Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Batscholar on Season Three

By Joel Eisner
As the second season drew to a close, the producers decided that a new character should be added to help raise Batman’s sagging ratings. So Batgirl, who made her first comic book appearance in early 1967, entered the Bat-World.

Prior to Batgirl’s addition to the show a trial pilot film using Batgirl was produced. The film, which ran about seven and a half minutes, took place solely in the Gotham Library where Barbara Gordon worked as the new librarian. While Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson look for a book about butterflies, (Bruce had a bet with fellow millionaire and butterfly expect, Roger Montrose, about a particular type of butterfly and planned to use the book to win the bet), Killer Moth (played by actor Tim Herbert, last seen as Whiskers, one of Riddler’s River Rat Gang), dressed in a gold and green cape like outfit with a cap with two wire antennae on top), and his gang of Mothmen (lead by actor Joey Tata) plot to kidnap Roger Montrose and hold him for ransom. Spotting trouble, Bruce and Dick change into their Bat-costumes and, using the Bat-Lock Breaking Ray, they enter the now closed library and battle the Mothmen, but are overpowered by Killer Moth with his cocoon spinning spray gun. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon is locked in the adjoining room by Killer Moth which just so happpens to be where she has her secret closet containing her Batgirl costume. She then disappears into the closet and reappears outside the library window. Smashing through the window, she trashes the villains (and the library as well). She then frees the dynamic duo with a powerful laser contained in her Batgirl compact. and together they finish off Killer Moth and his men before she rides off on her Bargirl-cycle.

While the pilot was not long enough to air as a regular part of the series, and Killer Moth was by far one of the weakest villains yet (Killer Moth was far more formidable in the comics and had a better costume), it was enough to prove to the executives at ABC that Batgirl should join the series.

Actress Yvonne Craig remembers how she joined the show: “Mr. Dozier and Howie told me that the character was aimed at a prepubescent female audience and an over-40 male audience. Now, I understood the over-40 part, but I wasn’t certain that they had their finger on the pulse of pre-pubescent females. I figured that pre-pubescent girls probably thought Robin was cute, or else they had a crush on Batman and would resent my character. It turned out that they were right. Whenever I did public appearances, it was the little girls who came up to me. Once one of them said to me, ‘Miss Craig, from now on, every time I see someone kicked in the face, I’ll think of you.’ I know she meant it as a compliment, but I was horrified.”“Howie was a funny man; he had a wife and three daughters, and he wanted them all to be very feminine. So, he specifically said that Batgirl was not to do any karate, kung fu, any sort of martial arts-type stuff. That wasn’t ladylike to him. I was allowed to kick the bad guys in a sort of high-kick, ballet manner—my ballet training really came in handy—or spin into them and waste them, but I was supposed to be able to sneak out of their grasp before any punches were thrown. Consequently, I had an easier time talking Howie into letting me do my own stunts.” “For the pilot film, I wore a mask with pointed edges that left marks on my cheeks and made me look as though I had been crying for a week. They changed it for the series. (They also cut the eyeholes bigger in all the masks, because anytime Adam took a step forward, it was an act of faith, as he absolutely couldn’t see in his cowl.} “I was terribly excited about going to work. I woke up, rushed to the bathroom—and promptly slammed my foot into a chair and broke my little toe. Since it was understood that I was going to be doing my own stunts on the show, I was told that I was to jump through a candy glass window as part of this presentation film. I did the stunt on the first take, and the stunt supervisor was so happy for me that he ran over to hug me—and stepped on my broken toe! ‘As I was getting dressed to change into the Barbara Gordon character, Howie, who felt that I shouldn’t be doing my own stunts, looked and saw that I was purple up to my ankle. And he figured I did it doing the stunt; there was no convincing him otherwise. So, he told me they were going to hire a stunt girl for me, which they did—for two segments. She got another job and I went back to doing what I wanted to do.” “In the pilot Batgirl was a little saucier, she had a touch of Eve Arden. She wasn’t exactly condescending to Batman, but she had a ‘I’m better able to do things than you are’ attitude, treating him as if he were less than capable and finding it amusing. He was also somewhat sexy; he appealed to her.” Unfortunately, the reduction to only one show a week hurt the romantic relationship as Yvonne realized, “Between Adam and Burt Ward and me and Alan Napier and my father and the police chief and the guest star, if they just said hello to one another, you filled up a half-hour. My relationship with Batman became more one-dimensional, which was OK, since it was a comic book.”

Prior to her involvement with the series, Yvonne’s only reaction to her future costars Adam West “was the fact that the guy who played Batman had a paunch. I recall saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe that this guy has a big stomach in certain shots.’ What I didn’t realize then, of course, was that it was Adam’s stunt double. “I finally met Adam West when we shot the presentation film. . He has this wonderfully dry sense of humor. He said to me, ‘Oh, .You have. ballet dancer’s. legs. I like...ballet dancer’s. legs..” “He was charming.. Later he said ‘Make sure that I don’t block your key light, I’m very broad-shouldered.’ And I thought, ‘Shouldn’t somebody else be saying that?’ But, it turned out that it was not vanity on his part, : he is very broad-shouldered. When I stood behind him, I looked like I was in black-face: there was no light. I also realized that Adam had a very nice physique. It was Hubie Kearns, his stunt double, who was about 30 years older than Adam, who had the gut.”

"Burt Ward was wary. I started to shake hands with him when we were introduced, but he didn’t offer his hand to me. I found that really peculiar. Knowing that this was the first job he had ever had, I think he felt threatened. But it was the only time he was anything less than wonderful. Once shooting was underway, he seemed to warm up to me. And he was a doll from that day forward.”

One of the difficulties in adding Batgirl to the show was selecting her costume. Everything about the show seems to have had its funny side, though, as Barrie Howard (daughter of the late producer Howie Horwitz) explains: “I remember my father had to choose the color scheme for Batgirl’s costume, and he had to try to match it to Batman’s cape so it wouldn’t clash. The funny part about it was that he was color-blind and couldn’t tell one color from another.” A few other severe changes flew in with Batgirl. The time slot changed from twice weekly to once weekly (on Thursdays). This dramatically changed the shows themselves, for the producers felt the cliff-hanger endings would be difficult to remember from week to week. Instead, they opted for ending a storyline within a half hour, then introducing the next week’s villain at the end of each week’s show. The character of Aunt Harriet was reduced to two cameo appearances during the third season. This was done to accommodate Madge Blake who was in ill health, as well as for economic reasons. When the series was reduced from its regular twice a week airing to once a week, the scriptwriters according to Stanley Ralph Ross “were limited to a maximum of thirteen characters per episode. So, after Batman, Robin, Batgirl and their alter-egos of Bruce, Dick and Barbara (who each count as a separate character), Alfred, Chief O’Hara and Commissioner Gordon, there was only room for the villain and a couple of henchmen.”


  1. Do you know how Yvonne Craig was cast? Was she offered the part or were there auditions? Given the network's insistence on options (according to Dozier), did they have a second choice to show ABC also?

  2. Yvonne Craig was working at Fox on the In Like Flint film, when she was chosen. There were rumors that Mary Ann Mobley was chosen for the part but I was never able to prove it. As for ABC, since a pilot film was shot instead of a screen test, and the show was already on the network, it was a matter of saving time and money. A search for additional choices to save an already dying show would not have been cost effective. They were just adding a new character and eliminating another (Aunt Harriet) so it was easier to go with the single choice.

  3. It was only the last time I watched the series through that I noticed Commissioner Gordon mentioning his daughter Barbara in some late Season Two episodes. Should we presume that Dozier had committed to Batgirl by the time those shows were shot and was starting a slow build-up, or was Barbara then, like Bonnie, just another invisible part of Gordon's world?

  4. I imagine they knew she was on her way, otherwise the "daughter Barbara" references probably would have played as too out-of-left-field. Bonnie, on the other hand, needed to be created, primarily because Gordon required a secretary for plot-related dialogue moments. BTW, I agree that the Batgirl actress search was limited; Mobley was mentioned in the trades and in DC Comics, but she wound up doing the CUSTER series for Fox instead. Might be fun to create a photo manipulation of MAM in that costume, or at least a close-up of her beautiful cowled face. Still, the part belongs to sassy, pouty Yvonne Craig, and probably always will...

  5. I always think of Season Three as "The Year of Black Limbo".

    That's the term for the bare-bones settings employed during the production - basically anyscenes that couldn't be done on an already standing set at Fox (or Desilu or wherever they were filming by this time).
    When I was a kid in the '50s, I remember black limbo sets from many daytime soap operas (LOVE OF LIFE, SECRET STORM and the like) which had microscopic budgets. So they put everything in front of a black cyclorama ("cyc" for short); the furniture told you where you were - couch, coffee table, picture in the back meant you were in the living room; table, chairs, counter meant the kitchen; bare trees meant you were outdoors, etc. This practice continued as late as the early '60s, when 15-minute shows expanded to a whole half-hour, thus boosting the budgets a bit.
    Seeing the Black Limbo brought back to prime time by BATMAN in '67 was the major red flag that the end was near. Fortunately, by this time I had learned a new word: Stylization - making a virtue out of the lessened reality of the show.
    Here I'll admit a couple of things:
    - I still loved watching BATMAN in its first run because Dozier & Co. were still making good use of the character actor pool (though even that lessened as the season wore on).
    - And of course - Yvonne Craig.
    My one major regret about BATMAN is that Yvonne never got to do a ballet scene, as she did in IN LIKE FLINT. (What kind of villain do you think Rudolf Nureyev could have played?)

    By the way, in that BATGIRL presentation film, Roger Montrose was played by Murray Roman, a stand-up comic who was one of the pollsters in "Hizzoner The Penguin" The others were George Furth (who wrote the play COMPANY) and Woodrow Parfrey (who turned up on just about every series on TV for years).
    (Love love love those character guys ...)

    1. Regarding her ballet skill, she did exhibit flashes in some of her fights - most notably in the first Londinium episode.

  6. "Mike doran said...

    I always think of Season Three as "The Year of Black Limbo".

    That's the term for the bare-bones settings employed during the production - basically anyscenes that couldn't be done on an already standing set at Fox (or Desilu or wherever they were filming by this time)."

    Funnily enough, my name for the same cost cutting measure is the "Lost In Space Look."

    As early as the third episode of season two, alien planet sets began to consist of a black backdrop dressed with a very familiar array of pre-existing props, and even hardware from the Jupiter 2, like the freezing tubes, started to appear in the background.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  7. Although Batgirl was lovely to look at it became apparent having her get captured week after week was the best way to include her in the stories. This was a far cry from the version appearing in the comic books. Even though she was not allowed to use judo or karate at least a few episodes should have had her capture the crooks all by herself.

  8. yet (Killer Moth was far more formidable in the comics and had a better costume)

    Killer Moth, along with Robin (pixie shoes, shaved legs, golden cape), embodies what Max Allan Collins said below:

    "There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots”.

  9. ". . . for the producers felt the cliff-hanger endings would be difficult to remember from week to week." Funny, the movie serials of the 30s and 40s were based on this very concept and kids had no trouble with it. Maybe they were smarter then . . . .