Batman was bound to be the blackwinged guardian angel of my whole generation, and for me it felt more fated than it might have for many others — in those prosperous post-Kennedy days which were the first and last time my parents could afford a housekeeper (an upscale affectation now more embarrassing to me than any ten POWs and CRASHes), they’d let a maid named Rose (like my grandma) knock off and watch Batman, who I knew was named Adam (like me). But ADAM WEST (William West Anderson, born 1928) is now more famous for being himself than for having been Batman, a remarkable achievement with such an indelible mark on his resume. He bonded to us ’60s kids because he let us know who Batman really was, and his bizarre, inspired smartassery in the role subverted authority while giving us a figure to look up to. He was the stealth counterculture agent, disclaiming heroism but not undermining it, making the sarcastic new society safe for public service. West’s otherworldly line-readings, like a self-aware Shatner, confirm him as a national comic treasure, and that voice is more in demand than ever as an animation standby, though his supernatural good looks have kept him qualified for the lecture circuit and on-camera contraband classics, like the YouTube favorite Lookwell!, always smuggling a smile into modern malaise and celebrity self-importance. From the Batusi to Lookwell’s law-and-order buffoonery to his string of unhinged politicians and patriarchs, Adam West will do anything to get the laugh about what you’re not supposed to laugh at — all the cooler for how he fearlessly exposes himself. That’s my hero.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Mama Cass Elliot.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).