When you're an actress as inimitable as Julie Newmar, of course you have a rose, a day lily, and an orchid named in your honor. In 1995 she also inspired (and made a cameo appearance in) "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar." Best known for playing Catwoman on the "Batman" TV series, Newmar will appear as part of the California Independent Film Festival's screening of "To Wong Foo." I chatted with Julie Newmar about her most iconic roles, working with the late Robin Williams, her chemistry with Adam West, the Hollywood casting couch, and her favorite apps.
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What will you be doing at the "To Wong Foo" screening?
I have to walk onstage, and that takes some doing. I have to be funny, so please somebody write me a script. Then I have to look fabulous, so I need someone to give me a beautiful headpiece or hat. I'm putting out an SOS for something elegant, so the whole audience will go, "Wow." I want everyone there screaming and yelling, just like at "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
What was your experience working on that movie?
Oh, it was so much fun -- just delicious and divine. Working with Robin Williams, who we lost, and being on set in New York -- it was wonderful. And Long Island, where they did the finale with all the "girls" in the high heels, sinking into the grass, all looking as if nothing could have bothered them or anything, 'cause it all had to be so beautiful. Oh my God, how we puff up life.
Did you feel honored to have a movie named after you?
I wouldn't have thought that my name would be in that funny title and the even funnier story, but what could have been better? But there's so much joy. It really personifies me, this film. We're on earth to mainly enjoy ourselves, not to preach anything. We're all different, so joy is the key.
Drag was everywhere in the mid-'90s, between films like "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "To Wong Foo," and of course RuPaul was breaking out.
He still is. He should invite me to his promenade, you know? Work it, girl!
It was so impactful to see three straight actors -- Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo -- in drag.
Oh, how too divine. Wasn't Wesley wonderful with all his muscles and brawn? But I'd be hard-pressed to say which one was the best, 'cause each of the guys was best at his own drag. We hope the gay community forgives us for straight men playing gay men playing whatever, but we're all borrowing and imitating here on Earth and stealing from the other.
Tell us something we don't know about the making of "To Wong Foo."
The company that wanted to produce it picked me up and took me out to New Jersey to this Chinese restaurant, to the To Wong Foo restaurant, and there was Robin Williams. I wanted to watch him work. I sat very quietly as close as I could to where he was being filmed and watched his manners, how he does this magic, and I was astounded. The humor I knew about, but I had not encountered such good manners. He had the most beautiful demeanor. He was so kind and supportive to anyone around him. In a scene, his face was totally placid, and inside you could see his smile of appreciation and approbation. He was there to support and give love to the person in the scene with him. I think it really came from this exceptional genius in his hold. But the greats are always generous.
I have to ask you about Catwoman. When you accepted the role, were there any reservations about playing such a campy character on an even campier show?
No, there was no time for second-guessing anything. It was a flight out on the weekend from New York to LA. Monday I was getting my costume fitting and the script. Tuesday was rehearsal. Wednesday we were shooting. It's marvelous when you don't have to overthink something. Anyway, the script was so good. On 11/11 they're putting out the most beautiful version of the "Batman" TV show in Blu-ray with all those extras, so I'm just thrilled about that -- that it can finally be seen in its real beauty. On top of that, screens are bigger, so it looks wonderful.
I love the campiness and humor of your "Batman."
I think you have to delight yourself into sex. I'm saying that not flippantly, but we want to delight ourselves into whatever it is we're up to, be it making a recipe or you name it. So I agree with you on the humor.
Do you follow the "Batman" films?
No. I shouldn't say that, but it's too stressful and too dark that I should hardly find the screen. The sound is coming from everywhere, so I have my fingernails in my ears, and that's not very comfortable. It's just too loud. They don't have to scream at you and bombard you to have a good time. The '60s was better at having a good time, and we did a pretty bang-up job of it.
There have been several Catwomans since yours. What would you say that you brought to the role?
I have a whole page of adjectives, and nearly all of them start with the letter S. Sensuous, scintillating, silly, sensational. Just dive into the S's.
You've described Adam West as having beautiful lips. I was wondering what your chemistry was like.
Doesn't he? You notice it most when he wears the mask. But the chemistry is all in the script. It's the great writing and script that bring it to life.
I know that the real Catwoman outfit is in the Smithsonian Museum. But out of curiosity, do you own a spare?
I have something hanging in my closet. It's just hanging there. Don't you even think that I'm going to put it on. No, no, no, I do not compete with myself.
I can't even imagine what it must have been like, being such a sex symbol in Hollywood over so many decades. Were you ever encouraged to use the proverbial casting couch to get ahead?
Oh, goodness, that goes on. But I'll have to be 90 before I say anything about that. It will have to be long behind me and everyone dead and gone. Oh, I could tell you stories, but I'm too young, and they're not dead enough.