In the continued exploration of my pop culture roots, I’m revealing more of my recently discovered cache of celebrity correspondence from the 1970s. Of all the letters I received back then, I don’t think anything excited me more than the package I got from that feline temptress who reduced Batman to a quivering pile of mush—Julie Newmar.
The year was 1971 and I was all of 11 years old. I was already familiar with Julie Newmar from her short-lived series called “My Living Doll” in which she played AF709, also known as Rhoda Miller, a robot who lived with an Air Force shrink played by Bob Cummings. In this Johnson-era, testosterone-laced male fantasy, Cummings was trying to transform Newmar’s sexy android into the Perfect Woman, i.e., one that would do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it! (Is it possible that the women’s movement was originally formed just so they could band together to protest this show?) I specifically remember an episode where Cummings was teaching Julie how to get into a girdle, something her character wasn’t familiar with (and obviously didn’t need!).
Before her stint as a robot, Julie Newmar was most famous as one of the “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” She followed that up by being perfectly cast as Stupefyin’ Jones in the film version of “L’il Abner.” After the cancellation of her TV show, she landed the role that forever made her a pop culture icon. With her skintight, form-fitting suit, she was by far the sexiest Catwoman ever to claw her way through Gotham City. By the early 1970s, Julie had hung up her claws and was making TV movies, including 1971’s “The Feminist and the Fuzz” in which she co-starred with Barbara Eden, David Hartman, Jo Anne Worley, and in one of her first roles, an impossibly young Farrah Fawcett. I don’t know what possessed me to write to the actress (or how I got her home address in New York) but I sure remember the day a large envelope from 19 Beekman Place arrived in the mail.
Unfortunately, I can only find one of the three photos Newmar enclosed with her letter. Reading her kind words, I wonder if she had a clue that the person she was writing to was only 11 years old. I am mortified that I apparently told her about being “first in my school” and I can’t fathom what “first” I was talking about. I love her suggestive comment that she’d like to be in more films "as one way" of visiting me, and the fact that she takes the time to explain how she prefers New York over Los Angeles.
Do you think celebrities today still answer their fan mail? It’s amazing to me that Julie Newmar read my scrawled missive, sat down to pen me a response, and then included not one, but three sexy photos. Searching the Internet tonight, I was surprised and a little hurt to find one of the other photos she sent me, but of course signed to someone else. The “Peter” in this case is artist and musician Peter Gullerud who was once a sketch artist for Disney and worked for Hitchcock star Tippi Hedren (Melanie Griffith’s mom) at her animal reserve called Shambala. On my copy of this photograph, however, Julie signed it “To D, Love J” and drew little cat whiskers on the J! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find such a proliferation of signed Julie Newmar photos on the Internet. There was even a bizarre, cross-dressing Patrick Swayze film in 1995 called “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” that was inspired by an autographed photo the screenwriter saw of Newmar in a Chinese restaurant in Times Square. Oh well, maybe I was at least the youngest recipient of Newmar’s largesse. By the way, is it illegal for a former movie star to send softcore porn to an 11 year old?
I’ve run into Julie Newmar many times in Los Angeles and even today she causes a sensation when she enters a restaurant. You can practically hear nerves being pinched as everyone in the room cranes their neck to gaze at the shockingly tall 70-year-old woman who still looks like she could give Bruce Wayne a run for his money. Lately I’ve seen her around town with her only child, a son named John, who was born when Newmar was 48 years old and, sadly, has Down Syndrome and is deaf. It’s heartwarming to see the way she cares for him when the two of them are out in public.
I was sad to see Julie back in the news last November when her next-door-neighbor, actor Jim Belushi, sued her for four million dollars, claiming harassment and defamation of character. Their openly hostile neighborhood feud has been going on for years. Newmar apparently once threw an egg at Belushi's house because of a noisy air conditioner and she has accused him of being a peeping Tom. It’s all pretty sordid, but whatever the facts, I have to side with Julie on this one. Anyone who takes the time to fulfill the fantasies of some snot-nosed little kid in Chicago is above reproach in my book.