It is with a heavy heart that I write this article as I'm sure you are all now aware that Yvonne Craig has sadly passed away. However, Yvonne's family made her wishes clear on her website, that she did not want anyone to "waste a moment of their time in mourning for her loss in sadness but instead celebrate the awesome life she had been fortunate enough to live." That statement prompted me to write this article. Yvonne will be missed, but her legacy and what she did for the female superhero is a feat that will never be forgotten.
The 1960's were an extremely oppresive time. We all have heard the stories of how women were not seen as equals, and that their primary responisiblity was to their husbands. This was seen on television too in Bewitched. Moreover, all of the hit shows and movies included male role models. The John Wayne type was extremely popular at the time and there was no shortage of role models for male kids to look up to. When Batman started in 1966, it was an immediate hit and it provided boys with more role models in Batman and Robin. The show even streched to a feature film and continued a successful TV run for two seasons. With the exception of Catwoman, The female characters weren't presented in a positive light - most of them were obsessed with their hair, make-up or nails. Some even attempted to seduce Batman to avoid going to jail (Episode 6). However, like all long running TV dramas, the ratings began to drop. William Dozier (Executive Producer) decided that in order to get more female viewers, they add a female superhero. Although a Bat-Girl already existed in the comic book franchise, Dozier asked DC editor Julius Schwartz to create a new female character that he could use in the series. Thus Barbra Gordon was born. In conjunction with Batgirl making her first appearance in the comics, Yvonne Craig was cast as Batgirl. In Batman: The Complete History, Les Daniels state that ABC intended to "attract new audience members, especially idealistic young girls and less high-minded older men." Dozier had to convince ABC that this was a direction they needed to go in, so a short pilot entitled Batgirl was filmed with Yvonne Craig.
Even though Batman still ended up getting cancelled, the effect that Yvonne Craig had on the superhero world was revolutionary. Craig's Batgirl was the first time that a female superhero had been featured on screen. Craig has said that "I meet young women who say Batgirl was their role model ... They say it's 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."
Furthermore, unlike Adam West and Burt Ward, Craig did her own stunts. It is clear from re-watching episodes that stunt doubles were used for nearly everyone but Craig. What was even more revolutionary, is that in several episodes Batgirl comes to Batman and Robin's aid. She rescues them.
It is important to remember that this was a period where women were believed to be best served at home, yet on network television Batgirl was going toe to toe with male criminals, often outperforming the Dynamic Duo. Craig originated the character of Barbra Gordon who has gone on to be featured in almost every Batman adaptation since. Barbra Gordon is part of Batman: The Animated Series and it's sequel series' Batman: The New Adventures and Batman Beyond, The Batman, Dina Meyer portrays Barbra Gordon in Birds of Prey and Alicia Silverstone portrays a variation of her in Batman and Robin. Craig's portrayal of Batgirl is often remembered as the greatest, and for many will never be topped.
Not only has Craig's performance been revolutionary for the Batman franchise and the Batgirl character - but because of her starring role on Batman, several other female superheroes started getting a chance to shine. Examples include Wonder Woman (1975-1979), the title heroine being played by the equally revolutionary Lynda Carter and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). Even today, female heroes who were only ever used to benefit the male hero are now getting the spotlight they deserve . Examples include Marvel's Agent Carter and the upcoming Supergirl.
When discussing the series, the Batgirl episodes of Batman are often overlooked. This is even seen in the recent Blu-ray and DVD release of the series, as Batgirl doesn't feature on the cover art. The character may occasionally get overlooked due to the fact that she was only in the last season, but what Craig did for female superheroism and for the character of Batgirl will live forever. She redefined what it meant to be a hero, showing that women are equally as powerful as men.
Farewell Yvonne Craig. You were a big part of my childhood. I may not be able to promise that I won't mourn for you, but I can guarantee you that I will forever celebrate you as the icon that you are.