January 29, 2007 12:00 PM

Playing a suburban ghoul named Lily Munster on CBS’s 1960s horror sitcom spoof The Munsters, Yvonne De Carlo dressed like the walking dead. But she carried herself like a star: “She had a big presence,” says Butch Patrick, now 53, who played De Carlo’s werewolfish son Eddie. “When she walked into a room, everybody knew it.”

The Canadian-born actress, who died Jan. 8 at 84 in Los Angeles, had honed her sultry screen presence in dozens of Hollywood B movies opposite leading men like Burt Lancaster (in 1949’s Criss Cross) and Rock Hudson (1953’s Sea Devils). But she made her biggest splash as the wife of Moses (Charlton Heston) in 1956’s The Ten Commandments.

By the time The Munsters, an Addams Family clone, came along in 1964, De Carlo, then in her 40s, was doing dinner theater and touring in Hello, Dolly! and other road-show productions. Cast opposite Fred Gwynne as her lumbering yet lovable Frankenstein monster of a husband, Herman, De Carlo decided “she was going to play it to the hilt,” says a friend, TV producer Kevin Burns, and impressed her costars “with how great she was at comedy.” As Patrick recalls, “She was sweet and kind, a good TV mother.”

In real life too. De Carlo, who had dated Lancaster, Jimmy Stewart and Howard Hughes but ended up marrying—and divorcing—a movie stuntman, Bob Morgan, raised two sons, Bruce and Michael. “Being a mom in showbiz was pretty tough,” says Bruce, now 50. “But she tried to give us a home life, and she didn’t talk down to us. When I was 12, I was talking to adults about philosophy and science.” Meanwhile, she maintained a special bond with her Munsters son. When Patrick visited her at her nursing home last Thanksgiving, he says, “she called me her TV baby.”

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