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. From innocent Canadian to Hollywood’s Technicolor glamour girl, here are jaw-dropping facts about Yvonne De Carlo.
1. Her Mother Named Her After A Star
Yvonne De Carlo was born Margaret Yvonne Middleton on September 1, 1922, in Vancouver Canada. Her mother, an aspiring actress, named her after child star Baby Peggy. However, De Carlo wanted a more exotic stage name so she chose her middle name and her mother’s Sicilian last name. Her father? Well, he didn’t leave much of an impression.
2. Her Father Deserted Her
De Carlo was so young when her father left that she only remembered his legs. According to her, he was a petty crook from New Zealand who skipped town aboard a schooner with promises to send for his family once he got settled somewhere. Well, that never happened—and it left De Carlo and her mother in a very difficult situation.
3. She Lived Without Some Basic Essentials
Life was hard for a single woman with a child. Even though her grandparents had a nice house, De Carlo and her mother lived in a series of small apartments around Vancouver. At one point they lived in an apartment with no stove—they didn’t even have furniture. However, living in poverty only made De Carlo more determined.
4. She Did Basement Theater
After winning five dollars in a poetry contest, a young Yvonne De Carlo began to write stage plays and even produced them in her grandparent’s basement. But that wasn’t enough for her. She then put on a neighborhood version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. But where was all this coming from? What drove De Carlo into show business?
5. She Joined A Church For A Strange Reason
De Carlo’s mother was an aspiring actress and, as the possibility of her being a star evaporated, she poured everything into her daughter. There were singing and dance classes, and her mother even got her to join a church choir. However, she wasn’t there to learn about God—her mom wanted her to strengthen her voice. Well, there was something else about De Carlo that would help her achieve her dreams.
6. She Was A Beauty Queen
De Carlo’s mother somehow found the means to take her daughter down to California where all the show biz action was happening. When De Carlo was 18 she won second place in the Miss Venice Beauty Pageant. Next was Miss California, where she caught the eye of a booking agent. Unfortunately, it wasn’t her just eyes that he found captivating.
7. Her First Audition Was A Bust
The booking agent led Yvonne De Carlo to an audition for The Earl Carroll Theater on Sunset Boulevard. It was there that De Carlo made a disturbing realization. Carroll only wanted her there so that he could to examine her “upper assets.” Mother was having none of it and the two left in a huff. Sadly, the next audition was humiliating in a totally different way.
8. She Was In A Gong Show
De Carlo’s next audition was at a Hollywood nightclub called Florentine Gardens. She was supposed to tap dance, but the audition was held in front of a live audience. At the end of her routine, the owner of the club left it up to the audience. “Is she in or out?” The applause gave him his answer, but no amount of audience support could help her with her next problem.
9. She Had Problems With The Law
Yvonne De Carlo started appearing regularly at Florentine Gardens—but she was playing with fire. As a Canadian citizen, she was working in the US without a green card. Soon enough, immigration caught up with her and sent her and her mother packing. Thankfully, her boss wrote a letter to the government promising her steady employment.
They allowed her back into the US, which paved the way for her first big break.
10. She Found A Motto For Her Life
With help from a musician she met, Yvonne De Carlo got her first tiny role in a film for which she earned $25. Harvard, Here I Come was a silly and forgettable comedy that had De Carlo in a bathing suit for her one line: “Nowadays a girl must show a front.” De Carlo could’ve considered this line as a motto for her early career.
11. She Made A Small Part Make A Big Difference
Her next role was as an “island girl” in Road To Morocco opposite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Her role was so small she wasn’t even credited—although she did get noticed. Paramount offered her a contract at $60 per week. She did a few more uncredited roles for Paramount, but De Carlo never would’ve guessed who’d notice her in these small parts.
12. She Was Ready For Her Close-Up, Mr. DeMille
Even though De Carlo’s uncredited role in So Proudly We Hail was just “girl,” she caught the attention of Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille. The director tried to get her into one of his films, but De Carlo was headed for heartbreak. DeMille couldn’t make it work. It was a devastating loss for De Carlo, but the famed director promised to get her into something in the future.
Little did De Carlo know that this promise would lead to a role of a lifetime. She would just have to wait…an entire decade.
13. She Had Something Special
Yvonne De Carlo continued in uncredited roles for Paramount until the company let her contract expire. It could’ve been the end for De Carlo, but luckily Universal was looking for an “exotic glamour girl.” They saw something in her that Paramount didn’t, and gave her a long-term contract at $150 per week. To get a lead role, De Carlo got some help from a very unusual source.
14. She Beat Out 20,000 Women
In 1944, Yvonne De Carlo was up for a big role in the Western Salome, Where She Danced—but she was up against some pretty steep odds. There were 20,000 other actors auditioning for the role. To help her clinch it, a group of Royal Canadian Air Force bombardiers campaigned for her to get the lead—all for an unusual reason.
De Carlo had sent them pin-up photos of herself and asked them to help her. It was unorthodox, it worked. And being a pin up would get her a lot more attention.
15. She Dated A Millionaire
Speaking of unorthodox…De Carlo was attending a party in her honor back in Vancouver when she met millionaire Howard Hughes. She didn’t know much about Hughes, but her first thought was that he would be a good match for her aunt. It turned out that Hughes had made a special trip to Vancouver to meet De Carlo, because her looks fit his type to a T.
16. He Taught Her Two Important Skills
As you may know, Howard Hughes was heavily into aviation, and he was eager to share his knowledge with his movie-star girlfriend. Hughes got De Carlo into an airplane and taught her how to take off and land. For some reason, however, he didn’t teach her how to fly. Maybe they were busy doing something else up there. Either way, she had other, more important, things to learn.
17. She Went To Movie Star School
It wasn’t just Hughes that noticed De Carlo. She was also getting noticed by fans for her role in Salome, Where She Danced. Universal saw that they had a potential star on their hands and sent her to movie star school. She lived at a fancy Fifth Avenue hotel in New York City and learned how to be a proper movie star. They taught her “things like how to walk off a New York curb and how to enter a room in a manner befitting a big-time movie star.” Sadly, she also had some hard lessons in store.
18. She Sang Her Way To Stardom
Salome, Where She Danced, was a breakout role for De Carlo, but wasn’t a critical success. Luckily, patience pays off. De Carlo needed a hit film, which came in 1947’s historical musical Song of Scheherazade. The film made two million dollars and set her on course for superstardom. Her next film would also be a hit, but there was something unexpected coming her way.
19. She Got A Rude Nickname
After dating stars like Robert Stack and Burt Lancaster, the press gave Yvonne De Carlo a somewhat unflattering nickname: “Hollywood’s No. 1 Bachelor Girl.” Maybe this was what made her announce her engagement to Brute Force co-star Howard Duff. The union between these two up-and-coming stars seemed like a fairy tale—but it was really a horror story.
Even though the studio approved of the pairing, De Carlo called it off when she realized just how severe Duff’s drinking problem was. Well, lucky for De Carlo, that wouldn’t be a problem in her next relationship.
20. She Dated a Prince
Yvonne De Carlo met Prince Abdul Reza Pahlavi of Iran while he was visiting Hollywood. They spent some time in New York City together and then, after she completed the film Casbah, traveled through Europe. De Carlo must have envisioned herself a princess, because she even visited the palace in Tehran. Well, she didn’t become a princess…but she did become a queen.
21. A Vote Made Her A Queen
Yvonne De Carlo was still appearing in a lot of costume dramas and musicals. Back in the day, these kinds of films used Technicolor and more serious films used black and white. For three years in a row, Hollywood cameramen voted her the Queen of Technicolor. But that wasn’t exactly what this queen wanted.
22. She Got Into An Acting Rut
Yvonne De Carlo was stuck. The costume dramas and musicals that she was appearing in weren’t challenging her creatively. She’d had it with playing what The New York Times called “a tough but good-natured minx from across the tracks.” De Carlo had done these roles and she was through with them. She wanted darkness. She wanted black and white.
23. She Had A Dark Side
De Carlo knew that the best roles for women at this time were as film noir’s femmes fatales. She’d already lost a role in noir classic Double Indemnity—but when had rejection stopped her before? Success came when she got a role as a femme fatale in 1949’s Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster. The film is a classic and was easily the highlight of her career. Yet, just as De Carlo was getting what she wanted, something unwelcome was coming her way.
24. She Received A Backhanded Compliment
Her role in Criss Cross had been an artistic triumph—but before De Carlo even got to enjoy her accomplishment, De Carlo had her heart broken. Critics called her attempt at the femme fatale character uneven—and then things got worse. Her director on 1950’s Buccaneer’s Girl called De Carlo professional and a hard worker…but it was a backhanded compliment.
He said she was: “not a first-class star, but came in on schedule.” In short, he was calling her competent. Great for a bank teller, not what you want to hear as an artist.
25. She Went Back To Technicolor
De Carlo never made it as one of the great femme fatale actresses of her time. After her uneven performance in Criss Cross, she returned to the films she no longer enjoyed, but were her bread and butter. She played Jane in Calamity Jane and Sam Bass where she was, perhaps awkwardly, reunited with her ex-fiancé Howard Duff. Soon enough, another surprise was coming her way.
26. She Suffered A Devastating Loss
At the end of the 1940s, De Carlo fell in love and got engaged to stuntman Jock Mahoney, who she met while filming a Western. During their relationship, De Carlo became pregnant. Sadly, her joy soon turned into a living nightmare. Unfortunately, doctors found an ovarian cyst and De Carlo lost the baby.
A short while later, De Carlo dumped Mahoney for cheating. De Carlo, however, was the queen of bouncing back.
27. She Had Very First World Problems
De Carlo was famous for talking about her collections, but she actually only collected three things: jewelry, furniture, and men. On the latter, she infamously stated: “The world is suffering from a shortage of serious bachelors and it’s hard to find a man earning more than I do.” And it’s no wonder she was earning so much. She had a wide variety of talents that could make her money.
28. She Recorded An Album
De Carlo had a lovely singing voice and decided to record an album called Yvonne De Carlo Sings. She had her songs orchestrated by unknown musician John Towner. Little did De Carlo know that young John Towner would later become famous as John Wiliams, who composed some of the most recognizable film scores of his era, including the iconic theme for Jaws. And music was just one of the talents that De Carlo was ready to exploit.
29. She Tried Her Hand At Science Fiction
We can’t forget that De Carlo had a childhood fascination with writing. In between acting gigs, De Carlo still found time to sit down and write. She penned a 42-page treatment for a science fiction screenplay called Operation Sram. Sadly, the film never got made. Maybe De Carlo was too busy jet-setting to take writing seriously.
30. She Made A Famous First
In 1951, Yvonne De Carlo was the first American film star to visit the state of Israel. There she played to sold-out houses performing singing and dancing numbers from her films. The crowds went wild and the government received her warmly. While she was entertaining in the Middle East, things were happening in Hollywood that would change her life forever.
31. She Waited 10 Years For A Part
Remember when Cecil B. DeMille made a promise to De Carlo? Well, ten years had passed—and it was time he rewarded her for her patience. DeMille offered her the role of Moses’ wife in the epic film The Ten Commandments. This was huge, and hard-working De Carlo immediately started lessons in basket-weaving and sheep-shepherding. She even hired a drama coach to prepare her for the role. But there was something DeMille wanted that no lesson or coach could provide.
32. DeMille Made A Ridiculous Demand
De Carlo was a Technicolor queen partly because of her gorgeous blue eyes, which were two of her many selling features. DeMille wasn’t interested in her selling features and thought, for the authenticity of the film, that they should be brown. De Carlo complained, but it was DeMille: so in went the contacts. De Carlo had no idea that there was still something amazing to come from The Ten Commandments.
33. She Fell In Love Among The Pyramids
Yvonne De Carlo didn’t go abroad for her scenes in The Ten Commandments: She shot them in a studio in Hollywood. But that didn’t stop the eager star from visiting the set in Egypt anyway—and it changed her life. There, she laid eyes on stuntman Bob Gordon. A stuntman had already taken her heart once, but apparently, that wasn’t enough for her.
De Carlo tied the knot with this one, and had two kids with him as well. However, she also wasn’t about to let marriage and family slow down her career.
34. She Acted With A Screen Idol
De Carlo’s background was Sicilian and Scottish—yet her next role was to play a woman of mixed race in 1957’s Band Of Angels with Clark Gable. It was a slavery-era period film. In it, De Carlo plays a plantation owner’s daughter who finds out her mother wasn’t who she thought she was. We’ll soon see why this was the perfect role for De Carlo.
35. She Had A Screen Crush
De Carlo was over the moon to work with Clark Gable, as he was one of her favorite stars. But it wasn’t just his acting that impressed her once she got on set. It turns out, Gable really knew how to kiss. And as De Carlo put it, it wasn’t only “a measly peck on the cheek.” But wait, didn’t she still have a husband at home?
36. Her Husband Suffered A Tragedy
De Carlo’s stuntman husband worked a dangerous job—and in 1963, it caught up with him. Bob Gordon had a serious accident while making How The West Was Won for MGM. A train ran him over during filming, but MGM claimed no responsibility for the accident. De Carlo and Gordon sued the studio for damages, but came away with nothing. Not only did Gordon lose his left leg, but the couple also faced huge medical bills.
37. She Ran Out Of Money
Suddenly, Yvonne De Carlo found herself with money troubles. Her husband no longer had an income and they had huge hospital bills to pay. At the same time, De Carlo’s career was on the decline. What’s a glamorous starlet to do? Luckily she had friends in high places.
38. 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 desperate for money and her desperate measures led her to a performance that would redefine her career—for better or worse.
39. She Did An Iconic Sit-Com
To say that De Carlo was hesitant to play Lily Munster in the TV Sitcom The Munsters would be a huge understatement. De Carlo needed money and an American TV show would be pretty large paycheck. She’d been a Hollywood glamour queen—how would her fans react to this new phase of her career? Well, what should’ve concerned her was her costars.
40. A Famous Cast Didn’t Want Her
Yvonne De Carlo was a bona fide movie star who’d been in an epic film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Of course, the cast of the Munsters wasn’t happy to have her play along in their silly little sitcom. So, De Carlo didn’t really want to be there, and the cast certainly didn’t want her there. Surely, this show was on the road to disaster—or so you’d think.
41. 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 no trace of the Hollywood glamour girl attitude they’d expected. The audiences loved her—both the ones who already knew her and the ones who didn’t. And most surprising? Well, that was De Carlo’s own reaction.
She loved the cast, the writing, and the fun. The influence of the show even bled into her life off-screen.
42. She Had A Spooky Ride
While filming The Munsters, De Carlo drove a Jaguar sedan. She had the car custom-fitted 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 after repeated souvenirs from the actress. Oh, the price of fame. But there was another comeback in store for De Carlo.
43. 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 what came to be her life’s theme song: “I’m Still Here.” The show was a massive success, but what goes up must come down.
44. Her Final Role Was Opposite a Chimp
Unfortunately, her next chapter wasn’t so glamorous. De Carlo appeared in a series of unmemorable movies and TV shows—a lot of them horror. Her last film was a Disney Channel remake of The Barefoot Executive, opposite a chimp who can predict top-rated TV shows. De Carlo cleverly drew on her experience with DeMille, and played her character like a Norma Desmond-lookalike.
However, maybe the Sunset Boulevard connection hit a little too close to home.
45. She Took A Walk—Twice
Yvonne De Carlo received a double prize for her contributions to motion pictures and television. Because of her work in both TV and Film, she has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not bad for a poor girl from Vancouver whose father was a crook—or so she said.
46. She Made A Stunning Confession
During a 1975 interview, De Carlo 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. De Carlo announced this without giving specifics. All that she said was that her real father was Polynesian.
47. She Changed Her Mind About Men
De Carlos’ biography mentioned 22 lovers—many of them handsome A-list stars. But that’s not all she confessed. She also wrote that she considered handsome Hollywood types to be 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. Well, I guess it’s all relative.
48. She Inspired Two Very Different Stars
Yvonne De Carlo was incredibly influential, and two young stars in particular looked up to her when they were starting out. The Italian actress Sophia Loren watched De Carlo’s old films and dreamed of being her. Vicki Lawrence, best known as a comedic actor on The Carol Burnett Show, also said De Carlo was her childhood television heroine.
49. She Checked Into A Famous Hospital
In 1997, De Carlo’s son died suddenly, leaving her absolutely devastated. Soon after, she had a minor stroke that led to her checking in at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital. A foundation had set up this institution for aging and infirm film and TV industry workers with little to no resources. De Carlo spent the final nine years of her life in this institution until heart failure took her life in 2007.
50. She Did It Her Way
Back in the 1940s, De Carlo met playwright Noel Coward. She charmed him, and he even compared her to the glamorous Marlene Dietrich. Coward advised her to “[keep] that glamour at all times. Don’t disappoint the public by giving them something they don’t expect.” Thankfully De Carlo didn’t heed this advice. The glamorous star played a monster, a chimp’s babysitter, and even a washed-up version of herself. And most importantly, she had so much fun doing it.