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The Nine Lives of the Catwoman
by Mike Thomas

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One Character - Many Lives

One Character - Many Lives

In honor of the upcoming The DARK KNIGHT RISES, I'd like to examine one of the oldest and by far the most enigmatic of The Batman's foes. With Anne Hathaway being the latest in a long line of actresses to put on the black (or purple, depending on your generation) catsuit, let's take a look at The Batman's longest-lived enemy/ally/lover.

The Catwoman has been around since the very first issue of Batman Comics (the first appearance of The Batman being a year earlier, in Detective Comics #27), originally referred to as The Cat. The whip-carrying high-end burglar was a constant foil for The Batman, until the Comics Code of 1954 took her away from the public eye. However, in the 60's with the debut of the campy Batman TV series, her popularity roared back, and has been a staple of Batman's Rouge's Gallery ever since. The attraction of the character, that like most women (sorry, ladies), was that The Batman never knew how to take her. Sometimes bad, sometimes good, sometimes lover, The Catwoman to this day remains the most puzzling villainess.

Originally, the character's alter ego was Selina Kyle, her origins are as enigmatic has the character herself, the most popular origin with her being an amnesiac flight attendant who had turned to crime after suffering a prior blow to the head during a plane crash she survived. The movie versions of her origin involve a murder and rebirth. Regardless of her origins, she has literally had nine lives throughout her existence, in television and in the cinema.

The first screen appearance of The Catwoman was in the 1960's TV series, Batman. During the run of the series, three actresses played the part
The Most Popular Catwoman

The Most Popular Catwoman
of The Catwoman:

- Julie Newmar, a former Broadway actress, famous for her sexually-charged performance as Stupefying Jones in the stage - then later the movie version of L'il Abner.
-Miss America 1954 Lee Meriweather poured into the catsuit for the series and the Adam West movie version of Batman. She was also the first to adopt another secret identity as Miss Kitka, a Russian Lady of Leisure to seduce Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne.
-The third was African American singer Eartha Kitt, whose sexy demeanor and come-hither voice would have made her the purr-fect Catwoman. However, being forty-ish, Kitt was the oldest actress to play the part, and was unconvincing as a sex kitten. Ironically Kitt became the most imitated actress to portray the character.

When The Catwoman moved into the Big Screen, the restrictions of her sensuous nature were thrown out the window - literally. As Selina Kyle, her character was usually played as a repressed, bookwormy character. And unlike the TV version of the character, we actually got to see Selina Kyle. The Catwoman was the id to Selina's ego, acting out as Catwoman what she would never do as Selina. Michelle Pfeiffer played the first screen Selina Kyle as a meek mousy little nobody, whose Catwoman persona manifested itself after an attempted murder. After which, Selina was essentially dead, and The Catwoman would put on Selina to try to blend into normal society. Supposedly, she died several times during the
Two Lives as an Animated Character

Two Lives as an Animated Character
movie, and disappeared towards the end.

Halle Berry put on the catsuit, or most of it, in the ill-fated, but in this writer's opinion, much-maligned spin-off, CATWOMAN. Berry's characterization was more of a Jekyll/Hyde relationship, The Catwoman persona would take over the normally submissive character. Also, the writers took their poetic license, and re-named her normal persona Patience Phillips, most likely to physically separate her from The Catwoman.

Somewhere between Pfeiffer and the Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS, a short-lived series called Birds of Prey featured a team of female superheroes, spearheaded by Ashley Scott as The Huntress, the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Though she is mentioned in the series, Kyle was never a featured player and was only seen in flashbacks, performed by extras and stunt-women.

Catwoman also had animated counterparts, voiced by Adrienne Barbeau (Maude) in Batman, the Animated Series, and Gina Gershon (SHOWGIRLS) in The Batman. Gershon was drawn in the iconic black catsuit, while Barbeau returned the character to the traditional purple costume, closer to the original comic book interpretation of the character.

So, who was the most popular Catwoman?

A poll was taken of all the actresses who portrayed The Catwoman. In a national poll, out of 718 votes, Stupefying Jones
I Was Amost Number Four

I Was Amost Number Four
Julie Newmar came out on top. Michelle Pfeiffer came in second, and surprisingly, Eartha Kitt beat out MIss America Lee Meriweather, though she played the part more times than Kitt and was featured in the 1966 movie. Trailing behind the pack is Halle Berry, then the voice actors Barbeau and Gershon not surprisingly tied for last place.

So there you have it - Counting the upcoming performance of Hathaway, we have the Nine Lives of the Catwoman.

Oh, one side note. While Tim Burton was casting for BATMAN RETURNS, actress Sean Young openly auditioned for the role of The Catwoman, going as far as appearing on talk shows dressed as The Catwoman. The part eventually went to Pfeiffer, leaving an embarrassed Young with pictures all over the Internet of her dressed as The Catwoman, making her a part of The Catwoman line-up as any of the other nine.

So we wish Number Nine the best of luck in The DARK KNIGHT RISES.

You've got a big Catsuit to fill!


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Apr 27, 2013 2:25 AM
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Eartha Kitt, unconvincing as a sex kitten? Wow.

Lee Meriwether (not "weather") only played the part ONCE. By the way, that is her in the photo with the caption "The Most Popular Catwoman", it should be a picture of Julie Newmar.
Mike Thomas
Apr 27, 2013 11:40 AM
[X] delete
Thanks for your comments, Chuck. You really know your Catwomen! I appreciate the corrections and will make an attempt to use them, but I'm sticking to my guns on Eartha Kitt.

Checking my poll, which was done three years ago, Michelle Pfeiffer, who also only played the part once, has taken a commanding lead over Julie Newmar, with Lee Meriwether coming in dead last; Halle Berry and Eartha Kitt were barely ahead of her. Anne Hathaway, who also only had one turn in the catsuit, came in a respectable second.

These polls are, of course, extremely subjective, and another poll could have drastically different results.

Thanks again for reading!

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Science Fiction, Double Feature
Every other Sunday

This column will explore my taste in film. I watch all kinds of movies - all kinds - but likes science fiction/fantasy - action, animated, funny, even stupid. He will speak of his experience and his encounters with science fiction and the way it colors his - and our - everyday life.

Other Columns
Other columns by Mike Thomas:

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Joker Smackdown

Kids in Peril

Twenty Questions with Michael Bonomo

Twenty Questions with Scott Wheeler

All Columns

Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas was introduced to science fiction when he first watched 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, and was hooked ever since. But he doesn't just watch the gee-whiz, gollee-gee special effects. He watches the costumes quirks, evaluates the musical scores, even identifies favorite actors of directors. He collected comic book, but has moved on to weapons: he currently owns the Mj?llnir - the Hammer of Thor, Electra's Ninja Sai's, Mace Windu's Light Saber, and a couple of Batarangs.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Mike Thomas by clicking here.

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