By Chris Huqueriza
Actress Julie Newmar, made famous by portraying the original Catwoman in the Batman franchise, has lived an illustrious career. dot429 interviews the icon, who yesterday, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing (GLEH) organization.
At the age of 15, Newmar was a prima ballerina for the Los Angeles Opera. She’s danced in such iconic films as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the Band Wagon, and won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Marriage-Go-Round. Her trademark 37-inch legs were at one time insured for $1 million. While Newmar has appeared in notable 60s shows like Bewitched, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, it’s her role as Catwoman in the 1966 show Batman that she is best known for.
Newmar is still jovially energetic and cracking jokes as she prepares for her 80th birthday later this year. Not fazed by her iconic status, she is very down-to-earth, with a vigorous laugh.
She’s humble as she discusses the award she’s soon to receive. “I have to see what it feels like. Is it sparkly? Is it heavy? Do I have to hide it? We’ll see. Maybe show up in my birthday suit? Which one? There’s so many to choose from,” Newmar jokes.
Newmar was honored on Sunday, January 13th, at the Jim Henson Lot in Hollywood, where guests were invited to the showing of the 70th Golden Globe Awards. The event benefited GLEH’s Comprehensive Housing Care Program, a nationally recognized aging in place model for LGBT seniors.
“It’s a notable building [GLEH’s headquarters], tall and straight, for people who only have social security,” Newmar adds, as the organization for LGBT seniors impresses her. “It’s a very loving community that takes care of their well-being.”
GLEH’s mission is to “improve the life experience of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) seniors by developing affordable housing, providing comprehensive care, and ensuring through advocacy and education a brighter future for the LGBT elder community.”
Newmar’s commitment to the LGBT cause was inspired by a personal connection – her brother, Dr. John Newmeyer, is gay.
“He has a twisted political position to a better degree that influences me,” Newmar said of her brother. John Newmeyer graduated from Harvard with a degree in Physics and has written a number of essays, articles, and three books. “I ask him questions. He likes that. It always works..”
Her brother also encouraged her to take the role of Catwoman in the 1966 Batman series, which has attracted a large fanbase, including many fans from the LGBT community. She became the model-muse for Designer Thierry Mugler’s 20-year couture collection in Paris and was celebrated in the 1995 drag queen-inspired film ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.’
While she was the first actress to play Catwoman, she doesn’t have an opinion on the actresses who followed in her footsteps – a list that most recently includes Michelle Pfieffer, Halle Berry, and Anne Hathaway. She says that the franchise now belongs to Warner Brothers so it’s not up to her. She is still flattered to be looked upon as the ideal Catwoman by many ‘Batman’ fans.
“When you’re the best, you’re the best. I can’t help it,” Newmar jokes.
When I asked her what her fondest memory is from playing Catwoman,, she mentions an early episode with a young James Brolin.
“He is a wonderful actor – very tall and most agreeable. I got to ride in the front seat with him,” Newmar said. In the episode, her character disguises herself as an 80-year-old wealthy recluse looking to steal two Stradivarius violins. She remembers appreciating being able to play something different than her usual type. She jokes about feeling up other members of the cast dressed as that older woman.
“Sometimes, it’s nice to be at a certain age because it is. You can pretty much do what you please and not be afraid,” said Newmar.
When asked about what’s next for her, it seems she’ll continue to focus on the simple things in life. She is a notable businesswoman, holding three U.S. patents in womenswear, and running her own real estate business. She likes to create things, and updates her blog regularly, as she’s very opinionated. She lives lightly enough, enjoying comfort, good food, and an impressive social calendar that keeps her busy.
“Everyone’s on Facebook. I’m on Facebook. Most of the time, 40% of people disagree with you,” Newmar laughs.
Looking back at her career as she prepares to accept GLEH’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Newmar believes the biggest victories for any person are to be found in the little, everyday things in life.
“It’s a huge achievement just showing up and not always being late. It concerns everyone. You don’t get there in time, you could get fired,” Newmar said..
She then remembers it’s time for dinner, and she doesn’t want to be late for that.
(Photography credit: Glen Hanson)