Legendary Mamie Van Doren on ‘Playing the Field’
by Stephanie Nolasco
Mamie Van Doren may be 82-years-old, but the ‘50s sex symbol is still as bubbly and blonde as ever. Even Hugh Hefner can’t get enough of the legendary actress.
“The cover of your autobiography is gorgeous,” describes the married Playboy publisher. Hefner is referring to the film star’s recently revised book, Playing the Field: Sex, Stardom, Love, and Life in Hollywood, a collection of juicy tales told by Van Doren about her many wild flings with celebrities, like Clark Gable, James Dean and even Rock Hudson, just to name a few. And anyone who takes one glance at the hourglass-shaped “teacher’s pet” showing off her dangerous curves in a skintight golden gown can easily understand the screen siren’s magic over men.
Today, Van Doren still flaunts her famous figure as she did during her reign in Hollywood. While she kissed and told plenty in her 1987 book, she’s back and ready to serve seconds and thirds to those craving for more. Starpulse exclusively spoke with Van Doren about issuing a new version of her popular autobiography, her best (and worst) lover, as well as which current actor she would love to get down and dirty with on-screen.
What prompted you to release a collector’s edition of your biography this year?
Mamie Van Doren: I worked with a very conservative publisher in 1987 and they chose to keep a lot of things out of the book. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of requests from fans on Facebook and Twitter discovering me for the first time to re-release the book. So I decided to do that and update it with new pictures as well.
In the process of looking back at your life, what was one thing you discovered about yourself that you didn’t realize the first time around?
Mamie Van Doren: To be honest, I just followed my nose. I always wanted to be a movie star and in those days they had studios building them. I had just reached the tail end of that at Universal. I didn’t feel like I was meant to be a nurse or a secretary. And back then, women didn’t really have a lot of choices. It was that or becoming a housewife and I wasn’t made that way.
One thing you emphasized about yourself is being very un-Marilyn like, yet you were also labeled as a blonde bombshell in Hollywood. Was that ever frustrating for you in terms of creating your own identity?
Mamie Van Doren: I think so. Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and I were so different from each other. I was doing very young movies and Marilyn, who was ahead of me, was doing a lot of homogenized movies that weren’t quite as wild as the ones I was doing. Jayne was more of a character of herself. I took my acting very seriously. I did over 40 films and naturally some of them were called B-movies because the woman was at the top of the billing. Women couldn’t star in their own movies.
Unlike Marilyn and Jayne, you not only survived the untimely deaths they’ve perished from, but you also defied the studio system in identifying yourself as a feminist. What drove you to overcome those obstacles?
Mamie Van Doren: Well, I never thought women were given choices. I was raised in South Dakota. My mom and dad were pretty wild and they had me as kids. And I grew up around people who were very open about sex. When the war came out we moved to California and I took all the opportunities I could get. I never wanted to be a trophy wife. I wanted to make it on my own. I didn’t want to depend on a man.
In Playing the Field, you described having relationships with many well-known stars, like Howard Hughes, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and so many others. Out of all the men you dated in Hollywood, who would you say was the one that surprised you the most?
Mamie Van Doren: Sexually or in general?
Mamie Van Doren: Well, they didn’t go together *laughs.* One who really surprised me was Henry Kissinger, a politician in Washington, D.C. I never expected to be sitting in the White House and have him reach under the table and try to play with me or spin me around the President’s chair. But if Henry hadn’t had dental problems, I would have probably gone to bed with him because I thought he was very sexy, but that turned me off.
And who would you say was your greatest lover?
Mamie Van Doren: Oh god, so many of them were good! Then, there were the bad ones. I talked about Burt Reynolds. He was the worst. But nobody cares about Burt Reynolds today *laughs.* I had one guy, Steve Cochran, but no one probably knows him. He was Mae West’s lover. He was very good and I didn’t mind sharing a lover with Mae West. She had very good taste. I never experienced a lesbian encounter. I had a lot of chances. I turned down Marlene Dietrich, which was kind of a dumb thing to do. If given another chance, I probably wouldn’t have turned her down. That was frowned upon back then, but I always thought that was bull.
And one of the many interesting tales mentioned in Playing the Field was about your involvement with boxer Jack Dempsey.
Mamie Van Doren: I met Jack Dempsey while I was working in New York as a showgirl. Jack Dempsey’s restaurant was on Broadway right underneath the place I was working. I guess he saw the show and then held a party to meet me. I met him through Jackie Gleason. We went down to Dempsey’s and that’s where I met Jack. He liked me, but I didn’t know he did. We eventually got together and he showed me off at the Stork Club, El Morocco and all over New York. He showed me society and big parties. I enjoyed myself. Then he proposed, but I didn’t think he was serious because he never really talked about getting married. I then got pregnant and when I told him, he wouldn’t marry me. I guess that’s one way to learn about someone.
What about your involvement with Rock Hudson?
Mamie Van Doren: He was under contract with me at Universal and we hit it off quite well. The publicity department called me and said ‘We want you to go to the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Rock Hudson.’ I didn’t realize he was gay because he was always dating these glamorous women. Some women heard I was going out with him and they told me I had nothing to worry about. He picked me up and we were pretty much sitting with Joan Crawford and her date. He certainly didn’t act like he was gay when we got back home from that party. We got busy under the table at my mother’s kitchen floor. Let’s just say he was a big surprise *laughs.* We became friends after that. We would have lunch together and he knew at the time that everybody had a suspicion. But back then, they paid big bucks to keep that quiet. In those days you couldn’t be gay and do movies with sexy women. It just wasn’t accepted and everybody loved him.
And how do you feel about having a new generation of young female fans?
Mamie Van Doren: I thrive on it. It’s very flattering to know people care and look up to me. I got the respect and I like to think I earned it. I know I tried to knock doors down all the time and along came Madonna. I got a really nice letter from her a while ago, just before she had her first baby. She wrote me a very beautiful letter on her stationary. But back then, conservatism was running rampant. Censorship, really? F-k, I hated it. That’s why I did exactly what I wanted to do. I smoked a little pot and did an LSD trip, but I never made a habit out of it. And I never got caught *laughs.* If you were caught doing anything you weren’t supposed to be doing, that would be the end of your career.
Do you have any regrets about your time in Hollywood?
Mamie Van Doren: Not at all. I did everything I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I married a couple of guys I wouldn’t do again, but who the hell hasn’t?
And if you could share a love scene with anyone in Hollywood today, who would it be?
Mamie Van Doren: Ryan Gosling. He’s really hot. I like him. I would be in any shoot he f-ing wants me in *laughs.*
And how do you stay looking fabulous?
Mamie Van Doren: Genetically I was blessed with two healthy, beautiful parents. I’ve also taken care of myself. Every time I get a birthday, I always appreciate it. Most people don’t get old. The odds are against you. And the discrimination towards anyone who’s old is really bad. I never did that with Marlene Dietrich or Mae West. I had a considerable amount of respect for my elders.
What’s next for you?
Mamie Van Doren: I’m working on another book called Secrets of the Sex Goddess. I’m writing about how it is to grow older because so many of my peers did not make it. They’re frozen in time. I have tips on how to stay looking young. I’m also going to write more about my involvement with Howard Hughes, as well as a couple of other people I didn’t want to talk about before, like Tony Curtis.
In your upcoming book, do you address plastic surgery or Botox, especially among women in Hollywood?
Mamie Van Doren: My own personal feelings about putting all that stuff in you is not good *laughs.* I’ve never done anything except a face lift. I’ve never had breast enhancements. As I got older, I also got larger. Every woman gets larger when she gets older. And frankly, I was blessed with large breasts, if that’s what you want to know. Guys don’t even know what a real breast looks like these days. My breasts are still perky and really hot looking. I’m in good shape and as far as keeping my figure, I do Pilates. I walk a mile and a half to two miles a day. I’m a Buddhist and meditate because honestly, if you start thinking about nostalgia, it can drive you f-ing nuts! But in the end, I’m proud of paving the way.
Photo Credits: Alan Mercer, George Hurell, Scott Alan / PR Photos, and Mamie Van Doren collection.