Yvonne De Carlo was a Canadian born American actress, singer, and dancer whose career spanned more than seven decades. A brunette with blue-grey eyes, voluptuous figure, and a deep sultry voice, she was one of most recognizable stars in the golden age of Hollywood and an early multihyphenate. She began taking dancing lessons at the age of three and spent her late teens performing in various night clubs and on stage. She made her screen debut in 1941 in an uncredited role in the comedy film ‘Harvard, Here I Come’. After appearing in several other movies in the same capacity, she played the titular character in the 1945 western drama ‘Salome, Where She Danced’. Her next important role was in ‘Song of Scheherazade’ in 1947, which though gave traction to her career, ended up typecasting her as an Arabian Nights-type temptress dressed in harem attire. Despite this stereotyping, she did significant work in comedy and western genres, and was part of the main cast of the 1960s sitcom ‘The Munsters’. In 1957, she released her first and only album ‘Yvonne De Carlo Sings’. As she aged, she made a relatively easy transformation to being a character actor, active and compelling well into her 70s. De Carlo received two separate stars in 1960 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to films and television.
Childhood & Early Life
Yvonne De Carlo was born Margaret Yvonne Middleton on September 1, 1922, in West Point Grey, British Columbia, Canada, to parents William Middleton and Marie De Carlo. She was of English descent from her father’s side and of Italian and Scottish ancestry from her mother’s.
After her father abandoned the family when she was three years old, she was raised by her mother and her Presbyterian maternal grandparents at Vancouver’s West End neighborhood.
She studied at Lord Roberts Elementary School, later attending King Edward High School. Her mother entered her in the June Roper School of the Dance in Vancouver which eventually led to her enrollment in the prestigious B.C. School of Dancing.
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Yvonne De Carlo’s mother played a pivotal role in preparing her for the glamorous life. Marie took her daughter to Los Angeles so that she could participate in several beauty pageants. This was when she met American showman Nils Granlund who employed her at the Florentine Gardens and in January 1941, offered her sponsorship after she was arrested by the US immigration officials.
She left Florentine Gardens within a year, wanting to pursue a career in acting. She appeared in a series of uncredited roles after her first film ‘‘Harvard, Here I Come’. As there was no immediate theatrical success, she kept herself active in the Los Angeles night club scene.
She was part of two revues named ‘Hollywood Revels’ and ‘Glamour over Hollywood’ in 1941, and the 1942 three-minute Soundies musical ‘The Lamp of Memory’. She also performed for US servicemen during World War II.
Sometime in 1942 she signed with Paramount Pictures as the backup for Dorothy Lamour and continued to play uncredited parts in films, such as ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1943), ‘Let's Face It’ (1943), and ‘So Proudly We Hail!’ (1943). De Carlo was loaned to Republic Pictures for the 1943 film ‘The Deerslayer’, in which she played a young native American woman named Wah-Tah.
She was reportedly chosen over 20,000 aspirants to portray the protagonist in ‘Salome, Where She Danced’, a Technicolor production. Though critically panned, the film was a box-office success. The movie heralded her long-term contract with Universal Pictures. She was subsequently cast in ‘Frontier Gal’ (1946), ‘Black Bart’ (1948), ‘Casbah’ (1948), ‘Criss Cross’ (1949), ‘Calamity Jane and Sam Bass’ (1949), ‘The Gal Who Took the West’ (1950), and the British film ‘Hotel Sahara’ (1951).
In 1951, she signed a new contract with Universal, and did films for other production companies as well. She co-starred with Edmund O’Brien in ‘Silver City’ (1951), Rock Hudson in ‘Scarlet Angel’ (1952) and ‘Sea Devils’ (1953), Alec Guinness in the Oscar-nominated ‘The Captain’s Paradise’ (1953), and Sterling Hayden in ‘Shotgun’ (1955).
After the immense success of ‘The Ten Commandments’, she worked with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in ‘Band of Angels’ (1957), appeared in the French film ‘Timbuktu’ (1958), and portrayed Mary Magdalene in ‘The Sword and the Cross’. After her stuntman husband got injured on the set of ‘How the West Was Won’ (1963), John Wayne gave her the role of Louise Warren in ‘McLintock!’ (1963).
The offer of a role in the series ’The Munster’ (1964-66) came about at a time when she was in heavy debt. She was cast as Lily Munster, the vampire matriarch of the Munster household. Despite its short run, the show has come to be seen as a classic. De Carlo reprised her role in the 1966 horror-comedy ‘Munster, Go Home’.
She successfully maintained a parallel career as a singer. Besides her 1957 LP ‘Yvonne De Carlo Sings’, she put out the singles ‘I Love a Man’ / ‘Say Goodbye’ in 1950, ‘Take It Or Leave It’ / ‘Three Little Stars’ (1955), ‘That’s Love’ / ‘The Secret of Love’ in 1958.
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Her voice and her dance background culminated in a thriving theatre career as well. She performed in Off-Broadway productions such as ‘Pal Joey’ and ‘Catch Me If You Can’. Her most notable work on stage was Harold Prince’s production of ‘Follies’ (1971-72).
In the final league of her professional life, she made appearances in ‘Black Fire’ (1975), ‘The Munsters’ Revenge’ (1981), ‘American Gothic’ (1988), ‘The Naked Truth’ (1992), and ‘Here Come the Munsters’ (1995). Disney’s ‘The Barefoot Executive’ (1995) was the last film she acted in.
Yvonne De Carlo was cast as Sephora opposite Charlton Heston’s Moses in the American biblical epic film ‘The Ten Commandments’. Released in October 1956, the film initially earned $122.7 million at the box-office and won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Critics praised De Carlo for her performance, with Bosley Crowther of ‘The New York Times’ calling it “notably good”.
Awards & Achievements
Yvonne De Carlo won two BoxOffice Blue Ribbon Awards for ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘McLintock!’ in 1957 and 1964, respectively.
On February 8, 1960, she was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her television star is located at 6715 Hollywood Boulevard and her motion picture star is at 6124 Hollywood Boulevard.
For ‘American Gothic’, she was awarded the Fantafestival Award for Best Actress in 1987.
Personal Life & Legacy
Throughout the initial years of her career, Yvonne De Carlo was linked with multiple influential men, including industrialist Howard Hughes and actor Robert Stack. She was even briefly engaged to actor Howard Duff before meeting stuntman Robert Drew "Bob" Morgan on the set of ‘Shotgun’ in 1955. At the time Morgan was married and De Carlo had no intention to sabotage that relationship.
After the death of Morgan’s wife, they grew close, and eventually wed on November 21, 1955, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Reno, Nevada. They had two sons together, Bruce (born 1956) and Michael Morgan (1957). The marriage ended in a divorce in 1973.
She became a naturalized US citizen and was a conservative Republican who campaigned for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford.
In 1998, she was rushed to the hospital after suffering a stroke. She spent the twilight years of her life at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, in Woodland Hills, where she passed away due to heart failure on January 8, 2007. According to her wishes, she was cremated. She was survived by her son Bruce as her other son, Michael, had died in 1997.
De Carlo’s mother called her by the nickname Peggy.