Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-01 > 1168784846

From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] CARLO: Peggy Yvonne middleton de Carlo 9/1/2007
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2007 06:27:26 -0800

Yvonne de Carlo
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 12/01/2007

Yvonne De Carlo, who died on Monday aged 84, was in the 1940s and 1950s
Hollywood's notion of an exotic Middle Eastern beauty and was repeatedly
cast as an Arab princess, a dancing girl or the jewel of the harem; later
she became familiar to television audiences as Lily, the vampiric matriarch
of the Munster family.

Yvonne de Carlo's milky white skin and studio make-up never looked remotely
Arabic. It was a convention of the time that in "sword and sandal" epics, of
which she made a great number, the heroine should be as much like an
idealised American girl as possible. This was no challenge. Possessed of a
striking face and figure, she was one of many Hollywood starlets dubbed "the
most beautiful woman in the world".

Publicists emphasised this line, and as she matured, still a spinster, they
cast her as the most eligible girl in Hollywood. Gossip linked her with
Howard Hughes, the actor Howard Duff, the Shah of Persia, the opera stars
Jerome Hines and Cesare Siepi, Aly Khan, and even Rock Hudson, about whose
sexual orientation little was then known.

Her most exotic suitor was the 9th Earl of Lanesborough, who fell in love
with her voice when he heard it in the bath on the radio show In Town
Tonight. He immediately arranged to throw an all-night party and grand ball
in her honour at his stately home.

But if he had entertained any more romantic thoughts, he was soon
disappointed. She already had a boyfriend, she told him, at La Scala, Milan,
and he was extremely jealous.

Yvonne De Carlo played along with the hype and publicity, portraying herself
as a tigress who loathed men so much that she spurned nearly all of them. In
fact, she claimed, insistent Romeos were among her pet hates - along with
cabbage, false teeth and cold underwear.

The portrait Hollywood presented was highly inventive. Her favourite reading
was said to be Shakespeare and Greek mythology; her musical tastes ran to
symphonies and grand opera; and her most prized possession was the small
white leather Bible her mother gave her at her confirmation. She also
professed to be "mad keen on rocketry" and to have seen the film Destination
Moon four times to supplement her research.

These diversions served only to obscure her real talents. Yvonne De Carlo's
forte was comedy, but in a prolific screen career she had too few
opportunities to prove it. All the best ones cropped up in Britain rather
than Hollywood.

She could see the funny side of herself and was more than ready to mock her
own screen image. She first got the chance in Hotel Sahara (1950), a
moderately amusing wartime comedy set in the desert, with Peter Ustinov as
the manager of a rundown hotel and De Carlo as his flirtatious fiancée, who
welcomes the successive arrivals of the Allied and the Axis troops, since it
means more officers to twist round her little finger.

The Captain's Paradise, also made in England in 1953, was much livelier and
one of her best films. It starred Alec Guinness as a salty old sea dog with
a wife in. well, at least two ports. In Gibraltar, there is cosy Celia
Johnson, ever ready with rissoles and slippers; in North Africa, there is De
Carlo, ever ready with champagne and the rumba. There is only one smudge on
this idyllic scene: both women would prefer to swap roles, with Johnson
dancing the night away while De Carlo yearns to darn socks. Very saucy for
its time, the film benefited from two accomplished actresses gleefully
lampooning themselves.

De Carlo's third successful comedy at this time was Happy Ever After (1954),
a very Irish affair in which the tenants of David Niven's caddish squire
draw lots for the privilege of assassinating him.

Sadly, De Carlo was never allowed to carry through this new-found talent in
the cinema. But it blossomed later in television, on which, between 1964 and
1966, she played the shock-haired, 156-year-old Lily Munster in the popular
series The Munsters, about a family of comic ghouls modelled on the more
sophisticated Addams Family. Ironically, the actress known initially for her
voluptuous charms eventually became associated in the public mind with a
fearsome parody of pulchritude.

Yvonne De Carlo was born Peggy Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver on September 1
1922. Educated at King Edward's High School, she trained at June Roper's
school of dancing and then gained acting experience at the Vancouver Little
Theatre. In 1937 she travelled south to Los Angeles to continue training at
the Franchen and Marco school and from 1941 began gaining employment as a
dancer at local theatres and night clubs. Her first engagement was at the
Florentine Gardens, then a popular watering hole in Hollywood.

Paramount talent scouts put her under contract, but little came of it. She
appeared in a score of pictures between Harvard Here I Come (1942) and Bring
on the Girls (1945), but they were all bit parts. These included some
well-remembered films, such as This Gun for Hire and Road to Morocco in
1942, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Kismet (1944). But De Carlo's
contributions passed mostly unremarked.

When her contract was not renewed she decided to freelance, and the
breakthrough came almost immediately.

The producer Walter Wanger was seeking a girl who looked like Hedy Lamarr,
could act like Ingrid Bergman and dance like Vera Zorina. She was to play in
the 1945 production Salome, Where She Danced, a historical spy story in
which an exotic dancer turns into a Mata Hari figure. De Carlo tested for
it, and landed the part. She recalled her entrance: "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." Critically
the film was dismissed - as were nearly all her subsequent films - but it
proved the springboard to a long career in Hollywood.

She appeared in very few memorable pictures, among which were the prison
breakout film Brute Force (1947), in which she had only a small role, and
Criss Cross (1949), a powerful film noir directed by Robert Siodmak. Much of
her work in the late 1940s and early 1950s consisted of desert sagas such as
Song of Scheherazade (1947); Slave Girl (1947); Casbah (a 1948 remake of the
French film Pépé le Moko); The Desert Hawk (1950); and Fort Algiers (1953).
There were also Westerns such as Calamity Jane and Sam Bass and The Gal Who
Took the West (both 1949), Tomahawk (1951) and Border River (1954).

In Cecil B DeMille's Ten Commandments (1956) she was cast as Moses's wife,
and in a 1959 Italian production, La Spada e la Croce, she played Mary
Magdalene. Other historical roles included Lola Montez in Black Bart (1948)
and Wagner's great love in Magic Fire (1956).

In her prime she acted opposite stars of the calibre of Clark Gable in Band
of Angels (1957) and John Wayne in McLintock! (1963), but in later years,
especially after her stint in The Munsters, she was increasingly cast in
horror films with such lurid titles as Blazing Stewardesses (1976); Guyana,
Cult of the Damned (1980); and American Gothic (1988). Her last role was a
cameo in Oscar (1991).

On Broadway, she appeared in Destry Rides Again, Enter Laughing (with Alan
Arkin) and toured with revivals of Pal Joey; Hello, Dolly; and No, No
Nanette. Her greatest success was as Carlotta Campion in Stephen Sondheim's
Follies, a part written for her, along with the show's best-known song, I'm
Still Here. She also found time in 1987 to write an autobiography, called
simply Yvonne.

She married, in 1955, the stuntman Robert Morgan, who was severely injured
during the production of How the West Was Won in 1962. They had two sons
(one of whom predeceased her), but the marriage was dissolved.

This thread: