‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, a silent screen actor, was the first western film hero and star in The Great Train Robbery (1903.) He later played in over 300 short films.
Wait … this summary is not about that actor, this is about Bill Anderson (another actor,) born September 19, 1928 in Walla Walla, Washington, to parents Otto and Audrey Anderson.
He was raised on the family farm. When his parents divorced (when he was 15,) he moved with his mother and his younger brother, John, to Seattle. He was torn between being a farmer like his father or pursue art, which his mother (a concert pianist, singer and artist) had been unable to do.
He attended Walla Walla High School during his freshman and sophomore years, and later enrolled in Lakeside School in Seattle and graduated in 1946.
A childhood and college buddy was Carl Hebenstreit. Bill and Carl both went to Whitman College in Walla Walla and graduated in 1951. Anderson played water polo, ran track, skied and swam at Whitman College.
Anderson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and a minor in Psychology; he was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and participated in the speech and debate team. (Patalon)
His interest in entertainment was evident while he was at college, where he was involved in the launch of a television station, as well as working as a disc jockey.
After graduating, he got a job as a DJ at a local radio station; then enrolled at Stanford for post-graduate courses. Drafted into the military, he spent the next 2 years starting military TV stations, first at San Luis Obispo, CA, then at Fort Monmouth, NJ. Afterwards, he and his wife (Billie Lou) toured Europe, visiting Germany, Switzerland and Italy’s Isle of Capri.
Then, the money ran out.
It was 1955 … he met up with his old friend, Carl Hebenstreit, who encouraged Bill to come to Hawai‘i. Carl just previously made Hawai‘i television history when at shortly after 5 pm, December 1, 1952, he uttered, “Hello Everybody. Welcome to the first official broadcast of KGMB-TV.” It was the pioneer broadcast in the Islands.
Carl had been starring in a children’s program in Hawai‘i called ‘The Kini Popo Show’ (the first morning television show in Hawai‘i) and asked Bill to work with him on the show. (Carl took the stage name ‘Kini Popo.’)
“I started at CBS in Honolulu, and the guy who was the first big TV personality on the islands, Kini Popo, was an old school friend. He decided to go south to New Zealand, and I was picked to take his place. And that’s what started it all for me. It was like two hours every morning, doing whatever I could to be entertaining.” (Anderson; AVClub)
In 1956, he divorced Billie Lou, and while in the Islands met and married an attractive Tahitian Princess Ngatokoruaimatauaia called Frisbie Dawson, whom he calls ‘Nga.’
That year he made his film debut occurs in the film “Voodoo Island” starring Boris Karloff who happened to be filming in the Islands at the time. To make ends meet he also worked as a tour guide.
He moved to Hollywood and did some other films with supporting roles with the Three Stooges, Paul Newman and Spaghetti and local Westerns.
Still a relatively unknown, his break came after filming a TV commercial for Nestle’s Quik chocolate mix, playing a comical spy in a deadpan manner. Here’s a link to the commercial:
By then, Bill Anderson was using the stage name, ‘Adam West.’
“My agent told me that 20th Century Fox and ABC were impressed by commercial I did for Nestle, and I now need to start a new project … Batman.” (West; Batmania)
Finally the day of the debut comes a January 12, 1966, with thousands of watching what was advertised as a feat of special effects never seen colors and foremost a totally modern and renovated hero television viewers.
“I was going to my house when I stopped at a supermarket to step to buy some things, and people who were in the boxes rebuked him to the cashier: ‘Hurry up, fast please, that is Batman started,’ I was really moved by all the expectations that had been generated in the people and that he could not experience by being locked in studies in recent weeks.” (West; Batmania)
Though he has over 60-movies and over 80-TV guest appearance credits, “Batman” is what the fans remember him for. The series, which lasted three seasons, made him not just nationally but internationally famous.
The movie version, Batman: The Movie (1966) earned Adam the “Most Promising New Star” award in 1967. The downside was that the “Batman” fame was partly responsible for ruining his marriage, and he would be typecast and almost unemployable for a while after the series ended (he did nothing but personal appearances for 2 years). (IMDb)
West married his first wife, Billie Lou Yeager, in 1950, only to divorce in 1956. His second marriage to Nga Dawson, a Hawaiian Dancer, resulted in two children. In 1970 he married his present wife, Marcelle Lear, with whom he now has four children.
Adam West is the author of two books, ‘Back to the Batcave’ and ‘Climbing the Walls.’ More than 50 years after starting his career in Hollywood, Adam West continues to work consistently in TV and film. (AdamWest) (Carl Hebenstreit is president and CEO of Trade Publishing, which produces magazines and newsletters.) (Lots of information here is from Batmania, IMDb, SoylentComm and AdamWest-com.)
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