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Image: Yvonne De Carlo, Jimmy Stewart
AP file
Yvonne De Carlo and Jimmy Stewart are shown between scenes while working on separate movies in the same studio in Los Angeles on July 19, 1948.
updated 1/10/2007 10:25:02 PM ET 2007-01-11T03:25:02

Yvonne De Carlo, the beautiful star who played Moses’ wife in “The Ten Commandments” but achieved her greatest popularity on TV’s “The Munsters,” has died. She was 84.

De Carlo died of natural causes Monday at the Motion Picture & Television facility in suburban Los Angeles, longtime friend and television producer Kevin Burns said Wednesday.

De Carlo, whose shapely figure helped launch her career in B-movie desert adventures and Westerns, rose to more important roles in the 1950s. Later, she had a key role in a landmark Broadway musical, Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.”

But for TV viewers, she will always be known as Lily Munster in the 1964-1966 slapstick horror-movie spoof “The Munsters.” The series (the name allegedly derived from “fun-monsters”) offered a gallery of Universal Pictures grotesques, including Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, in a cobwebbed gothic setting.

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Lily, vampire-like in a black gown, presided over the faux scary household and was a rock for her gentle but often bumbling husband, Herman, played by 6-foot-5-inch character actor Fred Gwynne (decked out as the Frankenstein monster).

While it lasted only two years, the series had a long life in syndication and resulted in two feature movies, “Munster Go Home!” (1966) and “The Munsters’ Revenge.” (1981, for TV).

At the series’ end, De Carlo commented: “It meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It made me ‘hot’ again, which I wasn’t for a while.”

“I think she will best remembered as the definitive Lily Munster. She was the vampire mom to millions of baby boomers. In that sense, she’s iconic,” Burns said Wednesday.

“But it would be a shame if that’s the only way she is remembered. She was also one of the biggest beauty queens of the ‘40s and ‘50s, one of the most beautiful women in the world. This was one of the great glamour queens of Hollywood, one of the last ones.”

George Barris, who created the ghoulish “Munsters” car, equipped De Carlo’s Jaguar with spider web hubcaps, a gargoyle hood ornament and a glossy black sunroof.

“She was a wonderful lady and a car buff. She loved the show so much that she incorporated it into her life, her own car,” Barris said Wednesday.

De Carlo was able to sustain a long career by repeatedly reinventing herself. A longtime student of voice, she sang opera at the Hollywood Bowl. When movie roles became scarce, she ventured into stage musicals.

Her greatest stage triumph came on Broadway in 1971 with “Follies,” which won the 1972 Tony award for best original musical score. She belted out Sondheim’s showstopping number, “I’m Still Here,” a former star’s defiant recounting of the highs and lows of her life and career.

A list of famous lovers
Over the years, De Carlo augmented her stardom by shrewd use of publicity. Gossip columnists reported her dates with famous men. In her 1987 book, “Yvonne: An Autobiography,” she listed 22 of her lovers, who included Howard Hughes, Burt Lancaster, Robert Stack, Robert Taylor, Billy Wilder, Aly Khan and an Iranian prince.

The Canadian-born De Carlo began her career with a parade of bit parts in films of the early 1940s, then emerged as a star in 1945 with “Salome — Where She Danced,” a routine movie about a dancer from Vienna who becomes a spy in the wild West.

She recalled her entrance in the film: “I came through these beaded curtains, wearing a Japanese kimono and a Japanese headpiece, and then performed a Siamese dance. Nobody seemed to know quite why.”

Universal Pictures exploited her slightly exotic looks and a shape that looked ideal in a harem dress in such “sex-and-sand” programmers as “Song of Scheherazade,” “Slave Girl,” “Casbah” and “Desert Hawk.”

The studio also employed her to add zest to Westerns, usually as a dance-hall girl or a gun-toting sharpshooter. Among the titles: “Frontier Gal,” “Black Bart” (as Lola Montez), “River Lady,” “Calamity Jane and Sam Bass” (as Calamity Jane) and “The Gal Who Took the West.”

In 1956 she veered from her former image when Cecil B. DeMille chose her to play Sephora, wife to Charlton Heston’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” The following year she co-starred with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in “Band of Angels” as Gable’s upper-class sweetheart who learns of her black forebears.

Among her later films: “McClintock” (starring John Wayne), “A Global Affair” (Bob Hope), “Hostile Guns” (George Montgomery), “The Power” (George Hamilton), “American Gothic” (Rod Steiger) and “Oscar” (Sylvester Stallone).

Got her start dancing
De Carlo was born Peggy Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 1, 1922, (some sources say 1924). Abandoned by her father, she was raised by her mother in poor circumstances. The girl took dancing lessons and dropped out of high school to work in night clubs and local theaters. She continued dancing in clubs when she and her mother moved to Los Angeles.

Paramount Pictures signed her to a contract in 1942, and she adopted her middle name and her mother’s middle name. Dropped by Paramount after 20 minor roles, she landed at Universal, which cast her as the B-picture version of the studio’s sultry star Maria Montez.

In 1955, De Carlo married Bob Morgan, a topflight stunt man, and the marriage produced two sons, Bruce and Michael, as well as much-publicized separations and reconciliations.

During a stunt aboard a moving log train for “How the West Was Won,” Morgan was thrown underneath the wheels. The accident cost him a leg, and for a time De Carlo abandoned her career to care for him. They later divorced.

In her late years, De Carlo lived in semiretirement near Solvang, north of Santa Barbara. Her son Michael died in 1997, and she suffered a stroke the following year.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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