Date of Birth: 16 May 1937, Tayorville, Illinois, US
Birth Name: Yvonne Joyce Craig
Nicknames: Yvonne Craig
Dancer turned actress who brought a spirited grace to the high-kicking antics of the superheroine Batgirl
Yvonne Craig trained as a dancer and became the youngest-ever member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; but it was on television that her athletic grace won legions of fans, as Batgirl to Adam West’s Batman.
Now fondly remembered as an example of 1960s camp, Batman, made by the ABC television network, was steeped in the Pop Art sensibility of the era. The storylines were comic, the sets garish, and colourful bubble words like KAPOW!, BAM! and ZOK! livened up the fight sequences. When audience figures started to pall towards the end of the decade, the writers decided to freshen up the show by bringing in the character of Barbara Gordon, a good-looking librarian who pursues a second career as the crime-fighting Batgirl.
The producer, Howie Horwitz, was anxious to preserve the character’s femininity, so Batgirl was forbidden to punch her various on-screen nemeses, relying instead on high kicks and handily placed objects. While Adam West had his black Batcycle (with a detachable self-propelled sidecar for Robin), Yvonne Craig drove a purple version with a large yellow bow. She did most of her own stunts, which were made all the more uncomfortable by the bat wings that had replaced the motorcycle’s shock absorbers “like jumping off a table stiff-legged”, as she put it.
Such dedication could not halt the show’s decline, however, and after one more series it was cancelled in 1968. Looking back, Yvonne Craig expressed disappointment in the way the character was handled after her initial test screening. “When we did the pilot, Batgirl was supposed to be not only as good as the guys but better,” she recalled. “She ended up being this cute little bland character, when she could have been more in the style of Katharine Hepburn.”
None the less, her performance was eagerly taken up by feminist critics as a spirited example of the hard-working career girl an ally to the hero, rather than his dependant. In 1972 Yvonne Craig stepped into the role once more, this time on behalf of the US Department of Labor. A 30-second skit had Batgirl swinging to the rescue of a captive Batman and Robin but not before demanding equal pay.
Yvonne Joyce Craig was born on May 16 1937 in Taylorville, Illinois, and aspired to a career in dance from an early age. While attending the Edith James School of Ballet she was spotted by the Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, who helped her win a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Aged 16 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but left three years later and eventually fell into acting after a chance meeting with John Ford’s son Patrick. Her first starring role was as the beautiful yet spoiled Elena in The Young Land (1959), which the younger Ford produced.
By the mid-1960s she had moved away from temptress roles to play more traditional leading ladies, appearing alongside Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The two of them hit it off and Yvonne Craig spent time with Presley at his home in Bel Air though, coming from the insulated life of the professional dancer, she had little idea of his rock-and-roll credentials. The reality was finally brought home to her when, trying to find the light-switch in his bedroom late one night, she accidentally hit a panic button and was greeted by several carloads of policemen at the front door.
On television she made a foray into the spy arena with a guest part in the original series of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965), gave a passionate performance as the creatively named Ecstasy La Joie in The Wild Wild West (1966) and was painted green for a memorable turn as a psychotic alien in Star Trek (1969). In later life she swapped acting for a career in property, but continued to make regular appearances at comic and fantasy conventions in America.
Date of Birth: 26 March 1931, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Birth Name: Leonard Simon Nimoy
Nicknames: Leonard Nimoy
Few actors outside soap opera become defined by a single role to the exclusion of all else in their career. But that was the case for Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83. He did not simply play Mr Spock, first officer of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek he was synonymous with him, even after taking on other parts and branching out into directing and photography.
Star Trek began life on television, running for three series between 1966 and 1969, and later spawned numerous spin-offs, including a run of films of varying quality, two of which (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, from 1984, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, from 1986) Nimoy directed. “I’m very proud of having been connected with the show,” he wrote in 1975. “I felt that it dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
In front of the camera, as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock, he captured with delicious wit the tensions in the character. Spock’s logical, detached perspective could be infuriating to his more demonstrative colleagues; it also caused him to be amused or bewildered by the workings of humans. This could play out humorously or poignantly. He was uniquely placed, for example, to analyse coolly our emotional shortcomings: “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want,” he mused in the first series. His dry rapport with the more passionate, full-blooded Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) was a pleasure that endured long after the Star Trek brand itself showed signs of having been around the galaxy a few too many times.
Once seen, Spock was never forgotten. The hair, boot-polish black, was snipped short with a severe, straight fringe; it looked more like headgear than a haircut, more painted on than grown. An inch of forehead separated that fringe from a pair of sabre-like eyebrows that arched extravagantly upwards. These came in handy for conveying what the reserved Spock could not always express verbally. “The first thing I learned was that a raised eyebrow can be very effective,” said Nimoy.
Spock’s defining physical feature, though, was his pointed ears. The actor’s first reaction upon seeing them was: “If this doesn’t work, it could be a bad joke.” Sharply tapered but in no way pixieish, the ears somehow never undermined his gravitas. Or rather, Nimoy’s sober disposition precluded laughter. Besides, in a show suffused with messages of inclusivity and tolerance, it would never do for audiences to laugh at someone just because he came from Vulcan.
Nimoy contributed key details to the character, including the traditional Vulcan greeting: a hand held up and the four fingers parted to create a V. This was inspired by prayer gestures witnessed by the young Nimoy at synagogue.
He would later title his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock. “I was trying to illuminate the actor’s process in creating a character. I talked about the fact that I grew up in Boston and Spock did not. My parents were Russian immigrants; Spock’s were not. I’m an actor who portrays this character.” He conceded, though, that the title had been a mistake and had given the erroneous impression that he was trying to shrug off his best-known role. He made amends by calling the 1995 follow-up I Am Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Max, a barber, and Dora, and showed an interest in acting from a young age (though his father tried to persuade him to take up the accordion instead). He studied drama at Boston College and began to get small parts in theatre, film and television. At 20 he was cast in the lead role of a young boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, and discovered a kind of sanctuary in the prosthetics he was required to wear. “I found a home behind that makeup,” he wrote in I Am Not Spock. “I was much more confident and comfortable than I would have been, had I been told I was to play ‘a handsome young man’.”
Nimoy did military service from 1953 to 1955, during which time one of his duties was producing army talent shows. He continued acting after leaving the army and in the early 1960s began teaching acting classes, while also starring in guest roles on television series including Bonanza, Rawhide and The Twilight Zone. He established his own acting studio where he taught for three years.
Nimoy auditioned for an earlier Gene Roddenberry project, and when Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought of him for the role of Spock. “I thought it would be a challenge,” Nimoy said. “As an actor, my training had been in how to use my emotions, and here was a character who had them all locked up.”
After 79 episodes across three series, the NBC network cancelled the show because of its low ratings. Nimoy went straight into another regular gig a role on the light-hearted spy series Mission: Impossible and then began studying photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He would later publish photographic studies including Shekhina (2002), a celebration of spirituality and sexuality in Judaism, and The Full Body Project (2007), focused on unorthodox female body sizes.
His acting work in the 1970s included a chilling performance in Philip Kaufman’s intelligent 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In 1979, he returned to play Spock in the rather leaden Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He would do so in a further seven Star Trek films. Among them were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He was the only original cast member to appear in JJ Abrams’s instalments of the revived or “rebooted” franchise, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). His appearance in the first of those Abrams films, as the older Spock coming face to face with his younger self (Zachary Quinto), was deeply affecting and played with characteristic restraint. He also revived Spock in two 1991 episodes (“Unification I” and “Unification II”) of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in animated and computer-game incarnations of Star Trek.
If Nimoy never escaped association with Spock, it was not for want of trying. He wrote seven poetry collections, released several albums and established himself as a successful and varied director. Alongside his two Star Trek movies, he directed himself in a TV movie version of the one-man play Vincent (1981), about the life of Van Gogh. He scored an international box-office hit with 3 Men and a Baby (1987). He also made the drama The Good Mother (1988), starring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, as well as two disappointing comedies, Funny About Love (1990) and Holy Matrimony (1994).
Date of Birth: 2 January 1932, Purley, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Richard Thorp
Richard Thorp starred as Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, but became better known to millions of television viewers as Alan Turner, the landlord of The Woolpack in the Yorkshire-based soap Emmerdale.
Alan Turner joined the series as a farm manager in March 1982, and went on to become its longest-running character. Inept, boozy and bullying, he ran through a series of lovers, wives and secretaries; but in later years, after becoming landlord of The Woolpack, he sobered up and, by the time of Thorp’s death, had become a pillar of the community “like the village war memorial”, as he put it.
Thorp recalled that when he first joined, the plot lines were very different from those of later episodes: “I remember one story, and it ran for about five episodes. It was all what Seth was doing to Amos’s rhubarb. We didn’t have to go to bed with anybody or get jolly with our mothers, we just put a few slugs on a chap’s rhubarb. I enjoyed that more because everybody knew the characters more back then rather than who they were sleeping with and who was gay and who wasn’t.”
Thorp’s character was central to a number of pivotal plots, including one in which his daughter Steph (played by Lorraine Chase) tried to bump him off by pushing him down the stairs, before keeping him drugged to the eyeballs in a B&B in order to get her hands on his money.
When he first joined Emmerdale, Thorp, a fit 50 year-old, was something of a pin-up for women of a certain age, but by the mid-1990s he had ballooned to 18 stone and had become, in his own words, “less a national heart-throb and more the local heart attack”. In consequence his character became more marginal, and he admitted finding it frustrating not to be given decent storylines. In 2010 he said: “I recently asked the scriptwriters if I could get a juicy love interest, but they said that given my age, they would have to dig someone up!”
But he admitted that he could not afford to retire because he needed the cash to pay three ex-wives.
Richard Thorp was born on January 2 1932 at Purley, Surrey, and got his first film role in Robert Jordan Hill’s 1949 comedy thriller Melody in the Dark. His breakthrough part was that of Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay in The Dam Busters, which he landed after applying for a more minor role because he bore a physical resemblance to the real Maudslay, who had died during the operation.
Thorp appeared in several more feature films, including The Barretts Of Wimpole Street (1957), but later confessed that he had been too lazy to pursue a career in Hollywood, and in any case preferred working in television soaps because they guaranteed a regular income.
Before joining Emmerdale, Thorp was best known as Dr John Rennie in the ITV hospital soap, Emergency Ward 10, which he joined in 1957. Often described by tabloids as “the nation’s heart-throb” who was a regular on the show for 10 years and became so popular with its mainly female audience that its producers employed two secretaries purely to deal with his fan mail.
Thorp continued to work despite ill health. In 1994, after starring on This Is Your Life, he had a serious heart attack and was in intensive care for three days. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Although the cancer did not develop, he continued to live with it. In 2009 he took a break from Emmerdale to have knee replacement surgery.
Richard Thorp’s three marriages ended in divorce, and in the 1960s he was briefly (though secretly) engaged to Babs Beverley of the Beverley Sisters.
Date of Birth: 28 September 1923, New York, US
Birth Name: William Windom
The character actor's career on television spanned seven decades, from his debut as a fiery Tybalt in a Philco Television Playhouse production of Romeo and Juliet (1949) to an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages (2004) in which he recreated the role of the unbalanced Commodore Matt Decker. Decker was first seen in one of the series's best chapters, The Doomsday Machine (1967), and it was enough to sanctify Windom in the eyes of Trekkies. The role had been written for Robert Ryan, but Windom's powerful portrayal made any possible comparisons redundant.
Among many other standout performances on television were two in the cultish Twilight Zone series, as an agitated military officer who turns out to be a doll in Five Characters in Search of an Exit (1961), and as a calm psychiatrist trying to sort out Robert Duvall's disturbed mind in Miniature (1963). Windom also had leading parts in long-running programmes such as The Farmer's Daughter (1963-66), as a widowed congressman who falls for the Swedish farm girl (Inger Stevens), governess to his children; and Murder, She Wrote (1984-96), in which he was Seth Hazlitt, the crusty old doctor, friend and confidant of the crime writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).
The former role was close to his heart because Windom's great-grandfather, of the same name, had been a Minnesota congressman and secretary of the treasury in the 19th century.
Windom was born in New York City and educated at Williams College, Massachusetts. During the second world war he served as a paratrooper, and after it enrolled in the new American University in Biarritz, France. It was there that he started acting, and he continued on his return to the US. Windom made his Broadway debut in 1947 in roles of various sizes in an American Repertory Theatre season that included Shakespeare's Henry VIII, Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman (as young Erhart Borkman), Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, Barrie's What Every Woman Knows, and Alice in Wonderland (as the White Rabbit). In 1956, Windom showed a flair for comedy in a revival of Noël Coward's Fallen Angels.
When already 13 years into his long career in television, Windom made his big-screen debut in one of his best films, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), in which he played the smirking prosecutor who knows that he just has to play the race card to win against Gregory Peck, defending a black man charged with the rape of a white woman.
Further unsympathetic roles followed: an alcoholic whose sister (Joan Caulfield) is being wooed by a cattle rancher (Robert Taylor) in Guns of Wyoming (1963); a closeted, married gay man in The Detective (1968); a sleazy movie producer in The Angry Breed (also 1968); and Deborah Kerr's cuckold husband in The Gypsy Moths (1969). In Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Windom, trying not to look foolish, played the US president questioning an English-speaking simian couple who have landed in America by spaceship. "I tend to go overboard," Windom once remarked. "I go too far and then let the director bring me back where he wants me. It's like focusing a telescope."
Few of his feature films allowed for much humour, unlike television, which gave him more leeway. My World and Welcome to It (1969-70), based on the writings and cartoons of the American humorist James Thurber, gave him the chance to play a witty, nuanced character not unlike the original author. The shortlived sitcom won Windom an Emmy award and led to his touring one-man show on Thurber.
Of the show, which Windom performed around the US and abroad for some years, the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Windom has the gift of picking the terrible plainness of living and bringing it forward to say, 'See? Here's what we are, every one of us. And do you know, we're not bad.' "