Mamie Van Doren Interview
She was born Joan Lucille Olander but the world knows her as Mamie
Her contemporaries included Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mans field and Jane Russell.
Mamie Van Doren shared the story of her life with us, what it was like to
be a movie actress in the 1950’s and the people she met along the way.
Q - You didn’t start out to be an actress
did you? You started out as a model?
A - Well first, I did some cheese cake modeling. That’s what
they called it back in the late 40’s, early 50’s. Then I started
faking singing lessons. Jimmy Mecue who wrote a lot of wonderful songs, became
my manager. I sang for him and he said I should pursue it, but, also pursue
an acting career which I did. He sent me to school, daytime and nighttime to
make up for lost time. And then, before I met Jimmy I was miss Palm Springs
I just turned 16 and a man named Howard Hughes saw me win the contest.
I got a call from the studio and he put me in 4 or 5 movies for RKO. Then
I really learned the tricks of the trade, of being in the movies. I was on
a set with Jane Russell for months in a movie called ‘His kind of woman’.
I was like 16. So, I really got to learn. At that time, I wanted to sing, but,
I didn’t know if I had a voice, to go out and sing in front of an audience.
I found out I did. I was discovered in a play called’ Come Back Little
Sheeba, in the ingenue role by Universal. I went in there and auditioned and
they signed me to a seven year contract, my first movie was ‘The All
American’ opposite Tony Curtis, which I had to test for, but, I was really
prepared. I continued singing and met and married Ray Anthony. He had an orchestra.
Then we had a son. The first movie I did after I had my baby was Untamed Youth
at Warner Bros. It was a musical and we did all rock ‘n’ roll songs.
It was actually the first rock ‘n’ roll movie ever made. Eddie
Cochran did the music for it and Lex Barker. The movie was the answer
to ‘Asphalt Jungle but, it was better. It was really wild.
Q - Did you meet Eddie Cochran?
A - Oh yeah, of course. He came over to the house and we did a little
hanky — panky then. (Laughs). He was really cute. He was a little blonde
guy. He reminded me of Elvis a little bit — but, real blonde and cute.
I’m very friendly still with his cousin. He comes down to New port Beach
and we go out to breakfast. We talk a bout Eddie a lot.
Q- How did you make your way to California to
start doing these pin-up photos or what you refer to as cheese-cake modeling?
A - Well, there was a guy called Hitler who brought me out here. (Laughs).
World War Two my dad came out here and I just turned 8. I was baby when I came
Q - Did you like the studio system? They pretty much
dictated what you should wear, how you should conduct yourself in an interview,
A - They first of all’ changed my name which I didn’t want.
I like my name, my mom named me for Joan Crawford, I liked Joan Olander, but,
they didn’t. I was named after Mamie Eisenhower. They tried to groom
me more as an ingenue, and make me into a sweet, little college girl. And you
know I was just so far from that. I felt silly. I’ve always had a larger
bust line than most women. When I went into wardrobe they were sort of oohing
and aahing my figure, the women in there. They never had to put pads in my
bras. It got around the studio that I was all a natural.
Q- You don’t find that in Hollywood today.
A - No, I go to the Playboy mansion all the time and I haven’t
seen a pair yet that was natural. (Laughs).
Q- Now see, that’s the difference between
the time you were starting out and today. Any woman can, with plastic surgery
get your look today.
A - I was lucky, yeah. Marilyn too — and so was Jane. Jane was
a bigger girl. She was 5’ 10’’ a big, tall gal. Marilyn and
I were the same height. I by — passed her a few cups you know. I’m
like 34, with an F cup, F as in fun — and I have a very small back.
Q- Mamie, you would agree with me when I say Hollywood
was more glamorous in the past, wouldn’t you?
A - Yes.
Q - Why do you think that was?
A - Well, the studio system really ran the movies and the contract
players they had under contract. They wanted you to do something and they would
steer your publicity a certain way. You’d go out and date someone from
another studio. They would fix it up. You had to really follow a strict line.
Your option would come up and they would drop it if you didn’t do what
they wanted you to do. You didn’t dare go out unless you looked glamorous
and beautiful. You’d never go out in a pair of jeans to a premiere. That
was unheard of. Everybody dressed up and wore the white gloves. They had their
hair sprayed just right. (Laughs). You look back at it now and it’s kind
of corny, but yet — it’s very refreshing. The men always had their
hair just so. The reason for it, was it was post war days, World War Two. Everybody
got out their Best Clothes.
Q - Did you ever encounter the “Casting Couch”?
A - Oh of course, yes.
Q - And how did you handle that?
A - I was really rebellious in my day when I look back. I was a feminist
when I didn’t know what the word meant. If I wanted to take my clothes
off — I’d do it. It was just natural for me being a Swede and coming
from the Midwest. People weren’t that conservative. My mom and dad were
just kind of wild.
Q - Did the “Casting Couch” system work
on this principle of you do this for me and here’s what I’ll
do for you?
A - Yeah, that happened. But, I told them to go Fuck off! I didn’t
do it. I never did that. But, if I liked someone I’d do it. It had nothing
to do with a part. I was not cunning that way. I wasn’t a ‘professional’ when
it came to doing that. I know some girls were ‘professional’. It’s
not like it used to be. The agents are more in-charge today. It you have an
agent who likes you, you’re gonna get something. It just depends on who
likes you and who doesn’t, like any job. Politics. That’s a perfect
Q - The first time you saw yourself up there on the
Silver Screen — did
you like what you were seeing? Did you like your performance?
A - Not especially, I saw all my faults. A lot of people wouldn’t
go see their rushes. We had rushes in those days. You didn’t playback
afterwards. There wasn’t a re-play. It’s a lot easier to win an
Academy Award those days cause you can make everything perfect, before you
even get there. We had rushes maybe one or two days after you did the scene.
There were some changes made and by the time they got through I was getting
better and better. Every time I watched a movie I was unhappy with it. I didn’t
like the way I looked. I just didn’t know what people saw about me. They’d
say, ‘well you know, you’re cute in person, but, you may not come
off on screen. We have a lot of good-looking contract players, good-looking
girls, but, they don’t register on the screen.’ It’s strange
you know? There’s a difference. It’s a magic that comes through
the screen that you’re gifted with. You either have it or you don’t.
So, when I got my screen test they saw it, signed me and said — you got
the magic! (Laughs). At that time I had large breasts, but, I didn’t
realize that was part of it, I think the figure, the body, and the sexiness
were kind of all involved.
Q - You pretty much worked with everyone in what I consider
Years” of Hollywood, didn’t you?
A - Yeah, I worked with the same people Marilyn ( Monroe) worked with.
I worked with Clark Gable, Tony Curtis, Tommy Noonan, Donald O’ Connor.
Q - Did you ever encounter James Dean?
A - Oh, yeah. I dated him. He was doing ‘Rebel’ or one
of those pictures at the time. There was a place called ‘Keys’.
It was a bar across the street from Universal. He came in with some other guy.
I was in there. One of the actresses under contract introduced me to him. He
was very sweet. Very nice, Kind of shy, So, I left early. He was dressed just
like you see him. He smoked cigarettes like crazy and I hated that. I never
smoked. He followed me out to my car I had a little Nash Rambler. I had just
gotten my contract. You had to be careful who you dated and who you went with.
I was so careful. I remember he had a bright red motorcycle, I think it was
a Harley. He wanted to know if I would go for a ride and I said I can’t,
I’ve got a screw on that’s really tight and I can’t put my
leg over there. He said, ‘ Don’t let that bother you, Get on!’ So,
I did and we drove up to Mulholland Drive, around the curves and got up to
the top. At that time, there were a lot of vacant lots. The mountains were
just kind of saturated with land. There weren’t any homes. We just sat
up there. It was just getting dark and it was cold. I remember I kissed him
and I think he had a bridge in his mouth. Something was really weird in his
mouth. And then, that nicotine smell, we didn’t make out or anything,
but, we did kiss, and we did neck.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - 1953
Q - You must’ve been surprised to see what
a Big Star he became after his death.
A - Yeah, when he passed away I was in Vegas with my husband Ray Anthony
whom I just married, Vic Damone who was married to Pier Angeli was there. Pier
and I and Vic were there, my husband brought a newspaper over when we were
sitting in the cocktail lounge and here it was that James Dean gets killed.
She had dated him. I didn’t date him. I just did that motorcycle ride.
I was not interested in guys. I was just trying to get ahead and get in a movie.
I was not interested in who I was gonna date.
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - Elvis came to see me when I was working Vegas. In fact, I was just
inducted into the Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas along with Elvis and Frank Sinatra,
cause I worked there so often.
Q - Did you also meet Frank Sinatra?
A - Yeah, I dated Frank. Frank got me my last job at the Sands with
Sammy Davis. Elvis Presley saw me in Vegas and set ringside, came backstage,
and asked me for my autograph and a picture. He’d just seen ‘Untamed
Youth’ which I had done a take - off on him. He loved it. He said he
saw in Memphis. His favorite actor at the time was Tony Curtis and I had worked
with him. It was the last show (for me) so I went upstairs and came back down
with another outfit on. He (Elvis) was with some other guys and we took off
to The Sahara and The Frontier. He took me back to The Riviera and we necked
a little bit in his pink Cadillac. He asked me if I had anything under the
dress I was wearing — and I said no. I remember that. He pounded the
steering wheel and said — ‘I know you didn’t have anything
on under there.’ He was a good kisser.
Q - Is there anyone you didn’t work with?
Q - So, what keeps you busy these days?
A - I didn’t work with Rock ( Hudson).
A - I live in a place where you don’t want to go any place in
the world. It’s like a little Riviera. It’s Newport Beach, California.
I live between the water. I live in the Bay. I’m on the Penisula. I live
a couple of blocks from the ocean and one block from the Bay. I watch the ships
come in and out from Europe. The yachts are all around me. Clubs are all over.
I just don’t have the desire to go out anyplace. Where you gonna go better?
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