Yvonne De Carlo, the beautiful star who played Moses’ wife in “The Ten Commandments” but achieved her greatest popularity on TV’s slapstick comedy “The Munsters,” died Monday in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 84.
De Carlo, whose shapely figure helped launch her career in B-movie desert adventures and Westerns, rose to more important roles in the 1950s. Later, she had a key role in a landmark Broadway musical, Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.”
But for TV viewers, she will always be known as Lily Munster in the 1964-1966 horror movie spoof “The Munsters.”
The vampire-like Lily presided over the faux scary household and was a rock for her gentle but often bumbling husband, Herman, who was played by 6-foot-5-inch character actor Fred Gwynne (decked out as the Frankenstein monster).
The series lasted only two years, but it had a long life in syndication and resulted in two feature movies, “Munster Go Home!” in 1966 and 1981’s “The Munsters’ Revenge.”
“I think she will best remembered as the definitive Lily Munster. She was the vampire mom to millions of baby boomers. In that sense, she’s iconic,” said her friend, TV producer Kevin Burns.
De Carlo was able to sustain a long career by repeatedly reinventing herself. A longtime student of voice, she sang opera at the Hollywood Bowl. When movie roles became scarce, she ventured into stage musicals.
Her greatest stage triumph came on Broadway in 1971 with “Follies,” which won the 1972 Tony award for best original musical score. She belted Sondheim’s showstopping number, “I’m Still Here,” a former star’s defiant recounting of the highs and lows of her life and career.
Over the years, De Carlo augmented her stardom by shrewd use of publicity. Gossip columnists reported her dates with famous men. In her 1987 book, “Yvonne: An Autobiography,” she listed 22 of her lovers, who included Howard Hughes, Burt Lancaster, Robert Stack, Robert Taylor, Billy Wilder, Aly Khan and an Iranian prince.
The Canadian-born De Carlo began her career with a parade of bit parts in films of the early 1940s, then emerged as a star in 1945 with “Salome — Where She Danced,” a routine movie about a dancer from Vienna who becomes a spy in the wild West.
She recalled her entrance in the film: “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.”
Universal Pictures exploited her slightly exotic looks and a shape that looked ideal in a harem dress in such “sex-and-sand” programmers as “Song of Scheherazade,” “Slave Girl,” “Casbah” and “Desert Hawk.”
The studio also employed her to add zest to Westerns, usually as a dance hall girl or a gun-toting sharpshooter. Among the titles: “Frontier Gal,” “Black Bart” (as Lola Montez), “River Lady,” “Calamity Jane and Sam Bass” (as Calamity Jane) and “The Gal Who Took the West.”
In 1956 she veered from her former image when Cecil B. DeMille chose her to play Sephora, wife to Charlton Heston’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” The following year she co-starred with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in “Band of Angels” as Gable’s upper-class sweetheart who learns of her black forebears.
Born Peggy Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver, British Columbia, she grew up poor without a father. She took dancing lessons and then worked in night clubs and local theaters. She continued dancing in clubs when she and her mother moved to Los Angeles.
Paramount Pictures signed her to a contract in 1942, and she adopted her middle name and her mother’s middle name. Dropped by Paramount after 20 minor roles, she landed at Universal, which cast her as the B-picture version of the studio’s sultry star Maria Montez.
In 1955, De Carlo married stuntman Bob Morgan, and the marriage produced two sons, Bruce and Michael, as well as much-publicized separations and reconciliations. They later divorced.
In her late years, De Carlo lived in semi-retirement near Solvang, north of Santa Barbara. Her son Michael died in 1997, and she suffered a stroke the following year.