- Best known for her role as Catwoman in “Batman,” Julie Newmar had a pretty successful career in Hollywood.
- She gave birth to her son, John, who suffers from a genetic condition, and separated from her husband.
- The actress still cares for her child, now 42, and they find peace in spending time in her home’s garden.
Julie Newmar started her career in entertainment as a dancer in a couple of movies, such as “Slaves of Babylon” and “Serpent of the Nile,” but she remained uncredited for her work. She also appeared in “The Band Wagon” and “Demetrius and the Gladiators.”
Universal Studios hired her as a choreographer for other projects, but her first significant role, where she appeared as Julie Newmeyer, was in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in 1954. She played a small part in Broadway’s “Li’l Abner” and appeared in the film adaptation. She later landed a lead part in “The Rookie.”
One of Newmar’s prominent Broadway roles was in “The Marriage-Go-Round,” for which she won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. She continued making her way on stage, becoming one of the most influential performers of the ’60s.
Newmar soon found fame on television, and that’s why most people remember her. She was tall, slim, and had a femme fatale look that fans adored. She appeared as Rhoda on “My Living Doll” between 1964 and 1965 before becoming Catwoman on the television version of “Batman” with Adam West.
At the time, the character was still not known as Selina Kyle. Newmar managed to live her life beyond being the villain and sometimes romantic counterpart to Batman.
Newmar remains one of the most beloved women to play the role, apart from Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt. It’s easy to say that she is most famous in Hollywood history for being the first actress to portray the role, although she only starred in the first two seasons.
The actress even redesigned the original costume and placed the belt at the hips to show off her body better. Nowadays, the outfit is displayed at the Smithsonian museum. Her jumpsuit was made of Lurex and wasn’t very flexible back then. Newmar said:
“It didn’t have much elastic in it, but it fit like a glove—I made sure of that. They had that gold belt at the waistline, but I told them, if we put it at the hips, it makes a more curvaceous body.”
Newmar had many cameos on shows like “Bewitched,” “The Monkees,” “Star Trek,” “It Takes a Thief,” and many others. She also guest-starred on other shows like “The Love Boat,” “CHiPs,” and “Fantasy Island.”
Newmar even played herself on “Melrose Place” once. In 2003, she participated in “Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt” and in 2019, she played Dr. Julia Hoffman in “Dark Shadows: Bloodline.”
Despite earning the most popularity for Catwoman, Newmar admitted that her favorite character was Rhoda for “My Living Doll.” The actress explained:
“I just arched and stretched as Catwoman, but how do you be a robot? We’ve seen lots of cats, but how many robots have you seen that looked like Rhoda? How do you get the human-to-human connection to make people laugh?”
Newmar preferred to keep her personal life away from the spotlight. She married a lawyer, John Holt Smith, in 1977. They had a son, John Jewl Smith, on February 25, 1981. The boy was a miracle, as the actress went through three miscarriages before having him.
Newmar was 48 when John was born deaf and with Down syndrome. Three years later, in 1984, she and John’s father split.
Caring for Her Son
Despite the consequences of being deaf and having Down syndrome, Newmar’s son never felt like a burden to her or anything less than a blessing. She believes it’s “very helpful” to have a child like John, who she proudly reveals is an artist. She explained:
“Parents should never feel like they have an afflicted child. […] He’s adorable. He lives with me, and he’s a wonderful artist. As a matter of fact, he now has an exhibit at the Washington Reid Gallery in Culver City [Calif.].”
The actress also revealed John changed the way she thought about life and how she only understands unconditional love and how to give it thanks to him. “John is what makes my life great,” Newmar told Closer Weekly in 2018.
In her 60s, she took her child all over the world, but they loved Bali and Southeast Asia the most. They had a particular fondness for soaking and gardens. The actress has revealed that John loves anything visual and that “he’s a blessing to be around.”
Unfortunately, they couldn’t travel much after she was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease in 2008. It is a neurological problem where people lose balance and mobility.
Additionally, her son has scoliosis on his spine, so they prefer to stay home most days. They live with two assistants who help prepare their food, maintain the house, and care for John, driving him to his art lessons among other things.
At home, Newmar and John spend time in their garden every day. Sometimes, Newmar reads; other times, they take the scooter and roll around her property.
On her web page, Lisa Johnson Mitchell described Newmar as “real live superhero” after witnessing the kind of care the actress devotes to her son. Mitchell visited Newmar at her home, where she was introduced to John, who Newmar patiently fed spoon by spoon. Mitchell wrote:
“My friend told me that Julie had John when she was around 50. Since then, he said she had been a selfless, dedicated mother to her boy.”
The actress gave Mitchell a tour of the house and even discussed her feud with her neighbor, Jim Belushi. She was in her early 80s at the time but still walking around her property quickly.
Mitchell said she was just as gorgeous as her heydays, and without any plastic surgery. She wrote that she was even more beautiful at that moment than when she knew her as Catwoman.
She praised the actress for being the kind of mother who would surely take a bullet for her child before ending her blog with the following:
“I was blessed to have met you, Julie Newmar, especially now that you’re in your role of a lifetime. You are, indeed, a real live superhero.”
Adoring Their Home Garden
The actress’ home in Brentwood has become her safe haven, and one of her favorite parts about her property is the garden, where she grows electric orange begonias, among other plants. The flowers surround her office, which has huge windows. Newmar added:
“I love, love, love that color. I’m trying to name it… Paris Pink? No… Hermosa.”
Due to her diagnosis, Newmar’s legs are not what they used to be, so she isn’t as nimble at 89, but she remains ethereal and mesmerizing to everyone who meets her. She is, first and foremost, a dancer, and in interviews, she tries to move around. When she speaks about happy matters, she sings them.
Newmar mostly remains positive, except when it comes to leaf blowers, which she refers to as “the scourge of the Earth.” During an interview with the LA Times, the actress had to close a door because a neighbor had started using one of those machines. She explained:
“I wrote an essay about leaf blowers and the evil they do.”
Surprisingly, Newmar helped pass a law banning the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in 1998 for the L.A. City Council. At the time, those were noisier than more modern versions. Her hatred for these machines makes sense as she’s such an avid gardener. She believes that your yard is a “reflection of you.”
Since Southern California is such a fantastic place with excellent weather, people there are responsible for taking what they’re given and making something from it.
The actress grew up in Los Feliz in a five-bedroom house built by her father, who studied a bit of engineering at university. It was three stories high and had a waterfall and the most amazing views. Her family could even see Catalina Island.
Newmar had two younger brothers: Peter and John. Sadly, Peter died in a skiing accident at 25. Meanwhile, John became an epidemiologist before turning to writing and wine-making. Speaking about her siblings, the actress said:
“Peter was such a beautiful boy, he got the looks. My brother John got the brains, and me, whatever… I’m still trying to catch up.”
The yard in her childhood home was her first memory of having a real garden. She was three years old and loved being in that little piece of nature. Newmar talked about laying on the grass with her legs stretched and feeling loved. “I carry that with me in every garden I go into,” she said.
Even when she lived in apartments around New York during her Broadway days, she tried to connect or be near gardens. Newmar has said that while some people like dogs, she prefers plants, leaves, and flowers.
Interestingly, the actress has several flowers named after her, including a rose cultivated by Weeks Roses’ Tom Carruth, who works as the rose garden curator of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens nowadays. They had a contest to name the new kind of flower, and Newmar won. She explained:
“With all the love and attention I put onto flowers, I wanted a rose named after me, so I put my word out—I advise everyone to do that about what they want—I wrote something down, and I must have put it in the mailbox because Armstrong Nurseries called me up, said ‘We have something for you,’ and… Ooooooh! It was my rose!”
Meanwhile, the actress has volunteered her garden for several events, including charities. She’s famous for doing so in the West Los Angeles area.
Aside from connecting with nature through fauna, Newmar maintains a healthy lifestyle, revealing that she never tried drugs or cigarettes. She even fears taking over-the-counter painkillers and prefers everything natural, supplementing her diet with vitamins. When asked if she got up to some “debauchery” in her youth, the actress could only respond, “Just the good kind.”
Newmar doesn’t want anyone to think she’s perfect, but she likes holding herself to high standards. She is attracted to beauty in all manners and enjoys treating people with kindness. That passion for beauty drives her gardening skills.
She’s had that Brentwood house since the ’80s and renovated the entire exterior, as it was apparently covered in ivy and wholly run down by previous owners. However, she fell for the trees, hedges, and lawn, including a few violets, and decided that place would be her home.
Several landscapers have worked with the actress: Jay Griffith, who made the initial design, Sandy Kennedy, and, currently, Bradley James. Her garden is always blooming, filled with color and scents, but she added a couple of secret paths to stimulate her son. Newmar commented:
“We stay about 10 to 20 minutes in one place to see what’s going on because unless you’re still, nothing happens in the garden. The garden heals me from all my left brain business. Whenever you get too wound up, too stressed out, I advise you to just go to a garden and be still for 10 minutes.”
She also talked about the garden must-haves, such as fine snippers for grooming, which she likes to do herself. She can’t do the heavier, physically-intensive work, but she can take care of her flowers.
The actress loves The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, especially the space they made for children, the conservatory, the rose garden, and much more. Furthermore, Newmar learns about gardening from several sources such as “Sunset Western Garden Book.”
However, she prefers to learn from others who love gardens just as she does. Newmar explained, “That’s why I love garden people. […] They have so much knowledge, they work with their hands, they’re enormously polite and appreciative, and they love to know things and share things.”