Once upon a time, Yvonne De Carlo was a dancer whose moves bewitched Howard Hughes. Then along came The Munsters.
De Carlo, whose movie career in Hollywood's glamorous 1940s and 1950s was overshadowed by her TV career as Lily Munster, died Monday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Fund complex in Woodland Hills, California, it was learned Wednesday. She was 84.
De Carlo resided at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, home of the monster clan known as the Munsters, for two prime-time seasons, 1964–66. She went onto play Lily, the century-old vampire and family matriarch, in the 1966 feature film Munster, Go Home and the 1981 TV movie, The Munsters' Revenge. And, thanks to syndication, she continued to be known as Lily long after she hung up her alter ego's floor-length gown.
According to Butch Patrick, who played De Carlo's pointy-eared spawn, Eddie, on the still-popular comedy series, his TV mother didn't mind being a Munster.
"She seemed to be all right with it," Patrick said Wednesday. "She seemed to have no problem with the Munster thing."
Patrick said he last saw De Carlo over the most recent Thanksgiving holiday. The retired actress seemed "fine," he said, and even offered tips on his in-the-works autobiography. (De Carlo published her own life story in 1987.)
News of De Carlo's death "caught us totally off guard," Patrick said.
"She was great," Patrick said of De Carlo. "She was wonderful—very nice...She had a huge life."
Born Margaret Yvonne Middleton on Sept. 1, 1922, in British Columbia, Canada, the future star began her ascent at about age 14, when, according to the History of Metropolitan Vancouver's Website, she snagged a dancing job at a dinner club in her hometown of Vancouver.
The stage name came in the wake of the gig, according to the site—a matter of dropping her given first name and surname and adopting her mother's maiden name. Thus, Yvonne De Carlo was born.
De Carlo hit Hollywood in 1941. The then teenager's feature debut came in the unheralded comedy Harvard, Here I Come!
Lots of De Carlo movies were of the unheralded variety. And according to the Internet Movie Database, many of her early parts were of the unbilled variety.
Things changed, billing-wise, in 1945, when De Carlo starred as a woman who spied, sang and sashayed her way from Europe to Arizona in Salome, Where She Danced.
The New York Times, in retrospect, called the film "the campy little drama [that] launched the career of B-girl Yvonne De Carlo." Producer Walter Wanger, at the time, dubbed his star "the most beautiful girl in the world."
Howard Hughes apparently agreed with Wanger.
In a 2002 interview on Larry King Live, De Carlo talked about how the mogul became enamored with her after watching Salome.
"A man came over...he said, 'Mr. Hughes would like to meet you,' " De Carlo recounted on the show. "Well, I was not too much aware of Mr. Hughes at the time—who he was or anything. So, I said, 'Oh, yes, fine.' And so I looked and I thought, 'Wow, this would be a terrific boyfriend for my aunt.' "
As it turned out, Hughes turned out to be a suitable companion for De Carlo. Another of her other A-list conquests, as detailed in her book Yvonne: An Autobiography, was jet-setter Prince Aly Khan.
"I was on cloud nine all the time," De Carlo once told the New York Times about her early years in Hollywood. "After I made my hit in Salome, Universal sent me to New York so I could learn to be a proper movie star."
De Carlo's training was put to use in the sort of films that now tend to fill out a movie channel's overnight schedule: Buccaneer's Girl, Slave Girl, The Gal Who Took the West, etc.
Occasionally, as in 1953's The Captain's Paradise opposite Alec Guinness and 1956's The Ten Commandments opposite Charlton Heston's Moses, De Carlo got to show her stuff in films that weren't entirely forgotten come Oscar time.
De Carlo herself never got close to an Oscar or Emmy. She did, however, have her Lily.
De Carlo was 42 when she donned her long, gray-streaked wig on The Munsters.
Like many a future Munsters fan, the young Patrick was completely unaware of his costar's past.
"My mom kind of told me what a big star she was," Patrick said.
The Munsters cast was rounded out by Fred Gwynne, as Lily's Frankenstein monster of a husband, Herman; Al Lewis, as Lily's old bat of a grandfather, Grandpa; and Beverly Owen and, later, Pat Priest, as the family's resident "ugly duckling," Marilyn.
The show premiered on CBS a week after The Addams Family, another ghoulish sitcom, debuted on ABC. Both shows expired after two seasons.
Gwynne died in 1993 at age 66; Lewis, who was actually a year younger than his TV daughter, died last February at age 82.
After The Munsters, De Carlo did numerous TV guest spots, and, likely owing to her Lily Munster roots, horror movies in the vein of 1977's Satan's Cheerleaders. She continued to work into the mid-1990s. A cameo in the 1995 TV movie Here Comes the Munsters, featuring an all-new cast taking on the Munsters' old haunts, was among her final appearances.
De Carlo found one of her best roles in 1971, when she starred on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Follies. The show about middle-aged showgirls won seven Tonys, though none for De Carlo (she wasn't even nominated). In lieu of awards, De Carlo was given the opportunity to introduce what would become a show-stopping standard, "I'm Still Here."
De Carlo showed off some of her own moxie when the New York Times, in a 1971 profile of her and her Follies costars, asked if she was nervous about tackling Broadway.
"I'm from Hollywood," De Carlo told the paper. "I'm too dumb to be nervous about New York."