Yvonne Craig, a.k.a. Batgirl, not haunted by the past

By: Glenn Flanagan
Source: Jam Showbiz
July 15, 2002

Yvonne Craig proves it's possible to have a full acting career, date Elvis Presley, be stalked by Howard Hughes, star as a leatherette-clad sex kitten on a shagadelic 1960s TV show, and then put it all in the past and get on with life.

Craig, to most of us, is Batgirl. She is also Marta, the sensuous green but insane Orion dancer who tried to woo Capt. James T. Kirk, or the petite brunette who attracted horny aliens to Earth in the timeless cult film Mars Needs Women. Toss in about 20 feature films and scores of TV appearances, many in perpetual motion out there in Rerunland, and you'll realize you've seen Craig perform many, many times.

Unlike most of her contemporaries, the young ballerina from Texas pirouetted into notoriety, and then gracefully tiptoed out of the Hollywood limelight. No regrets. She simply grew tired of bikinis, bravado and bull.

Yvonne Craig is, in fact, the ultimate Baby Boomer.

Classic pop culture

Fellow Boomers recall Gidget, The Joker, Mr. Spock, Dobie Gillis, Napoleon Solo, Perry Mason, Super-spy Derek Flint, Dr. Ben Casey, Kojak and The Mod Squad. Craig is often there onscreen, interacting with each hustler, hero, villain, lover or caped crusader. She enjoyed herself immensely, and she also left a personal stamp on what has become classic pop culture.

The notoriety was lightly pursued and it remains surprising, Craig, says of her unique career.

'I've had a really interesting life', she says in a rare interview from her home in Los Angeles. And she still does, travelling the world extensively with her husband, a lawyer and dealmaker in the venture capital business.

Craig is best known for her role as Batgirl, having appeared in the third and final season of Batman in 1967-68.

She pursued the role with vigour, largely in hopes that people would finally put a name to a face they had seen in a decade of appearances. It worked, and it was fun. Craig was welcomed by the cool and campy cast, did most of her own stunts and then went on to dozens of further acting adventures when the series abruptly ended.

Batgirl was 'the dream job to have had in 1967', Craig writes in her autobiography, From Ballet To The Batcave And Beyond.

Craig left acting about 20 years ago after tiring of the roles she was offered and finding producers unwilling to cast her in more mature parts. 'I was being offered the same kinds of roles all the time and just thought, 'Why would you bother repeating yourself'.

She shifted into the real estate business, selling commercial property for a decade, then selling theme-driven phone cards in California with her sister Meridel.

Craig's film and television career was quite accidental. 'I just stumbled into acting', she says.

A ballet fanatic from childhood, Craig won a scholarship to the legendary George Balanchine's School of American Ballet in Manhattan at age 16. At 17, she earned a spot in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and criss-crossed the U.S. with the troupe.

Three years later, in 1958, Craig headed to Los Angeles to further pursue ballet but -- in classic Hollywood fashion -- was quickly 'discovered' by an agent while having lunch with a friend. She was signed to co-star in The Young Land, with Patrick Wayne and noted badboy Dennis Hopper. The film paid $750 US a week, versus the $94 she had earned in ballet or the $29 she was then collecting on pogey.

Craig says an industry friend told her early on that she likely would never be a huge movie star because she lacked, rather fortunately, the burning, relentless hunger for personal attention that fuels Hollywood careers.

'A lot of the people who strive and succeed at being superstars ... desperately need the feedback of an audience. They're needier people; there's a piece missing. That's not a bad thing, it's what drives them', she says. 'I never felt that. I needed to prove to myself I could do it, but I never needed to prove it to anyone else'.

Despite zero acting experience, horrid vision and a total inability to do the Twist, Watusi or other popular social dances that often anchored teen movies of the day -- a common problem with trained dancers who are used to structure and formal choreography -- Craig threw herself into the demanding new profession with a passion.

Her book details a series of hilarious events as she strove to pay her dues. She puzzled one director early on by walking up some stairs backward in a scene because ballet dancers were trained to never turn away from the audience. And her rock 'n' rolling was so bad that another miffed director ordered her to sit and 'sway' during groovy dance scenes in the Frankie Avalon movie Ski Party. 'I still can't dance socially', Craig laughs.

The six-month Howard Hughes incident puzzles her to this day. Barely into the business, Craig got a call from her agent saying the reclusive billionaire had offered her a lucrative, exclusive contract to star in a film he planned. The deal was conditional: She had to take voice lessons and have dinner with Hughes' secretary every night! Months passed, she was paid weekly, but she never met Hughes or received a word about the movie. At one point, she went home to her apartment to find everything, including her pets, had been moved to the ritzy Chateau Marmont Hotel. Aides said Hughes had deemed her canned food unsafe and was protecting her from a 'cataclysmic' event that was fast approaching. Shortly afterward, the hotel was instructed not to allow her to receive or make any phone calls. The next day she snuck out, rented a new place and ran for it.

'I don't even know where he was. I have the distinct impression that some of the times I was waiting, he was probably watching', she says. 'Really spooky'.

Dating Elvis Presley was also coincidental, since the ever-studious Craig had barely even heard of the world-famous heartthrob when cast to co-star in It Happened At The World's Fair in 1963.

Panic button

'My sister Meridel had to tell me who he was, but only because I had lived such an insular life as a dancer. I didn't know he was hot stuff', she laughs. The twosome hit it off, spent a lot of time together and made Kissin' Cousins a year later. 'It wasn't the love of your life or the love of his life', she says of the relationship. 'It was just kinda hanging out'. A chapter in her book recounts a night when the singer fell asleep in a home he'd rented in Bel Air. Craig quietly hit every button she saw in the lavish bedroom to turn out the lights. When she stepped out the front door to quietly leave, she was met by five carloads of policemen, all aiming guns at her. She had accidentally triggered The King's 'panic button'.

Craig's autobiography is brimming with similarly entertaining stories. There's the time she caught noted narcissist William Shatner sans toupee, when Charles Bronson pinned her to a door for an unwanted advance, when she ran over Vincent Price with her Batgirlcycle, and when a sleazy director exposed himself while taking her home from a drive-in burger joint, but she thought he had dropped a french fry in his lap ...

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