Rating the Actors Who Portrayed Mr. Freeze on the “Batman” TV Series

Continuing our cold-themed posts, here’s Jim Brymer with his take on which Mr. Freeze from Batman was the best:

Only one villain on the Batman TV series (1966-68) was played by different actors in every episode. (Note: I count each two-part episode as one episode.) Not The Riddler, who WAS played by two different actors — but Frank Gorshin played him in nearly every episode except one, in which he was replaced by John Astin. And also not Catwoman. Yes she was played by three different actresses, but she appeared in more than a dozen episodes and most of them were portrayed by Julie Newmar, with Eartha Kitt in second. (Lee Meriweather only appeared as the character in the 1966 movie adaptation).

No, the only villain to appear in three separate episodes and be played by a different actor in each was Mr. Freeze. In season one, Mr. Freeze was played by George Sanders. The character also made two appearances in season two, once portrayed by Otto Preminger and once by Eli Wallach.

Some background info: In the comic book, Mr. Freeze was a doctor, Victor Fries, who had an accident in a laboratory while trying to discover a cure for his dying wife. The origin, as played out in the theatrical movie Batman and Robin with Arnold Schwarzenegger, shows this origin pretty accurately.

However, for the Batman TV series, for some reason, the origin was changed. As stated early on in the first episode, Batman had accidentally spilled some cryogenic fluid on Dr. Art Schimmel (no idea why they changed his name), prior to the events that began the TV series. In every one of the episodes in the TV series, Mr. Freeze holds a grudge that inspires him to find ways to get revenge on Batman for his predicament. (An interesting side note: In the comic book origin, Mr. Freeze was originally known as “Mr. Zero”, but after the first appearance on the TV series, the comic books renamed him as “Mr. Freeze”).

Season 1: “Instant Freeze,” “Rats Like Cheese.”

At a skating rink, a mysterious figure in a hazmat suit runs from the scene. It turns out the mystery man has melted the ice in the rink. While being chased by a policeman on a motorcycle, the figure pops out of the back of the van in which he is escaping, and, using a ray gun, ices the road.

Word reaches police headquarters where, Police Commissioner Gordon deduces that Mr. Freeze (George Sanders) is back in town. As usual, the commissioner and his police force are at odds with how to deal with criminals who have an IQ rating over 50, so they call in Batman and Robin to help.

The Dynamic Duo deduce that Mr. Freeze is going to rob the Gotham City Diamond Exchange and go to try and stop him. But Freeze has commandeered five duplicate Batmen and Robins, and during the confusion Freeze escapes. The icy crook’s next endeavor is to steal the fabulous Circle of Ice diamond from a visiting princess. But in attempting to stop Freeze they are frozen stiff by Freeze’s ray gun.

For one of the few times during the course of the series, Batman has to rely on outside help to thaw him and his pal. Meanwhile Mr. Freeze kidnaps a baseball player, named Paul Diamante (Spanish for “diamond”… the writers never missed a trick for campy humor). Freeze offers to trade Diamante for Batman. Batman goes with Freeze, but tells Robin not to follow. Of course, Robin does anyway and both are captured. Freeze tries to slowly freeze them, but Batman and Robin have been wearing their “super” thermal underwear and Freeze’s plot is foiled. The crook is taken off to prison.

Season 2: “Green Ice,” “Deep Freeze”

Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger) has escaped from prison in an ice cream truck and is bound to Gotham to attempt to get his revenge on Batman for his predicament. His first evil deed is to kidnap Miss Iceland (!!!) from the Miss Galaxy Beauty Pageant. Miss Iceland (Dee Hartford) is to be Mr. Freeze’s bride just as soon as he can lower her body temperature to where she can exist in the same atmosphere as Freeze.

Mr. Freeze’s plan this time is to discredit Batman by making it seem as if he is bribing the commissioner. He shows up and freezes the entire police force and leaves behind a wad of cash that leads the press, fickle that they are, to believe the bribery ruse. (Not much different from today where the media will excoriate anyone for the press dollars).

After an appearance at Wayne Manor where Freeze stages a fake fight with a fake Batman and Robin, who run off instead of fighting, the real Batman traces Mr. Freeze to his hideout, a factory that makes “Frosty Freezies” (popsicles). Mr. Freeze traps Batman and Robin and proceeds to turn them into human Frosty Freezies.

A convenient heat exhaust valve which they operate with their feet helps the Dynamic Duo escape. They then return to police headquarters where they find the press is still falling for Freeze’s ruse. A picture of Batman wearing Commissioner Gordon’s gold watch is plastered over the front page. They also find out that Freeze plans to cover Gotham in a glacier unless they pay him one billion dollars.

The duo trace Freeze to another hideout, where Freeze attempts to freeze them again, but they have covered themselves with antifreeze solution, and once again the villain is foiled, and once again he is off to prison.

Season 3: “Ice Spy,” “The Duo Defy”

Mr Freeze (Eli Wallach) has escaped from prison (boy the security systems at Gotham State Prison are really shabby). He kidnaps an Icelandic scientist (Elisha Cook, Jr.) who has a secret formula for instant ice. While investigating the background, which happened on a cruise ship, Batman finds one of the names on the passenger list was Emma Strunk, better knowh as the ice skating champion Glacia Glaze (Leslie Parrish).

Batman is convinced she was an accomplice to freeze and goes to her performance, disguised as Bruce Wayne. Through an inadvertent use of her secret transmitter to freeze, which was disguised as a lady’s compact, he deduces that she was indeed Freeze’s helper. Meanwhile back at the hideout, (which just happens to below the ice skating rink), Freeze continues with his attempt to get the scientist to reveal his secret. ut his attempts are fruitless because the scientist is immune to his cold treatment due to his being from Iceland and being used to cold temperatures.

Batman and Robin show up to deliver the ransom (which is in phony money) and are captured by Freeze. He puts them in the Sub Zero Temperature Vaporizing Cabinet, planning to reduce them to molecules and make them part of the ice skating rink. But the cabinet has an emergency exit (seems like the villain would have built one without it, but…)

Using Glacia’s pet seal, the Dynamic duo trace Freeze to his new hideout, a fake iceberg floating among the real icebergs in Gotham Harbor. (Why are there icebergs in Gotham Harbor, endangering potential ships? Who knows). Mr. Freeze is captured once again. Maybe this time Gotham Prison will put him in serious deep freeze so they can hold him.

My personal ranking of the portrayals is as follows:

#1 George Sanders
#2 Eli Wallach
#3 Otto Preminger

Is it time to go turn on the heater now? Are you starting to feel chilly? Personally I’m going to go fill up on a few cups of extremely hot chocolate. Until next time, folks.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.