Creator of TV’s ‘Batman’ Lorenzo Semple Jr. Dies at 91

Lorenzo Semple Jr Dead Batman Creator
Hana Kalvachova/isifa//Getty Images

Lorenzo Semple Jr., creator of the ’60s “Batman” TV series and scribe on thrillers “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of Condor,” died on Friday in his home in Los Angeles, according to reports. He had turned 91 on Thursday.

The screenwriter also had an extensive film writing career after leaving TV, including 1973’s Steve McQueen-Dustin Hoffman pic “Papillon,” 1975’s “The Drowning Pool” and Jessica Lange-starrer “King Kong.” (1976) Recently, Semple worked on a YouTube series called “Reel Geezers,” in which he and former studio exec Marcia Nasatir reviewed films.

Semple created “Batman,” starring Adam West as the Dark Knight and Burt Ward as Robin, in 1966, and it quickly became a hit. He also wrote the July 1966 “Batman” movie. Though he only wrote the first four episodes of the skein, he served as script or story consultant on the rest of the series.

“I think ‘Batman’ was the best thing I ever wrote, including those big movies,” he told the Archive of American Television in 2011. “As a whole work, it came out the way that I wanted it to and I was excited by it. I once went down to a fancy wine tasting benefit in Princeton. When people found out I wrote ‘Batman’ they mobbed me! I was astounded, but that was the way it was.”

In a 2008 guest piece for Variety, Semple remembered producer William Dozier’s pitch to the network, and how it immediately took off.

“Bill eloquently pitched the script and its high-camp POW!! BLAM!! WHAMMO!! style, those onscreen graphics already written in,” he wrote. “The network was a bit flabbergasted, so different was this from their usual pilot, but they got it.”

“For a time, Hollywood’s brightest stars vied for a chance to appear in the 30-second cameos Bill so shrewdly inserted,” he went on. “Despite efforts to juice it up with a Batgirl and a Batcycle and other ornaments, the series was a one-trick pony at heart, and barely staggered through a second season.”

Though “Batman” was known for a lovable campiness, his work took on a more serious tone as he moved to film. He wrote the script for cult film “Pretty Poison” (1968), which would win the New York Film Critics Circle Award. He would go on to co-write political thriller “The Parallax View” (1974) starring Warren Beatty.

He also penned a script for Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of Condor” starring Robert Redford, though was eventually let go as David Rayfiel stepped in.

Semple was a member of the WGA, and taught a class at New York University’s TISCH School for the Arts in the ’80s.

Semple’s survivors include his daughter Maria, writer-producer who worked on “Mad About You,” “Suddenly Susan” and “Arrested Development,” as well as his wife Joyce, two children and six grandchildren.

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  1. Stephen Weeks says:

    Lorenzo was a great friend for over thirty years. We worked on several projects together, but sadly they were never to reach the screen. I remember writing scenes with him in his study in Aspen, watching skiers shooting down the snowy slopes outside the window as we were working on images of characters nearly dying of thirst in the desert in India! Later, in India, we were staying at the Maharajah of Jodhpur’s bizarre 300-room palace, and we had been invited for drinks with the Maharajah. On entering a huge hall, Lorenzo, always keen to meet and talk to interesting people, quickly found the tall, princely figure in the jewelled turban and impressive beard. The conversation he had seemed a bit one-sided, but Lorenzo had been warned that the Maharajah was a bit taciturn. Eventually, I rescued him. He’d been talking to the Maharajah’s surprised major-domo. He helped me a lot on a novel, Awakening Avalon, which has just been published, and which I dedicated to him. Sadly, his blindness in the last few months meant he never actually saw it. He’s a much missed man.

  2. johntshea says:

    Don’t forget the wonderfully over-the-top 1980 ‘FLASH GORDON’!

  3. cadavra says:

    And a hat tip to his brilliantly sharp script for the 1974 THE SUPER COPS. He was truly inspired.

  4. Adam West says:

    The brilliant Lorenzo was a long distant but true friend and his writing talent truly elevated me with great humor in our Batman series. I am sad to hear that he’s gone. We shared many good times, especially in the pop culture of the late ’60s. Truthfully, I would not have done Batman without his brilliant and funny pilot script. Adam West

    • Richard Lee says:

      Lorenzo Semple, Jr. was a writing genius, and he gave you the greatest lines, Mr. West. May he rest in peace.

  5. Ken says:

    A toast to Mr. Semple, a great (and occasionally wonky) writer I’ve always appreciated. Correction required in the article however: THE PARALLAX VIEW was in no way “a sequel” to KLUTE…other than it being a follow-up film by director Alan Pakula. RIP Sir.

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