Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Late Great Yvonne Craig

Yvonne Craig died on Monday, August 17 2015, at the age of 78. The cause was breast cancer. Yvonne Craig was best known for playing Barbara Gordon and her alter ego Batgirl on the cult classic television series Batman. She also guest starred on TV shows ranging from Perry Mason to Star Trek, and appeared in such films as Gidget (1960), Ski Party (1965), In Like Flint (1967) and Mars Needs Women (1967).

Yvonne Craig was born on May 16 1937 in Taylorville, Illinois. She  grew up in Ohio. She trained as a ballerina and at 17 years of age she became the youngest member of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She toured with the troupe for three years. She made her film debut in 1957 in a small role in Eighteen and Anxious. She made her television debut the following year in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse. Miss Craig guest starred on such shows as Perry Mason, Bronco, Philip Marlowe, Man with a Camera, and Hennesy. She appeared in such films as Gidget (1959), The Young Land (1959), The Gene Krupa Story (1959), and High Time (1960).

The Sixties were perhaps the height of Yvonne Craig's career. She was cast in the role of Batgirl on the TV show Batman for its third and final season. Batgirl was the alter ego of Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and a librarian at the Gotham City Library. Batgirl had been added to Batman in an effort to save the show, whose ratings had been declining. Unfortunately, the show's ratings continued to decline and it was ultimately cancelled during its third season. Regardless, Yvonne Craig proved very popular as Batgirl and it would become the role for which she is best known.

During the Sixties Yvonne Craig also played opposite Elvis Presley twice, appearing in the movies It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) and Kissin' Cousins (1964). She also appeared in such films as By Love Possessed (1961), 7 Women from Hell (1961), Advance to the Rear (1964), Quick Before It Melts (1964), Ski Party (1965), Mars Needs Women (1967), and In Like Flint (1967). She was frequent guest starred on TV shows throughout the decade, appearing on such series as Laramie, Death Valley Days, Dobie Gillis, 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, McHale's Navy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Favourite Martian, The Wild Wild West, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Star Trek, and The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

In the Seventies Yvonne Craig appeared in the film How to Frame a Figg (1971). She guest starred on the shows O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; Love, American Style; Mannix; The Magician; Kojak; Emergency!; Holmes & Yoyo; The Six Million Dollar Man; and Starsky and Hutch. In 1972 she reprised her role of Batgirl in a public service announcement for equal pay for women from the United States Department of Labour. Burt Ward reprised his role as Robin in the ad, while Batman was played by Dick Gautier doing an Adam West imitation (Mr. Gautier may be best known as Hymie on Get Smart).

Miss Craig's career slowed in the Eighties, and she only appeared in an episode of Fantasy Island and the film Diggin' Up Business (1990) . For a while she was a producer of industrial shows, and later went into real estate. She and her sister Meridel later went into the pre-paid card business, making phone cards as fundraisers for charities as well as phone cards as promotional tie-ins for such studios as Paramount and Warner Bros. She was the voice of Grandma on the animated show Olivia from 2009 to 2011.

There can be no doubt that for many Yvonne Craig will always be Batgirl. She was certainly ideal for the part. Yvonne Craig was incredibly beautiful and possessed a ballerina's physique. She had the perfect combination of beauty, athleticism, and grace necessary for the part. More importantly, Miss Craig played the role of Batgirl with a sincerity that many other actresses might well have lacked.

Of course, Yvonne Craig played many more roles than Batgirl over the years. In Seven Women from Hell she played a pregnant teenager in a Japanese prisoner camp during World War II. She played Elvis's love interest from the backwoods in Kissin' Cousins. In In Like Flint she played the ballerina Natasha, who also happened to be a spy. On television she played everything from a dancer and assassin (on The Wild Wild West) to the money hungry love interest of Dobie Gillis to a nurse (on McHale's Navy). Even when Yvonne Craig was not necessarily convincing in a role (it is hard to accept her as a scientist in Mars Needs Women, although that is more the fault of the script than her acting ability..), she was always sincere in the parts she played.  And more than often not, she was convincing in them as well.

Beyond being a talented actress, it must also be said that Yvonne Craig was a very nice woman. She attended several conventions over the years so many fans were fortunate enough to meet her. Everyone I know who met her had the same thing to say bout her. Quite simply she was a sweetheart, one of the nicest people one could ever meet. If many fans are mourning Yvonne Craig so deeply, it is not simply because she played Batgirl. It is because she was a truly sweet person who loved her fans.

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