Question: Can you please tell me if the woman who played Batgirl is still alive? Did she do any other television shows or commercials after she stopped playing her? Lori H., Flint, Mich.
Televisionary: That she is, Lori, and that she did, though Yvonne Craig's acting work has tailed off as she's gotten into and out of various other businesses (real estate, prepaid phone cards) and done some writing (her autobiography, From Ballet to Batcave and Beyond, came out some years back). Her post-Batman TV work includes guest spots on such shows as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, It Takes a Thief, The Mod Squad, Star Trek, Love, American Style, Mannix, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Land of the Giants, Emergency!, Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch and Fantasy Island. On the big screen she appeared in 1967's In Like Flint and 1971's How to Frame a Figg.
But it's for Craig's 1967-68 stint as Batgirl and her alter ego, Barbara Gordon, that the actress is best remembered. While they're at it, fans should probably thank her for helping the show stay alive for another season in its 1966-68 run on ABC, since before she joined the cast network execs were strongly considering canceling the show. Nowadays, they'd just run it into the ground, but back then they were concerned that the instantly hot Bat-fad, already cooling after two-episodes-a-week airings in its first two seasons, might go utterly cold without the addition of a little sex appeal.
"Look," Batman producer Howie Horwitz told TV Guide in 1967, "I don't like to mess with success, but we think adding a Batgirl freshens up the show. We figure we've already got the kids, boys and girls, up to 8. But girls over 8 need someone, a big girl, to identify with. So we give them Batgirl. I rather think the big boys will like to watch her, too."
Craig had no doubt about that. "I understood perfectly, since I wore a spray-painted-on costume," she recalled in 1993. However, she was surprised that little girls took to her character. "I thought they'd be more interested in Adam West and Burt Ward, but I was wrong. [Batgirl] was one of the first young women on TV to have an exciting life. Girls loved her! I admired Diana Rigg, who was in The Avengers then with all that karate, but my producer didn't want Batgirl doing any martial arts at all. He didn't think it was feminine to karate-chop people."
I know I certainly liked watching her in reruns when I was a tyke, but the pitter-patter of my wee heart for Batgirl was nothing compared to the out-and-out thumping it delivered when the Batmobile was on screen. Put together for about $30,000 by custom-car builders George Barris and Lester Tompkins, it was built on a Lincoln chassis and powered by a Lincoln Continental engine, and it sported an array of Bat-gadgets Bat-Ray Projector, fake start button for disabling bad guys foolish enough to push it, Bat Beam, Batram, etc. all lovingly labeled on the dashboard in easy-to-read type. As a kid, of course, I didn't get the humor behind bothering to label everything in the car with the official Bat-prefix, or with labeling one Batpole "Bruce" and the other "Dick."
Nor did I get the idea behind the show, which was to draw in kids like me while appealing to adults with its campy approach. And no one on the series embodied that approach better than West, whose Bruce Wayne-Batman combo was played with absolutely wooden hilarity. A typical Bat-moment: Batman walking into what was then called a discothèque, in full costume, telling the maître d' he doesn't want a table. "I shouldn't want to attract attention," he declares.
Horwitz and company made sure the cast and guest villains played the ridiculous show as straight as possible, which wasn't tough for Ward, since he'd never acted before. But West required a little more supervision. "He wants to be Cary Grant. And the first time he gets cute and amusing, the show is dead," Horwitz said in 1966. "I have to tell him, 'Adam, it's Eagle Scout time, sincere and earnest and square as can be.' Thank goodness he gets the message. It's tough when you have a show with lines like, 'Which way to the Batroom?'"
Tough it was, and sometimes it wore on the actor, who was understandably afraid people might forget he was in on the joke. "I know how to walk this tightwire. I won't allow Batman to be tampered with," he said. "Sometimes I think an orangutan could direct this show. There are times when I could kick in the side of a building."
What kind of attention could test the man's patience like that? Well, when he gave that interview in 1967, for example, West sat in an on-location trailer while a crowd of children standing behind a rope outside waiting for him to appear chanted, "We want Batman!" When he finally stepped out and had to explain to a group of kids that scheduling didn't permit him to stop for autographs, one of them hit back with, "Aw, Batman, you couldn't hurt a flea!"
"Yeah," West replied. "Disillusioning, isn't it?"