Interview: Original Catwoman Julie Newmar talks 'Batman' renaissance


More than 47 years since the debut of the classic television series "Batman," the fever over the colorful exploits of the Caped Crusader is as hot as ever, thanks to a "Batman '66 week" celebration over the summer -- and now the long-anticipated debut of merchandise featuring the likenesses of Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin and the original Catwoman from the series, Julie Newmar.

After years of collectors being held at bay due to legal wranglings over rights to the show, toy makers have finally been given the go-ahead to produce the stuff fans have wanted for years -- including their Batman heroes and villains immortalized in plastic.

The spry Newmar, who celebrated her 80th birthday with family and friends last month, told me in a recent interview that her new Catwoman Barbie doll has her feeling like a kid again.

"She's so adorable -- she has this sweet face with a turned-up nose, pinky-lavender lips and big, huge brown, doe-like eyes -- and they even did the eyebrows the same way I did my makeup," Newmar described. "The hair has a curl and a bounce like mine did. They did a brilliant job."

On the whole, Newmar said, the Barbie is like a mirror image ... almost.

"Her body is just like mine, tall and thin and dancer-like, and she has little butt. It's kind of smaller than mine," Newmar whispered.

Of course, it was all fun and games for Newmar as Catwoman on the original "Batman" TV series, which aired on ABC from 1966 to 1968. As big an impact she had on pop culture with the role, amazingly, Newmar only appeared in13 episodes before she had to leave the role in 1967 due to other work commitments. In the midst of series, Lee Meriwether appeared in the role in "Batman: The Movie" in 1966 and Eartha Kitt took on the role for five episodes between 1967 and 1968.

Playing around with her prey, West's Batman/Bruce Wayne, Newmar acting is not only is charismatically present in the physical sense as slinks around in her black, skin-tight outfit, but in psychological one as she uses her wiles to seduce him and help carry out her devious plans.

"I'm realizing that through all the shows I've done -- the television, film and stage -- all the mediums I've worked in, Catwoman's costume was the one that allowed me to tell the story through my body," Newmar observed. "The words were brilliant, and funny on top of that. The producer hired the right people to do all the lighting, to do this, that and the other, and it was the right time in the right decade. It all worked."

The great thing is, Newmar's portrayal remains just as timely today as Anne Hathaway's interpretation of the role in the "Dark Knight Rises" in 2012 -- where Hathaway wore the closest thing to Newmar's costume in all the iterations of the character since she left the show in 1967.

Newmar -- who has deep ties to Minnesota because her mom was born in Princeton -- believes the role still resonates with viewers because she took the time to add some depth to Catwoman amidst the camp that made the show a classic.

"Consider what they offered me in the character. It was seductive and highly sensual -- all those 'S' words," Newmar said. "I once sat down and made a list of 'Who is Catwoman according to Julie Newmar?' I wrote down words like 'playful, hit man strategy, lording over others, hatching plots, diabolical webs of deceit, satisfaction ensured -- almost; S & M, meaning safely manipulated, in charge of all the exists, and greed- greed-greed.' People just love those kinds of things."

See Newmar in scene from the classic "Batman" TV show below.

Newmar believes the approach remains far more sensual than any sex scenes in films and television today, even if they're much more revealing, physically. Of course, considering the times, she said, such seduction on screen had to be more subtle because of what the censors of the day allowed.

"It's better to be constrained. It's better to be held back," Newmar said. "Censorship has its own value, because it's like being stopped before going into a night club ... like anything in this world, you have to find a way to get the job done. (We did it) by using feeling, tension and focus. The more you hold back, the more the energy builds. "

To this day, Newmar says she far more to watch a project with those sensibilities instead of sexual free-for-all.

"It's tiresome to watch overt sex on the screen. It turns me off. I don't want them to do it, I want to do it," Newmar said, bluntly. "Don't do it for me. Don't do my crying on screen. Tell me the story so I can cry."

A stunning, 5-foot-11-inch beauty whose presence illuminated on screen throughout her career (and she's still stunning today), Newmar and her heightened sensuality weren't suddenly awakened when she started prancing around as Catwoman. In fact, she believes there's even electricity in the air in something as seemingly innocent as the classic movie musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," where she starred as Dorcas, one of the seven brides-to-be.

"It was very wholesome and beautiful film -- but oh, how lusty it was," Newmar enthused. "When I look at it and see those seven men, oh, the energy comes through. It doesn't matter how old something is, in film, you can see it. The energy shoots right through."

Newmar remains proud of her portrayal of Catwoman, and she's thrilled she was able to get an opportunity to play the role in a time when the series was fully embraced by fans and rejoiced in the industry.

After all, doing comic book adaptations hasn't always been looked on favorably in the industry. Obviously it's become much more accepted in serious acting community and it's great to see the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley finally giving themselves to go-ahead to be in films like "Iron Man 3," but how people perceived certain genres, like superhero projects, has never really mattered to Newmar anyway.

What matters to her is how material raises people's expectations of life, she said.

"Yes, our mothers said, 'Don't waste your time on comics' when we were 6 years old, but it's our first flirtation with fantasy," Newmar said. "And fantasy, as every psychologist knows, is the breath of tomorrow's beingness, in a sense. It allows us to reach."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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