Julie Newmar Pitches Woo


Ask Julie Newmar about her stockings.  “Stay right where you are,” she commands.  She stands up, pivots.  Black, sheer, with a seam drawing the eye up her million-dollar (once-insured) legs.  But wait.  There’s more to this show.  She glides her skirt up to just below the derriere, and voila, and embroidered hand cleverly holds up the seam.

“Isn’t that sweet?  Those are the things you can make happen when you’re in someone’s presence,” she explains. 

She has the potency of Cleopatra, the dramatic chic of Edith Head, the moves of Balanchine and the comportment of a quintessential first lady, seasoned with a pinch of catnip.  What a marvelous bundle of mixed messages!  Can you be ladylike and seductive at the same time?

“How can you not be seductive if that’s a major quantity of your energy?”  purrs Miss Newmar.  “Sensuality is both born and developed.  It’s like a garden.  If you care for it, it rewards and rewards, and your life rewards you.”  Not surprisingly, she has three flowers named after her:  a rose, a lily and an orchid.

Julie Newmar, a.k.a. Rhoda (a robot) from My Living Doll, a.k.a. Catwoman, the siren who compelled even the unflappable Batman to swoon when she vamped down a staircase and enticed him in “a beastly stole” on the sixties TV series, was in Gotham for Fashion Week this fall.

We are with Miss Newmar in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, and she’s teaching me how to pitch woo.  Her skin is luminous; her lips perpetually poised in a famously luscious pout.  “The word woo shapes the mouth to perfection,” Miss Newmar says.

She’s inquisitive.  She’ll not only ask your sign but your birthday.  She makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.  If you want to be noticed, “be interested, not interesting,” she tells me.  Her shoulders are angular, thrown-back, authoritative, hinting at her balletic upbringing.  She was, after all, once the prima ballerina of the Los Angeles Opera.  Eyeing my large shoulder bag, she says disapprovingly, “Look at all that equipment.  You’ll get dents in your shoulders!”  She is carrying a petite black clutch.  The lesson has officially begun.

Listen up, ladies.  Julie Newmar does not subscribe to bending over to flash a tattoo or thong in a bid to woo.  Forget the vulgar; forbid the obvious.  Wooing is not simply a carnal prelude.  For Miss Newmar, it’s a fine, feline art.  It is the persuasion of both body and soul. 

“Isn’t dance the ultimate wooing art form?” I ask.

She closes her eyes, inhales deeply, and begins to reminisce about the bewitching power of dance.  I half expect her to leap up into a flamenco demonstration.  “I remember the table I danced on.  And what I did not wear.  And for whom I danced.  But that was a rare occasion.  The next morning, my dining room was filled with orchids.  It wasn’t long before a Cartier diamond watch arrived.”  She opens her eyes.  “It was a little rich for my temperament at the time.”

She punctuates the closing of sentences with sensual, throaty murmurs as if she’s letting you in on little secrets.

Wooing means making the right moves.  When Miss Newmar recalls the famous Batman seduction scene, she says she wasn’t thrilled with her scripted accessory:  “I had a fur piece.  It looked like a dead cat…a small, little nasty-looking thing.”  Still, she made it work, syncopating her lines with her body language. 

She doesn’t pussyfoot around when it comes to the ultimate taboo—not sex, but age.  “The world needs to reset its emotional clock about sensuality and sexuality.”

Was she tempted to improvise?  “Oh no.  The dialogue was perfect.  The camera angle, fortuitous.  What I did was choreograph the words.”

Wooing requires not only choreography but costuming.  It was Miss Newmar who turned her Lurex Catwoman outfit inside out and nipped in the seams; she does a drawing to show exactly where.  “I’m the one who put the belt right here,” she points to her sketch, “because it widens the hips,” an area, she asserts, to which men are instantly and ineluctably drawn. 

The future Catwoman had the consummate role model.  Her mother was a Ziegfeld girl in 1919, and the young Miss Newmar used to go through her costumes, reverently folded away in “wonderful black trunks,” she recalls.  “I remember she had this pink chiffon twenties dress with little mirrored panels on it.  Can you imagine her dancing in that?  Virtually nothing to hold it together.  As an impressionable child it’s planted in your endocrine system forever.  It dazzled me.  It was a starter course.”

Today, she has weekly appointments with her tailor to “tweak” her clothes and favors negligees and chemises around the house, especially for woo-worthy occasions.

Favorite colors?  “White.  You know why I like white.  White is very precious,” she says, confiding that she wears her wooing-whites with leggy white Wolford stockings that hug at the thigh.  “Black is sexy, but in a dark room you can’t see the body…in white, you stand out against the darkness.  And white, a man wants to take it off of you, you see.  There’s that innocence.”

Miss Newmar, who began ballet at five, says that even more that tutus and toe shoes, it was music that most motivated her.  “All the great mysteries of life came to me through the source of music. I could read music before I could actually read.  Music is the starting gate of wooing,” she says.  “When I hear the sound of bagpipes, I think something so atavistic.  It riddles my body with a kind of life-death and all that passion in between.  The sound of a bagpipe is an instant turn-on.  I think that would be a part of any seduction.”

“A lot of people hate bagpipes,” I tell her.

“Oh, really?” she says, stunned.  “I’ll tell you one that rather recently flipped me out.  Saint-Saens’s Wedding Cake.  It’s like being on the end of a diving board…It will throw you up in the air; every part of your body will leap.  You will come to life like never before, I promise you.  I was speaking rather sweetly to my friend, and when I heard this music, I leapt off the bed, grabbed him and the rest was history.  Music is by far the best drug. 

“Flirtation,” she continues, with a wink at Woo’s frivolous cousin, “is something that should be practiced very regularly.  Flirtation is not meant to be permanent.  Flirtation is like taking a nice walk.  You do it as a form of exercise, but it also contributes most highly to your well-being.  Flirtation is very good for the cells.  Wooing, however, should go on regardless of your status.  If you’ve been successfully loved for years, months, days, it doesn’t make any difference.  Wooing should still go on.  Yes, one is wooed over a plate of spinach.  One is wooed in the washing of the dishes.  Because it really says:  You are my divinity.  You are someone so dear to me…that I desire that you feel good in my presence.  And I see everything that is glorious about you.  It is to put the air under the feet of the other. 

“Wooing is not the bedroom.  It is not the act. We’ll keep that for another eight hours someplace else.”  She doesn’t pussyfoot around when it comes to the ultimate taboo—not sex, but age.  “The world,” she says, “needs to reset its emotional clock about sensuality and sexuality.”  Well, actually, she does bring up sex, promising me that sex is better at seventy than twenty.

Time for one last question:  Miss Newmar’s greatest wooing achievement?  “That is yet to come,” she says.  “I don’t live in the past.”  BG