In the late 1970s, Rodger Hess produced a series of stage shows featuring live-action superheroes. This was one.
Of the ten shows/topics I’m covering in this series, this is, I believe, the only one that had literally no other Google-able presence online beforehand. And they say the Internet knows all.
I got permission to post all images; if you want to repost, please do the same and ask me first.
Gary Meitrott: I auditioned for it. I had watched the TV series and I could mimic very well the actor who portrayed [Robin]. When I went into my act, I could tell the producer was sold on me.
James Rebhorn: I auditioned via an agent submission, although I was hired to do an earlier version of the show featuring only myself [as Batman] and Gary Meitrott, who played Robin. We toured the country playing shopping malls. It was a safety show for kids.
What were you doing before that?
Gary Meitrott: I was new to New York City. I had come to seek my fortune in the Big Apple on the Broadway stage,
James Rebhorn: Pretty much whatever I could do as an actor. Commercials, dinner theatre, showcases productions in New York, etc.
How old were you during the show?
Gary Meitrott: I was around 23-24.
James Rebhorn: I can’t recall my exact age, but I was in my early twenties.
How much did you know about those character(s) before your role in the show?
James Rebhorn: Having never read comic books, other than an occasional viewing of the original Batman TV show, I knew very little.
Where did you perform the show?
Gary Meitrott: We performed mostly in malls throughout the country. But for one performance, which was a special treat to me, [we performed] on the world famous Steel Pier on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
James Rebhorn: At shopping malls around the country and I think also at a park in Brooklyn.
For how long did you perform with the show?
Gary Meitrott: I was in it longer than Jim—two to three years.
James Rebhorn: On and off for about a year and a half, as I recall. Rarely were the gigs scheduled back-to-back, so there was a considerable amount of down time.
How much rehearsal did you do before the show opened?
Gary Meitrott: Initially this was treated like a play with a director and enough creative effort went into it to make me feel that I was a real actor playing a character in a performance piece.
How did the show work—i.e. how many shows a day, how many days a week? How much travel?
Gary Meitrott: We would work for two days on the weekend and do three or four shows a day. The show was about 30 minutes long.
James Rebhorn: Generally, we did three shows a day. Since the show was designed for kids, most of the time the engagements started on a Friday and ended on a Sunday. During the summer, we’d also play midweek. Gary and I both had microphones with remote control buttons that controlled a tape recorder. Dr. Danger’s lines were all-prerecorded. When it was his turn to speak, we pressed the remote control button. Gary and I traveled alone. We did all the setup and takedowns.
What was the show’s storyline?
Gary Meitrott: Robin fell under the spell of Dr. Danger and started to play with matches, broken glass, etc. Batman had to use the audience to shake me out of it! They succeeded!
What was a typical audience reaction?
Gary Meitrott: Very responsive. Depending on the size of the city and how well the promotion director did his/her job, we could have up to 4,000 people at a performance.
Any goofs or accidents that happened during a performance?
Gary Meitrott: Oh, yes, of course! It’s live theatre. One time we had multiple shows and we needed to get our costumes dry cleaned between shows; during the show, the cleaning solvent started to irritate and then eat our skin. I was whimpering saying my lines…I am a firm believer in the show must go on!
James Rebhorn: All the time, but none that I can specifically recall. Our skills at improvisation saved the bacon on many occasions.
What was the music like?
Gary Meitrott: No music.
James Rebhorn: Typical Batman stuff. “DadadadadadadaBatman!”
Did you meet with fans afterward while in costume? If so, did you sign autographs?
Gary Meitrott: Oh, yes. There would be long lines. And I very much enjoyed doing it. However, as I learned, security had to be in place and doing their job. Once security was not doing a good job and I pulled Batman away from the crowd and said we’re going! The management was not happy with me and I explained why I did it. Management did not take my first warning seriously. My action got their attention and response.
Did the show lead to other work for you?
Gary Meitrott: Yes, to the Rally DuPont Car Wax commercial. Flew out to LA, big-time commercial, big million-dollar director, big set, big crew. I was on cloud nine, making big money, thinking I had made it…not so!
James Rebhorn: Gary and I did a Batman and Robin commercial for Rally Car Wax. The ad opened with me sliding down the Batpole hearing Robin say, “Hurry, Batman, the Joker’s loose!” To which my response was, “Wait, Robin, the Batmobile needs waxing!” We had a blast.
What are you doing these days (professionally and personally)?
Gary Meitrott: I am teaching at a private college in Vermont. I am in the music and theatre departments. I have my own ethnic hand percussion school called Drum Journeys of Earth. I am the artistic director of Shakespeare on Main Street, an outdoor summer theatre. Between African, Cuban, Haitian, Brazilian, and Middle Eastern percussion and directing Shakespeare, I am in paradise! I live in the woods in a very small “hobbit hut” and have a compost outhouse for the past 16 years. I completed my Masters in conscious studies from Goddard College and my focus is ecstatic trance. I have a live event called Soul Bath Trance Dance with a ten-member band called the Twice Baked Orchestra. We take people on a journey to collective joy!
James Rebhorn: I’m currently working on a new Comedy Central series called Big Lake. [It debuted in 2010 and co-starred former Saturday Night Live cast members Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz. James has appeared in numerous other films and TV shows including Independence Day, Scent of a Woman, and the series finale of Seinfeld.]
If you have children and/or grandchildren, what do they think about your time as a superhero?
Gary Meitrott: I have two nieces and nephews. My two sisters each had a boy and a girl. My sister Melody and her children are considerably older than my younger sister, Merilee, and her two children. Melody’s children would have remembered most likely. I cannot recall their reaction.
James Rebhorn: They were both born after my Batman days and don’t see my career in spandex as having much relevance to their lives. Good for them!
Has anyone else ever interviewed you about your time with the show?
James Rebhorn: No.
What was your reaction when you first heard I was contacting you about your time as a superhero?
Gary Meitrott: A great ball of joy exploded inside of me, with a smile that hurt my face muscles with incredible sensations of memories flashing before me.
What is your fondest memory of the show?
Gary Meitrott: Working with Jim Rebhorn. I was going through my martial arts moves and Jim gave me this knowing look and then the inflection of his voice let me know I had tickled him. He was fond of saying, “Gary, you are a constant source entertainment.”
James Rebhorn: Working with Gary. We had a great time and played well off of each other.
Are you still in touch?
Gary Meitrott: Very infrequently with Jim. I have worked with two other Batmans. With one of them it was just a professional relationship, but the other I became good friends for years after we worked together. I do not know if he is still alive now. His name is Dan Deray.
Thank you for your time and memories.
Gary Meitrott: It’s been a pleasure to speak of this with you. You have an authentic depth to you that I can tell brings not only pleasure but a depth of human connection that I find missing in most instances.
Addendum: James Rebhorn passed away on 3/21/14.
Next: Bugs Bunny Meets the Superheroes.