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Riddle me this! What do Kiss of Death and the Riddler have in common?
When offered the opportunity to play the Riddler in the 1966 television series Batman, Frank Gorshin jumped at the chance.
“When I was a kid, I loved the Batman comic books, and I loved the Riddler. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I was going to don those clothes.”
Not only was it a dream role, it was a BANG-POW-ZAP catalyst.
“Up until that time I had been a club performer,” he remembered. “After the first episode, I became a headliner in Vegas based on the fact that so many people saw that show.”
For Gorshin, the key to crackling his character was his cackle.
“I had to find a laugh for this character, and I tried all kinds,” he said. “Do you remember Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death? When he laughs, he really laughs like that. There’s something about a man pushing a woman down the stairs laughing that really leaves an impression.”
And did it leave an impression! Widmark’s role as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death was his film debut, and it earned him his first and only Academy Award nomination.
Widmark said, “That damn laugh of mine! For two years after that picture, you couldn't get me to smile.”
Taking his cue from the film noir, Gorshin developed his laugh by simply paying attention to his own personal laugh and building onto it.
“It really doesn’t have to be a gimmicky laugh. It just has to be honest because the character is already pretty bizarre,” Gorshin said.
And just as Widmark received critical attention for his break-out performance, so did Gorshin, who was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor.
Batman star Adam West said, “He made an indelible impression as the Riddler. Frank made me laugh. He was a friend and fascinating character.”