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Yvonne Craig (TV's Batgirl): Young, Awesome, And Everywhere

Icons | October 9, 2019

Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon and Batgirl on 'Batman,' 1967. Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Yvonne Craig, the original Batgirl on the '60s Batman TV series, was a familiar face on some of the biggest shows of the 1960s, including Star Trek, where she played Marta the Orion slave girl, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Wild Wild West. Before she was actress, Craig was a real-deal ballerina, and while she didn’t manage to make a career out of dancing, her athletic skills allowed her to perform her own stunts on the cult series about the caped crusader.

While many celebrities don’t want to be remembered for their genre work, Craig was always happy to appear at fan conventions and speak with people who loved her work. Even though she only appeared on one season of Batman, she made quite impact. 

Before She Was Batgirl She Was A Ballerina

source: Warner Bros.

Born in Illinois, Craig moved throughout the midwest until her family finally settled in Dallas. There she began studying dance at the age of 10. She was instructed at the Edith James School of Ballet by Alexandra Danilova, a Russian ballerina, who helped her get into the School of American Ballet in New York. At just 17 years of age, Craig was the youngest member of the touring Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but as she began to lose her solos and fall out with members of the company, she decided to move on. In 1957, she packed her bags for California with her sights set on an acting career. 

Her Film Career Introduced Her To The King And Took Her To Mars

source: MGM

Initially it was slow going for Craig, but she found work on shows like Perry Mason and Gidget among others before getting her first big break in a co-starring role with Elvis Presley in It Happened at the World's Fair in 1963 and Kissin’ Cousins in 1964. The two briefly dated but nothing came of their romance and they went their separate ways. Elvis starred in Viva Las Vegas and Craig made the move to cult sci-fi film Mars Needs Women. Craig has gone on record about how dumb she thought the movie was, but according to the production history of the film she was nothing but professional throughout the process. 

Batgirl Helped America Put A Name To Her Face

source: Warner Bros.

Throughout the ‘60s, Craig appeared in many of the most popular TV shows on the air, from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to McHale's Navy. Even if she hadn’t become a popular character on a cult TV show she still would have been remembered as that woman in that thing. That’s exactly the kind of thing she was trying to avoid when she took the role of Batgirl; she wanted her roles to mean something.

It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: by Batman's third season, the series' ratings were lagging ratings and producers knew they needed some new thing for a boost. So they added the role of Batgirl, who was secretly the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon. Craig explained:

I had been doing a lot of guest appearances and people do not attach a name to face when you see guest stars. So I said to my agent that we really needed to get a series where they see the same person with the same name every week and, hopefully, connect with. I had done a couple of pilots that didn’t go, but then they called me and said they were thinking of adding a girl to Batman. I had never seen the show, even though everyone was crazy about it… The producer, William Dozier, said, ‘I’m sure you’ve seen our show,’ and I said, ‘Actually, I haven’t, but if I get the part I’ll spend the summer watching re-runs so I know how I’ll fit into the scheme of things.’

She Loved The Way Young Women Responded To Batgirl

source: Warner Bros.

Craig was not one to shy away from the fact that she was Batgirl. Even though she was classically trained dancer, she never let her experience go to her head, especially after she started getting recognition from her young fans. She told Closer Weekly

It did for me what I wanted it to do, which I realized when a little girl walked up to me one day in the supermarket and said, ‘I know who you really are. You’re really Barbara Gordon!’ Just wonderful! I just really couldn’t believe that every morning I got to get up and go to work with people I would have never worked with otherwise. I don’t do musicals, but Ethel Merman was on our show. And even though he said he wasn’t retired, Milton Berle did not have a show going on at the time and he was just a ton of fun.

Craig Did Her Own Stunts On 'Batman'

source: Warner Bros.

As goofy as Batman is, working on the show was physically taxing. While Adam West and Burt Ward had stunt doubled for the run of the series, Craig insisted that she do her own stunts. Her ballet training was integral to her work on the show, and it’s one of the reasons that she was able to convince the producers to let her jump around on camera. She explained:

I said to them, ‘Stop and think about this logically. It’s all choreography. It’s all done on a count, and if anybody is off the count, you hold up your hand and say stop. So I’m not going to get hit, because they don’t punch girls; they’re not trying to hit you in the face. I’m doing all the work and spinning away from them so they can’t catch me.’ I told them I understood they didn’t want to take a chance with Adam or Burt, because you really don’t want them to have broken noses and black eyes, but it was easy for me.
So what happened was they had this stunt girl and she was set for a while. She would look at me and say, ‘You walk differently than anyone I’ve ever seen,’ which I thought was because I’d been a dancer.’ In any case, she went off to double for Julie Andrews in a movie, but by that point they felt comfortable with me doing my own stunts.

A Single Appearance On 'Star Trek' Made Her A Fan Convention Favorite

source: CBS television distribution

After Batman was canceled following her single season on the show Craig went back to making the rounds as a guest on network TV shows, and her biggest appearance was that of Marta the Orion slave girl on the 1969 episode of Star Trek, “Whom Gods Destroy.” She said that for the most part it was a lot of fun to be painted green for the groundbreaking series, but working with William Shatner wasn’t ideal. She told Closer Weekly

He was an ass through the whole thing, though he didn’t start that way. He invited me to his dressing room to have lunch — I think on the first day — and I thought, ‘OK, he wants to go over lines, because he doesn’t really know me.’ But it was the strangest lunch I ever had. We didn’t talk. We actually ate lunch, though he did tell me he raised Doberman Pinschers and that he had a red one. Okaaaaaay. Then, when we got down to shooting, he would say, ‘Remember…’, and he’s giving me all this background about my character and telling me where he wants me to stand so that his best side is showing. I mean, it was just horrible and nobody liked him. He just had no social skills whatsoever, and so long as I was painted green, he was trying to grab me behind the sets.

Thanks to this singular appearance in Star Trek: The Original Series and her starring role in the final season of Batman her place was cemented in cult TV history putting her in high demand at fan conventions for the rest of her life. After fading out of acting in the ‘70s she moved into real estate and returned to voice acting in 2009 on the series Olivia. Sadly, Yvonne Craig she passed away from breast cancer that spread to her liver in 2015. 

Tags: Batgirl | Batman | Childhood Crushes | Ladies | TV In The 1960s | Yvonne Craig

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.