Aug 20, 2015

Yvonne Craig (1937 - 2015)

As Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara, whose alter-ego Batgirl helped The Caped Crusader and The Boy Wonder out of a few jams, Yvonne Craig was an early crush (sometimes "the first") for many pubescent boys who watched TV's Batman in the 1960s (or during syndication in the 1970s and 80s before being lost amidst copyright limbo). In fact, many of her roles on the big or small screens had the same appeal. On or offscreen, the gorgeous Ms. Craig had a feline attraction, yet she also exhibited a great intelligence, which made her even more alluring and appealing. There was a "sexy librarian" charm about her bright eyes and arched eyebrows, at once exhibiting cunning and "come hither".

Yvonne Joyce Craig began as a ballerina. Upon being discovered by the world-renowned ballerina and instructor Alexandra Danilova, she became the youngest corps de ballet member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This experience parlayed into her screen roles, not least in doing stunt work as Batgirl. She would also use her dancing skills for In Like Flint, and in a well-remembered episode of Star Trek (her character's full-body green makeup may have inspired a famous joke in Eddie Murphy's concert film, Delirious.)

Few careers epitomized the candy-coloured mid-1960s like hers. Spy-fi, teen comedies, even wholesome fare like My Three Sons and My Favorite Martian can be counted among her numerous appearances. She appeared with Elvis, not once but twice in It Happened At The World's Fair and Kissin' Cousins. It was a treat to see her work together with Deborah Walley in prominent roles for the AIP "Beach Party" addition, Ski Party, where Annette Funicello was relegated to a walk-on part. It is not too surprising to see her screen career, like those of Ms. Walley or Pat Priest, become more sporadic in the early 1970s. The squeaky-clean era she represented fell out of fashion with pop culture shifts to 60s counterculture and 70s cynicism. 

After show business life, Yvonne Craig had successfully produced industrial shows and pursued real estate, but never fully relinquished the limelight. In 2000, she published her autobiography, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond. In later years, she would do the voice of "Grandma" in the animated Nickelodeon series Olivia. Yet upon hearing of her passing (she died on August 17, from metastatic breast cancer which had spread to her liver), the first thing that came to my mind was, of all things, Mars Needs Women.

In 2003, we published a one-off, The Cinema of Larry Buchanan, which analyzed the director's seven notorious sci-fi/horror films made for television under his Azalea production banner, including the above title and other such UHF delights as The Eye Creatures or Zontar: The Thing From Venus. The text for "The Seven Deadly Azaleas" was written entirely by Rob Craig (no relation to Yvonne). A few copies of this little zine eventually found their way into the hands of Mr. Buchanan himself, who reached out to us via his producer, Katherine Trimm. After a fifteen year hiatus from the director's chair, Larry Buchanan was planning a follow-up to Mars Needs Women. According to the treatment we had read for the proposed sequel, the original stars Tommy Kirk and Yvonne Craig were attached. (Who knows whether this was true or wishful thinking- that's showbiz for you.) Alas, emails and phone calls became more sporadic, and we lost touch with the director and producer completely. Sadly, we learned in December of 2004 that Larry Buchanan passed away, thus putting this film (and his long uncompleted Biblical epic, The Copper Scroll) into limbo. 

This coda isn't meant to be cynical, as Buchanan's Azalea films polarize viewers into either delight or revulsion. We happen to fall into the former category. But even so, Mars Needs Women is typical of her career: Yvonne Craig brought a spark to everything.

1957: Eighteen and Anxious. 1959: The Young Land; Gidget; The Gene Krupa Story. 1960: High Time. 1961: By Love Possessed; Seven Women From Hell. 1963: It Happened at the World's Fair. 1964: Kissin' Cousins; Quick Before It Melts; Advance to the Rear. 1965: Ski Party. 1966: One Spy Too Many. One of Our Spies is Missing. 1967: Mars Needs Women (TV); In Like Flint. 1970: Three coins in the Fountain (TV). 1971: How To Frame a Figg. 1990: Diggin' up Business.

1 comment:

Dave Lamb said...

I'd forgotten she was in How To Frame a Figg, which I consider the second-greatest Don Knotts film. ("High praise indeed", said a friend). For a change, she played sexy and bad (as sexy and bad as things get in a Don Knotts movie). It seemed to have more sense of fun coming through than any of her other roles I can think of.

"Don't point those things at me, young lady," says the ancient, corrupt, tycoon. "There's nothing down there that's wired up anymore."

I hope she remembered this one fondly in her memoir.