Julie Newmar has lived at least nine lives. The dancer-actress, best known for playing Batman’s purrfect nemesis, Catwoman, in the first two seasons of the beloved 1960s-era superhero series, has done a lot of living during her 89 years. “I’ve had a remarkable life,” Julie admits in an exclusive chat with Closer. “My life has been full of surprises.”
In fact, landing her role on Batman, after working as a dancer and choreographer, starring in musicals including 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and winning a Tony Award for 1958’s Broadway production of The Marriage-Go-Round, was a complete fluke. “Originally they wanted Suzanne Pleshette,” the statuesque performer confides. “She’s smart, sassy, but a mere 5-foot-4. I was available — with six inches to spare!”
Are you a cat person in real life? Have you ever owned a dog?
“I’ve never owned a dog … [I’ve been a cat person] like furr-ever. I have a very catlike personality: I am meow-sical, I drink purr-secco, and I drive a Furr-ari (when it’s working).”
How did you win the role on Batman?
“I was in New York, and my brother was visiting me from Harvard with friends. A phone call came, and they asked about Catwoman on Batman. I didn’t know the show and didn’t read the comics. But when my brother heard about Batman — it was a huge hit at Harvard; they would stop their studies and watch the show — he literally pushed me out the door to do it.”
Did you have any idea the role would make you a legend?
“Of course not. I mean, you have positive feelings when you are performing it. The people around you are supportive, and the script was wonderful. So was everything else. All the other actors — Adam West and Burt Ward were fabulous in the parts. It’s something that just comes together sometimes.”
Who were you fondest of on the Batman set?
“Stanley Ralph Ross, the genius writer. Great dialogue can make the actor. He wrote five of the six [TV series] that I did. And every one of them was a winner.”
Is there another role he wrote for you that you particularly loved?
“Yes. It was a Saturday morning children’s show, Monster Squad. I played Ultra Witch, and I wore the most dazzling costume. The other characters were brilliantly written and acted. Sometimes these so-called lesser shows are the gems.”
Did you do your own stunts on Batman?
“No, I did no stunts. Cats, being wise, let others do the fighting for them. I was off to the side filing my nails while the stuntmen were breaking their bones. Cats don’t get into fights unnecessarily. That’s for lesser animals.”
Do you have a favorite Catwoman who came after you?
“Michelle Pfeiffer, hands down. She can do anything. She is my favorite because she’s far and away the best actress. She brought levels of creativity to the part.”
What have been some of the other favorite roles you’ve played?
“The robot in My Living Doll because the role was so challenging. This was my Shakespeare! It was a great show-off part and a gift to any aspiring actor. It was long hours — I even would sleep on the set until the fire department threw me off the company lot. But anything that’s challenging is a feather in your cap.”
What do you do for fun today?
“I love the computer. I love the internet. I love the immediate resource of ideas and people around the world. I mean, this is huge progress. And I like to write. I also like to think. If I had to get out and go to a studio, that’s slow. I love where I am now because things go very fast. I think I’m at the epitome of my life.”
That’s wonderful. And you are working on a book. How is that going?
“Yes, it’s almost there. It’s a memoir because who do I know better than me? Oh, there’s some witchy tales! I think people will find it interesting. I know it surprised me.”
Can you share a few tidbits about the experiences you write about?
“Well, there was the time in Cuba. Errol Flynn was there, and our host took us to — what’s the word for it? It wasn’t tawdry, but I guess you would call it a sex show? Maybe it’s too rich a story for Closer, so you will have to read my book. In writing, I realized that my life has been full of surprises.”
What are you proudest of?
“My son, John, has various handicaps. He doesn’t talk, he’s deaf, and he doesn’t walk much, but it came to me recently that he is my guru. He makes me smarter than I am. In his presence, I seem to have the gift that allows me to be so open, free and more giving to people. It’s unconditional love.”
That’s beautiful. You are so lucky.
“Thank you. I really am.”
How do you stay so fit and vibrant?
“I never weigh myself or count calories; I only exercise for pleasure. I let the body decide how to move because I am 89. I am still a highly disciplined funster. I subscribe to maybe 10 periodicals on the internet — so does anyone else that wants to keep up. Everything is such a gift now.”
You are also an avid gardener. Why do you enjoy it?
“A true garden is a world-class resolver of human problems. It affects you on a cellular level. It’s better than medicine, but almost as expensive as a therapist if you crave perfection like me and have to have every sort of plant. Being in nature unscrambles the overworked head. Its beauty alone blows your mind in its everchanging reality.”
You’re going to be celebrating a milestone birthday soon. How does it feel?
“Fabulous! I’ll be 90 in August, and all I have to do is get my body there. I don’t think I’ve reached a richer level in my life than where I am right now. It’s so profoundly rewarding. So exciting. I’m very interested to know the future.”