Catwoman – A Retrospective

I love fictional characters. I love the escape they offer, the adventure, thrill and flare they bring to a story. From Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to George Lucas’s Hans Solo to Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing and everyone in between, characters let us tag along for the mischief or heroism devised in the mind of the author.

Classic literature has given us some formidable and even frightening folks to enjoy; Frankenstein, Taylor from Planet of the Apes (not to mention the apes), Superman, Sherlock Holmes and even Jim West from TV’s Wild, Wild, West. One of my favorite childhood cast of characters has been and remains to the day, everything and everyone associated with Batman.

Through the ages the one Batman villain who has seen the most diversity is Catwoman. Skin-tight leather body-suit aside, Catwoman clearly stands out not only as a super-villian, but a woman capable of tugging on batman’s heartstrings. Ah the life of the Bat and the wayward Cat.

This is a look at Catwoman and the actresses who have donned the  Cat suit for our viewing pleasure.

Julie Newmar is the first Hollywood actress to strap on the cat ears and slink into the life of our courageous bat-hero. Her animal attraction to Batman is immediate and potentially deadly.

The Catwoman character first appeared in the comic book, Batman #1, where she was introduced simply as the “Cat,” a mysterious burglar and jewel thief. The character is developed as a femme-fatale who both antagonizes and attracts batman.

This attraction carried over to the 1966 TV series as Julie Newmar really took the vamp nature of Catwoman over the top. Newmar portrayed Catwoman for two seasons but did not return to the series for the third and final season.

Other committments procluded Newmar from reprising her Catwoman role so a sleek and beautiful Lee Meriwetherbrought her hourglass figure to the sound stage where the Batman movie was filmed in 1967. In the movie version Catwoman’s alter ego was a Russian woman named Miss “Kitka,” an acronym for Kityanya Itrenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff. That’s a mouthful for even the caped crusader.

In the movie version, Catwoman joins the archvillains of The United Underworld – The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin, and devise a plot to dispose of Batman and Robin as they scheme for world domination.

Boom! Kerpow! Whack! Zap! Zing!

Well… you know the rest.

Eartha Kitt replaced Julie Newmar for the final three Catwoman episodes of season three. According to Wiki, Kitt wore Newmar’s costume, but considering Julie Newmar is 5’11” and Eartha Kitt is 5’4″ that seems highly unlikely. Newmar was off filming McKenna’s Gold and was unavailable for season 3.

Julie Newmar had become such an iconic actress, the public never really embraced Kitt as Catwoman. The underlying sexual attraction, visible between Catwoman and Batman in seasons 1 & 2, went away when Eartha took on the role. Producers believed this was not suitable for the 1960s considering Eartha was an African-American and Adam West was not.

Eartha Kitt died of cancer on Christmas day of 2008. Her passing brought a host of new fans to her role as the iconic Catwoman.

“I am catwoman; hear me roar.”
– Catwoman (Batman Returns)

Twenty-five years after Eartha Kitt shed the catsuit, Michelle Pfeiffer became the next generation Catwoman for Tim Burton’s second Batman revival, Batman Returns.

What’s not to like about the Pfeiffer reboot of the femme feline. Skin tight black latex, a snappy black whip and nails to die for – literally.

In the arc of Batman Returns, Catwoman appears to die eight times. Once when boss Max Shreck pushes her out a window, again when Batman knocks her off a building, once more when she floats away on Penguin’s umbrella, and four more times when Max shoots her.

Who could forget the forgettable portrayal of Catwoman by hot-actress sensation Halle Berry? In what many critics dubbed as the worst movie of 2004, Catwoman was a disjointed affair inspired by the DC Comics Batman series, which is almost like saying ham was inspired by the pig.

In this version, Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) works in a cosmetics factory. From here this revolves around Berry becoming Catwoman, strutting around, shaking her bootie as Catwoman and getting her man. There is no Batman, no Commissioner Gordon, no Batmobile, other character or prop from Bat world to remotely connect this train wreck to DC Comics.  On a positive note, Berry really knows her way around leather pants and whip-cracking. She’s a nimble minx. (Wait – wrong movie.)

Which brings us to the next batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises directed by Christopher Nolan. At best, casting the Catwoman has to be a difficult task. The public already has a vision of what the feline villain has to be — sexy, sultry, diabolical, a woman who oozes a vampish nature. When I think of that person the last one to come to mind is Anne Hathaway. The Devil Wears Prada star is about as catlike as Garfield.

Hathaway may be able to pull it off. It will be a huge boost to her career by adding a dimension to her acting that I just don’t see today. Yes, she’s pretty and yes, she will be charming as Selina Kyle, but can she pull off a sultry, sexy, badass. Well that is the question now isn’t it.

I already miss the cat-ears.

When researching this blog I stumbled over a very obscure, possibly unseen Catwoman. Way back in 2002 on the WB (Warner Brothers network) you could find a new series titled Birds of Prey. It studied the period of time in Batlore after Batman and Joker fought an epic battle and had to leave Gotham City. In the void a new group of Super-villains moved in to take control.

The role of Catwoman is played by Maggie Baird in two episodes but what I am able to gather, she was not really a villain. She was the mother of the series heroine, Helena Kyle (The Catwoman’s daughter). Helena is also the heir to the Wayne fortune (Bruce Wayne’s daughter) which makes her Batman’s daughter. Catwoman appeared in two episodes of Birds of Prey.

Talk about coming full circle. I always thought the Bat and the Cat would hook-up.

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