Actress Yvonne Craig is best known for playing TV’s first superheroine, Batgirl in the classic 1960s television series Batman. While the primary stars of the show were clearly Batman and his sidekick Robin, played by Adam West and Burt Ward, receptively, Craig’s role in the series was still a pivotal one. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2015, but over the years we’ve come to learn a lot about her.
Yvonne told Closer a little under a year before her passing that she believed that Batman was a sign of the times. The series came out during an era that was defined by the Vietnam war and the counter-cultural revolution that it partly inspired. While the show certainly wasn’t very political or philosophical, it provided viewers with a much-needed escape full of whimsical comic-bookish fun and pretty colors.
That part likely helped draw in younger viewers because they probably were pretty into all of the bright hues and fancy camera work, but it definitely wasn’t just a children’s show either. There was something in it for their parents and older viewers as well.
If you’re as big of a fan of Batman as we are – or maybe if you just happen to be partial to the work of Yvonne Craig – then this video is sure to be right up your alley. Keep watching to learn all about her storied life and career as well as what kind of impact both she had on Batman and it had on her.
From A Small Midwestern Town To Hollywood
Yvonne was born on May 16, 1937, in Taylorsville, Illinois, but she grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Her family relocated to Dallas, Texas in 1951 when she was 14 years old. Craig spent most of her early life dancing and training to be a ballerina.
She was discovered by ballerina and instructor Alexandra Danilova who helped her become the youngest member to ever join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Craig would later say that this experience helped her tremendously when she was later cast as Batgirl.
She left the ballet group in 1957 and moved to Los Angeles with aspirations of continuing to dance professionally, but instead, she unexpectedly found herself drawn to acting. Eventually, this path would lead to her co-starring with the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, as well as of course, joining the cast of Batman.
In the 1950s and into the early 1960s, Yvonne played a series of ingenues, both benevolent and wicked, in shows like Perry Mason and 77 Sunset Strip. It was during this chapter of her career that she really got to show off her acting skills.
While she predominately acted in dramas, there were a few comedies that she dids as well, but she was usually the 16 to 18-year-old girl who inherited some money or the sexy 19-year-old who was having an affair with a married man or something of that nature.
She was very successful in her roles and worked consistently. By today’s standards, she was probably bringing home something like a couple of hundred thousand dollars per year.
The producers of Dobie Gillis appreciated her so much that they brought her back several different times to play different characters. What that really says about her, however, is just how reliable of an actress she was. Whatever project she committed herself to, she put her entire heart and soul into it.
Around this time, she also got the chance to star in two films with Elvis, which is something that very stars can say that they have done.
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A Much Sought-After Actress
Yvonne was pretty much everywhere you looked back during her heydey. She was co-starring with Elvis Presley in films like It Happened at the World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins, took the lead female role in James Coburn’s spy film In Like Flint, and appeared in the cult sci-fi film Mars Needs Women.
Not only was she starring in films, but she also made a ton of TV guest appearances on programs ranging from Bob Denver’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, as well as on show’s like The Big Valley, Laramie, The Man From UNCLE, Mchale’s Navy and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir – just to name a few.
Back in the day, TV was kind of like the system with films. Actors were contracted with a specific studio and they would assign them to different movies. The same went for TV Actors. For example, if you were to sign with Paramount, then you would do a bunch of Paramount Shows, and if you signed with Screen Gems, then you would do a ton of Screen Gem Shows. That’s why you saw a lot of actors on shows like Hazel, for example, also appearing on shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. It was all the same pool of actors, and Yvonne Craig was a part of that crowd.
Itching For A Change
By 1967, Yvonne was looking for a regular series to join the cast of and she found that in Batman. Before then she was doing a lot of guest appearances, and Craig lamented that people didn’t typically attach a name to a face when they saw guest stars. She wanted to be more than just a face in the crowd, so she told her agent that she wanted to land a role in a series where the audience would see the same people with the same names every week, and hopefully form some kind of connection with them.
Craig had previously done a couple of pilots, but they didn’t go anywhere, so when she got the call from the producers of Batman informing her that they were thinking about adding a girl to the show, she immediately pounced on that opportunity even though she had never even seen the show before.
Craig wasn’t much of a TV watcher back then anyway. Most evenings she would curl up with a good book before calling it a night, but she was at least aware of how popular Batman was at the time even though she wasn’t personally a fan of the series.
So, when the producer of Batman, William Dozier, asked her if she had seen the show, she told him that hadn’t yet but if she got the part, she’d spend the summer watching re-runs so she would know how her character would fit in.
The Path To Batgirl
Craig must have made a good impression with Dozier, because she got the job, although she was first required to film a presentation for the ABC network executives. They wanted somebody that would appeal to males over 40 – which explains the spray-on costume – as well as prepubescent girls.
Back during that era of television, the studios didn’t do all of the market demographic studies that they do today. They just knew that they missing a crucial sector of their target audience.
Craig’s presentation to the network was seven minutes long and pretty straightforward. It started with Barbara Gordon as a librarian seeing the Moth Men at a table in the library. After she overhears what’s going on, she takes off her shirt and turns it into a cape. Then she takes off her hat and turns it into a cowl. And that was it.
After submitting her presentation, Craig didn’t hear back from the studio right away. So she had to patiently wait to find out if they wanted her or not. Needless to say, she was pretty nervous about what they would decide. Her future fate was in their hands.
Batgirl, Or ‘That Girl’?
Eventually, Craig’s agent called her and told her that the studio wanted her to fly to Chicago for the NAPTE convention, which would give independent television stations the choice whether they wanted to pick up the show with her added to it. Although she was reluctant at first to do so without receiving a firm commitment, she ended up agreeing to go anyway.
En route to the venue, she was told that she had landed the job, although, during a ceremony at the convention where the stars of upcoming shows were introduced, she almost embarrassed herself by not waiting for her cue to walk out on stage. When they said ‘That Girl’, she thought they had said Batgirl, but fortunately, someone grabbed her right before she walked out. Just then Marlo Thomas, star of the ABC sitcom ‘That GIrl’ walked out for her show. While Ms. Thomas probably would have understood the mix-up, it’s a good thing that Craig didn’t walk out when she did.
Yvonne Was The Perfect Choice For Batgirl
Yvonne was cast as Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon, and secretly Batgirl, who mysteriously showed up on the scene riding her Batcycle to fight alongside Batman and Robin
The series ran from 1966 to 1968 and she was only a part of it for the final season. For her to fit into the show, she had to be able to do the same thing that Adam West was already doing. That meant that she had to perform both on a serious almost Shakespearean level while performing for laughs at the same time so that the younger viewers got a comic book-esque vibe and adults got a show that offered comedy. That was a lot of pressure to have to put up with, but Yvonne Craig, nevertheless delivered.
Yvonne Had A Blast Doing Batman
Yvonne loved her job playing Batgirl. Not only did doing the series give her a place to go every day, but it also paid her quite well. It provided her with everything that she had hoped it would. Every morning she got to wake up and got to work with people that she had never worked with previously.
Doing the series gave her the opportunity of working alongside industry legends like Ethel Merman and Milton Berle while getting to do her own stunts, but beyond that, she also developed a devoted fan base among the show’s viewers. Nothing was more rewarding to her than the time that she went to the grocery store and a little girl approached her and recognized her as being Barbara Gordon. What could be more rewarding than that?
After portraying Batgirl for the final season of Batman, Craig continued to act sporadically in movies and on television. She appeared in guest roles in shows like It Takes a Thief, The Mod Squad, Emergency, and Mannix. Craig also played Marta, a green-skinned Orion Slave Girl in the 1969 Star Trek episode ‘Whom Gods Destroy’.
From 1969 to 1972, she appeared in four episodes of the comedy series Love, American Style.
In 1973, she appeared in an episode of Kojack titled ‘Dark Sunday’, and in 1977 she made a guest appearance on The Six Million Dollar Man in the episode ‘The Infiltrators’.
After she retired from Hollywood, Craig entered the world of private business. For a while, she was co-producer of industrial shows, but then she started a new career as a real estate Broker.
In 2009, she made a minor comeback in the entertainment industry providing the voice for ‘Grandma’ on the animated kid’s show Olivia.
Craig also published her memoir From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond in 2000 and appeared in a documentary called Ballets Russes in 2005.
Craig died from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 78 at her home in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles on August 17, 2015.
Well, that’s about all the time we’ve got left for this video, but hopefully, you’ve enjoyed taking a closer look at the life and career of Yvonne Craig, the woman that the Huffington Post once called ‘ a pioneer of female superheroes’, with us. She truly was a remarkably talented and dedicated actress who deserves to be remembered.
But before you go, let us know what your favorite memory of Batgirl was in the comments section below. And one last thing, if you enjoyed watching this video, make sure you give it a like and subscribe to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. Tap the bell to turn on notifications. That way you can keep up with all of our latest and upcoming videos without missing a beat.