August 19, 2015

Yvonne Craig, R.I.P.

When I heard the news this morning of Yvonne Craig's death at the too-young age of 78 (and no classic television blog worth its weight could ignore it), I knew there was only one picture I could use for this story. In that one picture, we see Yvonne Craig's two great callings: dance, and Batgirl.

She was a trained dancer the day a chance encounter with a producer made an actress out of her; according to her story, a producer was trying to talk her into acting, an offer which she was refusing, when the son of the great director John Ford, walking past their table, stopped and asked "Are you an actress?" Before Craig could answer, the producer replied, "She is and I'm her manager. What can I do for you?" The rest, as they say, is history. That encounter led her to the movie The Young Land with Patrick Wayne (son of the Duke), and from then on Yvonne Craig, dancer became Yvonne Craig, actress.

Her movie career was nothing too sneeze at - two pictures with Elvis, and a role in Our Man Flint (naturally) among them - and her television roles were numerous and winsome, as in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I saw a few months ago. She was cute, vivacious, and she had presence. There were other attributes as well, but this is a family site. And then she wound up on the hottest program on television, Batman. Make no mistake about it, it was a role that was perfect for her.

Was Batgirl a superhero? I'm sure that there's fierce debate about this on the web and at comic-cons; my own opinion is that the very word "superhero" denotes some kind of super power (the ability to fly, to spin spiderwebs, x-ray vision, that kind of thing). According to those standards, none of the crimefighters on Batman were superheros in the strict sense. And Craig wasn't the first ass-kicking female; Honor Blackman's leather-clad Cathy Gale on The Avengers preceded her. But she was something quite different for American television when she joined the show in its third season. As that picture shows, it was an unfortunate criminal who got in the way of that foot.

There's also something so fitting about her character's name - Batgirl - because Yvonne Craig was a girl, in the very best sense of the word.  She radiated youthful energy and a natural charm that jumped off the screen, big or small, no matter what role she was in.  Her characters were always active, always up for adventure, the kind of people you want to hang around with, even if you're in a speeding car with her, watching the world pass by through parted fingers while you cover your eyes..  William Shatner today called her one of "America's Sweethearts"; Lou Grant might have said she had "spunk."  Whatever it was, she had it, and the costars who expressed sadness at her death seemed to be speaking from the heart.

Usually the public only knows celebrities from their, well, public work; Yvonne Craig had battled cancer for a couple of years and was a crusader for free mammograms.  From all accounts, she was a popular costar and a nice person..  Most people would never know that.  Instead, they would know her fondly from her work and her public appearances, and while friends and loved ones will mourn her passing, her fans will have the consolation of her work, which is not a bad way at all to be remembered.

4 comments:

  1. Great tribute to a wonderful lady. As you said, she had presence that went beyond her obvious and exceptional physical charms. She drew your eye, and her quirky voice kept your attention. Her Batgirl is rightly iconic but the show really didn't do as right by her as I would have hoped. By that last sesaon the writing had slipped, most of the stories were no longer two-parters with cliffhangers, and she got captured far too quickly by chumps like Louis the Lilac. Still, she made that character memorable, just like every other character she played. Glad I got to meet her once, even if it was at one of those Burbank autograph shows where you stand in front of your heroes and rarely find anything interesting to say to them. It's still a nice memory now.

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  2. Always loved seeing her pop up on DOBIE GILLIS as well; she ended up in a half dozen episodes playing different love interests. R.I.P.

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  3. A nice remembrance and good observation re: Dobie, Hal.

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  4. The producers of "Batman" had to add the Batgirl character to the series because the character had been added to "Batman" comics (she had made her debut in the January, 1967 issue of Detective Comics---which actually came out in November, 1966 since back then, monthly DC Comics titles hit newsstands two months before the cover date).

    Batgirl was likely created to "cash in" on the TV show's popularity, and to give the comics something that for a few months wouldn't be seen in the TV show.

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