America fell in love with The Munsters’ frightfully lovely Lily, but the actress who brought her to life, Yvonne De Carlo, was a latecomer to that fan club.
“When the show started, I could barely look at myself in a mirror with that makeup,” she admitted. “And I would be appalled when people recognized me without it. But then I’d read my fan mail from little kids who would write, ‘You are the most beautiful-est vampire I have ever seen,’ and I’d feel good. Almost.”
The Munsters, which Yvonne starred on from 1964 to 1966, represented a difficult time for the actress. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, she had performed in dozens of films — including 1956’s The Ten Commandments — and yet found herself struggling to find work by the 1960s.
“She was a talented lady and quite beautiful,” muses Geoffrey Mark, a pop culture historian. “But she often seemed hired to smolder, like a prop rather than as a fully developed character.”
Not only did her career stall prior to The Munsters, but Yvonne was also having trouble at home. Her husband, stuntman Robert Morgan, had lost his leg — and nearly his life — when he was run over by a train while filming 1962’s How the West Was Won. The couple, who had three children, were buried in medical bills. But there was a silver lining. “Before the accident,” Yvonne said, “we were on the verge of breaking up, but when they took me to the hospital … I just choked up and only one thought filled my mind: I don’t want my husband to die.” They would stay together until 1973.
Although Lily Munster cast a long shadow, Yvonne made a splash on Broadway in 1971, belting out the survivor’s anthem “I’m Still Here” in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. The actress, who died in 2007 at 84, also kept acting into the 1990s.“
Despite everything she did, people know her for just a couple of roles,” Frank DeCaro, author of Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Show Business, points out. “But because she got these home runs that are so spectacular, it’s enough for her to be in your heart forever.”
— Ed Gross
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