Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yvonne DeCarlo: 1922- 2007

The daughter of an ambitious but unsuccessful aspiring actress, Margaret (nicknamed Peggy) Yvonne Middleton was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, September 1, 1922. Living both in Canada and the US growing up, she eventually made the move to Hollywood in 1940 where she tried to break intp movies but spent years in bit parts at Paramount, but the studio had apparently signed her mainly for her slight resemblance to Dorothy Lamour (it was a common practice for the studios to sign lookalikes to remind the big stars they could be replaced should any diva-like behavior warrant it.)

Her break came in 1945 playing the title role in Salome. Though not a critical success it was a box office favorite and De Carlo was hailed as an up-and-coming star. DeCarlo had this to say of her "star-making" performance; "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."

Working consistantly for the next ten years she played her first leading role in 1947's Slave Girl, in 1949 she had her "biggest" success as the femme fatale lead opposite Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross and in 1956 was cast opposite Charleton Heston in The Ten Commandments. DeCarlo was praised for her talents especially in The Ten Commandments but she was never destined to be an A-List movie star.

But for TV viewers, she will always be known as Lily Munster in the wonderfully slapstick horror-movie spoof The Munsters. The series (the name allegedly derived from “fun-monsters”) offered a gallery of Universal Pictures grotesques, including Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, in a cobwebbed gothic setting.

Lily, vampire-like in a black gown, presided over the faux scary household and was a rock for her gentle but often bumbling husband, Herman, played by 6-foot-5-inch character actor Fred Gwynne (decked out as the Frankenstein monster).

While it lasted only two years, the series had a long life in syndication and resulted in two feature movies, Munster Go Home! in 1966 and The Munsters’ Revenge in 1981. At the series’ end, De Carlo commented: “It meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It made me ‘hot’ again, which I wasn’t for a while.”

There was life after The Munsters however and De Carlo was able to sustain a long career by repeatedly reinventing herself. A longtime student of voice, she sang opera at the Hollywood Bowl and when movie roles became scarce, she ventured into stage musicals.

Her greatest stage triumph came on Broadway in 1971 with Follies, which won the 1972 Tony award for best original musical score. She belted out Sondheim’s showstopping number, I’m Still Here, a former star’s defiant recounting of the highs and lows of her life and career.

Over the years, De Carlo augmented her stardom by shrewd use of publicity. Gossip columnists reported her dates with famous men. In her 1987 book, “Yvonne: An Autobiography,” she listed 22 of her lovers, who included Howard Hughes, Burt Lancaster, Robert Stack, Robert Taylor, Billy Wilder, Aly Khan and an Iranian prince. With a body like that who could blame them.

De Carlo died of natural causes Monday, she was 84.


Dr. Zaius said...

That is a well written tribute to the actress, and you found some great photos! I am afraid to admit that I always liked The Addams Family best. Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo were great in The Munsters though.

Dr. Zaius said...

I found this great artist you might like: Ragnar-Little Cartoons. Some of the pieces in the gallery are very "No Smoking in the Skull Cave-ish." [ 1, 2, 3 ]

Becca said...

Yeah I liked The Addams Family better too but for some reason I watched The Musters a heck of a lot more as a kid. I think it must have been on more often.

And thank you for the link, the cartoons are amazing! I'm so jealous of Ragnar's talent.