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Yvonne De Carlo: 12 Facts About the Actress Who Played Lily on ‘The Munsters’

She delighted viewers as Lily, but had a long career long before moving into 1313 Mockingbird Lane


The word “iconic” is probably overused when it comes to referring to actors from the annals of classic TV history, but it certainly seems appropriate for Yvonne De Carlo, who spent two seasons delighting viewers with her portrayal of Lily Munster on the 1964 to 1966 series The Munsters. It’s something she’s continued to do so ever since the show ended due to endless reruns over the decades.

A hybrid of The Donna Reed Show and Universal’s classic horror movies from the ’30s and ’40s (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, etc.), the show saw De Carlo’s Lily married to Frankenstein’s monster, Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), the two of them parenting Edward Wolfgang Munster (Butch Patrick). Her father, Grandpa (Al Lewis), is a vampire; and their niece Marilyn (Beverly Owen in the first 13 episodes, Pat Priest in the rest) suffers from the disease of being perfectly normal-looking insofar as society is concerned, freakish — but nonetheless loved — by Munster standards.

She was born Margaret Yvonne Kao Middleton on September 1, 1922 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Abandoned by her father when she was very young, she was raised by her mother, Marie De Carlo, who was the one who first encouraged her to become a dancer and later supported her transition into acting.

To learn much more about Yvonne De Carlo, please keep scrolling.

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1. Yvonne De Carlo’s Mother Encouraged Her to Be a Dancer

Yvonne De Carlo made her screen acting debut in 1941
Yvonne De Carlo made her screen acting debut in 1941 The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Marie De Carlo Middleton had a dream she wanted to push her daughter towards, even before Yvonne was born. That dream? That she become a world-renowned dancer. To this end, Yvonne began taking dance lessons when she was three years old, and when she was five, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles. Once there she continued studying dance, entered beauty contests and would eventually dance in nightclubs.

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2. As a teen, she used to write and stage her own plays

Yvonne De Carlo plants a resounding kiss on S1/C Harold Farnlund, Mountain Home, Idaho, as other servicemen wait their turn. Yvonne had to kiss the first 50 servicemen she met on Hollywood Boulevard and actress Martha O'Driscoll (Left) keeps tab of the payoff
Yvonne De Carlo plants a resounding kiss on S1/C Harold Farnlund, Mountain Home, Idaho, as other servicemen wait their turn. Yvonne had to kiss the first 50 servicemen she met on Hollywood Boulevard and actress Martha O’Driscoll (Left) keeps tab of the payoffBettman/Getty Images

The creative spirit existed in Yvonne De Carlo at an early age, with her deciding to become a playwright at the age of 13, getting her girlfriends to play different parts, building the scenery and stage and serving as director.

3. Yvonne De Carlo made her first film appearance in 1941

Canadian actress Yvonne De Carlo has her hair styled by Carla on the set of the Universal Pictures film Salome Where She Danced,'1944
Canadian actress Yvonne De Carlo has her hair styled by Carla on the set of the Universal Pictures film Salome Where She Danced, 1944 Archive Photos/Getty Images

Not surprisingly, Yvonne De Carlo was drawn to the idea of Hollywood and becoming a movie star. To this end, she started appearing in short films beginning in 1941, making enough of an impression that the following year Paramount Pictures signed her to a three-year contract.

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4. Her big break came in 1945

Actress Yvonne De Carlo in a scene from the 1945 movie 'Salome, Where She Danced'
Actress Yvonne De Carlo in a scene from the 1945 movie Salome, Where She DancedDonaldson Collection/Getty Images

Interestingly enough, Yvonne didn’t really break out until after that contract expired and, for Universal Pictures, she was featured in Salome, Where She Danced. Co-starring Rod Cameron and Walter Slezak, she portrayed 19th century Anna Marie, and followed her journey through the United States and Europe.

5. Many roles followed, but true stardom eluded Yvonne De Carlo

Actors Yvonne De Carlo and Scott Brady, circa 1955
Actors Yvonne De Carlo and Scott Brady, circa 1955 Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Yvonne De Carlo appeared in about three dozen movies of varying quality, yet despite that kind of exposure, true stardom somehow seemed to elude her. Reflects pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, “She was a talented lady and quite beautiful, but often seemed hired to smolder like a prop rather than a fully-developed character. When you talk to people about her, to them the sum total of Yvonne De Carlo was The Munsters, but there was much more to her than that.”

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6. She was Moses’ Wife in The Ten Commandments

Yvonne De Carlo and Charlton Heston on the set of  1956's The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Yvonne De Carlo and Charlton Heston on the set of 1956’s The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMilleParamount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

It would have seemed that being in a blockbuster along the line of Cecil B. DeMille’s sound version of The Ten Commandments in might have changed things for her. In the 1956 film she portrayed the wife of Charlton Heston’s Moses, and its success resulted in more important roles, including playing Mary Magdalene in The Sword and the Cross (1958).

But Geoffrey Mark compares the actress to Annie Oakley in that when shooting, she’d oftentimes miss the target, but scored the bullseye with every seventh or eighth bullet. “She would,” he says, “occasionally make a film where she really did well and the film did well, and there were two or three of them that are beautifully remembered today as classic films. The rest of her work was popular in the moment, but nobody remembers them today.”

7. In marriage she faced challenges

CIRCA 1955: Actress Yvonne De Carlo with husband Robert Morgan attends a premiere
CIRCA 1955: Actress Yvonne De Carlo with husband Robert Morgan attends a premiere Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1955 Yvonne De Carlo married Hollywood stuntman Robert Drew Morgan, who she would be with until their divorce in 1973. Financially, things were already getting tougher for the actress in the latter part of the 1950s, but then Robert lost a leg during the production of How the West Was Won (1962) after getting run over by a train! Due to the nature of his contract with MGM, the studio assumed no responsibility, so medical bills were going to have to be handled by the couple. The results were devastating, though somehow Yvonne and Robert were drawn closer together.

As Yvonne would reflect, “Before the accident, we were on the verge of breaking up, but when they took me to the hospital that first day, I just choked up and I realized that I didn’t want to lose my husband.”

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8. She signed on to The Munsters for the money

Herman and Lily Munster
Fred Gwynne and Yvonne de Carlo in a scene from the 1964 to 1966 series The Munsters FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Two years after Robert’s accident, Yvonne De Carlo was offered the part of Lily Munster in The Munsters at a time when, as Geoffrey Mark points out, a steady paycheck was something that she truly needed. “She was 42, a year older than Al Lewis, who was playing her father on the show. The roles were not coming as steadily.”

9. Yvonne De Carlo had great hesitations regarding the look of Lily Munster

Grandpa, Lily and Herman Munster in 1964 to 1966's The Munsters
Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo and Fred Gwynne in 1964 to 1966’s The Munsters John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The actress had serious concerns about portraying a vampire, even in a comedy, given the makeup and outfit she’d be required to wear. As she told Maryland’s The Daily Mail in 1964, “I didn’t want to destroy whatever image I had established. So I asked the makeup man what the makeup was supposed to be. He told me the character would have a green face, hollow cheeks and so on. I became even more worried, but decided to try the test, figuring I would also be testing the role to see if I wanted to do it.”

Unfortunately, she came to realize that if she tested and was hired, she’d have no choice but to accept. “Now,” she added, “I was really worried. But I decided all I could do was put my trust in my agent, and he wanted me to do it.”

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10. Early on, Yvonne De Carlo found herself in conflict with her fellow Munsters actors

Herman Munster and wife Lily enjoy some time in a dark forest
Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) and wife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) enjoy some time in a dark forest©CBS/courtesy

During the first part of season 1 of The Munsters, Yvonne De Carlo didn’t entirely get along with her co-stars, partially because she was not used to the realities of television production —despite the fact she had made guest appearances on shows like Bonanza, Death Valley Days, Burke’s Law and The Virginian.

Explains Geoffrey Mark, “At first, she and her costars did not get along, because Yvonne wanted to be treated like the star she had been in the classic studio days and didn’t understand that nobody had the luxury of time for that sort of thing. The situation did settle down several episodes in.”

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11. Typecasting became a serious problem

Yvonne De Carlo at home in 1970
Yvonne De Carlo at home in 1970 Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Look to any star of popular series of the 1960s, and nine out of 10 times they’ll say that they were a victim of typecasting, finding it impossible to find work no matter how short a run their shows may have had. It could be Bob Denver or Alan Hale Jr from Gilligan’s Island, Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie or the entire cast of The Munsters. In truth, Yvonne did appear in 27 movies between 1967’s Hostile Guns and 1992’s Seasons of the Heart (voicing an older version of a character named Martha in the latter); as well as a dozen TV guest appearances and films. In between all of that, she reprised the role of Lily in the 1981 TV movie The Munster’s Revenge.

12. The stage saved her career

The actress in 1973
Yvonne De Carlo, in 1973 Getty Images)

Where Yvonne De Carlo did find some success and acclaim was on the stage. Having made her Broadway debut in 1964’s Enter Laughing, she followed it with a number of productions such as Cactus Flower (1969), Follies (1970), Applause (1975), Dames at Sea (1976), Gypsy (1978) and, for the last time, Can-Can (1982). Of them all, the standout was Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, in which she played Carlotta Campion, whose standout song is “I’m Still Here.”

“Despite everything she did,” says Frank De Caro, author of Drag: Combing Through the Big Wigs of Showbiz, “people know her for a couple of roles. I think of her in the movie Criss Cross, then as Lily Munster and as Carlotta Campion. You don’t need to know anything else about her career, because she’s got these three home runs that are so spectacular, that it’s enough to let her be in your heart forever.”

Yvonne De Carlo suffered a minor stroke in 1998, and would die of heart failure on January 8, 2007 at the age of 84.

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