The former Miss Palm Springs and RKO film siren Mamie Van Doren talks to Donald D’Haene about what fires her up, her leftward political drift, and being an enduring sex symbol.
Mamie Van Doren, the American actress, model, singer and sex symbol was born Feb. 6, 1933. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7057 Hollywood Boulevard.
I never in a million years would have imagined being able to DISH with this living legend from my wee home here in London, Ontario, Canada—let alone at her now grand age of 80—but DISH she did from her home in Los Angeles, California. What struck me reading her memoir, Playing the Field, was that while she certainly doesn’t pull any punches she comes across as so nice … which is very different say from Joan Fontaine’s memoir (No Bed of Roses) where, yes, she went through a lot but boy she deserved that Oscar for playing that sweet young thing in Hitchcock’s Suspicion. I wondered how she’d come across during our DISH session. You be the judge …
You are the sole survivor of the “Three M’s”—Marilyn, Mamie, and Mansfield. To what do you attribute your longevity? And don’t tell me good sex. I know some 80-year-old virgins!
Mamie Van Doren: I’ve always taken care of my health—never been much of a drinker, never smoked cigarettes, never done drugs much, except smoking occasional pot and that’s been decades ago. I’m NOT an 80-year old virgin, and good sex really does help.
I’ll tell my 80-year-old virgin friends they’d better get cracking in that department!
Mamie Van Doren: If you didn’t have good sex, you might not live a long time, but it would sure seem like it. All that said, one of the interesting things about longevity, if one is a so-called celebrity, is that you are seldom the one hearing the clock ticking. Everyone else goes out of their way to watch the hands and never hesitates to let you know when one clicks to the next number.
Busted. Just ignore the intro, Mamie. In 1980, you were referenced in the controversial Canadian Top 20 hit “High School Confidential” by the popular 1980s Canadian new wave band Rough Trade. In 2005, “High School Confidential” was named the 38th greatest Canadian song of all time on the CBC Radio One series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. Ever met the band? Carole Pope?
Mamie Van Doren: No, I’ve never met Carole, but I love her and I love their song! I often post it on my Facebook page and Twitter. I love it when she says in that raspy voice, “Maaamie Van Doren!” Call me narcissistic, but that knocks me out.
I’ve seen her do that in person and it is something else! Guess I should ask, what do you think of Canada?
Mamie Van Doren: Eh? I always think of Canada as being the U.S.’s enlightened Zen cousin. You have sensible gun laws, sensible national health care, and you don’t go around bombing everyone if they don’t agree with you. I have worked all over Canada: Toronto at the Royal York following Deitrich, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary. Once I was the Queen of the Calgary Stampede, and I was singing when a cowboy rode his horse up on stage to dance with me. Where else could you have that much fun?
I know you are very political. Have you always been? I have no doubt you’ve met quite a few political leaders. You MUST have stories. You can answer however you like—we’ll publish it!
Mamie Van Doren: Marilyn once cautioned me not to fall in love with a politician because, “when they fuck you, they REALLY fuck you.” I wrote that in Playing the Field and I still see no reason to believe otherwise. Politicians are motivated by power, money, and sex—not necessarily in that order. They may lie vehemently about how much they care for the welfare of their fellow citizens, but those three things are their entire motivation. It is easy to sound cynical when discussing politicians because they make it so. Just listen to the awful nonsense being uttered in Congress about gun control. Our representatives would gladly sell us and our children down the river for the profits of a bunch of gun manufacturers and the blessing of the NRA. Why? Could it be campaign donations?
As passionate as you are for politics, you are very vocal in your advocacy of animal rights. Does this have to do with your upbringing in Rowena, South Dakota?
Mamie Van Doren: Animal rights were not on anyone’s agenda when I was growing up on the farm in Rowena. Animals were for working and eating. I was a lonely kid whose only friends were animals, so as you can imagine, I suffered with them. That stays with me today, making me an advocate for animal rights.
Do you have some advice for people who want to follow your path; what are three things you should never do in this business?
Mamie Van Doren:
1. Never, never marry an actor. You will have two giant egos that will not fit in the same room.
2. Never trust a business manager. They will steal you blind.
3. Never give advice.
Your bio is quite original (and I’ve read hundreds). While you are honest about your sexual escapades I lost count of how many men you turned down: Howard Hughes, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Johnny Carson, Henry Kissinger. Amazingly, one that didn’t get away (which I’m sure will shock many)—Rock Hudson!
Mamie Van Doren: Warren Beatty was another. People seem shocked that I was so particular. I have never been a successful star fucker or trophy wife.
Marilyn gets a lot of credit for being ahead of her time but in many ways you were independent, a trail blazer in your own sexual revolution and you had a child at the peak of your career.
Mamie Van Doren: One of the things about being a trail blazer is that you often do it alone. Marilyn would often go to I. Magnin’s department store and buy outfits like the ones I was photographed wearing. The sales people would tell me. I was a “working mom” before the term was created. It was difficult back then, but I am glad to have been through it and my son is still a blessing.
Some of the most insightful lines in your book involve your honesty regarding Marilyn, Jayne and yourself:
“I had recognized before Jayne Mansfield’s death that there was less and less work coming my way. After her tragic death and Marilyn’s controversial suicide before it, I felt like an embarrassing reminder that beauty is perishable. I began to be jealous of Jayne and Marilyn in an odd way. Interviewers invariably asked me about them. It was as if they had won the beauty contest and I was the runner-up. They were dead and therefore frozen in time—the stuff of legends. I was a face still alive, trying to earn a living, making mistakes in front of everyone.”
Mamie Van Doren: That still holds up. They are still frozen in time and I am still making my mistakes in front of God and everybody on Facebook and Twitter.
Another unusual aspect of your story is how wonderful your parents were to you and so supportive of our career. Did I read it right, it seems they influenced you more than anything else!
Mamie Van Doren: They were huge influences—sometimes negative but mostly positive. They were just kids themselves when I was born and we grew up together. They hadn’t really bargained for having a baby so soon after they got together in one Sunday afternoon after church. They loved adventure—fast cars, midget auto races, motorcycles, hard drinking. They were my Bonnie and Clyde.
You had a hysterical sexual encounter with Burt Reynolds that makes me wonder what Dinah Shore, Sally Field and even Loni Anderson were thinking! LOL
Mamie Van Doren: No comment on this one.
They’ll just have to read your book to find out the story! You dated Bob Evans…is he the Bob Evans, the American restaurateur and marketer of pork sausage products?
Mamie Van Doren: He’s the Bob Evans of Paramount fame and “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” He used to be married to Ali McGraw.
Aha, yes, Robert Evans … that’s why it didn’t click … The Chinatown producer! Reading your book I wondered if Kitty Kelley interviewed you for her bio His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra? If not, she should have! The most insightful thing I’ve read on Sinatra is this paragraph you wrote: “Sinatra, like many powerful men, surrounds himself with people that tell him what he wants to hear. In this way through controlling who comes in contact with him, he controls his environment and molds it to fit his image of himself. Consequently, to come into Frank Sinatra’s orbit is to come very literally into his world. In fact, when you pass through the driveway gates on the grounds of his estate, you hear Frank Sinatra records being played everywhere.”
Mamie Van Doren: I think this is the downfall of many people who are powerful and famous. It turns them into someone else. To touch on politics again, one of my great disappointments has been President Obama, and I think this has happened to him. When he ran for president the first time he talked a very liberal and populist game. Now he has morphed into a very different sort of neo-conservative president, largely because of the people around him. He has no empathy with wild creatures and the environment, allowing the wholesale killing of wolves and wild horses, and opening the coasts to further oil drilling.
Well, you were Republican pre 1980 … where are you in the political spectrum now?
Mamie Van Doren: Since 1980 and the disaster that was Ronald Reagan I’ve been drifting steadily to the left.
How would you define a sex symbol?
Mamie Van Doren: Sex symbols defy definition. I have often tried to define it myself. A sex symbol becomes a code for everyone’s erotic fantasy. These codes are very perishable in popular culture. For every Jean Harlow, Mae West, or Marilyn Monroe there are scores of girls (and boys) who never made the cut. If a sex symbol can survive more than a few years, they are very powerful. I am flattered to still be thought of in such a way.
Curse or blessing?
Mamie Van Doren: Mixed, to be sure. It can help if you’re trying to get a good table in a restaurant. It’s tough if you’re trying to get a new mortgage loan.
The definition of a star certainly has changed since your day. I can’t tell a movie star from a reality star. Has Hollywood gone to hell in a handbasket? Or is that just the view from up here?
Mamie Van Doren: Like everything else in the Universe, Hollywood has changed. In Buddhism this is known as impermanence. We may like it or not but it will still change. I have this notion that 50 years from now people will be saying where are the great stars like Ryan Gosling and Reese Witherspoon?
Hmm. I wonder. You have made a new CD of music. Tell us about that.
Mamie Van Doren: I have an album called “Still a Troublemaker” that was released digitally. It is still available on iTunes.
Who do you consider gorgeous male/female, past/present?
Mamie Van Doren: Pamela Anderson is gorgeous. We did a layout together for Vanity Fair and we had great fun. She is honest, funny, and unpretentious. Ryan Gosling and Daniel Craig are two guys that I like to watch. Unfortunately, there are no Gables, Cary Grants, or Susan Haywards anymore because the studio system no longer exists that groomed and promoted them. Nothing remains the same. The universe revolves whether or not we like it, so you might as well smile.
Your memoir ends approximately in the mid ’80s. I’m sure there’s another memoir in Mamie Van Doren or are you still living it?
Mamie Van Doren: I am writing another book which is targeted to be out near the end of the year. Its structure is somewhat different from Playing the Field, but I go into more depth with certain personalities. I’m also adding an entire section, or perhaps a separate volume on beauty secrets, longevity tips, fashion, and assorted rants on life, love, and politics.
Finally, you’ve said, “At my age, having an orgasm is like having an occasional cocktail.” So: You still drink, Mamie?
Mamie Van Doren: If I find the glass full, I still love to have a sip.
This interview previously appeared in The Beat Magazine.
Image credit: manitou2121/Flickr