Serious Squareness: an exclusive interview with Lorenzo Semple, Jr. on the creation of TV’s Batman
Holy unexpected delights! I opened my Tumblr inbox the other day to find a message from @jondambacher, and, well, let me just turn it over to him:
Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. celebrates a birthday today (March 23rd). The following is an excerpt from a number of long interviews I was blessed, honored & ecstatic to conduct in 2008, for Lorenzo’s biography I was writing.
To the King of Serious Squareness, I celebrate you, I thank you, I wish you a Happy Happy Birthday.
Jon Dambacher: I have a quote from Dozier referring to you as “the most bizarre thinker I knew.”
Lorenzo Semple: Good.
JD: Have you ever read that?
LS: I think I have, now that you mention it.
JD: What do you think he means here?
LS: I don’t know what he means. He obviously meant it as a compliment but it’s… I don’t know what he meant. I just could think of off-the-wall things. When he showed me, as I’ve told you, when I was living in Spain writing plays with a family, he sent me a cable to come up and meet him at The Ritz in Madrid there in the garden of The Ritz, he had a very strange face, as he pulled out of his pocket a “Batman” comic book. Said, “Would you believe it, this is what ABC has given us to do, because they’d owed us one, can you believe it? He was… Was so disdainful of it. I, uh, in all honesty, I took one look at it and thought of it and said, "I know exactly what to do.” I’ll go home and I’ll write it.“ That was the only discussion about "Batman.” The only discussion. As I say I wrote it, Bill loved it, he gave it to ABC, they thought it was excellent, but they were dumbfounded by it because there was nothing like it. All those things like, “Pop!” and “Bam!” were all written into the script.
JD: That’s awesome! Did you guys just share some crazy sense of humor together–is that how you were able to create this amazing…
LS: Yeah! It’s not really that crazy once you get the note of it, you know what I mean?
LS: It’s all out of that same… That dead serious nonsense, you know what I mean? Adam was actually perfect for it and Burt in his way, too. You know, they’d be chasing somebody and Robin would say, “Park here, they just went into that building…”
JD: And there’s “No Parking” signs…
LS: “No Parking” sign, right! That kind of thing. All these come out of the same level of dead serious, squareness, if you want to call it that. Dead seriously square. That was… Which isn’t that bizarre compared to modern movies, you know, like Charlie Kaufman and things.
LS: It wasn’t too bizarre. Bill probably thought it was bizarre but we’ve both recognized he was a sophisticated guy. He recognized it as being funny. He didn’t mind me thinking up all these things like Bat-Shark-Repellent or whatever it was when the shark had him by the leg…
JD: Right, the Shark-Repellent-Bat Spray.
LS: I guess you could call that bizarre thinking. To me it’s all a part of one type of thinking; do you know what I mean? Bizarre isn’t quite the word, I’d say imaginative.
JD: Okay. We were talking about favorite lines from that film specifically, one that’s stuck with me over the years–I’ve always wanted to meet the man who wrote the line, “Ah, a thought strikes me–so dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance!”
(Lorenzo breaks out laughing.)
LS: That’s very funny, I agree! I agree! That’s the kind of thing we’ve been–you know, that pompous squareness actually. Very good hearted. Adam was a very sweet guy. A very nice guy himself and Batman, you know, nobody was killed in it and there’s nothing–except the name–in common with the Batman franchise, the Warner Brothers ones. The people who say, “What do you feel about those movies” always expect me to say something, I say, “Actually I don’t like violent movies particularly and I stay away from them.” The Batman I wrote has nothing to do with these movies–really has nothing to do with each other… My Batman is more in the spirit of the comic and the very fact that millionaire Bruce Wayne, that’s all you have to say… The fact that you refer to him as Millionaire Bruce Wayne, I mean…
JD: The Millionaire Philanthropist.
LS: The Millionaire–thank you! The Millionaire Philanthropist. I had forgotten that. Just the fact that you’d refer to anybody like that–if you’re sophisticated it shows immediately–it’s ironic at best.
JD: That squareness.
LS: You’re right. That’s what I mean. The squareness, exactly.