They offered him James Bond. Can you picture it? As it turns out, neither could he—because he felt that Bond should be British, and he wasn’t, and he turned down the role. That was probably for the best, really. He was by all accounts very upset at not playing Batman for the Burton despite having been 61 at the time; a teacher of mine ran into him at Kinko’s around the time those movies were being made and chatted with him about it. But I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t get the part of Thomas Wayne, which they actually did consider.
He was more than just Batman—and the at least three take-offs of Batman that I’ve discovered in just his voicework. (He was the Grey Ghost on Batman: The Animated Series, the Fearless Ferret on Kim Possible, and Catman on The Fairly Odd Parents.) He was more than just the farm boy from Walla Walla, Washington. More than just the announcer from American Forces Network television. He was on over a hundred TV shows, in nearly fifty movies. And, yes, from the ’60s on, those roles often referenced Batman in some way, but what do you do?
Honestly, you never forget your first Batman, and he was mine. Before the Tim Burton came out, one of my local TV stations when I was a kid played the show on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, two episodes each afternoon. It was one of those shows where you have two seasons and change and still manage 120 episodes, so I’m not sure I’ve seen it all. I’ve tried showing it to Simon, but he wasn’t interested. Still, that was a year ago, and I should try again.
After all these decades, you could have forgiven him for not having a sense of humour about the part, and it does seem, reading various quotes of his, that he was ambivalent toward the role. He was typecast because of it, and he knew it. On the other hand, he’d been the sort of working actor who could do two episodes of Perry Mason because no one would remember him before that. At the very least, Batman ensured, for better or worse, that he would never be forgotten, and there are a lot of actors who can’t say that.
I think the first thing I saw him in after seeing Batman (possibly aside from those two Perry Mason episodes) was a weird sci-fi comedy called Doin’ Time on Planet Earth. I remember liking it, and I should seek it out again. He had quite clearly been cast because of the Batman thing, even though I do not recall that the role referenced Batman in any way. I suspect a lot of the quirkier projects he did over the years were made by people who’d loved Batman and didn’t want to let him go. A lot of us are feeling that way today.