The Munsters: Behind the scenes with TV stars Fred Gwynne & Yvonne De Carlo, plus the 60s show’s theme

Cast of The Munsters 1960s

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Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo were stars of their day, making The Munsters what it was — but behind the scenes, there was so much more to the people behind the show than met the eye.

See what (not so) ghoulish secrets were uncovered when reporters met with the stars who played Lily and Herman.

And just below, check out the iconic theme song and remind yourself of this amusingly all-American family who just happened to be ghouls and monsters.

The Munsters intro/opening credits/theme song (colorized)

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Interview with Yvonne DeCarlo: Cast of ‘The Munsters’ ready for season 2 (1965)

From The Journal News (White Plains, New York) August 2, 1965

Sweet Lily Munster is prepared to look up with love at her Herman, cook dinner for Grandpa, hand son Eddie his lunchbox, and play the noble retiring housewife on CBS’ “The Munsters” next season.

As Lily, Yvonne De Carlo doesn’t expect bigger parts on the monster series.

“There will be no changes or additions as far as I know. You don’t fool with success,” said the actress who used to be known for seductive parts in pictures like “Captain’s Paradise,” “Tomahawk” and pirate epics.

Yvonne De Carlo - The Munsters (1960)

Now she’s more popular as the crazy lady, flouncing about in strange flowing garments called dresses, ladling out soup among the spider webs to those smiling weirdos, the Munster men.

Last season, Yvonne only had one real meaty story, in which heroine Lily went out looking for a job, and surprisingly landed one as a way-out model to a very peculiar dress designer.

Yvonne De Carlo in Border River movie
Yvonne De Carlo in ‘Border River’ (1954)
Morbid shows preferred

“That was my best show,” said Miss De Carlo, “but I got home late from work and never saw it.

“My favorites are the morbid ones. I liked the episode where Grandpa turned into a wolf out in the country. And the story about Herman slipping into the Egyptian museum and getting caught in a coffin pleased me.”

Cast of The Munsters 1960s

Like Al Lewis (Grandpa), Yvonne wonders how many more stories can be built completely around the marvelous Herman.

“I think we’re going to run out of sport stories for my husband,” Yvonne continued. “He’s played golf, baseball, basketball, tried scuba diving, fished. I don’t know what’s left.”

She also wonders how many times Herman can stomp on the floor and break things when he’s angry. The kids laughed the first year, but will they the second?

The Munsters: Transylvania locum urged

Both Yvonne and Lewis think more shows should be built around the family to take the heat off star Fred Gwynne, so his character of Herman won’t become overly-familiar, Miss De Carlo has suggested the family return to their original hunting ground, Transylvania, for a few stories.

Herman Munster playing golf

“We could sleep in the castle,” Yvonne offered, “and be on display snoring happily away for the group tours.”


The idea has been received with silence.

However, Miss De Carlo is on the best of terms with producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, and she isn’t hurt if her suggestions fall by the wayside.

“I like my producers,” she said. “And, if I want to change a line in the script, I’ll pick up the phone first and ask their permission.”

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“There’s also a good rapport between Al Lewis, Fred Gwynne and myself. The men, being New Yorkers, kid me a lot about the picture business, the industry.

The Munsters family and their car

“Fred is always bringing up Van Heflin. He saw me in a picture with Van, and apparently can’t forget it.

“I tell those two I’ve worked with the best — Heflin, Alec Guinness and others — and I know how to handle myself. If I find anyone upstaging me, I simply embarrass them right in front of the crew.”

Patience, stamina needed for The Munsters

It’s a good thing the Munster grownups get along, because stepped-on nerves could ruin the series.

Great patience is needed, and stamina, too, to survive the long hours, the waiting for special effect sight gags to work and the costume irritations.

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The three often arrive at 5:30am, and take two hours to put on all their blue-grey makeup.

“I can shorten my makeup time,” said Lily, “but I like to take time with my nails and my wig, and I put on all the body makeup myself.

Herman and Lily - Fred Gwynne Yvonne DeCarlo The Munsters 1964

“You should have seen me in a bathing suit sequence, which will be shown in the fall,” she continued. “With my grey-blue skin and my same color suit, I looked all of one piece. It was spectacular.

“But the costumes remain a problem. On hot days, Fred has Al spray his middle with an air hose for tickling relief. And Al has problems in that full-dress coat, which is very stiff, old-fashioned and uncomfortable.

“When I look back on the past year, I wonder how we got through it. Fred had a pinched nerve for a while, Al caught the flu, and I came down with nervous exhaustion this spring during our last two months of shooting. I tell you — it’s murder to be a Munster!”

WATCH THE MUNSTERS AGAIN! See this classic sitcom on-demand & on DVD

The Munsters vintage TV show - original cast in color

Herman Munster: Pater Familias is a taciturn Fred Gwynne (interview)

by Marion Purcelli, Chicago Tribune (August 29, 1965)

But for two bolts protruding from either side of his neck, a forehead graced by a jagged saber scar, sunken eyes, a height over 7 feet, clothes that look as if they had been tailored by an itinerant sailmaker, and an amazing resemblance to the Frankenstein monster — Herman Munster is an average American suburban homeowner.

Taxes, local politics, property values, catching the 6:29, and his family’s welfare, are a constant concern. So too are his standing in the community, a weight problem, crabgrass, and whether or not he’s still attractive to the opposite sex.

The gentleman is easily hurt and, consequently, extremely considerate of others. He’s a devoted father, a model husband, and an upstanding citizen, despite neighbors who make no secret of their wish that he move.

Herman and Lily Munster - from original vintage TV show The Munsters

He nurtures friendship among other residents of the community, but finds acceptance comes hard. Can he help it if he scares the living daylights out of everyone he meets?

Can he be ostracized just because, with one swipe of the hand, a nasty neighbor is turned into a pillar of salt?

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In most every way, he’s just like you and me.

It seems a little far out to report that the actor who delights viewers each week as a “displaced monster” in real life is a mild-mannered sort who prefers the quiet life of the suburbs where he can indulge such placid pursuits as painting and sculpturing.

But it’s true.

The Official Munsters

What’s more, the taciturn thespian, Fred Gwynne, who stars as Herman Munster, once made his living as a writer and illustrator of children’s books — and he’s a graduate of Harvard. Amazingly, Fred nurtures an ambition to become a top-flight practitioner of Chinese brush painting.

“This is one of the most exquisite forms of art, something to which a man dedicates a lifetime,” he said during a telephone interview. “Such a specialist must study and work at least half a century to bring his technique to its highest point of development.

“Trouble is, a truly expert Chinese brush painter is about 85 years old before he even evolves his individual style. I just may not live long enough to achieve that. But for my boy, Herman Munster with his collective age of centuries, it would be a cinch.”

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Fred has but one complaint about his life as an actor.

“When I come into people’s homes, I’m always a goon,” he wailed. “Television directors take one look at me… I can now recognize that look … and cast me as the dope. Despite the fact I resent people believing I’m as stupid as I appear in TV, I must confess there is some satisfaction in putting across a part.

Mister Herman Munster

“If I had to stand up in front of strangers, and be Fred Gwynne, I’d be immobilized by embarrassment. As long as I have lines to say, and a character to project — I’m all right.

“It’s not that I mind live audiences — I would as soon play before such an audience [as I’ve done on Broadway and at the Stratford festival] as play in front of a camera crew — as long as there is a script.”

Fred finds the one delightful aspect of portraying a lovable monster is the profound effect he’s having on the sleeping habits of youngsters.

He’s received thousands of letters from parents all over the country thanking him for making it easier to get their little moppets to bed. Kids find Herman highly amusing and not the least bit frightening as a monster.

“Children,” according to Gwynne, “believe Herman is real and, because of that, have fewer fears about imaginary monsters. It’s a very healthy situation.”

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The Munsters — residents of 1313 Mockingbird Lane

They get “reel” for View-Master

The Munsters TV show 1966 View-Master Pack

Only looks different: Munsters – Just a normal family (1964)

From the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) October 3, 1964

Happy monsters are “The Munsters,” the new CBS Thursday night series starring those stock characters Frankenstein, Dracula, Vampira, and the wolf man’s child who are trying to lead a normal life among the cereal eaters.

One look by Frankenstein, called Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), is supposed to scare kids to death, but only his looks are a bit frightening.

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Down under all that makeup, Herman is sweet, and so is his father-in-law, Grandpa Munster (Al Lewis), a Dracula who will give you his fang teeth for a smile.

Vampira (Yvonne De Carlo) or Herman’s bride, perhaps, is too fond of powder, but she wouldn’t think of sipping pigeon’s blood for cocktails.

The Munsters Comics - Grandpa's casket race car

In other words ”The Munsters” are a close-knit American family who look very different, and, as a result, get laughs by doing normal things. When Frankenstein, or Herman, brushes his teeth, it’s funny.

Producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, creators of ”Leave It to Beaver,” can put these characters into stock situations from “Life With Father” and get laughs, or they can go into the mystic world for chuckles and turn Grandpa into a wolf.

Grandpa spends most of his time down in the lab blowing up things. He may concoct a love potion to help a failing romance down the block, or merely try to make decent salt water taffy. His job is to mess up situations and he may often succeed in spite of his efforts.

It’s going to be hard to steal scenes from Grandpa, but Herman, with his pretty face, can’t miss. When Frankenstein smiles, goes into a little dance or even sings, it’s such an opposite, it’s funny. When you come down to it, what is more engaging than a delighted monster? Your sympathy flows.

And fans’ sympathies should be poured in buckets upon the brows of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, former cops on ‘Car 34,’ because these two New York actors, who have never been to Hollywood before, had no idea what they were getting into — mainly the makeup chair.

The Munsters TV show 1966 View-Master Pack

Gwynne spends hours each morning putting on his face and so does Al. Fred’s main pleasure consists of letting Al Stick an air hose under his costume between breaks.

“It’s like Victoria Falls,” says Fred with his long straight face. He has been through one long summer in this weird getup and he’s not sure about getting through the winter without going straight up.

Gwynne’s and Lewis’ main pleasure comes from watching the other suffer. ”Al has to play some scenes upside down,”‘ says Fred, ”and he’s not happy hanging by his heels, but he makes me feel much better. Seems when Grandpa gets angry he thinks he’s a bat and over he goes.”

Connelly and Mosher haven’t put any real age limits on their characters so the writers can pull out any old witchcraft trick to brighten a spot. “All I know is that I’m over a hundred years old,” says Fred, ”and Al supposedly was saying ‘hokey pokey’ in 1506.”

“Which means this series is loaded with sight gags and special effects,” says Al. “We have more special effects than all the other TV shows put together.

And this takes time. Already we’re way over budget. We can’t make a show in three days like the other 30 minute companies. It’s a physical impossibility.

“Why, the other day, I had six lines in the lab and it took seven hours to shoot. Setting up all the business takes time.”

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