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Batman's First Feline Foe

Julie Newmar's Catwoman bewitched the TV superhero 29 years ago

Perhaps things had been going too easily for the Caped Crusader. After all, Batman had matched wits with the Riddler (Pow!), the Joker (Bam!), and the Penguin (Thud!) when Catwoman, in the person of Julie Newmar, slithered into his life on March 16, 1966. Adam West, the star of TV's campy hit, admitted that both on screen and off, the 5-foot-10-inch actress with the 39-23-39 measurements left him powerless, and he wasn't the only one who'd been catnipped. When ABC cut into Newmar's first episode on the series to report maneuverability troubles aboard the spacecraft Gemini 8, thousands of viewers called to complain.

Newmar only appeared in six two-part episodes before leaving to film MacKenna's Gold, and she was succeeded by Eartha Kitt. Lee Meriwether leapt into the role for the '66 Batman movie, but to many, the slinky original remains the quintessential feline fatale. ''I always felt that cats went to ballet school,'' says Newmar, ''and I started at age 5. Catwoman had to have an intelligent body -- which I have -- and express physically what's not in the script.'' Her costume spoke volumes too: Newmar marked where her spangled suit should hug her curves, then added a gold belt around her hips. She still gets letters from men confessing that she was the first woman to excite them, ''and the girls identify with how good it feels to have that kind of mastery over boys. Catwoman is one of the great roles for women in theatrical history.''

In fact, when the pregnant Annette Bening dropped out of 1992's big-screen Batman Returns, Sean Young wore a catsuit on The Joan Rivers Show to plead for the role (Michelle Pfeiffer eventually nabbed it, and was paid far more than the $2,500 Newmar earned per TV episode). ''[Catwoman] was just such a forbidding kind of heroine for so many little girls,'' said Pfeiffer, who turned ''Meow'' into the most forbidding come-on in recent history. Says Newmar of that: ''Michelle Pfeiffer can do no wrong.''

Her own powers have hardly diminished. Now 59, Newmar just modeled for designer Thierry Mugler in Paris, and an upcoming film is named after her: In To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, she plays the patron saint of three drag queens. Her pneumatic pussycat is also still alive. ''When people recognize me, they still ask me to purr,'' Newmar says. And does she? ''Sometimes,'' she purrs.

Originally posted Mar 10, 1995 Published in issue #265 Mar 10, 1995 Order article reprints
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