Actor Burt Ward had to endure one of the toughest setbacks ever to befall a TV star once his camp-styled antics as the "Boy Wonder" superhero ended on the one-time hit series "Batman" (1966). Irreparably typecast, he was out of commission for much of his "post-Robin" career with the cult star eventually becoming a frequent participant at TV nostalgia conventions. He was born Bert John Gervis, Jr, the oldest of three children. His father, Bert Sr. was the owner of a traveling ice show called "Rhapsody On Ice." By age two, young Bert was billed as the youngest professional ice skater and his name was even featured in the book Strange As It Seems, a predecessor to the popular Guinness Book of Records. Eventually Bert's family migrated to Los Angeles where his father sold real estate. Bright and athletically inclined, Bert Jr. was active on the high school track and field, wrestling, and golf teams. He was also a chess champion at school and took up karate.
Following graduation in 1963, Bert met Bonney Lindsey, whose father was the well-known musical conductor Mort Lindsey. Through Mr. Lindsey's contacts, Bert and Bonney apprenticed at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where he worked behind the scenes building sets and assisting with props. It was enough to pique his interest and, after attending the University of California at Santa Barbara where he worked part time as a deejay at the local college station, he transferred to UCLA and became a motion picture and theater major, supplementing his income during that time in real estate.
After college, Bert ventured on with his work as a broker and actually made his first sale to producer Saul David who introduced the young hopeful to an agent. In 1965 ABC started its search for a "new face" to appear on an upcoming comic strip series. Bert lucked out and managed a screen test with Adam West for the role of Dick ("Robin") Grayson opposite West's caped crusader. Bert's compact build, slightly awkward sense of humor, and assured athletic skills (he was a brown belt in karate at the time) were instrumental in his winning the role. He adopted the last name of Ward for his moniker, which was his mother's last name, and changed the spelling of his first name to "Burt."
Without any professional acting experience at all, Burt was suddenly thrust into the limelight big time. "Batman" (1966) premiered in January of 1966 and caught on instantly. It became a ratings smash. The kitschy, tongue-in-cheek humor combined with the colorful sets, gimmicky props ("Batmobile") and heroes' catchy phrases (including Burt's "holy (whatever), Batman!") all added tremendously to the cartoon fun and triggered huge profits for ABC. Popular guest stars villains such as Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Vincent Price, Victor Buono and even Tallulah Bankhead joined in on the outrageousness. Faithful to Bob Kane's original comic strip, fans could not get enough of the Dynamic Duo or the show. Adam and Burt made frequent personal appearances and appeared everywhere in numerous magazine articles.
The sudden thrust of celebrity eventually took its toll on Burt's young marriage to Bonney and they divorced around the beginning of the show's second season. He then married lovely actress Kathy Kersh whom he met when she appeared as a guest on the show. This marriage too fell apart after only a couple of years. Kersh went on to marry actor Vince Edwards. An untried talent at the time he started the show, he made, as such, only $350 a week during the first season. He did not fare much better in the subsequent seasons ($450 for the second; $500 for the third). Moreover, by 1968 audiences lost interest and, after two-and-a-half years, his "fifteen minutes of fame" was over. Like a new dance craze, the novelty wore off and all the hoopla surrounding it disappeared. The show went into the ratings tank. Towards the end they tried adding a sexy Batgirl (lovely Yvonne Craig) to spice up the proceedings but it didn't help.
With the demise of the series, Burt had no prior acting credits and nothing sound to fall back on. Both he and Adam West, who once had a serious reputation as an actor, would pay dearly for the characters that turned them into overnight sensations. They did wind up providing the animated voices to their superheroes on Saturday morning cartoons. Burt put aside the acting business and used his smarts in other suitable ways. He used a bit of his savvy and organized fan clubs, seeing that all his fan mail was given responses. He also launched a fund-raising business to help schools and hospitals raise money. During the late 1980's, Burt created an early education program for children aged 3-8 that taught social values, good health and safety rules, and critical thinking skills. It was called the Early Bird Learning Program.
It was through this education program that Burt met fourth wife Tracy Posner. They married on July 15, 1990, and had daughter Melody Lane Ward the following year. He also has an older daughter, Lisa, from his first marriage. Together Burt and Tracy organized Great Dane Rescue which rescues and finds homes for this special breed. Unlike others who have suffered similar career fallouts, Burt has ventured on productively with his life. He also went on to make a game comeback of sorts in low-budget films in the late 80s with such dubious titles as Virgin High (1991) (with Tracy), Hot Under the Collar (1992) and Karate Raider (1995) leading the pack.
|Tracy Posner||(15 July 1990 - present) 1 child|
|Mariana Torchia||(10 August 1985 - ?) (divorced)|
|Kathy Kersh||(25 February 1967 - 1969) (divorced)|
|Bonney Lindsey||(19 July 1965 - December 1966) (divorced) 1 child|
Runs a charity that rescues and cares for abandoned Great Dane dogs.
Daughter, Lisa Ward, was born in 1966; daughter, Melody Lane Ward, was born in February 16, 1991.
Wrote an autobiography, "Boy Wonder: My Life In Tights", in which he described his experiences on the "Batman" (1966) TV series' set, his relationship with co-star Adam West and his sexual escapades with his fans.
When asked to give a speech at Harvard about his role on "Batman" (1966), he brought the original costume, said to be valued at a half-million dollars. Some students came up to him dressed as security guards and told him they would keep the costume safe. Then in the middle of the speech, one student stood up and asked, "When is a costume not a costume? When it's stolen." The lights dimmed and the students grabbed the costume and made off. After snapping pictures with one another in the cape, they later called Ward and gave the costume back. The ringleader of the gang? Harvard Lampoon editor Conan O'Brien.
He recorded a record with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, "Orange Colored Sky & Boy Wonder I Love You".
Learning to speed read, he was tested before the American Medical Society in Beverly Hills. His highest speed: 30,000 words per minute with 90% comprehension. He was featured in an article entitled, "Will The Real Boy Wonder Please Stand Up?" and appeared on the national reading show, "Read Right".
He used a total of 352 "holy" words throughout the entire 120 episodes of "Batman" (1966).
During his run as Robin in "Batman" (1966), one influential Roman Cathoic organization was outraged by the fit of Robin's tights. He wore one and even two supporters at one point but they were still not pleased.
He was the world's youngest professional skater at the age of three.
Has a black belt in karate.
Was the third actor to play the comic book character Robin/Dick Grayson.
Best known by the public for his starring role as Robin on "Batman" (1966).
Ex-son-in-law of Mort Lindsey.
It has been suggested that Ward was given that screen name by the producers of the "Batman" (1966) TV series because his character, "Dick Grayson", was Bruce Wayne's ward. Ward says he chose the screen name, himself, as it was his mother's maiden name.
Ward has said that he was considered for the role, that went to Dustin Hoffman, in The Graduate (1967). However, his connection with the "Batman" (1966) TV series prevented him from being considered seriously for the role.
His acting mentor was Adam West.
Playing Robin was everything I could want. It was me being allowed to be myself. I was exactly what the producers imagined Robin would be like.
[on auditioning for "Batman" (1966)] To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know what I was trying out for. The producers didn't tell me. I remember that I went in for my screen test and two guys pulled off my pants and pulled on these leotards. I was afraid I was auditioning for a porno flick.
[on shooting "Batman" (1966)]: I was new. This was my first job. One of the scenes was in the same show, where The Riddler shoots me with a dart in the arm, and I fall down, and he presses a button in the Batmobile, and all these fireworks go off. They said it was a one-take thing and nobody could move. Well, here I didn't move, and the ashes burned through my cape, and I had third-degree burns and scars on my arm because I didn't want to make any noise and ruin the shot.
[1987 interview] I truly believe I've made a valuable contribution to the entertainment industry. I feel I'm now making an equally valuable contribution through my work helping charities. I expect that my acting career will also continue. Eventually, what I'm presently doing in film distribution will join forces with what I want to do in film performing. I intend to accomplish much more in many different areas of my life -- and I'm confident that you will continue hearing about me. )
I learned a great deal from "Batman" (1966). It was an experience I will treasure forever. It gave me a fantastic opportunity. It has enabled me to meet and be welcomed by people throughout the world. Having seen me on television, they treat me as though I'm their friend, as though I've been in their home before.
[on the difference in "Batman" (1966) and Batman Forever (1995)]: We did a family show. Our show was oriented towards mom and dad and the kids, teenagers. Everybody could watch our show. The three Batman movies that have come out, the studio must feel that they need to present this in a much darker, more ominous, more violent, more degrading way, because they didn't want any association with anything that was uplifting or wholesome or all-American apple pie. And that's the answer to it. I don't happen to agree with it. I honestly think that Adam [Adam West] and I could have done an incredible job doing the roles. Let me tell you something, this is not against the other actors like 'Val Kilmer' or Michael Keaton. They're great, too. But Adam West and I were Batman and Robin. And just like you have "Star Trek" (1966) that had 'William Shatner' and Leonard Nimoy in the original series, which was followed by, I don't know, five, six, probably now going to be seven features, all of which were successful, there's no reason we couldn't have done it. It's just that there is some theory that you have to kill so many people per second and you have to have such death-defying violence that we could not be believed. And to be honest with you, if we were going to do it, we wouldn't have wanted to do it that same way. We believe you can have all the kinds of entertainment you want to appeal to all ages. Because right now you have a movie that only should be seen by adults, these three films, and when I went to see the movie, I was very upset to see children two, three, four, five, six years old in that theatre that should never have been in there.
[Of his longtime friendship with Adam West, who played Bruce Wayne (A.K.A. "Batman" (1966))]: Adam and I have been very close friends. We're very, very, dear friends. Adam was like a mentor for me. I mean, he had a lot of experience in acting and for me, doing 'Batman,' was my very first thing. We've always been good friends, we're dear friends, now!
[Who wore a different type of material glove than his series lead, Adam West, who played Batman]: The show was rushed into production when it was picked up as a mid-season replacement. It was originally planned as a regular season show to premiere in September of 1966. What was supposed to be at least 6 months of preparation time, turned out to be 5 weeks! Many of the costumes, props and even the Batmobile weren't finished when we began production. As things were completed, they put them into the show. You'll notice my boots also changed. Adam had the real challenge as the first cowl that was made for him was much too small. I still remember seeing him grimace as he pulled it on and off - it was about two sizes too small.
[Of Adam West]: I must tell you that Adam West and myself had stunt men. But they had a policy on Batman. Whenever there was something dangerous (which seemed to be in every episode) they always said, 'Use Burt.' So, I was always getting hurt. Because my stuntman was off having coffee with Adam West! I'll never forget that the very first shot on the very first day in the Batmobile, I'm dressed in my costume, we come barreling out of the Batcave, I noticed that Adam wasn't driving. I said, 'Why are you driving? Why are you in the costume?' He said, 'I am a stuntman. I'm a specialist in racing cars.' I said, 'Oh! Why am I here? Don't I have a stunt man?' 'You have one. He's over there having coffee with Adam West.' I said, 'What's going on here? If it's so dangerous that Adam needs a stuntman, why don't you have a stuntman for me?' And the answer came back, 'Because your stuntman doesn't look like you.' For three and a half years, in prime time, I had a wonderful stunt man but I did all the stunts because he didn't look like me!
(July 2001) Operates Boy Wonder Visual Effects, Inc., which provides 3D animation and visual effects for feature films and television.
(2000) Release of his autobiography, "Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights".
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