Thursday, June 6, 2013
Jane Stapleton Dies. Actress Jane Stapleton, who will be best known for her role as the long-suffering Edith Bunker on All In the Family, has sadly passed away at her New York home this week. The TV actress passed away on Friday (May 31) at the age of 90, with her family releasing a statement on Saturday (June 1) that revealed the actress died of natural causes in the comfort of her own home.
Stapleton won three Emmy awards during her time as the long-suffering 'dingbat' wife of Archie Bunker on All In The Family, which ran from 1971 - 1979 before it was rebooted as Archie Bunker's Place, with Stapleton's character being killed off during the hour-long first episode of the show's second season.
The New York City-born actress was already a well-known stage actress before her appearance on All In The Family, however it wasn't until her role on the show that she became a household name. Her first break into acting came in 1949, when she was cast in the touring production of Harvey, gaining numerous role off-Broadway and elsewhere in the country until she was cast in the 1953 Broadway production of In the Summer House. She then went on to appear in the Broadway productions of Damn Yankees and The Bells Are Ringing, reprising the roles she had taken on during her time on stage for the subsequent movie adaptions. She also featured in the first Broadway production of Funny Girl, the show that launched the career of Barbara Streisand.
Following the death of Carroll O'Connor - who portrayed Archie Bunker - in 2001, the death of Stapleton spell the end of the famed on-screen husband and wife team once and for good. Stapleton is survived by her two adult children; television producer Pamela Putch and film and television director John Putch.
Esther Williams, a teenage swimming champion who became an enormous Hollywood star in a decade of watery MGM extravaganzas, died on Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 91.
Her death was announced by her publicist, Harlan Boll.
From “Bathing Beauty” in 1944 to “Jupiter’s Darling” in 1955, Ms. Williams swam in Technicolor pools, lakes, lagoons and oceans, cresting onto the list of Top 10 box-office stars in 1949 and 1950.
“Esther Williams had one contribution to make to movies — her magnificent athletic body,” the film critic Pauline Kael wrote. “And for over 10 years MGM made the most of it, keeping her in clinging, wet bathing suits and hoping the audience would shiver.”
In her autobiography, “The Million Dollar Mermaid” (1999), Ms. Williams spoke of movie stardom as her “consolation prize,” won instead of the Olympic gold medal for which she had yearned. At the national championships in 1939, Ms. Williams, who was 17, won three gold medals and earned a place on the 1940 United States Olympic team. But Hitler invaded Poland, and the 1940 Olympics were canceled with the onset of World War II.
At a time when most movies cost less than $2 million, MGM built Ms. Williams a $250,000 swimming pool on Stage 30. It had underwater windows, colored fountains and hydraulic lifts, and it was usually stocked with a dozen bathing beauties. Performing in that 25-foot-deep pool, which the swimmers nicknamed Pneumonia Alley, Ms. Williams ruptured her eardrums seven times.
By 1952, the swimming sequences in Ms. Williams’s movies, which were often elaborate fantasies created by Busby Berkeley, had grown more and more extravagant. For that year’s “Million Dollar Mermaid,” she wore 50,000 gold sequins and a golden crown. The crown was made of metal, and in a swan dive into the pool from a 50-foot platform, her head snapped back when she hit the water. The impact broke her back, and she spent the next six months in a cast.
Ms. Williams once estimated that she had swum 1,250 miles for the cameras. In a bathing suit, she was a special kind of all-American girl: tall, lithe, breathtakingly attractive and unpretentious. She begged MGM for serious nonswimming roles, but the studio’s response was, in effect, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Audiences rejected her in dramas like “The Hoodlum Saint” (1946) and “The Unguarded Moment” (1956). Her only dry-land box-office success was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949), with Ms. Williams as the owner of a baseball team whose players included Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly (although even in that film, she was seen briefly in a swimming pool).
The men who played opposite her in a dozen lightweight comedies full of misunderstandings and mistaken identity were almost interchangeable. Johnny Johnston in “This Time for Keeps” (1947), John Carroll in “Fiesta” (1947) and Peter Lawford in “On an Island With You” (1948) were male ingénues whom the studio was hoping might turn into stars. In terms of star power, she was matched on screen only by Victor Mature, with whom she had an affair when they were making “Million Dollar Mermaid,” and by MGM’s all-American boy, Van Johnson, who wooed or was wooed by her in “Thrill of a Romance” (1945), “Easy to Wed” (1946), “Easy to Love” (1953) and “Duchess of Idaho” (1950).
“Just relax,” she recalled Mr. Johnson telling her after the first few days on “Thrill of a Romance.” “It’s your naturalness that’s going to make you a star.”
Esther Jane Williams was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 1921, the fifth and last child of Lou and Bula Williams. Her father was a sign painter; her maternal grandparents had come west to Utah in a Conestoga wagon after the Civil War. Unwanted by a mother who was tired of raising children, Esther was turned over to her 14-year-old sister, Maurine. The family’s chief breadwinner was her brother Stanton. A silent movie star at the age of 6, Stanton died of a twisted intestine when he was 16 and Esther was 8.
That summer she learned to swim. From the beginning, Ms. Williams wrote in her autobiography, “I sensed the water was my natural element.” She counted wet towels at the neighborhood pool to earn the nickel a day it cost to swim there. The male lifeguards taught her the butterfly, a stroke then used only by men, and, at the Amateur Athletic Union championships in 1939, the butterfly won her a gold medal in the 300-meter medley relay.
Three years earlier, 20th Century Fox had signed the Norwegian ice skater Sonja Henie, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and turned her into a movie star in a series of skating movies, and Louis B. Mayer, who ran MGM, wanted to match Fox. The studio found Ms. Williams performing in Billy Rose’s Aquacade at the San Francisco World’s Fair. She was, as she put it, learning to “swim pretty” in tandem with Johnny Weissmuller, a former Olympic gold medalist who was already the star of MGM’s “Tarzan” films.
At first, Ms. Williams was one of two dozen MGM contract players who had, she wrote, “a look, a voice, a sparkle or a smolder.” Few lasted more than a year. To test audience reaction to her, Ms. Williams was given the role of Mickey Rooney’s love interest in an Andy Hardy movie. Half a dozen starlets — including Lana Turner, Judy Garland and Kathryn Grayson — had already been tested that way. Fan mail response to the film, “Andy Hardy’s Double Life” (1942), was unequivocal: Audiences loved the girl in the two-piece swimsuit.
At 17, Ms. Williams married Leonard Kovner, a pre-med student whom she supported by working as a stock girl at a fancy department store. It was the first of her four marriages, and he would demand $1,500 — all the money she had saved from the Aquacade — before he would agree to a divorce.
Her 13-year second marriage, to the singer Ben Gage, would bring her three children and cost her considerably more money. According to Ms. Williams, Mr. Gage frittered away $10 million of her money on alcohol, gambling and failed business ventures. He also neglected to pay taxes and left her in hock to the Internal Revenue Service for $750,000 by the time they divorced in 1959. By then, Ms. Williams wrote, “I was 37 and there was not much mileage left in my movie career.”
A decade later she married Fernando Lamas, the Argentine-born actor and director, who had helped her to swim the English Channel in “Dangerous When Wet” (1953). He was the first man who gave Ms. Williams money rather than taking it from her, but he exacted a heavy price. Her three children were not allowed to live with them or even to come to their wedding.
That marriage lasted until Mr. Lamas’s death in 1982. Six years later she married Edward Bell, a professor of French literature 10 years her junior, with whom she introduced a collection of swimwear. She also put her name on a line of successful aboveground swimming pools.
She is survived by Mr. Bell; a son, Benjamin Gage; a daughter, Susan Beardslee; three stepsons, the actor Lorenzo Lamas, Tima Alexander Bell and Anthony Bell, three grandchildren and eight stepgrandchildren.
Asked once who her favorite leading man was, Ms. Williams offered a simple and unsurprising response: “The water.”
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
“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.
You can purchase Playing the Field in my store or on Amazon.