Batman goes to Hollywood; guess who plays Clark Kent!
'The Hollywood Palace' was ABC-TV's attempt to create a West Coast imitation of the hugely popular 'Ed Sullivan Show' broadcast live from New York. 'The Hollywood Palace' was not live, and had no regular host, but was very similar to Sullivan's programme in offering a vaudeville bill of singers, dancers, comedians, acrobats and even the occasional daredevil. The show's theme tune was Charles Strouse's 'Put on a Happy Face', minus Lee Adams's excellent lyric. Befitting its name and its Hollywood location, 'The Hollywood Palace' offered a much higher percentage of film, television and Las Vegas nightclub stars than Ed Sullivan's more Broadway-centred offering.
This synopsis is specifically a review of episode 3.23 (March '66), which retains high nostalgia interest because the guest star was none other than Batman himself. The 'Batman' TV series (watched mostly by younger viewers) was ABC's hugest hit at this time, and some network exec decided to get some cross-market success by having Batman appear on 'The Hollywood Palace' (watched mostly by older viewers). Supposedly the guest star was Adam West, not Batman, but in fact West is seen here only in his Batman costume. (Although he breaks character to speak with Milton Berle.) Robin the Boy Wonder stayed home; it must have been a school night.
Berle is the guest compere for this episode. He starts out with one of his Borscht Belt monologues, only to be interrupted by Martha Raye doing her unfunny chatterbox routine. ("Is he here? The Batman!") Raye purports to be hot for "the Batman", a concept which I didn't want to visualise. After Berle shoos Moutha Raye off the stage, he announces that Batman is on his way to the Hollywood Palace. Cue the telecine, with a stock shot of the Batmobile firing up in the Batcave while we hear the familiar Neil Hefti theme. Then Adam West, in Caped Crusader cozzie, strides onto the stage to huge applause from the audience.
Berle attempts some bat-banter with West. "I told my son he could only watch one TV show each week; yours or mine," says Uncle Miltie. "Guess which one he picked?" "Before or after you hit him?" asks West. Boom-boom!
The musical guests are the team of Sandler and Young, a double act which I always found weird but also highly professional and entertaining. Ralph Young was a brash Yank whilst Tony Sandler was a suave Belgian; they performed cross-talk comedy and serious singing. Here, they appear in a Canadian Mountie skit, with Sandler given a chance to show off his French (though not with a French Canadian accent).
The climactic spot is a superhero sketch, starring Milton Berle as none other than Clark Kent! He's spending a quiet night in his bachelor flat, cooking a pot of spaghetti. Of course, behind those hornrimmed glasses, Clark Kent is really Superman. Berle drops his hornrims into the spaghetti, then picks them out and puts them on again ... with spaghetti draped down his face. Along comes a Mata Hari-type vamp, played by Martha Raye. She knows that Kent is secretly Superman, and she intends to destroy him by seducing him.
After making her entrance, Raye strips down to a surprisingly kinky superheroine costume with a large "W" emblazoned on her chest. She tells Super-Berle that she's "Vunda Vooman". However, the outfit she's wearing doesn't remotely resemble that of Wonder Woman in the comic books. In her earlier days, Martha Raye had an excellent figure and she might actually have looked good in Wonder Woman's bustier: by 1966, she was a bit too old for that stuff. So was Berle.
Eventually, Vunda Vooman gets Superman helpless in her clutches. Who should come along to rescue him but (ta-da!) Batman, played by Adam West as if he's in a hurry to get the costume back to Wardrobe. The end of the sketch just isn't funny at all ... but it's fascinating to see Berle and Raye attempting a superhero routine, especially with the 'real' Batman on hand.
I once saw Adam West emoting in a serious stage play in London. Now THAT was funny.
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