Bat Mania II: 1992


In 1966 and '67, Batman was one of the hottest shows on the air and certainly a common subject of conversation among the youth of the day. That is among most youths. When Yvonne Craig, then in her mid-twenties, was offered the role of Batgirl, she had never seen the series. Not even once.

"I was kind of a nerdy kid," the actress and ballet dancer recalls, "but I didn't know I was a nerd because they didn't have that word then. I had never read comic books and my early interest was ballet. That's a very focused career if you choose it for a career, which I ultimately did. I was one of those kids that ruined the grade curve in school because I did all my homework. I loved reading. My mother used to say to me, 'If you don't eat your breakfast, you don't get to go to school,' which was the only way she could get me to eat my breakfast because I desperately wanted to go to school!"

So instead of comic books, Yvonne read more accepted literature. "And I didn't consider comic books to be literature, so I didn't have any sense of the show at all. The first year it was on we had friends who were calling us up, saying, 'There's this great show called Batman. Have you watched it?' And I, believing that television should be Playhouse 90, said I didn't read comic books as a child and I don't intend to watch comic books on TV, and so I just never watched it.

"When they called me and asked if I would like to do Batgirl in the Batman series, I was very interested. I had been looking around for a series. When I went into Mr. Dozier's office, he said, 'And of course you've seen our show,' and I said that I hadn't but that I would watch it all summer long in re-runs if I get this job because I need to know how it looks and how I fit in. He didn't seem to be offended by that at all."

Before she appeared in her first episode, one day's worth of filming was spent shooting a short promo featuring Batgirl, Batman and Robin as a presentation done exclusively for the network .

"At that time the character looked to me to have been written slightly sassy, as far as Batman was concerned," she recalls. "It was sort of, 'you don't know what you're doing but I can help you out here.' So she was a superior female and Batman and Robin appeared to be more bungling. That was the gist of this presentation. I've recently seen some pictures of me in the old mask, sitting up on a shelf and talking to Adam, and you can see that we had a mask which came to a 'V' on my face and the eyeholes weren't very big. Adam had trouble the entire time he did Batman of not being able to see out of that cowl. He had wide vision and front vision but he had no vision down. If he wanted to step off a curb he just had to hope he made it because he literally couldn't see down out of that mask. So when they did mine they were aware of that and they cut it into a 'V' making it look very bat-like. But when I took it off it had made dents in my cheeks so that if I were going to switch quickly on a set from Batgirl to Barbara Gordon, she'd look like she'd been crying for weeks until those dents would come up again. So they re-cut the mask and made it round. All of the pictures taken that were in that old mask were just from that first day's shoot and then everything else from after that was from the real show."

Once the series went into production for the third season, Yvonne noticed that the characterization of Batgirl had been softened from the sharp-edged version done in the promo.

"Once we got into production, because they were having to write for a number of characters, they lost the sassy part of Batgirl, if they ever had intended it. Perhaps they only intended it for that presentation. She became one of their helpers and was somewhat flirty with Batman. But you got the sense that she wasn't really interested in him nor he in her. It was more that they were practicing for others. So there wasn't anything really going on between them except on occasion you would see him take a little longer to brush her off and make remarks about how men are supposed to do this and she'd say, 'And some women, too.' It was kind of a challenging position, but there was really no love interest between Batman and Batgirl."

Because Yvonne had her own motorcycle which she rode daily, she was allowed to ride the bike which was customized for Batgirl to use on the show. But that didn't mean that everything worked out according to plan.

"I used to go out and practice on this bike and it was a Yamaha 190 or at least one with more power than I needed," she explains. "Plus they had taken the shocks off in order to customize it and put on those batwings. The effects man, who was a motorcycle rider, said that if you want to look like you're riding a wall down (for her exit through Batgirl's secret door) it would be really exciting if when I hit this mark that he put there on the floor, I gave it all the gas I can. When I hit the spot where the wall comes down it'll look like I drove it down. But there's a part of me that doesn't want to die and I kept thinking, what happens if something malfunctions? So I did give it all the gas I had but I had my hands near the brakes and noticed that the wall was not coming down at all, and I hit the brakes and went sliding into it and missed it by about an inch. It was just a malfunction of the wall, which was painted like bricks on the outside but was a heavy piece of plywood, almost like a drawbridge. So I sure didn't want to hit that full tilt and go through.

"The stunt coordinator, who didn't really know me because this was my first show, didn't know whether I could even do stunts and didn't know that I had a ballet background. He was upset that they weren't using a stunt person to do this. So I heard his little voice yelling from the front, 'She chickened out!' Except that I hadn't chickened out! Nobody wants to go through a plywood wall! So we re-rigged it and it worked."

The problem remained that the motorcycle the show had for Batgirl was much larger than what Yvonne really needed.

"Adam had always complained that his motorcycle wasn't big enough, but he's big. He said that it didn't have enough power and then when you've got a sidecar on it and you've got another person in it.... So he had always complained about it and I guess they decided that since I was an inveterate motorcycle rider I would want something that had a lot of zip. But they gave me one that actually had more zip than you need, because you can often undercrank when you shoot and they always undercranked when we were supposed to fly out of scenes. I didn't need anything that big and it weighed too much. If I got it more than just a few degrees off center, I'd have to drop it and pick it up because I just couldn't wrestle it back . But they did do a good thing. They gave me an automatic starter. My own personal bike had a kick starter and I told them that often I'd try to kick it and it'd kick me, and did they really want to see all this on film? So they said that I'd have an automatic starter and I just punched a little button and it was wonderful."

That was then and this is now and the new, but not improved, congested Los Angeles is no place for a bike rider of any sort. So Yvonne has not ridden a motorcycle in years.

"Twenty years ago when I rode my bike, my sister would ride on the back and it was just a little putt-putt, not some big mongo Harley bike. We'd ride down Santa Monica Boulevard in the summertime and I flipped us over one time in traffic. We were lying on the ground laughing and neither of us was hurt. I don't know whether we had no sense of our own mortality or if this was not nearly as busy a city as L.A. is now, but I wouldn't go on Santa Monica Boulevard in anything less than a tank these days. Traffic is much worse and it's just not safe to ride a bike or a bicycle any more."

Due to the kind of show that Batman was, with its unending array of celebrity guest stars, Yvonne Craig found herself working with people that she never would have had the opportunity to perform with had her career taken her in a different direction.

"I have always said that had it not been for Batman, I would never have worked with those people. Ethel Merman was in musical comedy, so I would never have had the chance to work with her. And contrary to what he said, Rudy Vallee was retired, and so I never would have worked with him otherwise. And Milton Berle was to a lesser degree retired in that he wasn't doing episodic TV and wasn't doing his show any more. Even if he had been doing his show, I wouldn't have been on it because even though I was a ballet dancer, I was not a jazz or show dancer. And Burgess Meredith! He's practically had six careers! He was a Broadway star. He did movies and TV, and then he was The Penguin. His career quieted down a little bit after that, but then he became well known again in the Rocky films! He's just gone on and on and on. So I worked with a lot of people that under normal circumstances I would never have gotten to work with, and it was great! Looking back now it gives me a great sense of history, and it was fun working with those people."

She enthusiastically admits that she does have a favorite: Vincent Price.

"He's heaven! Everybody asks, Who is your favorite villain? He is! Not because he was the most villainous, but because he is one of the most interesting men I've ever met. He was a sexy looking man back then, and he's bright, witty, charming and talented. I just can't say enough about him. I just adore him. He was very impressive and was probably the most impressive actor I worked with on that show."

Batman also had some impressive out-takes, one of which very directly involved Yvonne in a way that wasn't her fault. It happened during the filming of the episode "Surf's Up! Joker's Under!"

"We were going down a hallway single file and there was Adam and then me and then Burt was behind me. So we're all tiptoeing along and Adam's supposed to say, 'Shhh!' and put his hand back to stop us from advancing any further because he hears someone coming. As he put his hand back, it was on my breast, but he thought his hand was on my shoulder, or so he said, and left it there. I'm standing there thinking, 'Oh, dear, I know where his hand is, but maybe I shouldn't break up because we could use some of this,' being the professional that I am. I figured we could cut away and use some of it so I figured I'd better just stay there. Finally the crew started breaking up and they finally said, 'Cut! Cut! Cut!' Then somebody said to him, 'Adam, where was your hand?' And he said, 'Uh, on her shoulder?' I thought either he had no sense of anatomy or that will tell you something about the lingerie in those days. They had such firm bras that he thought it was a shoulder instead of a breast. That take is somewhere because they did keep it, but I don't know where it is.

"On the same show I had a scene where I was in a bathing suit," she continues. "I'm supposed to run and open a door, except that I thought the door opened out, but it didn't. And so I juggled it and jiggled it and couldn't get it open and when I finally realized you should pull it open, I pulled it and the bottom of it ran over my toe and I said, 'Oh, shit!' They cut and did it again, but in the meantime a little painter, Chappy Chapman, is standing next to me and says 'That was not very professional.' I thought, I cannot believe that with my toe all bummed up like this that he's going to give me a lecture on what is professional and that I shouldn't be swearing on the set, but I didn't say anything except, 'Oh?' And he said, 'Yes, you don't swear very professionally. I've heard people swear a lot worse than you.'

"It was a wonderful crew that we worked with," says Yvonne of those days on Batman. "I absolutely loved them and some of their children are in the business today. I will sometimes see their kids and they will come up and say, 'My dad worked with you and he was excited that I was going to work with you today and he says hello.' "

Even though there's been literally hundreds of Batman toys over the years, at the time the show aired, there were no Batgirl toys. But there seems to be an interesting reason for that.

"So far as I know, they didn't do any Batgirl toys for the first ten years because I had participation in the merchandising in my contract," she reveals. "Adam and Burt sued them for years to try to collect on the merchandising, but they never did get it. But when I went in, mine was already written in my contract. My agent had me covered there, saying that if they made anything with the Batgirl logo, Yvonne Craig or Barbara Gordon, I would get a percentage of everything that they did for the first ten years after the show was off the air. But when the show went off the air in '68, there just wasn't anything on Batgirl. Then after the ten year period was up I started seeing Batgirl toys! I don't know whether it was because of that, but it probably was. I was amazed at the merchandising that went on for that show, though. There was some really weird stuff."

One of Yvonne's warmest memories of the fans of Batgirl involves a little five year old girl. "She came up to me and said, 'I'm going to be Batgirl for Halloween. My mommy ' s making me a cape and a fertility belt!' I thought that was wonderful! I left it up to her mother to tell her that it' s a utility belt."

Until the time of the first of the reunions of the cast of Batman in 1988, Yvonne had not seen any of her former co-stars in years, with the exception of running into Adam West once and seeing that he had more children than he'd had before. The first of the reunions was at the Stock Exchange nightclub in Los Angeles in March, 1988. "It was interesting because I had not seen most of those people until then," she explains. "It was a shocker to see Burt because he was young enough 20 years ago that he hadn't really filled out and become a man. He was a kid! And so he had no hair on his chest and he didn't have broad shoulders and he was just this little spindly kid in 1968. And I was really glad to see Alan Napier.

"When you're on the set you're so busy working, and we didn't socialize so I was unaware, until I went to the first reunion, of Alan's career. I'd had no idea that he had appeared with John Gielgud and Lawrence Olivier on the stage, a lot, in London, or that his family didn't support him because they felt he was not very good. And also, he was considered too tall. He was 6'5" and was too tall for almost everything, and he dwarfed other actors on the stage and that didn't look good. When we went to the Stock Exchange reunion he'd had a minor stroke and was having a problem with balance. He had this cane that they'd had to extend because a normal cane was too short for him. So he really didn't have a bright and shining career on the stage in London, but my God, he'd done so much! I wasn't aware of it until I sat next to him and someone from England was interviewing him about it. So I got to listen to where he had been and what he had done, and it was fascinating. Earlier in the evening I said to him, 'I understand you are writing your memoirs,' and he replied, 'Oh, I did it a long time ago. Nobody's interested.' I just thought, 'I am!' I would give anything to read his memoirs.

"I liked having the reunions when they happened because it really meant a lot to Alan, and he died shortly after that last year. I don't go to weddings and I don't go to funerals because I hate all that ritual, but I went to his funeral, and it was the best funeral I've ever been to. Everybody was telling wonderful stories about Alan. His daughter had said, 'Dress not in anything dark because Alan was a light person and he would have liked to have had people all dressed up in pretty colors,' and so we did and it was terrific."

In describing what the Stock Exchange reunion was like overall, she explains that it was rowdy and frenzied.

"There were press from everywhere and people came in and danced and they would flash bits of Batman on a screen. Then they introduced us and it was a little frantic. But I guess discos are supposed to be frantic. They took us up on the balcony that runs all around the hall because it's an honest-to-god stock exchange building. So we weren't right down there with the fans, but there were loads of fans. They brought in the Batmobile and took lots of pictures. Oddly enough, I don't know what the fans got out of it. I would not want to have paid to go there and see film that I could have seen at my house. We didn't do or say anything there. We were sort of dragged out like mummies and they whisked us along so that we barely got to sign autographs. They kept saying that you can't stop for autographs, but I stopped for a lot of them because I don't think that's fair. But there's only so much you can do while they're pulling you along. So I don't know what the fans got out of it."

The strangest part of that evening at the Stock Exchange for Yvonne came when she was interviewed by Entertainment Tonight.

"You assume that you're going to see Mary Hart or Lisa Gibbons or somebody that you've seen on Entertainment Tonight. But instead there was this field reporter who said to me, 'What was your favorite saying? Holy what?' I explained that I never said Holy anything. That Burt always said that. Then he paused and said 'So what was your favorite thing that you said?' I thought, I don't know where to go with this! So we just sort of stared at one another for a long time. The Entertainment Tonight report on the event was really strange," states Yvonne.

Regarding the reunions on the Fox Late Show and on The Wil Shriner Show, she explains that while none of the guests were prepared in advance for the interviews, the hosts were given questions designed to elicit the most interesting responses.

"They had to have some background so that they'd know where they're going. Hal Lifson, who works for Dentsu, has been instrumental. The reunions were his idea because he has been a big Batman fan for a long time. He did the most work to get all of that going and did an excellent job. It was all handled very well because Hal knows all of us and he had interviewed us extensively.

"I think that it was The Late Show that was so overbooked. We had the writer, Alan, Adam, Burt, me, Julie, Eartha Kitt, Frank Gorshin, the Batmobile designer and squibs from Cesar Romero. You can't put that many people on a one hour show. It was a bit frantic, although I think they did it very well. But better to have enthusiasm and overbooking than have us sitting like potatoes with nothing to say. I really liked seeing everybody again. That was neat."

In looking back on the Batman series from a perspective of over 20 years later, Yvonne observes, "Everybody forgets that we were the aberration. The Baby Boomers and all these people who saw us in the Sixties don't realize that it was very Sixties and the Sixties was camp. The Batman comic book was never bright and cheery and camp and funny like that. I think this new Batman movie will probably make inveterate Batman readers very happy because it's a lot like the comics have been, and I think it's very much of its time. The Eighties are a lot grimmer than the Sixties as far as violence is concerned. We're having gang wars and vigilantism and it will probably be very successful because it will be as much of its time as the Batman series was of its time."