By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
A drive along snake-like shaped Porto Marina Way in Castellammare would make a great Sunday afternoon trek. Entering Porto Marina Way from Pacific Coast Highway, the driver would begin to climb.
As the driver would continue on the curving road, they would be carefully sneaking glances to their left. There, the driver would be treated to a million-dollar view, fit for a movie star, of the sparkling waters of the Santa Monica Bay.
This drive makes it easy to imagine why character actor Alan Napier purchased a house that sat on Porto Marina Way. The British-born stage, film and television actor must have enjoyed the drive to the house, as much as the cliff-hugging home itself.
(Although, in his first year of owning the home, the actor would have been making the drive in a much slower model car compared to a modern vehicle of today.)
It was in the 1940s when Napier purchased the home, which sat close to the street. This would be a couple of decades before he played a role that would make his face known to millions of American television watchers.
For Napier is best known for playing the part of Alfred Pennyworth, the butler in “Batman,” a television series that ran for three years, beginning in 1966. The title role in the series may have been played by fellow Palisadian Adam West, but it was Napier who was the first person cast in the popular campy show.
The show was a little too campy for Napier’s taste, for the butler role did not appeal much to Napier, by now a prestigious and proud actor. Napier initially was inclined to turn it down when his agent presented the job to him in 1965.
“I had never read comics before [I was hired for ‘Batman’],” Napier once explained. “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.”
Ultimately, the butler TV gig was a role that the elegant-looking Napier, sporting glasses and dressed prim and proper, seemed born to play. The “Batman” butler part would be the capstone to the mustachioed Napier’s long acting career, though he would continue to act after the series was cancelled in 1968.
But this TV butler role came along many years after Napier had moved into the 1,500-plus-square-foot Porto Marina Way dwelling, which featured a multi-storied, plastered turret that was the physical crown jewel of the property. Real estate websites offer that the home had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The Spanish-style house was built in 1929. This was a year that saw the chiseled-looking Napier get his first big acting break, back home in England.
For in 1929, just four years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Napier was engaged by the Oxford Players. And he began a 10-year acting run on the West End stage, though his height almost cost him his newly found stage gig and plenty of other parts.
“How many parts I lost by simply standing up!” Napier once exclaimed. “The damnable thing about it is that I could see their point. It’s the same on stage as on a set. I throw everything off.”
How tall was Napier?
“I was also ridiculously tall: six feet, five inches.”
Napier came to America in 1939 and continued his stage work. His American stage debut was as the romantic lead opposite actress Gladys George in “Lady in Waiting.”
Napier would soon find himself in Hollywood films such as “The House of the Seven Gables” and “The Invisible Man Returns,” both of 1940.
From there, he had many busy years of film, television and more stage work in his long career; a career that ended with his 1981 retirement. He was 78 years old.
By then, he had married twice. His first wife had passed away and his second marriage had ended in divorce court. Each marriage had produced a daughter.
At the time of his passing in Santa Monica in 1988, Napier was still calling Porto Marina Way home.
Napier would take one last drive along Porto Marina Way. Not as a driver, but as a passenger. After his death, his ashes were taken back to his home and spread among his beloved garden.
The passing of 17919 Porto Marina Way came later. The home no longer stands.
Michael Oldham, author of the novel “The Valentino Formula,” can be reached at email@example.com.