Tragic Details About Julie Newmar

By the 1950s, Julie Newmar's Hollywood dream was a reality. "I've never worked a day in my life," she told News-Press in 1958 (via Do You Remember?). "I don't call what I'm doing work — this is expression. I like to express myself. I want success, but I'm not the scratching-for-success kind. It's not a tapeworm eating inside me. I want to get to the top, but if I don't, I don't."

The "Batman" actor's optimistic outlook on life has come up in a number of interviews throughout her decades-spanning career. Take, for example, her contribution to Esquire's recurring "What I've Learned" column: "You can't fail. The further you fall, the greater the opportunity for growth and change."

Maintaining such a positive perspective is no easy feat, especially when it comes to tragedies, hardships, and challenges. From navigating the dark side of the entertainment industry to dealing with health issues, the "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" actor has experienced a great deal of difficulty throughout her life. 

Her brother died in a tragic accident in 1962

Julie Newmar (born Julia Chalene Newmeyer) is the elder sister to two brothers, Peter Newmeyer and John Newmeyer (pictured above). The "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" actor hasn't said a ton about her siblings in interviews, but the few comments she's offered suggest a loving bond. As she shared in a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "My brother John got the brains, and me, whatever ... I'm still trying to catch up." Her brother John's love of the "Batman" comics played an integral part in her career: When he found out that his sister had been offered a chance to try out for the role of Catwoman, he was quick to encourage her to go for it. "He just leapt off the couch and he virtually pushed me out the door. Of course, there I was, I had to do it," she recalled to The Spiel

Tragedy struck the Newmeyer family in the '60s. Julie's brother Peter died in a skiing accident in 1962 at the age of 30. According to the Desert Sun's obituary (via the California Digital Newspaper Collection), she learned of her sibling's death from a reporter. Of her late brother, Julie told the Los Angeles Times, "Peter was such a beautiful boy; he got the looks."

Julie Newmar didn't see royalties for her role as Catwoman

Julie Newmar became a household name thanks to her work in "The Marriage-Go-Round" and "My Living Doll," but she became a bona fide superstar when she took on the role of Catwoman in "Batman." She also voiced the character in "Batman: The Brave and The Bold," "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders," and "Batman vs. Two-Face." As iconic as her portrayal of the Lurex-clad villain was in the first two seasons of the live-action series, it didn't bring in as much money as one might assume. 

"It's really a joy to have created something that people still remember me for," Newmar said in 2014, per the Ames Tribune. "I never got any royalties from the series, but the popularity of the show over several generations has more than paid me back." 

Series star Adam West has also touched on the matter of residuals and royalties. In 1982, he told The Washington Post that he didn't see a cent from "Batman" merchandise sales, and the reruns weren't exactly lucrative. "Back when I signed my contract, we were only signing to receive residuals from six runs of the series," he said. 

She dealt with a controlling co-star

One of Julie Newmar's first noteworthy performances was as a robot named Rhoda in the '60s television show "My Living Doll." She was cast alongside actor Robert Cummings, who evidently wasn't so easy to work with. Newmar reflected on her experience of sharing the screen with Cummings in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times

"He wanted the title to be 'His Living Doll,'" Newmar said. "Everything had to turn his way." Cummings was not the first choice for the part, but ended up landing the role because he was under contract with CBS. After a dispute with production, Cummings left the show in the middle of the first — and only — season. 

Even with all of the drama, Newmar looks back on the show fondly. In a 2023 interview with Closer Weekly, she spoke about the role and its challenges. "This was my Shakespeare! It was a great show-off part and a gift to any aspiring actor," she said. High praise, considering she had a grueling schedule and admitted to working "long hours," which often resulted in her falling asleep on set.

She had three miscarriages

Julie Newmar's journey to motherhood was not easy. As she shared in Esquire in 2007, she had three miscarriages before her son was born. While she chose not to go into more detail about her fertility experiences, she did speak more about her son, John Jewl Smith, whom she shares with her ex-husband, J. Holt Smith. "He is a blessing and a jewel. He is my teacher," she said. "From him I get and give unconditional love."

While Newmar has stayed relatively private about her own fertility struggles, it's no secret that suffering a miscarriage can be a tremendously difficult experience with long-lasting effects. As Dr. Janet Jaffe of the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego said in the American Psychological Association magazine, "[M]iscarriage is a traumatic loss, not only of the pregnancy, but of a woman's sense of self and her hopes and dreams of the future. She has lost her 'reproductive story,' and it needs to be grieved." 

Despite the tragedy and obstacles she faced while trying to become a mother, Newmar feels nothing short of lucky.  "Children teach you. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my gracious," she told The Spiel. "I think my life is blessed, that's all. It's just blessed."

Julie Newmar's son contracted meningitis as a toddler

Julie Newmar and J. Holt Smith's son, John Jewl Smith, arrived in 1981. "John was born when I was 48, a last-minute baby," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. John, who has Down syndrome, contracted meningitis when he was still a toddler. Meningitis is incredibly serious, as it can be fatal. John lost his hearing as a result of the infection, but thankfully, he survived. 

"He's deaf and mute, so visual things are a delight to him ... he's such a highly developed human being he's a blessing to be around," Newmar said in the Los Angeles Times. She also learned sign language to communicate with her son, and the two spend time in their sprawling garden property.

Newmar recognizes the world is not always kind to people with disabilities, but she has never viewed her son's disabilities as a hindrance. "Parents should never feel like they have an afflicted child," she said in a 2016 interview with Closer Weekly. As she wrote on her blog, "He is filled to his capacity in the life he has. No one should pity him, nor try to create worlds he doesn't have. I am delightfully happy in his presence and he in mine."

Julie Newmar was sued by her neighbor

Julie Newmar sure seems to have an exceptional sense of humor, but she failed to see the funny side to the drama she had with her neighbor Jim Belushi — at least, not initially.

A friendly relationship with your neighbor can make life more pleasant and significantly less complicated. Still, it was reported that Newmar and Belushi disagreed about several issues when they lived next to each other in the affluent Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. Per the Los Angeles Times, the long-standing feud involved everything from squabbles over an air conditioner unit to noise complaints to drama over a fence. Oh, and Belushi even accused Newmar of egging his property. Things between the neighbors eventually resulted in a lawsuit — a legal headache Newmar likely could have done without. 

"Newmar has engaged in a malicious and premeditated campaign to prevent and destroy Belushi's quiet peace and enjoyment of his home and to force Belushi out of the neighborhood," the 2004 lawsuit read, according to the Los Angeles Times. The good news is their issues were resolved, and Newmar even appeared on Belushi's show "According to Jim" in an episode titled "The Grumpy Guy."

Julie Newmar had cancer

In 2012, Julie Newmar wrote a blog post titled "The Big C."  In it, she shared how she had multiple surgeries on her face for basal cell carcinoma. She also shared that she couldn't understand how it could have happened to her. "I never went out in the sun. My mother's advice was always wise," she wrote. Newmar took action and employed the best doctor she could find, writing, "I went to the fancy doctor in Beverly Hills, Dr. Moelleken. My face is important." What's more, her overall health is a major priority. She continued, "I have five people to support. They are family and they are beloved to me."

In a follow-up post titled "Cancer Part II," Newmar shared that while she had taken all known precautions to prevent sun damage, her dermatologist speculated that it could have been a result of using tanning salons. "So perhaps it wasn't that I had a cancer-type personality, described as the overly conscientious, people-pleaser, caretaker types. Ultra responsible, you know what I mean," she wrote. "I share my experience to help you know yourself and live better."

She was abused by a scene partner

In recent years, women have lent their voices to movements that expose the double standards, abuse, and sexism many actors in Hollywood have suffered. Julie Newmar also shared her story of abuse after a number of allegations against Harvey Weinstein were brought to light in 2017. 

"I have experienced a few things I would have rather not," she told the Observer in 2017. It would take her decades before she was comfortable to come forward and tell what happened to her. On her blog, Julie Newmar Writes, she recounted a particular rehearsal at the Actors Studio with someone who took things way too far. "Never did I think that the person I would be rehearsing with would attack me in a 5½ hour battle that left my face so swollen, my voice so damaged, my eyes shut, and my body barely able to walk," she wrote. "I had to cancel the next evening's performance at the Plymouth Theatre; this was the only time I ever missed a performance in my life." At the time, Newmar did not feel she could come forward with what had happened or tell the police.

In some way, the Weinstein allegations helped her gain the courage she needed to go public with her story. "I always thought [abuse in the entertainment industry] would be in hiding," she told the Observer. "I always thought in a sense men would be men. This is a good thing that this came up to the surface."

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease changed her life

There's no denying Julie Newmar has lived a full and long life, having turned 90 in 2023. In recent years, she's endured a number of health struggles, including complications related to the neurological condition Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. "My symptoms started around 2000, when I found walking difficult," she told Life Extension Magazine in 2009. "Last year, the UCLA neurologist I've been seeing diagnosed it. Today, I walk—but very slowly." This has, in turn, has impacted her ability to travel the world with her son. 

So, Newmar and John Jewl Smith had to swap out visits to far away locations with serene trips around their property. "The garden heals me from all my left brain business," she told the outlet. "Whenever you get too wound up, too stressed out, I advise you to just go to a garden and be still for 10 minutes." In a separate chat with ABC7, Newmar shared a silver lining. "CMT has helped me learn to focus," she said. "It's made everything I do more important."

Before Newmar made it big as an actor, she was an established dancer. CMT has changed her relationship with dance, but again, she found a silver lining. "The loss of movement in my dancer's legs, the divine mobility of my youth, will be refocused to my heart and face," she wrote in a Julie Newmar Writes entry titled "The Healing." 

The actor survived a heart attack

In April 2018, Julie Newmar had a heart attack. A week later, the "Batman" alum took to Facebook to share what happened. In classic Julie Newmar style, she offered a tongue-in-cheek account: "I was saved by two handsome paramedics who whisked me to St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica to be welcomed by seven super-efficient nurses at 3: AM, evidently a good time to show up." After receiving a stent implant, she made a swift recovery. In her post, she assured fans she was already feeling well. 

In the wake of her various health issues, Newmar makes a point to listen to what her body needs. "I never weigh myself or count calories; I only exercise for pleasure. I let the body decide how to move because I am 89," she told Closer Weekly in 2023. The actor also sees great value in having a good laugh. "I am still a highly disciplined funster. I subscribe to maybe ten periodicals on the internet — so does anyone else that wants to keep up. Everything is such a gift now," she added. 

Her health challenges include a broken leg

In July 2023, Julie Newmar took to Instagram to share that she had broken her leg. She posted a photo of herself in a wheelchair, sporting a full-leg cast. Despite the pain and restriction the injury would have on her mobility, the legendary actor described the incident with her classic wit and humor.

In the caption, the Tony Award-winning actor shared that she sustained the injury just two months before her 90th birthday: "A broken leg (tibia & fibula) — somebody tried to bump me off (half true)." On a more serious note, she acknowledged that some things were out of her control and that she wouldn't fixate on what she called the "terrible and unexplainable things." Instead, she believes that those hardships challenge us to change our perspectives — or, as she wrote, "a deeper, broader and more expansive understanding of our lives is revealed." Leave it to Catwoman to keep clawing forward.