Born Peggy Yvonne Middleton September 1, 1922, in Point Gray, British Columbia, Canada, Yvonne 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 alleviate her family’s financial troubles, Yvonne spent most of her teens performing in nightclubs and on stage. Needing a new name to accompany her budding career, she used her mother’s maiden name, and was thereafter billed as Yvonne De Carlo.
De Carlo and her mother sought greater opportunities in the United States and, in 1940, they settled in Los Angeles, California. 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 a number of minor (and sometimes uncredited) roles in the films Road to Morocco (1942), as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Deerslayer (both 1943).
In 1945, Universal took notice of the alluring actress and cast her as the lead in Salome, Where She Danced, a Technicolor Western. 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.
Following a few disappointing features with Universal, the studio failed to see a future for De Carlo. They terminated her contract, after which her work consisted mainly of unremarkable Westerns, including Scarlet Angel (1952) with Rock Hudson, and Shotgun (1955). However, she surprisingly turned in good comedic performances in the British-made Hotel Sahara (1951) and The Captain’s Paradise (1953), co-starring Sir Alec Guinness. 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.
The year 1956 defined a turning point in De Carlo’s career when she was cast in Cecil B. De Mille’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. 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 made a transition to the small screen. In 1964, she was chosen to play the ghoulish mom in a pilot for CBS. Her portrayal of Lily Munster in the horror-spoof sitcom The Munsters (1964-66) marked her television debut, 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). Later Roles De Carlo continued to appear in occasional films throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987, she published an autobiography, titled Yvonne. Most recently, she made a guest appearance in the television movie Here Come the Munsters (1995). De Carlo died of heart failure on January 8, 2007 at age 84.