Born on September 1, 1922 in Point Grey (now Vancouver), British Columbia, Canada, as Margaret Yvonne Middleton, Yvonne De Carlo was Moses’ wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, but is better known for playing the matriarch on TV’s The Munsters.
She was the sole child born to Marie Middleton, who was only 17 when her husband deserted her and their daughter. Marie supported Yvonne’s decision to drop out of high school and pursue a career as an entertainer. In order to ease her family’s financial troubles, Yvonne spent most of her teens performing in nightclubs and on stage. Needing a new name to go with her budding career, she used her mother’s maiden name, and was then billed as Yvonne De Carlo.
De Carlo and her mother sought greater opportunities in the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California in 1940. A year later, the ambitious actress caught the attention of Paramount Studios, who signed her to a weekly contract. Like many newcomers, she found herself in some minor, sometimes uncredited, movie roles.
She obtained her breakthrough role in Salome, Where She Danced (1945). The film was forgettable, but De Carlo’s performance as an exotic dancer turned spy earned her the recognition she sought. Similar seductive roles followed in the Song of Scheherazade and Slave Girl (both 1947). De Carlo’s projects during the ’40s bolstered her visibility, but at the same time, limited her roles to that of a sultry screen vixen in films such as Criss Cross (1949) and The Captain’s Paradise (1953). The year 1956 defined a turning point in De Carlo’s career when she was cast in Cecil B. DeMille’s landmark production of The Ten Commandments. De Carlo’s performance as Moses’ wife Sephora, opposite Hollywood icons Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, marked a place for her in films. Her next project paired her with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier in the flat costume epic Band of Angels (1957).
In the early 1960s, De Carlo starred in a string of B-features, which inspired little interest in audiences. With the demise of her film career, the struggling actress transitioned to television. In 1964 she was chosen to play ghoulish mom Lily Munster, the wife of Herman Munster, in the CBS sitcom The Munsters (1964–1966). Her portrayal of Lily Munster in the horror-spoof sitcom marked her television début and introduced her to a whole new generation of audiences.
In the early 1970s, the middle-aged actress found renewed success in the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Follies (1971). Eventually, she settled into a routine of lowbrow comedy—Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)—and horror films, such as Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977),Silent Scream (1980) and Vultures (1983).
De Carlo continued to appear in occasional films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including a guest appearance in the 1995 television movie Here Come the Munsters. In 1987, she published an autobiography, titled Yvonne.
In 1955, De Carlo married Hollywood stuntman, Robert Morgan, who lost his leg while filming How the West Was Won (1963). The couple had two sons, Bruce and Michael, before they divorced in the mid-1970s. De Carlo died of heart failure on January 8, 2007 at age 84.