Thursday, August 30, 2012

Holy Great Danes, Batman! Burt Ward makes his first Dragon*Con appearance

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Burt Ward as Robin
  • Stage Sixteen Promotions
  • Burt Ward as Robin
Whether you grew up watching the onomatopoeia-heavy Batman television show of the ’60s or have been introduced to this campier version of the Dynamic Duo in syndication, there's no denying that Adam West and Burt Ward put their own entertaining spin on these caped crime fighters. And while other actors have since portrayed Batman and Robin in cartoons, movies and other media, to many Batfans, West and Ward are the Batman and Robin. This weekend, the duo makes its first appearance at Dragon*Con together, which is likely to be one of the Con's biggest attractions. But fighting crime isn't Ward's only noble cause as he also runs his own dog rescue group called Gentle Giants, which has found homes for thousands of dogs over the years. As the former Boy Wonder makes his Dragon*Con debut, he talks about dog food, having dinner with Bruce Lee and, of course, being part of the most recognized incarnation of the Dynamic Duo ever.

This is your first time at Dragon*Con, and is it also the first time you and Adam West have appeared together in Atlanta.
It is! Other than flying through, I haven't made an appearance in Atlanta in I don't know how long, many years. So this will be almost like a whole new generation of Batfans. I'm not sure Adam and I have ever appeared in Atlanta together, so I think this will be really, really cool and I'm really looking forward to it.

As someone who is a regular at cons such as this one, what might you have heard about Dragon*Con? What are your expectations going into this weekend?
I've heard that there's a lot of science fiction stuff and it's more than just comic books. I've heard that it's very unusual in the sense that it's done in multiple hotels. And I heard that they're expecting more than 50,000 people, so it sounds like it might be hard for people to get around in traffic. I live in a little tiny town in California called Norco. It's the last Western town in America where horses have the right-of-way over cars.

That's a far cry from Gotham City. How'd you end up there?
It's a great place to live. My wife and moved here 18 years ago, had a daughter and decided we wanted to bring her up in a more casual atmosphere than big city stuff. It's only an hour east of L.A., halfway between L.A. and Palm Springs, and it's a real Western community. You drive on the roads and the dotted lines on the roads are red, white and blue instead of being white. It's very patriotic. I have horses and people have exotic animals here. I've got neighbors that have a camel, other people have emus, ostriches, zebras, peacocks, everything.

If you get to venture outside of the hotels this weekend, you'll probably see the horse-and-carriage rides in downtown Atlanta.
Oh, that's great! I have my own surrey, too. It's a replica of an old Amish surrey and I have a horse. They call it driving instead of riding because the horse pulls the surrey. It's one of those with the old fringe on the front and back and top, just like those you would expect to see in Pennsylvania.

Speaking of animals, you're very involved with dog rescue and have your own group called Gentle Giant. How'd you get into that?
I've actually been training dogs for 45 years. When I was doing Batman, I had some security issues and I had two protection Dobermans, so I became a trainer and my wife and I are expert dog handlers. When we moved to Norco 18 years ago, we decided we wanted to get a giant breed. So we got a Great Dane, we rescued it and found out that the ones we didn't rescue were all put to death. These giant dogs are are the sweetest animals in the world, so the first week of August in 1994 I said, "We can't let these dogs die. So just for a couple of weeks we'll rescue these dogs. In a couple of weeks we'll find somebody else to take it over." Well, it's been 18 years and we haven't found anybody to take it over. We started with one and by the end of that August we had 192 full-size Great Danes and 62 puppies. It nearly killed is both trying to take care of them, but because we love animals we ended up starting Gentle Giants, which is the largest giant breed dog rescue in the world now. We have 45 different breeds ranging from 2 pounds to 300 pounds.

We've found a way to double the lifespan of dogs. We have dogs living 18-21 years, and I don't mean just living longer, I mean healthy, running around like puppies. These are all breeds, including our giant breeds that normally only live 6-8 years. We created a food that's different from any dog food in the world. It's really human food made for dogs called Gentle Giants. And now we're going all across the country, we're in many Walmarts and the whole idea is to help people who have dogs stay with their dogs longer. In my own daughter's case, we have a picture of her at a year and a half with her little 6-month-old American Eskimo. Four months ago, we took another picture of my daughter at 21-and-a-half years old and the dog is 20 and a half. On our website it says, "Our daughter has had her best friend living with her for 20 years." We also have a program for teaching people how to properly care for their dogs and if they follow our procedures, people are having their dogs live into their late teens and early 20s.

With so many dogs around all the time, you must have some with unique names. Is there a Batdog somewhere in the mix?
We've got one named Batman, but we don't have any named Robin. We also have a Superman and my wife has all these funny names for them. She's into this Japanese anime called Naruto, so we've got dogs with some of these Japanese names that I not only can't spell, I can't even pronounce. We have all these wonderful dogs, but we adopt dogs six days a week. In 18 years, we've rescued, fed, cared for and found homes for 14,600 dogs. And we feed them 600 pounds a day of our Gentle Giants dog food.

Batman would be proud.
Batman is on every day of the week, twice a day in the United States. It's on several different channels, so I get kids that are watching the show today, but I also get their parents coming up and the father will say, "Johnny, this was daddy's favorite superhero as a kid!" And the kid will say, "Dad, why are you acting so corny?" Then the mom will say, "Oh, I was in love with Robin" and the kid's like, "Mom, why are you talking like that?" But now you have two generations that have grown up watching Batman.

How things have changed with the more recent incarnations of these characters.
Oh, yeah. My gosh, the franchise is just unbelievable. It's the most successful franchise in history and the Batmobile is the most famous car in the world. When we did Batman, the ratings were number one and number two in the nations and we did 120 episodes.

How do you feel about the actors that have portrayed Robin since then?
The only one I saw was Chris O'Donnell, who's a good actor. But it was like watching an actor do a role as opposed to the people who come to see us, who are people that really think of Adam and me as Batman and Robin. When you put the two of us together, we absolutely get along and have always been great friends. When we do these panels, just having us sitting next to each other has people laughing because it's so classic. He has that deep, slow voice and I'm very fast and energetic, so people come up to me and say things like, "Oh, my gosh. Burt, you really sound like yourself." Well, I would think so.

How many panels will the two of you be doing at Dragon*Con this weekend?
We usually do one a day. When I did the San Diego Comic-Con, which is supposedly the largest con in the country, there were 10,000 people in this huge hall, standing room only, and they had turned away 6,000 people. So whatever space they give us will be overflowing. We've never had anything less than standing room only when Adam and I have done this. We'll talk for 45 minutes and we don't pre-plan anything. And Adam is very suggestive and has one of the wildest senses of humors, so when you put the two of us together everybody is laughing and red in the face when they come out of there.

I read about some other things you've done that might appeal to Dragon*Con attendees, such as recording with Frank Zappa and participating in professional wrestling. What can you tell me about some of that?
I'm a black belt in karate, so I can get in there. When I got involved in this wrestling thing, I was really only supposed to present an award. But I ended up getting into a fight with the wrestler in the ring. It was unplanned, but it turned out great.

I used to spar with Bruce Lee. He and I were friends and Bruce Lee made an appearance on Batman as Kato from The Green Hornet. We had the same executive producer, but it so happened that he and I lived in the same condominium complex. I used to go to dinner with he and his wife and their son Brandon, who was only a few months old. He was a great martial artist and the guy trained eight hours a day.

You know Dragon*Con has pro wrestling on Friday night each year, right?

Oh, I didn't know that. If I get in there, I can get hurt, too. I've got to be careful.

Aside from Gentle Giants, what else are yo working on these days?
My wife and I are doing a pilot for our own reality series based on this rescue. When we rescue these dogs, some of them are in really bad situations and we rehabilitate them, we fight to save them, we spend whatever money we need to, we actually fly dogs in from all over the world. We brought in six dogs from Taiwan and we do all their medical stuff, get them ready and present them to be adopted. Sometimes they get taken their first time, sometimes they don't, but it's a real emotional thing. It's kind of like My Fair Lady, grooming a person to be successful, only we're grooming dogs to find them homes and rescuing them from near death sometimes. So it will actually be a dramatic show. Even people who don't have dogs get caught up in the drama and the suspense of life and death. I work around the clock doing this stuff, but I do love making these appearances.

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