January 17, 1994 12:00 PM

IN THE ’40S AND ’50S, CESAR ROMERO was one of Hollywood’s most classically handsome leading men. Yet in the role he may be best remembered for—the Joker, Batman’s maniacal archenemy in the campy ’60s TV series—Romero’s still-fabulous face was hidden beneath a thick layer of clownish greasepaint.

Romero, who died on New Year’s Day at 86 of a blood clot, didn’t mind forsaking his looks for a juicy, career-reviving part. But he balked when the producers asked him to shave off his proudest feature: his mustache. Recalls Batman star Adam West: “It was as if he’d be losing all those wonderful movies he made [The Gay Caballero, Captain from Castile] when he was the dashing Latin Romeo. So the producers said, ‘Okay, just dab some white makeup over it.’ But if you look closely, you can see the mustache through the greasepaint.”.

In his heyday you could always glimpse the suave, debonair Romero (a self-described “Latin from Manhattan” whose parents were formerly wealthy Cuban émigrés) escorting the likes of Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Ann Sheridan. Romance, however, was never in the Joker’s cards. “I have no regrets,” he once said of his un-altared status.

“He was elegant and eloquent,” says one old friend, actress Anne Jeffreys. “His manners, his dress were impeccable. He was,” she reflects, “the last of an era.”

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