Tuesday, December 3, 2019

TinselTales: Book Bytes

You know I'm forever hunting down old books at this flea market or that antique show. Having already read and loved virtually every "What Ever Became of...?" book by Richard Lamparski, in which he endeavored to update us on celebs who had fallen out of the limelight, I was startled to see this 1975 paperback by another author entirely. "Is that who I think it is?" is in a very similar vein to the aforementioned books, but is by Patrick Agan, who penned the oversized paperback "The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses," which I have owned for many years and enjoyed. He also wrote bios of Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman.

It was surprising to see a 1976 book that was already wondering what happened to Maureen O'Hara (on the front cover) and Rosemary Clooney (on this, the back cover)! Fame is fleeting and fickle for most, I guess... Jimmy Durante, who also was featured on the cover, was still in the public eye to a point, having done a Volkswagon commercial in 1973, and would live until 1980 when pneumonia claimed him shortly before he turned eighty-seven. In this post, I've picked out a few little tidbits or personalities that stood out for one reason or another. Call them Thanksgiving leftovers if you like!

First we come to Jess Barker, a fledgling actor (under the name Philip Barker) whose career was interrupted by WWII. Meeting Susan Hayward at the Hollywood Canteen in 1943, they were wed in July of 1944. The couple already hit a snag that September with a brawl on Steve Cochran's yacht, but got it together soon enough since Hayward was discovered to be pregnant (with what would be twin sons.) As her career kept building while his kept sliding, their marriage began to crumble. He reportedly chased a nude Hayward around their pool as she shouted "Don't kill me!" when he suspected that Howard Hughes had been visiting her secretly. Their divorce and, especially, custody battle were among Hollywood's most contentious. She had done something unheard of in 1944 which was have Barker sign a prenuptial agreement regarding their incomes (allegedly at the suggestion of her mother.) Thus, after he stupidly refused a $100,000 settlement, he walked away from the marriage with only a station wagon. She, however, was emotionally crushed and attempted suicide in 1955. The next year, Barker lost a paternity suit that claimed he was the father of a baby girl. Hayward proceeded to costar in Hughes' crazed epic The Conqueror (1956), through which she was believed to have developed the brain cancer that would later kill her in 1975. A prior nominee four times, Hayward won an Oscar during her fifth bid for I Want to Live! (1958.) Barker never recovered career momentum and never got over his divorce from Hayward. Diving headlong into alcohol dependence, he died of cirrhosis in 2000 at age eighty-eight, having never re-wed and with framed photos of Hayward all over his small apartment.  Their sons found success as a veterinarian (Gregory) and a public relations exec (Timothy.)

The next name I'm dredging up is less dramatic. Highly-skilled saxophonist and orchestra leader Charlie Barnet came from a very wealthy New York family and was educated in exclusive private schools with the intention that he become a corporation lawyer. However, he had other ideas and by age sixteen was the head of his own jazz band, which toured the country. Introducing the new big band "swing" sound to many music halls and clubs, he ran into opposition at times from those who disliked or were resistant to the genre. One area in which he found little resistance, though, was women. His quote was, "I like the girls to match the upholstery of the car." In other words, they were changed out as frequently (or more) than his vehicles! By age twenty-six, he'd recorded one of 1939's biggest hits, "Cherokee," with "Skyliner" and others coming behind it. By 1949, he was semi-retired, having lost interest in music for the most part (and he was still wealthy from his family so that he could do as he pleased.) Ladies, however, remained a fixture. He was married at least eleven times (!), with additional nuptials taking place in Mexico which were either illegal or annulled! Mickey Rooney had some competition. One woman, his final wife, was able to put the brakes on his revolving door of spouses and they were together thirty-three years. Barnet passed away of Alzheimer's disease in 1991 at age seventy-seven, but his music lives on, with songs of his being used on movie soundtracks and TV shows as recently as 2017.

Rod Cameron was a strapping 6'5" Canadian who wanted to become a Mountie, but wound up suffering from a back injury that prevented it. After doing a string of odd jobs in New York City, he made his way to sunny California where a movie extra pal helped get him an interview to be Fred MacMurray's stand-in! But the handsome young man began to win roles in movies in his own right. A mixture of war movies and (chiefly) westerns followed. Although he acted in over 200 (then-)contemporary detective series episodes across three shows of his, he was forever typecast as and thought of as a cowboy. Having wed a young Portuguese girl in 1950, it raised some eyebrows when her mother accompanied the couple on their honeymoon. This was followed by many public squabbles and a front-page scandal when his mother-in-law had him admitted to the hospital for alcoholism the same year his son was born. But the biggest bit of gossip was yet to come. He divorced his wife in 1954 and in 1960 married his ex-mother-in-law! So now his son's grandmother was also his step-mother! But the union was a lasting one. Cameron developed cancer and died in 1983 at age seventy-three. At that time the two were still married after twenty-three years. Thanksgiving and Christmas had to have been quite interesting holidays amongst the family members on his wife's side...

Gloria Grahame's escapades are slightly better known thanks to her more prominent career as a femme fatale and Oscar-winner (for The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952.) Her nine-minute turn in Beautiful held the record for briefest Oscar-winning performance until Beatrice Straight won for Network (clocking in at about 5 minutes! Judi Dench later won for Shakespeare in Love, 1998, for 6 minutes of screen time...) Already married once, Grahame wed director Nicholas Ray in 1948 the day after her divorce was final. She was stepmother to his nine year-old son Tony during the union while also bearing a son of her own. The couple divorced in 1952 and she married writer-producer Cy Howard, which lasted from 1954 to 1957 and produced a daughter. Then she stunned the world in 1960 by marrying Tony Ray, her former stepson, who was by now twenty-three! They proceeded to have two children together, making for yet another crazed family tree with Tony Ray as step-father to his own half-brother while raising his own two sons by Grahame. When the couple divorced in 1974, that was the end of Grahame's marriages. (Tony Ray also refrained from any further nuptials.) Gossip surfaced that Grahame had entered into a sexual relationship with Tony back when he was her thirteen year-old stepson and that her marriage ended when her husband discovered his wife and son together, but this was later called into question by Grahame's biographer. (Though her ex-husband Howard did sue for custody of his daughter after she married the younger Ray and the stress of the whole situation led to a nervous breakdown and dire career woes for her.) Grahame died at fifty-seven of cancer in 1981, having led a roller-coaster life of great ups and serious downs.

Next comes Dolores Gray, whose career was marked by interesting little details. For instance, when Ethel Merman declined to reprise her title role in "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1947, Gray auditioned but was warned that she was too glamorous. So she dressed down for the callback, won the part and utterly wowed the British theatregoers. Later, back on Broadway, she costarred in a show ("Carnival in Flanders") that closed after only six performances, yet won her a Tony! Her movie career was very short-lived, though she is often the most vivid and memorable part of the films she was in (including Kismet, 1955, The Opposite Sex, 1956 and Designing Woman, 1957.) When movie opportunities waned, she went back to Broadway for "Destry Rides Again" opposite Andy Griffith. During one matinee, a stage curtain caught fire and she managed to keep the 1,500 member audience from panicking while it was quickly, if loudly, extinguished by some firemen. She sang a love song to Griffith, "Anyone Would Love You" louder and louder to cover the fracas and wound up with a hearty applause (with the show resuming after an extended forty-minute intermission and some clean-up!) Even that was less eventful than her set-to with the show's director Michael Kidd. She only took the role after being assured by producer David Merrick that she'd have at least some small part in the big "whip dance" production number, but Kidd refused to allow her even a moment in it and an argument led to him calling her a slut! She responded by slapping his face and he hit her back! Later, her mother attended the show and she let him have it across the face as well, even threatening to kill him. Merrick, savoring all the publicity, even if bad, never intervened. She had some legal battles in the 1960s, being called to testify in a trial that her ex-fiance was involved in over land fraud and then a suit (which she lost) to get her $55,000 engagement ring back from him. Gray wanted to play "Mame," but lost the role to Angela Lansbury, though later replaced Lansbury in the London run of "Gypsy," once again charming the London theatre crowd. Appropriately, she eventually played Carlotta in "Follies" singing "I'm Still Here," and still in good voice. Though she came to regret focusing more on stage than screen (because, as a result, most of her work was not recorded on film or video for posterity), her trio of films and her recordings testify to her unique talent. Gray died of a heart attack in 2002 at age seventy-eight.

I had never even heard of Silvana Pampanini when I read this book, but she was apparently Queen of the Italian cinema for a time and a hot pin-up for American gents as well. An aspiring opera singer and a Miss Italy contestant of 1946, she got off to a splashy start when there was an outcry over her loss. She soon caused a sensation with her various curvaceous photos and movie roles in her home country. No less than Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren were hired as extras in Pampanini's films during their early years. Soon, Pampanini was circling the globe as a sexy ambassadress for the Italian movie industry, though she made waves in Hollywood of 1952 when she described American men as "too old and decrepit" as lovers! Gable, Tracy, Coleman, Cooper and Bogart were highly unlikely to have her appear with them in a film after that one...! She fared better with performers such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Gabin and Vittorio De Sica, among others. She led such a sensational existence that she once received an extortion threat for 8 million lira (about $13,000) or her house would be blown up, prompting her to depart to Spain with bodyguards. She also had her bosom insured by Lloyd's of London for $48,000. She seemed to be mired down in court cases including one against a Roman duchess whose dog bit her leg, a breach of contract suit from a Mexican producer and a suit for the return of engagement gifts that a Greek ex-fiance filed. Then there was an incident in 1958 at the Venice Lido Film Festival in which Ms. Pampanini began hitting a female journalist who'd written unkind things about her previously. She had a string of romances with folks like Tyrone Power, Orson Welles (which ended with several slaps across his face!), Italy's popular actor Toto and singer George DeWitt, who was the first host of TV's Name that Tune, but she never did marry... She lived to be ninety and only passed away because of complications from abdominal surgery in 2016. She was laid to rest in a white coffin with a gravestone reading "Silvana Forever," her houseful of luxurious personal items from jewelry to artwork to ornate gowns being sold at auction. (Her briefly-clad pal in the photo is opera star Mario Petri.)

Finally, we have Monique Van Vooren, who was a Belgian born starlet who rode the wave of hunger for buxom blondes during the 1950s that was led by Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sheree North and others. Van Vooren had the distinction of a foreign accent to go with her looks. An exchange student in the mid-1940s, she swiftly began to attain publicity and the occasional movie role (the first American one being Tarzan and the She-Devil, 1953, with her in the title role -- not Tarzan!) 1959 was a good year for her, not only thanks to a supporting part in Happy Anniversary with David Niven and Mitzi Gaynor, but also for her participation on I've Got a Secret and To Tell the Truth. She fell into that Gabor-ish category of one who is famous for being famous, though she did study acting with Stella Adler and toured with various theatre ventures including "Sweet Bird of Youth" and summer stock including "A Shot in the Dark" (with George Reinholt!) Her most notorious credit is surely Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein in which she's shown cavorting with Joe Dallesandro. However, the weirdest credit of hers is her participation in the 1975 Broadway musical "Man on the Moon." Van Vooren had worked in a Broadway revue back in the early-1950s, but this was her first full-on musical. But it was crazed from the get-go, with songs by John Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) and meant to star him as well until he was yanked from it (replaced by fellow "Papa" Dennis Doherty!) Costarring Phillips' non-singing girlfriend Geneveieve Waite, who was put through lessons in order to emerge alive, there was palpable tension between the ladies over the number of songs given the neophyte. Van Vooren ultimately exploded with "...even Ethel Merman never took them all!" (which might not have been wholly accurate if you asked Betty Hutton! And what solo songs did any other female have in "Annie Get Your Gun?!") Anyway, the much-troubled production hobbled onto Broadway and then closed within two days after devastating reviews. Most fascinating tidbit of all? Phillips slipped an early copy of the script to George Lucas regarding a possible film version after Lucas had directed his daughter MacKenzie Phillips in American Graffiti (1973) and then later claimed Lucas used it as inspiration for a little movie of his called Star Wars (1977!) Can we consider the diminutive actor in the photo here a prototype for R2-D2?? Ms. Van Vooren is still alive today at ninety-two, though the victim of some decidedly horrendous cosmetic surgery (the pics of which you won't find here...!)


Jess Barker
Charlie Barnet
Rod Cameron (LOVE the hair...!)
Gloria Grahame
Dolores Gray (There was no way I could resist this shot with some truly insane wristwear!)
Silvana Pampanini (Displaying one or more of her attributes.)
Monique Van Vooren


Gingerguy said...

Holy Toledo, this was a bucket of crazy Poseidon. I loved every drop! I always thought Gloria Grahame married the Stepson after divorcing the Father, but it was years later, that's nuts!
I live for Dolores Grey, and ate this with a spoon. She was sort of a mentor to my favorite drag performer, Lypsinka. Her mannerisms were so exaggerated that she is a hoot to watch. I love "Thanks a lot, but no thanks" and watch it frequently on youtube.
Monique Van Vooren was beautiful, and recently saw her in "Ash Wednesday". Did the book mention Christopher Walken being a chorus boy in her cabaret act? I heard that story after he showed some dancing prowess a few years ago. Such great photos!

F. Nomen said...

That last Van Vooren pic though...who wore it better, Monique or RuPaul?

normadesmond said...

Always loved Lamparski's books. I think I have an old hard cover of his with his signature!

hsc said...

One of Monique Van Vooren's costars in MAN ON THE MOON was a tall young man billed as "Eric Lang" in the role of "Ernie Hardy":


He had recently modeled nude for PLAYGIRL and COLT (as "Ernie Langeberg"), and had done a "solo" loop for BRENTWOOD studios.

More info (and NSFW photos) can be found here:


Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I also thought Gloria left Nick for his son, but she had a whole marriage (and daughter) in between! Wild... I can barely tolerate both my step-mother or step-father. LOL Can't fathom... I don't think Chris Walken was particularly well known when this paperback came out in 1975, though he'd been working for a while even then. Neat that he was one of Monique's dancers.

F. Nomen, don't forget Raquel Welch! -->


Norma, I love his books - paperbacks included - but there's something great about having them in hardback. Neat that yours is signed!

hsc, that guy is a sexy beast! Thanks for the additional info. I love the manner in which Playgirl photographed men in the early-to-mid '70s. It's a style that just cannot be duplicated now (not that anyone is trying...!)

hsc said...

My pleasure, Poseidon! It's my way of returning the favor on all the research you do for these wonderful blog entries!

COLT's photos of Ernie Langeberg included a set taken years after the PLAYGIRL layout, and he had matured into an even better-looking man.

And one other thing about Monique Van Vooren-- she seemed to have gotten involved with the same plastic surgeon who did Michael Jackson's nose.

IIRC, her natural nose was in TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL, but by the early '70s, it had been reduced down to a bizarre level. She's in a cameo in Pier Paolo Pasolini's THE CANTERBURY TALES as "The Queen of Skulls" (and I bet she had no idea what the character was called when she did the bit).

rigs-in-gear said...

I was wondering if you saw and what you thought of Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool about Gloria Grahame's last days?

hsc said...

Let me correct what I said previously-- Monique Van Vooren's brief, silent cameo as "The Queen of Skulls" is in Pasolini's "The Decameron," not his follow-up "The Canterbury Tales."

And sorry to sound obsessed with this, but I did find photos from 1952 and TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL that show her original nose and look:




(that's Monique on the right in the pith helmet)

Even though she was perfectly attractive with her natural nose and darker hair, for some reason, she decided to get her nose trimmed. There was a LOT of that going around in the '50s, so it may have not even been her own idea, but something an agent or a studio pushed her into.

OTOH, Monique's nose did seem to continue to shrink throughout the next decade. (Marlo Thomas had the same thing going on in the years before THAT GIRL.)

By 1968 when she appeared as "Miss Clean" on BATMAN, she barely looked like the woman in her 1952 pictures, but that's the look we associate with her:


But hey, Monique had an unusual form of beauty, and she really made that face work for her.

jobj69 said...

As always, a great read, Poseidon - thank you! I do love Dolores Gray, born too late to have been a huge MGM star, though she did have a few prime roles, as you stated, including It's Always Fair Weather, only a modest success at its time of release. Originally planned to be a sequel to On the Town, none of the leads, aside from Gene Kelly, returned to do it so they made it a reunion tale of three different armed service buddies with a bit of satire on the television industry - where Miss Dolores was featured as Madeline, hostess of a Talk of the Town type variety show. One scene has the hoot-y and campy Thanks a Lot But No Thanks number, mentioned above by @Gingerguy - a true must-see! There is also a terrific number with Cyd Charisse, Baby, You Knock Me Out, which she performs in a gym with a group of hunky boxers! Plus, this is the film with Kelly's classic dance number on roller skates...The film is an underrated gem and I would recommend watching, if you haven't seen it.

I had a friend who understudied Dolores when she appeared as Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street on Broadway and on tour in the 80s. I think it was my first exposure to her and I was blown away by this 60-ish woman's larger-than-life talent and voice. I must have seen her do the role a half-dozen times - when tickets to Broadway shows were a bit more affordable - and you could buy standing-room for $10!...anyway, I think the stage was the best venue for her talents. I am not sure she would have survived in film, with the direction things were going after the slow death of musicals and fluffy comedies...

Forever1267 said...

I have 2nd cousins who are also step-siblings, and I thought that made for a crazy family tree!

Most of these names, besides Gloria, I don't recognize, but your story telling is always so much fun!

Someone should create a Bad Movies We Love Channel!

Poseidon3 said...

hsc, thanks for the Monique Van Vooren Nasal Tour... LOL She did seem to overdo what wasn't a horrendous nose to start with! You know, our faces/heads usually enlarge/grow as we age, which makes us grow into our large ears and noses, but if the nose has been snipped too far down it can become bizarrely diminutive once you're older...! :-P

rigs-in-gear, I haven't seen "Film Stars..." I did read the book (and didn't enjoy it much at all, which may be why I was in no hurry to see the movie.) I don't typically run to see Annette Bening movies, especially since she nearly always seems to be locked into the dame basic hairdo no matter who she's playing. LOL

jobj69, thank you for the additional comments and info on Miss Dolores. What a thrill to have seen her live in action on stage! She had unusual looks (which she herself admitted to freely in interviews) that could come across very BIG on screen. I really enjoy her voice, though. I like the way she sings the title song for "The Opposite Sex" but, strangely, doesn't sing in the movie... There's a nice latter-day clip of her on youtube singing (on, I think, The Merv Griffin Show, "Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling" - or whatever it's called!) I did look for "It's Always Fair Weather" and didn't see it, but I'll try again when I have a minute! Thanks!

Forever1267, glad you liked the blurbs in this post. There were a few folks I hadn't known before either! :-) And, yes, I'd adore a "BMWL channel!" But I'd hate to leave home....