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Last of the 'Blonde Bombshells' : The Survival Saga of Ex-Sex Kitten Mamie Van Doren

September 15, 1987|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Mamie Van Doren is contemplating the plans for a party in her honor. Her publicist wants her to be deposited at the door of New York's chi-chi Tunnel Club in a vintage pink Cadillac. But she wants none of that.

"A pink Cadillac?" she says, cringing. "That's not me. That was Jayne (Mansfield). That was the '50s. I want to arrive in a white Rolls-Royce Corniche, wearing my black-and-white Chanel. That's the '80s. That's me."

Names, Places and Body Parts

At 54, Van Doren is making a comeback of sorts. In two weeks she hits the book-tour trail promoting her dishy autobiography, "Playing the Field," which chronicles in 275 pages her life as a screen sex kitten, her frustrations with a career that spanned more than 30 years and included such films as "Teacher's Pet," "High School Confidential," "Born Reckless" and "Sex Kittens Go to College;" plus the steamy details of her five marriages and her romances with Steve McQueen, Nicky Hilton and baseball player Bo Belinsky, among many others. She names names, places and body parts.

But this veteran of thousands of interviews is now nervous, nervous at having a reporter in her Newport Beach home, nervous about facing the TV interviewers, worried whether she will be asked cruel questions. "But," she says, sucking in her breath and tilting up her chin, "I'm prepared."

Van Doren admits she stewed over what to wear for this interview, opting for glamour in a pink-and-black Chanel boucle suit with a thigh-high miniskirt that shows off her shapely legs. Her long, white-ish hair is pulled back with a black bow and big pink camellia. Around her neck is a string of pearls and a huge gold medallion given to her by late designer Coco Chanel.

Middle age shows in her tanned face, crisscrossed with wrinkles and laugh lines, but her figure is still tight and trim and her infamous bust, once padded and trussed up in torpedo bras, is discreetly tucked under a pink blouse.

Going Out for Lunch

After a brief tour of her fairly modest but sunny and spacious two-story house, including descriptions of various antiques and introductions to her three huge parrots, she suggests lunch at the Ritz in Fashion Island. She drives, in a green Alfa convertible (the top stays up), and points out the Balboa Bay Club, where she used to live.

At the restaurant, she strolls through with the confidence of someone used to doing this. And the heads swivel. Once seated, she's eager to talk about the book. "The thing about it," she says, "is that there's no one else around to write about what it feels like to have your name linked to sex from the very beginning of your career.

"I was groomed as a so-called sex symbol, a rival to Marilyn Monroe, and from then on, whenever my picture appeared in paper it was sex kitten, sex symbol, sex goddess, sex pot. I've accepted it, and I'm flattered, but in some ways it's been a hindrance to me because I haven't been able to be taken seriously as an actress. It's such a shame that you were put in a category of a dumb blonde, but that's what they did in the '50s. You fought the system but you didn't win."

Van Doren, who last made a movie in 1985 and gives interviews infrequently, says her book, co-authored by Art Avielhe, tells everything.

"And everything I've said about myself is all true, it's all there. I didn't want it to be boring, or to sanitize my life. It's like I wanted people to look through a keyhole and say, 'Gosh, he's putting his pants on one leg at a time--or taking them off.' I really wanted to make people as human as possible. If it's hurting somebody, well, I just don't believe it is. The people I went out with all had senses of humor."

Men in Her Life

As detailed in the book, her transformation from Joan Olander to Mamie Van Doren took her into the arms of some of the best-known. She and Rock Hudson became lovers after a night at the Photoplay Awards; her affair with Nicky Hilton was fun but unsatisfying; Warren Beatty pursued her, boasting of his sexual prowess, but she never gave in. She and Clark Gable exchanged a few passionate kisses--their separate marriages kept them from consummating their relationship; and Steve McQueen introduced her to sex on acid. She compares Burt Reynolds to a fast-food joint ("high on jive but low on substance"), but has kinder words for a young Joe Namath who she calls "singularly unselfish in bed."

"My attitude about sex is just the way I was made," she says. "I never had anybody say this was not the way to do it. I was living in the '50s, but I was in the year 2000. I thought, 'This feels good. Why not do it?' "

Above all, she will tell you, she is a survivor. She has outlived many of her Hollywood peers and most of her husbands and stands as one of the few pretenders to the Marilyn Monroe throne.

But in death Monroe has become an icon. In life Van Doren has drifted into near-obscurity.

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