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Mamie Van Doren is all dressed up

The kittenish 1950s actress is platinum bright and swathed in Chanel as she kisses and tells while promoting a new disc of country (country!) music.

January 01, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Mamie Van Doren's latest project is a country album, "Still a Troublemaker."
Mamie Van Doren's latest project is a country album, "Still… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Signed to a contract at Universal in 1953, Mamie Van Doren was considered the studio's answer to Marilyn Monroe. Their careers did not follow similar paths, however.

While Monroe worked with some of the best directors at 20th Century Fox — including Howard Hawks ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes") and Billy Wilder ("The Seven Year Itch") — the former Joan Olander was cast in grade B musicals, comedies and melodramas at Universal, including "All American," "Francis Joins the WACs" and "Running Wild."

In 1956, Van Doren gave birth to her only son, Perry, by her second husband, bandleader-actor Ray Anthony. She was still in the hospital when she was visited by an executive from the studio. "She said, 'Mamie, we are sorry to tell you, but because you are having a child, we just don't feel that would be good for your image. We are going to let you go.' I was devastated," Van Doren recalls. "It was a bad scene."

Yet getting the pink slip turned out to be rosy for the buxom platinum blond. "The minute they dropped me I went to work with Howard Koch at Warner Bros.," she says.

Van Doren made two films for Koch — including the 1957 box office hit "Untamed Youth," in which she got to sing rock 'n' roll — and then hooked up with producer Albert Zugsmith, for whom she made several films, including such cult classics as 1958's "High School Confidential" and 1959's "Girls Town."

Now, 54 years after the birth of her son, who is a real estate agent in Orange County, Van Doren is still living la vida sex symbol. There are many current photos of her in various stages of undress on her website, http://www.mamievandoren.com — she also has a new calendar you can buy there — is active on Facebook and Twitter, and has written a column for the last two years for Hustler magazine.

"Every three weeks I do a column," says Van Doren, who turns 80 in February. "I am going to be doing one on gangsters. I just did one on Johnny Grant. It's hard to think of something to write about every three weeks, but I think the gangster one is going to be good."

Van Doren has driven up from her home in Newport Beach for lunch at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss her first album in years, the country disc "Still a Troublemaker," which is available for downloading on iTunes and at Amazon.com. The CD will come out in the spring. There are five original songs and covers of such well-known tunes as "Silver Thread and Golden Needles." She has a website, http://www.mamiecountry.com, to publicize the disc, complete with a music video of "Troublemaker" featuring mostly cheesecake photos of her during her bombshell heyday.

"That's gotten a couple of thousand plays now," she says of the video. "I also have some dance mixes. 'Cowgirl High' is really hot."

Sporting long, platinum blond hair, Van Doren is dressed all in Coco Chanel — a tight-fitting purple miniskirt, crème blouse and a purple tweed jacket with a different shade of purple fur. "I met Chanel in the 1960s when I was working over in Europe," she explains. "She sent me clothes all the time because I was only like 110. I am like 120 now. … I just got these shoes," she adds, showing off black high-heels. "Aren't they hot? I love them."

Van Doren has been married five times, finding true happiness with the last one, actor Thomas Dixon, who is nearly two decades her junior. They have been together 36 years, marrying in 1979.

"He's an old soul," she says. "He was a Vietnam vet. He was an actor in Florida, where I was doing a play, 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?' and he was the leading man. We were on the road for like 20 weeks. We got to become friends. Then I was going to come back to Newport, and he said, 'I would like to go with you.' I said, 'Stay with me,' and he never left!"

In 1987, Van Doren wrote her autobiography, "Playing the Field," in which she went into graphic detail about the men in her life, including Tony Curtis, Steve Cochran, Jack Dempsey and Joe Namath.

She was only about 15 or 16 when she hooked up with Howard Hughes shortly after she was named Miss Palm Springs. "He liked them very, very young," Van Doren says of the eccentric mogul's taste in women. Hughes also owned RKO Studios, and soon Van Doren was cast in some tiny parts in films there, including "Jet Pilot."

"I did about five movies for him," she says. "He would send over a Chevrolet to pick me up. He had this old brown Chevrolet. My mother didn't like it. He was very demanding, very controlling. I could see him becoming a recluse. He was somewhat like that then. We would go to the back entrance of a restaurant. And he liked to go to the Players on Sunset. We would park in the parking lot and go in the back through the kitchen. He was kind of a loner."

susan.king@latimes.com

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