February 6, 1931– Mamie Van Doren:
“I came to Hollywood determined to follow in Jean Harlow‘s footsteps, but I was determined not to die young. My hope was to endure. And endure I have.”
It is unfair to lump Van Doren into a convenient little group along with Marilyn Monroe & Jayne Mansfield. She has a kind of Rock N’ Roll sensibility that the other girls lacked, plus her story is not tragic. And, most important, she is still with us and looking like a million bucks.
She was born in South Dakota as Joan Lucille Olinder. Her family moved to LA when Van Doren was 11 years old. She was named Miss Palm Springs 1949, which brought her to the attention of Howard Hughes, at the time, in the film business. They enjoyed an affair that lasted for the next half decade, even when she was married to Jack Newman, the owner of a men’s clothing company. That marriage was over after he tried to throw her from a hotel balcony while on their honeymoon. Around the same time, Van Doren was working at the El Rancho Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas where she dated a gangster in Al Capone’s mob. She was also briefly engaged to champion boxer Jack Dempsey in 1951, but according to Van Doren he was a “lousy lover”, something that she took rather seriously.
Van Doren became a contract player with Universal Pictures in 1953, with the studio giving her the new moniker Mamie Van Doren, named after the new First Lady on the very same day that President Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated, and for Charles Van Doren who was embroiled in a scandal after being given all the answers to questions on the most popular television quiz show.
Van Doren says that she had her way with Rock Hudson after they went on a studio arranged date to the 1953 Photoplay Awards. While filming Yankee Pasha (1953) she enjoyed the special company of director Joe Pevney and its star, the yummy Jeff Chandler. She had a liaison with fellow actor Jack Palance, and prolific songwriter Jimmy McHugh (Let’s Get Lost), at the time columnist Louella Parson’s boyfriend, making a lifetime enemy of the notorious gossip writer.
Van Doren had a string of affairs in the 1950s, including Dragnet’s Jack Webb, Denmark’s Prince Alex, abusive millionaire drunk Nicky Hilton (Elizabeth Taylor’s ex), before she became engaged to big band leader Ray Anthony. Confidential Magazine threatened to run a story claiming that Van Doren and her mother had a side business as call girls, but her lawyer had the story stopped.
She had a son with Anthony, before they split up after Van Doren had a fling with Elvis Presley in 1957. The next year she had her best screen role yet with the Clark Gable/ Doris Day comedy Teacher’s Pet. During filming Van Doren enjoyed the special company of the aging Gable, before moving on to actors George Hamilton, Yves Montand and Laurence Harvey. She even dropped LSD with Cary Grant.
I am not just coming up with the list of men in Van Doren’s life out of my imagination. In her terrific memoir Playing The Field: Sex, Stardom, Love, And Life In Hollywood (2013) and on her candid blog, Van Doren is very forthcoming about the men in her long life. She happily gives details about her affair with actor Steve Cochran:
“Steve and I launched into an affair that had the cast and crew of The Beat Generation (1959) whispering behind their hands. No sooner would we finish a scene than we would disappear into my dressing-room for a quick fuck while they set up the next shot.”
She tells about how, when she was married to Anthony, he was in for a surprise while he was snooping in her dressing-room:
“When he opened the door without knocking, he found me sitting astride Steve having sex in a chair. Location never mattered much to me. If I had the urge to do someone in an elevator or a taxi or a swimming pool, that’s where it happened.”
In 1960, she hooked-up with Tony Curtis while he was filming Spartacus on a neighboring sound-stage, bedded Johnny Carson, Eddie Fisher, and producer Robert Evans, and still found time to divorce her husband. In 1963 she became engaged to baseball player Bo Belinski, but the wedding was eventually called off after she agreed to pose for Playboy Magazine.
Those swingin’ 1960s showed Van Doren more fun with men, including a longish affair with Rock N’ Roll singer Johnny Rivers and Steve McQueen. She made headlines in 1965 as the latest plaything of NY Jets quarterback Joe Namath, and then briefly, with singer Tom Jones. In 1966, she shocked fans by suddenly marrying California Angels pitcher Lee Meyers, who was 19 years old. The couple divorced the next year.
During the Vietnam War, Van Doren entertained the troops, doing tours with Bob Hope in 1968 and 1970. She worked hard and gave a great deal of her time visiting injured soldiers at hospitals. Of Hope she bluntly writes:
“That son of a bitch flew into Vietnam during the day to do his shows and spent his nights in safety in Thailand, and made millions off the shows by selling them to television when he returned”.
Her affair with Burt Reynolds in 1972 ended when Van Doren married Fluor Corporation executive Ross McClintock, a man she says she never really loved. This one was annulled in 1973. The next year she met actor Thomas Dixon when they toured with the stage production Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? which rival Jayne Mansfield had done on Broadway after Van Doren turned it down. Five years later, she married Dixon and this marriage stuck. They are still together.
In the memoir, Van Doren insists that she never cheated on her husbands, but she does mention affairs with actors Donald O’Conner, her costar along with Francis The Talking Mule in Francis Joins The WACS (1954), plus Van Johnson and Warren Beatty. She had her way with NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, commenting in the book:
“After all, a man who could make it to the moon, could make it with me anytime.”
And he did.
I love her a bunch. I am a fan because Van Doren is a real survivor. She represents the stereotype of Blonde Hollywood Bimbo, while tossing away that cliché by being in charge of her own life, loves and career. She likes men, and she had her pick of boyfriends and five times she married them.
Unlike most of her contemporaries, she is forthright in talking and writing about her sex life. I admire that.
Van Doren is a good friend of World Of Wonder and insiders that know her have told me that she is a delicious delight of a human being. She has given solid performances, often with a deft sly comic touch, in all sorts of films, including titles like: Born Reckless (1958), High School Confidential (1958), Beautiful Legs Of Sabrina (1959), Sex Kittens Go To College (1960) and Vice Raid (1960). She was in prison in Girls Town (1959), provoking the censors with a shower scene. She played the original woman in The Private Lives Of Adam And Eve (1960), wearing just well-placed fig leaves.
Van Doren is a Buddhist, an author, recording artist, business woman, animal rights activist, and humanitarian. She has always been outspoken about Women’s Rights and Equal Rights for Gay people. For her 85th birthday, she posted a nude photograph taken by her husband. She gives good Tweets and has an active page on The Facebook. My kind of girl. Visit Mamie Van Doren at her web site www.mamievandoren.com