Fifty years ago, this was feminism — of a sort. Batgirl often saved the day, but seemed slightly resented.
Batman: “She does make a colorful reinforcement, all right, but I don’t want her to think we can’t fight our own battles.” Robin: “Gosh no, Batman!”
Now, Yvonne Craig, the formally trained dancer-turned-actress who donned yellow-and-blue leather to play Batgirl, has died at 78. The cause was breast cancer that spread to her liver, as Variety reported.
As a young girl, Craig perhaps could not have predicted that she would become famous as a third-tier character on a cult TV show. Born in 1937, she started training at 10 to be a ballet dancer. She was accepted by the famed George Balanchine for the School of American Ballet; this not being prestigious enough, she threw in her lot with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a later generation of the famed Ballet Russes.
“I was born turned out — a natural dancer,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002.
Craig drifted in television in the late 1950s, with appearances on “Perry Mason” and “Gidget.” In 1963 and 1964, she appeared in two films alongside Elvis Presley: “It Happened at the World’s Fair” and “Kissin’ Cousins.”
Craig was meh on the power of the King’s smooches.
“It was a long time ago — I’ve kissed a lot of people since then,” she said in 2002. “I’ll tell you what: He wasn’t the best, but he wasn’t the worst — or I’d remember.”
The role that would define her career came in 1967. As the ratings for “Batman” flagged, the thinking behind introducing a new character was not complicated. Producer Charles Fitzsimons explained the logic in a documentary: “Well, we’ll give Commissioner Gordon a daughter, and she will be like a female Batman.”
“Holy transformation!” a narrator intoned in a spot about the character filmed for ABC. “One minute plain Barbara Gordon: librarian and Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. And the next minute … Batgirl, modeled after her idol Batman, ready for this crucial moment and off to make her first foray in her own beautiful, beguiling way!”
“I think they probably chose me because they knew I had a dance background,” Craig said. “… I ultimately did my own stunts.” Another bonus: She could ride a motorcycle and so could do “the stuff on the bikes.”
But Batgirl couldn’t last. “Batman” was canceled in 1968; Craig delved further into TV, with appearances on “Star Trek” (as a would-be Captain Kirk assassin), “Kojak,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Fantasy Island.” She penned a memoir — “From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond” — in 2000. Most recently, she voiced the grandmother in the animated show “Olivia” based on the popular children’s books.
She wasn’t above critiquing other Batgirls, either.
“They didn’t give her anything to do,” Craig said of Alicia Silverstone’s turn as the character in 1997. “They put her in a ‘RoboCop’ outfit and expected her to move. Half the time she was covered with a helmet that made her look like Darth Vader.”
This was, after all, the role that made Craig famous. She owned it.
“I was lucky,” she said in 2000. “I did a lot of work with a cult following, but Batgirl is the thing most people remember.”