The Whisper Campaign Against Batman & Robin
By: Chris Sims
The great thing about being a guy who has a pretty well-known love of Batman — especially the stranger, weirder elements that have cropped up in his 70-year history — is that occasionally, someone will see one of those weird things and pass it along for me to enjoy. That’s exactly what happened when ComicsAlliance reader Sean Hollenhors came across a copy of a magazine called TV Radio Album from 1967 with an intriguing headline on the cover promising to tell us all about “The Whisper Campaign Against Batman & Robin.”
The article itself is a short one — it’s only two pages, and about 75% of that is taken up with photos — but it is hands down one of the most hilariously bizarre pieces of the Caped Crusader’s history that I’ve ever seen.
As tempting as it might be to find out what sin could drive the King Family from TV (I’m guessing communism), why nobody on Peyton Place goes to church (definitely communism), or what could possibly make a woman like Kathy Lennon afraid to get married (oh son, you best believe that is some communism up in this), those are topics that’ll have to wait for another day.
We’re here to find out about this Whisper Campaign, and whether it’s the plot of some dastardly arch-criminal. Could it be that that sinister, sub-sonic Svengali, the Whisperer (Joey Bishop), has returned to plague Gotham once more?!
No. But as it turns out, the truth is even better:
If you’re like me, then the first thing you’ll notice about these pages is that there is a picture of Adam West surfing, and even though it looks like he’s hanging ten in a section of the ocean that’s about half an inch deep, that’s pretty rad.
When you finally get to those three columns of text, it seems like a story of how West and Burt Ward, despite being relatively unknown, had proven everyone wrong by propelling Batman to its smash-hit success. So far, so good, even if characterizing doubts about unknown actors as a “whisper campaign” is pretty ridiculously melodramatic, even for what looks like the 1966 equivalent of Entertainment Tonight. But then you get to this sentence…
“Though both of them must have heard the whispers, like Liberace some years ago, they are doubtless laughing all the way to their banks.”
…and suddenly it all makes sense.
For those of you who may not be familiar with him, Liberace — who would guest star opposite West and Ward as the arch-villains Chandell and Harry in the second season of Batman — was a legendarily flamboyant pianist who was alleged to be gay pretty much constantly throughout his thirty-year career. He even sued the UK’s Daily Mirror over the allegations in 1956, and when he won $22,000, he told reporters that because of the newspaper’s hurtful comments “cried all the way to the bank.”
In other words, the Whisper Campaign in TV Radio Album was the same one that Dr. Wertham was throwing around 15 years earlier in Seduction of the Innocent: That Batman and Robin — and by extension, West and Ward — were totally gay. Which is why, after this one coded message, it then spends the rest of the time talking about the super masculine, definitely-not-gay-at-all-no-sir stuff they do in their free time.
Karate! Gettin’ married! Makin’ babies! Even the caption to the photo reassures readers “it’s all business” for these two dudes. Meanwhile, the show itself was satirizing this same paranoia in scenes like the one where Batman explaining to Robin that his desires for pretty super-villainesses were “the first oncoming thrusts of manhood.”
It’s a truly ridiculous bit of hand-holding in order to assure people who were so paranoid that they needed code-phrases and references to ten year-old court cases to even think about the existence of homosexuality that they could watch ABC on Wednesday nights without having to be rushed to the fainting couch. This is an article that does all it can to say relax, crazy people of 1966: Batman and Robin are totally not gay.
Those sinners on Peyton Place, on the other hand… Well, one never knows.