Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

My life as a sidekick

Burt Ward didn't even have to act when he played the Boy Wonder

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Sparring with a martial arts legend in his spare time did little to prepare Burt Ward for the henchman of the Riddler, Catwoman and Egghead.

The man who will forever be known as Robin, the Boy Wonder, from the classic Batman television series, lived in the same condominium complex as Bruce Lee in the mid- to late-1960s. A black belt in karate himself, Ward would regularly work out with the martial arts expert.

"Coming in to work on the set was more dangerous than fighting Bruce. During the first episode, I was in the hospital emergency (ward) five days in a row. There were explosions that weren't supposed to explode, I got third degree burns from fireworks and I broke my nose when a two-by-four hit me in the face from a breakaway set. It was a very dangerous show to do," he said from his home in Norco, Calif., an hour east of Los Angeles.

Sometimes, the staged punches hit more than air, too.

"I actually fought with some people. I hit them because they either shoved me or hit me too hard. We had a couple of real knock-downs on the set," he said.

Ward, now 67, did almost all of his own stunts on the show because the stunt man hired to play Robin "looked nothing like me."

He will appear today at the 2013 Central Canada Pop Culture Expo at the Winnipeg Convention Centre alongside his partners in crime-fighting, Adam West, better known as Batman, and Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl.

Ward knew he could be in for a rough ride when he'd be tied down to a table at 8 a.m. for a scene, and he'd smell liquor on the breath of the special-effects guys as they walked by.

Ward also squared off against his condo neighbour in one much-hyped Batman episode when Lee appeared as Kato, partner to the Green Hornet. He said the rumours that he was afraid to lock up with Lee was "a bunch of baloney."

"What we did on TV for that scene was nothing compared to what we did in real life in terms of sparring," he said.

Ward admits his acting skills weren't tested to the fullest extent during the show's 120 episodes because the Robin character was 100 per cent him.

"When I was hired, the producers said to me, 'Burt, we interviewed 1,100 young guys for this role. We selected you because if there really was a Robin, you'd be it. We want you to be you and enthusiastic, that's all you have to do,' " he said.

"People say to me that I talk like myself, sound like myself and act like myself. Well, yeah!"


Holy diversification, Batman!

BURT Ward does about a dozen appearances a year with Batman-related events but he's far from a one-trick pony. He owns Boy Wonder Visual Effects, which has handled the explosions and green screening of more than 35 Hollywood movies, and he also operates Gentle Giants, the largest giant breed dog rescue in the world, handing 45 different breeds.

"We have rescued more than 14,600 dogs since we started 19 years ago, handled the medical costs and found loving homes for them," he said.

Every day, he and his wife, Tracy, dole out 600 pounds of Gentle Giants-branded dog food, an all-natural product that has enabled many dogs to live well into their teens and even early 20s.

The rescue is so well known, Ward said he is preparing to do a pilot for a reality television series.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2013 A1

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