I must admit she’s not my Catwoman. My Catwoman is Eartha Kitt. How do you beat Eartha Kitt? But for starters, I’ve seen To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar many times, including twice in the theatre. And just because she isn’t the first person I think of as Catwoman doesn’t mean she wasn’t a great Catwoman. Just not Eartha Kitt. And if we’re shaming people for not being Eartha Kitt, the shaming never ends.
In her early credits, she’s under her birth name of Julie Newmeyer. Her mother had been in the Follies of 1920, and fifteen-year-old Julie became a prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera Company. In her early movie roles, she’s mostly a dancer. Mostly uncredited, mostly listed on IMDb as “dancing girl” or “chorine” or similar. The first “named” character she has is The Gilded Girl; the first character with an actual name is Dorcas Gaylen in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which is also her last movie before the name change. When she was fifth-billed in Li’l Abner, it was as Julie Newmar.
Really, being a dancer was quite useful for Catwoman. I mean, of course it was. The role relies on grace and physicality. Newmar’s brand of eroticism wasn’t Kitt’s, but that again doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, and part of it stemmed from her awareness of her own body and what it could do. You could believe that she’d move the way Catwoman had to. You could also, of course, believe that Batman—Adam West Batman in particular—would find her irresistible. Because come on, look at her. Watch her move.
Alas, a disappointingly large swathe of her career is based on her sultry looks. Martin Landau and Martin Landau commit a murder on an episode of Columbo (he plays twins) so a rich older man won’t marry her. That does require at least a little skill from her. Mostly, though, she’s in roles that rely on her being, well, statuesque. Which is a great word for her, goodness knows; she’s the one who moved Catwoman’s belt from her waist to her hips, to accentuate her hourglass figure. Which it certainly did.
But there’s more to Miss Julie than just that. She holds three patents. She’s been an advocate for LGBT rights for many years and indeed has a lifetime achievement award from the Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing organization in Los Angeles for her work. One of her brothers was gay. My sources don’t say if it’s the same one who talked her into taking the role of Catwoman because he and all of his friends were such fans of the show, but would anyone be surprised if it were?