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SHE COULD SHOOT A GUN AND SHE COULD SING SONDHEIM

Yvonne De Carlo, who died on January 8, 2007, was best known as the vampy Lily Munster on "The Munsters," a popular sixties sitcom. But if you were fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," you'll remember her most as the lusty Hollywood survivor who belted out "I'm Still Here." As for me, I'm still cherishing the memory of interviewing her for The New York Times during the show's out-of-town tryout in 1971. --GUY FLATLEY

 

When she made her supersplash in an exotic horse opera called “Salome Where She Danced” back in 1945, Yvonne De Carlo was modestly billed as the most beautiful woman in the world. Today, kids know her as Lily Munster, the bizarre heroine of “The Munsters,” an unsubtle series which is now re-running on television.

Slouched in her seat, watching Dorothy Collins rehearse a number for "Follies," Yvonne at 48 still looks a lot more like Salome than Lily. Her hair is brown and long – about the same length it was during the forties – and she’s wearing pants, a black leather jacket and dark glasses.

Much has happened to Yvonne between Salome and Lily, not all of it good. There were movie disasters by the dozen, and there was personal tragedy. Several years ago her husband, a stuntman named Robert Morgan, lost a leg while working in “How the West Was Won.”

“We decided to sue for gross negligence,” Yvonne says in a low voice. “And it was gross negligence. But the case kept getting thrown out of court, on some technicality or other. Just recently the last appeal was turned down. They didn’t give Robert one-eighth the attention someone like Charlie Manson gets. Ronald Reagan and other friends of ours know all about this, and they’re irate. But there’s nothing they can do. I really don’t want to talk about it.”

One thing Yvonne does want to talk about are her days as a starlet. “I was on cloud nine all the time. After I made my hit in ‘Salome,’ Universal sent me to New York so I could learn to be a proper movie star. I lived at the Sherry-Netherlands for two months and I went to the John Robert Powers school. They taught me 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. They also tried to teach me how to eat. I was so nervous that when I started to lift my soup spoon to my mouth, my hand shook so much that I had to put the spoon down again. I couldn’t eat soup for a whole year after that.”

But being a movie star in those days was good clean fun, and so were most of the movies. Has Yvonne detected any change? “You can say my answer to that is rolling my eye balls and an open mouth,” she says, removing her dark glasses and illustrating her own answer with an astonishing amount of oomph.

“I took my two teenage sons to see ‘Little Fauss and Big Halsy,’ because they dig motorcycles. And they were stuck with this girl coming up on the screen and baring her chest. And I was stuck with her, too. It’s odd – even though sex is accented so much, the male stars don’t really have sex appeal. Like Dustin Hoffman – how can anyone say he’s sexy?

“We had dinner with Duke Wayne and his wife recently,” she says, putting her dark glasses on again. “He’s really worried about the picture industry and how much harm it’s done. And he isn’t just making casual conversation, either. Duke is very concerned.”

Yvonne makes it clear that she shares more than one of Duke Wayne’s concerns. Vietnam, for example. “I have two boys and I don’t want to see them lose their lives in Vietnam. But I know there must be a bloody good reason for what’s going on over there. My boys believe in the war, that it’s the right thing. They figured it out on their own.”

It would seem to follow that Yvonne is not overly fond of Jane Fonda and her antiwar shows for G.I.’s. In fact, the very mention of her name causes Yvonne to stick out her tongue and make an unladylike noise. “I’d love it if they kicked her off the base,” she says. “They can let Donald Sutherland stay if he wants, but they ought to give Fonda the boot. I could tell you a lot of things about her that most people don’t know.”

Like her political heroes, Yvonne is all in favor of law and order, although she will admit that it is sometimes a temptation to take the law in her own hands. “You know what I’d like? I’d like to be invisible so I could take my Luger and shoot all these people who go around shooting cops. In California, they’re getting shot all the time. A policeman is standing on the freeway giving somebody a ticket, and – bang! – somebody else drives by and shoots him down.”

Yvonne’s Luger is part of a sizeable collection of guns and knives. “Why shouldn’t I collect them? Lots of people do. Shooting happens to be the only thing I ever learned to do quickly. You ought to see me trying to learn a new dance routine – it’s pitiful! But I could always shoot. I’m sure that if I chewed tobacco, I could hit the spittoon every time.”

Despite her Hollywood fame, Yvonne does not have one of the leading roles in “Follies.” Like Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins, she is starred in the show, but unlike them, she is billed below the title. Actually, the part that Yvonne first auditioned for was the larger one that Alexis Smith finally landed. “That really wasn’t my kind of woman; it wasn’t somebody I could identify with. You know, a brittle, society-type dame.”

Does that mean that Yvonne has something in common with the luxury-loving movie star she now plays?

“Not really. She has this 26-year-old boy friend and says that next year she’ll have somebody else. Well, that’s not me. It could be me, but it’s not." [Editor's Note: De Carlo, who eventually divorced Robert Morgan, listed 22 former lovers in her 1987 "Yvonne: An Autobiography." They included Howard Hughes, Burt Lancaster, Robert Taylor, Billy Wilder and Aly Khan.]

How are her nerves now, with Broadway bearing down on her?

“I’m from Hollywood,” says Yvonne De Carlo, tilting her dark glasses and winking in a way that would have reduced Rod Cameron to jelly. “I’m too dumb to be nervous about New York.”

FOR GUY FLATLEY'S INTERVIEWS WITH DOROTHY COLLINS AND ALEXIS SMITH, CLICK HERE.