Although his Robin days ended in 1968, Burt Ward is still saving lives today. The way he receives thanks this time around is wagging tails and a lick on the face.
Boy Wonder on the hit television series "Batman," Mr. Ward is the founder of Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions, a nonprofit that has saved 14,600 giant breed canines to date, making it the largest of its kind in the world.
His passion for the show, which featured 120 episodes over 21/2 years , has not gone away, either. Mr. Ward continues to meet and greet fans, with Pittsburghers getting their chance on Saturday and Sunday at Steel City Con, the triannual pop culture colossus at the Monroeville Convention Center.
These events are not only for signatures and photos, Mr. Ward, 67, said. They give him the opportunity to connect with people who made "Batman" a significant part of their childhood.
"The show appealed to a very broad audience. For kids, it was a hero worship ... for the adults it was the nostalgia of the comic book, and for the teenagers and the college kids it was all those double meanings and insinuations that we used to get yelled at by the censors every week," he said. "As a result, when you meet these people it's not casual; you can just feel the intensity and see what is going on inside of them."
Loving the show just as much as its fans did, he embraced the role of Robin, even if it meant being sidekick instead of head honcho.
"All the children fans wanted to be Robin ... as a kid looking at Batman, that kid can go look in the mirror and see that he's not 6-4, he's not an adult and he knows that," Mr. Ward said. "They saw themselves, it was more realistic in their fantasy type of thing to be Robin."
Only two bad memories lingered in Mr. Ward's mind, including the dreaded task of putting on his "python pants," a self-coined term to describe Robin's tights that seemed to squeeze the life out of him, as well as his safety on set.
"I was at the emergency ward of a hospital four out of the first five days [of filming]," he said. "And I'm not accident-prone; I'm one of the healthiest people you will ever meet."
Due to a Robin stunt man who didn't look a thing like Mr. Ward, he was forced to be part of the dangerous scenes himself.
Almost being thrown from the Batmobile while trying to create the show's iconic opening scene and receiving second-degree burns from fireworks that were meant to imitate a specialized security system for the car were just a few moments of horror for him.
Perhaps the reason he got through it all was his co-star and close friend, Adam West, who happened to have an identical stunt man.
"A lot of co-stars, for whatever reason with egos and stuff, didn't get along, but Adam and I always got along well," he said. "In fact you just put the two of us together and we don't even have to say a word and people start laughing."
Becoming Batman's companion was no easy task, however. Mr. Ward had to beat out 1,100 other young men for the role. Executive producer William Dozier gave him a special reason as to why the crew chose him.
"He said, 'If there really was a Robin, you would be it. You personally are what we think Robin would be,' " Mr. Ward revealed. "'We only want you to do two things; all we're asking you to do on this show is be enthusiastic ... and we want you to be yourself.' "
Besides his success on the television screen, Mr. Ward was deemed the youngest professional ice skater at age 2. He also broke speed reading records by poring over 30,000 words in one minute with a 90 percent comprehension rate.
"I read 'War and Peace,' which is a big book -- 1,440 pages -- in 45 minutes, and I got an A on my essay final," he said. "Evelyn Wood [speed reading program] came to me and offered me 10 percent of their company if I would endorse it, but I couldn't endorse it because they are too slow with the way they teach."
Although he hasn't seen "The Dark Knight Rises," Mr. Ward believes that recent generations of the superhero are more dark and sinister due to the change from television series to film.
"When we did our series on television, we appealed to everyone: families, mom, dad, the kids, grandma -- a very broad audience," he said. "When you make movies you are appealing to mainly a teenage crowd, and you have to be rougher, edgier, that kind of stuff."
He did say, however, that he has heard about a twist with regard to "The Dark Knight Rises" that might lead to Robin carrying on the Batman legacy in a future film. Asked if he was excited about the possibility, Mr. Ward said, "I wouldn't say excited is the right word ... curious."
Rob Wennemer: email@example.com or 412-263-1723. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM