He was the alternative to Marilyn Monroe and the great rival of Jayne Mansfield in the league of sass and exuberance. Also an Ava Gardner of walking around the house and one of the most vivacious heiresses of Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. Today she presumes, with justification, to be the most modern and vital nonagenarian who ever stepped on the planet and, to prove it, she has just shown on social networks (fleetingly and probably unintentionally) her vagina, perhaps the only part of her anatomy that this pioneer of the nude as a weapon of mass seduction had not exhibited in public to date.
The latter may seem like a very minor event (the image, by the way, has already been withdrawn from circulation), but coming from it and considering that he turned 92 on February 6, it is an act of pride, coherence and survival. Mamie Van Doren writes a very substantial blog, with which she lashes Donald Trump and acts as a fairy godmother of sexual diversity. In addition, it remains very active in networks. In them she has just celebrated, for example, that she has been with Thomas Dixon for 50 years, the then actor and now retired dentist who ended up becoming her fifth husband in 1979, and that this last half century has been, without a doubt, the best of her life.
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She has also said that her modest community of just 10,000 followers on Twitter has become her "new family" and the most important people for her. Willing to feed the bonfire of that tribe of stalwarts, she is working on Secrets of the Godess, the third volume of her great autobiographical chronicle, a book in which she completes what has already been explained in Playing the Field: My Story and Playing the Field: Sex, Love and Life in Hollywood. This time, as he has assured, he wants to tell "without gloves and without filters", how he became Mamie, "what happened to Joanie Olander", his real name, and where he has "buried the corpses".
The first to arrive
The first decisive turning point in Mamie Van Doren's long life came very early, when the actress from Rowena, South Dakota, was just 18 years old. Of Swedish origin and baptized Joan Olander in honor of Joan Crawford, idol of her mother, she grew up on a modest farm on the outskirts of the city, was a terrible student, less interested in algebra than "in clothes and boys" and reached the end of adolescence with no other vital project than to become a showgirl, travel to New York and marry a big fish from the theater world.
Jack Dempsey with a very young Joan Olander, his wife, who was not yet named Mamie Van Doren.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)
As New York was far from the Dakotas, she settled for moving to Los Angeles, where she found work as an usher at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood and began to interact with illustrious men much older than her. At 16 she made her television debut as an extra, and was invited to participate in the choir of Ted Fio Rito's orchestral jazz band, her first access to Angelina's effervescent nightlife. At 17, she settled in Santa Barbara, in the mansion of an admirer, Jack Newman, who insisted on marrying her, but ended up mistreating her, which led to an early divorce and a second attempt to make her way on her own in show business.
Finally, at 18, in the summer of 1949, the blonde, small-town teenager who still called herself Joanie, with a rotund anatomy and expansive, enthusiastic character, won a pair of beauty pageants, Miss Eight Ball and Miss Palm Springs, and became a solid contender for starlette. The night he won his second crown also caught the attention of Howard Hughes, one of the great Hollywood moguls, golden bachelor at then 44 years old.
Things from other times: comparative poster with the stockings of the bodies of Mamie Von Doren and Marilyn Monroe shape up. Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)
Two blonde legends with their births: Mamie Van Doren and with Ray Anthony and Jayne Mansfield with Mickey Hargitay.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)
Promotional poster for 'Sex Kittens Go To College' (1960). LMPC (LMPC via Getty Images)
Hughes became her lover and patron, as well as the man who suggested she adapt a "more glamorous" stage name. Today we know that, in that first meeting, Joanie lied to Hughes about her age. He told her he was only 16, which makes their relationship even more problematic. "We made a couple of professional appointments. She left me planted in the first and my mother asked me to have a little dignity and not go to the second. But I went, and he strove from the beginning to seduce me and assure me that I would have a great career in the business if he would let me guide and advise. In the end, around the time he became my godfather, he found a place for me in four or five RKO films." No prominent role, but enough springboard for Van Doren to activate his instinct and ambition and "learn everything he needed to know about Hollywood."
The Three M Years
Along with Hughes, the budding winner made a couple of fundamental discoveries: she wanted to be an actress, no longer a showgirl or beauty queen, and she was not willing to "settle for one man." I wanted to have them all. In that crucial period, between the late forties and early fifties, Mamie played a secondary role, but of a certain substance, in The Frontiers of Crime (1951), with Jane Russell and Bob Mitchum, she bought her first car and boasted of couples with as much cachet as the retired boxer Jack Dempsey, a "big boy" who, According to the actress, "he treated me sweetly, but I was deeply bored, with his mental age less than 15 years." When Universal offered her a contract with the only condition that she look for a boyfriend "younger and with a better image" than Dempsey, Mamie broke off the courtship without hesitation. The boxer, apparently, fit the direct to the jaw with elegance.
We thus enter what Silke Jasso, editor of Rare magazine, describes as the years of splendor and tinsel of Mamie Van Doren. In 1951 she became one of the pin-ups of the graphic artist Alberto Vargas, his first foray into the big leagues of eroticism, which would soon become his negotiator. Soon after, the press began to refer to her as a member of one of the fashionable troikas in Hollywood, that of the three M's: Marilyn (Monroe), (Jayne) Mansfield and Mamie, heralds of a new resounding, naïve and free femininity that clever producers wanted to sell as the antidote to the conservatism of the Eisenhower era.
Mamie Van Doren in the dressing room in 1960.Herbert Dorfman (Corbis via Getty Images)
Mamie Van Doren poses for a promotional portrait of the 1955 musical "The Stronger Sex." Archive Photos (Getty Images)
As an alternative to the "good girls" and the "angels of the home", merciless blockbusters such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire or Gentlemen Marry Brunettes began to promote the stereotype of the exuberant bad girl, light of helmets but with a good heart. Although Van Doren would end up being the third in discord of that elite struggle, the truth is that at first she seemed a candidate at the height of the other two, capable of contributing to the sexual revolution of the blondes of the mid-fifties with arguments as powerful as The All American (1953), Running Wild (1955) or Indomitable Youth (1957). With Monroe he established a relationship of mutual respect and Mansfield became his aminemire, that is, his friendly rival, although they exchanged bids of a certain toxicity, in coherence with the image of festive nest of vipers that Hollywood was striving to project at the time.
In love with love
From his wild years, Van Doren remembers, above all, sexual promiscuity. In the words of Silke Jasso, Mamie, a sober, focused and sensible woman in almost all areas of life, "had a great vice: making love". And he practiced it for decades with self-indulgence and abandon.
Apart from her five marriages (all, except the last, ephemeral and rather unhappy), the actress had relationships with a long list of members of the aristocracy of the entertainment industry, from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson, Clark Gable, James Dean or Henry Kissinger. "He even proposed, apparently unsuccessfully, to seduce Rock Hudson," explains Jasso. He was the first of the acceptable boyfriends with whom he tried to pair Universal to give some nutritious flesh to the heart press. She also slept, as she has confessed, with a "crowd" of anonymous men, who "are usually the best lovers."
Mamie Van Doren, 33, in Sacramento, California with her husband Lee Meyros, 19.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)
His relations with Sinatra perfectly illustrate Van Doren's mercurial and contradictory character. Although the actress appeared in almost all her promotional photos with a cigarette between her fingers, the truth is that she quit smoking very soon and ended up hating tobacco. That led her, she says, to cut her attempts at romance with compulsive smokers such as Sinatra, Carson or Dean, not so much for health reasons as for "respect and hygiene".
Moreover, around the time of her brief romance with Sinatra, Mamie had just divorced her second husband and conceived their only child, Perry, and was beginning to get fed up with the dissolute lifestyle of stars like Hoboken's crooner. As he has said, the Hollywood of the time was already becoming the "hippie hell" in which actresses and actors "took LSD and went for a walk naked on Sunset Boulevard", an environment "very unsuitable to raise a child like Perry". So the actress ended up fleeing that wasteland of extravagance and increasing toxicity to settle in Newport Beach and lead a "homely" life there.
Mamie van Doren as a guest on Oprah Winfrey's show on June 12, 1988.Paul Natkin (Getty Images)
By then, she was already a rich and famous woman. But his distant pulse with Mansfield and, above all, with the stellar Monroe, had resulted in a resounding defeat. While Marilyn was on the cinematic Olympus, Mamie purged the overly erotic patina of her youth roles and was condemned to B-movie productions. Although some of these films, such as The School of Vice (1958) were a remarkable success and today are the object of worship, it is undeniable, in Jasso's opinion, that Van Doren did not completely complete his assault on the cinematographic skies "and ended up resigning himself to a role of minor star, light years away from the competitors with whom he was related at the beginning of his career".
He allowed himself the luxury, despite everything, of being one of the most visible faces of the landing of rock 'n roll on the big screen. Her role as Gwen Dulaine, the rocker, lascivious and wayward housewife of The School of Vice, is unforgettable, and was the prelude to a long list of similar interventions in classics of the rock generation such as College Confidential, (1960), Generation of rebels (1959), The private life of Adam and Eve (1960) or the almost implausible, by shameless, outrageous and carnal, Sex Kittens Go to College (1960).
A fertile sunset
In more ways than one, the thirty- and forty-year-old Van Doren who put herself under cheap movie geniuses like Jack Arnold was a far better actress than the ambitious twenty-something lover of Howard Hughes and Jack Dempsey. But its moment of splendor had passed. The Oscars he had dreamed of in his early youth never landed in his Newport Beach showcase and the star on the walk of fame he always thought he deserved would wait many years and would end up coming more as a recognition of his long career in the business.
Mamie Van Doren motorized through the streets of Los Angeles in 1984.Donaldson Collection (Getty Images)
Mamie Van Doren dressed according to what a night party in New York in 1984 demanded. Ron Galella (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)
As the decades went by, Van Doren edited some other album, participated in fewer and fewer films (she shared the screen with Jayne Mansfield in The Last Vegas Hillbillies, 1966, and was the most thundered science fiction diva in Journey to the planet of prehistoric women, 1968), posed a couple of times for Playboy, I began to write and continued to accumulate husbands and lovers with or without luster. In 1979 he found the man of his life, "one of those incredible surprises that maturity gives you", and gradually moved away from cinema. Her last role, in the high school comedy Slackers (2002), was a mere concession to the director, Dewey Nicks, who knew how to convince her by declaring herself a fan of her work and exhibiting an exhaustive knowledge of her filmography.
Since then, Van Doren has devoted himself to the most laborious and fascinating of occupations: "being happy." In old age she has exhibited a sharp intelligence and a delicious sense of humor in texts such as China & Me, chronicling her four decades of relationship with the raucous cockatoo of the Moluccas that she "adopted" in 1980 and has since become her best life partner, with the permission of Thomas, her husband. He lacked, however, to give a last-minute brushstroke to a career happily devoted to provocation and scandal. Hence, he has just starred in the latest integral nude in the history of the show.
She was one of the first to arrive and is being (fortunately for her and for the world, which celebrates her sympathy, her lucidity and her lack of complexes) of the last to leave. It has even given him time to cross the political spectrum in the opposite direction than usual: in 1972, he sympathized with the Republican Party, he performed on several occasions for the troops fighting in Vietnam ("I felt a very special connection with each of those men and women: I know that many of them did not come home, and it hurts in my soul"). she had a brief run-in with conservative strategist Henry Kissinger and even met one of her husbands while they were both campaigning for Richard Nixon's re-election. Today, he has embraced the most belligerent progressivism, believes that Nixon was a scoundrel, Ronald Reagan a "carcamal" who "kept on his head the bush of dyed hair, but never knew if his ass was in Dallas or Baghdad" and calls Trump, his archenemy, a "criminal, psychopath" and enemy of freedom.
Mamie Van Doren being true to herself at a commitment party of two friends at a Los Angeles club in 1992.Ron Galella (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)
Mamie Van Doren at a MAC cosmetics event in Los Angeles in 2017. He was, then, 86 years old. Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)
His advice to Joe Biden is, for a few years now, to make way for a younger Democrat, a progressive woman, if possible, because, at eighty, a "real" barrier arrives and we must begin to assume that the world belongs to young people. "I've already done it," the actress of Rowena concluded. That's why she's given up on her dream of becoming California's first blonde governor and prefers to spend her days telling us why she left Sinatra and how much she loves her cockatoo.
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