Men like to tell 76-year-old Julie Newmar that she was their first turn-on. Ms. Newmar - who starred as Catwoman in the 1960s television series Batman - is always flattered, but likes to quiz them about it. She often asks how old they were, which usually yields a stammer.
So frequent are the confessions that the actress has decided to write a book, First Fantasies - a collection of letters from men and women detailing their earliest crushes. From classmates and teachers to Emma Peel of The Avengers, the objects of childhood infatuations turn out to be a varied lot.
Ms. Newmar is taking submissions for the book, to be published this fall. She spoke with The Globe and Mail from her home in Los Angeles.
Tell me about the men who approach you.
I remember a man coming up to me at a convention trailing a little boy who fearfully kept himself wrapped around his father's leg. "You must meet this lady! She's Catwoman!" The child hid even more deeply in his father's trousers. Suddenly, walking straight to me was the grandfather, his voice and eye seductively nailed to me. "Miss Newmar. You were my first turn-on." For the father, it would be improper, and the boy hadn't reached the age where it was of interest to him. But the grandfather could be the honest one. It's interesting how some couch it and others say it straight to my face.
After men confess this to you, what do they want?
It's a release of good feeling, what is better than that? ... They would tell me, "Now I knew why I liked women."
Why did you decide to write the book?
It just kept appearing in front of me. It had to be told. It is a universal story that reveals itself backwards in the telling. I'm really trying to get the earliest awakenings of love interest in a person's life. Sometimes when I read these stories, they give me goose bumps below the knee. Then I know it's a good story.
What kind of submissions are you getting?
The fantasies are enormously varied - all ages, from every type of man. If the stories veer to the explicit, I won't include them. A first fantasy comes before the awakening of a full love interest in another human being.
How old were they typically when they had their first fantasy?
When men talk to me, it starts out that they were maybe 10 or eight. But then the more people reveal the truth, the age becomes around 4.
How innocent is a fantasy at that age?
Totally, exquisitely. It's a divine spark.
Are you getting submissions from women?
Yes, but it's probably half as many.
Do you remember your first fantasy?
You write in the book: "A light goes on at an early age, rather like a movie preview indicating who a future beloved might be: the hair colour, body movement, demeanour. This impulse originates like an inner rapture, only to emerge 10 or 20 years later, developing into a full-blown romance, love affair or marriage." Do you think some men and women are so captivated by a first fantasy that they look for partners who resemble the archetype later in their lives?
It bubbles up from the unconscious. I'm looking at the arc of human love, which brings an imagined love down into greatest flowering many years later. I had a story about an American man in his early teens in Germany who saw a woman over there. Years later, a facsimile of this woman came back into his life and became his life-long, committed beloved. That is what is so astounding.
Where is that Catwoman suit now?
It is in the Smithsonian Museum. It's very comfortable.
Reliving the first wow
Memories of the first "wow" are still "90-per-cent accurate 20, 40, 60 years later," says Julie Newmar, who has been inundated with submissions for her forthcoming book, First Fantasies. The letters excerpted below suggest she may be right.
- The year was 1949 and I was 6. In among the old cartoons and westerns was a variety show called Super Circus. It was Ringmaster Kirchner's assistant, Mary Hartline, who really caught my attention. Maybe it was the snug fitting drum majorette costume with the white boots, or the very short pleated skirt, or those long, long legs, or maybe the cascade of golden curly hair. Or perhaps her sugary sweetness. For sure, Ms. Hartline was nothing like my first grade teacher, or my friends' mothers who lived on our block. She was unlike anyone I'd seen before.
- Fourth grade - a new school - I'm glad I sit at the back of the room because I can watch from here. That's how I learn, that's where I dream - safely. I see him turn to the desk behind him. Straight brown hair, a dimpled smile, tiny freckles, slightly upturned nose and a striped shirt - always a striped shirt. Most days, from the angle of my desk, I mostly see his ear. It's a nice shape and carefully surrounded by that milk chocolate, silk hair. At the end of the day, before we leave our seats, I get a quick smile from Mark and I'm floating again.
- My first fantasy was Emma Peel, the brainy and beautiful sleuth on the British television series The Avengers, played to a T by Diana Rigg. She and I were meant to be together. She was witty, and unflappable, endowed with that English flair for the matter-of-fact. She was beautiful, yes, but many women are beautiful - her good looks were animated by her quick mind. And the black leather body suits didn't hurt. To my boyish mind, Emma Peel represented the total woman, with every important trait that I would eventually look for in a wife.
- A new family had moved to our neighbourhood and now, more than 50 years later, I haven't forgotten the overwhelming rush of emotion that flooded my brain whenever she walked in the room. Oddly enough, my beloved was not a conventional beauty by the standards of the day. (She was rather short and compact.) But we were children, and if her pre-adolescent figure lacked the enticements of a Hollywood starlet's, her face held me in a spell. The curve of her lips, the twinkle in her eye (beneath the glasses), her perfect complexion made my head spin. Because my beloved came from elsewhere, she had an odd way of pronouncing certain words. These differences in inflection were so slight, they probably went unnoticed by everyone but me. When the Shirelles sang Dedicated to the One I Love, the lead singer spoke the word 'dedicated' in exactly the same way. And I still get chills whenever I hear that old record.
Ms. Newmar wants your first fantasy: e-mail her at www.julienewmarwrites.com.