Yvonne De Carlo (September 1, 1922 – January 8, 2007) Better known for her role played as Lily Munster, was a Canadian-born American actress of film and television. During her six-decade career, her most frequent appearances in film came in the 1940s and 1950s and included her best-known film roles, such as of Anna Marie in Salome Where She Danced (1945); Anna in Criss Cross (1949); Sephora the wife of Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner; and Amantha Starr in Band of Angels (1957) with Clark Gable. In the early 1960s, De Carlo accepted the offer to play Lily Munster for the CBS television series The Munsters, alongside Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis.
The daughter of an aspiring actress, Marie De Carlo, and a salesman, William Middleton, De Carlo was born Margaret Yvonne Middleton in Point Grey, now part of Vancouver, British Columbia, and nicknamed 'Peggy'. "I was named Margaret Yvonne – Margaret because my mother was very fond of one of the derivatives of the name. She was fascinated at the time by the movie star Baby Peggy, and I suppose she wanted a Baby Peggy of her own." Her maternal grandfather, Michael de Carlo, was Sicilian-born, and her maternal grandmother, Margaret Purvis, was Scottish-born. Her mother ran away from home when she was 16 to become a ballerina; after a couple of years of working as a shop girl, she was married in 1924. Little Peggy was three years old when her father abandoned the family. She lived with her grandparents. By the time she entered grade school at Douglas Road Elementary, in Burnaby, B.C., she found that her strong singing voice brought her the attention she longed for. Although her mother recognized Peggy's singing talent, she had already decided that her daughter would be a dancer. As a teenager Peggy was taken by her mother to Hollywood where she enrolled her in dancing school; she also attended Le Conte Middle School in Hollywood. Margaret lived in a downtown apartment with her mother, while Marie took on odd jobs such as waitressing. Mother and daughter were uprooted when their visas expired. Unable to find work, they returned to Vancouver.
She attended and dropped out of Vancouver's now-defunct King Edward High School, to focus more on her dance studies. She then attended the B.C. School of Dancing. It was there that Canadian dance instructor, June Roper, started her in a new direction, for which she was grateful and relieved. The following year at the Orpheum Theatre, Peggy appeared as a hula dancer in the famous revue Waikiki. A new nightclub, the Palomar, opened in Vancouver, and she acquired a week-long booking. Hoping to present a more sophisticated image, she combined her middle name with her mother's maiden name and became "Yvonne De Carlo."
The pair made several such trips until 1940, when De Carlo was first runner-up to "Miss Venice Beach" and was hired by showman Nils Granlund as a dancer at the Florentine Gardens. She had been dancing for Granlund only a short time when she was arrested by immigration officials and deported to Canada, but in January 1941, Granlund sent a telegram to US immigration officials pledging his sponsorship of De Carlo in the United States, and affirmed his offer of steady employment, both requirements to reenter the country.
Before she worked at Florentine, she also got her first job at 16, working at Vancouver's Palomar, where it expanded from a ballroom to a nightclub in 1938. Her time at the nightclub ended when she allegedly was pressured to expose her breasts. Seeking contract work in the movies, she abruptly quit the Florentine Gardens after less than a year, landing a role as a bathing beauty in the 1941 B-movie Harvard, Here I Come. Other roles were slow to follow, and De Carlo took a job in the chorus line of Earl Carroll, another Hollywood showman. Her sixth film appearance was at the request of Nils Granlund, and the film Rhythm Parade was set at the Florentine Gardens nightclub in Hollywood.
In December 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor signaled America's entrance into World War II. During this period she engaged in morale boosting performances for U.S. servicemen. De Carlo was a favorite leading lady in the 1940s, and a recipient of many letters from GI's.
She was a Paramount starlet, but the studio apparently signed her mainly for her slight resemblance to Dorothy Lamour, as it was common then for studios to sign lookalikes in order to remind the stars in question that they easily could be replaced should their behavior become difficult or their box-office appeal begin to wane. When she moved to Universal Studios, she was used as a B-movie version of Maria Montez, one of the studio's reigning divas.
Her break came in 1945 playing the title role in Salome, Where She Danced. Though not a critical success, it was a box office favorite, and De Carlo was hailed as an up-and-coming star. Of the role, she was less sure, saying of her entrance, "I came through these beaded curtains, wearing a Japanese kimono and a Japanese headpiece, and then performed a Siamese dance. Nobody seemed to know quite why." In 1946 exhibitors voted her the ninth-most promising "star of tomorrow".
In 1947 she played her first leading role in Slave Girl and then in 1949 had her biggest success. As the female lead opposite Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross, she played a femme fatale, and her career began to ascend. She starred in the 1953 film The Captain's Paradise, as one of two wives a ship captain (Alec Guinness) keeps in separate ports.
The Ten Commandments
In 1954, during the casting for Cecil B. DeMille's biblical-epic The Ten Commandments (1956), actress Audrey Hepburn was suggested for the role of "Nefretiri" and actress Anne Baxter was chosen for the part of "Sephora". After Hepburn was turned down for the role of the Egyptian throne princess for being too "flat chested", the part of "Nefretiri" was handed down to Baxter.
When DeMille saw De Carlo in Sombrero (1953), he offered her the vacant role of "Sephora". De Carlo accepted, and declined another role she was offered in a German film at the time. De Carlo quotes "working with Mr. DeMille was a learning experience that I will never forget".
With a pay of $25,000; De Carlo's performance in the film made her into a first-class actress who could play any kind of role in big-budget films. Besides filming at Paramount Studios, De Carlo accompanied DeMille and the rest of the crew to Egypt, where several exterior shots were filmed. De Carlo met stuntman Robert Morgan in Egypt, and married him on November 21, 1955 in Reno, Nevada.
Band of Angels
The 1957 film Band of Angels featured her opposite Clark Gable in an American Civil War story, along with Sidney Poitier and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. The actress worked steadily for the next several years, although many of the films failed to advance her career.
McLintock! is a 1963 comedy Western produced by and starring John Wayne, with co-stars including Maureen O'Hara, Yvonne De Carlo, and Wayne's son Patrick. The Batjac Production is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.
Prior to becoming a full-fledged movie star, De Carlo also became a character actress, and made her debut on a 1952 episode of Lights Out. The part led to other roles in The Ford Television Theatre, Shower of Stars, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Bonanza, Screen Directors Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Burke's Law, Follow the Sun (2 episodes), Adventures in Paradise, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Custer, The Name of the Game and The Virginian (2 episodes), among others.
The year 1964 was a rocky one for De Carlo, as she was deeply in debt. After having worked for over 30 years, her film career came to a sudden end, and she was suffering from depression. She signed a contract with Universal Studios after receiving an offer to perform the female lead role in The Munsters opposite Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster. She was also the producers' choice to play Lily Munster when Joan Marshall, who played Phoebe, was dropped from consideration for the role. When De Carlo was asked how a glamorous actress could succeed as a ghoulish matriarch of a haunted house, she replied simply, "I follow the directions I received on the first day of shooting: 'Play her just like Donna Reed.'
The short-lived cult sitcom also starred familiar actor Al Lewis as Lily's father, Grandpa Munster, and new actors Beverley Owen/Pat Priest as Marilyn Munster and Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster.
During its second season, ratings began to drop, due in part to the debut of Batman, which dominated the ratings, early in 1966. Later that year, De Carlo accepted an offer to reprise her role in a color Munster movie, Munster, Go Home! (1966), partially in hopes of renewing interest in the TV series. Despite the attempt, The Munsters was cancelled after 72 episodes.
Stars on the Hollywood Walk of FameFor her contribution to the motion picture industry, Yvonne De Carlo was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6124 Hollywood Blvd. and a second star at 6715 Hollywood Blvd. for her contribution to television.
Opera and musical theatre
Trained in opera and a former chorister at St Paul's Anglican Church, Vancouver, when she was a child, De Carlo possessed a powerful contralto voice. In 1951 she was cast in the role of Prince Orlovsky in a production of the opera Die Fledermaus at the Hollywood Bowl. De Carlo released an LP of standards called Yvonne De Carlo Sings in 1957. This album was orchestrated by the movie composer John Williams. She sang and played the harp on at least one episode of The Munsters.
From 1967 onward she became increasingly active in musicals, appearing in off-Broadway productions of Pal Joey and Catch Me If You Can (not to be confused with the 2002 movie, or the 2009/2011 musical). In early 1968 she joined Donald O'Connor in a 15-week run of Little Me staged between Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, performing 2 shows per night. Her defining stage role came with her big break on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Follies, which ran from February 1971 until July 1, 1972. As "Carlotta Campion" she introduced the song "I'm Still Here", which would become an anthem of sorts. The show opened later in Los Angeles with the original Broadway cast on July 22, 1972, and closed 11 weeks later. She was the last lead female performer from the original production to die (having been predeceased by Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Ethel Shutta, Mary McCarty, and Fifi D'Orsay). DeCarlo received recognition for her work in various B-horror films and thrillers, such as The Power, The Seven Minutes, House of Shadows, Sorority House Murders, Cellar Dweller, The Man with Bogart's Face, Mirror, Mirror, Blazing Stewardesses, and American Gothic.
She also made a cameo appearance on The Late Show in 1988, which was hosted by comedian Ross Shafer, to talk about her book, Yvonne: An Autobiography, which she had written in 1987.
De Carlo's final appearance on the big-screen was as Aunt Rosa in the 1991 Sylvester Stallone comedy Oscar, directed by John Landis. De Carlo also appeared on the talk show, Vicki, hosted by her lifelong fan, Vicki Lawrence, on a special episode Sitcom Legends, along with Dawn Wells, Jamie Farr, Dick Sargent, Donna Douglas and former co-star Butch Patrick in 1994.
She had a small cameo role on the Munsters TV movie remake Here Come the Munsters in 1995. Her last TV movie appearance was as Norma, in the 1995 Disney remake of The Barefoot Executive, opposite Eddie Albert.
Her last TV interview appearance was on January 20, 2002, in a segment of Larry King Live which also featured Richard Hack, author of Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters.
While starring in The Gal Who Took the West (1949), De Carlo not only walked away with the picture, but she walked away with Jock Mahoney, who was her boyfriend at the time. She and Jock were going to start a family, and in 1949, they were engaged. In her first trimester, she suffered a miscarriage, and De Carlo called off the engagement.
She married the stuntman Robert Morgan, whom she met on the set of Shotgun, on November 21, 1955. They had two sons, Bruce and Michael. Morgan also had a daughter, Bari, from a previous marriage. Morgan's left leg had to be amputated after he was run over by a train while doing stunt work on How the West Was Won (1962). However, his contract with MGM assumed no responsibility for the accident. De Carlo and Morgan filed a $1.4 million lawsuit against the studio, claiming her husband was permanently disabled. They divorced in June 1974.
In her autobiography, published in 1987, she listed 22 intimate friends, including Prince Aly Khan, Billy Wilder, Burt Lancaster, Howard Hughes, Robert Stack and Robert Taylor.
Her mother died in 1993 from a fall. Her son Michael died in 1997; causes were unknown, although a Santa Barbara Police report contains concerns about possible foul play. De Carlo had a stroke the following year, but soon recovered.
De Carlo was a naturalized citizen of the United States.
De Carlo moved to the Black Lake Retirement Community, in Nipomo, California. In declining health, she then became a resident of the Motion Picture & Television Hospital, in Woodland Hills, California, where she spent her last years. Her son Bruce was her key caregiver during her last days. There, on January 8, 2007, she died of natural causes. A memorial service was held a few days later at The Woodland Hills MGM Theater; among those attending the service was television and film producer Kevin Burns. She is survived by her son, Bruce, who is filming ProjectLodestar, a film featuring a cameo appearance by De Carlo. After she died she was cremated, and the ashes were given to either her family or her friend.
Photograph is from the 1947 movie, Song of Scheherazade and was hand color tinted by artist, Margaret A. Rogers.