ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lewis Wilson, The First Batman and his Worcester connections.

Nope, not this guy.  This pudgeball in the lady belt is Robert Lowery-- the second actor to play Batman on movie screens in 1949's New Adventures of Batman and Robin.

The first actor to play Batman was Lewis J. Wilson born in New York City in 1920.

That's Lew in the devil horns with his Boy Wonder-- the only actor to ever play the character when he was actually a boy, Douglas Croft in 1943's THE BATMAN from Columbia Pictures.

Batman the character made his debut in 1939, just four years earlier.  That same year Wilson was graduating from Worcester Academy, a school his family had ties to for generations.  From Worcester Lew went on to Broadway where he'd gotten some notices  and as World War II got underway he was signed with a contract to Columbia Pictures and soon cast as Batman.  He's also the youngest actor to play the role having been only 23 at the time.

Wilson did a stellar job as aristocrat Bruce Wayne and a somewhat menacing Batman.  I'm sure to him it was just a paycheck to put food on the table, and again playing a comic book character who had only been around four years couldn't have seemed like much of a big deal then.

In 1944 Wilson was drafted and sent overseas, with World War II coming to close he soon found himself struggling to get roles in movies and a real slap in the face was Columbia choosing Robert Lowery for the Batman sequel despite the fact that the first Batman serial had been a big hit with Wilson.  It's possible he never applied for the role, but since he was doing films like Bowanga Bowanga at the time I'd find it hard to believe he wouldn't have put on the cape and cowl again.

He turned to the new medium of TV to co-star on Craig Kennedy Scientific Detective in the early 50s before giving it all up and going to work for General Mills to fend for his family.  His wife, Dana, was a struggling actress too, and they eventually split up with her taking their son Mark to her new home with her new husband Cubby Broccoli.  Broccoli eventually launched the James Bond franchise and step-son Mark eventually took over the role of Bond producer after Cubby's death.

Wilson was rumored to shun mention of the Batman role, requests for interviews during the 1966 Bat-craze were turned down, and there were even newspapers that reported he had been dead for a few years.  Not so.  He had just given up on Hollywood.  There are a few signed bits of memorabilia and Wilson died in San Francisco in 2000 at the age of 80.