Batman’s crimefighting sidekick Robin was famously excitable, with all his “Holy Fill-in-the-Blank” exclamations during the three-season run of the enduringly popular 1960s “Batman” series. But actor Burt Ward learned early on to take the inevitable highs and lows of showbiz career in stride — and that includes a decades-long wait for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“It’s only been 50 years, and I am a patient person,” chuckles Ward, 74, who’ll receive the honor on Jan. 9, in a spot adjacent to the star of his late co-star Adam West.
But it’s actually been longer than that: Ward made his performing debut at age 2 as the world’s youngest professional ice skater in his father’s traveling ice show, a precursor to the Ice Capades. “And I actually remember it — that’s a pretty amazing thing,” says Ward, who was then known as Bert Gervis, Jr. He recalls regularly surprising the audience when while being escorted onto the ice he’d begin to skate on his own. “People were really stunned to see that,” he says. “There are not too many people that can skate at that age.”
After his father sold the ice show and moved the family to Beverly Hills, Calif., flourishing as a top broker of high-end real estate, Ward grew up comfortably ensconced in the industry-centric environs.
“I grew up with other people whose families were in show business, and I always wanted to be an actor, and so I studied a lot,” he says.
He remembers one early acting coach praising his work ethic, but also pointing out “unlike everybody else, if you don’t succeed, it’s not going to bother you — you just don’t have that ‘I’ve-got-to-do-it’ thing.” Ward admits he “worked really hard” but also “just had fun. As a result, things that were great were great, and things that weren’t so great didn’t bother me.”
In 1965, Ward, then 20, was selling real estate on the weekend, sealing a deal with producer Saul David, who’d overseen hit films like the “Our Man Flint” series and was impressed with Ward’s clean-cut, all-American enthusiasm.
“He was kind enough to send me to an agent, and the agent said, ‘I never take on a new person, and the only reason I’m taking you is because Saul David asked me to. Don’t expect to work for a year, and if you do, you’re going to get one line.’ Not exactly highly encouraging!” Ward says.
But the neophyte’s fortunes quickly took a major uptick when he was summoned to a mysterious, secretive audition on the 20th Century Fox lot, and subsequently found himself being introduced to the well-liked producer William Dozier, who Ward later learned was trying to bring a comic book superhero favorite to the small screen.
“I figured everybody got to meet the executive producer, though that’s not exactly the case,” says Ward. “Maybe because I hadn’t been rejected, like many other actors, I just went in very positive, walked right up to him and shook his hand. I think he was shocked that I was just so forward — in a nice way, though, but not timid and reserved.”
Within minutes, Ward was being introduced to West, and two screen-tested together — in full superhero regalia. Again, “I figured everybody got to do the screen test,” he says. “Well, that’s not true, either!”
The rest became pop culture history: With its campy, tongue-in-cheek sensibility, zingy pop art aesthetic, a legion of famous guest stars and exciting caped crusading cliffhangers twice a week, “Batman” instantly became a phenomenon among kids and hip adults alike.
“I was just a starry-eyed young guy that had a great time, and I loved playing the role,” says Ward. “’Batman’ was the No. 1 and No. 2 show in the world. It was tremendous, and you just almost can’t conceive how people reacted to our show. This was when television had just recently come in color. Nobody had ever played with an audience like we did. It was just electric, an amazing event in my life.”
And as the more seasoned West took him under his wing amid the frenzy, the two formed a tight bond that would last until West’s death in 2017. “We just were really good friends, and it stayed that way for more than 50 years,” Ward says.
Skyrocketing to the top of the cultural A-list — albeit for a brief three seasons before the Bat-fad fizzled — had little effect on Ward’s breezy ambition. He was informally offered the lead to a small, low-budget film and had agreed to star until “Batman’s” network ABC nixed the deal. That movie was “The Graduate,” which ultimately cast Dustin Hoffman.
“Did it bother me? A little bit, but did I go nuts? No,” says Ward. “Somebody else could be just devastated by it. I wasn’t.”
Ward largely left acting after “Batman,” occasionally revising the role of Robin for various reunion projects, including a recent cameo during the CW’s 2019 “Arrowverse” crossover event. “I just had the best time,” he says of “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” “It was short and sweet, and it is a very special thing they’ve done.”
Primarily, though, he’s been at the helm of various businesses and charitable enterprises, including former VFX house Boy Wonder Visual Effects, which provided effects for 35 films during its run. Today he and his wife run Gentle Giants Products, a dog food company and dog rescue effort focused on super-sized canines. (The couple routinely have as many as 50 dogs living with them.)
The altruism isn’t accidental. Over the decades since “Batman,” Ward has come to a deep understanding of what his heroic alter ego has meant to generations of viewers.
“I had a gentleman come up to me and say, ‘I could have been on the other end of the law, but because I grew up watching ‘Batman,’ I got into law enforcement. Now I’ve been years with the FBI,’” he says of one recent interaction.
“I realized that we really had a great responsibility when we played those roles to try to be positive influences on people. And I never stopped doing that, whether it’s saving Gotham City or saving dogs.”