Kitsch icon Mamie Van Doren, Hollywood's Ultimate 1950s Bad Girl
This Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head in Angel featured Dr Sketchy veteran Marianne Cheesecake as the burlesque performer and model, Claire Benjamin in character as Freuda Kahlo as the emcee and Trixi Tassels on stage-managing duties. We also had comedian Jeff Leach as an unexpected bonus male model. He showed up with a camera crew to film him for an upcoming BBC Three documentary to be entitled Am I a Sex Addict? – and proceeded to pose stark, raving bollock naked, which really made an impression. Let’s just say he has porn star characteristics, and swiftly move on. (Having seen him pose at Dr Sketchy, I for one would personally be glad to help Jeff Leach in his research into determining whether he is indeed a sex addict. This was one of the Dr Sketchy’s where we really needed a photographer present!).
The vivacious Claire Benjamin always brings an element of genuine theatrical performance art to Dr Sketchy when she emcees – which keeps me on my toes and sometimes finds me wanting. She had three different pieces of music for me to play at specific times: introductory music to come onto the stage to, and backing tracks for the two songs she sang (one of them – her big finale – the Carmen Miranda standard “I Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi (Like You Very Much)”, for which she dons a plastic fruit-covered turban). I managed to get all three music cues wrong – without exception! Not some of my better moments. Hey, I was drinking lager all afternoon. Thankfully (and luckily for me) Claire is so smoothly professional (and so infinitely forgiving!) she just took it in her stride, and the audience seemed none the wiser. Yikes!
Like I said earlier – a shame we didn’t have a photographer at this Dr Sketchy. For one thing, Marianne Cheesecake’s costumes were dazzling. For her first pose she was styled as a 1920s flapper with a Louise Brooks pageboy wig. Later, for her performance she wore an astonishing Marie Antoinette get-up with a huge exploding black and white-streaked wig (think of a Cruella de Ville-Lily Munster-Bride of Frankenstein -Marge Simpson hybrid and you're on the right track) with a mask like a crystal chandelier hanging over her face. My description doesn't do it justice! It looked indredibly decadent and striking. I'll see if I can hustle some photos of Marianne in this costume (she showed me some on her phone, so they exist) and post them later, but in the meantime here is a tease-o-rama clip of Marianne Cheesecake paying tribute to the great Josephine Baker.
Spinning a few tracks by quintessential 1950s B-movie bad girl Mamie Van Doren always feels de rigeur when I DJ at Dr Sketchy. Van Doren was a voluptuous platinum blonde contemporary of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield in the 50s, but unlike them she never managed to graduate to big budget A-list films, instead finding her natural habitat in kitschy drive-in exploitation films (her irresistibly bad filmography includes the likes of The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), The Las Vegas Hillbillies (1966) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1966)). Van Doren seemed to play teenage juvenile delinquents well into her twenties (in Girls Town (1959), even with her perky ponytail and tight Capri pants, the 28-year old Van Doren seems pretty overripe, fleshy and mature for a high school student).
Bullet-bra'd sweater girl Mamie Van Doren
In 1956 Van Doren’s rival Jayne Mansfield would appear alongside rockabilly legends Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in The Girl Can’t Help It, the deluxe Mercedes Benz of rock’n’roll musicals (and a key film for John Waters). Van Doren herself would go one better: an interesting footnote to her career is that she can genuinely claim to be the first female Hollywood star to sing rock’n’roll onscreen. In Untamed Youth (1957) her songs were written by rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran (he plays guitar on them, too) – and they’re not half bad (although it’s been pointed out that it’s a crime against music that the doomed Cochran – who’d be dead by 1960 – was only permitted to perform one onscreen song in Untamed Youth, while Van Doren has four!). Van Doren’s musical output is compiled on the highly enjoyable CD The Girl Who Invented Rock’n’Roll. It’s campy as hell, undisputed Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson's reputation is secure, and for someone famous for her sensationally ample rack Van Doren’s singing is oddly flat, but Cochran’s tight, twangy songs pack a wallop, and Van Doren (in a punky display of enthusiasm over ability) delivers them with verve, conviction and a genuine feel for rock’n’roll . (Needless to say, I always play some of Van Doren’s 50s rockabilly songs when I DJ at Cockabilly, too). In High School Confidential (1958) – probably Van Doren’s best film – she doesn't sing, but it features an unhinged Jerry Lee Lewis pounding-out the title tune on his piano over the opening credits – a timeless rock’n’roll moment.
The trailer for Untamed Youth – the kind of lurid juvenile delinquent film that inspired John Waters’s Crybaby (1990). In the trailer you see snatches of Van Doren performing “Salamander” and “Go, Calypso!” – two tracks I play frequently at Dr Sketchy
Now a zaftig 80-year old, Van Doren remains an unrepentant scantily-clad and platinum-haired exhibitionist. Still a publicity-hungry starlet, she's active on the Hollywood social scene and parties at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion (Van Doren herself posed for Playboy in 1963). In 2006 she was photographed in a dual portrait with her spiritual heiress Pamela Anderson for Vanity Fair magazine. On her outrageous website sells autographed nipple prints (yes, she puts lipstick on her nipples, presses them onto paper and sells them) and cavorts for carefully-lit, heavily-retouched soft-core nudie photos and videos. In 1987 Van Doren unleashed her memoirs Playing the Field, in which she gleefully spills the beans about all the male Hollywood stars she slept with over the years and rates their sexual performances. (I haven’t read the book in well over twenty years, but I’ll never forget her describing dropping acid with Steve McQueen and having sex with him while tripping. Her prose turns psychedelic: “You you. Me me. I’m your dancing Mamie doll ...”).
She’s had a remarkable life; there’s a revealing interview with her on Salon.com from 2000 in which Van Doren holds forth on her life and career and emerges as an intelligent and sensitive woman. She recalls the sensual and cougar-ish older woman Marlene Dietrich giving her an appraising eye up and down backstage in 1957 (Van Doren didn’t realise at the time Dietrich was bisexual, otherwise she would have taken her up on the offer) and says the most meaningful work she ever did was long after her Hollywood career had fizzled out, risking her life to entertain American troops in war-torn Vietnam in the late 60s. “I have had more of a sex life than a love life,” she admits in the interview, “Love was secondary to me” and concludes, “My best asset is my brain. Without my brain, I don’t think the rest of me would be too hot.” Rock on, Mamie van Doren – the Jayne Mansfield who survived to see old age.
Singing in the shower: A clip of Van Doren in Girls Town (1959)which apparently got deleted from the final film for censorship reasons
D-Rail - The Flintones Mama Looka Boo Boo (Shut You Mouth - Go Away!) - Robert Mitchum Rolling Stone - Mamie van Doren Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo Unchain My Heart - Florence Joelle's Kiss of Fire Oui je veux - Johnny Hallyday Sea of Love - The Earls of Suave Caterpillar Crawl - The Strangers Dance with Me Henry - Ann-Margret Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle Work with It - Que Martin I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - 5,6,7,8s Dragon Walk - The Noble Men Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle Bacon Fat - Andre Williams This Thing Called Love - Esquerita Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown Cherry Pink - Bill Black Combo Vírgenes del Sol - Yma Sumac Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait - Brigitte Bardot Some Small Chance - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack) Lullabye of Birdland - Eartha Kitt Crazy Horse Swing - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack) Do It Again - April Stevens You're My Thrill - Chet Baker (instrumental version) A Guy What Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich Harlem Nocturne - The Viscounts Take it Off - The Genteels Tony's Got Hot Nuts - Faye Richmonde The Strip - The Upsetters The Whip - The Frantics Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires Revellion - The Revels Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel The Beast - Milt Buckner Rockin' Bongos - Chaino Give Me Love - Lena Horne Sexe - Line Renaud The Good Life - Ann-Margret La Javanaise - Juliette Greco The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Un Jour Comme Un Autre - Brigitte Bardot I Feel So Mmmm - Diana Dors Kiss - Marilyn Monroe Angel Face - Billy Fury Night Walk - The Swingers Black Coffee - Julie London Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole The Bee - The Sentinels De Castrow - JayBee Wasden Bewildered - Shirley and Lee No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin Stop and Listen - Mickey and Ludella Suey - Jayne Mansfield Groovy - Groovey and The Groovers Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
I haven’t posted a tittyshaker video in a while. To remedy that, here is an eye-popping clip from the ultra-sleazy 1960 British sexploitation / juvenile delinquent flick Beat Girl (aka Wild for Kicks). I’ve posted before that its suave Cool Jazz-inflected John Barry soundtrack is an endless source of inspiration for my DJ’ing at Dr Sketchy. In this clip, jailbait teenage bad girl Gillian Hills (painstakingly styled to look exactly like Brigitte Bardot) has snuck into a Soho strip club and stares bug-eyed at exotic café con leche-skinned performer Pascaline’s burlesque routine – and who can blame her, when it mostly seems to consist of crotch-thrusting, floor-humping and ponytail twirling? (By the way: this nice piece of quasi-Mambo music that Pascaline dances to isn’t actually on the Beat Girl soundtrack – weird. Makes me wonder if this sequence was added after the film was completed to spice things up? We get glimpses of other striptease numbers in Beat Girl, but Pascaline's is by far the raunchiest.)