by Matt D. Wilson
Lorenzo Semple Jr. arguably did more to popularize Batman than anyone else in the character’s 75-year history. The man who created the beloved 1960s Batman TV show died Friday of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Semple was an accomplished writer of screenplays for films including The Parallax View, the 1980s Flash Gordon movie and Three Days of the Condor. His latest project was a YouTube series called Reel Geezers, in which he and producer Marcia Nasatir would comedically bicker and review movies. Their review of The Dark Knight can be viewed at the bottom of this post.
“I think Batman was the best thing I ever wrote, including those big movies,” Semple said in a 2008 interview with the Archive of American Television. “As a whole work, it came out the way that I wanted it to, and I was excited by it.”
Semple was the credited writer the TV series’ first four episodes, as well as the 1966 movie that was released between the first two seasons (which he wrote in just two weeks). He served as a consultant on every episode of the show and wrote the series “bible,” which stated that Batman should never break the law, among other rules.
Semple got the gig on Batman after ABC passed on an idea for a series called Number One Son because the show, which was about the progeny of the famous detective Charlie Chan, featured an “ethnic hero.” As a sort of apology for turning down that show, the network offered Semple and producer William Dozier the Batman series.
Semple’s version of Batman is enjoying a cultural resurgence as of late. DC’s digital-first Batman ’66 comic series debuted to great fanfare and success in July 2013, the TV series is coming to DVD and Blu-ray later this year, as are some positively beautiful new toys from HotToys.
Jim Chadwick, editor of the Batman ’66 comic, tweeted that Friday was a “sad day for us,” and series writer Jeff Parker emailed us these thoughtful remarks about Semple and the importance of his work:
You can’t overstate the importance of what Lorenzo Semple Jr. did as head writer of the Batman tv show. He understood the right mix of heroics and humor, and more importantly the type of humor to get the tone of the Batman show as precise as it was. And everything that show achieves hangs on that tone, which combined with the inspired cast and design work to capture the zeitgeist of the times. He made those sensibilities work again in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.
But though that body of work was crucial to me in working on the Batman ’66 comic, what was way more influential was his screenplay for Three Days of the Condor. I read the book by James Grady, which had a lot of good knowledge of spy work, but wasn’t written anywhere close to the level of the movie, which is unusual. That movie had a huge impact on me and my writing. Semple was incredibly versatile, he knew how to assess the kind of story a project needed and deliver that, and his work ages well. Cheers to his long life and entertaining stories.
Semple will be missed, but his work will clearly live on for ages to come.