Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Catwoman first appeared in the Batman #1 comic book series in 1940. Her character was introduced as a burglar known as ‘The Cat’ (the alter ego of Selina Kyle). Over the years, Catwoman has been a consistently complex character. Part villain, occasional ally of the forces of right, and long-standing (if complicated) love interest of Batman, her 78-year on-off romance with him is still ongoing to this day!
Catwoman On TV
Catwoman appeared as a major character in the iconic 1960s Batman TV series, which starred Adam West in the title role. The show ran on ABC for 3 series from 1966-68 and was a huge global hit with its emphasis on comedy drama and camp humour. Interestingly, Selina Kyle (Catwoman’s alter ego) was not included or referenced in the TV show. Instead, the focus shone on her night-stalking counterpart – Catwoman.
Julie Newmar – a statuesque, former prima ballerina of the Los Angeles Opera – first appeared as Catwoman in from 1966-67. Julie set the bar high with her witty and glamorous characterisation, exuding both charm and menace. In the second season of the show, Catwoman’s role steadily became more prominent when the ‘love story’ between her and Batman evolved into a central storyline.
However, in the third and final series of the show, Julie was unavailable to continue on in the role due to her scheduling commitment on a film and was replaced as Catwoman by the inimitable Eartha Kitt. Eartha – a dancer, actress, comedienne and activist known mainly for her uniquely distinctive singing voice – brought a whole new look and dynamic to the role. Her casting was ground-breaking at the time because it was extremely unusual for a black woman to be given the opportunity of a leading role in a US TV series. The show’s producer Charles FitzSimons said: ‘’She was a cat woman before we ever cast her as Catwoman. She had a cat-like style. Her eyes were cat-like and her singing was like a meow.’’
Catwoman On The Big Screen
Catwoman’s first foray onto the silver screen was in 20th Century Fox’s Batman: The Movie in 1966 (a movie spin-off of the 1960s TV series). Despite her popularity, Julie Newmar was not able to reprise her role as Catwoman due to a back injury, so the role went instead to Lee Meriwether, a former model and Miss America who went on to find fame later in many popular US TV shows such as Star Trek, Time Tunnel and the revival of The Munsters. Although Lee never reprised her role as Catwoman, she was cast in season 2 of Batman as a completely different character.
Catwoman next returned to the big screen in 1992, with Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic performance in Batman Returns. A poll on IMDb named her as the favourite Catwoman of all time, which is hardly surprising considering the combination of strength, vulnerability, humour and sensuality she brought to the role.
In 2004, Halle Berry took the lead role in Catwoman, which was the first time this character didn’t link to the Batman ‘universe’. The film was neither a critical nor commercial success, and Halle Berry received a ‘Razzie’ award for worst acting performance of the year: ‘‘I’d like to thank the rest of the cast. To give a really bad performance like mine, you need to have really bad actors’’ (Halle Berry, acceptance speech)
The most contemporary movie representation of Catwoman was undertaken by Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan’s 2012 Batman film The Dark Night Rises. This film went back to the roots of the Catwoman story, drawing on her story-line from her first comic appearance as she is referred to as Selina Kyle and known as a burglar called ‘The Cat’. Hathaway’s performance showcased the character’s sassy personality as a professional jewellery thief come anti-heroine.
Catwoman in Animation
Catwoman has also famously appeared in a number of animated series, including The Batman/Superman Hour in 1968, The New Adventures of Batman in 1977, and the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series. This latter series took a darker tone and is probably one of the most well-known versions of Catwoman.
Fifty Shades OF Feline Fatale
From her first appearance in 1940 to the present day, the costume and styling of Catwoman has dramatically changed. For example, many people are unaware that when she first appeared in Batman # 1, she did not have a costume at all. Over time, she acquired a costume that was commensurate with her role and the environment, but it was a very different ‘look’ to the one we think of today.
In 1947 Catwoman went through her ‘colour’ stage and acquired a striking dress and cape in purple and green. This costume later went through a number of iterations (substituting the dress for a bodysuit, adding a choker reminiscent of a cat’s collar, etc) but still kept the amazing colour scheme. Some fans place great store by the fact that her costume has a cape (which is typically associated with heroes, not villains) possibly giving a visual hint at the duality of her position.
Catwoman was forced out of the Batman comics from 1954 to 1966 by a Comic Code Authority ruling, by which time Julie Newmar had redefined the character in the TV series. Her black form-fitting one piece, cat ears, mask and high-heeled boots became the accepted ‘look’ of Catwoman, accessorised with a low-slung gold belt and necklace and armed with sharp claws, a whip, and a variety of other cat-themed weapons. The other two actresses who played Catwoman during this period – Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt – both continued to wear this costume for the duration of the series, but each with minor changes to suit their ‘take’ on the character. This Catwoman costume is so iconic that it is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
“Life’s a bitch, now so am I’’
Michelle Pfeiffer, Catwoman
As Catwoman moved to the silver screen, her costume began to change more significantly. The first (and, most would say, the best) of these was Michelle Pfeiffer’s rendition in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992). Her spectacular skin tight black suit with stitches and zippers, together with mask and razor-sharp claws, looked amazing but was not easy to wear: ‘‘They had to powder me down, help me inside and the vacuum-pack the suit’’ (M. Pfeiffer) – iconic style doesn’t come easy.
In Batman: The Animated Series Catwoman’s costume was originally designed by comic artist Bruce Timm to be a more traditional all-black version, similar to the evolving designs from both the original TV series and subsequent film appearance by the character. But this was later substituted out with a simple and clean grey and black design that fused Newmar’s classic jumpsuit and Pfeiffer’s modern and sleek design.
When Halle Berry starred in the 1999 Catwoman movie, she described her costume as ‘‘very bare, very urban and very downtown’’. With its shredded leggings, black leather push-up bra and ‘barely there’ belts across her body, the costume was, unfortunately, as notorious and derided as the rest of the film.
‘‘What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?’’
Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle/The Cat
The next film incarnation was Anne Hathaway’s performance in The Dark Night Rises in 2012, although she was only referred to as Serena Kyle or ‘The Cat’, harking back to her original Batman comic book origins. This costume was more tactical in design and shares design similarity to Bale’s Batman costume. In a nod to her feline roots, Hathaway’s hi-tech goggles flipped up when not in use and looked like cat ears. Hathaway referred to the costume as a ‘‘psychological terrorist’’ due to the effort, diet and training it took to be able to appear in such an unforgiving suit.
‘‘Rule number one: Look after number one. That’s you.’’
Camren Bicondova, Selina Kyle/Cat
The most recent Catwoman comes in the form of 15-year-old Camren Bicondova – the young and feisty street thief from the hit TV series Gotham. Similar to Hathaway’s portrayal, Bicondova’s Selina focuses on stripping the light-fingered thief back to the character’s bare bones of her origin story on Gotham’s streets. From her ripped jeans, leather jacket and goggles, Gotham’s young anti-hero bares a striking resemblance to the more modern and realistic comic iterations of the character. Unlike her adult iterations, the young feline lover’s costume reflects her life on the streets and displays a need for practicality over design.
The Nine Lives Of The Humble Catsuit
From no costume at all to the sleek black catsuit that we have all come to know and love, the design of Catwoman’s iconic catsuit has definitely outlasted its nine lives. With a focus on modern iterations of the character having tactical substance over form-fitting style, future Catwomen will surely slowly move away from the long-established sexy and provocative designs.
However, what will never change is the long-standing understanding that Michelle Pfeiffer’s spectacular skin-tight suit will live on in throughout history as the ultimate epitome of the “Catwoman” design.