Alan William Napier-Clavering (7 January 1903 – 8 August 1988) was an English actor, best known for portraying Alfred the butler in the 1960s live-action Batman television series.
Early life and career
Napier was a cousin of Neville Chamberlain, Britain's prime minister from 1937 to 1940. He was stage-struck from childhood and after graduating fromClifton College, the tall 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m), booming-voiced Napier studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, then later was engaged by the Oxford Players, where he worked with such raw young talent as Sir John Gielgud and Robert Morley. He continued working with the cream of Britain's acting crop during his ten years (1929–1939) on the West End stage. He went to New York City in 1940 to co-star with Gladys George in Lady in Waiting. Though his film career had begun in Britain in the 1930s, he had very little success before the cameras until he arrived and joined the British community in Hollywood in 1941. There he spent time with such people as James Whale. He usually played dignified, sometimes WASPish roles of all sizes in such films as Cat People (1942), The Uninvited (1943), and House of Horrors (1946).
He made a brief appearance as an unnamed British tourist in Fiesta (1947), starring Esther Williams, though the characters of 'the Tourist' — as he was billed in the credits — and Maria Morales (as played by Williams) never meet on-screen.
In The Song of Bernadette, he played the ethically questionable psychiatrist who is hired to declare Bernadette mentally ill. He appeared in twoShakespeare films: the Orson Welles Macbeth, in which he played a priest that Welles added to the story, who spoke lines originally uttered by other characters, and MGM's Julius Caesar, in which he played Cicero. He also played the vicious Earl of Warwick in Joan of Arc. In 1949, he made an appearance on the short-lived television anthology series Your Show Time as Sherlock Holmes, in an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". In the 1950s he appeared on TV in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and guest starred on Dale Robertson's NBC western series,Tales of Wells Fargo.
In 1966, he was the first to be cast in the Batman TV series, as Bruce Wayne's faithful butler Alfred, a role he played until the series' cancellation in 1968.
"I had never read comics before [I was hired for Batman]. My agent rang up and said, 'I think you are going to play on "Batman,"' I said 'What is "Batman"?' He said, 'Don't you read the comics?' I said, 'No, never.' He said, 'I think you are going to be Batman's butler.' I said, 'How do I know I want to be Batman's butler?' It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. He said, 'It may be worth over $100,000. ' So I said I was Batman's butler."
Later life and career
Napier's career extended into the 1980s, with TV roles in such miniseries as QB VII and such weeklies as The Paper Chase. He finally retired in 1981, in his 78th year.
In early 1988, Napier appeared on FOX Late Show talk show in a Batman reunion show, with the entire cast of the iconic camp TV series. Though in a wheelchair and visibly tired, Napier was lucid with fond memories of his work on the show.
Napier suffered a stroke in 1987, hospitalised since June 1988, and had been gravely ill for several days, before his death of pneumonia on 8 August 1988, in the Berkeley East Convalescent Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 85 years old. Napier was a resident of Pacific Palisades, California, and was survived by his daughters, Jennifer Raine Bissell of Los Angeles, and Jennifer Nichols of East Haddam, Conn. His final resting place is at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory.
Napier is the step-grandfather of actor Brian Forster, best known as portraying (the second) Chris Partridge on the television series The Partridge Family. Napier was close friends with actorMichael Gough, who would later play Alfred in the first four Batman films. His great-grandson James Napier would go on to play Connor McKnight in Power Rangers Dino Thunder.
In the 1989 Batman film (which here, featured Michael Gough as Alfred), the Joker's name is Jack Napier, in homage to Alan Napier.
The Justice League series finale, "Starcrossed", has Batman going undercover to investigate the true motives of the Thanagarians. His disguise resembles Alan Napier.