Lola, Lotta & Lily
For the statuesque Canadian actress, Yvonne De Carlo, her best known role is the funnily creepy yet (somehow) sexy vampiress, Lily Munster, from the early 1960s’ CBS sit-com, The Munsters.
Swathed in coffin satin and gauzy shroud webbing, Lily Munster earned Yvonne De Carlo a well-deserved place in pop culture iconography. The character is instantly recognizable, and her snippy hausfrau remains one of television’s best known creations.
The icon of Lily Munster does not begin, however, to reveal the inner, fascinating, and complex woman whose career in films was sufficiently heavy-weight in her choice of roles that she enjoyed a critical respect many actresses of her time did not.Credit: Universal Studios, 1964
Canadian actresses and actors have found their way to the United States since the dawn of the motion picture industry (Mack Sennett, a pioneer filmmaker, was Canadian as was Marie Dressler, classic early film and stage star. William Shatner is also Canadian). There have been many. Sometimes, a popular entertainer, assumed to be American, is learned to be Canadian. Mostly, this has no impact on the star’s box office draw or popularity; being Canadian doesn’t seem to negatively alter public opinion.
Race or ethnicity, however, can oftentimes be used as a bludgeon, and can prejudicially close doors to opportunities. Although it is commonly believed, and dutifully reported in other sources, that the exotically beautiful Yvonne De Carlo is of maternal Sicilian and Scottish ancestry, this is only partly true. Her maternal ethnicity also has roots in Russia as a member of its Jewish subset.
There are many Russian Jews in Hollywood currently who don’t hide their backgrounds (the astoundingly beautiful Mila Kunis, for one—she is a native Ukrainian). In the past there were others as well (the Marx Brothers spring to mind: they were “openly” Jewish and overcame prejudices where they could).
But many of the earlier acts (exclusive of industry controllers: directors, studio bosses, et al) hid their ethnicity for fear of public and studio rejection. Anti-Semitic sentiments prevailed. As a case in point, the wonderfully stacked comedic actress, Joan Blondell (popular from the 1920s-1930s), with the all-American sounding stage name, was Jewish (born Rose Joan Blustein, something not publicized in her heyday).
Today, no one cares about such things, but in the 1920s and into the late 1940s anti-Semitic attitudes in this country were on par with attitudes about African-American citizens. The Ku Klux Klan’s height of power was in the decade of the 1920s, and Jewish people or people of Jewish descent were favored targets.
Discrimination (sometimes unspoken but just as harmful) continued for decades. The brilliant director Elia Kazan (himself a Turk from Istanbul) tackled the subject of anti-Semitism in his Academy Award-winning (for Best Director) film Gentleman’s Agreement in 1947. The movie starred Gregory Peck as a “white” newspaperman (Philip Green) who pretended to be Jewish by changing his last name to “Greenberg”. He then wrote of the discrimination he faced in some hotels, the workplace, etc. as he tried to live his life as a Jew. The movie does a wonderful job of addressing the social subtleties and often brazenness of anti-Semitic behavior.
But for a beautiful little dancer from Canada just starting out, perhaps that tiny family secret maybe needed to stay that way for her, a secret.
Many people have their brushes with fame, and Yvonne De Carlo’s family history included an association with one of the 20th Century’s larger-than-life characters, Lord Kitchener.
Credit: Newberry Library, American Peoples Encyclopedia, 1960Horatio Herbert Kitchener (raised to the status of Earl in 1914) was a career military man acting as Britain’s Secretary of War during World War I. He served well in the earlier Boer War, breaking the supply lines of guerillas in South Africa. For his efforts he was raised in peerage to a Viscount in about 1901. He spent the next seven years in India, as Commander in Chief of the occupying British forces. He returned to Britain in 1909 having reached the rank of Field Marshal. He was named to command British forces in the Mediterranean, and in 1910 he visited America, then settled in Egypt in 1911 as British consul and agent. In 1914 he was appointed Britain’s Secretary of State for War.
It was Kitchener’s job to raise a British army of substance to combat the German threat. He successfully managed to organize and equip over 5 million troops in a mere 18 months. He traveled extensively throughout Europe during the Great War assisting allied forces with battle plans and logistics strategies. Aboard the Hampshire headed for a meeting in Russia, Jun 5, 1916, Kitchener was drowned when the ship hit a mine in open water near the Orkney Islands (northeast of coastal Scotland) and sank.
Kitchener was a living legend. His private secretary was a woman named Margaret Purvis. She was Scottish born but the family was from Minsk, Russia; the original family surname had been Purvichta. Upon Earl Kitchener’s death at sea, she found herself without a job. Her husband, Michael De Carlo (Sicilian-born), and she immigrated to Canada.
Margaret and Michael De Carlo had a daughter, Marie De Carlo. Marie had dreams of becoming a ballerina—she ran away from home at age 16. She managed some work with a traveling Canadian troupe of entertainers, and found herself in Sydney, Australia. She ended up pregnant by an unknown half-Maori New Zealander with whom she’d had a brief fling during her tour. She discovered her pregnancy upon returning to Canada; baby girl Margaret Yvonne was born September 1, 1922, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Marie worked for a couple of years as a shop girl—the baby Margaret, nicknamed “Peggy” (for popular child actress/personality, Baby Peggy) was raised by Margaret and Michael De Carlo as if Marie was Peggy’s older sister and not her mother (a common practice a century ago, one still indulged occasionally today when a young girl has a baby out-of-wedlock). Marie met a salesman named William Middleton and the two married in 1924; Marie took his surname “Middleton” and applied it to her daughter as well. William Middleton apparently wasn’t family man material, however; he abandoned Marie and toddler Peggy (at age three) shortly after the marriage. Marie found work as a waitress to make ends meet.
Peggy’s early talents lay in singing (an admirable skill she would display on stage and in concerts decades later). She sang in the choir of Vancouver’s St Paul’s Anglican Church. Her strong voice gave her the attention she craved—with undemonstrative Old World “parents” (Margaret and Michael, her grandparents) and a work-away mother (whom she thought was her older sister) she was lost in the backdrop.
Marie recognized Peggy’s burgeoning vocal skills, but she’d had her heart set on the girl becoming the dancer she never really got to be herself. When Peggy was in her early teens, Marie took her to Hollywood where she enrolled her in dancing school. Peggy went to Le Conte Middle School in Hollywood. They lived in a downtown apartment while Marie took odds jobs to make a living. None of the early auditioning or pounding the pavement worked quickly enough; their visas expired and they were forced back to Vancouver.
Peggy attended high school in Vancouver, but dropped out before graduating (at age 15, in her sophomore year) to concentrate more on her dancing. She took courses at the British Columbia School of Dancing where she met a mentoring spirit in Canadian dance instructor, June Roper. Roper helped Peggy’s nascent dancing career immensely with new arrangements and tutelage.
Peggy found work as a hula dancer in the famous revue, Waikiki, the next year at the Orpheum Theater. The Palomar (a ballroom that expanded to a nightclub in 1938) in Vancouver re-opened and the 16-year-old Peggy got a week’s booking there. To spruce up her image to more sophisticated maturity she started using her middle name “Yvonne” coupled with her mother’s maiden name, “De Carlo”. [Her time at the nightclub was short-lived—she quit after she allegedly was pressured to expose her breasts while dancing].
June Roper, acting as Yvonne’s quasi-manager and mentor, chaperoned several trips to Hollywood with the budding starlet. On one such trip in 1940, the blossoming Yvonne De Carlo was first runner-up in a beauty contest (Miss Venice Beach). Her second-place showing caught the attention of showman Nils Granlund (of the notorious Florentine Gardens dance hall and nightclub).
Yvonne danced for Granlund only for a short while before she was arrested and deported to Canada. But in January 1941, Nils Granlund sent word to Canadian immigration. He vowed he would sponsor Yvonne in the United States, and he backed up his claim by offering her a full time job at his club. [Nils Granlund’s reputation was such that his sponsorship of Yvonne De Carlo may have had more than just a job offer attached to it].
Yvonne had been scouting around the studios looking for bit work in movies, anything to get her foot in the door as an actor. She quit working at the Florentine Gardens after less than a year to pursue acting full time. She’d done some bit parts (unbilled) in three short subjects before landing a spot in the 1941 B-movie Harvard, Here I Come as a bathing beauty.
In the wake of Harvard, Here I Come, though, Yvonne was at a professional impasse. Other movie parts were slow in developing. Out of simple need, she fell back on her other skills as a dancer, and she was slotted in a chorus line by Earl Carroll (another dance-hall impresario of the Nils Granlund mold).
As a 19-year-old, she was curvy and pretty, and she would mature into a true classic Hollywood Silver Age beauty fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Rita Hayworth. Her mixed heritage gave her an exotic appeal not many women of the era in show business had.
Credit: public domainIn December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing America’s participation in World War II. Yvonne, like many starlets then, did her part for military morale boosting, and it should come as no surprise the glamour shots of her became popular pin-up material. She was also a favorite among GIs as a leading lady in movies; she received a lot of fan mail from military men during the war years.
Yvonne De Carlo enjoys a cross-over appeal in many of pop culture’s sub-genres (Gothic, noir, glamour, etc.). Her small part in her second movie (the classically dark, hard-boiled This Gun For Hire with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake) as well as her later femme fatale appearances in Brute Force and Criss-Cross secured her place in the film noir genre as a fan favorite.
Yvonne’s dark looks, her somber, sometimes moody stage presence work perfectly in these movies. Her sultry sensuality was evident in many other roles as well, but these parts earned her a place in the hearts of noir buffs (and current trends in pop art imaging support her icon status—she is a favored noir subject).
After a few more movie bit parts, she made a step-forward/step-back film called Rhythm Parade.
The step forward, of course, is that it was another notch in her acting belt. The step backward was the movie was filmed on location at the Florentine Gardens nightclub where she’d been a dancer the year before. [And Nils Granlund had personally asked for her to be in the movie. In 1957 when Granlund died as a result of head injuries sustained in a taxi wreck in Las Vegas it was Yvonne De Carlo who made his funeral arrangements.]
Yvonne’s mixed-bag heritage gave her an advantage few Hollywood women of her day enjoyed. Her Mediterranean smolder, combined with the startling combination of dark hair and blue, grey-flecked eyes meant almost no ethnic part was beyond her physical makeup.
Marilyn Monroe could only play Marilyn Monroe; Yvonne De Carlo, however, could be almost any woman on the planet—Mexican, Jewish, Native American, a Gypsy. Over the course of her film career she almost was every woman (in a movie later with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier, she played a Southern belle who learns she has African blood in her veins from way back, echoing her own hodge-podge lineage).
Yvonne De Carlo also had the best sneer on camera in the 1940s. No woman could snarl as she did and make an audience believe her leading man really was messing around with a truly live wildcat. [Her demeanor as Lola Montez in the Western, Black Bart, is pure Yvonne De Carlo: animal sensuality with a modicum of cold, sneering disdain).
The studios tended to keep a cadre of “look-alikes” on hand for film projects. Oftentimes a big name was deemed too big for a smaller film, so the studio had back-ups in the form of actors and actresses who, although billed as themselves, resembled or evoked another, bigger name celebrity. Yvonne De Carlo was enlisted at Paramount as the B-list version of Dorothy Lamour. [Dorothy worked for the same studio as Yvonne. She was a huge star, but Paramount liked to keep its talent insecure. The “new girl”, Yvonne, filled that function just by showing up.]Yvonne moved over to Universal Studios where she was the “new” Maria Montez. Maria was an established star, ten years Yvonne’s senior. Like Yvonne, Maria was blessed with the same exotic beauty. Hers, however, was born of the Caribbean—she was Dominican. And in a side-by-side comparison the two women could have been mistaken for sisters. [The beautiful Maria Montez died young at age 39 after allegedly having a heart attack and drowning in her bath in 1951.] Yvonne played small parts as secretaries, girlfriends, native girls; she plugged away at acting despite the less-than-stellar parts she got. Her breakout came in 1945 in Universal’s Salome, Where She Danced.Credit: Universal Pictures, 1945Credit: unknown
Her character in this film was named Anna Marie, and it would set the tone for several roles she would play in the future (anything that could get her packed into harem girl, slave girl, or exotic dancer garb).
The inability of Hollywood to clearly understand what was supposed to be happening with the film’s character, however, was not lost on Yvonne:
“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.”
Audiences didn’t care and neither did Universal Studios—the minutiae didn’t matter. Both the movie and Yvonne were a hit.
Her presence in Salome, Where She Danced drew the admiring eye of Howard Hughes (who dabbled in filmmaking as well as aeronautics). A henchman of his approached Yvonne and requested a “meeting” on behalf of Hughes. The two became involved romantically.
Yvonne did her first Western in 1945, Frontier Gal (and she would also become known as “The Queen of Westerns”). This was a comedic part.Credit: Universal, 1945
[Oddly, she was packed off to New York in the wake of her new-found success to “refine her acting” technique. There is something very suspicious about this—she made no movies at all in 1946, bizarrely taking the time off from filming when she was building momentum. Reasonable speculation might lead to a conclusion she may have been pregnant by Howard Hughes and went off to quietly have the baby, giving it up for adoption. The “more acting training” excuse for her sudden departure is flimsy on its surface. The truth, however, will probably never be known.]
Yvonne returned in 1947 as Cara de Talavera in Song of Scheherazade (another movie in which she was clad to best show off her rather impressive body). Critics panned the movie; most concurred, however, the only thing worth watching in the film was Yvonne. 1947 was a year of better parts for her, though. She played opposite Burt Lancaster in the film noir prison movie, Brute Force, and she created another iconic role in Slave Girl.
Credit: Henry Cline, 1948In Black Bart in 1948, she played the part of the adventuress Lola Montez, fictionalizing Lola’s time in California in the early 1850s. She did a few more movies in 1948, and it was also about this time her pin-up star status reached wider audiences. She was re-imagined for a magazine cover as “Mata Hari” by a well-known poster artist (although the castanets and garb appear closer to Lola Montez than to Mata Hari). She was also photographed in many classic Hollywood glamour sessions.
In 1949 her personal life met with some trauma. She had worked The Gal Who Took the West, and she became involved with co-star Jock Mahoney (a Chicago born actor-stuntman with the incongruous real name of Jacques O’Mahoney, reflecting both his French and Irish background). With Yvonne’s unexpected pregnancy the two got engaged. She miscarried in her first trimester; she immediately broke off the engagement (a clear indicator the two planned marriage only because she was pregnant). Later in 1949 she was asked about Mahoney’s fame. Her response? “What fame is he talking about? The only fame he has had is what he got by being seen with me!”Continuing her diversity in characters, she starred as the ex-wife of a hood in the gangster movie, Criss-Cross, in 1949. This was a heftier film noir part in terms of subject, and she moved into the 1950s with much momentum, doing lead parts in The Desert Hawk (1950), Silver City (1951), and Scarlet Angel (1952).
Yvonne met stuntman Robert Morgan (born in 1916 in Mr. Carmel, Illinois) while working on the movie Shotgun (released in April 1955). The two married November 21, 1955, in Reno, Nevada. Actor Rory Calhoun gave the bride away. [Yvonne and Robert had two sons: Bruce, born July, 16, 1956, and Michael, born in 1957. Robert, a widower, also had a daughter, Bari, from an earlier marriage. Considering this marriage was the 33-year-old Yvonne’s first, one would think there would have been more hoopla involved than a quickie Reno affair; the publicity of a glamorous Hollywood wedding would have been priceless for her. However, mathematics yields the probability that Yvonne was pregnant with her first-born at the time of her marriage; the baby was born 34 weeks later, several weeks shy of the average 38-week pregnancy.]
The Ten Commandments was a Cecil B. De Mille remake of the 1923 silent-screen epic that he had also brought to theaters in the early days of motion pictures. This newer version (released in October 1956), however, was huge in every imaginable way: enormous budget (second only to Gone with the Wind at that time), big splashy color, and special effects the like of which had never been seen. It was a monster film that garnered multiple Academy Awards.
The movie had actually been in development and pre-production for a couple of years (it took five years up through post-production to bring it to theaters). Original cast suggestions placed the waifish Audrey Hepburn in the role of an Egyptian princess. Anne Baxter was supposed to play the part of Moses’ wife, Sephora. Audrey Hepburn was rejected for the princess part for being too “flat-chested”. The more buxom Anne Baxter was given the role of the Egyptian royal instead.
That left the part of Sephora vacant. Cecil B. De Mille had remembered Yvonne from 1953’s Sombrero (not terribly difficult—she had blossomed into a very memorable 36C-24-36). He liked her looks; he screen-tested her, and he offered her the part. [Cecil B. De Mille was named godfather of her son Bruce after he was born]. Yvonne readily accepted the Sephora part over a role in a German film she had planned to take. Handpicked by De Mille the gorgeous Yvonne De Carlo played one of the biggest parts in this juggernaut opposite Charlton Heston’s iconic Moses. The two had great chemistry together on-screen and became friends off-screen as well.
The Ten Commandments shot on Paramount’s lots, and then decamped to Egypt for location work. [It may seem like more in the completed film, but only about 5% of the shooting was done in Egypt on location. Robert Morgan did stunt work in this movie for which he was not credited.]Credit: Paramount film trailer, 1956
Yvonne earned respectable money for her work in the movie. She was sent into the stratosphere of fame as a first-class actress who could play any kind of big-budget film role.
Her work in The Ten Commandments led directly to another serious role in the American Civil War-era Band of Angels (opposite Gable and Poitier in 1957).
She also did television, and added another piece to her Lola Montez biography work (having starred as Lola in Black Bart). She worked an episode of Bonanza in 1959 where she played Lotta Crabtree. Lotta was an American stage actress and entertainer whom Lola Montez had encouraged and mentored a bit when Lotta was but a precocious six-year-old in 1850s’ California. Yvonne did two episodes of The Virginian in 1962 as well.
By 1962 Yvonne and Robert had marital strains. This was put on the back burner, though, when Robert’s left leg was injured on stunt work for the classic How the West Was Won in 1962. While staging a gunfight scene that took place on a moving flatcar loaded with logs, one of the log chains snapped. Robert was crushed by the falling timber. MGM’s parsimonious contract with Robert Morgan, however, precluded their taking any fiscal responsibility in compensating him. A one-legged stunt man would have a tough time finding steady work, and he and Yvonne were forced into litigation against the studio (the suit asked for $1.4 million from MGM—effectively, Robert was considered permanently disabled). It took him five years to recover from his injuries. His last film work was in 1970 in the John Wayne movie, Chisum.
Yvonne De Carlo did not make another movie after 1959’s Timbuktu until she featured in McLintock! in 1963.
1964 opened with the De Carlo/Morgan household floundering in debt. Her film work was spotty since 1959; Robert was not working. Money was tight, and Yvonne suffered with depression.
Charles Addams was a famous cartoonist whose drawings featured regularly in the sophisticated standard-bearer, New Yorker magazine. One of his cartoon creations was an aggregate of bizarre, ghoulish characters called “The Addams Family”. This strange group was brought to life by ABC television featuring John Aston (suitably crazed looking as the off-balance Gomez Addams) and the beautiful Carolyn Jones as his macabre wife, Morticia Addams. [Like Yvonne De Carlo, the Academy Award-nominated Carolyn Jones had an extensive film career behind her before gaining this part, one for which she would forever be associated.]
The Addams Family out of the can was potentially a huge hit. Other networks scrambled to come up with a similar genre piece for competition. A property was developed at Universal Studios for CBS to compete with The Addams Family.
The show (which had first been kicked around several years before as an animated series idea á la The Flintstones) was called The Munsters (a contrived word melding “fun” and “monsters”). Its characters were a father (as a Frankenstein’s monster); a mother (a female vampire); a son (bizarrely, a werewolf boy); and a grandfather (the female’s father, also a vampire—his actual name is “Sam”). Infrequently, the show also featured a pretty niece who looked like a “regular” human (played by the blond Pat Priest and another actress, Beverly Owen)
Yvonne needed work, and she signed a contract with Universal Studios after receiving an offer to handle the female lead role of Lily in The Munsters opposite Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster. This pairing made for a very distinctive visual—Gwynne was 6’5” tall (195 cm) before the addition of his “monster” platform shoes; Yvonne, in direct contrast, was 5’4” (162 cm). She looked positively Lilliputian next to Herman Munster, but part of the show’s comedy stemmed from the fact that the little Lily, not the outsized Herman, ruled the roost.
Yvonne De Carlo had also been the producers’ first choice to play Lily Munster when the actress originally scheduled to play the part (Joan Marshall) was dropped from consideration. [Joan actually looked too much like ABC’s Morticia Addams]. Lily Munster’s name was originally “Phoebe” (as envisioned for Joan Marshall). It was Yvonne who re-christened her as “Lily” because of the character’s trait of sleeping in a casket with a funereal lily in hand.
The stunning Yvonne De Carlo was buried beneath several layers of grease paint and other makeup, a widow-peeked grey-streaked fright wig, and grey, satin coffin-cloth for a dress. At 42 years old she still exuded the sensual exotic charms of her earlier work.
The makeup when seen in color makes almost no sense to the uninitiated—the bizarre colorings are purposeful, though. When filmed in black-and-white (as The Munsters was) skin tones and shadows would be accurately represented. Yvonne’s makeup in color is jarring—her complexion is a faint greenish blue, but it shows up as dead white on the screen. In black-and-white she looks exactly as she should, a sallow-skinned vampire. Credit: Universal Studios/CBSIt was of interest to the public to see this gorgeous big-screen actress in a silly sitcom about monsters.
But Yvonne took that in stride—it was steady work and she was unapologetic. In her own words when asked how a glamorous actress could succeed as a ghoulish matriarch of a haunted house, she replied wryly, “I follow the directions I received on the first day of shooting: ‘Play her just like Donna Reed’.” [Donna Reed starred in her own show, playing the stereotypical television sitcom mother in the late 1950s to early 1960s].
Yvonne expressed some initial jitters about appearing as Lily:
“I had moments of terror and fear that my public would not understand the makeup and all that. After all, I didn't want to destroy whatever image I had established. I really wondered if it was the right thing to do.”
She understood clearly what the show did for her, however:
“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.”
She was pleased when some young visitors to the set commented how glamorous she looked (and Lily’s makeup informs a lot of early “Goth kid” makeup.)
The series itself is a landmark in goofball television history. It is also funny and, barring some contemporary references, it is still enjoyable today. Every “monster” main character from the show is embedded in pop culture iconography: Herman, Grandpa, Lily, and Eddie Munster (the son, portrayed by Butch Patrick, with whom Yvonne would retain a lifelong friendship).
At the time of original airing however, this future syndication/rerun standard was not successful. Its ratings declined dramatically during the second season. Part of the reason for this was Batman (the campy Adam West TV show, it debuted in 1966). Batman, during its initial run, was a destroyer of any program introduced into its time slot on another network. Another problem with The Munsters, unlike Batman, is it was filmed and aired in black-and-white. Color shows were doing better in the ratings.
Yvonne, meanwhile, played in two films in 1964 and featured in a documentary (Forbidden Temptations) in 1965. The Munsters was drowning in the ratings (although, ironically, beating The Addams Family). In 1966, Yvonne accepted a chance to play Lily in a color Munster movie, Munster, Go Home! It was hoped this full-length film would revive flagging interest in the television show. There was no hope; The Munsters was cancelled after two full seasons (72 episodes). [The Addams Family ended its run after two seasons as well, but only canned 64 shows.]
Yvonne made three more movies in the 1960s after The Munsters ceased production. The new decade of the 1970s found her, at 48 years old, struggling to maintain a viable career.
Yvonne’s singing, used only sporadically throughout her big-screen years, had never been fully developed as a career for her. Yet, she loved it.
She had sung opera at the Hollywood Bowl in 1951. She cut an album of standards (Yvonne De Carlo Sings) in 1957. Movie composer John Williams (a very young man going by the name “Johnny”) orchestrated her record. She also sang and played the harp on an episode of The Munsters.
Music had perhaps been her first creative outlet and in the late 1960s she got back into doing musical theater, appearing in some off-Broadway productions and in a dinner theater setting as well. And she and Virginia Mayo put together a singing-dancing revue they toured with. She became one of the first female entertainers to do live nightclub theater in Israel as well.
Although such films had brought her stardom, Yvonne was not particularly keen on what she called her “Arabian Nights-type movies”. In the Middle East, though,
“I was amazed at how much the people over there like those pictures. I talked to many natives, cab drivers, hairdressers, hotel clerks, who said they had seen ‘Scheherazade’ four and five times. And they seemed to have liked ‘Casbah’, too, although I don't know why. Every time I play a concert, someone would yell, ‘Sing something from Casbah!”'
In 1971, though, she was given a dream-come-true role (for her) in Steven Sondheim’s Follies (which ran from February 1971 until July 1972; the show was later shipped to LA with a different cast). She thrilled at the opportunity: “He wrote it for me, just for me!” As “Carlotta Campion” she sang “I’m Still Here”, which carried much personal meaning for Yvonne. The show itself won a Tony Award®in 1972 for “Best Musical Score”.
Yvonne appeared in the film The Seven Minutes in 1971—she would not be on-screen again until 1975. She and Robert Morgan divorced in 1974. [Other sources report the divorce was as early as 1968, though not likely since he was still recovering from his leg injury and not working. Robert died in 1999, age 82.] She continued to make movies, mostly second-rate films. She also appeared in the ground-breaking TV mini-series, Roots, in 1977.
She passed into the 1980s, still working at what she could get. She considered writing an autobiography. Much like Clara Bow (who had been approached in the early 1960s to write her memoirs) Yvonne had some reservations. She had enjoyed the company of many famous men over the years, and she did not want to cause anyone embarrassment. Ultimately, unlike Clara, Yvonne wrote her book. She prefaced it in 1987 with a sort of apologia:
“If I could, I’d change a lot of things because I’m not proud of everything I’ve done in my life. But to those people who helped me, and there were a lot, I say, thank you. They’re the reason I wrote this book.”
In it she listed about two dozen paramours including some very well-known Hollywood fixtures: Prince Aly Khan (once married to Rita Hayworth), director Billy Wilder, actor Burt Lancaster, industrialist Howard Hughes, and actor Robert Stack.
In 1993 Marie De Carlo, Yvonne’s wild-child teenage runaway mother, died from a fall. Yvonne’s younger son, Michael, died under suspicious but indeterminate circumstances at the age of 40 in 1997. Santa Barbara police expressed doubts about any accidents, and foul play may have been involved. In 1998 Yvonne had a stroke; although she recovered, it was time to retire.
Yvonne’s last silver screen appearance was the role of Aunt Rosa in the 1991 Sylvester Stallone comedy, Oscar. Her last television movie appearances were in 1995, first with a cameo in a Munsters TV movie, Here Come the Munsters, and finally as “Norma” in a Disney TV remake of The Barefoot Executive opposite Eddie Arnold.
Her last TV interview was on January 20, 2002, in a segment of Larry King Live. The discussion centered on Howard Hughes in the wake of a new book of his private letters and diaries.She lived in the Black Lake Retirement Community, near Solvang, California. When her health declined further she moved into the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She spent her remaining years there, and she died January 8, 2007, of natural causes at the age of 84. She was cremated; a memorial service was held for her a few days later.
From 1941 up to her last film work in 1995, Yvonne De Carlo had been in 86 feature films, had done voice-over work for one (in 1993); featured in four short subjects, appeared as a guest star on a dozen TV shows and her own series, and appeared as an interviewee countless times. She had been a dancer and singer. She had also become a naturalized United States citizen during her time in the States.
One of her close personal friends at the time of her death concluded that although the character of Lily Munster was iconic,
“ . . . it would be a shame if that’s the only way she is remembered. She was also one of the biggest beauty queens of the Forties and Fifties, one of the most beautiful women in the world. This was one of the great glamour queens of Hollywood, one of the last ones.”[“aaaannnndd . . . scene!”]
Author’s Note: It is with tremendous gratitude that I extend a very sincere “thank you” to Yvonne De Carlo’s surviving son, Bruce R. Morgan, who personally and graciously supplied some interesting anecdotal material and family facts about this beautiful actress (the Lord Kitchener connection, her performing in Israel, the information about Russian heritage, and a few other items).
Mr. Morgan maintains the Official Yvonne De Carlo web-site; many parts of it are still under construction but there are some rare snapshots of her on location in Egypt during the shooting of The Ten Commandments as well as other items of interest to fans (including a links page to other sites about her). The Web page carries a message from Mr. Morgan that a few hundred more personal pictures are forthcoming—I can’t wait.
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