Sophisticated. Demure. Elegant…NONE of these words describe Mamie Van Doren, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Her loud, lusty life is absolutely chock full of scandal, rivalry, and good old-fashioned revenge—but it also has a tragic dark side few people know. From her doomed loves to her deep secrets, Mamie Van Doren is now exposed.
From the very beginning, Mamie Van Doren’s life was a wild ride. Born in 1931 in South Dakota as "Joan Lucille Oleander," Van Doren’s parents were hard-partying youngsters who instilled in their daughter a lust for hard living and a thirst for more of, well, everything. They even named her after superstar and scandal-maker Joan Crawford herself.
So before Van Doren even hit her teenage years, she’d made a scandalous and fateful decision.
Van Doren knew she was going to be a star, especially when she started "filling out in all the right places," particularly her chest. Determined to make it in any way she could, the leggy 15-year-old entered the "Miss Palm Springs" contest and performed on stage in a nightclub. Her performance was so, er, precocious, that she won the whole darn thing. And that wasn't even the biggest thing that happened that night.
While Van Doren was up on stage, she couldn’t have known who was looking on. None other than the famous Hollywood weirdo Howard Hughes was in the audience. As it happened, Hughes also owned his own film studio, RKO, and after Van Doren blew him away, he had his secretary call her up for an interview. It was about to be her big break…but it was about to get a whole lot creepier too.
Van Doren, who had just turned 16 but had the confidence of a woman twice her age, strutted right into Hughes’s office that day, and right into a very awkward conversation. Sussing her out, a leering Hughes asked her how old she was and had no problem inquiring about what life was like living with her parents. But the worst was yet to come.
As Van Doren’s interview with Hughes drew to a close, he asked her one extremely disturbing question: "Are you a virgin?" Mamie’s response, however, was pitch-perfect. The teenager reportedly quipped back, "You’ll never know, Mr. Hughes". It was the exact right move: Impressed by her quick wit, Hughes signed her onto his roster and began putting her in his films.
Only, as her professional life took off, her personal life started getting extra messy.
One of Van Doren’s first problems came in the form of Howard Hughes himself. Although Hughes was old enough to be her father and Van Doren was far from lawful, the producer managed to seduce (and very likely manipulate) Van Doren into his bed. He must have rubbed off on her, because within months, Van Doren went through a transformation...it just wasn’t always a good one.
The first step in Van Doren's path to stardom was to make plain "Joan Oleander" sound a little more like a bombshell. The backstory to this is truly surprising. Although "Mamie Van Doren" is now synonymous with seduction, her handlers actually gave her the name "Mamie" after First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, while the name "Van Doren" was a homage to the great intellectual Van Doren clan.
Not the first two things I think of when I imagine bedroom appeal, but it obviously worked. And that wasn’t all her handlers did.
At the time Van Doren was coming up, Marilyn Monroe’s busty, blonde good looks had set the film world on fire. Studios, scrambling for a rival for Monroe, knew they had a contender in Van Doren and her goddess-like curves...but it didn't always come naturally. Van Doren was actually a brunette, and had to go through several bleaching rounds to get her platinum curls—though she swears her double D chest is all hers.
Set up with a new name and a new look, Van Doren started capturing the attention of straight, hot-blooded men the world over. Including the wrong men.
While striving to be a star and putting in her time with RKO, the teenage Van Doren fell in love with Jack Newman, a sportswear manufacturer. Since Van Doren was young, dumb, and too beautiful for her own good, Newman got the girl to run away with him and elope in 1949. Bad idea. Before the honeymoon phase was even over, Van Doren had a brutal awakening.
Van Doren looked stunning on screen, but behind closed doors, her life was falling apart. It didn’t take long for Newman to show a vicious mean streak, and he turned angry and abusive toward his young wife. Well, Van Doren was nobody’s fool, and she quite rightly dissolved the marriage after mere months. Then again, that didn’t mean she didn’t have more bad decisions coming up…
After her disastrous nuptials with Newman, Van Doren moved on to someone more suited to her new glamorous life: The heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. Rugged and strapping, Dempsey was full of machismo and swept the 18-year old right off her feet—so much so that she got engaged to Dempsey before the ink was even dry on her first divorce.
Still, there was one glaring issue with Dempsey that Van Doren couldn’t ignore.
Before long, Van Doren’s new romance also came to a crushing end. Although the starlet was infatuated enough with Dempsey to let him put a ring on it, she couldn’t get over the fact the boxer was in his mid-50s when they got together. Before long, the cracks started to show in their unequal relationship, and they split after only a short while together. Only, it’s how they split that was truly painful.
Mamie Van Doren had one angelic-looking face—but the way she dumped poor Jack Dempsey was as heartless as it gets. Later calling him a "lousy lover," she chucked the middle-aged boxer like last season's mink coat the minute she won a coveted contract with Universal studios. After all, now that she was out of RKO and onto the big leagues, she had access to a higher tier of more famous lovers. And believe me, she took advantage.
Studios executives were just as happy as Van Doren about her failed relationship since they were keen on having her attend the upcoming Golden Globes with younger, more suitable arm candy. The moment she was a free agent, they set her up with the biggest heartthrob of the 1950s, Rock Hudson, as her date for the night. Only, Van Doren soon discovered the scandalous truth about her date.
When the studio pushed Hudson on Van Doren, she was initially wary of going on a big, public date with a man she barely knew. She told one of her fellow studio starlets as much...and the girl laughed in her face. "You’ll have nothing to worry about," the girl responded, "He’s gay". And so began what became one of the most infamous nights in Hollywood lore.
According to Van Doren, after spinning her around the dance floor at the Globes, Hudson took her home like a true gentleman. And then it got downright saucy. Although Van Doren is certain Hudson was gay and not bi, she claims Hudson made a move on her. He invitied himself in for coffee, wrapped his arms around her once inside, and then tried—and eventually failed—to get around the crinoline of her full-skirted gown.
It was one jaw-dropping encounter…but Mamie’s bedroom infamy was just getting started.
In 1955, Van Doren met the dashing bandleader Ray Anthony, who often rubbed shoulders with the likes of Frank Sinatra in his nightclub carousing. It was just the kind of scene Van Doren reveled in, and she hopped right into Anthony’s bed and lifestyle. For a few short months, it was heaven on Earth. And then Van Doren plummeted from paradise.
Some time into her relationship with Anthony, Van Doren got news that made her world fall apart. She was pregnant. More than that, she was pregnant in a time where studios didn’t tolerate so-called immorality from their leading ladies, often employing "fixers" to end pregnancies. Since Van Doren wanted to keep her child and her job, there was only one thing she could do...and it was the last thing she wanted.
Van Doren knew she wasn’t head over heels in love with Ray Anthony. However, she also knew she had to marry him for the sake of her Hollywood career. She was so reluctant, however, that she waited four agonizing months—right up until she couldn’t possibly hide her bump anymore—before walking down the aisle. Wow, I bet you can tell where all this is going to go.
A tense marriage and mediocre feelings for your husband is one bad combination. Within months after the birth of her child, a son she named Perry, Van Doren was done playing the dutiful housewife. She went right back to filming, partying…and romancing people who weren’t Ray Anthony. And the scrapes she got into are beyond.
During this time, Mamie was one naughty girl. She had affairs with a laundry list of celebrities, including a one-night stand with Elvis Presley and a prolonged fling with a young and unknown Clint Eastwood, who was her co-star in the film Star in the Dust. Now, Clint might have been young, but inexperienced he was not. As Van Doren recalled, "He was always straight and direct—he always knew the most straight and direct path to my dressing room".
As it happened, though, the dressing room wasn't always so friendly to her.
In 1959, Van Doren was filming The Beat Generation opposite the brooding hunk Steve Cochran. It was a recipe for explosive scandal. To this day, Van Doren says Cochran was "the sexiest man I have ever known," and the pair of them had instant chemistry on set. With Van Doren’s loose ideas about monogamy, it wasn’t long before things started heating up…with shocking results.
Just days into filming, everyone on set knew that Van Doren and Cochran were having flagrant affair. Of course, they weren’t exactly subtle about it. The illicit pair constantly "wandered" off between takes to have quickies in trailers, bushes, and pretty much anywhere else they could find. Their favorite spot, however, was Van Doren’s dressing room. Spoiler: This was a very bad idea.
One day, Van Doren’s husband Ray Anthony decided to surprise his wife on set. He ambled up to her dressing room and opened the door without knocking. When he did, he got the surprise of a lifetime. Van Doren and Cochran were going at it in a chair before his very eyes. But the strangest part of this saga was Anthony’s reaction.
Anthony’s center-stage entrance into his wife’s infidelity probably ruined the mood, but it didn’t ruin his marriage. At least not immediately. For one reason or another—perhaps the son they had together—Anthony decided to stay with Van Doren and weather it out for another two long years. So in 1961, when they finally did divorce, all their anger came out.
After so much time trying to make it work, it took something huge to wedge Van Doren and Anthony apart. Although she had never been faithful herself, Van Doren was absolutely gob-smacked to find out that Anthony had been sending bouquets of roses to another woman…another woman named Marilyn Monroe.
That made it very personal, and they split soon after; to this day, Van Doren calls him "Ray Agony". But when one door closes, another opens. As soon as they broke up, Van Doren got a strange phone call.
Just days after Van Doren privately separated from Ray Anthony, none other than her ex's old friend Frank Sinatra called her up. His reasons were the opposite of chivalrous. Instead of offering his condolences, Sinatra asked Van Doren on a date. As Van Doren noted, "he didn’t waste any time"—but then again, this didn’t stop her from jumping in, either.
Despite breaking the bro code, Sinatra had no issue seducing Van Doren, pulling out all the stops to dazzle the starlet, including using his best Russian china for their meals together and generally worshipping her like the goddess she obviously was. In the end, they didn’t last, but not because Sinatra was just a rebound. Instead, Van Doren has recently revealed the bitter truth behind their breakup.
Van Doren still views her fling with Sinatra fondly, but there was a deep issue with their relationship. Once more, Van Doren had found herself with a much older man—Sinatra was over 15 years her senior—and once more, she realized she just couldn’t force herself to be attracted to him. As Van Doren put it bluntly, "I just wasn’t into Frank Sinatra sexually. If I had been, he wouldn’t have gotten away".
You’d think Mamie would have learned her lessons by now…but her biggest mistake was on the way.
By the early 1950s, Van Doren had worked with stars like Tony Curtis in scandalous flicks like Forbidden, and her blonde bombshell persona was leaping out of the screen—until she made one very bad decision. Around 1955, producers approached her to play a parodic Marilyn Monroe-esque character in the Broadway show Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? It was a plum role, but she turned them down, fearing constantly being compared to Monroe. She would live to regret it.
While Van Doren may have wanted to protect herself from comparisons to Monroe, she actually made things 10 times worse. Instead of begging her to take the part, the producers simply went to then-unknown starlet Jayne Mansfield…who nailed the role, parlayed it into a film adaptation, and became a new busty sensation overnight. Van Doren now had double the competition, and it wasn't always friendly.
With Mansfield bursting out of her seams and onto the scene, Marilyn swaying her hips in iconic dresses, and Mamie splashing herself across the tabloids as much as the silver screen, the well-endowed blondes became known as "The Three Ms". Sure, the moniker was good press for all three women. But their close quarters got nasty very quickly.
In particular, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren never got along, maybe because of the fact Mansfield had scooped up Mamie’s role in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Mansfield considered Van Doren her "nemesis," and in 1963, Van Doren hit back by refusing to act alongside Mansfield in Promises! Promises!—but then came the evening that fully sealed the deal.
In 1964, Van Doren was attending a celebrity party at the popular Sunset Strip nightclub, Whisky a Go-Go. It was filled with stars, including Jayne Mansfield and her special friends the Beatles, who Mansfield was hanging out with all night. This is where it all started to go wrong. Paparazzi swarmed the club, and a very tipsy George Harrison ended up accidentally spilling his drink all over Van Doren.
I don’t know about Van Doren, but that’d be minus another point for the Jayne Mansfield fan club for me. In any case, the pair didn't make up any time soon...and then Mansfield got her claws out.
Three years after Van Doren refused to become Mansfield’s co-star in Promises! Promises! producers finally coaxed her into a role alongside her fellow bombshell in The Las Vegas Hillbillys. It was a complete and utter disaster. Although it remains the only time any of "The Three M’s" acted with each other, Van Doren and Mansfield got along horrifically, and spent time in between takes sniping at each other. They didn’t stop there, either.
While on set, Mansfield took her personal vendetta against Van Doren to professional heights. She refused to even appear in a scene with Van Doren, even though that was a near impossible demand for their characters. Then, to rub salt in the wound, she also snarled that Van Doren was nothing more than "the drive-in’s answer to Marilyn Monroe".
As for Van Doren's relationship to her Monroe herself? Well, that was five times more complicated, and ten times more tragic.
In her later life, Van Doren shied away from people constantly grouping her with Marilyn Monroe, but there’s a heartbreaking side to their connection. She actually first met the star when she was just 12 years old, and living behind the Ambassador Hotel. One day, Monroe was at the hotel taking modeling photos, and Van Doren had come in to use the establishment's swimming pool.
When the fashion photographer saw the tween Van Doren, he tried to shoo her away. Meanwhile, Monroe defended her, retorting, "You have no right to say that to her". From there, a strange and delicate friendship grew.
Van Doren admits that it’s still difficult to talk about Marilyn, as they got to know one another quite well when they were both coming up in the movies. It’s even harder, she confessed, because "my memories of Marilyn are sad ones". She continued, "She was sad most of the time. But when she would go out, have a few drinks, she became Marilyn Monroe, the one everyone knew".
As time went on, Van Doren’s sense of impending doom around Marilyn deepened.
In the early 1960s, Van Doren happened to run into Monroe again. When she saw her, her blood ran cold. Although the two women were just sharing an ordinary meal together, Van Doren could tell something was wrong, recalling, "she looked really disturbed". At the time, Monroe was indeed drinking heavily, but Van Doren couldn’t have known the dark path it was all leading to.
In 1962, Mamie Van Doren woke up to a world where "The Three M’s" were no more. On August 4, Marilyn Monroe died under suspicious circumstances, likely an accidental OD, inside her Hollywood home. The tragedy forever severed the strings that tied the three blonde bombshells together, but Van Doren mourns Monroe to this day, confessing that, "To me, she’s a person; to most people, she’s an idea".
Only, that wasn’t enough for the universe. Fate had another cruel twist in store for Van Doren.
Just five short years after Marilyn Monroe’s senseless death, Van Doren experienced an entirely new kind of horror. On June 29, 1967, her rival Jayne Mansfield got into a horrific and fatal car accident, perishing on impact and newly obliterating "The Three M’s" to even less than a memory. For all their differences, Van Doren grieved for Mansfield too—and she was never the same again.
For Van Doren, Hollywood in the 1960s was a fallen kingdom, not a new age of freedom. The women she had worked and feuded with were now cold in the ground, and there was nothing left for her. She spent most of the decade in and out of failed relationships, and although she married baseball player Lee Meyers in 1966, they divorced just two years later.
With her happiness in Tinseltown slowly dwindling, Van Doren made a gut-wrenching decision.
In 1968, fresh off the heels of her third divorce, Van Doren went through with a dangerous commitment. At the age of 37, she toured Vietnam for the army for three months, and then went back for seconds in 1970. It wasn’t all just dancing and singing on stage, either. Van Doren visited men in the sick bays and witnessed the horrors of the conflict first-hand.
Still, she did manage to turn this experience into a strange dating opportunity.
When Van Doren landed back in the states, she learned that her diplomatic mission had caught the attention of none other than future Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Playing the "grand gesture" card, the politician tried to seduce Van Doren with an invite to the White House as his date to an official function. Van Doren, never one to turn down a good time, said yes. It went…about as bizarrely as you’d expect.
Mamie Van Doren didn’t just have bedroom appeal; she could also appreciate that appeal in others. Even, uh, Henry Kissinger. As she put it, "he was very sexy and...had a low European voice". He also complimented her intelligence, asking "Have you ever met a man smarter than you, Mamie?" As the night went on, it looked like he would seal the deal. But there was one huge problem.
According to Van Doren herself, she might have briefly considered bedding Kissinger…until he leaned in close and she got a whiff of his "denture breath". As she put it, "that really turned me off," and she had to make a quick escape from his amorous arms before things got too heated. Unfortunately for her, she ended up landing in a much worse embrace.
After Vietnam, Van Doren got involved in politics, working on Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. In classic Mamie fashion, this higher calling also came with some deliciously debase romance, and she hooked up with mega-rich businessman Ross McClintock on the campaign trail, eventually marrying him in 1972. Before she knew it, however, the fairy tale had turned into a nightmare.
Rich, educated, and ambitious, McClintock certainly looked like the perfect man, but he expected perfection in his wife, too. A little too much of it. He insisted that Van Doren act like a trophy wife, a demand that she chafed mightily against. As she said, "I'd refused to be an ornament for the studios, and I was damned if I'd be one at a bunch of dull cocktail parties".
Just months after marrying McClintock, she filed for divorce—but she got much more than she bargained for.
To Van Doren’s surprise, her divorce was about to go through when a judge suddenly annulled it. Sure, this spared Van Doren a long, drawn-out court process...except there was a cruel ulterior motive at play. Van Doren was sure McClintock had asked the judge to specifically annul the union, since this shut her out of any money from his estate.
In 1956, right as Van Doren was coming up, Grace Kelly famously married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and became the most glamorous princess around. Well, Mamie Van Doren almost had some of that shine, too. Prince Axel of Denmark reportedly had a crush on the bombshell, and he just so happened to be looking for a wife. Sadly, Van Doren was her own worst enemy.
The stars simply weren’t aligned for Prince Axel and Van Doren. Every time he extended an invitation to her to meet his family, she found reasons to turn them down. Eventually, the prince stopped calling, and we never got to have a "Her Highness Princess Mamie," which is a darn shame. Van Doren thinks so too, once saying, "Sometimes I think I made a big mistake by not paying more attention to Prince Axel".
If you think Van Doren’s escapades end with princes, though, you’ve got another think coming.
Besides scores of male lovers, Van Doren also had a sensual run-in with a woman. In particular, the Teutonic goddess Marlene Dietrich. Once, Van Doren was sitting in the wardrobe department at Columbia Pictures when Dietrich strutted in with a raincoat on and a hat tipped over her eye (hot). The German began flirting with Van Doren…and then it all unraveled.
Sadly for all the burgeoning fanfics out there, Van Doren suddenly froze and choked when it came to Dietrich’s advances, and their flirtation ended there. Like Prince Axel, Van Doren regrets this moment acutely, and later mused, "Today, I’d know what to do. I probably would have flirted back to her. I would have taken her up on it". The fanfics live!
Steve Cochran remains Van Doren’s number one lover, but another Steve takes a close second place: film bad boy Steve McQueen. Van Doren waxed rhapsodic about McQueen’s "reckless energy," and once called him "a good bonk". But they got by with help from an illicit substance. According to Hollywood lore, McQueen once got Van Doren to sleep with him while on psychedelics.
When it comes to Mamie’s kiss and tells, though, Steve McQueen got off lightly.
Later in life, Van Doren stopped caring what anybody thought and started spilling juicy details on all her past lovers. The best one, in my humble opinion? She made out with Hollywood strongman Burt Reynolds—who once called himself "The Male Mamie Van Doren"—but then promptly kept it as a one-time thing when she found out Reynolds was a terrible kisser.
The moon landing was a historic time for mankind, but trust our beloved Mamie to make it about herself. On the 40th anniversary of the landing, Van Doren reminded everyone that she and intrepid astronaut Buzz Aldrin had definitely bumped uglies. As she put it, "Buzz and I spent some memorable and [intimate] times together…After all, a man who could make it to the moon, could make it with me".
Van Doren doesn’t consider herself a derivative of Marilyn Monroe, especially not anymore. In fact, she believes it was Marilyn who learned a thing or two from her as a younger rival. Apparently, at the height of both their fame, Marilyn would often go into department stores and buy the same outfits that Van Doren had just worn to an event.
Van Doren’s most famous film is probably Untamed Youth, a raucous, rock n’ roll story about two bad-girl sisters. In other words, it totally fit the bombshell’s racy image. However, it also came with a certain prestige. With her performance in the movie, Van Doren actually became one of the first actresses—if not the first—to sing rock and roll on film.
In the legendary battle between Marilyn Monroe and Mamie Van Doren, music legend Quincy Jones knows who he’d pick. Mamie and Quincy dated for a hot, steamy—and secret—second, but Jones recently recalled their relationship in an interview. As he said, "I didn’t think Marilyn Monroe was that hot because I was dating Mamie Van Doren back then. Mamie would put her a-way!"
These days, Mamie Van Doren is a cult figure, having starred in a series of B movies and sci-fi films with titles like Voyage to the Planet of Pre-historic Women, which is a good time if I’ve ever heard one. Mystery Science Theatre 3000, itself a cult classic show, even featured her flick Untamed Youth in a 1990 episode.
Before her untimely end, Marilyn Monroe passed along some scandalous and tragic advice to Van Doren. Probably fresh off her disastrous affair with President John F. Kennedy, Monroe told Van Doren never to fall for a politician because: "When they screw you, they really screw you". Only…Monroe’s words weren’t as polite as all that.
For all her prowess between the sheets, Van Doren claims she actually turned down more lovers than she took up. She also has a bizarre, scandalous way of keeping the lotharios at bay. "I don't wear panties anymore," she once confessed. "This startles the Hollywood wolves so much they don't know what to pull at, so they leave me alone". It’s so crazy, it just might work.
Today, Van Doren is 90 years young and living the life she always dreamed of. In 1979, she finally found and married "The One" in dentist and actor Thomas Nixon, and the pair are together to this day. She’s also a frequent user of Facebook, and is still giving interviews to news outlets, reminiscing about her past and giving glamorous advice to any who ask.
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