Gunsmoke’S Milburn Stone And Batman’S Madge Blake Were Cousins Whose Parents Drastically Disagreed On Acting As A Respectable Job


When producers were first putting together the campy Sixties TV show Batman, they realized something was missing.

It didn’t seem right to have Batman and Robin living together as the bachelor Bruce Wayne and the growing boy Dick Grayson. They decided Robin needed a maternal figure looking out for him.

They decided what they needed was Madge Blake to play Robin’s Aunt Harriet, his well-intended but imperceptive caretaker.

Madge Blake was one of those character actors who burns into your memory. Whether she was playing Robin’s aunt or Larry Mondello’s mom on Leave It to Beaver, there was something indelible she brought to each role, so fans likely smile to see her pop up prolifically in classic movies and TV shows.

It may surprise you then to know that Blake was a late bloomer as an actor.

Raised in a very strict family, Blake wanted to be an actor from a very young age, but her Methodist minister father forbade it. He didn’t think that acting was a proper profession — which is wild, because there was actually an outrageously respectable actor in Blake’s family.

Milburn Stone is best-known for playing Doc on Gunsmoke. To Blake, he was best-known as her cousin, the son of her mother’s brother.

Stone didn’t appear in movies and TV until the 1930s, but he’d been a stage actor since 1919. At that early point in his career, he was 15 years old and Blake, denied the right to try, was 20.

As Stone’s star rose, Blake made peace with her father’s wishes. She got married to James Lincoln Blake, and in 1940, she helped her husband build the detonator that launched the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons.


It wasn’t until after that history-making project was completed that Blake hit the books and started studying acting.

Finally, at the age of 50, she was ready to disregard her dad’s wishes and follow her heart to Hollywood.

Her cousin Milburn absolutely had her back, introducing her around in the hopes she’d get cast.

And get cast, she did! She got cast in bit parts in movies and television in the early 1950s. Best of all, she caught Gene Kelly’s eye, appearing in all his movies after 1951, including playing a gossip columnist in Singin’ in the Rain.

On TV, she was cast in recurring roles on Leave It to Beaver, The Real McCoys, The Joey Bishop Show, and Batman. She also appeared in the pilot for Dennis the Menace.

By the time Blake joined the cast of Batman, she was 15 years into her career. Playing Robin across from her Aunt Harriet, Burt Ward was just beginning his acting career, but he said Blake was still far more nervous than he was. In an interview with The Spectrum, Ward said sometimes she would get so nervous filming that if he got close to her, she would reach out to steady herself and not let go.

“Madge Blake was so sweet, but you had to watch out for her!” Ward joked.