|Mamie Van Doren, The Girl who Invented Rock 'n' Roll|
She was born Joan Lucille Olander in the tiny town of Rowena, South Dakota. By the time the was in her midteens, she was doing photo modeling and began to make connections with name photographers and show business types. In 1951, she caught the eye of famed illustrator Alberto Vargas and posed for him. She became a popular model and made her first screen appearance in 1951's "Footlight Varieties" starring Jack Parr, and by 1953, she had been signed as a contract player at Universal. Mamie Van Doren was on her way (her new name, by the way, picked from Dwight Eisenhowers wife Mamie, and from Mark Van Doren, who had become a national celebrity with his egghead victories on several TV Quiz Shows.)
At age 22 came her first leading part in Universals low budget exploitation pictore "Running Wild". This was one of the first Hollywood films to cover the newly emerging trends of juvenile delinquency and rock 'n' roll. The soundtrack included "Razzle Dazzle" by Bill Haley and the Comets, and the film was sent out on a co-bill with "Tarantula". In 1955, Mamie married bandleader Ray Anthony. Now she was the stuff of movie magazines, and even the popular scandal magazines, who deemed her important enough for numerous stories. She finished up her tenure at Universal with "Star In The Dust," and "Jet Pilot" while also making occasional appearances on Ray's weekly television variety show. In 1957, she appeared in "The Girl In Black Stockings," where she was co-billed with Lex Barker and Anne Bancroft, but it was Mamie's sexy portrait that dominated all the ads.
In 1957, she appeared in Warner Brothers' teen epic "Untamed Youth." Here was a true exploitaition film in all its glory. Sex, violence, corruption, and rock 'n' roll. What more could you ask for? This eighty-minute wonder placed Mamie in a corrupt rural prison farm (she was picked up for hitchhiking). She got to sing her first on-screen songs. "Untamed Youth" is today, Mamie's favorite picture. She recalls having Eddie Cochran (who was featured in the film's musical breaks) over to her house several times, where he would write rock 'n' roll songs for her. He played guitar on all the recording sessions for the film featuring Mamie. "I don't think he got credit for all his work back then," Mamie remembers, "but he contributed an awful lot.
In 1958 came Mamie's first featured appearance in a certified "A" picture, Paramount's "Teacher's Pet." The light farce took stars Clark Gable and Doris Day to a seedy nightclub, where Mamie performs "I'm The Girl Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll" and "Teacher's Pet Mambo," while Doris gets to do her impersonation of Mamie, and later warbles the film's theme song, "Teacher's Pet." Also in 1958, Mamie teamed up with B-movie master Albert Zugsmith, who promised to have Mamie star in all his pictures. First came the now classic "High School Confidential", and the year was rounded out with a quick lead role in "Guns, Girls and Gangsters."
By now Mamie Van Doren was a household name, the pictures just kept on coming, and at a certain point Mamie ran into a problem. Producers and studios only wanted to put her roles in as a dumb blonde. She rebelled, but was told either she'd get no other parts, or she'd be on suspension - neither of which was much of a choice. "It got so that everybody started calling you a dumb blonde on screen and in magazines", she recalled, "It was really the ultimate putdown."
So in 1960, the parts stopped coming. "If you were thirty years old back then, your career was over. They'd rather find some eighteen year-old to play these parts, and then dress them up with a lot of make-up to look older." Mamie stayed in the public eye. She brought an act to Las Vegas where she was a big draw. Her marriage with Ray Anthony was over, but she was still seen and written about at various clubs and events with movie stars, celebrities and sports stars.
Then in 1964, producer/director Tommy Noonan, who had worked closely with Marilyn Monroe and later Jayne Mansfield, got Mamie to return to films and star in "Three Nuts In Search Of A Blot". The film is best remembered for Mamie's nude beer-bath scenes. She looked better than ever! Over the years, Mamie went through several husbands and did some theatre and singing tours. In 1973, she made a splash as Henry Kissinger's date and in 1976, she appeared on the TV series "General Hospital" for a while.
Looking back, Mamie is glad that she made many of her pictures, and is pleased that many have become cult films. She also feels that she contributed to the early days of rock 'n' roll as one of the only major Hollywood stars to sing rock 'n' roll in their films. And, considering many of the songs and scenes were "written as we went along," they hold up surprisingly well.
Adapted from the liner notes of the CD compilation "The Girl Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll" (Maginal Records, 1997) by Alan Betrock
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