Lee Meriwether explained the awkward mechanics of smooching on Sixties TV
The former Miss America used to envy actors who locked lips onscreen… until it came time for her to pucker up.
Just before Lee Meriwether lifted a claw as Catwoman in 1966 for Batman: The Movie, she was clawing her way up as an actor taking bit parts on TV shows like Leave It to Beaver and Perry Mason. (See the video above.) In the 1950s and early 1960s, she took whatever work came her way, and soon she noticed one network seemed to be favoring her over the other.
"I must say I do much better on ABC than on CBS," Meriwether told The Journal Herald in 1965. "I played a swindler on Hazel and I’m a red-herring murder suspect on Perry Mason."
That was the year when everything changed, though, and suddenly the lovely Meriwether was cast to play the love interest of three TV stars at the very same time: Efrem Zimbalist on The FBI, Forrest Tucker on F Troop, and Paul Burke on 12 O'Clock High.
This helped Meriwether become better known to TV audiences. After the cinematic Batman, in which she slyly became Bruce Wayne's love interest, she became a star.
So you could say locking lips onscreen led her to the spotlight.
In 1965, though, Meriwether wasn't exactly used to all this onscreen smooching, and she admitted that filming romantic scenes with TV's most charming leading men wasn’t as dreamy as she thought it would be when she was a young girl hoping to become a TV star romantically linked to top actors.
"When I was a kid, I used to envy all the actresses for the leading men they issued," Meriwether said. "But by the time you're through with all the technical problems and camera angles, it's anything but fun."
The reality was, well, awkward.
On F Troop, she said she didn't know if she should count her first kiss with Tucker because it came right after he pulled his head out of a horse trough.
At the time of the interview, she had yet to lock lips with Zimbalist on The FBI, but when it came time for the big moment on 12 O'Clock High, Meriwether could barely keep it together, unable to stop laughing at how ridiculous this depiction of romance was.
"I did get to kiss Paul Burke, but it was at 8 a.m. and I giggled through almost all the takes," Meriwether explained. "How can you kiss a man at that hour in front of 50 other men?"
Apparently, the shooting schedule never improved, and neither did the romantic chemistry for Meriwether.
"I got to kiss Gary Lockwood on the same show, and it was the same problem," Meriwether said.
With thick brown hair and a smile that can send sparkles shooting out the TV screen, Meriwether had a beauty that helped her win pageants and ultimately become a star, but she said for her, acting was never glamorous, simply a job.
"Acting for me has mostly been a way of making a living, of paying the bills while I've raised two daughters," she told The St. Louis Dispatch-Post in 1980.
Humble, Meriwether attributed her onscreen beauty to the makeup artists and stylists, and she also revealed who she thought was the most stunning actor.
"Oh, I know I look good in makeup, and if my hair is just right," Meriwether said. "I know I can look all right… but I’'d give anything to look like Bo Derek."
Meriwether said she didn't often get recognized when she was out, but that later in her life, her fans who did approach her were always polite. That was drastically different from the early encounters she had with unimpressed kids who came out to taunt her after she was crowned Miss America.
"Even when I was touring around as Miss America, kids would yell, 'My sister is prettier than you!'" Meriwether joked.