Most people heard the sad news this week of Yvonne Craig’s death at 78 after a battle with breast cancer. Probably known best as Batgirl in the 1966-68 Adam West Batman series, Susan Oliver fans may also remember that she was the only other Green Orion Slave Girl on the original Star Trek series, reviving the alien species (first realized by Susan in 1964) for the 1969 episode “Whom Gods Destroy” with Steve Ihnat (who, sadly, died very young in 1972).
I exchanged emails with her in early 2013 regarding Susan Oliver, since they had both appeared in the 1959 Sal Mineo film The Gene Krupa Story. Ironically, they never actually met during the filming of that movie, but Yvonne related to me how the two of them talked at the Paramount 20th anniversary party for Star Trek in the mid-1980’s. I found that very interesting, that the only two Orion Slave Girls at that point in Star Trek history wound up in some corner talking to each other (while most of the attention, no doubt, was focused on William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry, etc.).
I can pass along one other piece of information which may be of interest: Yvonne largely stepped away from acting as the 1970’s wore on out of frustration over only being cast in “girlish” roles despite that fact that she was a woman approaching 40 (in other words, exactly the same frustration that seems to have driven Susan Oliver out of acting during that time frame). Hollywood’s a tough town, and it was even tougher on fine women like these (hopefully it’s a little better today – but I’m not sure it’s that much better).
Rest In Peace, Yvonne (and thank you so much for all the memorable work!)
It was 45 years ago today, 8 July 1970, that Susan Oliver and Margaret Mead won the prestigious Powder Puff Derby women’s coast-to-coast air race. The race’s heritage goes back to the late 1920s and it was considered quite an accomplishment, receiving much media attention. Sadly, rising fuel costs and other modern headaches finally led to its cancellation in 1977.
Susan was able to secure the backing of Virginia Slims for her 1970 flight, making it one of the very first times the company backed a women’s sporting event (they were eventually to become best known for their corporate sponsorship of women’s tennis).
Susan Oliver & Margaret Mead win the 1970 Powder Puff Derby (July 8, 1970)
Sadly, Susan Oliver left this world after a brief struggle with cancer on May 10, 1990. She was just 58 years old.
And we lost another Star Trek female icon this past week, Grace Lee Whitney. While this, too, was a sad event, Grace was 85 and it would be hard to argue that she didn’t have a very long and eventful life (I even had the pleasure of spending some time with her at last summer’s Star Trek Las Vegas Convention).
I can’t help but feel that Susan Oliver had to depart much too soon, and I can only wonder what she would have accomplished had she lived two or three more decades (especially given how incredibly much she managed to do in her relatively short lifetime).
Today, we pay special tribute to two of Star Trek’s very first iconic women, Susan Oliver, who left us 25 years ago at 58, and Grace Lee Whitney, who left this past week at 85. As the recently-departed Leonard Nimoy would say, live long and prosper, ladies (wherever you are…).