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Tribute To Yvonne DeCarlo

DeCarlo, the daughter of an ambitious but unsuccessful aspiring actress, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia as Margaret Yvonne Middleton. De Carlo sang in the choir of St Paul's Anglican Church in Vancouver and was taken to Hollywood by her mother at the age of fifteen. She won the title of "Miss Venice Beach" in 1938.

Unable to find work, they returned to Canada until 1940, when they once again traveled to Hollywood. De Carlo supported herself working in a chorus while trying to find film work. She made her first film appearance in 1941, but could only find bit parts for the next few years. She was the hired by Paramount to become Dorothy Lamour’s rival. This was during the days when female stars could easily walk into an office and demand higher salaries, so studio heads would gather unknowns to be used as bargaining chips…just in case. Lamour was hired on the spot, and her acting career began.

Her first break came in 1945 playing the title role in Salome, Where She Danced. Though not a critical success it was a box office favorite and De Carlo was hailed as an up and coming star. Her performance. Although loved by the critics, was by all intents and purposes, mediocre at best. Dorothy’s ambition began to escalate, and she wanted to be known than more of a flash in the pan, or Dorothy Lamour’s replacement.

In 1947 she played her first leading role in Slave Girl and then in 1949 had her biggest success. As the female lead opposite Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross, De Carlo played a femme fatale, and her career began to ascend. She began to take acting classes a but more serious. She learned what it was like to create a character in a time when mere gesture and frame work were the norm.

The 1957 Band of Angels featured her opposite Clark Gable in a civil war story, along with Sidney Poitier and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. This is a fine performance of Decarlo’s. Not only is she extraordinarily beautiful but the scene when Gable storms home and finds a distraught and feeble Decarlo huddled in the doorway is heartbreaking. Yvonne had a terrific way with words and dialogue. But her sheer terror and utter fear is palatable and jumps off the screen like a runaway train.

For the next several years, she was constantly working although many of the films failed to advance her career.

Cast in The Ten Commandments (1956) in a leading role (as Moses' wife), De Carlo was part of a major hit. The film was a huge success and De Carlo was among those to be praised for her restrained work. Again, in a time when style was King, Yvonne’s lovely, inside genuine character work was noticed and admired.

As film roles for aging actresses became sparse, Yvonne found herself on Television land. Guest starring on Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and various game shows, she longed for more character roles to fill her first love.

And then in the late 60’s, in the wake of the bizarre mythical status TV took, with shows like “Bewitched”, “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Addams Family”, her greatest notoriety happened by accident. Her husband Bob Morgan became seriously ill, and medical bills needed to be paid. Yvonne took the role of Lily Munster on a new fantasy comedy called “The Munsters”.

“I did it because I had to, and then I learned to love it. I’ve been grateful to Lily Muntser for the rest of my life.”

This allowed DeCarlo to demonstrate a comic flair that her films had failed to utilize. Although the show lasted only two years, it was extremely popular and was canceled mainly because Herman Muntser (brilliantly portrayed by Fred Gwynne) wanted to stretch more and was terrified of being type cast. The TV trend was coming to it’s ending as well, but the re runs and faithful viewers of the short lived show kept Yvonne working for the rest of her life.

She then embarked on what a lot of old stars did in the 60’s and 70’s. Alongside legends Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, and Joan Crawford, Yvonne began a horror career that includes some of the best scary movies made in the 70’s.

DeCarlo also performed on Broadway, most notably in the role of Carlotta Campion, introducing the song "I'm Still Here" in the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies. The song was written specifically for Yvonne, and I luckily have a rare recording of her actually performing it. It’s the best version ever done of that song. Sondheim wrote it for her voice and wanted her in the show since its conception.

Possessed of a powerful contralto voice, DeCarlo released an LP of standards called Yvonne DeCarlo Sings in 1957. She sang and played the harp on at least one episode of The Munsters.

She also received recognition for her work in various low-budget horror movies, such as The Power, The Seven Minutes, House of Shadows, Sorority House Murders, Cellar Dweller, Mirror, Mirror, Blazing Stewardesses, and American Gothic.

De Carlo worked steadily in both film and television, playing her most recent role in the television production of The Barefoot Executive (1995).

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Yvonne De Carlo was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6124 Hollywood Blvd. and a second star at 6715 Hollywood Blvd. for her contribution to television.

Although the face is recognizable as a Television staple, Yvonne was working at a time when glamour queens and pin ups girls reigned supreme. I’ve loved her work for many years, and I still maintain listening to her singing “I’m Still Here” has something rare and unhinged to it. It’s a magnificent recording and all the past years and aging wisdom rings true in every single lyric. It’s an uncanny performance.

She will be missed.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2007 10:12 am (UTC)
Beautiful Woman
All the women and the men too, especially Yul Bryner, were beautiful in the Ten Commandments. But I remember De Carlo and her performance, as the desert shepard's daughter, as being particularly stunning. She exuded an inner beauty and complete calm in contrast to Anne Baxter's anxious shimmering Egyptian finery.
And now thanks to your description, I would love to see Band of Angles. I hope it's available.
Wow, seems like the Munster's were on longer than two years although there were probably more eps per season back then. I love that show.
Thanks so much for this, Alex.

Jan. 11th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Woman
Baxter is a camp delight in that picture. LOVED her!!!!

But DeCarlo is truly amazing. Her scene in the palace with Heston as she pleads for his life is one of my favorites.
Jan. 13th, 2007 04:50 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful Woman
i have noticed an uncanny resemblence in one photo of yvonne decarlo and catherine zeta jones...another beautiful woman...they say we have a double..how odd?they r both actresses!
Jan. 11th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you!!
Thanks for the bio.

I'd love to hear the recording, as I love that song.

Jan. 11th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this, it's the best tribute to Ms DeCarlo I have read today...
Jan. 12th, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)
I like when there are pictures
Yes, life needs more pictures, especially Bette Davis, she was a looker!
Jan. 12th, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)
The BEST Carlotta.
Beautiful tribute.

I came across some lovely clips of Yvonne singing I'm Still Here -- posted on my recent tribute to her:


Jan. 13th, 2007 05:28 am (UTC)
Big Girls Don't Cry
The thing you don't mention is that Yvonne was a big girl. BIG. I did a musical review once where Warner Brothers (I think) loaned us one of her Lily costumes. It had to have been a size 20, and she must have stood six feet tall.
Jan. 15th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Big Girls Don't Cry
actually Yvonne stood only 5'4"
Jan. 13th, 2007 06:06 am (UTC)
Yvonne - One of a Kind
Yvonne DeCarlo was a star when there where none left. She was much better then Ava Gardner or Dorothy Lamour but she was just one of us. No false pretenses, no fake words or hollywood lifestyle. She kept plugging away at hollywood even when they did not want her and rejected her acting. That is why "I'm Still Here" was such a wonderful treat written by Sondheim just for her. She was one of a kind, a one of a kind beauty and person. I know, for my life, she will be sorely missed and the oscars can go screw themselves with who they give awards to. If anyone ever deserved one it was DeCarlo.
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )