United Underworld: Who Is Batman 66’s Greatest Arch-Villain? [Poll]
50 years ago today, the classic Batman TV series premiered, kicking off a three-year run as one of the greatest adaptations of comic books ever made — and while Adam West and Burt Ward’s earnest, stentorian heroes were the stars, I think it’s fair to say that the real attractions came from the villains. The bizarre heists, the deathtraps, the colorful costumes and scenery-chewing monologues made them favorites not just for the fans, but for the actors lining up to take roles on a pop culture phenomenon.
But as is so often the case when we start talking about a fantastic roster of characters, it inevitably leads to the question of just who was the best. Was it Julie Newmar’s purr-fect Catwoman? Frank Gorshin’s surprisingly intense riddler? Victor Buono’s King Tut? Heck maybe it was even a long-shot candidate like Bookworm! It’s too hard to pick, which is why we’re leaving it up to you. Check out the villains and vote below to crown the true King or Queen of Crime!
The Archer (Art Carney)
Nominally based on an obscure Superman villain from the comics, the Archer is one of two Batman ’66 foes that feel like they’d be more at home at a RenFaire than slugging it out with the Dynamic Duo. Still, the concept of a Robin Hood of Crime is pretty amazing, and Academy Award-winner Art Carney remains the only Batman villian to also appear on The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Black Widow (Tallulah Bankhead)
A one-shot villain created for the show, Black Widow has a history of murdering her spouses, and after coming to Gotham City, she set her sights on the very wealthy Irving Cash. One assumes that Bob Hope and Steve Jobs were next on her list, but fortunately, Batman and Robin put a stop to her plans. According to an interview with Julie Newmar, however, Bankhead was the only guest villain who didn’t quite “get” the fun tone that the show was going for.
Bookworm (Roddy McDowall)
Arguably the show’s best one-shot villain, the Bookworm was full of bizarre and memorable traits — speed-reading, a criminal “Writer’s Block” that prevented him from coming up with his own crimes, the bizarre leather suit and his tendency to run away and hide while his henchmen did the work. Also, as long as we’re talking about connections, Roddy McDowall is the only crook to be apprehended by both Batman and Lieutenant Columbo.
Catwoman (Eartha Kitt)
The third actress to play Catwoman, Eartha Kitt is one of the most notable villains on the show despite only having two appearances to her credit. For one thing, she’s the only black actress to appear as an arch-criminal, but more than that, she brought a murderous aggression and her distinctive voice — which is almost impossible to not refer to as a “purr” — to her take, and ended up with one of the show’s most enduring portrayals.
Catwoman (Julie Newmar)
As the Catwoman with the most appearances on the show, Julie Newmar’s version is arguably the definitive take. With an over-the-top sensuality and sharp wit, Newmar’s Catwoman almost succeeded in convincing Batman to give up crimefighting to settle down with her — until she casually suggested that they just kill Robin so he won’t bother him.
Catwoman (Lee Meriwether)
Appearing as Catwoman in Batman: The Movie, former Miss America Lee Meriwether gave the Caped Crusader his most crushing heartbreak. Disguised as Miss Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff, reporter for the Moscow Bugle, she seduced Bruce Wayne and paved the way for the United Underworld’s plot to vaporize their diplomatic counterparts. As an interesting note, Meriwether would later return to the show, not as Catwoman, but as Lisa Carson, Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend.
Chandell and Harry (Liberace)
Chandell and Harry are the answer to a question that nobody was asking, but that I think everyone was glad we got an answer to: What if Liberace was a supervillain? That’s seriously all there was to it.
Clock King (Walter Slezak)
The Clock King’s appearance on the show is less notable for the events of the episode itself — although it was definitely a lot of fun — and more for the fact that it was the only adventure on the show to be written by Bill Finger, Batman’s unsung co-creator.
Colonel Gumm (Roger C. Carmel)
Colonel Gumm may be the most forgettable villain in the show’s 120-episode history, but that’s not really his fault. As the villain of “A Piece of the Action/Batman’s Satisfaction,” the crossover between Batman and The Green Hornet, he ended up just being something else that was overshadowed by Bruce Lee showing up to fight Robin, and really, that would’ve happened to anyone.
Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft (Ida Lupino)
A scientist who dabbles in alchemy and commits crimes with pills that turn you invisible, Dr. Spellcraft is one of the few villains that seems like a strange fit for Batman — and that’s saying something. Then again, if we can have a cowboy who steals cars and a Queen of the Cossacks, maybe there’s a place in this world for alchemy after all?
Egghead (Vincent Price)
Although he’s mostly known as a horror icon (and for good reason), Vincent Price had an incredible gift for comedy, and that came through eggs-tremely well in his portrayal of Egghead. One of the best villains to be created for the show rather than drawn from the comics, Egghead probably has what are consistently the best and most entertaining episodes, including the one where he tries to hatch a dinosaur — which might be the strangest episode of the entire series.
False Face (?)
False Face is terrifying.
The Joker (Cesar Romero)
The Joker doesn’t exactly need any help getting votes in a poll that has anything to do with Batman, and Cesar Romero’s portrayal is consistently fantastic (despite the occasional episode that was written for another villain and had to go through a rewrite to bring him in), so here’s a reason you might not vote for the Clown Prince of Crime. While he’s inarguably Batman’s arch-nemesis in the comics, the TV portrayal tends to treat him as pretty interchangeable, and as good as he is, he doesn’t quite have the distinct feeling that you’d get from the Riddler or Penguin. Doesn’t mean he’s not great, though.
King Tut (Victor Buono)
If you’re looking for the single most entertaining villain in terms of performance, it’s hard to beat Victor Buono’s King Tut. Bellowing, bewildered and perpetually underwhelmed, poor Professor McElroy would take thematic villainy to a whole new level every time he got bonked on the head, and remains the only villain to discover Batman’s secret identity — twice.
Lord Ffogg and Penelope Peasoup (Rudy Vallee and Glynis Johns)
The stars of the show’s most memorable three-parter, Lord Ffogg and Lady Peasoup are the criminal masterminds of Londinium, that foggy metropolis across the Atlantic. Their crimes involve a school of mod delinquent young lady pickpockets, and they once almost killed Robin with a bee.
Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle)
I’m not saying that the Louie the Lilac episode doesn’t hold up, but Milton Berle playing a mob boss who tries to corrupt Gotham’s hippies and use “flower power” for evil is something that really could’ve only happened in 1969.
Ma Parker (Shelley Winters)
There are fewer perfect ideas in this world than Batman taking on a family of criminal hillbillies led by an evil matriarch who just wants them to succeed. Succeed in the world of crime, I mean, but still.
Mad Hatter (David Wayne)
If we’re all being honest with each other, David Wayne should win this poll based entirely on the way that he pronounces “hat factory” in Season 1’s “The Batman Stands Pat”: Heyeat Fyactyaryay. It is amazing, and so is his motivation — so much of the show seems built not necessarily around crimes, but around the idea that Crime itself wins when the villains prove that Batman can fail, and stealing his cowl to add to his collection makes the Mad Hatter embody that better than almost anyone else.
Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (Carolyn Jones)
I’m not going to lie, folks: Marsha’s firist appearance is kind of a mess. Her plan is all over the map, involving diamond heists, a marriage to Batman and actual witchcraft, and while needless complexity is a hallmark of the show’s charm, that’s pushing it. Fortunately, Carolyn Jones (perhaps best known as Morticia Addams on The Addams Family) is up to the task of making it entertaining.
Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
I think about Batman ’66 more than I think about literally any blood relative I have in my life, but the only thing I can remember about Minerva is that she’s the show’s final villain. That does not speak very well of her, but who knows? Maybe you’re really into Green Acres and want to bring that fandom to this poll.
The Minstrel (Van Johnson)
The other RenFaire-ish villain, the Minstrel is about as straightforward as you get: He commits crimes, and then sings songs about them. That’s… that’s basically it. How he and the Archer never teamed up, we may never know, but I assume it has to do with the Archer using the pseudonym “Alan A. Dale,” a reference to the actual minstrel from the Robin Hood stories.
Mr. Freeze (Eli Wallach)
Wallach’s scenery-chewing performance as Mr. Freeze is so great that it’s kind of a shame that the only time he made it to the show was for a villain that was played by two other actors. If it wasn’t for that, he’d definitely be one of the most memorable on the show, blending Preminger’s mad science and Sanders’ cold desire for revenge into the perfect middle ground. Alas, it seems like we’re probably doomed to split the Freeze Vote in thirds.
Mr. Freeze (George Sanders)
The first Mr. Freeze, George Sanders is also the first villain on the show to successfully commit a murder (he freezes and shatters a policeman with a freeze ray), and also the first to have a plan that goes beyond just crime and into pure revenge against Batman himself. Both of those things make him memorable, but also make him a strange fit for the show, and his appearances feel way too serious and violent for the campy comedy going on around him.
Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger)
Preminger, on the other hand, is way over the top in a memorable way. Most famous as a director, his heavily accented, cheerful description of everything as “wild!” stands in stark contrast to every other portrayal of Mr. Freeze, with the possible exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his endless string of puns. That said, Preminger was allegedly so difficult to work with that he wasn’t brought back, which is how Wallach ended up in the role for Mr. Freeze’s third caper.
Nora Clavicle (Barbara Rush)
Nora Clavicle’s only appearance definitely wins the award for the best episode title ever — “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club” — but its true brilliance in how well it plays as comedy. The premise, which is that Gotham City immediately descends into lawless anarchy when Nora Clavicle is elected commissioner and fires all the male policemen, replacing them with lady cops who are too busy painting their nails to stop crime, could easily come off as way more offensively sexist than it already does. Really, though, it comes off as satire, and a lot of that has to do with Rush’s performance in the center of the plot.
Olga, Queen of the Cossacks (Anne Baxter)
Anne Baxter is the only actress to play two different Special Guest Villains, and Olga is by far the most memorable. Teamed with Egghead and peeking out from a gigantic fur hat, she leads an army of displaced Russian soldiers through Gotham City, and is one of the few Villainesses to have zero romantic interest in Batman himself. She loves only horses, crime, and eggs, and that’s something I think we can all respect.
The Penguin (Burgess Meredith)
In a testament to how well he should do in this poll, Burgess Meredith was famously the show writers’ favorite villain, and they’d always have a Penguin script ready to go when he was in town. As a result, he appears in 20 episodes — a sixth of the series — and it’s hard to argue that they aren’t the best. “Hizzoner the Penguin” is a high point of the series as a whole, and Meredith’s waddling, squawking crime boss plays perfectly opposite Adam West’s stentorian Batman.
The Puzzler (Maurice Evans)
Let’s be real here: If I see any votes for the Puzzler, I’m just going to go ahead and count them as votes for the Riddler.
The Riddler (Frank Gorshin)
It’s almost impossible to argue that Frank Gorshin shouldn’t win this poll — or at the very least, that it’s not a three-way tie between him, Meredith and Newmar. With his effortless switch between manic glee and murderous intensity, he feels like the template for the modern super-villain, and as I’ve said before, today’s Joker owes a lot more to Gorshin than it does to Romero. He was the first villain on the show, and set the tone of the Special Guest Villains going bigger and bolder than the heroes at every turn.
The Riddler (John Astin)
Look, John Astin is a fine actor and I’m sure he was a nice man, but when you’re expecting Gorshin and get Astin instead, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world.
The Sandman (Michael Rennie)
Dream of the Endless, also known as Morpheus, was trapped in a crystal ball for eighty years, during which — hm? What’s that? Different guy? Okay, well, I guess votes for this count as votes for his coat. Coat votes.
Shame (Cliff Robertson)
Shame is a strange one. A parody of Shane, a 1953 western starring Alan Ladd, he fills the time-honored archetype of Evil Cowboy — and as a modern cowboy, what else is he going to do but rustle some horses in the form of the Batmobile. Because, you know, horsepower? Right. Watching this show as a kid in the early ’90s, all the references to Shane were completely lost on me — and considering I somehow knew who Milton Berle was when he showed up as Louie the Lilac, that’s saying something — but it holds up as a pretty strange but solid adventure.
Siren (Joan Collins)
The Siren’s most notable feature was the piercing (and frankly annoying) high-pitched hypnotic wail that she let out to take out her enemies, but she should be remembered for being one of the few characters to upgrade herself from villainous sidekick (working with the Riddler) to arch-villain in her own right.
Zelda the Great (Anne Baxter)
Zelda the Great was an interesting synthesis of the comics and the shows. The story in which she appears as a frustrated stage magician and escape artist is lifted from the comics, but when it was adapted, the character became a woman and Baxter took the stage for her first appearance. The thing is, she’s extremely sympathetic — the first “not all bad” villain on the show, in fact — but would later be overshadowed by the far more comedic performances Baxter would turn in as Olga.