Less than a year before her passing in 2015, actress Yvonne Craig was chatting with me about the enduring nature of the 1960s Batman series that starred Adam West in the title role, Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin; and Yvonne herself in the dual role of Barbara Gordon and Batgirl. The complete series had been issued on Blu-ray at the time, which explained the excitement of the moment, but not the fact that people still loved that show nearly 50 years after its debut.

“Part of it is that it is that it’s a sign of our times,” she said. “Everyone would like to go back to the time of ‘Flower Power.’ You know, rather than blowing people up in all these different places like they are in the world, people are looking for an escape. And this is not only an escape, but it’s stilly and fun and filled with pretty colors. That certainly helped to interest the kids, because they did like the bright colors and all of that camera work, and there was something in it for their parents. The adults weren’t just sitting there saying, ‘Oh my God, another Sesame Street!”

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Yvonne was born on May 16, 1937 in Taylorsville, Illinois, though she was raised in Columbus, Ohio. The family moved to Dallas, Texas in 1951. Not long after, her interest in ballet paid off when she was discovered by Russian-born ballerina and instructor Alexandra Danilova, and joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She remained there until 1957 (believing it actually helped her in the Batgirl action sequences years later) when she moved to Los Angeles with the desire to continue dancing, but finding herself cast, instead, in films and on television.

And she was everywhere at the time. Co-starring with Elvis Presley in films like It Happened at the World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins, the James Coburn spy film In Like Flint, and the sci-fi cult film Mars Needs Women. And then there were the TV guest appearances, ranging from Bob Denver’s The Many Lives of Dobbie Gillis, to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Big Valley, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., McHale’s Navy, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and the list goes on. But by 1967, she was looking for a regular series, and eventually found it in Batman.

Becoming Batgirl

“I had been doing a lot of guest appearances,” she related, “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. Even when I was shooting Batman, I had a black and white TV. I’m a book reader and not much of a TV watcher, so I just didn’t pay attention. 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.’”

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Dozier must have been impressed, because she was offered the job, although she was first required to shoot a presentation for the ABC network executives. “They decided they wanted to go with someone who would appeal to the over-40s males — hence the spray-on costume — and prepubescent females,” Yvonne laughs. “In those days, they didn’t do all these demographic studies, they just knew that they were missing part of the audience. So we did this seven-minute presentation and it was a quick thing. Barbara Gordon is a librarian, she sees the Moth Men at the table in the library, hears something’s going on, takes off her skirt and turns it into a cape, and she takes off her hat and turns it into a cowl, and that was that. Then we didn’t hear right away if they wanted to do it or not.”

Her agent eventually called saying that they wanted her to fly to Chicago for the NAPTE convention, which would allow independent television stations to decide whether or not they would pick up the show with her added to it. Although reluctant to do so without a firm commitment, she nonetheless agreed to go. On the way to the venue, she was told that she had the job, although during ceremonies to introduce stars of upcoming TV shows, there was almost a mix-up.

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“I almost embarrassed myself,” she smiled, “because I had been told to wait for my cue and then walk out on stage. When they said That Girl, I thought they had said Batgirl and someone grabbed me just before I walked out of the wings, while Marlo Thomas walked out for her show. It would have been horrible… although she’s a nice lady, so it probably wouldn’t have been that bad.”

So Yvonne found herself cast as Barbara Gordon, who was the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, and Batgirl, who mysteriously arrives on the scene (riding her oh-so-cool Batcycle) to fight alongside Batman and Robin. The series itself ran from 1966-68, and she was a part of it for the final year — and had a great time.

“It was a wonderful job that gave me a place to go,” Yvonne enthused. “And it paid me admirably. 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. He just loved to gossip — not bad gossip, he just loved show business gossip, because it felt like he was keeping up.”

Batmania

She also enjoyed the show’s elaborate fight scenes, which were a true highlight of each episode with kicks and punches being followed by bold captions like “Bam!” or “Zap!” Adding to the fun is the fact that at the time, she was a motorcycle rider, so was able to ride Batgirl’s bike without any problem or the need of a stunt person, though the producers were reluctant to allow her to really participate in the fight scenes at first.

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Explained Yvonne, “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.”

Although Yvonne had described the costume earlier as being “sprayed on”, she didn’t really have any problems with it, particularly because it was far more comfortable than it looked. “Being a ballet dancer,” she said, “you’re in leotards all the time, so it was just like another costume — a well-made costume. Pat Barto had designed this costume, but she didn’t cut the top on the bias, and I’m bosomy. Someone said to her, ’One of the reasons — maybe two of the reasons — we hired Yvonne are being smushed by this costume.’ So what Pat did was cut it on the bias and it became very comfortable. It was a stretch fabric, and as the series wore on, you didn’t want to sit down in it, because superheroines do not have baggy knees, and you knew if you sat down in it for too long, the knees were going to get baggy and you’d have to go for alterations to have them fixed. It also had a zipper all the way up the back, so it was an easy in and out; it wasn’t tight. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.”

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From the vantage point of 2018, it’s a little difficult to realize just how big the series was at its height. One of the expressions regarding pop culture in the 1960s is that it was the time of the “Three Bs” — Beatles, Bond, and Batman. For their part, Adam and Burt had been a part of the show before, during and after the phenomenon, whereas Yvonne came in after it had already crested, so the end wasn’t that big a shock to her.

“It was very matter of fact,” she pointed out. “I had been on it for one season and it was terrific, and I liked doing the work, but the truth was we did not know that 45 or 50 years later people would still be talking about it. It was a wonderful job, but nobody looked ahead and said, ‘Oh, this is going to be iconic.’ I would think that the ending was a problem for Burt, beause he had not been an actor prior to that, but then you get in this hit series and you’re dumped out of it. Where do you go? Adam had a rough time, I think, because of his speech cadence. It’s so unique that they hired him because of that. You know, the whole, ‘Hello, Citizens’ kind of thing. But when he started reading for other things, they thought he was playing Batman, but that’s who he is and how he talks. So it hung him up for a while, because they couldn’t erase the sound of Batman, which was his own cadence. That finally wore off and he was hired exactly because of it. But, again, for me, I enjoyed every minute of it, and when it was over I thought it was over for good.”

Onward to The Final Frontier

Once Batman had finished its run, Yvonne found herself doing guest starring appearances again on different TV shows, with occasional roles in films. One of the shows she appeared on was the original Star Trek —in the third season episode “Whom Gods Destroy” — as a green-skinned Orion slave girl named Marta. The character she loved, working with series star William Shatner? Not so much.

“He was an a– through the whole thing, though he didn’t start that way,” she detailed. “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 Pinchers 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.”

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She believed that his actions were about both ego and a desire to connect with her on a romantic level. “But it’s just all about him,” sighed Yvonne. “We had a scene where I was supposed to stab him and we had a rubber knife, but he insisted that he likes the way the wooden knife looks, so we had to use the rubber knife in one of the shots and not the others. Now we’re looking at a 12-inch screen at the time, so who nows if it’s wooden or rubber? Plus, rubber is safe and wooden is not. Needless to say, he cuts his hand on the knife and then he went beserko. Everybody had to rush to him, they’re yelling, ‘Get him a brandy’ or something. I said, ‘I hope you’re going to pour it on the wound that’s bleeding, otherwise forget about it.’ But, please. What a candy a–!”

More fun, she says, were her interactions with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), and particularly his “droll” sense of humor. “The first time I went into makeup, it was 5:30 in the morning and you’re just out of it,” she recalled. “I had my eyes closed and they were putting on my makeup. When I got home I realized, ‘My God, they shaved my eyebrows.’ They just left little tufts so it looked like something landed on my face. The next day I go in and I say, ‘They shaved my eyebrows; they could have just as easily covered them with mortician’s wax.’ I’m just furious and I’m saying, ‘If my eyebrows don’t grow back, I swear to God I will sue them!’ So then Leonard said, ‘Yvonne, I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying. I just wanted to say when I started the show’ — because they did shave his eyebrows — ‘I went to a dermatologist,’ and he assured me that anyone who can grow a beard can grow their eyebrows back.’ And with that he turned and left. So I’m standing there saying, ‘Grow a beard?’ He was so funny. Just a great sense of humor.”

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Also wonderfully humorous was a party she had gone to for Star Trek‘s 25th anniversary, where she saw someone on the dance floor who looked exactly like her “Whom Gods Destroy” character of Marta. Said Yvonne, “I told them I really wanted to go down there and meet her but they said I shouldn’t, because I would get mobbed. But I went anyway and met her, only to discover that ‘she’ was a he. He was a hairdresser and he’d done a beautiful job. The wig was just there, and he had made the costume. He was just gorgeous and graceful.”

Yvonne worked for a number of more years, but when the parts dried up, she made the shift into real estate, becoming a successful broker. She also provided her voice to the character “Grandma” for the animated series Olivia, and wrote a personal memoir, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond. Sadly, she passed away on Aug. 17, 2015 from metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her liver.

In our brief conversation, one thing that she made clear is that — seemingly sprayed-on costume and grabby starship captain notwithstanding — she was particularly proud of her contributions to the legacies of both Batman and Star Trek, though she also viewed it pretty pragmatically.

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“I remember being ushered down from wherever I was to sign autographs at one of these conventions,” Yvonne recalled. “A girl was there who was kind of squirrelry. I said, ‘There are so many strange people here,’ and she said, ‘We’re all strange, because we’re all misfits and the only time we feel really connected is when we’re at these conventions, because there are so many of us that are misfits.’ I thought that was very observant of her, and there is truth to it, because some of them are absolutely off-the-wall and brilliant. They’re Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

“My ex-roommate came to town,” she added, “and asked me, ‘Why are these people even interested in you after all these years?’ I said, ‘Through no fault of my own.’ There are cult followings not only with Batman and Star Trek, but with really bad sci-fi. I did a movie called Mars Needs Women, and that’s on the list of one of the worst things anyone has ever seen. And then, you know, Elvis had a huge following despite those movies. So it has nothing to do with choices I made. They just said, ‘Would you like to work?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’”