She was born in Los Angeles as Julia Chalene Newmeyer, the eldest of three children born to Don and Helen (née Jesmer) Newmeyer. Her father was head of the Physical Education Department at Los Angeles City College and had played American football professionally in the 1920s with the Los Angeles Buccaneers of the first American Football League. Her Swedish-French mother was a fashion designer who used the professional name Chalene and later became a real-estate investor; Jesmer had begun her career as a dancer, however, training with Denishawn and later appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies; Eddie Cantor said Jesmer had “the most beautiful legs in the Follies”.
She has two younger brothers:
Newmar was a “dancer-assassin” in Slaves of Babylon (1953) and the “gilded girl” in Serpent of the Nile (1953), in which she was clad in gold paint. She danced in several other films, including The Band Wagon and Demetrius and the Gladiators, and was a ballerina with the Los Angeles Opera. She also worked as a choreographer and dancer for Universal Studios.
Her first major role, billed as Julie Newmeyer, was as Dorcas, one of the brides in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Her three-minute Broadway appearance as the leggy Stupefyin’ Jones in the musical Li’l Abner in 1956 led to a reprise in the 1959 film version. She was also the female lead in a low-budget comedy, The Rookie. She also featured in many further films including the 1969 production, Mackenna’s Gold.
Newmar had first appeared on Broadway in 1955 in Silk Stockings which starred Hildegarde Neff and Don Ameche. She also appeared in the 1961 film, The Marriage-Go-Round, which starred James Mason and Susan Hayward. Newmar developed the role of the Swedish vixen and won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. She later appeared on stage with Joel Grey in the national tour of Stop the World – I Want to Get Off and as Lola in Damn Yankees! and Irma in Irma La Douce.
Newmar appeared in a pictorial, in the May 1968 issue of Playboy magazine, which featured Playmate Elizabeth Jordan.
The 1995 film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar pays homage to the actress; Newmar herself makes a cameo appearance near the film’s end.
Newmar’s fame stems mainly from her television appearances. Her statuesque form made her a larger than life sex symbol, most often cast as a temptress or amazonian beauty, including an early appearance in sexy maid costume on The Phil Silvers Show. She starred as “Rhoda the Robot” in the TV series My Living Doll (1964–1965), and is known for her recurring role in the 1960s TV series Batman as the Catwoman, the “purrfect” villainess. (Lee Meriwether played Catwoman in the 1966 feature film and Eartha Kitt in the series’ final season.) Newmar modified her Catwoman costume—now in the Smithsonian Institution—and placed the belt at the hips instead of the waist to emphasize her hourglass figure.
In 1962, Newmar appeared twice as motorcycle-riding, free-spirited heiress Vicki Russell on Route 66, filmed in Tucson, Arizona (“How Much a Pound is Albatross”) and in Tennessee (“Give the Old Cat a Tender Mouse”). She guest-starred on The Twilight Zone as the devil, F Troop as an Indian princess, Bewitched (“The Eight-Year Itch Witch” in 1971) as a cat named Ophelia given human form by Endora (essentially playing her Catwoman character from Batman), The Beverly Hillbillies, and Get Smart as a double agent assigned to Maxwell Smart’s apartment posing as a maid. In 1967, she guest-starred as April Conquest in an episode of The Monkees (“Monkees Get Out More Dirt”), and was a pregnant princess in the Star Trek episode “Friday’s Child”. In 1969 she played a hit-woman in the It Takes a Thief episode The Funeral is on Mundy, starring Robert Wagner. In 1983 she would reprise the hit-woman role in Robert Wagner’s series Hart to Hart, in the episode A Change of Hart. Both performances with Robert Wagner included full-body grappling ending with Wagner lying on top of Newmar. In the 1970s she had guest roles in Columbo and The Bionic Woman.
From the trailer for The Maltese Bippy (1969)
Newmar appeared in several low-budget films during the next two decades. She guest-starred on TV, appearing on The Love Boat, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Hart to Hart, CHiPs and Fantasy Island. She was seen in the music video for George Michael’s “Too Funky” in 1992, and appeared as herself in a 1996 episode of Melrose Place.
In 2003, Newmar appeared as herself in the TV-Movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt alongside former Batman co-stars Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin and Lee Meriwether. Julia Rose played Newmar in flashbacks to the production of the TV series. Due to longstanding rights issues over footage from the Batman TV series, however, only footage of Meriwether taken from the feature film was allowed to be used in the TV movie.
Fashion designer Thierry Mugler, selected her as his model-muse for the catwalk of his 20 year couture celebration in Paris.
In the 1970s, Newmar received two US patents for pantyhose and one for a brassiere.The pantyhose were described as having “cheeky derriere relief” and promoted under the name “Nudemar”. The brassiere was described as “nearly invisible” and in the style of Marilyn Monroe.
Newmar began investing in Los Angeles real estate in the 1980s. A women’s magazine stated that “Newmar is partly responsible for improving the Los Angeles neighborhoods on La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue near the Grove.”
Briefly engaged to novelist Louis L’Amour in the early 1950s, Newmar married J. Holt Smith, a lawyer, on August 5, 1977 and moved with him to Fort Worth, Texas where she lived until her divorce from Smith in 1984. She has one child, John Jewl Smith, who is deaf and has Down’s syndrome.
A legal battle with her neighbor, James Belushi, ended amicably with an invitation to co-star on his sitcom According to Jim in an episode (“The Grumpy Guy”) that poked fun at the feud. An avid gardener, Newmar initiated at least a temporary ban on leaf blowers with the Los Angeles City Council.