Walla Walla native Adam West married a Pukapuka princess
Before he was Batman, he was a handsome Hawaii guy.
Before he played the ultimate comic book detective Batman, Adam West broke onto the scene as an altogether more realistic TV sleuth. In 1961, five years before the Caped Crusader swung his way into the Swingin' Sixties in the camp classic Batman, West joined the cast of The Detectives, a crime show in serious transition.
The Detectives was changing networks (ABC to NBC) and show length (30 minutes expanded to 60). To boot, the clean-cut young Mark Goddard (of future Lost in Space fame) jumped ship. Enter another rising star with a strong jawline — Adam West.
West had plenty of screen experience under his belt (metaphorical belt, not utility belt) but largely small guest roles on Westerns like Sugarfoot, Maverick and Lawman. His gig as Det. Sgt. Steve Nelson on The Detectives offered the Walla Walla, Washington native his first major lead role. Around the same time, he made memorable appearances on Bonanza and The Rifleman.
To help promote this new face to American audiences, the publicity campaign ramped up. Which is how you got fun headlines in newspapers at the time like this:
ACTOR MARRIES PUKA PUKA PRINCESS
We found that in The South Bend Tribune from January 13, 1962. The story was a little late to the game — West married his Polynesian bride back in 1957. In fact, the couple was close to divorce. They split in 1962. But journalists and publicists sure had fun with the boy from Walla Walla falling for a girl from Puka Puka.
"His name is Adam West. He was born and raised in Walla Walla, Wash. He's married to an honest-to-goodness princess from Puka Puka who encouraged him to leave journalism and turn to action," the columnist wrote.
Pukapuka — once called "Danger Island," which sounds like a 1960s TV show in itself — is a sparsely populated atoll in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. In the 1920s, a writer from Cleveland named Robert Dean Frisbie sailed into Pukapuka and settled down. Frisbie fell in love with a local teenager named Ngatokorua-a-mataa. The would have five children, including Ngatokorua "Nga" Frisbie, future second wife of Adam West. The Frisbie family drifted north to Hawaii.
Let's jump back to 1961 (a big year in this story). Elaine Frisbie, Nga's sister, started the Puka Puka Otea, a Polynesian show at the Queen's Surf restaurant on Waikiki Beach. Next to the Aquarium.
Nga Frisbie was a dancer in Honolulu. In 1957, she married West, who was working "little theater" work in Hawaii. The papers described her as "the girl next door."
"With royal approval from the Princess, they returned to the States," the Tribune reported. This being a Hollywood piece from the early 1960s, it's possible the press was being a little generous with the whole "Princess" thing. To further sell the handsome actor as a man of action, the journalist pumped up West's adventure credentials. A favorite hobby of his was exploring underwater caves along the Pacific Coast. The photo at the top of the page is West in his scuba gear, ready to do just that.
His first week in Los Angeles, West landed a screen test with MGM and shortly found himself working as an actor. His career sped off like the Batmobile.
As we mentioned, West and Nga Frisbie divorced in 1962. He would marry again for the third and final time in 1970.