Silly Show-Biz Book Club #11: Mamie Van Doren's Whoring Around
Quick, what do Elvis Presley, James Dean, Johnny Carson, Warren Beatty, Henry Kissinger, Howard Hughes and Spiro Agnew all have in common? Beyond being some of the most famous, iconic men of the twentieth century, they all apparently tried to have sex with Mamie Van Doren. In the immortal words of R. Kelly, they were all up in Van Doren's grill, trying to get her to a hotel, telling her she must be a football coach, the way she had them playing the field. Yet they were each, every last one of them, rejected. Which is not to say that Van Doren's fevered lady parts did not go on all sorts of adventures with all sorts of people. If Van Doren had pursued a life of celibacy, her memoir could have been printed on the inside of a matchbook cover.
If the list of men whose sexual advances Van Doren rebuffed is long and impressive, the list of men she merrily danced the horizontal mambo with is also distinguished. During her lengthy career as a sexual adventurer, she got to know Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, Joe Namath, Jack Dempsey and a slew of lesser-known baseball players, actors and musicians in the biblical sense. Heck, even Rock Hudson tussled with Van Doren on the floor of the home she shared with her mother before leaving a big sticky mess all over her nice Crinoline dress. Not even The Gays were immune to Van Doren's buxom charms.
For Van Doren was that rarest and most wondrous of creatures: an attractive blonde woman with big tits whose impressive physical attributes won her a modestly successful career as a singer, actress, whatever. If Marilyn Monre was the original fifties blonde bombshell then Van Doren (or Van Whorin' as less sensitive souls than myself might call her) was the unoriginal fifties blonde bombshell. There's something hopelessly ersatz about Van Doren. She was the poor man's Jayne Mansfield, who in turn was the poor man's Marilyn Monroe.
As the title of her memoir, Playing the Field leeringly hints, Van Doren's life is more notable for the famous men she laid than the forgotten parts she played. Von Doren's tawdry tome could have been titled Whoring Around but that would have given the game away. Incidentally, in Van Doren's honor I thought about renaming this column "Nathan's Literary Hall of Hussified Harlotry" but thought better of it. For subsequent entries will also be devoted to drugs (Cheech And Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography) and Stephen Baldwin's nightmare descent into totally Xtreme hardcore Christianity.
While still in her teens, Van Doren scored her first celebrity lover in legendary boxer Jack Dempsey. Alas, Dempsey was not a generous man and Van Doren nursed big dreams of moving to Hollywood to make it as a starlet, so she cooked up a fake pregnancy scam and told Dempsey that she'd need a thousand dollars to secure an illegal abortion.
Most memoirists would recall such a shameful incident with remorse, as loathsome behavior she has evolved beyond and now regrets terribly. Not Van Doren. She is utterly unapologetic. Her thinking seems to be that if Dempsey didn't want sleazy gold-diggers to extort money from him for fictional abortions he shouldn't have been such a tight-fisted bastard. Van Doren even has the temerity to suggest she was really doing Dempsey a favor by letting him believe he was still potent enough to knock up a foxy eighteen-year-old. Then again, Van Doren was merely following Horace Greeley's famous advice to "Go west, young woman, but only after tricking a legendary pugilist into giving you a thousand dollars to abort your non-existent fetus." Man, that was surprisingly specific advice. No wonder she took it.
This isn't the only time Van Doren engages in pregnancy-based trickery. Much later, she gets pregnant unexpectedly and, fearing for her reputation and career (never mind that neither amounted to much), she tricks a handsome, naïve young baseball player into marrying her. In a shocking, wholly unexpected development, a marriage built on a solid foundation of lies, cynical calculation and lust didn't last. Again, Van Doren doesn't seem to experience any guilt; the guy smoked too much pot and wasn't the dream husband she so richly deserved, so when he dies at twenty-six, Van Doren's attitude can succinctly be summed up as "Whatever."
Once established in Hollywood, Van Doren quickly set about sleeping with half of Los Angeles and rejecting the advances of the other half. Some of her dalliances are bitchily amusing, like when she recounts a date with a young Burt Reynolds, who blew smoke up her ass about the great love affair they'd share, called himself "The male Mamie Van Doren" (which is a horrible thing to call anyone, especially yourself), then got his premature ejaculation on while ecstatically yelling "Judy".
Before their sordid little one-night fling, Reynolds failed to impress Van Doren by inviting her to watch him perform a stunt for an early vehicle, Shamus. Van Doren was doing USO shows in Vietnam around this time, so Reynolds' faux-heroism struck her as particularly ridiculous. The Vietnam sections of the book are fairly affecting. In true Van Doren fashion, the sex bomb mixed business, pleasure and incredible naiveté by getting engaged to a courtly Christian soldier, who, alas, was already married with four children.
If being embroiled in the unimaginable horror and bloodshed of Vietnam gave Van Doren the worldly perspective to see right through Reynolds' bullshit her worldview nevertheless remained myopic. Not long after scoffing at Mr. Loni Anderson, the lady-author is reduced to body-shaking sobs when her song is cut from a Tonight Show episode. Gosh, after listening Johnny Nam talk about watching his best friend die in his arms while covered in blood and guts you'd imagine getting bumped from your eighth Tonight Show appearance wouldn't seem quite so tragic.
To give Van Doren and her ghostwriter credit, the Viet Nam segments aren't the only poignant passages in the book. Van Doren has melancholy, achingly sad encounters with rivals Monroe and Mansfield while both were deep into the boozy downward spirals that would consume the final years (decades?) of their life. Yet even these passages are tainted with self-interest. Throughout the book, Van Doren's overarching argument seems to be "Sure, I never made any great films or made that much of a mark on pop culture, but at least I'm not dead or addicted to smack". Yet Monroe and Mansfield are timeless legends; Van Doren's shelf life, if not her actual life, ended long ago. Van Doren lived long enough to become a ghoulish caricature of her younger self
Just when it seemed like I couldn't dislike the authoress any more, she reinvents herself as a Republican fundraiser for the infamous Committee to Reelect the President (who could have guessed that an organization with such a wholesome acronym could be involved in shenanigans?). She goes on a date with Henry "Denture Breath" Kissinger and is sexually propositioned by Spiro Agnew through a shadowy operative who promises to compensate her financially if she agrees to give the creepy Veep the old Hong Kong Handshake. Who could resist such an offer? Van Doren, that's who. What kind of a girl does he think she is? Van Doren didn't make history; she fucked history. Or at least she regretfully rebuffed history's heavy-breathing advances. It turns out history is one horny motherfucker and has a thing for blondes and boobs.
During her Republican cheerleader phase, Van Doren becomes the unwitting trophy wife of a wealthy businessman who insists they wait until after their wedding to consummate their relationship. After the blessed nuptials, Van Doren is horrified to find that her latest creepy husband is "rotund", something he apparently hid from her during their courtship, by, I dunno, insisting she be blind-folded during all their dates? Or maybe wearing a super-girdle designed by NASA? Needless to say, this marriage didn't last long either.
Ah, but what about Van Doren's career? To that I can only say, who the hell cares? Even her liaisons with the rich and legendary are depressingly anti-climactic. During a section devoted to her acid-fueled fuckfest with Steve McQueen I found myself thinking, "Wow, I had no idea having sex with Steve McQueen while high on acid could be so boring."
Van Doren's non-fling with Beatty is a lot more entertaining. As was/is his custom, Beatty pursued the chaste and virtuous authoress doggedly, talking a big game about how his trouser snake is alternately like the neck on a giraffe, a baby's arm or a large human penis. Van Doren wasn't interested but when Beatty called one afternoon to tell her that he was sunning himself and had a big old erection with her name on it, she prankishly sent a buxom, all-too-eager friend to fuck Beatty on her behalf. Ah, Hollywood. A deep, spiritual, soulful place filled with deep, spiritual soulful people making deep, spiritual, soulful connections. Both parties were all too willing, and in a heartwarming twist, Warren Beatty totally got to have casual sex with a random skank. He never did get to make deep, spiritual, soulful love to Van Doren, however. Consequently his life can only be deemed a failure.