The Boy Wonder is 75.
Burt Ward, who played Robin in the “Batman” television series of the 1960s, was born July 6, 1945.
It doesn’t seem possible that Batman’s sidekick, forever young in reruns, could be celebrating a 75th birthday. But time marches on for everyone, and the years have been especially kind to Ward if you consider he aged from TV hero into an actual saver of lives. If you’ve got paws, he’s got your back.
“I was the caped crusader, and now, I’m the canine crusader,” the actor said during a phone interview.
Ward said he and his wife, Tracy, operate the world’s largest giant breed dog rescue, Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions. Gentlegiantsrescue.com says the Wards have rescued 15,500 dogs over the past 26 years, but you can assume the total is significantly higher.
“We stopped counting,” Ward said.
Hey, it’s easy to lose track, especially when you’ve got 50 dogs living in your home at any given time. Those poor bats from Batman lore only had a cave. Robin’s dogs share his pad.
Ward was cast in the TV series because he “was” Robin, at least in the eyes of executive producer William Dozier.
A real-life boy wonder, Ward was skilled in athletics (he studied karate and sparred with Bruce Lee before either became famous) and brain power. He was taking classes at UCLA and selling real estate when he made a sale to a producer who pointed him toward a TV project.
Ward had no idea the project was “Batman.” The first script pages he was given mentioned a couple of characters named Dick and Bruce.
Ward said 1,100 people interviewed for Robin, alias Dick Grayson. Trying out for his first acting job and not burdened with negative baggage due to past rejection, Ward said he was “forward in a nice way” when he sought the role. When Dozier told Ward he was kind of big for the part, it made Dozier laugh when Ward said, “I promise you sir, I won’t grow any more.”
Ward was sent to a trailer so he could get costumed for a screen test. The series was great fun, but Ward will still tell you the Robin costume was horrendous and uncomfortable. He told the wardrobe people the good news was, after his screen test, he would never have to wear the costume again. Oops.
“You want to know why we selected you?” Dozier once told Ward. “The reason we selected you was in our minds, forgetting television, if there really was a Robin, you would be it. We knew it the minute you came in.”
“Batman,” starring Adam West in the title role, became more than just a twice-a-week hit. It sparked Bat-mania.
Ward found out how big the show was when he made his first public appearance after the series debuted. He was booked to appear Saturday and Sunday at a store in Tacoma, Washington. On the Wednesday prior, you couldn’t get within six blocks of the location because of parked cars, blocked streets and people who camped out in advance, according to Ward, who said college football players were hired for security. He said the store sustained damage not from rioting, but from collateral damage related to crowd size.
Apparently, not everyone was hip to the TV show. Ward put on his costume elsewhere and walked to the store as Robin. An elderly lady spotted him and said, “Damn hippy.”
A feature film was made in conjunction with the series. When the movie was released, Ward and West attracted such frenzied crowds at theater appearances that some stops were canceled. Costumes were torn and bodies hit the ground, never mind police protection.
“People were so excited,” Ward said. “I used to see people arguing over my paper drinking cup when I was drinking some water.”
Autograph lines were long when Batman and Robin teamed up for appearances. Ward said West would show his playful nature by grabbing a microphone and saying things like, “Ladies and gentleman, this is Batman speaking. I just want you to know we are making great progress. The line is moving at a much faster pace. We are up to an inch an hour.”
West died in 2017. Ward said West’s sense of humor was amazing. He credited the success of “Batman,” at least in part, to their chemistry.
Ward said he has made 7,000-plus personal appearances over the past 50 years, sometimes visiting as many as 300 cities per year. Memories get muddled when you live out of a suitcase, but he recalled in detail a costumed appearance at a Tulsa mobile home business in the 1970s.
That’s enough about Robin. Let’s talk about doggies.
The Wards sought a dog for their daughter in August 1994. They rescued a Great Dane, then another. An individual who was operating a Great Dane rescue in Southern California died. Guess who picked up the slack? By the end of August ’94, the Wards had 102 full-sized Great Danes and 62 puppies. They have rescued 45 breeds in the years since.
At first, the dogs lived only to average life expectancy, which can be 7-9 years for a Great Dane, according to Ward. “If we had one that didn’t get adopted and died, it was devastating to my wife and I,” he said. “We sobbed.”
Not content just to save lives, the Wards worked to extend lives, first with special care and then by consulting with nutritionists to create healthier dog food. Gentle Giants Dog Food, available in stores and at gentlegiantsdogfood.com, contains a lower percentage of “crude fat” than other dog foods, according to Ward. He said a person would never pour bacon grease or chicken fat down a garbage disposal because it would cause problems, so why would you want to put animal fat in the arteries and intestines of dogs? Ward said dogs that eat Gentle Giant Dog Food live two to three times longer than normal.
Ward said the dog rescue is a charity, and he and his wife have never taken a dollar in salary. What does he get out of it?
“Satisfaction,” he said. “To me and my wife, Tracy, life is the most precious commodity in the world. Life is so precious. And you know how dangerous it is in this world and how precious life is and how frail life is, right?”
During the interview, Ward also talked about a new venture (Superheroes to the Rescue) that honors people who are doing great things for those less fortunate. Tracy, asked what she likes about her husband, said, “Every single thing. There’s no way I could tell you any one thing. I love everything about him. He is my everything.”
Ward, who has two children, expects to share his 75th birthday with family. He described himself as a kid who, in some ways, never grew up.
“I like to think of myself as a person who isn’t jaded about anything,” he said. “My philosophy is live each day as if it’s your last and some day you will be right.”
Ward was asked if there was anything he wants. Perfect gift?
“I have everything in life that I have ever asked for, that I ever wanted,” he said. “The biggest happiness I get is what my wife and I do for others.”
He said you can reach a point in life where you don’t need to make more money. He’s fortunate. He can live comfortably without chasing dollars.
“I tell people I can only eat so many hamburgers a day, right? Now the pleasure comes from saving lives.”