In this unruly and completely unnecessary article, CC2K’s Tony Lazlo wonders who would have played the members of the Justice League had they appeared on the classic 1960s Batman TV series.
The universe depicted in the old Adam West Batman series could have sustained the entire DCU, but who would have played the other heroes?
As comic-book fans, it’s rare for us to see more than one hero onscreen at the same time. To be sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part, Hollywood presents our heroes to us in hermetically sealed packages — one per movie or TV series. Exceptions to this rule include the upcoming movie The Avengers as well as the long-running CW series Smallville, and it was while I was thinking of Smallville that I got the idea for this article: What other actors would we cast as DCU heroes in the universe depicted in the classic Adam West Batman series?
Now, before I start naming actors and actresses, let me explain why I’ve chosen this particular onscreen universe to explore. For example, I could very well have asked who could play these roles in, say, the Tim Burton Batman universe, or the Richard Donner Superman universe. Those would all make great articles, but I chose the Adam West Batman universe because well, I think it’s the most fun.
Before I continue, a concession: There’s no getting around this show’s daffy tone, and for many comic-book fans, its tone is a deal-breaker — the show is simply too goofy. I agree that the Adam West Batman is a relic that’s at odds with the current (and most popular) incarnation of Batman — the dark vigilante depicted in the pages of Frank Miller and the movies of Christopher Nolan.
But here’s the thing: The universe depicted in ABC’s classic series is engaging, entertaining, and more important — it’s a consistent and compelling presentation of the DCU. I don’t think many would argue that point, and for what it’s worth, the rogues gallery seen in the Adam West Batman is one of the finest collection of comic-book characters made flesh in any filmed medium. I’ll happily argue that point until rapture.
That said, I can’t start naming names just yet, because I need to establish some rules. We’re talking about the ABC series that ran from 1966 to 1969, so I’ll only suggest actors that would have been age-appropriate at the time — though I reserve the right to fudge a bit on the ages of some performers. Furthermore, I’m going to put more of a premium on actors whose stature in Hollywood would have made them more likely to have taken a role on the show — though I plan to fudge some on that point, too.
Finally, even though I could cast the whole dang DCU under these rules, I’m only going to cast the (roughly) original members of the Justice League — Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter — plus Green Arrow and Lex Luthor.
Thanks go to CC2K undercover operative Perfect Tommy for this suggestion. I’d say that Gavin is best known for his role in Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho as the square-jawed Sam Loomis, but he also had a near-brush with superstardom when he was tapped to play James Bond in an Americanized reboot of the franchise after George Lazenby left the role. As we all know, Sean Connery returned to play Bond, but Gavin almost got the part again in 1973’s Live and Let Die, but once again, the producers opted for an Englishman, Roger Moore.
Remember when I said I might fudge some of these choices based on the stature of the actor? I’d say Gavin is a prime example. He may never have become a Rock Hudson-celiber star, but by the time the Batman series made its debut in 1966, Gavin had already appeared in Psycho, Spartacus and many other movies. Would he have donned Kal-El’s red and blue tights? Who knows? But it’s fun to imagine.
Skip to the 2:50 mark of the following clip to see Gavin in action in the movie Back Street:
And here’s a deep cut: Gavin went on to play a James Bond-like substance in the French spy series OSS 117.
Honorable mentions: Rock Hudson, Michael Landon, Robert Conrad
Hell yes, I just said Nichelle Nichols. The Batman series had already shown its forward-thinking willingness to colorblind-cast a role by tapping Eartha Kitt to play Catwoman, and I can think of no better actress from the era to play Diana Prince than Star Trek’s original communications officer.
I can only imagine how awesome Nichols would have looked in the costume, and it would have been so much fun to see Batman contend with some truly super-powered heroes. And Nichols would have owned the role of a powerful Amazon warrior.
Witness Uhura rocking the shit out of Sulu in the classic “Mirror, Mirror” episode from Star Trek:
I think it’s also worth mentioning Ellie Wood Walker as an honorable mention, seeing as how she screen-tested for her own Wonder Woman series done in the same style as the Batman series.
Other Wonder Woman honorable mentions: Joan Collins, Donna Reed — thanks, Big Ross!
Yes, yes, yes — I know I’m fudging again. Born in 1951, Russell would have been about five or six years too young to appear in the Batman TV series, but by Crom, can you imagine a better actor of the era to embody the devil-may-care swagger of ace pilot Hal Jordan? Plus, one of the unspoken requirements for any actor on the Batman series is the ability to play these roles with a straight face, despite the chaos surrounding them, and Russell is the man for that.
I’ll let Russell’s work speak for itself, lipstick and all:
Honorable mention: Steve McQueen — thanks to Geekscape’s Brian Walton for that one! And Big Ross suggested Sidney Poitier as John Stewart.
The stately J’onn J’onnz would need an appropriately brilliant actor to play him, and Peters fits the bill. Best known for his role as Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, Peters went on to an illustrious career in TV and film, with a healthy smattering of genre fare. Star Trek fans will recognize Peters as the turncoat Admiral Cartwright from the fourth and sixth original-series movies. Peters also has another connection to the Batman mythos — he provided the voice for Lucius Fox in the early 90s animated series.
Full disclosure: I largely drew my inspiration for this casting choice from Smallville, in which Martian Manhunter is seen mostly in human form as the Detective John Jones, played by Phil Morris.
And here’s Peters acting up a storm in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Honorable mention: Robert Stack
Once again, I fudge. Redford’s career almost syncs up with the Batman TV series. Had the series been on about 5-6 years earlier, Redford would have been a prime target for a guest role, as he was paying his dues on TV shows like The Twilight Zone as late as 1962, but by the time the Batman series hit the airwaves, Redford was already appearing in such star vehicles as Barefoot in the Park and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
That said, can you name a better guy to play the blond-haired police scientist — and all-around great guy — Barry Allen?
Here’s Redford looking very much the part in a classic Twilight Zone:
Honorable mention: Ryan O’Neal, James Dean — thanks, Big Ross!
I readily concede that I’m dipping into the Star Trek cast one too many times, but I love the idea of Shatner as Arthur Curry or Oliver Queen. The young Shatner of the era had the blond hair for the role, and any actor who plays a superhero must have the presence to pull it off.
But I’ll add this: I like Shatner more for Ollie than Arthur, because in recent years, I’ve become a fan of Ollie and his wry perspective on the world. I think Shatner could really capture that.
And I think it goes without saying that an acting battle between Shatner and West would be one for the record books, right?
At this point in the article, there’s the expectation that I should choose an appropriately awesome clip from the original Star Trek series to showcase Shatner in some way. Of course, choosing only one clip from that classic show is impossible, but with respect, I’ll submit this clip of the good captain teaching a pre-industrial society about the U.S. constitution.
Honorable mention for Green Arrow: James Coburn
Honorable mention for Aquaman: Robert Conrad (with a dye job, of course).
A no-brainer. Savalas looks the part, and even though he might have been too big a star to appear on the show, he pretty much played the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Here he is in The Dirty Dozen (skip to the 4:00 mark):
And just for fun, here’s a trailer for the 40th anniversary release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I’m sharing it mainly because I love trailers for old movies editied with a modern sensibility.
Honorable mention: Donald Pleasance, John Cassavetes
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.