The Celebrity Collector:
It's African Masks for TV's Batgirl
The Primitive and the Primal
are Yvonne Craig's Favorites

By Mike McLeod

Yvonne Craig is a delight...not only to interview, but also to watch during the good old days of TV and movies. Best known as Batgirl from the live-action Batman television show of the '60s, Yvonne also guest starred in more than 150 episodes of shows like Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Dobie Gillis, Wild, Wild, West, 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, My Three Sons, It Takes A Thief, McHale's Navy, Love American Style, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island to name a few. Yvonne's film career included acting with Elvis Presley in Kissing Cousins and It Happened At The World's Fair. She has also starred in movies opposite Bing Crosby, James Coburn, George Hamilton, Sal Mineo, Robert Vaughn, and Don Knotts.

Born in Taylorville, IL, to Maurice and Pauline Craig on May 16, 1937, Yvonne embarked on a career in ballet, joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954. Later, she moved to Los Angeles, and there she was approached by Hollywood producers about a job in acting. Content as a ballerina, Yvonne turned them down. When they approached her the second time, she agreed to act-but only until she joined another ballet company (which never happened).

Her first movie was the western The Young Land with Patrick Wayne, son of John.

Today, Yvonne has added author to her list of credits. She recently published a book, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond, about her career and the people she has met and acted with along way.

Yvonne is also a great world traveler, and during her travels, she has picked up a love for collecting African masks.

How did you get started collecting African masks? What attracted you to them?

Yvonne: "They are just so primitive and primal. My husband and I went to Africa in about 1972, and I brought one home then. At the airport, the customs agent asked if those were turkey feathers on it. Obviously, they were not turkey feathers, so I said, 'No.' He said, "If you want to bring that into the country, those are turkey feathers.' And I said, 'That's what they are.' It was the 70s, so they were a little slack on the rules. You know, love and peace."

"Each time we went back to Africa, I would pick up another mask."

How many masks do you have?

"Eight or nine. And some others that are not from Africa. One is from Equador that has parrot feathers on it. I have one made from armadillo skin from Oaxhuaca, Mexico. I also have a fanged mask that is hard to find now, and one made of ebony."

Most of your masks have been "danced," correct?

"Right. Being "danced" means they were made for a ceremonial purpose and not for tourists. In the '80s, collecting primitive items became popular so danced masks are hard to find unless someone sells their collection. Also, Africa has changed. People are moving to the cities and away from ritual life."

How can you tell if a mask has been "danced"?

"By the wear marks."

Do you collect anything else?

"Frogs."

The ceramic type, right?

"Yes. (Laughs.) When I was touring with the Ballet Russo, my 12-year-old sister sent me a frog in the mail. It was about the size of your cuticle. She wrote that she had found this cute frog and knew I would like it. Of course, it had been through a postal stamping machine, so it was flat when I got it."

What memorabilia have you collected from your career? The Batcycle, maybe?

"No. I haven't collected memorabilia. I am not a person who lives in the past. The book was difficult to write because I had to look in the past. I don't keep anything. I don't take pictures, but I do have the photos fans have sent me."

Where is the Batcycle these days?

"It was torn down and turned into a street bike after the show. E. Jeffries was the company that customized a Yamaha 180 into the Batcycle. After the show, they didn't need it anymore. No one knew in those days that memorabilia would be important."

Were you a motorcycle rider before you got the part as Batgirl?

"I was. I rode a motorcycle in those days because it was fun. I wouldn't do it today. Los Angeles has incredible traffic. It's beginning to look like downtown Rome."

"I saw a filmclip the other day of the intro to Batman with me riding the Batcycle, and compared to what you see today with all the speed and stunts, it looked like I was just putting along." (Laughs.)

I hear the Batmobile wasn't exactly a powerful machine either.

"The Batmobile was a mess. It didn't run well. Bruce would take it to a show or convention, and he would come back and say that it had died on him as he drove it around. The Monkees' Monkee-mobile would be at the same shows and drive circles around the Batmobile."

You are in that select group of people that can say they starred in a movie with Elvis.

"I did two movies with Elvis, and both times not only was he was an absolute joy, but the experience itself was wonderful. He was extremely professional--always on time, knew his lines, and was very much a part of the cast, never pulling rank as the "star."

He had a great self-deprecating sense of humor and was very much a Žsouthern gentleman,' as far as good manners were concerned. Because he surrounded himself with his friends from Memphis, it was like always having about 10 playful, but protective big brothers on the set.

You are also in that very favored group of women who dated Elvis. Where did you go and what did you do on your dates with "The King"?

"We went to his house. He rented a house in LA, and his social life centered around it. We would have dinner and watch TV or a movie in his home theater. No one went out in public with him."

Being a Star Trek fan, I have to ask, what was your reaction when they said you were going to be painted completely green as Marta?

"I didn't think anything about it. It was body make-up. Actually, they didn't tell me they were going to paint me green. I came in, read for the part, and choreographed the dance. When I showed up for the filming, they painted me green. It wasn't that strange. They had other characters on the show who were blue.

"The villain, Lord Garth, blew me up at the end of that episode."

Tell me about your new book and why you decided to write From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond?

"I was coerced by my sister. She told me that I do interviews and answer the same questions all the time and tell the same stories. That argument still did not convince me to write it. Then she said I should do it for her children. If her children had wanted to know about my career, they would have asked. So I still did not want to write it.

But after reconsidering about answering the same questions from fans, I decided to write a book. But I don't type well. I hunt and peck. So I bought a voice recognition computer program. The faster you talk, the better it likes it. After that, the book went swimmingly. In it, I have chapters devoted to Elvis, Howard Hughes, Batman and Robin, Star Trek (titled "Beam Me Out of Here"), and women I have worked with and admired. I also have a whole chapter about animals."

2000


Scene from Batman



Typical African Facemask

 

Batcycle

 

Everyone knows Batgirl.

 

Scene with Elvis

 

Yvonne as the green Marta
in Star Trek.

 

 

The real Yvonne Craig.

 






Yvonne Craig's book can be purchased online at http://www.yvonnecraig.com/, and each book ordered from her website is autographed. Or books can be purchased from Kudu Press by calling 888-281-5170.

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