To most people, Julie Newmar will always be Catwoman, indelibly slinking across TV screens in the original Batman series. But long before Newmar first purred, she was a Tony Award-winning actress and dancer on Broadway, and she’s featured in my book, Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater (Oxford University Press). Newmar and I will be chatting about her days on The Great White Way at The Grove’s Barnes & Noble on March 26, but for Frontiers, we discussed topics gayer than musical theater—as if such a thing is possible.
There’s a drag queen movie named after you, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. For your whole career you have been a gay icon. Actually, I think you prefer the term ‘deity’ to ‘icon.’
‘Icon’ is far easier to spell. And you can’t be a living deity. [Laughs]
So what do you prefer to be called as one who is revered?
Hmmm. “Takes too long too dress, mannered but friendly.”
You think the gay community loves you for being mannered but friendly?
Oh, I can’t answer questions about what other people may think about me. Dare I? When someone says something nice about you, you shut up and take it in! I’d have to ask my brother. He gives fabulous parties in San Francisco. He’d know. I think it still comes down to the simple fact that I’m tall.
Tall? We’re not gonna go with statuesque?
That implies the joints don’t move. [Laughs]
Well, yours certainly do. You were dancing from the time you were a child and on Broadway dancing in your teens.
If you want beautiful legs, ballet class! The boys aren’t bad, either. I mean, look at the tush.
I share your sentiments! You are joining me at Barnes & Noble to discuss my book, but you wrote a book of your own, The Conscious Catwoman Explains Life on Earth. How did that come about?
It just sort of oozed forth. You know it’s tongue-in-cheek with a title like that. It’s a how-to book. Growing up I had stacks of how-to books. My favorite was How to Win Friends and Influence People. Seriously dog-eared. I read them all the time.
You are about to do a how-to seminar at Salon Goo on Fairfax in May—“How to be a Great Beauty (even though you think you’re not one).”
That was a fluke of my imagination. I decided to have a little séance at that salon. As females, what we do is enhance ourselves. A man’s eyeballs open up and the iris gets wide—we pay attention to those things. So you squeeze in your waist, you enhance the bust. All of that.
Well, you have made a career of knowing exactly how to accentuate the positive.
Exactly! Thank you! Put that in bold letters!
Do you ever miss doing musicals?
It was a huge flourishing time of my life. It was rare and heavenly, and every night you get to perfect the craft, the art or whatever it is that we do.
I don’t think it’s too lofty to call musical theater ‘art.’
I can do anything artistic—anything. I am geared for that. Numbers are a struggle. Every Tuesday I sit with my bookkeeper and I can barely walk to the dinner table after that.
You’re on Facebook.
You sound surprised.
I never learned to keep a diary. If I had, I would have a very good biography, but now it’s all forgotten. But today we put it up on Facebook and it’s like your electronic journal, and you get feedback from people who think that you are an absolute drip. And they’re probably right! It’s wonderful.
Catch Eddie Shapiro’s conversation with Julie Newmar at The Grove’s Barnes & Noble, 189 The Grove Dr., L.A., on March 26.
Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater, 384 pages, $39.95 (Oxford University Press)