Mamie van Doren, Bad-Girl Blonde Of '50s Cult Cinema, Then And Now
Peruse Mamie Van Doren's filmography -- Untamed Youth (1957), High School Confidential (1958), Born Reckless (1958), Girls Town (1959), Vice Raid (1960), Sex Kittens Go To College (1960) -- and you get a feel for this iconic blonde's Hollywood story. Casablanca and Gone With The Wind, it ain't. If she was eye-candy and her movies tended toward exploitation, that doesn't mean Van Doren wasn't culturally significant. Quite the contrary. As an artifact of its time, a film like High School Confidential will tell you more about American society, with all its taboos and fears, in the 1950s than the romantic comedies of Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn, or even most of the movies made by Van Doren's pneumatic blonde rivals Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Now in her ninth decade, Van Doren remains a symbol of a previous era of Hollywood, but more than that, a time when filmmakers were luring audiences to theaters with scandalous subject matter that seems unremarkable today. Van Doren made movies about rock 'n roll and juvenile delinquency; the '50s have been called the decade that gave us the American teenager, and Van Doren's movies traded on the potential dark side of this emerging class of independent youth. Van Doren made a women's-prison movie, she made a movie about the Beat Generation, she made a movie in which she played the Biblical Eve, wearing story-appropriate wardrobe (in other words, not much). She was a serial bad girl at a time when America feared bad girls almost as much as the red menace.