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R.I.P. Leslie H. Martinson, director of Batman: The Movie

Burt Ward and Adam West in Batman: The Movie

Though he’s often left out of conversations comparing the disparate visions filmmakers have had for Batman, Leslie H. Martinson Biff! Pow!-ed everyone to the punch with 1966’s Batman: The Movie, the first feature-length realization of the character, made long before Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and increasing layers of grit entered the picture. Variety reports that Martinson—a prolific TV and film director with more than 100 credits to his name—died on Sept. 3 at the age of 101.

Batman: The Movie, like the Adam West-starring series it’s based on, presented a campy, self-aware Caped Crusader, one that satirized both superheroes and the Day-Glo ’60s culture that surrounded it. Few would probably regard it as a good movie; it’s silly and schlocky, and riddled with groaning wordplay and garish aesthetics not even Schumacher would attempt. However, it’s remained a cult favorite thanks to its ability to sustain gags like Batman’s endless arsenal of highly specific Bat-gear and quips like the immortal, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb,” and the fact that it’s, above all, fun. You could arguably draw a direct line between the ’66 Batman and the meta spoofing of Deadpool.

Martinson was asked to direct the Batman movie after helming just two episodes from the show’s first season, but he’d already established himself as a feature filmmaker with PT-109 (released while John F. Kennedy was still in office) and the Mickey Rooney sci-fi comedy The Atomic Kid (perhaps best known today for its appearance on a marquee in Back To The Future).

Leslie H. Martinson (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty)

Rooney and Martinson would collaborate again on the former’s failed sitcom The Mickey Rooney Show, though Martinson had far better luck working as a hired gun on scores of other classic series, including Maverick, The Green Hornet, Ironside, The Brady Bunch, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island, Diff’rent Strokes, CHiPs, and Dallas. His final turn in the director’s chair came with the late-’80s robot sitcom Small Wonder, where he oversaw a total of 26 episodes (enough to sour anyone on the industry for good).

In 2003, the Archive of American Television had Martinson sit for a five-hour interview in which he discusses his long history behind the camera, as well as the unique challenge of finding the internal logic in Batman’s loopiness.

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