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Frank Gorshin Returns as The Riddler

on Wed, 07/24/2013 - 00:00

Batman has worn many personas over the decades that have passed since his 1939 debut in Detective Comics. Originally a masked vigilante who both carried and used a gun as he fought the criminal overlords of society’s underbelly, this “pulp fiction” version quickly fell to the wayside with the introduction of teenage sidekick Robin, brighter color tones and a newfound philosophy against both killing and firearms. Then there’s the Batman of film director Tim Burton who watched over a Gotham City filled with clashing futuristic architecture and freakish supervillains. Christopher Nolan, meanwhile, later rebooted the film franchise, keeping its darker elements but crafting foes that—albeit still demented— were rooted in the real world of the Twenty First Century.

Despite the various guises that the Caped Crusader has embraced throughout his “career,” one of the most popular interpretations remains the 1960s television show that featured Adam West as the title character and Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Although West’s Batman was no Dark Knight and the series itself contained a campy style and dialogue filled with clichés, the show is still an endearing part of the childhood experience for those who grew up watching it, either when it originally aired or in later syndication. DC Comics brought this particular Batman full circle in July 2013 with the release of Batman 66, a comic book based on a television show that was based on a comic book. And like the original small screen series, the first villain in the new graphic adaptation was the same Riddler who was famously brought to life by Pittsburgh native Frank Gorshin.

Gorshin was born in the Steel City in 1934, the son of a railroad worker and seamstress. The acting bug hit young Frank at the age of 12 and he subsequently worked as an usher at the Sheridan Square Theater while attending the former Peabody High School in East Liberty. Upon graduation, Gorshin enrolled at the Carnegie Tech School of Drama, performed in various theater productions on the local stage and developed a standup comedy act that included impersonations of Al Jolson, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson. The budding comedian won his first talent contest at the age of 17, and the prize included a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller’s Carousal Club—the old Liberty Avenue hot spot that listed Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason among its many performers.

Frank Gorshin eventually moved to Hollywood and made numerous appearances on both The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show before landing the role of The Riddler on Batman. He was rewarded with an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and went on to portray the Prince of Puzzles a total of 10 times—nine on the series and once on the big screen. Although Gorshin died in 2005, it is still his image that graces the pages of Batman 66 as The Riddler once again matches wits with the Caped Crusader in the first issue of the comic book series, just as he did in the initial episode of the television show.

“Why couldn’t Chicken Little cross the road?” the illustrated Riddler asks. “Because the sky was falling there too!” For fans of the 1960s Batman, the sky is no longer falling but brightening instead with the release of Batman 66. Pittsburghers, meanwhile, can take delight in the fact that one of their own has returned to stretch the cipher-solving abilities of the Dynamic Duo to their limits with his trademark riddles.

Anthony Letizia

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