Frank Gorshin

Friday, 22 February 2008 09:01

An interview with the Batman super villain The Riddler, the late, great, Frank Gorshin ...

 

"While we were filming Batman I often got asked if I'd got it together with Catwoman," Frank Gorshin remarks, taking a drag on a cigarette and fast recovering his vocal range after throat surgery.

"It was tough enough getting into my own tights, let alone hers!!"

A laugh more throaty than usual accompanies the punchline - the giggle is infectious and I find I have to join in. Mr Gorshin likes having fun, and that includes wit his interviews. Thinking we were settled down and ready to begin, I ask the usual mundane opener to settle him in. How did he get the part of The Riddler?

"I really like Brad Pitt", he says with a straight face, and then smiles widely, before the giggles start again between us. Sitting up straight, Frank slips on his serious cowl for a moment and fills in the story. It's a sunny day, and this is going to be a long session, so I was thankful of the shade.

"I had worked for a guy called Bill Gerringer on Naked City. He told me he had this project and asked me if I'd consider the part. I'd absolutely loved the Batman comics as a kid – and especially The Riddler, who was a genius. He just got away with pranks all the time. There was nothing he couldn't do. To suddenly be asked whether I wanted to bring him to life was just amazing. I didn't have to audition or anything."

With many appearances as the king of question marks (save for one outing where John Astin of Addams Family fame stepped into the tights), did he get the chance to develop the character at all?

 

"The key had to be his laugh. Life was such fun for him and I tried all sorts of laughs, but it had to be an honest laugh. I was really anxious to do this part – it was just bizarre. The outfits, the tights, everything. Adam West had to be careful not to be ridiculous, but I knew what I had to do and that was to have a lot of fun. I really looked forward to every new episode. I would do one show then I wouldn't do a show for another eight weeks – but I always looked forward to appearing again."

With Batman a success even now, over 30 years on, was there any feeling on the set that they were becoming part of a TV legend?

"Well, even to this day I certainly get recognised – ten year old kids still know me because of the re-runs. The first overnight ratings back in 1966 were phenomenal, and we kind of knew then that it was going to be something special. None of us knew or could anticipate just how long it was going to last. I certainly enjoyed the success and the exposure – but it has been a cross to bear. People identified me as that character for a long while. I had a tough time being considered again as a straight actor."

There were a great many props in the series. Had Frank encountered any problems with them?

"I got stuck in the automobile once. I was in the Batmobile and just couldn't get out. There were no handles, inside or outside, and they had to call a crew member in to get me out. I was stuck there for a long time. There was one sequence where I had to slide down a chute and come out standing up in a crowd of people. Believe me, that took quite a few takes!"

I wondered, as Frank is a comics fan, had he ever fancied a crack at another role in the series?

"Now, don't get me wrong, Burgess Meredith was so brilliant, but I would have loved to have played The Penguin. I would have maybe quacked more than him, and I would have waddled more. I was not the leading man type, so playing Batman would have been too straight. It was far more fun being the villain."

Frank was born on 5 April 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cult Film fans know him from a role in "Invasion of the Saucer Men" in 1957, and he has had a reputation as a comic and impressionist in the American equivalent of variety for a great many years. Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, even Jack Nicholson are part of his mimic repertoire. With this thought in mind, I tackle the thorny topic of the Tim Burton Batman movies. Adam West is polite in his criticism of them, so how about Frank's opinion?

"They're terrific. I liked the first one with Jack Nicholson. They approached it from a very dry aspect. Ours was a spoof on the comic and these movies were dedicated to creating that dark look, Jack was absolutely brilliant as The Joker. I did think that somewhere along the way they would have had some of the original people doing cameos, which would have been fun. I don't know why they didn't."

So what is Mr Gorshin's favourite episode?

"It has to be the very first one. I set my character in that one and it got so much hype. It really was a big excitement in my life. We got ratings bigger than the Tonight show, and that was the biggest thing around. It was incredible"

Has Frank any memorabilia stored away from the series, as Adam West does?

"I never had any to keep. The costumes were just leotards and by the end of an episode it was just all shreds. I do have some old scripts and every once in a while I'll sell one at a convention."

As you can see from the TV credits at the bottom of this feature, Frank's been keeping himself busy on TV (and film, too - witness "12 Monkeys"). What have been his recent projects?

"Well, I've made a picture called "Everything's George". It's about George Burns, who I play, and they made me look like him. It was uncanny. I'm developing a one-man show with me as George, which we'll take on the road. I've also just done a picture with Eric Roberts."

And what has been the highlight of his career?

"I was nominated for an Emmy for playing The Riddler in that first episode "Hi Diddle Riddle". I was so thrilled just to have been nominated. I've been lucky and had a great life and everybody says to me to write a book, an autobiography, but who's going to read it? I haven't done enough to merit writing a book on me. But there's still time…" he muses, and smiles enigmatically. The riddles never cease.

 

FRANK GORSHIN'S TV SERIES WORK

  • "Black Scorpion" (1999-2000): Clockwise
  • "The Phantom Eye" (1999) (mini-series): Codger
  • "The Bold and the Beautiful" (1999): George
  • "General Hospital" (1999): Reverend Love
  • "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" (1995): Sharpie Lawyer in "Whine, Whine, Whine" ( #2.21)
  • "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" (1993): Brother Septimus in "Tale of the Carved Stone" (# 3.7)
  • "Ren and Stimpy" (1991): Reverend Jack Cheese in "Jack Cheese"
  • "Murder, She Wrote" (1988): Arnold Goldman" in "Mourning Among the Wisterias" (# 4.15)
  • "Monsters" (1988): appeared in "Parents From Space"
  • "The Fall Guy" (1984): Frakes in "Losers Weepers" (# 4.1)
  • "The Edge of Night" (1981-2): Smiley Wilson
  • "Goliath Awaits (1981) (mini series): Dan Wesker
  • "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (1979): Kellogg in "Plot to Kill a City" Parts 1 & 2
  • "Greatest Heroes of the Bible" (1978) (mini-series): Ocran
  • "Legends of the Super-Heroes" (1977): The Riddler
  • "Wonder Woman" (1977): Dr Hoffman in "The Deadly Toys" ( # 2.12)
  • "Charlie's Angels" (1977): Harry Dana in "Angels at Sea" (# 1.21)
  • "S.W.A.T." (1975): appeared in "Ordeal"
  • "Hawaii Five-O" (1974): Stash in "Welcome To Our Branch Office" (# 7.15)
  • "Don Adams' Screen Test" (1974): appeared as himself
  • "The ABC Comedy Hour" (1972): Regular appearances
  • "The Virginian" (1970): "Dutch" in "Follow the Leader" (# 9.11)
  • "The High Chaparral" (1969): Patrick 'Stinky' Flanagan in "Stinky Flanagan" (# 2.21)
  • "Star Trek" (1969): Commissioner Bele in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (# 3.15)
  • ".Batman (1966-8): The Riddler
  • "Garrison's Gorillas" (1967): Destin" in "Thieves' Holiday" (# 1.10)
  • "The Munsters," (1966): Fair Deal Dan in "Herman, the Tire Kicker" (# 2.28)
  • "The Andy Williams Show" (1966): personal appearance
  • "Naked City" (1963): appeared in "Beyond This Place There Be Dragons" (# 4.19)
  • "Combat!" (1963): Wharton in "The Medal"
  • "Empire" (1962): appeared in "The Fire Dancer" (# 1.7)
  • "The Untouchables" (1962): Herbie Catcher in "The Pea" (# 4.5)
  • "Combat!" (1962): "Private Gavin in "The Hell Machine"
  • "Mr. Lucky" (1960): Jerry Musco in "The Last Laugh" (# 1.17)
  • "Frontier Doctor" (1959): appeared in "The Shadow of Belle Starr" (# 1.15)

 

Find out more about Frank Gorshin at the official website www.frankgorshin.com

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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