Interview With Yvonne
THE ORIGINAL CURVY CRUSADER RECALLS THE SERIES, THE PENGUIN, HER ELVIS FILMS & “MARS NEEDS WOMEN”
Excerpted, and reprinted with permission, from an article appearing in the December 1998 issue of Femme Fatales Magazine and moderated by Laura Shchiff:
I never thought it possible, but I did it: I took Batgirl by surprise. I told Yvonne Craig that she qualified as #1 in this year’s FF retro, Sci-Fi’s 50 Sexiest (the entire tally will be printed later this year). Matter of fact, as author of the “50 Sexiest,” I gauged Craig as the sexiest sci-fi icon of all time. She was shocked….
“When I played Batgirl on the show, I wasn’t aware that --- 30 + years later--- I would even be talking about it! She gasps. “I don’t know what to attribute (the show’s) longevity to, other than the fact that I think it looked so different. It was the first time you ever saw on television what you saw if you opened a comic book --- but with real people.”
Yvonne Craig is real people. Down-to-earth, gracious, funny. Listening to her recollections of Batgirl, and alter ego Barbara Gordon (librarian and daughter of Gotham city’s police commissioner), is as entertaining as any show on TV today. “It was just the best experience,” Craig says of her time spent behind the mask. “I couldn’t believe they would pay me to do this. And the nice thing about it is that I knew it was a wonderful experience when it was happening. You know how people always look back and say ‘Oh, I was so happy then’? I knew I was happy then. [Getting paid"> was just icing on the cake.
I rode a motorcycle in those days, so, of course, I rode [Batgirl’s"> motorcycle. And I got to do my own stunts. The stunts were all choreographed on a count, and I had been a ballet dancer, so that was easy. It filled in the day, because I would go off with Adam and Burt’s stunt doubles and work out the choreography. So I wasn’t just sitting on the set waiting for my next scene.”
“Wait a minute,” I say, “Are you telling me that you did your own stunts, but Adam West and Burt Ward – Batman and Robin – had to rely on stunt doubles to pull off their fight sequences?”
“If I were the producer,” says Craig, “I would do it the same way. Everybody was taking a punch at [West and Ward">, and so you don’t want to know that your lead actor now has his nose where his ear is. But, with me, [the villains"> were just grabbing for me. Nobody was throwing a punch that might smash up my face. Hubie Kerns, the stunt coordinator, did Adam’s stunts. And that’s why, if you look at the show, Adam looks fine until he gets into the fight scenes – and then suddenly he has a little pot belly! I can’t believe that they would let any man with that kind of stomach on him wear a leotard!”
“Do you have a favorite episode?” I ask.
“Well, the [third season’s"> first episode, Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin (9/14/67">,” she says. “Just because I loved the concept, which was that if The Penguin married me, he would then be part of the Commissioner’s family and he could do any old thing he wanted to. It was wonderful working with Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin”. What an amazing man. He had a career that spanned 60 years! He was on Broadway, he was in movies, and he was The Penguin. Then he had a resurgence of interest and was in ROCKY, and, it just went on and on!” I asked Craig what she thought of Alicia Silverstone’s portrayal of Batgirl in last year’s BATMAN & ROBIN. “I would have cast Courtney Cox,” she replies. “because my association was with Batman, not with Robin. When they announced that Alicia Silverstone was going to do it, I said, ‘Wonderful!’ Because she’s just right for playing opposite Chris O’Donnell. But they didn’t give her anything to do. And they put her in a Robocop outfit so you couldn’t see her. I was disappointed, because I loved her in CLUELESS. Maybe in the next [Batman film">, she’ll get to do something.”
In addition to playing the comic book icon, Craig appeared in MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1966), which, not unlike another sci-fi turkey, PLANET 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, has attracted a legion of cult fans. Craig played a geneticist who is supposed to be captured by a Martian, and brought back to the red planet to save their dying race. Instead, the Martian falls in love with her and doesn’t have the heart to kidnap her. Directed by Larry Buchanan (CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE), the film starred Tommy Kirk, formerly a kiddie contract player for Disney, as the amorous alien.
Says Craig, “I took that film, number one, because it was being shot in Dallas and that’s where my family lived. And, also, my agent had sent [the script"> to me and said, ‘How would you like to do this?’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to do science fiction. I hate science fiction.’ So then I read it and I thought, ‘Okay, this isn’t bad. There are not little people running around in green suits.’ So I enjoyed doing it. But there was a lot of techno-babble that I didn’t understand. I said to the director, ‘Look, I’m going to keep my voice going up and down like I know what I’m talking about, but, in the event that my eyes glaze over and it sound like I don’t, cut!” Craig laughs out loud at the memory.
“What was it like working with Elvis Presley?” I ask her.
“That was a fun experience,” she says. “I did two movies with Elvis. I did just a small sequence in IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR (’63) and I was the leading lady in KISSIN COUSINS(’64). It was a joy to work with Elvis. He was very professional. Always arrived on time, knew what he was doing, and knew what his fans expected of him. He was just a lovely Southern gentleman. He would call me Bug, because I wore big sunglasses and I looked like a bug!”
These days, Craig is far from inactive. For starters, she’s an avid adventure traveler. “My husband and I have gone on probably eight photographic safari trips to Africa. We went white water rafting in Ecuador and we were in the Galapagos. I’m mainly animal-oriented, so, if you can promise me that I’ll see a squirrel, I’ll go”
Today, Craig is heading out to the computer store to purchase some voice recognition software. The technology will (hopefully) expedite the writing of her biography, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond. “I’m writing the book myself, which is why it’s taking so bloody long!” Craig laughs. “I did about five chapters, zip zap, and then rested on my laurels for a very long time. I type like a chimp, so it takes forever. My husband says the voice recognition software is remarkable. I hope that it will recognize my voice and that it will madly type as I talk. I found, with the chapters that I did write, that I left out a lot of things because I was tired of typing.” Craig says she is debating whether to self publish or go with a publishing house.
When she’s not working on her memoirs or on safari, Craig schmoozes with her many fans on the convention circuit. “I meet young women who say Batgirl was their role model,” Craig tells me. “ They say its because it was the first time they ever felt girls could do the same things guys could do, and sometimes better. I think that’s lovely. Now that had very little to do with me, and a lot to do with the writers. I usually do about four conventions a year and a percentage of all the proceeds goes to my favorite charity. The Santa Barbara Breast Cancer Institute. And then I always reassure everyone, no, I did not, nor do I now, as far as I know, have breast cancer. But Dr. Otto Sartorius was doing really cutting edge, remarkable, non-invasive research and I thought it was needed. I really enjoy doing the conventions. I lead a very quiet life, so I don’t have a lot of interaction with people. I find that you really have to be up for these conventions, because it’s interacting from the moment you sit down until you leave. You’re a limp rag at the end of the day, but it’s fun because you’re meeting--- as I said –-- young women who thought that you were a role model then. You’re also meeting families, where guys will say ‘Oh my God, I had such a crush on you, and now I watch it with my little boy or little girl.’ So I think it’s lovely to be part of something that still holds up, and can be seen by children and their families. It really is family entertainment.”
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