West Loses Lawsuit Over Batman TV Commercial
Ex-Batman actor Adam West lost his dynamic duel Wednesday against a group of advertising agencies he alleged stole his characterization of the crime fighter.
West, who portrayed the caped crusader in the campy 1960s ABC network television series, was seeking $900,000 in damages from the agencies for producing a television commercial featuring another Batman actor. West alleged in his complaint that the actor portrayed Batman in such a way to make viewers believe it was West.
In his ruling, Burbank Superior Court Judge Stephen O’Neil said the central issue was a contractual one that had nothing to do with West’s portrayal of Batman.
“Adam West is a talented actor, but he was an actor, not the creator of Batman,” O’Neil said. “He, Adam West, was playing the part of Batman, and in merely playing such a role does not receive or create a property right absent a contract.”
O’Neil said West gave up all rights to his portrayal of Batman in the contract he signed in 1965 with Greenway Productions, producer of the television series, which is still widely shown in reruns.
O’Neil said the advertising agencies involved in the commercial had paid DC Comics, which originated the crime fighter, for the right to use the likeness of the Batman character.
West had argued that the actor in the 1986 commercial used gestures and speech patterns similar to his in the television series. West said the actor and the producers of the commercial deliberately attempted to re-create his unique portrayal of Batman.
West was not in court Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. His attorneys said the 51-year-old actor was in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was to participate this week in a ski race against Michael Keaton, who portrayed Batman in the 1989 Warner Bros. movie of the same name.
The commercial depicts the Batman and Robin characters shopping during the Christmas season at Zayre’s, a chain of discount department stores.
West said that in addition to losing the $175,000 he would have charged to appear in the commercial, his reputation as an actor had also been damaged.
West’s lawsuit, filed in August, 1988, named three agencies--Ian Leech and Associates of Los Angeles; Ingalls, Quinn and Johnson of Boston, and BBDO New York.
One of West’s attorneys, Dean Tebelius, declined to say if the actor would appeal.
Despite the ruling, Tebelius said, he still believes the law is vague on what rights an actor has in such cases.
Tebelius said that in November, singer and actress Bette Midler was awarded $400,000 in damages from the ad agency that used an ex-Midler backup singer to mimic her voice.