Actress Arleen Sorkin is most famous as the original voice of Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series. However, Sorkin’s influence on the character went far beyond her acting. Indeed, writer Paul Dini drew direct inspiration from Sorkin in creating and writing Harley Quinn.
Days Of Our Lives
While writing for Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini hit upon the idea of giving The Joker a henchwoman. His chief inspiration for this idea was the themed molls employed by the villains in the 1966 Batman television series. In a 2017 interview with EW, Dini recalled that “often the Joker or Penguin would have a moll, so I thought, let’s go back and give a nod to that.”
Once that idea was set, Dini still had to design the character, Inspiration struck again as he watched a performance by his college friend, Arleen Sorkin. She had played a wise-cracking jester in a dream sequence on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. This led to her being cast in the role of Harley Quinn. The blue and pink color scheme of Sorkin’s costume would also inform Harley’s later costume designs.
Harley Quinn’s first appearance in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor” was intended to be her last. This is apparent in the script, where Harley says, “Beauty school is starting to look pretty good about now,” after being subdued by Batman. Later stories established that Harley was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum before she was seduced into becoming The Joker’s sidekick. That minor continuity gaffe aside, Arleen Sorkin’s performance helped sell the character of Harley Quinn to Batman fans.
It also helped Paul Dini sell the idea of using Harley in more episodes to producer Bruce Timm. The artist who designed Harley Quinn had initially been concerned that giving Joker a girlfriend would soften his image too much. The positive fan response to Sorkin’s performance changed his mind.
The Man Who Killed Batman
“The Man Who Killed Batman” is notable as one of the few Batman The Animated Series episodes in which Batman barely appears. It is also notable for one of the show’s funniest sequences, which was reportedly improvised by Arleen Sorkin.
When it appears that Batman truly has been killed, The Joker holds a funeral for the Dark Knight. He also attempts to bury wannabe gangster Sidney Debris (who is credited with Batman’s death) in a vat of acid. As the coffin trapping Sidney rolls into oblivion, Harley Quinn plays the song “Amazing Grace” on a kazoo. According to Paul Dini, Sorkin nailed the song in one go, which was fortunate. The cast and crew were all laughing too hard afterward to record another take.
Another one of Harley Quinn’s defining moments came in the episode “Harlequinade.” Harley teamed with Batman to stop The Joker from destroying Gotham City with a nuclear bomb. At one point, Batman is captured by gangster Boxy Bennett. This prompts Harley to put on a show, singing to distract Boxy and his men until Robin can come to their rescue.
The song Harley performs, “Say That We’re Sweethearts Again,” comes from an obscure 1944 musical titled Meet The People. It was also a favorite audition piece of Arleen Sorkin. In an interview with Starlog, Sorkin recalled singing the darkly comic song while carpooling with Paul Dini. He thought the song, in which a woman details the abuse she suffers at the hands of her lover, was a perfect piece for Harley. Dini wrote “Harlequinade” around the song sequence, and history was made.
The spiritual sequel to “Harlequinade,” “Harley’s Holiday,” was the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series to focus entirely on Harley Quinn. The story follows Harleen Quinzel on her first day after being declared legally sane and released from Arkham Asylum. A comedy of errors ensues after Harley panics when an alarm is triggered while she’s trying to buy a new dress.
While Paul Dini wrote the script for “Harley’s Holiday,” the concept came from Arleen Sorkin. In an interview with Starlog, Sorkin discussed her work on a show called Duet, which she performed in at the same time as Batman: The Animated Series.
“My character was a thief,” Sorkin recalled. “I thought it would be a funny running gag if she wore outfits with the security tags still on them. They didn’t take the idea, so I brought it to Paul (Dini) – the idea of having Harley walk out of a store wearing a dress with the tag still on. The security thing goes off, and she’s worried she’ll go back to prison.”
From that simple idea, hilarity ensued. “Harley’s Holiday” may be the most screwball episode of Batman: The Animated Series. By the time Harley’s day out ends, she and her unwitting hostage, Veronica Vreeland, run afoul of the police, mobster Boxy Bennett, and Veronica’s overprotective, tank-driving father. It is one of Paul Dini’s funniest scripts, but the idea came from Arleen Sorkin.