It may be true that The Munsters is not strictly speaking horror and that Yvonne De Carlo does not count for our annual array of horror luminaries. However, the role did lead to her being cast in a wide array of actual horror movies in later years, which she seems to have openly taken because she needed the money. In fact, it’s why she took the role of Lily Munster; her husband had been seriously injured while making How the West Was Won, and she needed to pay the bills. She wasn’t thrilled at how famous it became, because she was kind of embarrassed by the whole thing.
She was born Margaret Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver, British Columbia. However, unlike many other “exotic” Hollywood beauties of similar name and birthplace, she took her mother’s maiden name as a stage name. Her mother was of French birth, with a Sicilian father and a Scottish mother. Young “Peggy,” as her mother called her, was nominally the daughter of Marie De Carlo and William Shelto Middleton of New Zealand, but in her autobiography, she alleged that her father was actually a Polynesian man with whom her mother had an affair. Either way, William Middleton went on the lam when his daughter was very young, saying he’d send for the family. He never did.
Marie De Carlo had been a dancer before she was married, and she had dreams of making her daughter a star. Margaret Yvonne was named after silent star “Baby Peggy.” Though Peggy wanted to be a writer, her mother got her singing and dancing lessons and even took her to Hollywood some years before the younger De Carlo would return and actually get a contract. She placed second in the 1940 Miss Venice pageant and fifth in the year’s Miss California, which led to her getting an audition for a nightclub.
Except for the part where she was told she’d have to show her “upper assets.” Which is in no way skeezy. Fortunately, she auditioned for a nightclub without that requirement and got the part, which led eventually to a studio contract and any number of bit parts, many of them uncredited. How much Marie was a stage mother isn’t mentioned by our usual sources, but Yvonne, as she was now calling herself, was routinely considered the best part of the movies she was in. While The Ten Commandments, in which she was Sephora, is one of her only genuine classic movies, along with Criss Cross, but she did do a lot of things in her pre-Lily years.
All in all, she’s not a terribly surprising inspiration for Sondheim for the role of Carlotta in Follies. Apparently the role was written specifically for her. And indeed, “I’m Still Here” has a certain amount in common with De Carlo’s own life. She survived a lot. Admittedly she is no longer still here, though she would’ve turned a hundred years old last month, but she did survive until 2007, so that’s pretty good.