Mamie Van Doren, who first made hearts race as a sex symbol in the 1950s, was given the ultimate stamp of approval for her latest project.
On the cover of her recently revised book, “Playing the Field: Sex, Stardom, Love, and Life in Hollywood,” is a compliment from legendary Playboy publisher and barometer for bombshell status Hugh Hefner.
“The cover of your autobiography is gorgeous,” Hef writes about the image of Van Doren wearing a clingy gold gown on a crimson background.
Van Doren added photos and other content for the recent incarnation, after a publisher who considered the original manuscript too risqué white-washed it. While there are plenty of anecdotes to qualify the tome as a kiss-and-tell, she says it has more merit than that.
“I’ve had a very good response to it,” Van Doren adds. “I just wanted to share what it was like in the ’50s and growing up in the ‘30s and ’40s.”
A significant part of the story takes place in Palm Springs, where Van Doren was discovered by Howard Hughes as a 16-year-old contestant in a beauty pageant. She returns to the desert city Saturday, May 11, to meet fans and sign copies of her book at Just Fabulous in uptown (See details below). She recently discussed with Desert Outlook her thoughts on being a member of the goddess trilogy, an intriguing same-sex crush, and aging sexily.
How did you end up in Palm Springs at age 16?
My mom and I would go out there and we’d stay in a place called The Montecito. They had bungalows in those days — beautiful place. It had trees and a beautiful pool. There was the Miss Palm Springs contest coming up. I was asked to be in it. I really don’t want to, but my mother insisted. I didn’t dare not to. I was scared, even to be in a bathing suit. I was very shy in those days.
The contest was at the Chi Chi. Desi Arnaz was starring there. After he was through, we went on the stage, one at a time. It was a very big deal. The place was just packed. And I won. I didn’t realize that Mr. (Howard) Hughes happened to be in the audience, and he saw me. He owned RKO at that time. I got a call from RKO that he wanted to work with me. I did five movies with him.
You’re often mentioned as a part of the trilogy, in the company of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Did you know either of them?
I knew both of them quite well. Marilyn and I had the same acting coach for awhile. I did a movie with Jayne Mansfield. Her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, has called me and kind of wanted to know about her mother. That was very touching.
We were friends. Everybody tried to say that we didn’t like each other. That wasn’t the case at all. There was room for everybody in the business.
What’s your philosophy or approach to life?
I’ve become a Buddhist and it’s helped me considerably. Just one day at a time. I don’t look ahead that much. I don’t dwell on anything. I look after my health. I never did smoke. That’s very helpful.
What are the best and worst things about aging as a sex symbol?
There’s a lot of discrimination toward older people. Everybody puts people down after they get a certain age. When I was real young, I would notice that and I would say I would never do that. My mother lived to be in her mid-80s. She was very beautiful up to her last moment.
I try and survive and ignore the people who are that way. I stay away from badness. There’s a lot of that around. People today are not as kind as they used to be. I really miss that.
You’re very forthcoming in your recollections about Hollywood and your lovers. Is there anything in the book you had second thoughts about including?
No … Everything I said, I’m not sorry I said. It’s all true. It’s my life. I’ve been dedicating my life to entertainment, making (people) happy and making them feel good. That’s the journey that was chosen for me, I guess.
What prompted you to paraphrase one of your famous quotes: “It is possible that gentlemen also prefer gentlemen”?
It’s too good to deny. In my mind at that time, God only knows. … I could’ve been a lesbian, I think. I had a chance to enjoy Coco Chanel. I look at myself and say “Why did I turn that down?” She could’ve learned something from me. She adored me.
You’ve been with your husband, Thomas Dixon, for a long time. For everyone looking for a good partner, what advice do you have?
We met in 1974 and we’ve hung out together ever since. It’s been a long time. Thomas came to me at the time I least expected. We were just friends. All of the sudden it blossomed into a relationship and then we got married. It’s hard to, say, look for someone. It’s very difficult to find him when you’re very young. It takes time. It took me until I was in my early 40s until I found the right one. I went through four marriages.
What’s your proudest professional achievement?
I never really stopped to think of it. Writing is the hardest because it’s tedious. It’s very fulfilling because sometimes when I can’t say things, I’ll write it. Acting, if I have the right person to work with, it’s great. I love working with the right people and getting the most out of it. I was lucky to have the experience of working with the best. And I’ve worked with the worst. I’ve had good coaching in my life. I’ve always had a nose for keeping myself out of trouble and meeting the right people. That’s really important in your life. People seem to get tangled up with the wrong *&^@#. You’ve got to be really smart to know who your friends really are. They’re far and few between. You really can’t trust anyone anymore.
What’s your fondest memory of your time in Palm Springs?
I got my star on your Walk of Stars there. It’s right next to Marilyn Monroe’s. It’s between Marilyn’s and Marlene Dietrich’s.
I always think of my mom when I’m there. It’s very nostalgic. I think about the Racquet Club and Howard Hughes. Palm Springs really hasn’t changed. It’s the same trees, the same everything. The people have changed. Luckily, a lot of gays are living there and they’ve made it look nice. It was deteriorating for awhile there.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a TV pilot. It’s called “Sawdust.” It’s about the circus and what it was like in the 1930s. … I’m the owner of a circus. The leading man would be Bob Mitchum’s son, Chris Mitchum.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Mamie Van Doren book signing
WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Saturday, May 11
WHERE: Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs