by Kathy Wolfe
This week, Tidbits inspects the evil arch enemies of heroes, those wicked scoundrels we love to hate.
• DC Comics debuted Catwoman in Batman comics in the Spring of 1940, under the name “The Cat.” She was the arch enemy of Batman, and the alter ego of Selina Kyle, a Gotham City cat burglar and jewel thief. Selina had no superpowers, relying on her physical and intellectual gifts to pull off her various crimes. She was an accomplished acrobat, a martial arts expert, boxer, and street-fighter. The clever Catwoman was a master of disguise, and able to sneak up on groups of people with ease. Actress Lee Meriwether was the first to take Catwoman to the big screen in the first “Batman” film in 1966. However, Julie Newmar was Catwoman in the 1966-1967 television series, with Eartha Kitt taking over the role for the final season when Newmar exited the show. Michelle Pfeiffer starred in the role in 1992’s “Batman Returns,” followed by Halle Berry in “Catwoman” (2004), Anne Hathaway in 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” and Zoe Kravitz in “The Batman” in 2022. In the comic books, Catwoman leaves her life of crime to help out Batman in 1951 and 1952, but was back to burglary in 1954 issues. She is ranked Number 11 on the “Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time.
• Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 literary work “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” told the story of London scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll, who battled his dark side, unsuccessfully repressing the evil urges of his wicked personality. Dr. Jekyll created a potion that would release the evil in a person, which would take over the body and soul. After committing acts of evil, the person could drink the potion and be changed back into his original self. Dr. Jekyll transformed into a younger, smaller, crueler, violent person, Edward Hyde, who committed several crimes, including the murder of a member of Parliament with no remorse whatsoever. Jekyll became so obsessed with his dark side that after a time he was no longer able to control the process of returning to his original self, eventually becoming his evil counterpart of Mr. Hyde permanently. Stevenson’s novella impacted our language, with the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to refer to persons with a dual nature – good on the outside, but sometimes dreadfully evil.
• The villain in the 1964 film “Goldfinger” was Auric Goldfinger, a wealthy smuggling magnate obsessed with gold and planned to detonate a bomb in the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. “Goldfinger” was the third movie in the James Bond series, with Sean Connery in the role of the famous MI6 agent, a movie based on Ian Fleming’s seventh Bond novel, published in 1959. Fleming derived the name from an architect named Erno Goldfinger who had designed Fleming’s Hampstead, England home. The role of Goldfinger was played by German actor Gert Frobe. Frobe spoke very little English; consequently, his lines were dubbed by British television actor Michael Collins. Frobe was originally a violinist who gave it up for theater work. In his later years, he had roles in Mercedes Benz commercials.
• Cruella de Vil was first introduced in British author Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians,” with her name a combination of the words “cruel” and “devil.” In the book, she is a spoiled, glamorous heiress and fashion designer. Cruella is married to an unnamed furrier, whose character wasn’t transferred over to 1961 Disney animated feature film, removed along with Cruella’s her pet cat. She hatches a plan to steal Dalmatian puppies belonging to Anita and Roger Radcliffe, with a plan to turn them into fur coats. Cruella is deeply disappointed on the night of the pups’ birth, finding them utterly spotless, but is reassured by Anita that spots appear when puppies are a few weeks old. Actress Glenn Close portrayed Cruella in two live-action Dalmatian movies in 1996 and 2000, followed by Emma Stone in the role in 2021’s “Cruella.”
• The villain in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was the cold and heartless Nurse Ratched, the tyrant of Salem State Hospital. She was introduced as Big Nurse in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, which was adapted into a 1975 film. As head administrative nurse at the mental institution, she maintained order amongst the patients through humiliation, revoking of privileges and necessities, and other inhumane behavior. Ratched’s time as a World War II Army nurse contributed to her tyrannical demeanor. Kesey modeled the character after the head nurse of the night shift in a psychiatric ward in an Oregon facility where he once worked. Years later, Kesey bumped into the woman, and commented that she was “a whole lot more human” than he remembered. The American Film Institute ranks Nurse Ratched as the fifth greatest movie villain of all time.
• L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” describes the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West as a beautiful yellow castle, with long hallways carpeted in yellow velvet and windows covered in yellow silk. That’s far from the creepy fortress depicted in the classic 1939 film, home of the flying monkeys. In the book, the Witch is an old hag with three pigtails and an eyepatch, while the film featured a frightening witch with green skin. The Wicked Witch of the West was not the sister of the Wicked Witch of the East in the Baum novel. In the original version, the only desire of the Western Witch was to obtain the magic silver shoes, which would increase her power. In the film, the shoes, of course, were the ruby slippers, which were changed to red to show off the industry’s newly-introduced Technicolor process. Silver shoes just weren’t as exciting as bright red ones.
• Agatha Trunchbull is the evil and tyrannical headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School in Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel “Matilda,” which was adapted into a 1996 film. It’s an unlikely profession for someone who despises children, doles out excessive punishment, and torments them regularly, including grabbing girls by their pigtails and hurling them into the flower bed. Her strength is due to her large size and past history as a shot putter and javelin thrower in the Munich Olympics. Dahl based the character on the “mean and loathsome” owner of the sweetshop he regularly visited as a child in Wales. Ms. Trunchbull finally meets her match in the six-year-old student Matilda, who is capable of telekinesis, and with the help of the other children drives the villainess out of the school.