batboat featured in the movie had been designed by local boat company Glastron, and was on display inside the theater during the premiere. The company was willing to produce the boat on the condition that the film’s producers agree to have the world premiere in Austin. The Austin History Center is home to the Glastron Boat Company Records. The finding aid to this collection is online and you can also view our Austin Aqua Festival Records finding aid.

Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, AS-66-54955A-10, Austin American-Statesman Photograph Morgue, Austin History Center.

Lee Meriwether, the former Miss America, was given “honorary Texan” status (as were the other cast members) and gifted a pair of western spurs, which she incorporated into her cat costume. She replaced Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman in the television series. Newmar had signed on to do another production in the U.K., Monsieur Lecoq, a racy comedy that was never completed. Lee Meriwether actually did appear on the TV series twice in 1967, not as Catwoman, but as Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Lisa Carson. Newmar, on the other hand, was replaced in the third and final season of the television series by African-American actress and singer, Eartha Kitt. Lee Meriwether as Catwoman gives an interview for television in this image.

Two showings were scheduled. At 5:00pm, there was an unprecedented “Young People’s Premiere”- the first in the history of the industry, according to a 20th Century-Fox spokesman - and a regular evening performance for adults at 8:30pm. Tickets cost $3 each. The theater was filled to capacity for both the afternoon and evening performances. The first 500 ticket buyers for each showing received free “Batbuttons” emblazoned with the familiar Batman logo. This was one of the first, if not the first summer “blockbuster” movie to use the film as a vehicle for merchandising Batman products to children via their parents—a quick scan of the Austin American-Statesman around this time shows ad displays for everything from Batman clothing to toys to accessories for sale from stores such as Montgomery Ward.

Adam West as Batman alias Bruce Wayne, blows the adoring crowd a kiss before going into the afternoon premiere at the Paramount. The caped crusader was minus his young sidekick, Robin, played by actor Burt Ward, because Ward’s wife was in delivery with their first child. West, whose acting career spanned more than 60 years, won the part of Batman in the campy television series after a producer saw him playing a James Bond-type character in a Nestle Quick commercial. On the evening of June 15, 2017, less than a week after West’s death, the city of Los Angeles paid tribute to the late actor by projecting an image of the Bat-signal on City Hall. The Bat-signal was used in the show whenever the Gotham City Police Department called on Batman for help.

Adam West as Batman, AS-66-54955A-01, Austin American-Statesman Photograph Morgue, Austin History Center.

View some silent video footage of the movie premiere from the History Center's video collections: