Pictured above: Mamie Van Doren and Rock Hudson, 1954.
One of the most outspoken and readable voices on Facebook is Mamie Van Doren, who is vehemently anti-Trump and his various con games. I just talked to the South Dakota-born star of 1950s rebellion-drenched films like Untamed Youth and High School Confidential and thanked her for her great posts dicing up current events with elan.
I also got her to reminisce about her career, about which she said, “I was a so-called sex symbol and I was treated differently. Sometimes I was accepted and sometimes I wasn’t. I had a hell of a time. Marilyn Monroe opened a door and I came along as the so-called answer to her. But I didn’t look like her or act like her at all!”
Mamie’s very much her own person, and I loved getting to chat with her about then and now—and by the way, “then” included her going on dates with a variety of leading men, including closeted 1950s Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson!
Hi, Mamie. Your Facebook posts have made you more legendary to me than ever.
Thanks. I get going toward the end of day. I stay away from the internet during the day till the news is coming out. I watch MSNBC and then write what I want to write.
Were you always a fighter for justice?
Not really. When I was working in Hollywood, I was a moderate conservative. I was an Eisenhower Republican. When he ran for President, I voted for him and stayed that way until after Bush Sr. At that point, I was really disgruntled. I’m living in Orange County and everyone around here is a conservative. I can’t believe they’re so stupid. They’re talking about how great Trump is. I think, Oh, my god. What are you gonna do?
Ugh. Let’s talk instead about old Hollywood.
I’ll go on a time warp.
Yes! Back then, movie stars just couldn’t be out. Did you encounter Rock Hudson?
Yes. Outside of the studio, if I mentioned it to anyone, they didn’t have any idea that Rock was gay. I didn’t have any idea myself. And we went on a date in 1953! Our date was arranged by the publicity office. They changed my name to Mamie [from Joan Lucille Olander] and said, “You’re going with Rock to the Golden Globe awards.” I said, “Oh, my god.” I told one of the girls, a contract player, that I was going. She said, “You’ll have nothing to worry about. He’s gay.” I said, “Really?”
Rock picked me up and we went to the awards and he treated me so sweet. I was so excited. It was my first time out with a celebrity and trying to get my name out there. We were sitting with Joan Crawford. That was a treat because I was named for Joan. She was one of my favorites, but I didn’t mention it to her then. She was drinking a little bit. She was drunk! She was pissed off at Marilyn Monroe, who was sitting on the dais parading around.
I’m sure she thought Marilyn was “vulgar."
There was a sort of code in Hollywood that women didn’t say bad things about each other. But we’ve come a long way with female solidarity and support since then. The big shocker was that Rock drove me home—I was living in a ranch house in the Valley with my mom and dad—and he wanted to come in. I said, “What for?” He said, “How about some coffee?” I said, “Sure.” We had coffee and all of a sudden I felt his arms around me.
What? Was he trying to prove something or was he bi?
I don’t think he was bi. I think it felt completely natural. I was very young. I was kind of naïve in some ways, but very sexy. All my life I’ve been very sexy. I don’t drink that much and I never smoked, and I love sex.
May I ask if you went all the way?
He tried, but the studio had dressed me and I had a very full crinoline skirt on. He was wrestling with that. I’ll just say it got a little sticky on my crinoline. And I had to take it back to the Universal wardrobe department the next day.
Wow. The Republicans should use you to turn gay guys straight.
Hell, yes. [Laughs] I went on a date with [Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger. I had to wrestle with him and he was straight as an arrow. It was easy to fight him. I never expected to have to end up fighting him off. He had denture breath that really turned me off. I don’t think I’d have let him anyway. But he was sexy and very sexual and had a low European voice. He was a great conversationalist. He said, “Have you ever met a man smarter than you, Mamie?” I said, “Of course—you.” He said, “I doubt that.”
At one point, you also dated leading man Burt Reynolds, who I always wondered about. Would you say he was straight or bi?
I have no idea on that one. I dated him one night. That was enough for me. I laughed my ass off with him all the time. He was a funny guy and I laughed so hard I was crying. He told me he was the male Mamie Van Doren. We were both Aquarians. He knew more about me than I know about myself. But we made out and it was not very good.
Did you notice a lot of lesbianism in Hollywood?
I was approached by Marlene Dietrich, as a matter of fact. Jean Louis was the fashion designer in the Columbia wardrobe department. Dietrich was opening in Vegas and he was putting beads on her dress strategically so her nipples would show. She had nipples made of those round buttons used on wedding dresses and he covered them with nude soufflé chiffon. It worked. Jean Louis placed the beads around that area. Dietrich knew how to fool everyone...except me. [Laughs]
Anyway, as he did this, she came into the room. She didn’t introduce herself. She didn’t say one word to me. She got up on a spot where the telephone was and it was raining, so she had a raincoat on and a hat over her eye and spats on her shoes. She looked hot. She was flirting with me while she was talking on the phone. I didn’t know what to do. Today, I’d know what to do. I probably would have flirted back to her. I would have taken her up on it. For the one time in my life [with a woman]. She was sort of my muse. I learned a lot from her. I liked Lana Turner, Carole Lombard—women with fire in them. You don’t see that too much anymore. They’re kind of dull. I’m not putting them down. I’d like to see some spitfires.
Some of your movies sort of wink at the camera. They’re knowingly campy and funny.
Well, when I saw Marlon Brando for the first time in A Streetcar Named Desire, his acting was awesome. I wanted to act like that. It was the greatest feeling to act on the screen. I underplayed. It was different than Bette Davis, where everything was exaggerated and kind of corny. I tried to keep it subtle and be real in my roles. I took acting very seriously.
You’re a lot of fun in the 1958 comedy Teacher’s Pet, with Clark Gable and Doris Day.
I had another big scene with Clark in the dressing room, where we kissed. They cut it. I thought maybe Doris was responsible for that, but I never knew for sure. Maybe I looked too young for Clark or it was too sexy. Someone said, “Why go to Doris Day when he’s got you?” That’s not the way the script went.
I love when you do “The Girl Who Invented Rock and Roll," as Clark gets visibly excited. You’re a good dancer.
Thank you. Everything was natural. It oozes out of me. When I was a teenager trying to sing like Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, I met Quincy Jones at the Oasis club. He was a musician for Lionel Hampton. We dated and went to clubs and heard Dinah Washington and songs like “The Huckabuck." It was so wild and so much fun. Looking back, I’m glad I did all those things because I found out more about what black people went through and what they have to endure.
But you kept the romance a secret?
Until now. Quincy talked about it in an interview that went up on YouTube not long ago. He went deep into it. [Author’s note: In the interview, Quincy said, “I didn’t think Marilyn Monroe was that hot because I was dating Mamie Van Doren back then. Mamie would put her a-way!”]
Was Marilyn nice to you?
Oh, yeah. No problem. She liked me. Her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, I didn’t like. Too many distractions. Marilyn was always late, to take care of Natasha’s daughter, who was crying in her bedroom. Natasha charged too much and didn't deliver. Things that she was talking about, I already knew.
I actually think Marilyn was better before she decided to learn how to act. She already knew.
When I was 15, I did a screen test and they said I looked too much like Marilyn. She was watching me do the test. She followed me afterwards. She was about five years older than me. We were both blonds, and that’s about it. I like the way I look today better than then. I’m brunette now.
Van Doren in 2017 (though with blond hair).
You look great at 88. Who would you like to play yourself in a movie?
Margot Robbie. She’s easy on the eyes and a wonderful actress.
Great choice. See you on Facebook!
Gays, Gangsters, and Hair Dye
If they can’t get Margot Robbie to play me in a movie, I personally would love Antonio Banderas, and obviously, renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodovar feels the same way.
Last week, the New York Film Festival showed Almodovar’s absorbing Pain and Glory, starring Banderas as Salvador, a director in crisis, looking back at his bittersweet life as he suffers from back pain, coughing fits, a heroin fixation, and anxiety about not making movies anymore. A bit of a Wild Strawberries meets 8 ½ and All That Jazz homage, the film obviously draws upon Almodovar’s own experiences, but in lieu of the day-glow wackiness of some of his past films, there’s a meditative quality and a sense of different time periods colliding into each other in hopes of resolution.
At the festival, Banderas said, “Pedro and I have been friends for about 40 years and have done eight films together, but our friendship has certain boundaries. Pedro is a very private person. So I was surprised when I read the script and there were some confessions there—that he wanted to close up wounds with his mother, cinema, life itself, and an ex.”
Of course, it’s not all literally from Pedro’s life—it’s “autofiction,” just like Salvador creates. But whether real or not, I did love the bits where—spoiler alert!—little Salvador faints when he sees a hot man naked (though the dizzy spell is chalked up to sunstroke), and where adult Salvador reconnects with his old boyfriend and they both get aroused. I got sunstroke watching it.
Another rueful work by a mature director was the festival’s opening night attractio: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman in which Robert De Niro plays a real-life mobster involved with the death of famed Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The must-see three-and-a-half hour film, complete with De Niro’s narration and subtitled updates on the characters (“Was shot five times in his kitchen”), mixes dark humor and detailed insight into the mob milieu, with Pacino turning in a hilariously riveting performance and De Niro anchoring the whole film with his character’s damaged honor code.
This is the kind of movie where the characters call each other “cocksuckers” as if that were a bad thing—there’s also blustery talk about lesbian truck drivers and a “fairy”—but it also digs behind the bravado for some poignancy and self-doubt. And by the way, for flashback scenes, the actors were digitally made younger in a way I hope they will teach us all how to do at home.
Two Great Actors Face The Height of the Storm on Broadway
From left: Madeleine (Eileen Atkins) and André (Jonathan Pryce).
Just like in his The Father—which won a Tony for Frank Langella in 2017—Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, translated from French by Christopher Hampton, has a patriarch named André who is grappling with a loss of control as he testily tries to hold onto dignity, choice, and memory.
In this case, André (Jonathan Pryce) is a writer and he’s long been married to Madeleine (Eileen Atkins), the two wearing autumnal clothes and sitting around their high-ceilinged, grayish home after a violent storm and chewing over the past. (Sets and costumes are by Anthony Ward.) André doesn’t believe in keeping journals—maybe he thinks storms would blow them away—desperately wanting to forget what’s happened, not try to analyze and understand everything, and only be what he is at the moment (“I’m here!”), while Madeleine is more grounded and no-nonsense, though not always to comforting effect.
As a mournful violin plays, their daughters (Amanda Drew and Lisa O’Hare) try to sort out what’s left of the household, as The Woman (Lucy Cohu), whom André adamantly did not want to see again, returns, potentially representing any number of personal agendas. And by the way, André might actually be dead, or perhaps it’s just his thought processes that are gone and Madeleine’s the one who’s not really here, though she also keeps saying “I’m here.”
Typically, Zeller—who’s deeply influenced by Harold Pinter—gives you alternate suggestions as to what’s real and what’s imagined as the characters’ relationships to each other and to their pasts keeps shifting. At the very least, the play is a terrific showcase for the volatile Pryce and the highly focused Atkins, who manage to fill in some blanks, as directed by Jonathan Kent. At the height of a storm, says André (quoting French poet Rene Char), a bird always reassures us, then sings and flies away. Or maybe the bird is dead, too?