Interview With Yvonne
By Pat Jankiewicz
Long before she became a Bird of Prey, Batgirl was a television star. During the final season of the Batman TV series; Yvonne Craig played the lovable librarian Barbara Gordon, who secretly moonlights as the pointy-eared female crimefighter. And while Craig looked stunning in her skintight costume, her Batgirl was really a Girl Scout at heart—and the antithesis of the show’s naughty Catwoman.
Looking more like a schoolteacher than a superhero, Craig has an easygoing charm about her. In life, she has gone from a ballet dancer to an actress to selling real estate. She has also written an autobiography (From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond), appeared with Elvis Presley (in two 1960s flicks) and even romanced Captain Kirk on Star Trek (“I was a green woman from whatever planet Susan Oliver was from in a first season Star Trek episode,” she laughs).
Craig extensively discussed her career in two complementary interviews published simultaneously in 1989: STAR-LOG #149 (which focused on Star Trek’s “Whom Gods Destroy” and other film &TV highlights) and COMICS SCENE #10 (which concentrated on her Batman stint).
The good-natured Craig can still be seen rousting the Riddler or clobbering King Tut on a daily basis, as Batman now airs on TV Land. “I just can’t believe people are still watching it over 30 years later,” the actress marvels. “I really didn’t think we were making Gone With the Wind—just an episodic TV series that would be over when it was over and then it would never rerun again. I’ve been told that Batman has apparently never stopped rerunning somewhere in the world. That blows my mind!”
She arrived in Gotham City when Batman producer-narrator William Dozier (for whom she had done unsold sitcom pilot years earlier) lit the Bat Signal. “He called to ask if I would come in for an interview. When I got there, he said, ‘We’re thinking of adding a new character to the Batman series—Batgirl. Would you be interested in doing it?’ I said, ‘Very!’ ”
After landing the role, “I shot a promo to introduce this| character and to see if the* network wanted Batgirl on the show,” Craig recalls. “It was never seen by the public, only ABC executives. In | that 15-minute promo, Batgirl comes in and helps Batman and Robin solve a crime. Robin asks, ‘Who is that masked girl?’ And Batman says, ‘I don’t know, but I would like to know her!’ “Batgirl was more flippant [in the promo] than she was in the TV series—a little more Lauren Bacall. They were adding Batgirl to the show because they needed someone who could encourage an over-40 male audience and a prepubescent female audience. That’s the real reason why they hired me!”
Working with a mask sometimes proved difficult. “It had its problems. Adam [West] could never see out of his,” she remarks. “They changed my whole mask after we shot the promo, because my first Batgirl mask made little dents on my face. Basically, when I took it off, it looked like I had been crying for weeks! So they changed that and opened up the eyes so I could see better. Poor Adam could never see out of his mask; he couldn’t even look up or down.”
As for working with West and Ward, “I had heard some fairly lurid horror stories about both of them,” Craig confesses, “but by the time I got on the set, they were fine. Adam and Burt were great; they weren’t prima donnas at all. Burt was always on the set on time, knew his lines, did his job and would go back to his trailer and play chess.” West and Ward’s autobiographies indicated a more racy set than chess games—including sexcapades with guest actresses—but Craig swears she “saw none of that.”
On the show, though neither man knew her true identity, Batgirl was actually the daughter of Batman’s close friend Police Commissioner Gordon. “Neil Hamilton, who played my father, was a terrific man, very professional,” Craig extols. “Neil was razor-sharp and always knew his dialogue. He was very spry, and until he died, [which was] some time after we finished the show, I really did not know how old Neil was. When I read his obituary, I was amazed to find out that he had been a leading man in silent films—the hunk of his day! Neil never mentioned any of this! Because we had such a tight shooting schedule—three days for each episode—we didn’t have much time to sit around and talk to one another.”
As for Batman’s loyal butler, Alfred, “Alan Napier was an absolute dream! A great actor. Unfortunately, as with Neil, I never got to really schmooze with him on the set. I did not know until later that Alan had started out with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier! And Alan and I both had little dogs. His dog was named Tippy, and I had Sebastian, an adorable little Yorkshire terrier. I love seeing shots of me with Sebastian on the Batman set. Every morning my little Yorky would walk in and lift his leg on the Batcave! Alan was really upset about that,” Craig laughs. “I said to him, ‘You don’t think this is his critique of the show, do you?’ ”
Because Batgirl worked alone and didn’t have a boy sidekick to deliver exposition to, the show’s writers gave her a parrot instead of a Robin. His name was Charlie. “That bird was dreadful,” she giggles. “They didn’t want me looking like a lunatic—talking to myself to advance the plot—so instead of me walking around the room muttering, they said, ‘We’ll give you a bird to talk to!’ That would have been fine, except any time you approached his rotten little cage, Charlie would hop to the bottom and you would be talking to an empty perch! After that scene, he would then make horrible squawking noises and ruin all the takes!
“That parrot drove us mad! One day, he flew into the rafters and wouldn’t come down. We couldn’t shoot, because we would be in the middle of a take and he would swoop down! My stand-in liked him and took him home after the show was over. Years later, I did a Fantasy Island, and my stand-in’s husband was one of the grips. He told me, ‘We still have Charlie the parrot!’ ”
Besides her bird, Craig wasn’t very happy with her Batcycle. “The Batcycle was very difficult,” says Craig. “They had taken off the shock absorbers to put on the bat wings, so whenever I went over a bump, it was like jumping off a table stiff-legged. It would really jar my teeth! Adam had complained that his Batcycle didn’t go fast enough, so they gave me a fast one, so I wouldn’t complain.”
Batgirl faced many colorful villains on the show. “Burgess Meredith was great as the Penguin, and Eartha Kitt was a marvelous Catwoman. Julie [Newmar] would have been too tall for me,” Craig jokes. “My absolute favorite villain would have to be Egghead, because I loved Vincent Price! I found him to be a fascinating man—bright, witty, urbane, nice-looking and just wonderful! I also ran him over with my Batcycle, and he wasn’t even mad about it.”
Her least favorite episodes were when Batgirl went overseas to help solve “The Londinium Larcenies.” “I didn’t care for those,” Craig admits, “because I didn’t care for the show’s guest villain, Rudy Vallee [as Lord Ffogg]. Glynis Johns, who played the other villain, Lady Peasoup, was wonderful, a sweet lady. But what I really remember is that crabby old Rudy Vallee was an absolute curmudgeon! What made it worse was that it was a three-episode shoot, so we had him around for a long time. He was so cranky, especially when you compare him to a wonderful guest like Vincent Price!”
Batgirl’s sunny life was forever altered after the Joker shot her in the controversial graphic novel The Killing Joke. “I don’t know why they would want to do that to her,” muses Craig. “Somebody sent me that comic book, and in it, she’s hit in the spine by a bullet! It was an awful thing to do, but I figure it’s their character and they can do what they want—as long as they don’t do it to mel”
The actress had no problem with Batman’s big-screen return or Alicia Silverstone’s turn as Batgirl. “I think the first two movies—with Joker and Catwoman [Batman and Batman Returns]—were very dark. They harked back to what the Batman concept originally was,” Craig comments. “We were the aberration, because the [original] concept wasn’t pop-art or campy. I think the last two movies—with the Riddler and Mr. Freeze [Batman Forever and Batman & Robin}—were actually trying to be closer to our series.”
The last time Craig herself wore the pointy ears was in a commercial for the U.S. Department of Labor. “It was a PSA [Public Service Announcement] for equal pay for women; it came three years after I had done Batman^ Craig remembers. “They asked if I would be interested, and I said, ‘Yes.’ It was a great cause. Adam wanted nothing to do with Batman at that time, and so he wouldn’t do it. I teased him that it had nothing to do with Batman—he just didn’t want equal pay for women! Burt came back as Robin, though, and they got Dick Gautier [Get Smart’s Hymie the Robot] to do Batman— and he imitated Adam’s cadences perfectly.”
On the other hand, she gave “a resounding no” to the idea of rejoining West and Ward for the upcoming CBS TV movie Back to the Batcave, which purports to chronicle what went on behind the scenes at Batman. “I was sent the script and declined,” Craig reveals. “This decision was based purely on my evaluation of the script and had nothing to do, as rumor now has it, with the size of my part. I’m inclined to agree completely with the old adage, ‘There are no small parts, only small actors.’ I would infinitely rather be remembered for my role in a well-written, inventive series as opposed to taking part in a project that, as best I can tell, was contrived simply because the Gilligan’s Island TV movie did so well in the ratings. I wish them well and hope the finished product manages to be better than what I read.”
With her role as Batgirl, Yvonne Craig’s own place in pop culture is secure. “There was no stigma to my having been Batgirl,” she notes. “No typecasting whatsoever. People really like the character. I was in a supermarket once, and a little girl came up to me and said, ‘I know who you really are!’ Then she said, ‘Barbara Gordon!’ ”