Today is the 50th anniversary of Burt Ward's world being turned upside down -- in a good way.
On Jan. 12, 1966, Batman, the TV series, premiered on ABC. And Ward, Adam West and the rest of the cast, became forever linked with a social and cultural phenomena.
Holy gold anniversary!
Ward, who was known at the time by his real name of Bert John Gervis Jr., debuted as Robin, Batman's enthusiastic crimefighting sidekick. The show aired twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and ran through March 1968.
"I did a lot of punching in 120 episodes," Ward said by phone.
These days, Ward is now owner of Gentle Giants Animal Rescue and Adoptions, a nonprofit based on the estate of Ward and his wife, Tracy Posner, in Riverside County, California. Since 1994, Gentle Giants had rescued more than 15,400 giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, and some smaller breed dogs.
Ward is as enthusiastic as Robin when it comes to describing the nonprofit's work in helping prolong the lives of animals in need. Ward has been training dogs since he was a teenager, having trained two attack dobermans because of "security issues" when he was living in LA.
For all his philanthropy, it all comes back to what made Ward, now 70, such a cultural icon.
Today, he's fielding calls about the 50th anniversary and making plans for a national tour in April. For the next four or five days, he'll be signing about 12,000 autographs for shows and collectors.
In May, he joined West in Dallas for the Fan Expo Dallas. The appearance drew a big crowd, but Dallas stands out to Ward for another reason: the weather.
"The last six months, I've been caught twice with bad weather in Dallas," he said. "It was so bad, I had to sleep at the airport.
"The Boy Wonder had to sleep on the floor! Twice!"
Ward took time to rest his autograph hand to answer a few questions about the show that made him famous.
GuideLive: What were your thoughts when you saw your first episode of Robin?
Ward: "I remember the opening night of the show, on a Wednesday. When you film a show, you don't really see a picture. You're seeing little pieces, 30-second pieces, maybe a 1-minute piece. When I turned it on, I really didn't know what to expect. Then I saw the graphics and heard the music, and the POWs and ZAPs. I'll never forget saying 'that's really good. That's really good.' We got a 55 share that night, which I understand to mean 55 percent of all the televisions in North America had our show on."
GuideLive: Did you attribute the success to Batman's popularity in comic books?
Ward: "It wasn't a comic book that did it. It was the unique combination from one medium bringing life to another medium. And it was also the first show in television history where the actors actually put on the audience. Every other show in TV history was a police show or medical show. Batman was completely different. It was written very, very funny. Serious for the kids with all the fighting crime and justice. For adults, it was nostalgia of the comic books. The networks were getting college and high school kids who were getting the double meanings and double entendres. It was one-of-a-kind, and that's what made us so successful."
GuideLive: Were you prepared for the public treating you as a social phenomenon?
Ward: "You don't think about those things at the time. You're wondering how you're going to make a personal appearance by yourself. You find that when you arrive on a Saturday, the Wednesday before people have been camping out and blocking traffic. And they've handed out 310,000 raffle tickets. That's how big a crowd. [In Seattle], I had the University of Wisconsin football team, the first 11 guys on offense and defense, as my body guards."
GuideLive: How do people react today?
Ward: "Adam and I will go out and make appearances. And people still like to meet actors and actresses. Adam and I love meeting people. It was a tremendous show with tremendous audience. We sign autographs on our fans' favorite pieces of memorabilia, some over 50 years. We get lunch boxes that are completely rusted. Photographs of them in a costume and the photos are falling apart."
GuideLive: One of the more iconic matchups for Robin was when he fought Green Hornet sidekick and counterpart, Kato, played by Bruce Lee. How'd that fight go?
Ward: "Bruce Lee and I lived in the same complex together, and he and I used to spar together. We'd go down to Chinatown together. A lot of people don't know this, but that was Bruce Lee's first fight scene of his career. I got a couple of shots back at him."
GuideLive: What about the Warner Bros. animated movie project? You and West have roles, but Warner Bros. hasn't released details.
Ward: "I can't talk about that project. But Adam and I would like to do another Batman movie for Warner Bros. that is live action with us recreating the roles as we are now, older. Imagine Batman going to the closet to get his costume and dust billows out. And there I'll be trying to pull up my leotards and struggling to get into them. Audiences would roar laughing!"