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'Munsters' Actress Yvonne De Carlo


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'Munsters' Actress Yvonne De Carlo

by Arthur Spiegelman

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Yvonne De Carlo

LOS ANGELES, California -- Actress Yvonne De Carlo, who starred in films opposite Clark Gable and Charlton Heston but won enduring fame as wife of a Frankenstein monster-like character in the TV series, "The Munsters," died of natural causes on Monday, January 8. She was 84.

Her son, Bruce Morgan, said his mother, who played Moses' wife in Cecil B. De Mille's 1956 epic, "The Ten Commandments," died at the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Retirement Home in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills. "She passed away in my arms," Morgan said, adding that she had been in declining health for several years.

Born Margaret Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver on September 1, 1922, De Carlo was raised in poverty and had to drop out of high school to work. But she won a beauty contest and used that as an entree to bit parts in movies, starting in the 1940s. She had bit parts in 1943's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and 1941's "The Road to Morocco."

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De Carlo in 'Salome, Where She Danced'

But in 1945, she won a key role in "Salome, Where She Danced," about a ballerina who lands in a small Arizona town. Of the role, she was less sure, saying of 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."

Paramount signed De Carlo, it was said, because she resembled its major star, Dorothy Lamour, and executives there wanted to warn Lamour that she could be replaced if she gave the studio trouble. De Carlo appeared in such B-movie staples as "Frontier Gal," "Scarlet Angel" and "Shotgun," showing off an hour-glass figure that won her many fans.

While most of the films she made during that period were forgettable, she starred as one of Alec Guinness's two wives in the British comedy classic, "The Captain's Paradise" and opposite Heston as Moses' wife in "The Ten Commandments." She also appeared with Gable and Sidney Poitier in 1957's "Band of Angels."

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De Carlo in 'The Ten Commandments'

In 1955, De Carlo married Bob Morgan, a topflight stunt man, and gave birth to two sons, Bruce and Michael. The marriage had many much-publicized separations and reconciliations. During a stunt aboard a moving log train for "How the West Was Won," Morgan was thrown underneath the wheels. The accident cost him a leg. For a time, De Carlo abandoned her career to care for him. They later divorced.

Although she dropped out of films to raise her family, De Carlo returned to work in television, where she became a cult favorite. To loyal TV viewers, she will always be known as the heavily made-up, ghoulish Lily Munster on the popular sitcom, "The Munsters." From 1964 to 1966, Lily presided over the faux scary household at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

As Lily, De Carlo was a rock matriarch for her bumbling husband, Herman, played by 6-foot-5-inch character actor Fred Gwynne. Herman starred as her good-natured but scary-looking spouse who was the head of an oddball family who lived in a big, creepy house complete with a fire spitting dragon, Spot, as a pet living under the staircase.

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Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster

While it lasted only two years, the series had a long life in syndication and resulted in two feature movies. At the series' end, De Carlo commented: "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."

"I think she will be best remembered as the definitive Lily Munster," said longtime friend and television producer Kevin Burns. "She was the vampire mom to millions of baby boomers. In that sense, she's iconic. But it would be a shame if that's the only way she is remembered . . . This was one of the great glamour queens of Hollywood, one of the last ones."

She made nearly 100 films in all, played on Broadway, most famously in Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," and made guest appearances on such TV series as "Bonanza" and "The Virginian." In a 1987 autobiography, she claimed to have had affairs with several of Hollywood's leading figures, including Howard Hughes, Robert Taylor and Billy Wilder.

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Yvonne De Carlo

Before her death, she performed supporting roles in two independent movies that have yet to be released, playing a psychic who channels UFOs in one and an orphanage nun during World War Two in the other, Morgan said. "So she's not done yet," he told Reuters.

Her last screen role seen before her death was as an eccentric apartment dweller in the 1995 TV movie, "The Barefoot Executive," said her longtime agent, Scott Stander. "She was quite a pistol," Stander said. "She aged gracefully, she was a beautiful lady."

De Carlo is survived by one son, Bruce Morgan and stepdaughter, Bari. Her youngest son, Michael, died in 1997 and she suffered a stroke the following year. In her late years, De Carlo lived in semi-retirement near Solvang, north of Santa Barbara.

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