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Adam West Day honors Walla Walla man behind the mask

By Vicki Hillhouse

Whether you know Adam West for his role as Batman, the mayor of Quohag or Sgt. Steve Nelson, there’s only one place that celebrates them all. Just follow the Bat Signal to Walla Walla.

The sixth annual Adam West Day takes place Saturday, September 9. An intimate and casual tribute to Walla Walla’s late superhero, it features the Batmobile, Batcopter, screenings, panel discussions and a chance to mingle with fellow fans.

Many know West from the big and small screens of Hollywood, most notably as the caped crusader and defender of Gotham City. But before that, his childhood was in Walla Walla. He attended local schools until about 15, when he moved to the Seattle area. He later returned to Walla Walla to study at Whitman College.

The actor made visits to the area, inspiring the many people he encountered along the way. One of them was Jonathan Grant, the front office manager at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center.

“I was really floored by him,” Grant said. “He was so kind and sweet and humble. Everybody just fell in love with the guy.”

West died in June 2017 at 88. Four months later, with Grant as a major force in the movement, the inaugural Adam West Day launched on the actor’s Sept. 19 birthday — complete with the lighting of the bat signal at the top of the Marcus Whitman.

This year’s celebration has shifted on the calendar and coincides with car show Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend. The timing is a boon for classic car fans who will also be able to see the vehicles that were part of the 1960s television series.

Grant had many more details to share during a recent discussion about the event.

What is Adam West Day?

Adam West Day is a celebration of our hometown hero and his legacy. What we call the Bright Knight, Adam — Bill Anderson by his real name — grew up in Walla Walla. His family went for a short period to Los Angeles after he was born. His mother was a very highly acclaimed pianist and opera singer. She was actually pursuing her own Hollywood aspirations.

She did some things, and then Adam’s brother John was born, and their priorities shifted a little bit. They decided to return to Walla Walla and the family farm. Adam’s father, Otto, ran the farm outside of Walla Walla, close to Waitsburg.

Adam attended Green Park Elementary, what’s now Pioneer Middle School and about a year and a half at Walla Walla High School. He used to watch Westerns at the Roxy Theatre. His parents divorced, and he went to Seattle with his mom and attended Lakeside School. He came back later and attended Whitman College. Really, Walla Walla runs deep in his family roots.

Adam West in TV series Robert Taylor’s Detectives

Adam West Day celebrates his legacy and his life in movies, TV, theater and radio and just is a way of saying thank-you for really helping put Walla Walla on the map.

How did it start?

The truth is I really wanted to start it when he was still living. I wanted to reach out, but I got word that his agent had passed away, so I wanted to give him space. Then after some time had passed, I thought about it again but my sister died. By the time I could connect, I found out he had died.

I was determined to still do this. At the same time, Adam Lore, a local cartoonist, was working on trying to get a sculpture of Adam West in Walla Walla. We combined forces and had a beautiful meeting together about honoring Adam.

We’ve had the full support of his family ever since. They’ve come every single year. It means the world to me that they’ve really trusted us with his legacy and to run this event.

How has the event changed over the years?

The format has stayed mostly the same — there’s generally an opening ceremony. But what we show changes. This year, we’re showing some old Westerns that he starred in long before Batman. We’ve had different panels for the Q-and-A. Sometimes family members are on it. One year Burt Ward Facetimed in. Johnny Green was on it – he was on the surfing episode playing one of the Joker’s henchmen. Unfortunately, right after the event last year, Johnny passed away. We want to honor his legacy as well.

Other than different films and people, this year it will be at a different location at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 992 located at 102 N Colville St, Walla Walla, WA). Heading up the event this year is Ray Jacobs. I’m no longer the organizer, but I am still on the organizing committee. I’ve stepped back to focus more on fundraising for the statue.

How else can people learn about Adam West in Walla Walla?

There’s an Adam West exhibit at the Kirkman House Museum. This is an intimate experience, where you can touch things and see them up close. A working Shakespeare bust opens up the wall to the bat cave. No other museum has this. There are pictures of him as a baby and from his childhood, rare memorabilia, autographed scripts.

How do you see the event changing in the future?

A few folks have wanted us to turn it into a big kind of a comic-con. For us that’s not what Adam West Day is all about. It’s about celebrating the man. It’s an intimate event. Visitors get to meet the family. We feel it’s more personable as a small celebration. People, of course, can feel free to dress up.

We’d like to be able to include more people on panels. Other actors, directors or people in the community — find out what Adam was like in his professional life.

And we’re still working on the statue of Adam West designed by Ruben Procopio, an award-winning animator/sculptor/artist who actually worked on Batman ’66 comics. We have some large donations that should be coming through. The idea is alive and well.