Tribute: Yvonne Craig R.I.P.
A few hours ago the news broke that movie and television star Yvonne Craig had passed away. Yvonne Craig had more than a couple of great roles under her belt, but there’s one role we will always remember her for and that’s as the first ever screen version of Batgirl.
Yvonne Craig was born and raised in Illinois and initially trained for a career in ballet before setting her sights on the silver screen. Although her talent on the stage saw her accepted to Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager, a casting disagreement led her to Hollywood where she started getting roles at the age of 20. Craig appeared on film alongside Elvis Presley, James Coburn and Bing Crosby, and appeared in the most iconic TV shows of the era including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Wild, Wild West, McHale’s Navy, Mod Squad and famously donning green body paint for a notable Star Trek role.
It was in 1967, during a down turn in ratings, that the producers of Batman looked to lure more young male viewers to the TV by casting the stunning Yvonne Craig in the role of Barbara Gordon, daughter of the Commissioner and masked vigilante Batgirl. They got more than they bargained for, however, when Craig proved a popular draw for female viewers with her depiction of Batgirl as a strong, capable hero.
Rather than becoming yet another sidekick for Batman, a gender swapped Robin, or another damsel in distress, Batgirl stood on her own two feet at a time when strong women were practically unheard of on television, even in action orientated shows. Batgirl’s identity was never discovered by Batman and Robin (only Alfred knew her secret), maker her an independent operator to the crime fighting duo. She had a tough demeanour that was usually in contrast to Robin’s anxious persona, and was always willing to ride her motorbike head first into the action.
Batgirl was already an iconic character, and with Yvonne Craig behind the mask she became a true legend. Already a strong figure for the changing attitudes, Craig took it further by appearing in character (along with Burt Ward) in advertisements pushing for equal pay for women.
Craig often spoke of the affinity she felt with her famous character, and was publicly outspoken when Barbara Gordon was shot by The Joker in Alan Moore’s ‘The Killing Joke’ seeing it as the death of a powerful female character simply to motivate the heroes.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Yvonne Craig while she was on the convention circuit. We talked about the role and she spoke of an ongoing adoration of the character of Batgirl. Even more than 50 years on it was clear how proud she was of the show and the legacy she left, and how much she loved meeting fans of all ages. She signed the display of a model of her motorcycle from the show, noting that she had the same one.
Yvonne Craig passed away on the 17th August, 2015, as a result of breast cancer which had spread to her liver. She died in her home, surrounded by her family.
Rest in Peace.