"Rest in Peace," He Said: Yvonne De Carlo (1922-2007) on the Air

We web journalists are often, and not altogether unjustly, accused of recycling news rather than generating it. I’ve done my share of reprocessing yesterday by reporting the unearthing of Marlene Dietrich’s lost earring at an amusement park in Blackpool; but, recycling being the process of transforming and putting back to use, I turned this tidbit into a hook from which to dangle a reminder of Ms. Dietrich’s lost or rarely recalled career in radio. So, when I now reflect on the passing of actress Yvonne De Carlo, I am trying to avoid mirroring the tributes that appeared elsewhere.

As pop culture maven Ivan Shreve suggests in his ever instructive Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, the role for which Ms. De Carlo is “best remembered” these days should not overshadow the career she enjoyed prior to getting the Lily Munster makeover. And if you can’t recall anything else, the act of commemoration can be an opportunity to get to know a performer all over again.

Like most people who wish to refresh their memories of a certain film or television actor, I turned to the Internet Movie Database, according to which, as of 5 PM EST on this Wednesday, 11 January 2007, Ms. De Carlo (who died on Monday) still numbered among the living. I guess, that is where our personal journals come in, spreading the news a little faster than those slow firing big shots. Inspecting her resume, I realized how little I have seen of Ms. De Carlo over the years. In fact, the last time I ran into her, I didn’t even notice her at all. That was in November 2006, when I watched So Proudly We Hail, a 1943 wartime drama starring Claudette Colbert (discussed here). Would I be able to spot her in This Gun for Hire, in which the aforementioned Laird Cregar made such an impression on me? Nor have I ever tried on her Sombrero, in which she had Vittorio Gassman at her feet (as pictured above).

So, instead of flaunting my ignorance, it is probably best to let Ms. De Carlo introduce herself, however belatedly. On 24 February 1947, the young actress, no longer the bit player she had been during the early and mid-1940s, appeared on Tom Breneman’s radio program Breakfast in Hollywood—sporting a feather in her hat—to promote her latest picture, Song of Scheherazade, released earlier that month.

You can tell from the reaction of the studio audience—responsive as trained seals to whatever Breneman and his sponsors tossed at them—that Ms. De Carlo was not yet a star. She was getting there—and she was there to get there. “Who are you, honey?” Breneman prompted the unaffected newcomer, whose response was greeted with no more enthusiasm than the names of the many unknowns whom the host granted exposure to the microphone that day. Apart from confessing some embarrassment about the millinery curiosity on her head, the soft-spoken actress did not get to say very much, the garrulous host being too busy reaping whatever laughs he could from the docile crowd.

He presented her with a bouquet of Camellias, named, in honor of her latest role, Scheherazade. So funereal and grand must the corsage have looked that, when Breneman was permitted to pin it on his charming and good-humored guest, he commented on its startling effect with the ominous words “All she needs there is ‘Rest in Peace.'”

When I listened to this exchange today, it struck me as a bit of gallows humor as dark as Lily Munster’s home. It was Breneman who had wreaths thrown at him not long thereafter (he shut up in 1948 at the age of 46), while the dame with the Camellias, who went on to enjoy another five decades in show business, proved more resilient than Scheherazade.

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