Julie Newmar gained her most enduring fame by playing Catwoman on the Batman television show of the 1960s, but she had been a presence on the stage and screen long before she ever donned the catsuit.
Newmar frequently played a role that was a staple in a certain kind of comedy: the attractive woman who leave men discombobulated simply by walking to a room. She was acting in such roles all three times she found herself in front of LIFE cameras.
In 1958, LIFE’s Ralph Morse took his turn shooting Newmar, this time for a role that would win her a Tony for Best Featured Actress. The show was a comedy called The Marriage-Go-Round, and Newmar played Katrin Sveg, a woman who comes from Sweden to stay with an older university couple—she’s the daughter of a colleague and suddenly grown up. Newmar’s character throws her hosts’ lives life into chaos by walking around wearing only a towel and asking the husband, a professor, to sire her a child, so the offspring will be the ultimate combination of beauty and brains. (Once again, Newmar reprised the role for the film version.)
In 1961 Newmar took on the role of one of the classic seductresses of the stage, Lola in “Damn Yankees.” As part of a broader, inventive photo shoot that was supposed to be a summer theater preview, LIFE photographer Nina Leen had Newman vamping around outdoors in front of scarecrow, and even trying out some baseball poses.
Suffice to say that Newmar had plenty of practice playing the sex kitten before she ever trained her abilities on Batman and had the Caped Crusader fumbling and bumbling like so many other men who shared a scene with her.
Julie Newmar (center) played Stupefyin’ Jones in the Broadway musical L’il Abner, 1956.