Celeste Yarnall was born in Long Beach, California on July 26. The daughter of navy man Forest Yarnall and his wife Helene. Celeste grew up in Los Angeles in the Silver Lake area and graduated from John Marshall High School. As a child acting was the only thing that ever interested Celeste. “I was born and danced in my pajamas,” says Yarnall with a laugh. I joined the drama club in high school and just loved it.” Also around this time Celeste began modeling for Max Factor and auditioning for professional acting roles. With her mother signing notes to excuse her from school. Celeste would take the bus to auditions at MGM in Culver City or Warner Bros. in Burbank. Celeste’s first call audition was for a tiny role as a college coed in The Nutty Professor (1963) starring Jerry Lewis. Though she was only seventeen, with her high cheekbones and dark hair she looked older and more sophisticated than other girls her age. Celeste was a stunner and Jerry Lewis himself chose her for the film, “I was supposed to be for a day’s work only” recollects Celeste. “I wore a black suit and a kind of a Greta Garbo black hat for this very tricky scene Jerry’s famous entrance as Buddy Love into the nightclub. They did freeze frames of people walking in. Being the director also, Jerry was having a very difficult time with it. They had stand-ins for us and he told me that I could sit down to take a break. But said I’d stay even though I was in very high heels and my feet were killing me. I didn’t move off my mark and knew that impressed him. He saw that I was trying to help him get his shot. At the end of the day, they told me I had a run-of the picture contract because I had pleased Jerry. He worked me in as a student. I had one line at the conference table.”
Celeste’s acting career was put on hold for a bit when she was voted Miss Rheingold of 1964. As Miss Rheingold, Celeste was their spokes model in TV commercials, print ads, and will boards. She also made public appearances, rode in parades, and even threw a football to Joe Namath at the New York Jets’s opener. Returning to Hollywood, Celeste met and married Sheldon Silverstein alter a three month courtship. For a few years he tried to manage her career. “Mismanage it is more the case.” quips Celeste. “He turned down a contract for me with Universal Pictures, which I think really would have made me a star. It was the most lucrative term contract that they had ever offered a contract player. My wonderful husband and agent maneuvered me right out of it. They were too greedy. That would have been the best thing that could have happened to me.” Despite the setback. Celeste’s acting career did pick up steam as she appeared as a lab assistant in the Ivan Tors Film Around the World Under the Sea (1966) and in such TV series as The Wild Wild West, Burke’s Law. Bewitched. Gidget, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. One of her memorable guest spots was “The Apple” episode of Star Trek, which Celeste found to be some silly show” Al that time, most guest stars on this series concurred with Celeste. During its original three year run, Star Trek was not the phenomenon it is now. Celeste played Yeoman Martha London, the only female crewmember of the Enterprise landing party to beam down to a jungle planet run by Vaal an ancient computer that controls the planet’s environment and its peaceful inhabitants. Vaal provides for his people in return for offerings of appeasement. However, Vaal kills four Enterprise crewmembers and traps the others in a cave. When it threatens to obliterate the Enterprise. Spock destroys Vaal leaving the child-like inhabitants to develop their own way of life and to experience physical intimacy. Regarding their ways of reproduction. Celeste’s character inquires.” do they do it?” This results in an amusing scene with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy who began speculating on this matter. “I took us many takes to get this scene because they all tell on the floor laughing.” Yarnall says. “It really was hysterical. The censors were present during this scene. There is another scene in the cave where I’m not there because the censors had them cut me out of it. I was the only woman from the Enterprise on the planet so the audience would have made the assumption that I slept in the cave with all those men if they kept me in.”
Unlike some of his other female co stars, Celeste enjoyed working with William Shatner immensely. It was Leonard Nimoy who disturbed her. “The cast had a way of teasing the guest stars and playing the tricks on them,” Celeste says, “Leonard Nimoy scared me to death. I’d see him coming and start to shake. He and Bill Shatner were playing good guy/bad guy. Shatner was kind of taking care of me and we had quite an attraction to one another. He is a very handsome man and I was quite taken with him. I was married at the time we did this and though I was flattered I had to say no to his romantic interest. I believe he respected that and never fell abused by him as a guest star. He never crossed the line. A few years later after my divorce I dated Shatner for awhile,”
In 1967 former model Celeste Yarnall risked her life savings to travel to the Cannes Film Festival in hopes of being “discovered” ever though she had begun acting in 1963 on television and in films such as The Nutty Professor (1963) and Around the World Under the Sea (1966). Discouraged that he career hadn’t takes off. She and her husband Sheldon Silverstein headed to that infamous movie playground hoping Celeste would wow some producers. And wow them she did! Producer Harry Alan Towers who was looking for a girl to play a female Tarzan in Eve (1968), spotted her strolling down the street According to Yarnall. He yells and pointed Stop that girl! That’s my Eve Yarnall made a breathtaking jungle goddess in Eve, but the film wasn’t to successful. Even still. Yarnall’s talent was appreciated and she went on to play a fashion model opposite Elvis Presley in Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), a hippie mother in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), a reporter in Beast of Blood (1970). and her most notorious role as The Velvet Vampire (1971)
The jungle adventure Eve (1968) starring Celeste Yarnalls was in the tradition of One Million Years B.C. (1966) with Raquel Welch. From a screenplay by Harry Alan Towers, Eve “The original flower child” as the ad proclaimed is the story of an alluring half-savage jungle woman living in the wilds of Brazil where the natives worship her as a goddess. Trouble begins for Eve when she rescues a downed pilot (Robert Walker Jr.) who brings back news of this female Tarzan to civilization. A small-line showman (Fred Clark) wants to capture her to put her on display while a villainous fortune hunter (Herbert Lom) wants her dead because he has been passing off his mistress (Rosenda Monteros) as the long lost Eve, heir to her grandfather’s (Christopher Lee) fortune. To make matters worse, the natives want to kill Eve for helping a white man. They all converge in the jungle when Lee’s “fortune turns out to be a map to Inca treasure whose whereabouts is known only to Eve, in the end, the villains get their due and Eve is reunited with her grandfather on his deathbed. However, she rejects the noise and confusion of the civilized world to return to the jungle, despite her love for Walker. The ending left the film open for an intended sequel that was never made to the relief of Yarnall who calls Eve “one of the worst movies of all time.”
“I don’t know why Towers thought I was right for this part,” speculates Celeste. “I was never a tomboy and hadn’t climbed a tree in my life. I was more the sedate type. I even had to take some Judo classes to train for the role.” When the start date of the film was postponed. Celeste returned to Las Angeles and was signed by Columbia Pictures to play a showgirl in Funny Girl (1968) starring Barbra Streisand. Yarnall had to back out of that film because the start date for Eve was rescheduled for the same time. I then got a threat on my life that if I didn’t show up to do Eve I wouldn’t live to do Funny Girl. So I had to walk out on Columbia.” This was just the first of many problems Yarnall would encounter during the production of Eve.
Eve began filming in Spain where Yarnall developed food poisoning from the rancid oil used on their vegetables. Then Towers stopped paying his actor’s salaries. While the rest of the cast kept working. Yarnall walked off the picture. “Towers was a notorious schemer.” remarks Celeste, “He was absolutely wild! He had a little German girlfriend named Schnitzel and he worked in a small part for her. My husband didn’t take kindly to me not getting paid and showed up at Towers’ office with a water pistol pretending it was a gun. Shelley said. ‘If you don’t pay Celeste. she’s not going to show up.’ I’m missing from the film for a long stretch when Rosenda is pretending to be me. They re-wrote the whole middle of the script so that they could keep shooting. The movie’s called Eve and you’re wondering, ‘Where in God’s earth is Eve?”
When filming shifted from Madrid to Brazil things got even worse for Celeste. One look at the jungle and she said she exclaimed, ‘I’m never going to get out of here alive! A supposedly tame monkey bit her. She suffered multiple scratches and abrasions when a cable holding a vine she was swinging from snapped. And she accumulated hundreds of mosquito bites. The final straw for Celeste was when she was almost killed while filming the fight scene with Spanish actress Rosendo Monteros on a bluff two hundred feet above ground. “A stuntman had taught me some moves for my fight scene with Rosenda,” recalls Celeste. “It was carefully choreographed because we were high up on a bluff, Rosenda was supposed to put the sole of her right boot into my stomach and I would fall into the stuntman’s arms. But she used her left foot and pushed me the wrong way. And I almost went over the cliff. The stuntman did one of those flying leaps and caught the pack of my head in the palm of his hand. We both fell into this bushel was all cut up-but he saved me from a huge drop. After all the trouble Celeste went through during the production of EVE she was incensed after seeing the final print because I think they dubbed my voice it doesn’t sound like me, I remember that Harry Alan Towers was too cheap to fly me back to do the looping.”
Despite Yarnall’s dislike for EVE, is actually a decent adventure movie helped greatly by the stunning Celeste in a lemur-skin loincloth. The beautiful locations and an above average cast. Producer Harry Alan Towers had a knack for getting high caliber actors to appear in his foreign productions. which were rarely given G wide distribution in the U.S. Recalling her co-stars. Yarnall says. “Herbert Lom was an amazing gentlemen just a very elegant, intelligent man. Robert Walker was very much a sixties movie star-very for out. He was into psychedelic and meditation. I know for awhile that he and his family lived off of nature somewhere in the canyons of Santo Monica. They bathed in a creek! He is very interesting and I liked him but at that time he was too way out there for me. He now owns a beautiful store in Malibu. Christopher Lee was totally bent out of shape that he was playing my grandfather because he felt he would have been a much better leading man for me than Robert Walker was. And he just hated being made up to look old!”
Due to her performances in Eve and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). Celeste was voted the Most Promising New Star of 1968 by the National Association of Theatre Owners. “I remember climbing up on a drive-in movie theater marquee where they were playing Eve and having my picture taken.”. After playing a small role in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), the now pregnant Celeste returned to the jungle (“I needed the money”) for the horror film Beast of Blood (1970). the sequel to the previous year’s The Mad Doctor of Blood Island. in Eddie Romero’s Philippine-lensed quickie Yarnall plays a reporter who accompanies adventurer John Ashley back to Blood is land to investigate a mod doctor who is turning the natives into zombies. “At original showings. ‘survival kits containing airplane barf bags were thoughtfully handed out.” But some of the films more gruesome moments never made it into the final print, “There was a scene where the bad guys are chasing me through the jungle and I fall into what is supposed to be quicksand.” remembers Celeste. “When one of the guys-they were played by stuntmen reached for me, his rifle accidentally slipped off his shoulder and the sight on the rifle cracked open my cheekbone. It missed my eye by about an inch. Even though there was blood coming down my face, I kept going with the scene. They ended up not using this shot because it was so bloody horrific! The nearest hospital was four hours away so all they could do was tape my face back together with Band Aids and put makeup over it. This was a very rough shoot and I almost lost my baby when I began hemorrhaging.
Celeste’s most notorious role came next that of vampire Diana Le Fanu in The Velvet Vampire (1971) whose great tag lire proclaimed, “She’s waiting to love you to death!” After meeting married couple Susan and Lee Ritter (Sherry Miles and Michael Blodgeit) at an art gallery, Diana lures them into staying the weekend at her Mojave Desert home. Soon both husband and wife find themselves sexually drawn to their mysterious host who suffers from a rare blood disease. Unlike vampires of fore, Diana was able to journey out into the sunlight as long as she is covered up. In the course of twenty-four hours, Diana feasts on a mechanic, his girlfriend, and a servant. After making love with Diana, Lee wants to depart but Susan is fascinated with the charming Diana and wants to stay. Their delay in leaving costs Lee his life while Diana meets her gruesome end at the hands of a cult hippie gang. “I dyed my hair black for this role.” Celeste says. “Though the part was a bit corny. I got into playing a vampire. The film had an interesting script by Maurice Jules and Charles S. Swan, which explained Diana’s condition very well. This was one of the first films released by Roger Corman’s new production company (New World Pictures) and was more original than some of Roger’s other films, which were rip-offs of another movies. I became good friends with Roger and have a lot of respect for his talent.
Celeste accepted the role of Diana despite the nude scenes after turning down previous parts that required nudity including a role in Winning (1969) with Paul Newman, “I did The Velvet Vampire right after my daughter Tammy was born,” says Celeste. “I had separated from my husband again but this time it was really over. So when this role was offered to me I decided to take a because I needed the money. Al this point in my life. my mortgage payment depended on it so I really didn’t have much choice. When you have a child to support, sometimes you have to make some compromises. Though I was only seminude, it still bothered me. Charles Swartz also produced the film and his wife Stephanie Rothman directed it. They both were very nice and one of the ways that they persuaded me to do the nude scene with Michael Blodgett was by making it an absolutely closed set. After it was lit, everyone left except The cinematographer, Stephanie, and her husband. The cinematographer’s name was Daniel Lacambre and he was brilliant. He lit and shot the film beautifully.”
“I worked well with Sherry Miles but this was a very dark period for Michael Blodgett, continues Celeste. “He was drinking heavily throughout the shoot. I was not at all pleased with him as my leading man, in the scene where I have to stab him and he dies, he’s laying on top of me. Michael had his hand behind me and he didn’t realize that as he was acting he was closing his hand around my spine. He really hurt me my whole back was bruised, but he had no clue what he was doing. He had been drinking the night before. Consequently, it was difficult for me to work with him and retain my air of professionalism. I tried to keep my mouth shut and grin and bear it. The producers finally got his girlfriend to come on location so he sobered up a bit when she arrived. It was murder until she got there. Michael ultimately cleaned up his act and is now a successful writer.”
All in all, The Velvet Vampire received mixed reviews. Variety commented, “Bad acting nullifies impact of contemporary sexploitation-horror programmer” The Village Voice, however, was impressed with the directing ability of Stephanie Rothman and called The Velvet Vampire “a sexy little horror movie.” Despite the inept performances from Sherry Miles and Michael Blodgetts the film has reached cult status due to Rothmen’s skill in creating atmosphere and Yarnall’s fascinating performance as the mysterious vampire figure. In fact, Roger Corman was so impressed with Celeste that she was set to star in his next horror feature for New World Pictures when she backed out at the last minute. “I was offered a small part in Michael Winner’s The Mechanic (1972).” says Celeste. “I chose this instead because Michael had promised me a better part in his next movie called Scorpio (1973). However that role was taken away from me and given to Gayle Hunnicult. I was cast in a tiny role as Burt Lancaster’s wife’s friend. I never knew why I lost the larger role-Gayle didn’t have a bigger name than I had but I think studio politics were involved. Passing on Corman’s film turned out to be a bad career move.”
By the mid-seventies, acting roles were becoming scarcer for Celeste as well as her sixties contemporaries. To supplement her income during these lean years, Celeste entered the commercial real estate business and formed Celeste Yarnall and Associates, which specialized in the leasing and selling of office space in high rise buildings. Her clientele included such entertainment giants as Paramount Studios, Dino De Laurentiis, and Sylvester Stallone. Though she never needed to earn her living from acting again, Celeste wanted to return to show business in some capacity. In 1987, she started a company called Artists Management Group (“just found out Mike Ovitz is using our name and I have just written him a letter.”) representing young upcoming screenwriters and directors.
Some of Celeste’s more recent film appearances include Funny About Love (1990), Ambition (1991). the direct-to video horror film Midnight Kiss (1993) and Luis Mandioki’s remake of Born Yesterday (1993) starring Melanie Griffith, Jahn Goodman, and Don Johnson. Celeste was cast as a senator’s wife and though she received prominent billing, her role is nothing more than a glorified cameo. “I had been a fan of director Luis Mandoki since I saw his film Gaby: A True Story (1987).” states Celeste. “He’s a brilliant director and when he offered me this part I said yes. But I think when you’re a blonde and are in some of the same scenes with Melanie Griffith you get pushed out, I’m almost conspicuous by my absence. I had an odd experience doing this film-Don Johnson and John Goodman were wonderful to work with but Melanie Griffith was only interested in Melanie Griffith.”
Though Celeste adores acting and the world of show business, her first love is and always was animals. Juggling these businesses and an acting career became very stressful to Celeste who decided to get a kitten about ten years ago. She began buying all the cat care books she could find and became chagrined to learn that the commercial pet food she was feeding her cat was made up from slaughterhouse waste and grains unfit for human consumption. Horrified by this, she amassed so much information on this subject that she authored her first book in 1995 called Cat Care Naturally: Celeste Yarnall’s Complete Guide to Holistic Health Care for Cats, combining diet and nutrition tips with a bit of pet astrology. She has since become a breeder of Tonkinese cats and has released an updated version of her book as well as a new book about dog care. Celeste also had her own call-in radio show on this subject but was surprised that the television talk shows showed no interest. “Here we are feeding our pets garbage and they’re dying from cancer at a horrible rate and the Leeza’s, Oprah’s and Rosie’s couldn’t have cared less! And these are the people who are supposedly into animal rights. It amazed me about their and their producers’ indifference. Humans have a choice of what to eat but since these animals took this enormous leap of faith to come in from the wild where they could catch their dinner to sleep on our pillows-their birthright shouldn’t be cancer, now should it?”
Celeste has recently left the real estate business to devote full-time to the caring of cats and dogs. Her company promotes her books and produces a line of pet supplements and instructional videos on making your own pet food. And amazingly. Celeste found time to return to school to get a Ph.D. in Nutrition from Pacific Western University.
Yarnall died in Westlake Village, California on October 7, 2018, aged 74, from ovarian cancer which she had been diagnosed with in 2014.
1963 The Nutty Professor
1963 A New Kind of Love
1963 Under the Yum Yum Tree
1966 Around the World Under the Sea
1968 Live a Little, Love a Little
1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
1970 Beast of Blood
1971 The Velvet Vampire
1972 The Mechanic
1987 Fatal Beauty
1990 Shattered Dreams
1990 Funny About Love
1991 Driving Me Crazy
1993 Born Yesterday
1993 Midnight Kiss
2003 Shrink Rap
2007 The Two Sisters
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