We recently lost a glamorous and sultry beauty queen named Yvonne De Carlo.
At the age of 15, Little Margaret Yvonne Middleton had a few false starts in Hollywood in 1937, so she decided to rethink her options and moved back to Canada with her mother. After she took more acting, voice, and dance lessons she returned in 1940 as a blossoming buxom bathing beauty and got bit parts here and there as cinematic eye candy, as a chorus girl and as a nightclub singer. In the process, Yvonne quickly became even better known as a sexy World War II pin up girl.
It’s said that famous big-band leader Artie Shaw saw her sing at the Florentine Garden club in Hollywood, fell head over heals for her and gave her money for living expenses so she could start a career in acting.
After a few B-movies, in 1945 she starred in Salome, Where She Danced in which she played a spy gone undercover as an exotic dancer. The press hated the film but moviegoers loved it — and her. For the next few years she earned a following of loyal fans that went to see her movies. Most would assert they didn’t care how bad the plot was; they were there to see her.
More starring roles followed through the 1940s and '50s. As her career progressed, she showed everyone she wasn’t just another pretty face and proved she could excel in roles in everything from cowboy westerns to high production musicals. She established her career repeatedly in everything from singing opera — Die Fledermaus to Follies on Broadway, for which Stephen Sondheim wrote “I’m Still Here” for her.
In all she was featured in around 100 films where she played (and held her own) opposite such superstars as John Wayne, Clark Gable, Alec Guinness and Burt Lancaster. Along the way she even romanced the likes of Howard Hughes.
No one really took her seriously as a dramatic actress until Cecil B. DeMille was so impressed that he cast her as Moses' wife Sephora in the epic The Ten Commandments (for which she only earned $25,000).
With the advent of television she began getting roles on Bonanza and The Virginian which gave her an even larger audience and fan base that the movies ever did.
She married noted and notorious stuntman Bob Morgan, who later almost died during the filming of How the West Was Won in 1962. He lost a leg and the sight in one eye after accidentally falling from a train, and Yvonne temporarily quit acting to nurse her husband back to health. During this period she returned to feature films only briefly; most notably as John Wayne’s feisty maid in 1963’s McLintock! where she had to try to comically manhandle the Duke up a flight of stairs while they were both drunk.
De Carlo had always been a great horror film fan and would gleefully treat her son Michael to trips to attend them whenever she could. In 1964, on a lark she read for and won the TV role of her career as Lily Munster. Lily would become her signature role for millions of kids and adults alike. She later told friends she’d only taken the role to pay her husband’s hospital bills.
At the time, Al Lewis (Grandpa) remembered her as a pin-up girl and glamorous movie star and there was a lot of trepidation that she’d show up with an attitude on the set making all sorts of demands. To their delight she was one of the easiest actors they’d ever worked with and laughter filled the studio every day. She had a ball playing the sensible/albeit vampirish wife opposite hilarious and bumbling Fred Gwynne’s Herman Munster between 1964 and 1966. So memorable was her role that millions of fans swear it was longer than that.
She proved how much fun she could be by custom ordering a Jaguar as her personal car. It was fitted out with coffin rails on the top, spider webs on the hubcaps, and Dracula’s crest on the doors.
After the show was canceled, they were brought back twice for two Munster movies. She continued appearing in feature films into the '70s and '80s.
She died in January 2007 at the age of 84. Yvonne has earned two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — one for her film work and the other for her television role.
I’d name my favorite Munster episodes… but they’re all my favorites.