It’s Good to Be Bad! Bombshell Actress Mamie Van Doren Reflects on Life, Love and Her Career
They say that good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere. That’s certainly true of bombshell actress Mamie Van Doren. Discovered by eccentric
millionaire Howard Hughes, this former beauty queen became every boy’s fantasy in the 1957 juvenile delinquency flick Untamed Youth.
Playing bad girls “had a lot of pizzazz,” Mamie, 89, tells Closer. “The goody two-shoes girls, they didn’t go very far.”
Sexually liberated at a time before it was acceptable — Mamie’s famous lovers included Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Johnny Carson — she became one of Hollywood’s earliest feminists. “There were a lot of doors I had to break down,” she admits. “It was a very conservative time — it was unheard of for a woman to expose her navel! But I guess I was the perfect girl to do it.”
Wanting to do even more good, Mamie made several months-long tours to entertain and comfort U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. “It breaks my heart to have lost all those men — and women, too,” she says. “It stays with you. I still dream about some of the ones who didn’t come back.”
Scroll down below to read Closer’s exclusive interview.
Did you always want to be an actress?
Well, I was born in the Midwest, in South Dakota, and there wasn’t a lot of glamour there. I loved going to the theater and would sit there and dream about being an actress, but I never thought I’d have that dream come true.
You moved to California and Howard Hughes scouted you. What was he like?
Of course we all know he was very eccentric. I was discovered by him when I was 15. The first thing he asked was if I was a virgin. I thought, no, that is not cool. I may have come off of the farm, but I wasn’t stupid. He was also very bossy, which I didn’t care for.
When did you realize that your figure set you apart from other girls?
Not until after I was in a beauty contest and became Miss Palm Springs. I never thought I would win. But I started filling out in all the right places, so I realized I was probably meant to be an actress. In those days, it wasn’t so much actress, it was a so-called movie star.
Do you think your sex appeal helped or hurt your career?
It definitely helped my career. But I also felt I could do other things besides being the dumb blonde. I wanted to do the Jean Harlow roles.
Do you have a favorite role of your career?
I have a lot of favorite roles. I particularly liked the scene I did in the kitchen with Russ Tamblyn in High School Confidential. That was a very sexy scene. I don’t know how it ever got past the Hays Code. I was a target [of the censors], so was Marilyn Monroe. We both kept them busy!
What did you think about Marilyn?
She was just a cute gal. You know, she had a bit of cosmetic work to enhance her look.
Did you ever feel a rivalry with her?
None whatsoever. I was always very comfortable in my own skin — probably more than she was in hers. I never felt like I needed to copy anyone.
You famously dated Frank Sinatra. What was he like?
Oh, he was cool. He did a lot of good things: he raised money, performed for charity but [the press] always wanted to talk about the bad things. Frank was a good soul and I know he’s up there in a good place now.
Why didn’t it work out between you?
I always thought he was too old for me! Hell, I dated [boxer] Jack Dempsey, who was 55, but mentally he was like 15. There was a big difference between Jack Dempsey and Frank Sinatra.
You also had a romance with Tonight Show host Johnny Carson.
Yes, we would go out frequently. We’d go to the top of the Rainbow Room, have dinner, then go back to my hotel and watch the show. He was very down-to-earth, typical Midwest. We were very much alike. The only thing I didn’t like was that he was a heavy smoker. But you couldn’t just say, “Hey, put the cigarette down, Johnny Carson!”
What do you think about the #MeToo movement?
I’ve thought a lot about that. There are some things I would question, but I’ve also always been behind any woman with a problem because I have had plenty of them myself. [In my time] if I wanted to go to bed with someone, I’d go to bed with them, but I never did it for a movie. [A predator] would know that he was in for a fight if he ever came around me. [It would be] nails out, kicking and screaming.
You mostly stopped making movies by the 1970s. What changed?
The days of the blondes started coming to an end after Marilyn died and then Jayne [Mansfield] died five years later. I was the only one left. I had a son growing up and there were a lot of drugs [in Hollywood]. I didn’t want Perry to grow up like that.
What made you decide to move to Newport Beach?
I love the ocean and the fresh air. Perry and I came down and we got interested in boats. It worked out just fine. I met several nice men and married one. I’ve been with Thomas [Dixon] for more than 40 years. That’s a long time!
Do you have a new book coming out?
I will. My first book was Playing the Field, and I am about two-thirds done with my second. I’ve almost hit the old 9-0, so it’s about time to get the damn thing out. If you’re gifted enough to receive these extra years, it’s a blessing. I am very lucky I was born in 1931. Though it was the beginning of the Depression, I am very grateful that I was born when I was because I got to see the world before we [messed] it up!
Do you have any regrets about leaving Hollywood?
Oh, I don’t regret too many things. I made over 40 movies all over the world. I didn’t just travel in the United States, I worked in South America, Brazil, Spain, London and Rome. Even in Yugoslavia during the communist reign. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.