Family & Companions
A vibrant, full-bodied performer with a rich voice and a lushly sensuous if somewhat odd beauty, Yvonne DeCarlo achieved stardom in the 1940s in some of the more bizarre escapism of that era. During her heyday and later in character roles, she acted in remarkably few films that could be called first-class or even important. Given how campy many of her credits are, it is fitting that DeCarlo is best known, because of TV syndication, as the sensible but ghoulish Lily Munster on the silly if often funny horror spoof sitcom, "The Munsters" (CBS, 1964-66). As with many female stars of the 50s (Susan Hayward, Eleanor Parker, Anne Baxter) put into routine melodrama, she could give overblown performances; yet likability and talent were there, genuine feeling mixed with a flair for comedy that wasn't properly tapped often enough. The result was a career that, in its own way, lasted, such that when a fiftyish DeCarlo impressively belted out the showstopping "I'm Still Here" in the wonderful Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, "Follies" (1971), all the poor roles she was given or had chosen to do seemed irrelevant, because the woman had a point.
The Canadian DeCarlo, abandoned by her father, was raised by a poor but ambitious mother and never finished high school because she had to work. Moving to the U.S., DeCarlo won a beauty contest and eventually snagged a contract at Paramount in 1941. For several years she did extra work and played bits: she can be spotted in "The Road to Morocco" (1942) and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943), played a secretary in "The Crystal Ball" (1943) and a Native American princess on loan-out to Republic in "The Deerslayer" (1943). Paramount used her as a threat to Dorothy Lamour should their resident jungle princess refuse to put on a sarong yet again, but they eventually dropped her contract.
Universal, though, proved DeCarlo's savior, and she vaulted to stardom in the hit "Salome, Where She Danced" (1945), an outrageous tale of a Viennese ballerina who blasts into an Arizona desert town. Already specializing in tempestuous behavior, she followed up with one of her most enjoyable films from this era, "Frontier Gal" (1945), a deliberately comical Western in which she sparred with Rod Cameron. DeCarlo continued with the lesser likes of "Slave Girl" (1947), "River Lady" (1948) and "Buccaneer's Girl" (1950), two exceptions from this pabulum were the standout film noirs, "Brute Force" (1947), a prison drama helmed by Jules Dassin, and especially "Criss Cross" (1949) by Robert Siodmak. DeCarlo's femme fatales showed her potential, but when "The Desert Hawk" (1950) suggested a dip in popularity, Universal reduced her to a one film a year contract and evidently saw no need to develop her as an actress.
Free-lancing kept DeCarlo busy in the 50s, but "Scarlet Angel" (1952), "Fort Algiers" (1953) and "Shotgun" (1955) continued the parade of saloon singers, Polynesian maidens, fiery half-breeds, French spies, and Irish spitfires. "Passion" (1954) even sported two DeCarlos, with her cast as twins Rosa and Tonya Melo. An interesting exception was the British-made "The Captain's Paradise" (1953), though Alec Guinness had the spotlight as a bigamist with wives in two ports, DeCarlo played her comedy well and made a vivid contrast with the genteel Celia Johnson. Another oasis came, oddly enough, with Cecil B. DeMille's remake of "The Ten Commandments" (1956). While most of the all-star cast chewed the scenery to vastly entertaining effect, DeCarlo, sporting aptly severe makeup, shone in a restrained and touching performance as Moses' wife Sephora. Her followup, "Band of Angels" (1957), teaming DeCarlo with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in Raoul Walsh's odd "Gone with the Wind"-like tale of Civil War miscegenation, failed, and after 1959 DeCarlo left films to raise her sons by stuntman Bob Morgan.
A nightclub tour, in which DeCarlo poked fun at her old movies, and TV work followed, but it took her husband's loss of a leg in an accident for her to seek out more work. She played a funny drunk scene with John Wayne in a supporting role as a housekeeper in "McLintock" (1963) and alternated leading roles in minor actioners like "Hostile Guns" (1967) with featured roles in "The Power" (1968) and Russ Meyer's attempt to earnestly film the best-selling "Seven Minutes" (1971). Subsequent to her Broadway triumph in "Follies," she toured in "No, No Nanette," made TV-movies like "The Mark of Zorro" (1974), "The Munsters' Revenge" (1981) and "The Barefoot Executive" (1995), and appeared fairly regularly in a series of low-budget films, mostly horror fare, the more lurid the better. "Satan's Cheerleaders" (1977), "Play Dead" (1981) and "American Gothic" (1987) were typical, some played for laughs, some not. The Sylvester Stallone comedy "Oscar" (1991) was an atypical mainstream feature for DeCarlo at the time, but it bombed; a 1975 feature credit sums it and her career up well: "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time."
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Enrolled in a dancing school by her mother at age six (date approximate)
Joined the St. Paul Anglican Church choir in order to develop a singing voice
Helped support herself and her mother at age 15 when she got a job dancing as part of a chorus at the Palomar Supper Club
DeCarlo and her mother refused an immigration visa to the US, but sneaked across the border and settled in Hollywood
Won the title of Miss Venice Beach in a beauty contest; returned to Vancouver briefly in order to get legal visas for herself and her mother and then moved back to the Los Angeles area
Signed by Paramount to a standard $60/week new player's contract
Appeared in several short subjects produced by the Soundies Music Corporation
Film acting debut, on loan-out to Columbia, "Harvard, Here I Come"; appeared mostly as an extra in a series of films at Paramount over the next two years
First film to feature DeCarlo as more than an extra or in a bit part, "The Deerslayer", made while she was on loan to Republic Studios; played Wah-Tah, a Native American princess betrothed to Larry Parks
Dropped by Paramount; last film there, "Bring on the Girls", in which she can be spotted in a small role as a hatcheck girl
Signed by Universal; became a star in the leading role of the hit film, "Salome, Where She Danced"
After failure of "The Desert Hawk" at the box office, Universal ended her exclusive contract and offered instead to star her in one film a year
First film as free-lancer, "Hotel Sahara"
Played one of the starring roles on the NBC one-hour comedy playlet, "Backbone of America"
First non-US production, "The Captain's Paradise", a British comedy co-starring Alec Guiness and Celia Johnson
Did nightclub tour whose routines included parodies of some of her films; also did occasional TV work, but was semi-retired as she raised her family
Last film for four years, "Timbuktu"
Husband's loss of a leg and his long convalescence led DeCarlo to seek out more acting work
Returned to films in "McLintock"; played a supporting role and took below-the-title billing
Reprised her role as Lily Munster for the feature film, "Munster, Go Home"
Replaced Cyd Charisse on the Australian and New Zealand tour of the stage musical revival of "No, No Nanette"
First TV-movie, "The Girl on the Late, Late Show"
Again reprised the role of Lily Munster for the TV-movie, "The Munsters' Revenge"