Yvonne Craig

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For most television viewers, particularly those who were glued to the tube in the mid-1960s, Yvonne Craig will always be remembered as the sexiest caped crimefighter of all time. Craig's spirited portrayal of Batgirl during the third, and final, season of ABC's Batman series helped make the character, and the actress, cultural icons.
But there is much more to this beautiful brunette than a cape and a purple motorcycle. The Illinois-born Craig moved to Columbis, Ohio, as a child, and became infatuated with ballet. Shortly afterwards, she began classes in the art and discovered she was very good at it. So good, in fact, that she eventually relocated to Dallas, and later New York, to study. By her late teens, she was invited to join the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo company.


Courtesy Yvonne Craig

Then fate intervened, and a chance meeting with a Hollywood producer led to her first film role, in Eighteen And Anxious, followed by the 1959 western The Young Land, with Patrick Wayne (son of the legendary John Wayne) and Dennis Hopper.
Additional roles in films, such as
Gidget, The Gene Krupa Story (with Sal Mineo), Ski Party (with Deborah Walley, Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman), the camp classic Mars Needs Women (with Tommy Kirk) and High Time (with Bing Crosby) followed, in the early 60s. She also made appearances in TV series such as The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, Ben Casey, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Perry Mason. Additionally, she shared the screen with Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World's Fair and Kissin' Cousins.
After her stint as Batgirl ended, Yvonne continued to appear in films (such as
Our Man Flint with James Coburn and How To Frame A Figg with Don Knotts) and on television, making guest appearances in such series as Kojak, Mannix, The Mod Squad and Emergency! Perhaps her most notable post-Batman appearance was as Marta, a dancing, green-skinned alien, in an episode of Star Trek.
Craig left Hollywood behind in the late 1970s, beginning a successful career in real estate. In more recent years, she has appeared at memorabilia shows and spent much of her time traveling around the world.
She chronicled her career in the autobiography
From Ballet To The Batcave And Beyond, published by Kudu Press in 2000.
This interview with the warm and witty Miss Craig was conducted in August of 2001.

 

Do bats really sleep upside down?

(Laughs) They do; I don't.

Do people actually ask you that?

No. But they did say, 'What did you do to prepare for the role?" and so I just told them, "I slept upside down."

So you really weren't interested in being an actress when you were a kid?

I really wasn't when I was a kid, no; not al all. From the moment - when I was ten years old, I saw ballet and I knew I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

What was it about ballet that appealed to you so much?

I don't know. It was just magical for me. And then, when I started dancing ... It's a lovely thing. First of all, it's lovely because it's disciplined. Ballet, if you're in ... there's only one way to do it. You're either in fifth position or you're not, so it's not a guessing game. With acting, there are a lot of choices to make; with dancing, there aren't. It's nice to feel that you're in control of your body, and I was a terrible athlete, so it was even better for me, because I knew that at least I could do that. And I was bad at everything else.

So, what led to the interest in acting? Or would you have preferred to continue on dancing?

Well, I had planned to continue on dancing, and I was supposed to join the (Grand Ballet du) Marquis de Cuevas company in Monte Carlo. And I was in Los Angeles studying with Eugene Loring, and I was told to study with Carmelita Mariachi. But I was studying with Eugene Loring, and waiting to join the Marquis de Cuevas company, when they reorganized in the fall, and two things happened. I got a letter from a girlfriend who said, "If you think the Ballet Russe was badly run, wait 'til you get here." And, at the same time, I was having dinner in a restaurant with a friend of mine who was an independent producer at Universal Studios, and somebody came over to the table and said, "Are you an actress?" and before I could swallow what I was eating and say "No, I'm not. I'm a ballet dancer," he said, "She is indeed, and I'm her manager. What can I do for you?" And so, that led to my first movie role.

Do you still dance today, just for fun?

You know, I don't anymore. I danced for a long time, just because it's so satisfying. It's lovely to be moving to classical music. But, sooner or later, you realize that you are grinding away your hip sockets. And, your femur is grinding into your hip joint, and it's just not good. And, almost everybody that was in the company when I was in the company is either having hip problems or has had hip replacements. Both of my roommates have had hip replacements, and two of my friends, and there's a lot of wear and tear on that joint. And so, I don't dance. I go to the gym and I do yoga and I do all kinds of things, but I don't dance anymore.

When was the first TV gig?

Oh, boy. You know, I don't ... My guess is - well, I didn't come out here until 1958. And so, it was somewhere around there. I think the first thing I did was a commercial for Pepsi with - oh, gosh, who was it - Connie Stevens, for one, but I don't remember the two guys in it. And, I guess the first television I did was a commercial. And I did movies and a lot of episodic TV, for years.

Were you more interested in the movies or TV?

You know, I was equally interested in them. I was just interested in the roles, and so it didn't matter in which. I guess if I would have had to make a choice, I would always choose television, 'cause it moves more quickly. In motion pictures, you're just forever, and ever, and ever on the set, and not a lot of stuff gets done, or at least in those days it didn't. It was just really a slow go. But, with television, if you knew it was a half an hour, it shot for three days and if it was an hour it shot for six.

Why did it take so long, in movies?

Because of the lighting, and ... who knows, who knows why it takes so long. I don't think that the lighting is that much better, but indeed, they claim because it's going to be shown on a huge, huge screen, that all the technical things have to be more finely tuned than they do have to be for television.

So, were you an Elvis fan?

You mean, before I worked with him?

Yes.

No. I had seen him do one thing, and that was King Creole. And I thought he was just lovely in it, but, no, I really wasn't, up until years later. I just always listened to classical music, so I really didn't know a lot about popular music in those days.

King Creole was a good movie. Probably his best.

Yes, it was. He did a lot of acting and a lot less singing. And I just thought he was excellent.

Of course, the rest of the cast in that didn't hurt.

Who was in it?

Well, Vic Morrow, Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau ...

Oh, wow! You know, I don't remember; I just remember I thought he was an interesting young man.

And Michael Curtiz directed it.

Yes. I worked with Mike Curtiz on a television show; I can't remember which one it was, but he was a funny man.

Well, people always ask you how good a kisser Elvis was. I won't ask you that one.

Okay (laughs).

How good of an actor was he?

You know, I don't know. I think that he probably had more talent than was used, because he was very observant, and that always helps. But, I think he was underutilized. But, I can tell you this: When he was on the screen, I never watched another person, including myself. So, it didn't matter if he could act or not, he had that certain something that was just riveting.

It helps, though, if they can act.

Well, I think he could act; I thought he acted very well in King Creole. And I thought he had potential for doing much better work than was handed him.


Courtesy Yvonne Craig

Right.

And, unfortunately, he let Col. (Tom) Parker decide what he would be doing, and that isn't always a good idea. I think the more in control you are of your own destiny, the happier you're going to be.

Most of the TV and movie parts you'd done, up to that point, were dramatic; you really hadn't done a whole lot of comedy.

No, and you know what? It's so funny; it's so funny in this town. If you do drama, they think you're a dramatic actress. And the first time you break through and do a comedy, then they say, "Oh, my God; she does comedy." And so if you do two comedic roles, back-to-back, then they say, "Oh, well, she can't do drama; I've only seen her in comedy." So, you're constantly having to re-audition, and readjust their thinking.


Courtesy Yvonne Craig

So, after all the dramatic parts, what made you want to do something as campy and light as Batman?

I wanted to do a series, and I didn't care whether it was drama or comedy or what it was, I just noticed that ... When you do episodic television, people see you but they don't know who you are, because they don't see you on a regular basis. So they look and they say, "Oh, that's, um ... I don't know who she is, but I see her all the time." And so, I wanted to make that connection. I wanted to do a series, and I didn't care what it was, just as long as it ran so that everybody would say, "Oh, okay, I remember her; she did such-and-such, and her name is Yvonne Craig."

And, a ballet dancer on a motorcycle.

 

(Laughs) Yeah (more laughter). Well, in those days I rode a motorcycle. Meridel, my sister, can attest to the fact that ... (laughs) I did, and we did, and she was always on the back, and I was always doing crazy things with it.
One time we were going up a hill, and it didn't really have enough guts, and I gave it gas and shifted and we did a "wheelie," and she fell off, and I fell on top of her, and the bike slid across my leg and burned my leg. And we were lying in the gutter, laughing, laughing, laughing. Well, this woman drove by, and she thought we were crying, because the same sort of jerking takes place with crying and laughing. And so she stopped her car and she was very sympathetic, and got out and said, "Are you all right?" And (laughs) we were so busy laughing that we could barely talk to her. And then she was angry (laughter) But I don't ride a motorcyle anymore, and wouldn't, in this (area) ... it's too crowded here, and people don't recognize you as a vehicle anymore, and those that do sometimes would like to kill you, and I just think it's not a wise choice of transportation.


Courtesy Yvonne Craig

One of the interesting things about Batman - I was thinking about this the other day - is that show appealed to so many different demographics, but for entirely different reasons.

Yes. Absolutely.

You know, for the kids it was high drama, like the old Saturday afternoon movie serials, the "cliffhangers."

For kids, it was wonderful, because it was bright, and splashy, and you saw "Zap!" "Pow!" and it was the first time you ever saw what you read in your comic book come to life on screen. So, that was great for kids. And, the adults got all the double entendres, and then, certainly, there was a select group that liked what Catwoman and Batgirl wore, because it was absolutely sprayed on. So, yeah, we reached a lot of people, for different reasons.

I guess the teenagers liked it because it was colorful, and it had a cool car ... and a hot chick.

Yes; yes. Absolutely.

You being, of course, the hot chick.

Oh! Alright (laughter).

Who'd you think I was talking about?

Well, you know, that was the third season. But in the previous two seasons, I guess they had lots of hot chicks. That was, kind of, what the show was about.

Well, Julie (Newmar) was there.

Yeah. But you know, I think she only did three of them. So, that tells you what an impact she made, because, the last season, Eartha Kitt was Catwoman.

With Lee Meriwether in between. But I think I read somewhere that Julie did six episodes.

Maybe; she would know better than I, but somebody told me it was three. (NOTE: Julie did six two-parters, so if you thought she did twelve, I wouldn't argue. -- T.W.)

And she'll never get away from it, either.

No, that, and the thing she did called My Living Doll, that everyone recognizes her from. But that's not all bad.

No; no. So this was the "Swinging Sixties," but you were kind of out of that loop, weren't you?

I was; I was never part of the "Swinging Sixties." And I was an embarrassment to everybody who knew me, because everybody was wearing tablecloths, and love beads, and flowers in their hair, and I always looked pressed. I mean, I looked like I had just starched and ironed my tablecloth (laughter).
And I didn't keep up with the language; you know, with "Hey, man!" and "Cool, dude." All of those things were not part of my vocabulary. And so one day I tried to fit in, and Meridel was hideously embarrassed, because we we walking down the street, and somebody pulled their car up over the curb and blocked our passage. And I said to him, (laughs), very politely, "Would you cool it, please?" And she said, "I am so embarrassed; nobody ever says, 'Would you cool it, please'." (wild laughter) So I thought I was "with it," but I wasn't.

Oh, I'm sure there were polite hippies somewhere.

(Laughs) There might have been (laughs). I thought I was the only one (laughter).

Well, I guess when they got "mellowed out" enough, they would be very polite.

Yeah; I guess.

So, the Hollywood parties, and go-go dancing, and you didn't fit into that at all.

No! I never fit in to "sex and drugs and rock and roll." It was the wrong ... (laughs) I had just grown up differently, and it was all the things that ... I had a black and white television set. I mean, I was in the business and watching on a 13-inch, black and white screen, and nobody could believe it. They kept saying, "Come on! You're in the business! Whatever happened to color" or "bigger" or something. And, I just didn't. I've always been a reader ... to this day, I only watch a couple of television shows. I watch Friends and I watch Frazier with any kind of consistency. And then my husband and I think, and I'll say, "We really need to watch such-and-such," and he'll say, "Okay," and then I'll say, "(sigh) but I have a good book ... Well, let's just read (laughter)."

So, was it difficult, being a midwestern girl - raised with some values - in Hollywood?

No, it wasn't at all. I think it held me in very good stead. I think, when you come to Hollywood you have to know who you are and what you're about, because you're not gonna get any help on it once you get here. And so, no; I think it was good. It was a good thing.

In the late 60s, movies starting "opening up," and then nudity became very prevalent. I'm sure you were offered some of those roles, and turned them down.

You know, I don't ever remember being offered a part in which nudity played any part at all. I remember someone approaching me about being in Playboy magazine, and I said I would not be interested. If I were Joanne Woodward, and thought of as being a very serious actress, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind, I would take off all my clothes, because I think that would have been helpful. But, I said, "People are just saying that 'She says she's a serious actress, but wait; she'll take off her clothes. She'll take off her clothes'." And so they were just waiting for me to do something like that. And I thought it would be counterproductive.

It just got to the point where some of it was in there, just to be in there.

Oh, yes; absolutely. And, to this day, what bothers me most is, it's in such extreme closeup, that you're saying to yourself, "Is that her knee? No, it's his elbow. No, that's somebody's armpit. No ..."
You know, you just don't know what body part you're looking at, and I think one's imagination is always so much better. I was a kid who grew up on radio, and they would say, "Here she comes, in the most gorgeous gown," and so, you conjure up, in your mind, this incredible looking gown. Once television came on the scene, they'd say, "and here she comes, in this most gorgeous gown," and you'd look and that was supposed to be the definitive gorgeous gown. So, it not only kind of squelched your imagination, but who's to say that's gorgeous (laughter)? So, yeah, I think the more that can be left to the imagination, the better off we all are.

Are you at all surprised at how well Marta is remembered?

Yes! Yes, although I meet people who don't connect that with me. In my book, that's on the back cover of my book. The front cover is Batgirl. But, the Marta picture, because it looked mysterious and wonderful, I was going to put on the front of my book, and woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and said, "Oh, my God! I'm going to have to call the publishers, because we can't put that on the front - no one ever recognizes that as me." And I was under a lot of green paint. And, so we switched it. But, sometimes when I go to conventions, and people will look up and my banner has a picture of me as Marta and a picture of me as Batgirl, and they always say, "(gasp) I didn't know that was you, that green lady."


Courtesy Yvonne Craig

Right.

So, yes, it's well thought of, I think, and I went to a Paramount party one time, for everybody who had ever done anything, including, you know, the little fur balls in "Trouble With Tribbles." And, they had given a huge party on the Paramount lot, and they had said to me at the time, "Do you know that 'Whom Gods Destroy' is the second most-played of all of the Star Trek things?" And I said, "What's the first?" and they said "The Trouble With Tribbles." So, yeah ... interesting.

You're second place to a little ball of fur.

Yep, Yep.

 

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