Yvonne DeCarlo in the 1940s
Yvonne De Carlo
On September 1, 1922 Mrs.
Marie De Carlo Middleton, minutes away from giving birth, was at
St. Pauls Hospital in Vancouver being attended to by two nurses
because the doctor hadnt arrived yet. The nurses said later
that, as Mrs. Middleton was being shifted onto the delivery table,
she was shouting, I want a girl. It must be a girl. I want
She got her wish and more. Her daughter, Margaret
Yvonne Middletonlater to become Yvonne De Carlowould
become not just a dancer, but a singer, an actress andin 1945was
named The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Along the way, she worked
briefly as an usherette at the Orpheum Theatre.
In her autobiography, Yvonne, De Carlo doesnt
mention her brief stint in the Orpheum aisles, which seems a shame:
Much could have been made of her rise from showing movie-goers to
their seats to becoming one of the stars those people came to see.
Peggy was three when her father deserted the family,
and her mother became a waitress to help make ends meet. Peggy was
a precocious child, with a mother who had ambitionsliterally
from the beginning, as weve seento make her daughter
a somebody. When she was old enough, her mother arranged acting
lessons for her, and enrolled her in June Ropers British Columbia
School of Dance, which at the time was a simple two-room studio
on Granville Street. June rented the Strand Theatre for two
days each term, De Carlo recalled, as a showcase for
her dancers, and to acquaint them with audiences. I took part in
a couple of the Stars of Tomorrow shows with relative
success, but I really came to life in the shows next door at the
Orpheum Theatre. June made a deal with the management to stage shows
whose theme matched that of the movies that were playing. My debut
was in Waikiki Revue in which I did a routine with Ken Mayhew.
The audience loved it . . . (One wonders if the Revue was
seen in conjunction with a 1937 Bing Crosby movie, Waikiki Wedding.)
got a job dancing at the brand new Palomar Supper Club in Vancouver
she says she got the job "a month before it opened."
The Palomar opened May 22, 1937, so she would have been 14 at the
time. It was while she was at the Palomar that Peggy decided to
change her name. Yvonne De Carlo (De Carlo was her mothers
maiden name) sounded much more exotic. Yvonne and her mother returned
to Hollywood in 1940 and the 18-year-old began to get work as a
dancer in chorus lines. During the day she and her mother would
make the rounds of the studios. Its said she benefited from
June Roper's connections in Hollywood.
Even so, her first Hollywood work was humbling:
acting as a foil in test films for auditioning male actors, someone
to say their lines to. Her first real movie came in 1941, a comedy
titled The Kink of the Campus. (Kink is correct.)
Then for the next four years her exotic looks won her small roles
as native girl, handmaiden, Leonas
companion, and the like.
The last film in which she had a minor role was
Bring on the Girls in which her modest credit was Hat
Then, on a September day in 1944 Yvonne opened her
apartment door in Hollywood to discover a pile of newspapers left
there by University Studio publicists. She read that she had been
selected by major film producer Walter Wanger to be the lead in
his next movie, Salome Where She Danced. Suddenly, Yvonne
De Carlodescribed by Wanger as the most beautiful girl
in the world, was a star. The movie, about an exotic dancer
who flees to Arizona after shes suspected of being a spy,
was a hit.
A Vancouver Sun story on September 18, 1944
was headlined Vancouver-Born Beauty Newest Hollywood Find. Fame
was conferred on Miss De Carlo, former King Edward High school student,
in typical Hollywood fashion. The Sun also mentioned
she had attended Lord Roberts School before going on to King Ed.
Her first professional stage appearance here,
the paper reported, was on the Beacon stage where she appeared
in an act with a boxing kangaroo. That act is described in
funny detail in Yvonne. The book has other funny stories,
including one concerning the hot young star Tony Curtis. It seems
he was making moves on a young Spanish girl, and she rebuffed his
advances, saying No, I should have a duenna. (A chaperon).
Curtis Spanish was somewhat sketchy. Okay, sweetie,
he told her, Well just run down to the drugstore and
After Salome Yvonne was busy for the next
50 years. She appeared in dozens of theatrical and television movies,
co-starring with such movie icons as Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster
and Alec Guinness. Thanks to her excellent French, she was the first
Hollywood actress to star abroad in a foreign-language film, the
1954 French-made La Castiglione. Her most prominent role
was as Sephora, playing opposite Charlton Heston in the 1956 megahit,
The Ten Commandments. In 1964 De Carlo became Lily Munster,
one of the tongue-in-cheek monstrous Munsters. (One of her immortal
lines: Herman tried to build a ship inside a bottle. We had
to break the bottle to get him out.) She was one of the stars
of the Stephen Sondheim 1971 Broadway smash Follies, and
made a hit with her singing of Im Still Here, a song
written by Sondheim especially for her.
Yvonne De Carlo visited Vancouver more than once
after she left, was one of the stars on hand for the 1987 celebration
of the Orpheums 60th birthday. She retired in 1995, but there
are web sites devoted to her, and many of her more than 75 movies
pop up on television to this day.
(Trivia postscript: in the 1952 movie Hurricane
Smith, De Carlos co-star was John Ireland, also Vancouver-born.)
She died January 10, 2007 in Los Angeles, aged 84.
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