Bette Davis’ eyes, Jayne Mansfield’s chest, and Betty Grable’s legs—to complete the perfect woman you just need one more thing: Vikki Dougan’s back. This model-turned-actress made a splash showing off her bare back, but failed to even ripple the waters in Hollywood films. But there’s so much more to her story than just one body part. Catch a glimpse of these 50 irresistible facts about Vikki Dougan, AKA “The Back.”
1. He Changed Her Life Forever
Vikki Dougan’s birthplace was Brooklyn, NY, and it was on a cold New Year’s Day in 1929. Her father was an insurance salesman and her mom a librarian. Mom and Dad were about as far from show business as you could get, and they gave her a name as predictable as their lives were: Edith Tooker. It looked like Edith Tooker was set to live a very safe and rather boring life.
That is, until her father threw them all a dramatic curveball that would change their lives forever.
2. He Left Them Without A Dime
Just six months after Dougan was born, her family experienced a devastating betrayal. Dougan’s insurance-selling father went to make a house call and—as the cliché goes—never came back. Dougan and her mother were left high and dry. It was the beginning of the depression and times were tough—especially for a single mom and daughter.
Mom’s income as a librarian barely covered the bills, so she had to make a heartbreaking decision.
3. She Raised Herself
Dougan’s mother couldn’t handle the pressure of living in Depression-era Brooklyn with no husband and a young child, so she made a truly disturbing decision. She sent her baby to upstate New York to live with boarders. Dougan later said that she played the role of her own mother and father. But how can a child raise a child?
It must have been the lack of parental guidance that caused her to make a rash decision.
4. She Made Some Serious Cash
When she was just 11 years old, Dougan found herself in dire straits. There was only one thing to do: get a job. Lucky for Dougan, she didn’t have to perform child labor at a factory or work in the fields on a farm. Dougan had good looks and she began modeling as soon as people would cast her. By the time she was a teenager, she was making some pretty serious coin as a model.
Being a child model, however, often led to some rather awkward situations.
5. She Got The Boot
At 16 years of age, Dougan entered the Miss Rheingold competition, which was an annual search for a girl-next-door type. After the competition, the Rheingold company would always use the winner in its advertisements. Dougan made her way to becoming a finalist, but before she could take the crown, disaster struck. An extenuating circumstance left her both bereft and disqualified.
To her humiliation, the judges forced Dougan to leave the competition because they couldn’t hire a minor to sell their product…booze.
6. She Grew Up Fast
Vikki Dougan may have been too young to sell booze, but she was old enough for something else: love. She met William Symons at his photo studio where she went for photoshoots. The two quickly fell in love and in 1946—when Dougan was still 16 years old—the love birds tied the knot. It wasn’t long, however, before Dougan was facing a very adult situation.
7. She Made The Cover
In 1949, Vikki Dougan was on top of the world. She was a newlywed with an up-and-coming career—and then it all came to a grinding halt. She got pregnant. Dougan was just 20 at this time and still eager to continue her modeling career. However, she didn’t let being a mother get in her way, and continued to model after the birth of her daughter.
In 1953, Life magazine gave Dougan the cover spot, but it wasn’t for a glamorous photoshoot: it was a feature on working moms. Like most models, Dougan also wanted to act. But like any Hollywood wannabe, she had to start at the bottom.
8. Her Appearance Was Brief
Dougan’s first film was 1956’s Back From Eternity. Maybe Dougan thought she was starring in a sequel to blockbuster From Here To Eternity…but she definitely wasn’t. Her film was a not very well-received thriller about a planeload of castaways pursued by headhunters. To make matters worse, Dougan’s role was so small, they didn’t even put her in the credits.
Coincidentally, the title of the film, Back From Eternity, was an omen of her fame to come.
9. She Took The Tiara
After appearing in disappointingly small parts in nine other forgettable films, Vikki Dougan shifted her focus away from films and back on her looks. She got back into modeling and returned to beauty pageants. She quickly won Miss Coney Island and a string of other competitions. At this point, she was still Edith Tooker, but she had finally come to realize her name didn’t evoke thoughts of beauty—they were more like thoughts of a nerdy librarian.
To find a new name, she looked to her idols.
10. She Was Cursed
Dougan’s choice of last name was a no-brainer: she got it from her mother, but where did Vikki come from? It came from Vickie Lester, who was a model-turned-actress just like Dougan. Ironically, Lester got her name from an unusual source: the lead character from A Star Is Born. Sadly, Lester’s star was never born—not even close.
And as we’ll soon see, it could be that this name had a curse.
11. She Cloned Herself
Early in her modeling career, Dougan noticed that photographers seemed to enjoy shooting her from behind—maybe because it showed off her best asset. But Dougan was clever and always looking for an extra buck. She bought several different color wigs and, because her face was rarely in the picture, sold herself off as different models.
Her next job, however, put her face right in the picture.
12. She Was A Background Beauty
Jackie Gleason, whose catchphrase on his TV show was “How sweet it is,” hired Dougan as something called “background beauty”—even though she definitely faced the camera. She didn’t do much on the show but look pretty, but she did earn $100 a week. At the same time, she was earning $250 a week for her modeling. Her weekly earnings today would be about $3500. Not bad for standing around looking pretty!
13. She Was The Flip Side
In the mid-1950s, as far as Hollywood beauty went, the bosom was king. Stars like Jayne Mansfield were setting an impossible standard for other stars to, quite literally, measure up to. In 1956, publicity executive Milton Weiss took one look at Dougan and came up with an ingenious idea. It was an “anti-bosom” campaign.
He wanted to showcase a different part of women’s bodies, and he wanted Dougan front and center.
14. She Turned Around
To be fair, Weiss didn’t actually put Dougan front and center—because he was focusing on her back. The idea behind the campaign was to flip the focus on women from the front to the back. Weiss handed Dougan a backless dress and the rest, as they say, is history. Weiss photographed Dougan in the backless dress, put the photos out there, and waited to see what would happen.
Well, they were all in for a big surprise.
15. She Was Modest
Even though Vikki Dougan hadn’t done much in the movies, she was a presenter at the 1957 Golden Globes. Dougan was beyond nervous as a room full of celebrities awaited her entrance. She was wearing a backless dress, but modestly draped a shawl over her back and shoulders. Now, giving out an award isn’t rocket science, but Dougan suddenly realized she was about to have a major wardrobe malfunction.
Dougan hesitated before walking on stage, and then did something that would change her life forever.
16. She Stopped The Show
At the Golden Globes, Dougan had a concern that she would not be able to hand the award over, shake the winner’s hand, and keep her shawl in place all at the same time. She panicked before walking on stage, and her panic made her make an impulsive decision. She left the shawl backstage. Once on stage, Dougan’s beautiful and toned back left audience members gasping, and gave her career a huge jump start.
17. She Fueled An Industry
From her brief but eye-raising stage appearance on the Golden Globes, Vikki Dougan became a tabloid sensation. Witty columnists also had a field day with her claim to fame, calling her a “ca-rear girl” and glowing about her “marvelous exits.” They cheekily accused her of “backing into a film career.” It was all fun and games—until Dougan made some pretty powerful enemies.
18. There Was A Backlash
Most Hollywood actresses at the time had one thing in common—well…two things. It was all about the bosom, so when Dougan started getting attention with her backside, she faced a violent backlash. Hollywood’s—excuse the pun—heavyweights like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jayne Mansfield were reportedly quite jealous with all the attention Dougan was getting.
Women might have seen her as a threat, but the men? They just wanted to see her.
19. She Dated A Legend
Dougan’s marriage with Symons lasted just two years, and just as soon as the ink on their divorce papers dried, some of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors began to ask her out. One of them was the crooner and actor Frank Sinatra. The two went to an Italian restaurant where Dougan spent more time admiring the red checkered tablecloths than her date. She even told Sinatra that she wanted to make a dress out of the cute table covers.
What Sinatra did in response to this floored her.
20. She Received A Strange Gift
After her dinner with Sinatra, Dougan got a ride home with him in his chauffeured car. Dougan was just climbing out of the car when Sinatra went in for a kiss. Dougan enjoyed Sinatra’s soft lips, but what she enjoyed even more was what happened next. Sinatra handed her a brown paper bag. Dougan was over the moon to see it was full of tablecloths from the restaurant.
This date was a success—but others were not so agreeable.
21. She Rejected A Legend
On the list of the famous men that Dougan declined is none other than the suave legend himself, Cary Grant. The heartthrob asked for her number, and she refused to give it to him—all because of a bizarre rumor she’d heard. Someone had told her that Grant did most of his daily activities in an unexpected place: his bed.
Dougan said she didn’t want to spend so much time in bed, so she dispensed with Grant. He wasn’t the only one, either…
22. She Took A Late Night Call
Marlon Brando was another one that Dougan let get away. This time, the reason was even more capricious. It turns out that Brando called her for a date in the middle of the night, and Dougan, having a shoot in the morning for a commercial, told him no. Maybe she didn’t get the memo: if Brando calls—no matter what the hour—you make a date.
Unfortunately, all these misfires with Hollywood legends wasn’t doing Dougan’s career any good at all.
23. She Needed A Change
By this point, Dougan’s career wasn’t really going anywhere. She’d previously signed with John Wayne’s production company Batjac. Not only was Batjac not making many pictures, they weren’t offering Dougan any roles at all. She knew that where she really should have been was with Paramount Pictures. So, when Paramount came knocking, Dougan was ready at the door.
24. Her Dreams Came True
Dougan’s dreams were about to come true. Paramount was making a lot of films and so, when they approached her, Dougan was sure she would now take her place amongst the acting greats and start doing interesting work. Paramount wanted her to join their team, and she was anxious to be there. There was just one little problem.
25. She Got An Offer
Paramount offered Dougan a contract—and what she saw left her shocked. What they were offering her for a weekly salary was far less than what she was earning as a model. She had a decision to make: give up the good life and take a chance on acting, or stay with a safe money-making career. It wasn’t a difficult choice: she told Paramount no.
This was just the first strike against her.
26. She Got Forgotten
Even though she’d said no to Paramount, Vikki Dougan was still represented by the William Morris Talent Agency. The problem was she didn’t seem to be getting any offers or scripts from them. In her frustration, she called up her agent, Phil Kellogg. Kellogg was likely turning red as a beet as he gave Dougan the terrible news: he’d forgotten her contract in a desk drawer.
Dougan’s time was running out. She knew that if she didn’t find fame now, she never would.
27. They Lost Interest
Just like they say blondes have more fun, apparently, busty ladies have more staying power. After one year of Dougan enjoying celebrity status as “The Back,” fans lost interest. Dougan had to turn around and literally face the music. Was she nothing more than a bare back? Would she get a second chance? But there may have been another even darker reason why Dougan disappeared from Hollywood.
28. She Escaped
Years later, Vikki Dougan revealed the chilling truth behind her lack of longevity in Hollywood. She described what she saw was a toxic environment in the film business. She spoke about an industry that was poorly managed and worse: filled with executives she called predatory. If there had been hashtags back then, Dougan would have been a poster child for MeToo.
29. She Got Attention
Dougan received her share of unwanted male attention—especially from powerful men in Hollywood. Jerry Lewis, Hollywood’s zany comedic actor, apparently had a sinister side. He once invited Dougan to his office for a reading and instead of a script, offered her champagne. Dougan had a bad feeling and made a quick departure.
With Lewis, she got off easy—but her next altercation was about to get physical.
30. She Got Shoved
In 1959, when Dougan was trying out for a part opposite Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry, she faced another horrifying situation. Lancaster made a pass at her, which she flatly rejected. Instead of letting the incident go, Lancaster allegedly kicked her in the back—strange he should kick her in the body part that had probably turned him on in the first place.
After that, she claims that Lancaster got even angrier and pushed her into an elevator.
31. She Got Between The Covers
Clearly, Vikki Dougan had had enough of films, but she wasn’t through with the camera. Both 1957 and 1962 saw Dougan between the covers of Playboy Magazine. And that wasn’t all. Between photoshoots with Playboy, Dougan managed to fit in a wedding. Her groom was an ex-football player and actor James R. Sweeney, who Dougan described as “the best-looking person you’ll ever see in your life.”
But to get Sweeney to marry her, she had to tell a little white lie.
32. She Did Some Subtracting
When Dougan met her future husband, Sweeney, she did some quick math and realized that she was older than him. She didn’t want anyone to know, so she took the simplest route. She subtracted six years from her age. Was it honest? No. But she paid the price for it. The pair divorced within a year and a half.
Dougan seemed done with making films and done with marriage—but the world wasn’t through with her yet.
33. She Resurfaced
Vikki Dougan had quickly disappeared from the spotlight, but her 15 minutes weren’t up yet. In 1961, a song by the folk band the Limeliters paid homage to Dougan. They sang a line in praise of her “callipygian cleft.” Before you run for your dictionary let me step in—it means well-shaped buttocks. Well, the world was about to get a very clear look at those buttocks…without Dougan’s permission.
34. She Went To Court
In 1964, Dougan had the uncomfortable experience of picking up a magazine and being greeted by a chilling sight. Cavalier magazine, staying true to its name, had pinched some of Dougan’s photos from Playboy, and had decided to publish them without her permission. The thing was that these were photos that Dougan had expressly forbidden Playboy from using.
Dougan launched a lawsuit against the magazine, but what came of it is just one more mystery about Dougan: no one seems to know.
35. She Tried Again
Dougan was now free from her footballer Sweeney and began to play the field. She ended up seeing someone who was the opposite of a sweaty athlete: a financial advisor. His name was Robert Kelly and, in true Dougan style, there isn’t much that we know about this relationship. One thing we do know is that it produced a child: a daughter she named Tiffany.
Sadly, once the relationship broke off, Kelly did something heartless.
36. He Was Like Her Father
After Tiffany was born, Dougan had to watch as her sad history repeated itself. Much like her own father, Kelly abandoned her and Tiffany shortly after the girl was born. So, just like her own mother, Dougan was a single mom trying to make ends meet. Kelly, using his considerable financial savvy, managed to reduce his child support payment to $100 a month.
Dougan was not happy, and said the sum was only enough to feed a dog. She had no man, no income, and three mouths to feed. What was she going to do?
37. She Did Odd Jobs
Vikki Dougan had a small family to support and not much income. She tried a number of different means to make money. Among the more interesting attempts include selling makeup for Mary Kay, go-go dancing, photojournalism, and even temping as a Kelly Girl. We can only assume that she didn’t show up for temp work in her trademark backless dress—but who knows?
And speaking of her dresses—there’s a mystery about those too.
38. She Wanted To Bring Backless Back
Dougan’s second husband, Sweeney, didn’t care for other men leering at his wife’s backside. As a result, Dougan packed her backless dresses up and gave them to a family friend for safekeeping. But when she was Sweeney broke up and she went back for them, she was met with a heartbreaking surprise.
39. The Case Of The Missing Trunk
The family friend who’d been storing Dougan dresses was in a difficult position. He had to confess the sad tale: He’d stupidly stored the trunk full of backless frocks on his patio. One day, or so his story goes, he came out of his house and the trunk was gone. A plain and simple explanation. But was he telling the truth?
40. It Remains A Mystery
When Vikki Dougan heard this story, her blood ran cold. She was pretty sure that the family friend who’d stored her dresses was lying. Because of their pop culture value, the dresses were probably worth a fair bit of coin. Dougan believes that her friend sold the dresses for a little extra money, or maybe worse: gave them to a girlfriend.
The dresses were certainly gone, but their legacy continued on—even as far away as France.
41. She Was An Influence
Ten years later, Dougan’s rear-view influence moved to Europe. A French film called Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chaussure Noire featured a young actress in a dress that exposed a massive amount of rear cleavage. Film critics saw Dougan as the source for this. Many people also believe that she inspired the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit, from the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
Sure you could see her influence, but what did that mean for Dougan?
42. She Went Suburban
Dougan’s back may have been the source for other films, but she was certainly not making any money off of them. By 1970, life for Dougan was far from glamorous. She’d moved her small family to the bucolic Westlake Village to avoid the smog of downtown LA. She didn’t have a driver’s license, so she was unable to commute to any job she might find.
Dougan was now probably convinced her chance at stardom was not happening—so she did something that would make that belief final.
43. She Changed It Back
Just like her idol—and namesake—Vickie Lester, Dougan had failed to make it big in Hollywood. Perhaps Dougan was now embarrassed to have taken this wannabe’s name. Just after moving to Westlake Village, Dougan dropped the fake name and went back to her original: Edith Tooker. Surely this was the last straw: there’d be no fame for Vikki Dougan—or Edith Tooker.
44. She Hit The Books
Without any jobs in acting or modeling, Dougan decided to educate herself for a new career. She went to cosmetology school and even got two degrees: one in theater arts and the other in telecommunications. At this time her income came from various not-so-glamorous sources: unemployment checks, alimony, and renting out her spare bedroom to strangers.
Life in the late 1970s was clearly not great for Dougan, and the 80s? They were just plain worse.
45. She Needed Treatment
Sometime in the 1980s, Dougan went to the doctor and received some bad news. All those sunny California days had left her with skin cancer. This meant Dougan spent close to a year in a cancer treatment center. Once her treatment finished, she came out of the center and discovered something tragic—she had nowhere to live.
46. She Reached Out To Friend
Vikki Dougan called up her old acting buddy Sandra Giles and put her fate in her hands. She was fresh out of cancer treatment with no place to live. Giles put her up until she could find a place of her own. Even with Giles’ help, Dougan couldn’t manage to find accommodation that befitted a former Hollywood actress and model. Dougan ended up living in a small place with roommates.
She’d hit an all-time low—but a simple phone call changed all that.
47. She Got Called Up
At this point in her life, show business was so far behind her that Dougan couldn’t even see it anymore. So, imagine her surprise when she got a call to accept an award for her distinguished contributions to film and television. The call came from the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and Dougan was over the moon. The award was nice, but didn’t save her from her downwardly-spiraling life.
48. She Didn’t Live Large
Dougan eventually found a senior’s apartment that had rent control and a fold-out couch. Her only income was her Social Security check. When she remembers her brief period of fame, she wishes she’d not been identified only by her back. She thinks she could have made it big, but she was part of a gimmick. Dougan has since moved on to writing, and her words have even reached the White House.
49. She Reached Out To A President
When President Bill Clinton was up to his eyeballs in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he got backing from a surprising source. Dougan actually sympathized with him. To share her feelings, she sent the president a poem of support. Perhaps it was Clinton’s desperation for allies that led him to personally thank her in a letter.
Clearly she had some kind of gift for words, and Dougan realized had a great story to tell: her own.
50. She Told Her Story
Dougan turned from poetry to memoir. Hers is fittingly titled: Backless in Hollywood and Other Tales. She was very clear about the spelling of the last word of her title: she refused to spell it “tails”. This could definitely be because she’s convinced an unhealthy obsession with her derriere had ruined her career. Or maybe she’s just through with talking about her rear end.