Burlesque History Lesson: Vancouver’s Hidden Horror Sweetheart

As much as I’d like to believe at times I’m an innovator with my craft, it’s hugely egotistical of me to think that way. As an artist, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from everything around me and channeling it into something I feel uniquely mine. More or less. In the past month I’ve met a non-gentic twin of mine (amazing photographer Renee Robyn), capered with latex-wearing contortionist clowns, and read through some books regarding Vancouver’s history. It would seem I’m not the first to emerge from the burlesque world to find herself in the horror genre. My reading and research into my own local lore showed me there’s really nothing new under the moon, and that there was a lady from my own fair city, many decades ago, who lived the cabaret life, moved onto film, and roosted in horror legend. A vampire lady loved by all, revered in tattooed ink, visual art, and a cult icon, this woman was born and raised in my own fair city of Vancouver.

Margaret Yvonne Middleton was born in Vancouver in 1922 and raised in posh Point Grey. In those days, waterfront property was not the hot-ticket item of the jet set that is thought of now. The genteel and well-heeled lived in the British Properties, Mount Pleasant, and Point Grey. Margret was born to her mother, Marie DeCarlo, who had been an aspiring actress and ballet dancer, running away from home at the age of sixteen to pursue a life on the stage. She met Margret’s father, a Australian by the name of William Middleton who later abandoned his young family when Margret was only three. She lived with her grandparents and upon her entry into grade school it was discovered that she had a lovely singing voice, and she found solace onstage as a performer.

Her mother, with memories of her own aspirations, moved them to Los Angeles where Margret was enrolled in dance school but after their visas expired found themselves back in Vancouver. However, stage mama Marie took them down for frequent trips to LA but in 1940 Margret won the title of ‘Miss Venice Beach’. With her new title, she was employed as a dancer for the Florentine Garden by uber-showman Nils Granland, but the immigration officials swooped in and sent her back to Vancouver again. Mr. Granland, for his merit, approached the immigration authorities and pleaded to allow him to sponsor her. She was granted re-entry in the USA and after a short stint at the Florentine Gardens moved onto contract work in films.

Modelling 'Canadian Print'. I think cannabis leaves interspersed with Maple leaves is more appropriate...

Modelling ‘Canadian Print’. I think cannabis leaves interspersed with Maple leaves is more appropriate…

What about the horror and the burlesque, I hear you ask? Ah, children, therein lies a special connection. Whilst Margret cooled her heels an awaited her return to LA and Hollywood, she worked in Vancouver clubs. Back in the heyday of neon shining brightly on slick, wet Vancouver streets, this dame was as femme fatale as you could hope for a place like Terminal City. Back in the 40s Vancouverites liked their entertainment and was a major stop on the West Coast circuit for both entertainers and vice. Adopting a handle that most will be familiar with, Margret became Yvonne De Carlo, but was still ‘Peggy’ to her friends. It was under that moniker that she performed first as part of the chorus line at the Palomar and an usher at the Orpheum theatre. The next time she’d return to Vancouver would be after making Hollywood films such as Salome, Where She Danced, Criss Cross and The Ten Commandments.

The sixties came, with their kitsch and fun. From this was born in 1964 one of two television families that the horror set felt they could model their own families after: The Addams Family, and The Munsters. Both ran the same two short seasons, but as the vampire Lily Munster and matriarch to a houseful of monsters, Yvonne De Carlo shone and is fondly remembered. She gave warmth and depth to creatures though cold and inhuman and loved her big fella, Herman, unconditionally, and set an archetype for television wives to come with tolerance towards their husband’s ridiculous antics (*cough* THE SIMPSONS/FAMILY GUY*cough). With fan art ranging from air brush work to tattoos, she is literally etched into our collective unconscious, born from the streets and cabarets of Vancouver.

The legacy to neonate showgirls with a horror bend begins...

The legacy to neonate showgirls with a horror bend begins…

And with the number of horror-showgirls this town produces, it looks like the she set the bar and gave the rest of us happy inspiration. Sleep well, Ms.De Carlo.



Little Miss Risk

This entry was posted in Burlesque History Lessons, Showgrrl Shiz, Vancouver History. Bookmark the permalink.

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