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Cesar Romero: The Original Joker Who Refused To Shave His Mustache

Icons | February 15, 2020

BATMAN - "The Joker Goes to School" - Airdate March 2, 1966. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) CESAR ROMERO

Whether you know him as the “Latin from Manhattan” or the clown prince of crime, Cesar Romero, the Joker to Adam West's Batman, played a formative role in your early life. He appeared in hundreds of television shows and movies but none of them made a mark like Batman, the three season wonder that ran from 1965 to 1968 along with its own kooky film. Romero’s turn as the Joker on Batman was such a powerful role that it reignited his career and kept him around for decades. Aside from playing the Joker alongside Adam West, Romero was the baddie in many a western, and even though he put on the air of a ladies' man, it’s believed that he lived a closeted lifestyle until his death in the early ‘90s.

The latin from Manhattan

source: immortal ephemera

This joker played his share of south of the border villains but he was born in New York City on February 15, 1907. He grew up in Bradley Beach, New Jersey and quickly sprouted up to the astounding height of 6’3. His first role came in 1933 in the film The Shadow Laughs, and from then on he appeared in at least a film a year as some kind of Count or Duke. His most memorable run in the 1940s came with the Cisco Kid series, in which he played the titular role. In 1942, he stopped acting to join the Coast Guard, but came back to the silver screen following World War II. He steadily appeared in bit parts, with his most notable role of the time being Duke Santos, a reformed mobster and enemy to Frank Sinatra in Oceans 11. This wouldn’t be the last time these two would tangle.

Frank Sinatra really wanted to play the Joker

source: Warner Bros.

While speaking about playing a villain on the camp classic BatmanCesar Romero said, “Everybody wanted to be a villain in Batman, it was sort of ‘the’ thing to do.” Everybody included Frank Sinatra. Apparently at the height of his fame Sinatra was angling for a role as the Joker. Unfortunately for the leader of Ocean’s 11 the production had already cast Romero and they didn’t want to fire him. 

Star Burt Ward confirmed the rumor as well as the fact his loss of the role meant that he refused to appear as any other character. Even though ol’ blue eyes refused to appear because he lost out on wearing a green wig his Ratpack pal Sammy Davis Jr. popped up in season two of the show playing himself.

Romero refused to shave his mustache for the role

source: pinterest

Aside from being really tall and really handsome the one thing that everyone associated with Cesar Romero was his mustache. It was such a trademark that he refused to shave it when he was cast as the Joker. Instead he just smeared white face paint over his facial hair for a surreal effect. His paint slathered mustache wasn’t the only thing that set him apart from other Jokers, Romero’s take was a much more whimsical version than the Jokers we’re used to seeing today. While filming the show he explained why so many talented actors were drawn to appearing on the show:

We have a lot of fun doing this show, and we had a lot of fun making the movie. It's a part that you can do everything that you've always been told not to do as an actor. In other words, you can get as hammy as you like and go all out. It's great fun, I enjoy it.

Romero understood the Joker

source: Warner Bros.

If you’ve ever seen the Adam West Batman - and if you haven’t you need to turn on your Bat-TV and watch all three seasons NOW - you know that the actors who appear as villains on the show (Roddy McDowell, Vincent Price, Julie Newmar) aren’t just punching the clock, they’re really diving into their characters. For Romero that meant really understanding the Joker and what made him tick. In an interview filmed at the time the show was on the air he explained the clown prince of crime’s hair:

I'm not a great student of the Batman comic strip, but I understand that the Joker got the green hair because, in one of the first strips that he appeared in, in making his escape from Batman, he dove into a river that was full of a certain chemical that turned his hair green. So from then on he's had green hair.

And when asked by the interviewer if the Joker will ever win on the show he discussed why the villains can never triumph on the show:

Oh you can't win! The villain can't win. We always win on Wednesday night. At the end of the show on Wednesday night we're winning. But then comes Thursday night and we lose.

He thought Tim Burton’s “Batman” was a flop

source: Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s gothic take on Batman wasn’t for everyone. Did it make enough money to make Bruce Wayne blush? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that the original Joker enjoyed the film’s dark tone or the way Jack Nicholson carried the mantle of Gotham’s favorite baddie. After seeing the movie Romero said:

This just hit me the wrong way. This picture is dreary. The violence in it - good God 3/8. This is a very serious, heavy crime drama. It’s not the Batman concept at all. And Nicholson, who is such a wonderful actor and who has done such good work, is just so violent. What we did was fun. It wasn’t played that way. It was a spoof. It was fun. It was a comic strip.

He came out of the closet after he passed away

source: pinterest

Even though Romero was constantly spotted at Hollywood events with babes like Joan Crawford, Linda Darnell, Barbara Stanwyck, Lucille Ball, Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman and Ginger Rogers, Romero never married and he never had children. He was what the papers at the time referred to as a “confirmed bachelor.” After Romero passed away on January 1, 1994, from complications of a blood clot it was revealed that he spent his life as a closeted homosexual. His secret life was revealed in the 1996 book Hollywood Gays by Boze Hadleigh. Romero was cremated and the ashes were interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California, but he’ll always live on in the hearts of Batman fans everywhere as the first, and most fun Joker.

Tags: Batman | Cesar Romero | Comic Books | The Joker

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.