Probably best remembered as the first and most beloved Catwoman of them all, Julie Newmar is actually quite a lot more than that. Graced with a body of seemingly impossible proportions and a seductive quality wielded with practiced bravado, she is one of the great sex kittens of her time. Beyond her sexual prowess, Julie also happens to be skilled dancer, a patent-holder, a real estate mogul, an author and a certified genius. Not bad for a woman remembered the most for charming the tights off a guy in a cape.
The lady we know today as Julie Newmar was born Julie Chalene Newmeyer in Los Angeles in 1933. Her father Don was a former professional football player for the LA Buccaneers, one of the first teams of the original American Football League. Her mother, Jesmer, was a half Swedish, half French fashion designer and former dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, who the legendary Eddie Cantor once claimed had "the most beautiful legs in the Follies."
Jesmer may have had the Follies wrapped up for beautiful gams, but it was her daughter Julie who brought the serious leg action to Hollywood. Studying piano, dance and classical ballet from an early age, Julie used her superior intelligence to graduate early from high school at only 15. Thereafter she toured Europe with her mother and eventually became a prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera. From there Julie had her sights set on the bright lights of Broadway, where she made her debut as a ballerina in Silk Stockings. With a glorious set of 37 inch legs at work for her, Julie's dancing skills quickly landed her small parts in various Hollywood films, beginning with small roles in early '50s films SLAVES OF BABYLON and SERPENT OF THE NILE, the later film requiring her entire body to be clad in gold paint. She also served as a choreographer for Universal Studios during this time, as well as a "dance-in," which was a kind of dance double of sorts for actors not so skilled with their foot work.
Quite often praised for her skills as a dancer and her remarkable beauty, Julie's ambitions went beyond simple dance numbers. Though dancing remained her primary claim to fame throughout most of the 1950s, she also enjoyed acting in the plays and films she performed in. She played one of the brides in the famous 1954 film SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and got rave reviews for her 3-minute performance as Stupefyin' Jones in the 1956 Broadway production of Li'l Abner, a role she reprised for the 1959 film version. She later won a Tony award for her performance as Katrin Sveg in the Broadway play The Marriage-Go-Round, playing that part again for the film adaptation.
It wasn't until the early 1960s that Julie managed to really flex her acting muscles. It was at that time that television started to take notice of this curvy, 5'11 beauty. Her first TV gig was playing "Rhoda the Robot" on the short-lived series My Living Doll in 1964. She played a cast off experimental android created by the military, being cared for by a psychologist entrusted to protect her safety. Though a relatively lighthearted show, it did give Julie ample charming moments as the naive robot slowly learning to be human. My Living Doll had a dedicated following, but unfortunately never cracked the top 30 in ratings and only lasted one season.
Her next TV role proved to be much more popular. Playing Catwoman, the so-called "purrfect" villainess on the beloved 1960s ABC adaptation of Batman, Julie pretty much set the tone for all future Catwomen to follow. Bearing a very cat-like penchant for mischief and a decidedly feline body full of beautiful curves, her Catwoman was the simultaneous fancy and frustration of Batman, giving him and most everyone else reason to want more of her feline feminine wiles. So popular was Julie's version of Catwoman that her sexy, skintight outfit is now displayed at the Smithsonian, along side many other famous costumes from television history. Unfortunately, bigger roles lured her away from playing Catwoman in the feature film version of the show, as well as its final season on TV. While her replacements, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt, did competent jobs, neither quite matched Julie's performance. Even the likes of Michelle Pfieffer and Anne Hathway, doing their own versions of Julie's character years later, still stand as pale comparisons to the original Catwoman in many people's hearts and minds.
As the '60s progressed, Julie made appearances on several popular TV series, among them classic shows like Route 66, The Twilight Zone, F Troop, Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Get Smart, The Monkees and Star Trek. If you were watching any TV in that decade, chances are you saw something of Julie Newmar somewhere. Her TV popularity ran pretty high throughout most of the 60s, where she quite often played characters of a similar sort to her Catwoman alter ego. Despite the limited range in roles available to her, Julie's guest star status continued well into the 1970s and beyond, with further roles in popular shows like The Love Boat, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Hart to Hart, CHiPS and Fantasy Island.
While perhaps not the most talented actress on Earth, Julie still had the goods as a hottie. She proved that by doing a fully nude pictorial in the May 1968 edition of Playboy magazine. Even at 35, over a decade older than most of that magazine's usual centerfold hotties, Julie could still show them what a hot body was all about, outclassing all whippersnapper contenders with a perfectly lithe and lean body earned from years as a dancer.
In the '70s, Julie received two patents, one for pantyhose that was designed to give a certain "cheeky" lift to those starting to sag out back called "Nudemar." The other was for a brassiere said to be "nearly invisible," supposedly granting its wearer a Marilyn Monroe quality. By the 1980s, she was following in her mom's footsteps and investing in real estate. It was said at the time that Julie's real estate investments during this time did much to revitalize various neighborhoods between La Brea and Fairfax avenues in Los Angeles.
She received a resurgence in popularity in the mid 1990s with the release of the cult road movie TO WONG FU, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR. The comical movie about a group of drag queens, played ironically by action movie staples of the decade Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, referenced Julie repeatedly in the form of a signed autograph picture the trio snatched from a restaurant wall on their adventure. Julie made a brief cameo in the movie as the presenter of a drag queen crown.
Around this same time Julie got tangled up in an odd and rather comical feud involving herself and her next door neighbor, actor James Belushi. As the story goes, Belushi wanted a taller fence between them. Julie objected, fearing her expansive gardens would be deprived of sunlight behind a tall fence. Invalidating the old saying about good fences making good neighbors, the grudge between the two began to spiral out of control from there, eventually leading to accusations of eggs being tossed at the others house (when asked about the egg, Julie's response was "well, it..it left my hand, unfortunately) and intentional noise disturbances. At its worst, their strange feud led to a $4 million dollar lawsuit against Julie, where Belushi claimed harassment. After some legal wrangling, the two neighbors settled out of court and made amends with a guest star role for Julie on Belushi's show, where she played, what else, but a combative neighbor.
Now 80-years old, Julie Newmar still retains an air of that seductive quality that served her so well her entire career. Now mostly retired from show business, she spends her days providing for her one son, John Jewl Smith, who suffers from Down's Syndrome and blindness. She also writes books wherein she offers nuggets of truth she's picked up over her 60 years in show business. While her skin tight cat suit days may be behind her, she somehow still radiates the spirit of her biggest claim to fame, making it clear with every mischievous glance that the best Catwoman hasn't gone through all her 9 lives just yet.