Get ready for a supercharged blast from the past as Adam West Day returns to downtown Walla Walla, on Sat., Sept. 21, with activities continuing through the weekend. Now in its third year, the event will give fans of the man best known as TV’s Batman a chance to celebrate him in the town where he grew up. West’s widow, Marcelle, and their son Perrin are among the dignitaries expected to attend. And the festivities will include a ceremony, live music, a talk on West’s life, memorabilia booths and more.
A growing tradition
One of the most fascinating aspects of Adam West Day is its own origin story. Like West, event co-founder Jonathan Grant was born into a local wheat-farming family. After getting his college degree, Grant moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He describes his claim to fame as numerous game-show appearances. But after getting married and having a child, he brought his family back to Walla Walla, about 10 years ago. And he was soon managing the front office at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel.
Though he always knew about West when he was growing up, Grant didn’t actually meet him until 2012. When he helped West check in at the hotel. Grant was immediately taken by West’s kindness and graciousness. After this and subsequent encounters, when West stayed at the hotel while visiting family in the area, Grant says West became his hero.
These experiences got Grant thinking about organizing an event to honor West in Walla Walla. But before he could broach the subject with West, the actor died from leukemia, in June 2017.
“At that point, I made it my mission to show his family and the world how Walla Walla has always been so proud of Adam,” Grant says. “Not only his career, but the man and what he stood for, and what he gave back.”
Grant teamed up with local illustrator Adam Lore and local author Don Roff (the three are pictured above) to put together the inaugural Adam West Day in September 2017, about three months after West died. At that first celebration, which would have coincided with the actor’s 89th birthday, West’s family received a key to the city. And the city renamed the street outside West’s boyhood home Adam West Way.
An endearing legacy
During a lengthy career, West built a reputation as a big star who didn’t let his ego get in the way of interacting with people. He was known to spend hours chatting with fans and signing autographs at comic book conventions. And he was loved for supporting charities, including those in Ketchum, Idaho, where he spent much of his time in his later years. These are some of the factors that Grant attributes to the success of Adam West Day.
“Every person who had the honor and pleasure of meeting Adam was truly blown away by how kind and gracious this man was,” Grant says. “People are willing to go out of their way to honor this man.”
As word of that first Adam West Day spread online, the event’s organizers received an email from Rubén Procopio. The artist is a lifelong Batman fan who became friends with West after creating a bust of the actor. (Procopio was storyboard artist for the animated series Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, 2016). In 2017, Lore had created an online petition in support of an Adam West statue. In his heartfelt message, Procopio offered his services for designing the work.
Since then, Procopio has created a miniature model (above) of his proposed Adam West statue, which reportedly has the blessing of West’s family. His plans call for the 8-foot tall bronze statue to depict West from his time hosting variety shows in the 1960s. This October, Walla Walla’s arts commission is scheduled to review the application for a permit to publicly display the proposed work. Personal commitments are keeping Procopio from coming to this year’s Adam West Day. But he will be offering an update of his progress via FaceTime, during a talk at the Marcus Whitman.
This year’s Adam West Day also brings back Johnny Green and Clint Young (above). Green portrayed one of the Joker’s henchman in TV Batman. And Young has carved out a career as a Batman impersonator. His fascination with the Bright Knight inspired him to save up for his replica of the TV Batmobile. (The original TV Batmobile’s features included a supercharged 500-hp Lincoln Continental racing engine.) “Adam has ridden in Clint’s Batmobile,” Grant explains. “And it has also been ridden in and autographed by Evel Knievel and jumped by his son Robbie Knievel, too. So, it’s a pretty famous Batmobile.”
Also downtown, Gesa Power House Theatre will be screening Starring Adam West (2013). Directed by West’s son-in-law James E. Tooley, the documentary follows the efforts of West’s fans and relatives to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which West received in 2012. In the process, the film traces the fascinating path of the West’s career and life.
And a few blocks away, the Kirkman House Museum is offering free admission to its featured exhibit, the Adam West Experience (above). Grant collaborated with museum board member Rick Tuttle to create a re-imagined mashup of Wayne Manor and the Batcave, complete with a retractable Shakespeare bust, sliding bookcase, replica Bat phone and more. A “Bat computer” shows clips from West’s many screen appearances.
Adam West was born William West Anderson, in 1928, in Seattle. And his family briefly lived in Southern California while his mother, a concert pianist and opera singer, pursued a career in the entertainment industry. West would have been about 5 when his father, Otto Anderson, brought the family back to the Walla Walla area. They lived in a house on Alvarado Terrace. And Otto tended to the farm his parents established in nearby Waitsburg.
West and younger brother John moved to Seattle with their mother after their parents divorced. But West returned to Walla Walla to get a degree in literature at Whitman College. His path to stardom included stints as a graduate student at Stanford University and stateside service in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict. A friend helped him find work in Honolulu. While there, he hosted a local children’s TV show and moonlighted as a tour guide, before getting discovered by a vacationing Hollywood executive. In Tinseltown, small parts in television and film would lead to the role of a lifetime.
From 1966–68, Batman was one of the most popular shows in prime time. But it was also a role that West could never completely live down. After the show’s run ended, typecasting limited subsequent opportunities. But West persevered and continued to land parts, including his long-running gig as Mayor Adam West on Family Guy.
“Adam was much more than just Batman,” Grant says. “With a career spanning 50 years in film, television, stage and radio, his work will continue to inspire his millions of fans around the world.”
[Photos courtesy of Jonathan Grant/Adam West Day]