Batgirl turns 50 years old this month
The TV show played a major part in developing this iconic comic book character.
These days, it seems as if Hollywood produces a new Batman flick every year. Half a century ago, the quirky vigilante was far from a sure bet, even in the comic books. The Batman television series revolutionized and reinvigorated the character. The hip, camp take on the Gotham hero became an unlikely sensation upon its premiere in early 1966. That spring, the mod show earned a couple Emmy nominations, for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy, thanks to Frank Gorshin's definitive take on the Riddler. Two months later, Batman: The Movie was on the big screen.
However, the movie was hardly a blockbuster. As season two began, ratings slipped. After climbing to No. 10 on the Nielsen charts in its first season, Batman fell completely out of the Top 30 the following season. A mere year after its debut, the show was on the ropes.
William Dozier, creator of the Batman TV series, decided a new female character was in order to help boost the ratings and lure in a new demographic. According to the book Batman - The Complete History, Dozier approached Julius Schwartz, Bat-editor at DC Domics, to develop a fresh character. Dozier envisioned the daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon adopting the mantle of Batgirl. Producer Howie Horwitz said Batgirl would “give the little girls and big boys someone to identify with."
Dozier loved the concept artwork whipped up by Batman penciller Carmine Infantino and optioned the character, in hopes this Barbara Gordon could excite the network to fund a third season. First, they would produce a demonstration film to show off Yvonne Craig in the role. The test episode saw her donning the costume to fight the Killer Moth. You can check it out at TVobscurities.com.
In 1961, during one of Batman's silliest eras of comic book stories, DC Comics had introduced a hyphenated Bat-Girl, a young woman named Betty Kane who would briefly act as the Robin-like sidekick to Batwoman. This new Batgirl was far different — and far cooler. Despite her genesis as a proposed television character, Batgirl made her debut in the January 1967 issue of Detective Comics. It would be another eight months until Craig swung through a window in her purple tights, making her broadcast debut as Batgirl in the episode "Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin."
Craig, who sadly passed away a little over a year ago, undoubtedly helped cement Batgirl into the Batman canon. So many Hollywood characters today come from comic books. It's nice to see creative inspiration can sometimes flow the other way, even 50 years ago.