Julie Newmar

 

HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This graceful goddess got started in '50s musicals, attained TV stardom with her own show in the '60s, and then created the classic Catwoman character on "Batman."

 

CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: TV Star and Movie Star

 

BIRTH: Julie was born in '35, so she was already thirty for "Batman." Her exotic birthplace: Los Angeles, California. Her moniker at birth: Julia Chalane Newmeyer, and she's sometimes been credited as Charlene Jesmer, Julie Neumar, or Julie Newmeyer.

 

IMPACT ON THE '60s: "The perfect, the ultimate ... try to describe her without using the word 'statuesque'." So said Patrick Swayze in  To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The accolades are appropriate. Julie Newmar has brought style and glamour to every role she's ever played. Her prodigious musical skills have kept her in the theatre spotlight for decades, and her nimble comedic skills have made her a TV fixture. Her lack of starring roles suggests that Hollywood has never fully taken advantage of her considerable appeal. Still, Playboy knew how great she was -- the magazine ranked her #88 in its January '99 list of the "100 Sexiest Stars of the Century," right between Louise Brooks and Terry Moore (two-dozen other Swingin' Chicks of the '60s made that Playboy list, including #2 Jayne Mansfield, #42 Angie Dickinson, and #86 Jacqueline Bisset).

 

CAREER IN THE '60s: In the '60s she was a welcome and reliable TV presence who stole any "F Troop," "Beverly Hillbillies," "Monkees," or "Love, American Style" episode she was on. Early in the decade she starred in the film version of her Broadway hit, The Marriage-Go-Round. She then pursued the life of a serious actress by studying alongside Marilyn Monroe at Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio. She toured the country in major shows like Guys and Dolls, and she did memorable commercials for Dutch Masters cigars, portraying Mother Nature. "My Living Doll" ('64-'65) was a one-season wonder that cast her as a life-like robot that got its education from Robert Cummings. Though the show lasted only a year (it was positioned opposite the all-conquering "Bonanza," and Cummings left awkardly mid-way through the season), Julie was nominated for a Golden Globe as the year's Best TV Star, and she did make the cover of TV Guide. She was now poised for the part that would make her a lasting TV favorite. Though it was drubbed by critics, "Batman" debuted with high ratings in the winter of '66 (it finished the season as a top-ten hit). The show was so popular that for the first year ABC showed it in two-part episodes that ran consecutive Wednesday and Thursday nights. When negotiations with Suzanne Pleshette broke down, Julie was offered the part of the show's newest villain, Catwoman. Julie's often told the story that she hadn't ever seen the month-old show and only took the job on the advice of her brother, a devoted Bat-fan. In March of '66 Julie made the first of a dozen co-starring appearances as the purr-fect cat-foil to the Caped Crusader. Sexy, smart, and unrelentingly evil, she often tried to seduce Batman as well as defeat him. "The Catwoman is not like the others," she purred. She brought some grown-up sexual intrigue to the otherwise cartoony show whose villains were usually absurd, one-dimensional males (the Joker, the Riddler, the Bookworm, etc.). Always humorous (whether she won or lost a battle on the show), always using her flexible voice to great advantage, cat-tastic Julie seemed to revel in her character in every episode. In the episode "Scat, Darn Catwoman" she offered to marry Batman and kill Robin for him. In '97 TV Guide listed the best all-time TV episodes on any show in history, and among them were Julie's first two Catwoman appearances. "The first Catwoman remains the best," the magazine wrote, "meow and forever." She continued playing the part into the second season, but for the third she left to make a movie, Mackenna's Gold, and was replaced by Eartha Kitt (a third actress, Lee Meriwether, wore the catsuit in the '66 Batman movie). Julie's movie career in the '60s encompassed five flix, none of 'em blockbusters: The Marriage-Go-Round with James Mason in '60, For Love or Money with Kirk Douglas in '63, the TV movie McCloud: Who Killed Miss U.S.A. in '69, Rowan & Martin's The Maltese Bippy in '69, and the Gregory Peck Western Mackenna's Gold in '69.

 

CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Julie grew up in the toney L.A. suburb of Los Feliz. An intelligent child, Julie could read music at age five, and by age seven she was at the top her her class. After studying ballet (still a pursuit to this day) and graduating from high school at only fifteen, teenaged Julie started performing on weekends with an L.A. ballet company. In '51 she enrolled at UCLA but soon dropped out to pursue a dance career. She started getting dance parts in a variety of '50s films, her debut coming as a chorus girl in Bing Crosby's Just for You in '52. Her big break came with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers ('54), a lavish musical successful enough to send Julie on a national publicity tour. She left Hollywood for New York in the spring of '54 and got work as a model, appearing on many magazine covers. Her Broadway debut came in Cole Porter's Silk Stockings, followed by her show-stopping turn as Stupefyin' Jones in Li'l Abner ('56). Critics called her "90 seconds of wonder" and a "well-stacked skyscraper," impressed by her beauty even though she had no lines in the play. In '59 she got her first starring film role, The Rookie, in which she went blonde, and in that same year she starred as the bombshell in Broadway's The Marriage-Go-Round. That Tony-winning triumph led to the 1960 movie and her '60s success. After the '60s she made many TV appearances (the obligatory "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" among them), plus a dozen minor movies, and she also toured in major musicals. Additional credits on her long resume include TV commercials, numerous print ads (including Smirnoff Vodka and Coppertone), poses on several romantic album covers (she was Spice on the 101 Strings' Sugar and Spice album  and was the cover subject of the LP How to Make Love to a Blonde), the creation in the '70s of her own line of pantyhose (Nudemar, patented in '77), a cameo in George Michael's '92 video "Too Funky," an appearance in the Lands of Lore 2 video game, and more. In '84 Julie inherited some commercial property and took classes to learn how to manage it, establishing for herself a career at home away from the cameras. Her cult immortality was confirmed in '95 when she was deified in the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (Julie made a brief appearance). Purr-fect!

 

TALENT: Her prodigious musical skills kept her in the theatre for years, and she won a Tony Award in '59 for The Marriage-Go-Round. Her comedic skills were good for broad, campy send-ups a la "Batman." In a TV biography about her, the most common talents mentioned for Julie were her amazing physique and her intelligence.

 

HER '60s LOOK: Cat-tastic: Julie established once and for all the stereotype of the female super-villain. A lithe 5' 11" tall, with 38-23-38 curves, she radiated an intimidating sexuality in her black vinyl catsuit with a zipper up the back (an erotically evil look emulated again in '92 by Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns). To emphasize the curves that put fans in a feline frenzy, she wore her Catwoman belt low across her hips, rather than up high across her waist; in his book Back to the Batcave, Adam West correctly praised her as "the sexiest woman on TV." Fashion designers have long loved her look, and in fact she modeled in Paris for Theirry Mugler in the '90s alongside such supermodels as Claudia Shiffer and Linda Evangelista. In addition, Julie has been featured, especially early in her career, in many men's magazines, among them Playboy (May '68 and September '69). Let Grace Slick describe her, as she did in her book Somebody to Love? when she recalled seeing Julie at a party in L.A.:

"Julie Newmar, an outstanding example of the kind of beauty that drops your jaw. ... Standing over six feet, she was taller than most of the men and towered over all of the women. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to be inside such a spectacular body and have a completely stunning effect on everybody within fifty feet of you at all times."

Julie herself said, "I'm magnificent. I'm five feet eleven inches and I weigh 135 pounds, and I look like a racehorse." She's studied ballet her whole life, even to this day, which she credits as one of the reasons she's maintained her great looks.

 

LIFESTYLE: A marriage, a son. But what a rich tale is in those four words. Early in her career Julie was engaged to Western writer Louis L'Amour, who was approximately twice her age. She left him when she made her break for New York in '54. Julie married a lawyer on August 5th of '77, and she quit her career to move with him to Fort Worth, Texas. They moved back to L.A. in '80 and tried to start a family. After two miscarriages, Julie, now in her mid-'40s, gave birth to a son, John, who was diagnosed with Down's syndrome. She and her husband split up six months later, and within two years Julie was a divorced mom. She intentionally slowed down her career to spend more time with her son, keeping him at home in Brentwood, California rather than turning him over to an institution. "Yes, I could have put myself first and sent John off to some facility run by doctors," she told the National Enquirer in late '99, "but I love this wonderful person who just happens to be my son. I live my life with him, not in spite of him. He can't speak much and can hardly walk but inside him is a beautiful soul that shines forth in everything he does." They've traveled the world together, and at home she's designed and built for him a serene "secret garden" that's filled with fountains, rocks, lush landscaping, and ceramic animals. "I want John's life to be as complete as possible," she explained to the Enquirer. "He fills my life with joy everyday."

 

EXTRAS: Her father once played for the Chicago Bears and was a college professor, her mother was a Ziegfeld dancer, and her brother John, nine years her junior, is a writer and owner of a Napa, California winery ... another younger brother, Peter, died in a ski accident in '54, he was 27 and Julie was 29 ... also appearing in the Li'l Abner movie with Julie was Swingin' Chick Stella Stevens, who played Apassionata Von Climax, and hillbilly Donna Douglas ... Julie's number (not her name) in "My Living Doll" was AAF 709, emblazoned on her blouse. "Batman" debuted on January 12, 1966 and ran Wednesday/Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC ... for two episodes Catwoman had an assistant named Pussycat, played by singer Lesley Gore ... one of the show's trademarks was its list of surprise guests: among the acclaimed actors and celebrities who made appearances on various "Batman" episodes were Sammy Davis Jr., Van Johnson, George Sanders, Anne Baxter, Phyllis Diller, Art Carney, Dick Clark, Tallulah Bankhead, Roddy McDowell, Ida Lupino, Milton Berle, Vincent Price, Glynis Johns, Rudy Vallee, Ethel Merman, Joan Collins, James Brolin, Eli Wallach, John Astin, Allen Ludden, Howard Duff, Henny Youngman, and Cliff Robertson ... Julie's a serious political activist who has triumphed over noisy leafblowers for the good of homeowners everywhere ... Julie has her own Web site: Julie's Official Web Site.

 

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