The Man Who Had Gazooks on Batman

About a week ago, Lorenzo Semple Jr died. This is from his obituary in the i newspaper, by Anthony Hayward. He had the brilliant idea to turn DC comics Batman and Robin into the hugely popular tv series in the 1960s. It was an amazing series as the humour was quite adult but still fun for kids. It was camp, tongue in cheek, and constantly referenced its origins by including graphics bursting out of the live action with bat words like ‘Pow’ and ‘Biff’ as the comically dressed Batman (Adam West) and boy wonder sidekick Robin (Burt Ward) as they fought fantastically silly arch villains which he invented – the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman. He only wrote the first four episodes, but remained as a consultant over the 3 series. It predated the women’s movement, so by today’s standards was pretty chauvinistic, but it sent itself up so much, with bat girl scoring points, it had a lot of subtle undercurrents to it, so had a lot in common with girls’ adventure books at the time. Here’s a clip of Batgirl standing up for women’s rights.:

Semple had a colourful life, serving as an ambulance driver for the Free French forces, winning their Croix de Guerre after surviving a battle in the Libyan desert. He joined the US army, winning Bronze star for bravery, and had studied drama and writing at Columbia and had published short stories in magazines.

His play Golden Fleecing was a comedy about US navy officers in Venice using their ship’s computer to win at roulette was turned into the 1961 film the Love Machine, starring Steve McQueen. The tv superhero series The Green Hornet was based on a two part story he wrote in 1966, and he moved on to the big screen.

His films included Fathom (1967) with Raqel Welch as a skydiver sent to rescue a lost atomic device. Pretty Poison of 1968 won him the New York Film critics Best Screenplay award, with Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld. He co-wrote adaptations of The Parallax View starring Warren Beatty, and Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. But he was replaced on both of these before they were finished, which happened again with Papillon (1973) which starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. His solo works included the failed King Kong remake, and Flash Gordon of 1980.

He scripted the Sean Connery James Bond film in Never Say Never Again (1983) which was an unofficial Bond release based on Fleming’s Thunderball, but it was rewritten by Dick Clements and Ian La Frenais.

Lack of studio work made him turn to lecturing on screen writing, his last screenplay was an adaptation of the supernatural novel Rapture for tv in 1993. From 2007 he joined veteran studio executive Marcia Nasatir reviewing films and bickering on the YouTube series Reel Geezers.

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