Sunday, July 2, 2017

Opinion: Adam West & Roger Moore: Two Icons Whose Admiration Developed With Age

Source: Twentieth Century Fox
Source: MGM Studios

For many fans of 1960's & 70's TV and movies, the summer of 2017 will be remembered as a somber time. Within the scope of a few short weeks we lost two great icons, Adam West and Sir Roger Moore. Both were icons of the of their time and the impressions they left on fans will remain forever.  While I reflected on the loss of these two stars of mine and many others' childhood, I was amazed to discover the similar paths their took as reflected by how the people loved them in the highlight of their careers as well as the years that followed.

Adam West exploded onto the TV scene in 1966 when he was cast as Batman on the popular Twentieth Century Fox series. "Batman" was an instant hit with audiences thanks to it's nearly perfect blend of camp humor, slapstick action, and daring-do that appealed to both children and adults. The show was the epitome of the old expression "the candle that burns twice a bright burns twice as fast"- while being insanely popular in it's release, the show only lasted three seasons before the luster wore off with viewers (honorable mention must be made of the fact that the short lived show also included a moderately successful full length feature film during it's run). One of the great secrets to the show's success was Adam West's exceptional ability to play the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman immensely dead-pan and quite serious in contrast to the absurdity of the plots and villains of each episode. Reflecting back on the show as an adult (I, like many others, not only loved the show in reruns as a small child but I swore whole heartily that the show was to be taken very serious) you can see where the creators and West himself were genius to let the Batman remain serious and dead pan as a means to let the guest villains shine through.
Adam West at the height of Batman's popularity gracing the cover of Life Magazine.
Source: Life-Time Magazine

West was in fact, so suave and debonair as millionaire Bruce Wayne that following the end of the show's run West was briefly considered as a potential replacement for the role of James Bond following Sean Connery's departure. This however did not pan out and West himself admitted that he would not have accepted the role of 007 since he felt the role belonged to someone who was genuinely British. This brings us to Sir Roger Moore, the man who would in fact take the mantle of 007 into the 1970's after Connery did a one-off return to the role in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever (honorable mention must also be made to George Lazenby's one time effort as James Bond in 1969).  Whereas Adam West was not as well known prior to his being cast in Batman (he mostly had bit roles in TV and movies), Roger Moore had been pretty well established thanks to some success he had on a few different television series through the 1950's-1960's. Moore was most notably known as Simon Templar in the series "The Saint" which ran from 1962-1969. Moore's portrayal of Simon Templar most likely played a big part in the Bond film producers considering him for the role of Bond. Be that as it may, the announcement of Moore's casting as 007 brought a lot of excitement as well as intrigue to fans of the series. Would Moore play 007 differently than he played Simon Templar or would he just be The Saint walking around calling himself James Bond?- How will Moore compare to Sean Connery, largely considered the best actor to play James Bond? What fans soon discovered was that Roger Moore would in fact play James Bond the best way possible- with his own style.
Roger Moore- Working "tirelessly" to maintain his James Bond image
Source: MGM Studios
This is where I began to find things intriguing about these two actors. Both, while immensely popular during their time in their respective roles (based on successful ratings and box office returns), seemed to be frequently frowned upon by large masses in conversation. During my childhood years most people would say "Oh I don't watch Roger Moore as Bond- he's too goofy compared to Sean Connery". When Tim Burton's Batman came out in 1989 it became common for people to write off the Batman TV series because it wasn't the dark, brooding, more serious version of the character that was widely accepted by the die hard fans of the modern day. It was almost as if people felt the need to belittle the 1960's show just to be accepted by the new wave of Batman fans. Around this same time (1987 specifically) Timothy Dalton took over the role of 007 after Roger Moore had finished his 12 year run as the character. Then the negativity was even more rampant because Dalton's take on the character of Bond was deadly serious with no time for gags and jokes (the tag line for Dalton's first Bond film was "The Most Dangerous Bond- Ever").  Being just a teen during these years I was left scratching my head at these sentiments. Sure, at the time I would freely admit that I loved Timothy Dalton's Bond over Roger Moore's version, and I easily loved Michael Keaton's version of Batman over Adam West's, but that never meant that I didn't have a great affection the latter two. Roger Moore was the first Bond I was exposed to both on TV and in the cinema, and Adam West was the first Batman. Just for the fact that they were the first actors to bring Batman and Bond to life meant that they would always have a special place in my heart for what they did to instill my love for the characters. For years these general reactions seem to persist and I remained puzzled- I believed that there had to be a loyal fan base for these two legends. Thankfully the "information age" took hold of the world and the ability people had to express themselves to a larger audience allowed some voices to be heard to people in places that previously would not have been reached. As the years progressed and the world changed the shift in perception slowly began to evolve, but the tragedy was that it took so many years to finally hear people be more in the positive when discussing Ward or Moore.

Now in reflection of their passing I am left with a sense of added joy, knowing that my love for them never wavered from the beginning to the end. Even after all of the great Batman films that have been made, Adam West's 1966 Batman: The Movie remains one of my favorite Batman films because of how it captured me as a child.  When discussing the subject of James Bond I have stated that Pierce Brosnan is my favorite actor to play the role because he was a solid balance of the qualities I liked in Connery as well as the qualities I liked in Roger Moore. In spite of this fact one would swear that Roger Moore was my favorite Bond after seeing my 007 collection because the majority of what I have and hold dear are things connected to Sir Roger. I certainly am not trying to portray an image that no one liked these two but at the same time it felt important to me to express my appreciation for what they have meant to me and always will. It was so heartwarming and humbling to hear so much love and admiration expressed by people following their passing. I hope that they were overwhelmed too as they look down from the heavens with the same joy and appreciation they gave to us for so many years before.

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