Avery Hopwood was the Neil Simon of his time, becoming the most popular playwright of the Jazz Age. In 1921, he had three shows running concurrently on Broadway, including Getting Gertie’s Garter and The Demi-Virgin.
The first of his three plays to hit the boards during this record-breaking run (a record subsequently broken by Simon when he had four shows running simultaneously in the 1966-67 season) was a mystery he co-authored with Mary Roberts Rinehart that includes his most famous contribution to American culture (The Gold Diggers notwithstanding): The Bat.
Without The Bat, there might not be a Batman and legions of movie goers would be waiting for something other than The Dark Knight Rises this summer.
The play The Bat made its debut at the Morosco Theatre on August 23, 1920 and ran for a sterling 867 performances before closing in September 1922. It was revived twice on Broadway: in 1937 (lasting but 18 performances) and in 1953, when it eked out five more shows than the 1937 revival.
The Bat was brought to the screen three times, in 1926, in a 1930 talkie remake called The Bat Whispers, and in 1959 (as a Vincent Price starring vehicle). It was first brought to the screen as a silent film directed by Roland West and starring Jack Pickford, the doomed brother of Mary Pickford.
The Bat is a classic “Old Dark House” mystery in which people look for hidden loot while they are picked off one by one. The murderer was a caped figure nicknamed “The Bat” who wore a costume that clearly influenced the creation of the comic superhero.
A master criminal, The Bat wore a mask with bat-like ears and large, protruding teeth. He carried a utility bag with him (rather than Batman’s utility belt) that contained the tools he needed, including grappling hooks so he could scale buildings. He preyed on other criminals, whom he dispatched with a pistol (as did the original Batman of the comics).
In the film, a searchlight projects the “bat signal” for the first time, although it turns out only to be a moth on the light lens. It was a another motif that influenced the creation of Batman.
Originally called “The Bat-Man,” writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane’s superhero made his debut in Detective Comics issue in 1939, nine years after the sound remake of Hopwood and Rhineheart’s play, The Bat Whispers. Kane admitted that he was influenced by The Bat Whispers, but the more logical source for the look of “The Bat-Man” was the 1926 original.
In the silent film, the criminal “The Bat” wore a strange bat-like mask, whereas in the sound remake (also directed by Roland West) he simply wore a black hood. The Bat bears the first semblance of the iconic look that would become associated with Batman and would help him become one of the most popular superheroes ever.