Before Yvonne De Carlo graced TV screens as the iconic vampire Lily in The Munsters, she was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. Her blue eyes and dark hair gave her a look that made producers scream—but their treatment of her was also scream-worthy. Her personal life, meanwhile, was a downright horror show.
1. She Had An Unusual Birth
Starting from her birth in September 1922 in Vancouver, Canada, Yvonne de Carlo’s young life was worthy of a Hollywood drama. Her mother Marie was young and wanted a little doll more than a daughter. When she had Yvonne, nurses heard her scream on the delivery table, "I want a girl. It must be a girl. I want a dancer!"
Well, she’d get her wish. But before that happened, the family went through immense heartbreak.
2. Her Father Deserted Her
When Yvonne was just three, her father William abandoned the family after doing a series of shady deals with the wrong people. As if that weren’t soap-opera enough, a slew of rumors claimed he had then perished at sea while trying to get away. Whatever the truth—and we’ll get to that later—it was no foundation to build a healthy childhood for the girl. And then her mother had to go and make it worse.
3. Her Mother Used Her
Yvonne’s mother Marie never lost her deep desire to watch her little girl become a star. She went to disturbing lengths to get her dream. After enrolling her in dance and singing schools, Marie also drove them down constantly to Los Angeles to attend beauty contests and other publicity stunts, all in the hopes that the teenager would attract attention.
Well, you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for. For Yvonne, this went double.
4. She Got A Lucky Break
As it turned out, Marie was right about her daughter: She was destined to be gorgeous, and had real star-power. In 1940, the teenaged yet very developed girl won second place at the Miss Venice beauty contest. More than that, a talent scout who had been in the crowd urged her to audition for a chorus line part at the Earl Carroll Theatre.
The theatre, located on the famous Sunset Boulevard, was everything Yvonne and her mother had been looking for. But when they got to the audition, they experienced their worst nightmare.
5. Her First Audition Was A Horror Show
The booking agent led De Carlo and her mother to the promised audition...but it was there that De Carlo made a disturbing realization. Carroll only wanted her there so that he could examine her “upper assets". The daring ask outraged Yvonne and her mother, and they left immediately. Sadly, her next stop was humiliating in a totally different way..
6. She Won A Chilling Popularity Contest
Trying to stick it to Carroll and his wandering hands, De Carlo and her mother headed right over to the rival nightclub Florentine Gardens. But this was no Hail Mary. For this audition, De Carlo tap danced in front of a raucous crowd. Then, grossly enough, the owner of the club left her fate up to the audience, asking “Well folks...Is she in or out?”
After applause and whistles, De Carlo got the role. But her troubles were just beginning—and they were about to turn dangerous.
7. She Was Thrown Behind Bars
After this, De Carlo worked her way up from chorus girl to featured dancer at the Florentine Gardens.Yet all the while, her time was running out. See, a Canadian citizen, she was working in the US without a green card. One day, it all came crashing down. After a few months on stage, Immigration caught up to her, detained her, and deported her.
It was her first brush with the law. It also produced a surprising result.
8. She Made A Triumphant Comeback
As it turned out, her manager at Florentine Gardens, Nils Granlund, was certain he had a rising star on his hands and was desperate to keep De Carlo around. He wrote to the Canadian government offering to sponsor and steadily employ his protegee. The plea worked, and De Carlo came back to Los Angeles by the skin of her teeth.
But as her star kept rising, she began to get the wrong kind of attention.
9. She Earned A Powerful Rival
By the early 1940s, Yvonne De Carlo had moved up the ranks and earned a handful of film roles, plus a contract with Paramount. In 1942, she even got cast as a handmaiden to the starlet Dorothy Lamour in the popular Road To... franchise instalment, Road to Morocco. But this was a double-edged sword. Soon, people were dubbing De Carlo as a "threat girl" to Lamour, and she made her first rival.
As it happened, though, De Carlo's personal life was heating up around this time, too.
10. She Had A Steamy Affair With A Famous Director
Just after De Carlo signed with Paramount, she met director Billy Wilder, who was just about to make his masterpiece, Double Indemnity. The beautiful young starlet and the experienced helmsman quickly fell into a dalliance, and De Carlo described Wilder as "the first love of my life". Nonetheless, she also called him the physical "antithesis of my lifelong dream man".
If that sounds like a shaky foundation to build a relationship on...well, it was.
11. She Lived In A Love Shack
When De Carlo struck up her fling with Wilder, there was a dark side to their love. Wilder was actually married at the time, although he and his wife had separated. As a result, he and De Carlo occupied a small rented love shack to carry out their relationship. It couldn't have been the easiest way to love someone—and De Carlo was about to learn that the hard way.
12. Her Lover Betrayed Her
All signs pointed to the fact that Wilder was on a rebound from his marriage, but the naive De Carlo likely couldn't have predicted he would betray her as hard as he did. After a short-lived but passionate union, Wilder ended up leaving her for another up and coming actress, Doris Dowling. Down and out, De Carlo took the only revenge she knew how.
13. She Got The Part Of A Lifetime
If the best revenge is success, Yvonne De Carlo certainly achieved it. Just as she was dealing with the fallout of her relationship, the role of a lifetime came along. Producers were looking for an "exotic"-looking actress for the part of Salome in the upcoming film Salome, Where She Danced, and De Carlo beat out 20,000 other women for the part. Then again, there is a more scandalous side to this story.
14. She Gamed The System
According to lore, De Carlo nabbed the role of Salome because some young Royal Canadian Air Force pilots back home campaigned heavily for her, citing the starlet as one of their favorite pin up girls. The real story? De Carlo had two pilot friends, and urged them to get their buddies on board for a little PR campaign. Yes, our girl was cunning...and it paid off.
15. She Was A Silver Screen Siren
Salome, Where She Danced turned De Carlo into a glamour girl and bona fide (for real this time) pin-up girl overnight. Although the film wasn't exactly a critical success, audiences turned out in droves to see her sensual dancing on screen; as one writer put it, she had "all the 'looks' one girl could ask for". More than that, Salome earned her a new contract with a new studio, Universal.
Yet when it came to De Carlo's life, every time she was on the up-and-up, that usually meant it was about to come crashing down at any moment. Oh boy, did it.
16. A Famous Admirer Came Out Of The Woodwork
Just after Salome came out, De Carlo met the man who could ruin her. At a release party for another film in her hometown of Vancouver, she ran into none other than notorious Old Hollywood Lothario, eccentric, and billionaire Howard Hughes. Hughes was a long way away from his stomping grounds in Los Angeles...and he had a very creepy reason to be there.
17. She Had A Stalker
Hughes was infamous for dating a string of beautiful starlets, and his seduction tactics could be a little...unorthodox. With De Carlo, it was no different. After announcing his intention to woo De Carlo, Hughes also admitted he had seen Salome, When She Danced five times and had flown into Vancouver from Los Angeles just to get her alone.
After this outburst, you'd think De Carlo would turn him away. Well, nope. Her response was just as bizarre.
18. She Had Bad Taste In Men
Just as with Billy Wilder, De Carlo was hardly in love at first sight with Hughes. She said she "felt just kind of sorry" for Hughes, who looked "lanky, underfed, and remarkably sad". Even so, she made a surprising decision. She decided to jump into a relationship with Hughes anyway, unheeding any lessons she had learned with Wilder.
As anyone could have told her, this decision would come back to bite her.
19. She Was In Unrequited Love
Within a day of their meeting, De Carlo and Hughes had ignited a torrid romance. But while De Carlo quickly got over her pity for Hughes and fell head over heels, her paramour certainly didn't return the favor. Aloof and ungiving, Hughes would do things like take her up in one of his many planes and teach her how to take off and land—but not to actually fly.
Still, a girl can perhaps tolerate a certain amount of red flags when dating Howard Hughes. The next warnings, however, were undeniable.
20. She Had A Nasty Breakup
As De Carlo fell more and more in love with Howard Hughes, she got yet another taste of betrayal. Hughes steadfastly ignored his girlfriend's many attempts to get him to propose, and refused reveal their relationship to the public. To almost no one's surprise, the couple broke up soon after they started. And that's about when De Carlo went off the deep end.
21. Her Love Life Was Notorious
Billy Wilder and Howard Hughes had been De Carlo's first forays into the frenzied love life of a famous movie star, and following her breakup with Hughes, she really let loose. She hooked up with stars like Robert Stack and Burt Lancaster, and dated so publicly that the press gave her the somewhat unflattering nickname: "Hollywood's No. 1 Bachelor Girl".
With a face like that, though, can you blame her? Besides, when she did try to settle down again, it was an utter disaster.
22. She Had A Desperate Engagement
In 1947, Yvonne De Carlo earned another respectably-sized part in the film noir Brute Force, starring none other than her lover Burt Lancaster. But this time, De Carlo seemed to only have eyes for her fellow contract player Howard Duff. Although De Carlo was fresh off her wild streak, it didn't seem to matter to either of them, and they quickly got engaged. Yeah, bad idea.
23. Her Fiancee Was A Stranger
At first, everything looked like it was coming up roses for De Carlo and Duff. Even the studio heads, who were infamously picky about who their stars could date, approved of the union. But there was one enormous problem. As De Carlo admitted, the pair "had almost nothing in common". In fact, Duff's biggest selling point was the fact he wanted to marry her at all, something she had never gotten from Hughes.
After all that heartbreak, De Carlo was willing to settle for a sure thing. Little did she know, her fiance had a skeleton in his closet.
24. She Found Out Her Lover's Secret
By April 1947, Duff and De Carlo were about as official as it could get, having announced their engagement, and with Hollywood gossip papers awaiting their eventual nuptials. Until, that is, De Carlo began noticing her husband-to-be had a very unstable habit: He was a heavy, unhealthy drinker. So much so that she had to make a gut-wrenching decision.
25. She Had A Very Public Split
It's embarrassing ending an engagement at any time, but ending a fairly high-profile Hollywood engagement must be excruciating. Nonetheless, that's exactly what De Carlo decided to do, calling it quits with Duff when she realized the depths of his addiction. She was at another low point in her personal life...which meant more bad rebound decisions. Only, her next one was something quite different.
26. She Dated A Prince
Yvonne De Carlo might have been unlucky in love, but at least she didn't do anythings by halves. Her next lover shocked the world. While Prince Abdul Reza Pahlavi of Iran was visiting Hollywood, he met and became infatuated with De Carlo. Soon enough, he was sweeping her off her feet, even taking her to his royal palace in Tehran.
This royal fairy tale eventually petered out, but it did give De Carlo a new sense of ambition in her career, and she got some very big ideas.
27. She Was A Queen
At this time, De Carlo was making most of her money appearing in costume dramas and musicals, which often used Technicolor instead of the more "serious" seeming black and white. In fact, De Carlo was so synonymous with the colorful style that for three years in a row, Hollywood cameramen voted her the "Queen of Technicolor". Except, there was a big issue with this.
28. She Had A Dark Dream
As it turned out, those light-hearted Technicolor films just weren't doing it for De Carlo. She wanted more out of her career, and started aiming for more roles in black and white films, particularly in film noirs. So when she got a juicy part in the noir Criss Cross opposite Burt Lancaster (again), she thought it was a dream come true. It was actually a horror story.
29. Her Director Insulted Her
Getting a role in Criss Cross had been a triumph—but before De Carlo even got to enjoy her accomplishment, she had her heart broken. Critics called her attempt at the femme fatale character uneven. Then things got worse. The next year, her director on Buccaneer's Girl glibly noted that De Carlo was “not a first-class star, but came in on schedule”.
In short, he was calling her merely competent. Great for a bank teller, not what you want to hear as an artist. And then things got really awkward.
30. She Had An Awkward Run-In With An Ex
After all her efforts, De Carlo never made it as one of the great femme fatale actresses of her time. Defeated, she returned to the films she no longer enjoyed, but which were her bread and butter. It led to an excruciating moment. While playing Jane in Calamity Jane and Sam Bass, she was forced to be reunited with her ex-fiancé Howard Duff.
Soon enough, though, another surprise was coming her way.
31. She Rushed Through Another Engagement
The late 1940s were a whirlwind time for De Carlo, and the next development didn't help matters. While filming the Western The Gal Who Took The West, De Carlo did as she usually did and fell in love with one of her crew mates, this time with the burly stuntman Jock Mahoney. Once more hoping to settle down, De Carlo accepted Mahoney's proposal. And once more, it ended in blood and tears.
32. She Suffered A Mother's Worst Nightmare
During her engagement to Mahoney, De Carlo found herself pregnant, and her dream of calming down her life and starting a family seemed ever nearer at hand. Sadly, her joy soon turned into a living nightmare. While going through her checkups, doctors found an ovarian cyst that they had to operate on—and the surgery meant she also lost the baby.
After this ordeal, Mahoney might have stood by his woman. Instead, he hurt her more deeply.
33. She Caught Her Fiancé Red-Handed
Perhaps the pain of losing a child was too much for Mahoney, or perhaps he wasn't as committed to the union as De Carlo wanted. Either way, their relationship went up in flames soon after her surgery—because, in a deja vu from her Billy Wilder years, De Carlo found out Mahoney was seeing actress Margaret Field on the side.
With her life starting back from zero, the 1950s became a very dark period in De Carlo's life.
34. She Was A Serial Fiancée
Where before this point De Carlo would often date around, she now seemed to desperately cling to any proposal that came her way. Before the middle of the 1950s, she had already been engaged twice more, once to English photographer Cornel Lucas and once to the actor Robert Urquhart, another one of her co-stars-turned-exes.
De Carlo claimed she was just waiting for the right man to come along—but when he did, he came in the strangest of ways.
35. She Almost Broke Up A Marriage
In 1955, while filming Shotgun, De Carlo happened to meet yet another stuntman—she had something of a type—named Bob Morgan. This time, though, something stopped their love in its tracks. At the time, Morgan was married with a daughter at home. De Carlo claimed that despite their mutual attraction, she didn't want to break up his union.
In a matter of months, though, two extraordinary circumstances would bring them together.
36. She Nabbed A Massive Role
Just after De Carlo wrapped her film, she got the offer of the decade. Renowned director Cecil B DeMille offered her the role of Moses’ wife Sephora in his epic film The Ten Commandments. This was huge, and De Carlo accepted immediately. When she got on set, however, she recognized a very familiar face: Bob Morgan. And something very big had changed.
37. She Had A Strange Meet-Cute
In the mere months since De Carlo and Morgan had their flirtation on the set of Shotgun, Morgan's wife had actually passed on. Now free to love, the shared an instant, open attraction and tied the knot on November 21 of 1955, in the midst of filming. Yes, Number One Bachelorette Yvonne De Carlo had finally made it to the altar...but that's when her problems really started.
38. Her Job Intimidated Her
During her career, De Carlo had picked up a reputation of being a steadfast actress, but not a stunning screen presence. Meanwhile, The Ten Commandments demanded a lot of its actors and their abilities. Terrified she wouldn't be able to measure up, De Carlo immediately started lessons in basket-weaving and shepherding to maker herself more authentic.
She even hired a drama coach to prepare her for the role. But there was something Cecil B DeMille wanted that no lesson or coach could provide.
39. Her Director Made A Ridiculous Demand
De Carlo was a "Technicolor Queen" partly because of her gorgeous blue eyes, but DeMille didn't have much use for them on his set. He thought, for the authenticity of the film, that they should be brown. De Carlo complained, but it was DeMille, so in went the contacts. In the end, though, his choice paid off: Upon the release of the successful film, everyone was buzzing that De Carlo would get a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars.
Unfortunately, this is exactly when Yvonne De Carlo became her own worst enemy.
40. She Developed A Huge Ego
Coming off The Ten Commandments, De Carlo was a happy bride with a whole lot of industry buzz behind her. Then she ruined it all for herself. When the Oscar nominations rolled around, she insisted on going up for the "Best Actress" category instead of "Supporting Actress". Her ego did her dirty, and De Carlo ended up with no nominations at all.
Unfortunately, even worse news was on the way.
41. Her Husband Suffered A Tragedy
De Carlo’s stuntman husband worked a dangerous job—and in 1963, it caught up with him with a chilling way. While filming a train robbery scene for How the West Was Won, Bob Morgan was stunting as the Marshal of the movie. In the scene, he had to hold onto a log between cars, with one of the cars carrying a heavy load of timber. In a second, it all went so wrong.
The chain holding the prop log snapped, and several tons of timber fell onto De Carlo's husband. When the dust cleared, De Carlo was devastated.
42. She Went Broke
Although Morgan miraculously survived the accident, he did not escape unscathed. It took him five full years to be able to even walk properly again without the help of others. Outraged and faced with enormous medical bills—not to mention the now two children they had to take care of together—he and De Carlo decided to sue the studio for unsafe conditions.
MGM claimed no responsibility for the accident, and by the middle of the 1960s, the couple were low on cash and fighting constantly. De Carlo knew of only one place to turn.
43. A Famous Star Threw Her A Life Raft
John Wayne was a friend, and offered De Carlo a role in his western comedy McLintok!. It was a small role, but it certainly helped with her financial troubles. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. De Carlo was still desperate for money, and her desperate measures led her to a performance that would redefine her career—for better or worse.
44. She Did An Iconic Sit-Com
In a handful of years, De Carlo went from turning up her nose at a "Supporting Actress" nod to begging for any role she could take. Still, when the role of Lily Munster in the TV Sitcom The Munsters came to her doorstep, she was extremely hesitant. Even so, she had no choice. De Carlo needed money and an American TV show would be a large paycheck.
She said yes, filled with dread about what her more workaday co-stars would think about her. Once more, however, fate dealt Yvonne De Carlo a plot twist.
45. She Slayed As Lily Munster
Everything that should’ve gone wrong with The Munsters…didn’t. The cast found that De Carlo had great comic timing, and she showed no trace of the Hollywood glamour girl attitude they might have expected. De Carlo, meanwhile, found she loved the cast, the writing, and the fun. Plus, she drew inspiration for her character from a surprising place.
46. Another Actress Inspired Her
De Carlo was always happy to do excessive preparation for her roles, but people wondered how the former glamour queen nailed the camp role of Lily Munster on each and every episode. De Carlo's response was iconic. She claimed that the creators advised her on the first day of filming to "Play her just like Donna Reed," an America's Sweetheart-type who starred in her own wholesome family sitcom show.
It worked a treat, and soon enough, De Carlo's role on The Munsters was bleeding into her private life.
47. She Had A Spooky Ride
While filming The Munsters, De Carlo drove a Jaguar sedan. Getting into the spirit of things, she customized her car with spooky ornaments as a tribute to the work she was doing on the spooky show. Only one problem: fans kept stealing the ornaments as souvenirs from the actress. Oh, the price of fame. Yet there was more in store for De Carlo.
48. She Was A Hit On Broadway
In case you thought playing a vampire on The Munsters buried De Carlos’ career, think again. Stephen Sondheim was working on a musical called Follies, about washed-up stars facing old age…and immediately thought of De Carlo. Ouch! Well, it was actually more flattering than that. De Carlo wound up becoming a muse for one of Sondheim’s hit songs.
De Carlo played the role on Broadway and belted out “I’m Still Here". Thankfully, the show was a huge success...but other parts of De Carlo's life were falling apart.
49. She Split From The Love Of Her Life
During this time, De Carlo's personal life hit rock bottom. After years of bickering about money and finding they couldn't push past the trauma of the MGM accident, De Carlo and her husband Bob Morgan filed for divorce in 1973, with De Carlo citing "irreconcilable differences" after returning home from a tour of New Zealand one year.
With her only marriage over and done with, De Carlo started getting very talkative about her past. Very talkative.
50. She Changed Her Mind About Men
In 1987, De Carlo penned an autobiography, and she really let it all hang out. In it, she mentioned 22 lovers—many of them handsome A-list stars. But that’s not all. She also wrote that she thought the conventional Hollywood types were actually brainless. After dating around, she came to realize she preferred character over looks.
In fact, she decided that—listen up nerds— someone like scientist Albert Einstein would be a good match for her.
51. She Checked Into A Famous Hospital
At the end of her life, De Carlo's life sadly took a nosedive, fast. In 1997, her son passed suddenly, leaving her absolutely devastated. Soon after, she had a minor stroke that led to her checking into a hospital. De Carlo spent the final nine years of her life in this institution until heart failure took her life in 2007 at the age of 84.
52. She Made A Stunning Confession
During a 1975 interview, the actress made a scandalous revelation. She’d always said her father was William Middleton, a small-time crook originally from New Zealand. Well, it turns out he wasn’t her father after all. She announced all this without giving specifics. All that she said was that her real father was Polynesian.