The Bodacious Blonde: Mamie Van Doren’s Fabulous Life

They say good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere. That was true for actress Mamie Van Doren. After being discovered by millionaire Howard Hughes, the former beauty queen became a sex symbol of the ‘50s who was way ahead of her time. Known as one of Hollywood’s earliest feminists, Van Doren was destined to become a star.

Mamie Van Doren / Conrad Hilton Jr., Mamie Van Doren / Mamie Van Doren / Mamie Van Doren.
Source: Getty Images

Van Doren didn’t care if she didn’t resemble the other women around her. Between her numerous famous lovers to making a difference during war times, Van Doren put her name on the map in a big way. So, put on your best red lipstick and buckle up as we go through the scandal, rivalry, and revenge of Van Doren’s loud and proud life.

A Star Is Born

While the world knows her as Mamie Van Doren, the starlet was born Joan Lucille Olander on February 6, 1931. However, real names are for regular people, so she changed it when she signed her first studio contract. It was President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration, so the studio heads decided to call her Mamie after Eisenhower’s wife.

A portrait of Mamie Van Doren.
Photo by Getty Images

Meanwhile, “Van Doren” was the name of a prominent family of American intellectuals, so they used it as her fake last name. The inspirations behind her name don’t scream blonde bombshell, but the name was perfect for the time. When she took on this new name, it was a far cry from her life growing up in Iowa.

Ushering Herself to Stardom

After her family moved from Iowa to Los Angeles when she was a teenager, Van Doren started working as an usher at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. While it might not have been the most glamorous job, it helped her get into the world of acting. After just one year at the theater, she got a small part on a TV series.

Mamie Van Doren poses at the beach.
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After her small acting role, Van Doren started singing with Ted Fio Rito’s band and entered several beauty contests. She was determined to become a star, and nothing was going to stop her. Van Doren knew she wanted to be an entertainer, so she was trying to get her foot in the door through the beauty world, and something almost got in her way.

Rushing Into Love

Although she was just 17, Van Doren and her boyfriend Jack Newman decided to elope in Santa Barbara. However, shortly after their marriage, the couple got divorced. She wasn’t a late bloomer, but she regretted rushing into a serious commitment because Newman turned out to be completely different than the man she fell in love with.

A portrait of Mamie Van Doren.
Source: Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

After the couple eloped, Newman started abusing Van Doren because she was young and vulnerable. During their honeymoon in San Francisco, he tried to throw her off their balcony, and Van Doren knew she had to get out of the marriage quickly. Newman would have stood in the way of her dreams, and that was the last thing she wanted.

Picking Herself Back Up

While she had just gotten out of a short and abusive relationship, Van Doren wasn’t going to sit back and let her dreams pass her. In the summer of 1949, after she turned 18, she won the titles of Miss Eight Ball and Miss Palm Springs. She succeeded the previous year’s winner, an unknown named Marilyn Monroe.

Mamie Van Doren poses for a studio portrait.
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Van Doren said, “I didn’t look like a normal woman – I was filling out in all the right place. I realized I was probably meant to be a movie star.” Once she realized what she wanted to do, the curvaceous bombshell set her sights on the big screen. Someone at the Miss Palm Springs pageant also saw her potential and would change her career forever.

Starting Small

Although she didn’t feel like she fit in with the women in pageants, when Van Doren won Miss Palm Springs, she caught the eye of producer Howard Hughes. The pair dated for several years, and he was the one who helped her launch her career by placing her in several RKO films.

A current portrait of Mamie Van Doren.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

During the early ‘50s, Van Doren had minimal roles in films like Jet Pilot and His Kind of Woman. In Jet Pilot, she only had one line, which was “Look!” Also, in His Kind of Woman, she said people could blink and miss her. Because the movies were slow going, she posed for famous pin-up girl artist Alberto Vargas. iHi

Taking Center Stage

Movies might not have worked out for her right away, so Van Doren began working on the stage. She started as a showgirl in New York City in Monte Proser’s nightclub version of Billion Dollar Baby. While performing in the show, songwriter Jimmy McHugh discovered her for his musicals.

Van Doren performs on stage.
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McHugh was impressed with Van Doren but thought she was too good for the chorus line and advised her to get dramatic training. She then went to study with Ben Bard at Bliss-Hayden, an acting school. Luckily, the training paid off, and while she was acting in a production, the casting director at Universal saw her.

Moving On Up

Once casting director Phil Benjamin noticed Van Doren, her career was on the rise. At the time, she had been dating and got engaged to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. However, the day she signed a contract with Universal Studios, she dumped him to pursue her dreams.

Van Doren and Jack Dempsey are sitting at a dinner table.
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Universal had big plans for Van Doren, so they changed her name and hoped she would bring the same kind of success that Marilyn Monroe brought 20th Century Fox. Her role with the studio was a minor part as a singer in Forbidden, starring Tony Curtis. Universal was so interested in her allure that they cast her in The All American for her first significant role.

The Three M’s

During the late 1950s, the three M’s of Hollywood were Mamie Van Doren, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield. The three blonde bombshells were often up for the same parts and spent most of their lives competing because they shared many of the same talents and looked alike.

A studio portrait of Mamie Van Doren.
Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

When Van Doren turned down a Broadway role of a satirical Monroe send-off in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, Jayne Mansfield took the part. The three of them pushed each other without knowing it because a bit of competition makes people work harder. They were all equally appreciated for what they had to offer.

Tired of the Small Parts

In 1956, Van Doren starred alongside and unknown Clint Eastwood in Star in the Dust, and while she was happy to have more film roles, she was growing tired of Universal. Van Doren gained attention for billing alongside names like John Agar and Richard Boone, but she felt there was more for her out there.

Mamie Van Doren attends an event at a hotel.
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Universal continued to cast Van Doren in non-breakthrough roles, so she took matters into her own hands. She began more prominent roles in better movies with other studios. She started to become the go-to girl for bad girl roles, and this is where her career really hit a high.

Letting Her Hair Down

While she was playing bad girls on the big screen, Van Doren was also a bit of a wild card in real life. When she filmed The Beat Generation with Steve Cochran, she was married to her second husband, Ray Anthony. However, she wasn’t exactly faithful to him when he wasn’t around.

A portrait of Mamie Van Doren.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Van Doren and Cochran had a hot and heavy affair. Immediately after shooting, they would jump into the dressing room and get it on. Unfortunately, Anthony came to visit his wife one day and entered her dressing room without knocking. He found her in a compromising position, but that didn’t end their marriage.

Making History

After deciding to take roles from other studios, Van Doren starred in several films that became cult classics. One noteworthy role was in Untamed Youth that featured rock and roll music for the first time. Her name became synonymous with the rebellious style of rockers, and she even recorded some rock records.

Mamie Van Doren in a scene from the film.
Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images

In the late ‘50s, she hit her stride and starred in films like Teacher’s Pet, Born Reckless, and High School Confidential. While these were great movies, Van Doren was also known for her provocative roles. In 1959’s Girls Town, Van Doren had a shower scene where audiences could see her naked back, which was scandalous back then.

Every Man Wanted Her

Van Doren was a woman every man lusted after. She was a sex symbol in her hay day, which meant every man in Hollywood wanted a chance to be with her. However, she claims she turned down more lovers than she took up, and Van Doren had a funny way of keeping the men at bay.

Van Doren poses for a portrait.
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Her secret trick was a bit scandalous. Van Doren said, “I don’t wear panties anymore. This startles the Hollywood wolves so much they don’t know what to pull at, so they leave me alone.” While that might sound crazy, it worked for Van Doren, apparently. With her looks, it was hard to keep the men away.

Busting Out

Many of Van Doren’s film roles showcased her ample curves, and her on-screen wardrobe consisted of tight sweaters, low-cut blouses, form-fitting dresses, and daring swimsuits (for that era). She was a well-endowed woman who reportedly wore a double-D bra (although she corrected someone years later, saying they were bigger).

A portrait of Mamie Van Doren at home
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Van Doren was always proud of her natural body. Still, she and other starlets at the time didn’t achieve the same superstar status as Marilyn Monroe, even though they were often compared to one another. Also, by passing up a role, she helped Jayne Mansfield become a star.

Universal Didn’t Renew Her Contract

After taking many roles from other studios, Universal chose not to renew her contract in 1959. Van Doren was a free agent, yet she surprisingly struggled to find work. Some of her later movies were foreign or independent production, which did little to keep her in the public eye.

A backstage photo of Mamie Van Doren.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Many of the productions she worked on were low-budget B movies. However, some of those films gained a cult following for their high camp value. The first of these films was Sex Kittens Go to College, which co-starred Tuesday Weld. After the film The Blonde from Buenos Aires in 1961, Van Doren took time off from her career.

Hoping a Break Would Help

Van Doren hoped that taking some time off would help, so she didn’t take any roles until 1964. When she returned to acting, her first movie was The Candidate, followed by Fredy in the Wild West. Both were low-budget films that left little impact on her career.

Tommy Noonan and Mamie Van Doren in 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt.
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Later that year, Tommy Noonan convinced Van Doren to appear in 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt. She had previously turned down Noonan’s offer to star opposite Jayne Mansfield in Promises! Promises! and was replaced by Marie McDonald. In 3 Nuts, Van Doren did a beer-bath scene, but she wasn’t nude.

Couldn’t She Have Gone on Carson?

Instead of promoting 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt like other movies, Van Doren posed for Playboy. The producers hoped this would get people to watch the film just to see her. Van Doren’s character in the movie was named “Saxie Symbol.” They couldn’t have chosen a more subtle name, could they?

A portrait of Mamie Van Doren in her dressing room.
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The Johnny Carson show was popular starting in the ‘60s, and many stars would go on his show to promote their work, so why didn’t Van Doren promote her film on his show? While they thought the Playboy shoot would be a big success, the movie didn’t do much for her.

Here Comes the Bride

As many people know, Van Doren was sought after by many men at the height of her career. She was one of the top sex symbols, which is probably why she was married a whopping five times. Most of her nuptials didn’t last more than a year.

Van Doren and Ray Anthony attend an event.
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Her longest marriage was to her second husband, Ray Anthony, whom she cheated on with Steven Cochran. Van Doren and Anthony were married from 1955 to 1961, even though he walked in on her with Cochran in 1959. Maybe they tried to make the marriage work, but it was doomed from the start.

The Three M’s Make a Film Debut

There was only one time that two of the three M’s appeared together in a film. Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield came together for The Las Vegas Hillbillys, and it did not end well. Mansfield considered Van Doren her nemesis and refused to share any screen time with her.

Jayne Mansfield as Tawny in The Las Vegas Hillbillys.
Source: Copyright: Woolner Brothers

Mansfield said Van Doren was “the drive-in’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.” We don’t know what Mansfield expected with a movie called The Las Vegas Hillbillys. Although Van Doren’s career was declining during the ‘60s, it wasn’t like she hadn’t had a successful career before that.

Simply Irresistible

Van Doren had many people in the palm of her hand because of her looks. She was so charming that she even seduced gay icon Rock Hudson. According to Van Doren, the two went on a studio-orchestrated date early in her career, and someone told her she didn’t have to worry about Rock’s wandering hands.

A portrait of Van Doren.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Apparently, everyone was wrong because Hudson took her home and made a move on her. However, Van Doren revealed that he couldn’t get past her crinoline. At the time, only a few people knew he was gay, so it wasn’t strange that the two had a date.

Mamie Got Around

Van Doren went on plenty of dates with various men, and one of her most bizarre experiences was with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Apparently, Kissinger found her just as irresistible as everyone else did and tried to woo her. However, she didn’t feel the same way.

An admirer kisses Mamie Van Doren.
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According to Van Doren, she had to push Kissinger away because he had “denture breath.” That must have been a serious blow to his confidence. He also asked her if she ever met a man smarter than her, and Van Doren replied, “You.” He shook his head and said, “I doubt that.”

Everyone Has Their Vices

While many of the famous women from Van Doren’s time passed away when they were young, she is still alive and kicking. She never smoked or drank much, but she confessed to one thing that she might be addicted to: a roll in the hay.

Mamie Van Doren attends an event.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

While she might not have all the men knocking her door down anymore, she used this vice to keep her going all these years. She is one of the few big names still alive today, and at 90, she is still going strong.

Battle of the Blondes

Because Van Doren was compared to Marilyn Monroe so often, people often talked about who they liked better. Quincy Jones knew whom he would pick. Van Doren and Jones dated for a hot (secret) second, and he talked about their relationship in an interview once.

Van Doren poses at home.
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jones said, “I didn’t think Marylin Monroe was that hot because I was dating Mamie Van Doren back then. Mamie would put her a-way!” It’s clear he was a bit biased, but Van Doren could hold her own against even the legendary Monroe, and we give her props for that.

Unlikely Friends

Unlike Van Doren’s relationship with Mansfield, she was actually friends with Marilyn Monroe. Although they were often pitted against each other as competition, Monroe once passed along some friendly advice to Van Doren. Right after her affair with JFK, Monroe wanted to help other actresses.

Van Doren and Marilyn Monroe take a photo together.
Source: Pinterest

Monroe told Van Doren to never fall for a politician because “When they screw you, they really screw you.” However, we are sure Monroe’s words weren’t as polite as Van Doren recalled because her affair with JFK didn’t end on good terms, but what affair does?

Batter Up!

The 1960s were a challenging time in Van Doren’s life. Her career was declining, and she was struggling to stay in the public eye. During that time, she also had an on-and-off relationship with baseball player Bo Belinsky. However, their romance ended for good in 1964.

Mamie Van Doren and Bo Belinsky pose for the camera.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Just two years after that relationship ended, Van Doren married another baseball player named Lee Meyers. When she married him, she was holding onto a dark secret. Van Doren was pregnant, and Meyers was not the father. She eventually terminated the pregnancy.

A Drunken Beatle

Although her career was declining during the ‘60s, Van Doren still went to the hottest spots in town where all the other famous people hung out. One night, the Beatles stopped by the trendy Whisky a Go-Go bar in 1964 to visit Jayne Mansfield. Van Doren also happened to be in the crowd that evening.

Mamie Van Doren poses for the camera.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Van Doren was enjoying her evening when she was suddenly hit in the face with a drink. George Harrison tried to throw his drink in a noisy journalist’s face but ended up hitting Van Doren instead. It was embarrassing for both parties, but it was worse because Van Doren’s nemesis, Jayne Mansfield, saw the whole thing.

Creepy Encounters

While Howard Hughes might have been the one to help Van Doren get her career off the ground, that didn’t come without a price. He was known as a creep in Hollywood, and he definitely lived up to that reputation. After meeting Van Doren when she was a teenager, he tried to woo her.

A portrait of Howard Hughes.
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At first, he asked her how old she was, and Van Doren said she was 15. Hughes followed up by asking if she lived with her parents, which she obviously did, and he then asked the creepiest question of all. He wanted to know if Van Doren was a virgin, which is inappropriate for an older man to ask a young girl.

Fly Me to the Moon

The moon landing was a historic time for the U.S., and Van Doren took the opportunity to make it about herself. On the 40th anniversary of the landing, she talked about her passionate encounters with Buzz Aldrin. She confirmed that they had intimate relations.

Van Doren is talking to the press.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

As Van Doren put it, “Buzz and I spent some memorable and erotic times together… After all, a man who could make it to the moon could make me.” She seemed pretty proud of that conquest and wanted everyone to know about it. Who can blame her? That is a pretty cool thing to tell people.

Only One Man Made Her Nervous

Van Doren has always been a strong woman, and there weren’t many people who could make her nervous… except for one person. She turned into a shy little girl whenever Clark Gable was around. During her kissing scene in the film Teacher’s Pet, Van Doren had trouble keeping it together.

Mamie Van Doren and Clark Gable on a movie set.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Van Doren admitted that she almost fainted during her kissing scene with Gable because he was so handsome. We are surprised any man could make her weak in the knees. He was quite the heartthrob in his day, so we understand why she would be nervous around him.

Unlikely Enemies

While the blonde vixen had a few rivals in her day, she once made an enemy out of Elizabeth Taylor. Van Doren had been dating Taylor’s ex-husband, hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr., and Taylor was not happy about this. She was known for being vengeful, and Van Doren messed with the wrong woman.

Mamie Van Doren and Conrad Hilton Jr. attend an event.
Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Taylor did everything to show her distaste for Van Doren’s relationship. If Hilton and Van Doren showed up to the same party as Taylor, she would make a big show of leaving because she couldn’t be in the same room as them.

Wanting to Be Royalty

After Grace Kelly famously married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and became a glamorous princess, Van Doren wanted the same thing. Luckily for her, Prince Axel of Denmark was smitten with Van Doren. The two met when she was on a studio tour, and he invited her to Denmark.

Mamie Van Doren enjoys a glass of champagne.
Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Although she wanted to be royalty, Van Doren turned down Prince Axel’s invitations to come to Denmark not once but three times. Sadly, she didn’t get another chance to rub elbows with royals, so it was a missed opportunity for Van Doren.

Who Wore It Better?

According to Van Doren, Marilyn Monroe was a fashion copycat. While many people consider Monroe a style icon, she was reportedly taking outfit ideas from Van Doren. She claimed Monroe would buy the same outfits she had been photographed wearing after the pictures were printed.

A portrait of Van Doren / A picture of Marilyn Monroe.
Photo by Smith Collection, Gado, Getty Images / Gene Kornman, John Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

Because Monroe was much more popular than Van Doren, she probably got credit for wearing the outfits first. The blonde bombshells must have taken tips from each other throughout their careers, so it is no surprise that they would steal fashion advice.

Taking Her Talents to the Club

While her movie career might have ended in the ‘60s, Van Doren developed a nightclub act in Las Vegas during the ‘70s. She also took her talents to the stage and performed in the stage productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Dames at Sea at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago.

Van Doren poses in her hotel room.
Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images

Van Doren was trying to keep her career alive in any capacity since she hadn’t had a leading film role in a while. By this time, she was the last of the three M’s alive after Monroe and Mansfield tragically passed away during the ‘60s, so Van Doren was trying to keep her name relevant.

More Than a Sex Symbol

While Van Doren knows her curvaceous figure helped her career immensely, she always thought she could do more than the dumb blonde roles she was given. She once said she wanted to do the Jean Harlow roles because they focused less on looks and more on talent.

Van Doren attends an event.
Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Although she wished she could do more, one of her favorite roles was in High School Confidential. Van Doren said the scene she did in the kitchen with Russ Tamblyn was very sexy, and she didn’t know how it got past the Hays Code. She was the target of censors.

She Famously Dated Frank Sinatra

Van Doren dated many men throughout her life, and one of those men was Frank Sinatra. Although it didn’t work out between them because he was much older, she looked back on their relationship fondly and had no hard feelings.

Frank Sinatra performs on stage.
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Van Doren admired Sinatra for raising money and performing for charity even though the press always wanted to talk about the bad things. She also said Sinatra was a good soul who was more mature than any other man she dated. Van Doren was very sad when Sinatra passed away.

Romance at the Rainbow Room

Besides Sinatra, Van Doren also famously dated Johnny Carson. She said they would go out frequently, and they had a routine. The pair would eat dinner at the top of the Rainbow Room, then go back to her hotel and watch his show. He was another man she talked about fondly.

A photo of Johnny Carson.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Van Doren said Carson was a typical Midwesterner, and they were very much alike. The only thing she didn’t like about him was that he was a heavy smoker. Van Doren said that she couldn’t just say, “Hey, put the cigarette down, Johnny Carson!” So, she dealt with it until they stopped seeing each other.

Her Little Black Book Was Full

Van Doren had many conquests in her day, and her little black book of men was enormous. The blonde beauty confessed that she had bedroom romps with heartthrobs like Clint Eastwood, Elvis Presley, and Clark Gable. And they were just the tip of the iceberg.

Mamie Van Doren is posing for a portrait.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that Van Doren’s list of men would read like a Hollywood alphabet. While she had many lovers, one of her worst relationships was with her second husband, Ray Anthony. She said he was bitter and cruel, but the worst thing he did was send roses to Marilyn Monroe while they were still married.

How Old Is Mamie Van Doren?

Today, Van Doren is still alive, at 90 years old. The blonde beauty’s last role was in 2013, and since then, she has been working on a follow-up to her autobiography. Van Doren said her movie career ended in the ‘70s because the days of blondes came to an end after Monroe and Mansfield died.

Mamie Van Doren attends an event.
Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage/Getty Images

Van Doren also said that because she had a young son, she didn’t want him growing up around all the drugs in Hollywood, so she removed herself from the scene. She has no regrets about leaving Hollywood because she made over 40 movies during her career and got to work worldwide.

She Always Wanted to Be an Actress

Van Doren had big dreams as a child. Being born in the Midwest didn’t come with a lot of glamour. She said she loved going to the theater as a child, and she dreamt of being an actress. It was something she always wanted, so when she made it to Hollywood, she felt like a dream had come true.

Van Doren poses for a studio portrait.
Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

While she never imagined her career would be based on her sex appeal, she was not shy about showing off her figure. Van Doren didn’t even realize that her figure set her apart from other women until she was in a beauty pageant. Then she realized she could be a movie star.

She Is Still Working

Even at 90 years old, Van Doren is still hustling. She started using Facebook and Twitter, and she and her husband, Thomas Dixon, maintain her website to sell merchandise and homemade short films. One of her films is called A Girl and Her Banana, which provides topless and nude photos and Van Doren’s political views.

Van Doren attends an event.
Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Van Doren is happy that she grew up when she did because she said she got to see the world “before we destroyed it.” She has lived through so much, and it is surprising that she still wants to work instead of settling down and relaxing.