In the late fifties and early sixties petite pretty baby doll blondes were all the rage with young movie fans. In their teens with shapely figures and All-American wholesomeness, these nymphets were so interchangeable that sometimes even their own families couldn’t tell them apart in photos. Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens, always playing the good or mixed up adolescent with big romantic problems, led the pack of nymphets early in the decade in terms of popularity. Critics, however, favored the most talented Tuesday Weld whose wild teens on screen aped her personal life. Her stature only grew as the decade progressed. Carol Lynley, Yvette Mimieux, and Sue Lyon fell somewhere in between them whereas Diane McBain was always typed as the bitch.
During the mid to late fifties buxom platinum blonde beauties led by Marilyn Monroe and her counterparts Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Barbara Nichols, Sheree North, Joi Lansing, and others were the flavor of the moment as they oozed sex on the screen. But that was soon to change though Marilyn would remain at the top until her death in 1962. The shift in popularity between these two distinct types of actresses began with Carroll Baker. In 1956 the sex-filled Baby Doll (1956) made the blonde actress a star. Based on an original screenplay by Tennessee Williams, Baker was simply scintillating as Baby Doll Meighan, the childish nineteen-year-old bride of much older Karl Malden, a cotton gin owner. Baby Doll sleeps scantily-clad in a crib-like bed and sucks her thumb driving her lecherous husband into a sexual frenzy. Though married, he can’t lay a hand on her until she is “marriage ready” as he vowed to her father. A newly arrived competitor, Eli Wallach forces Malden out of business and in a fit of desperation he burns down his rival’s cotton gin. Vowing revenge, the tempestuous Sicilian focuses his charms on Baby Doll hoping to seduce the nubile girl and get her to confess her husband’s crime.
An overnight sensation due to Baby Doll, Carroll Baker won raves from the critics with her natural ease in the part culminating with a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. And she was greeted as a newfound sex symbol. In the days of the busty platinum blonde sexpots, Baker represented a new more attainable male fantasy come to life. But the role had its downside typecasting Baker who bemoaned, “That part caused so much hoopla that I couldn’t walk around without people treating me as if I were Baby Doll. I wanted to be thought of as an actress who created the part, not as a weird character who portrayed herself on the screen.”
With Baker holding steadfast to her convictions and abandoning her sex kittenish persona, she gave “cinematic birth to a litter” of Baby Dolls who all resembled her—Sandra Dee, Tuesday Weld, Yvette Mimieux, Carol Lynley, Connie Stevens, Diane McBain, and Sue Lyon. From 1959 to 1965 they were the “It” girls of the time, especially with younger audiences as they essayed the virginal teenager, the knocked up good girl, or the innocent looking nymphet who could be naughty or nice in such glossy overwrought melodramatic motion pictures such as Imitation of Life, Because They’re Young, A Summer Place, Where the Boys Are, Parrish, Claudelle Inglish, Return to Peyton Place, Susan Slade, Palm Springs Weekend, Diamond Head, The Pleasure Seekers, That Funny Feeling that have pop cinema appeal today. However, these teenage blondes eventually had to grow up and when they did surprisingly none of them became super stars as poor choices, typecasting, and just sheer bad luck hampered their careers. For most of them there was a sharp dichotomy between their careers in the first half of the sixties still riding the coat tails of the fifties’ Eisenhower years to the second half of the decade as the Age of Aquarius was dawning.
Arguably, the most popular actress from this group was Sandra Dee, a petite blonde with penetrating brown eyes. But it was this immense fame that hurt her most when she tried to branch out into more mature movie roles in the mid-sixties. A former pre-teen Canover Model, she was discovered by producer Ross Hunter and signed to a contract with Universal Pictures. Her film debut was in Until They Sail (1957) playing the wisecracking youngest of four New Zealand sisters who have romantic entanglements with American and local soldiers on the way to fight the Japanese in Southeast Asia during WWII. For her perky performance she shared the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer- Female with Carolyn Jones and Diane Varsi. Next came The Reluctant Debutante (1958) whose title sums up her role and The Restless Years (1958) as a small town high school girl with a horrible secret (egad, she’s illegitimate!).
Sandra Dee had a banner 1959 culminating with the Photoplay Gold Medal Award for Favorite Actress. After playing Broadway star Lana Turner’s neglected daughter who bonds with African-American housekeeper Juanita Moore whose own daughter Susan Kohner passes for white in the weepie Imitation of Life, she portrayed a good girl (with an icy, over-protective mother) drawn to the strikingly handsome Troy Donahue as they observe their parents’ marriages disintegrate due to infidelity (Dee’s daddy still craves his former love, Donahue’s mother) on an island off the Maine coast in A Summer Place featuring Max Steiner’s lush score. Her question to Donahue once they returned to the mainland (“Johnny, have you’ve been bad with girls?”) sums up her character’s utter naiveté so it is no surprise when this nitwit gets pregnant. Dee then rode the crest of the wave into Hollywood movie history as the precocious Gidget in the film that started the surfing craze on celluloid, Gidget (1959). Just wonderful in the role of the misfit who tries to fit in with the surfing crowd, she should have continued playing the role in the follow-ups, but Universal chose her to replace Debbie Reynolds as that li’l ole hayseed Tammy who only wants to bring good into people’s disparate lives in a pair of sappy sequels to the original, Tammy Tell Me True (1961) and Tammy and the Doctor (1963).
Branded a sort of junior Doris Day complete with virginity intact, Sandra Dee continued twinkling on the silver screen in a series of forgettable but profitable comedies. In the entertaining Come September (1961) she plays a coed trying to resist the charms of college boy Bobby Darin while vacationing at Rock Hudson’s Italian villa turned hotel by his major domo. Shortly after, Dee and Darin wed keeping her name in the movie rags for years due to their up and down relationship. Romanoff and Juliet (1961) directed and written by Peter Ustinov, who also starred as the president of a fictional European country pitting the U.S. against the Soviet Union, featured Dee as an American ambassador’s daughter who falls for John Gavin as the son of a Russian diplomat. In If a Man Answers (1962) Dee tries to act the sophisticated grownup as a socialite who marries and tries to change randy photographer Bobby Darin into the perfect husband following her Parisian mother’s advice.
Sandra Dee’s next movie role sent her back to campus as harried father James Stewart’s precocious daughter who gets into all kind of scrapes in Take Her, She’s Mine (1963). A teenage “dish,” she goes from boy-crazy teenybopper to college art student to a beatnik arrested during a sit-in protesting book banning to dropout just within the first half hour with dear old dad coming to her rescue. The film’s unintentional funniest moment has WASPy Dee croaking out the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” while strumming a guitar no less in an effort to make her white bread character cool before sending her off to gay Paree to study art. Despite such head scratching scenes, this generation gap comedy was a huge box office hit.
Much less successful were I’d Rather Be Rich (1964) with Dee as an heiress torn between her fiancé Andy Williams and charming neighbor Robert Goulet who her dying grandfather prefers for her husband, and That Funny Feeling (1965) with Dee as a housekeeper who inadvertently falls for playboy photographer Bobby Darin (in a role intended for Warren Beatty but Dee’s ego would not give up top billing to him) unaware that she works for him. Despite the mediocrity of her movies, Dee was perkily charming in them all and loved by millions however none of these performances proved that she had the versatility to progress to more mature roles.
Connie Stevens also suffered from typecasting and never really impressed the critics with her performances. However, teenage audiences were not too demanding and her popularity with them rivaled that of Sandra Dee’s. After moving with her musician father from New York to Los Angeles, a sixteen year old Stevens, who was also a pleasant singer albeit with a limited range, began obtaining movie extra work, which led to minor roles in low-budget teenage exploitation movies beginning with Young and Dangerous (1957) and Eighteen and Anxious (1957). In Dragstrip Riot (1958) she had the second female lead as the girlfriend of a hot rodder whose pals tangle with a motorcycle gang leading to tragedy and then the female lead in The Party Crashers (1958) playing a spoiled bored rich girl, with a square boyfriend, attracted to rebellious gang leader Mark Damon who likes to crash parties, hence the title. Unlike other exploitation actresses such as Yvonne Lime and Jana Lund, Stevens got lucky and was able to graduate to major studio productions thanks to Jerry Lewis who cast her as movie siren Marilyn Maxwell’s younger sister who loves Lewis’ small town mailman though he is pretending to be the father of former sweetheart Maxwell’s triplets in Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958). Warner Bros. took notice of the cherubic blonde and needing their own young actress to counter Sandra Dee, signed her to a long term contract.
Stevens’s movie career though was sidelined when she was cast as ditzy Cricket Blake a photographer and vocalist at the Hawaiian Village Hotel who sometimes aides detectives Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad with their cases in the popular, though studio-bound, TV series Hawaiian Eye from 1959 to 1962. She recorded for the Warner Bros.’ record label and had two Top Ten hits, “Kookie, Kookie Lend Me Your Comb” a duet with equally popular teen idol Edd “Kookie” Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip in 1958 and “Sixteen Reasons” in 1961. Also that year Stevens finally returned to the big screen in two romance movies that have become camp classics. In Parrish, she beat out Tuesday Weld to play a slutty farm girl who wears false eyelashes and makeup while toiling in the steaming tobacco fields of Connecticut in the dog days of August. While new boy in town Troy Donahue is attracted to her, she spends her nights with rich married Hampton Fancher. After she gets knocked up, her popularity plummets as Fancher deserts her and Troy only wants to be friends leaving poor Connie to raise her baby alone.
Even more over the top was Susan Slade with Stevens as the sheltered over-wrought titled heroine who gets seduced by wealthy mountain climber Grant Williams to the strains of the Theme from a Summer Place no less in his cabin during a ocean voyage from Chile to San Francisco. She worries “We’ve been sinful” but he promises to marry her after his next big climb in Alaska but perishes in an avalanche leaving the knocked up Susan without a husband-to-be. Horrified of the scandal of carrying an illegitimate child (every sixties parent’s worst nightmare if you believe Hollywood), poppa Lloyd Nolan moves the family to Guatemala with the idea of momma Dorothy McGuire passing the little bastard off as her own. Susan returns to the states after her father dies but is guilt-ridden denying her son while trying to decide between poor aspiring-writer Troy Donahue who lives in a stable and rich snooty family friend Bert Convy who could give her a life of luxury. Just when she chooses money over love, her kid goes up in flames while in his pajamas playing with a lighter but is rescued by Troy. This is the catalyst for Stevens to admit that she is his mother and not sister. Convy is disgusted, but Donahue stands by her side. Controversial back then, now Susan Slade is much ado about nothing.
Though she won the Photoplay Gold Medal Award for Favorite Actress of 1961 and 1963, Stevens was unhappy with the scripts offered to her and constantly fought with the studio. She was suspended for a time in 1962, and then came back to play a teenage gold digger on spring break in Palm Springs out to snag herself a rich husband in Palm Springs Weekend (1963), a sort of land locked Where the Boys Are. Though she pretends to come from a wealthy family (money attracts money), she cannot afford her hotel room so she agrees to baby sit the hotel owner’s bratty son but keeps pawning the kid off on her homely roommate so she can rendezvous with playboy Robert Conrad. They keep getting into scrapes with the law and it is laconic cowpoke Ty Hardin who keeps coming to her rescue. But since he is only a movie stuntman she keeps brushing him aside for the rich boy.
Stevens was purportedly chagrined when she failed to be cast as the female lead role in My Fair Lady and Of Human Bondage as if she really had a chance. By 1965 her teenage fan base who grew up with her stayed fiercely loyal through her tabloid-style romantic complications but she seems to not have attracted new mature fans as her new sitcom Wendy and Me costarring George Burns was cancelled after only one season and her two movies were box office duds. In the comedy Never Too Late she’s the frustrated daughter who cannot get pregnant yet her menopausal mother does and in Two on a Guillotine she surprisingly is better than expected playing the damsel in distress as the long-lost daughter of a recently deceased (or is he?) mad magician who must spend a week in his creepy mansion in order to claim her inheritance.
With the brightest of blue eyes and long blonde hair, Carol Lynley was once described as having “beauty that is awe inspiring.” She began playing the good girl in the late fifties before going the sex kitten route a few years later. Ballet training at an early age led to a modeling career when Lynley turned the ripe old age of ten. Using the name Carolyn Lee, she quickly became one of the highest paid pre-teen fashion models in New York. At age twelve she began acting on stage and on live TV. Her successful Broadway bow in Graham Greene’s The Potting Shed in 1957 in which she won a Theatre World Award led to a Golden Globe nominated film debut in Walt Disney’s The Light in the Forest (1958) playing an indentured servant girl who falls in love with James MacArthur who was raised by Indians. Though signed to a contract, Disney released her so she could return to Broadway to play an unwed teenager who gets pregnant and has an abortion in the controversial drama Blue Denim. Lynley received kudos for her sincere performance and become much sought after by all the major movie studios. She chose to sign a seven-picture non-exclusive deal with 20th Century-Fox.
Grooming her to be another Sandra Dee (her friendly rival back in her modeling days), Lynley’s early films were aimed squarely at the teenage market. In 1959, she played Clifton Webb’s hip-talking daughter (“What’s rocking? Roll?”) in Holiday for Lovers; reprised her role as the high school girl who goes all the way with Brandon DeWilde in his parents’ basement in a water-downed Blue Denim (due to censorship abortion was out so her mortified father buys the naughty Carol a one way ticket out of town to have the baby); and then was a small town girl who favors the charms of scalawag Stuart Whitman to that of popular teen idol Fabian (causing her adolescent fans to scratch their heads in bewilderment no doubt) in Hound-Dog Man.
Shortly after, Lynley shred her long locks and with her new short do became a dead ringer for Sandra Dee when, after being harangued for months by Fox, she begrudgingly took over for actress Diane Varsi (from the original Peyton Place) as young author Allison MacKenzie who writes a scandalous book about her hypocritical small town in Return to Peyton Place (1961). The residents’ reactions is outrage as her own mother Eleanor Parker finds it “cheap and dirty and vulgar” while disgusted matron Mary Astor calls it a “lurid piece of trash” and tries to ban it from the high school library. Discovering that her daughter is in love with her married editor Jeff Chandler to boot, Parker berates her and Lynley woodenly retorts, “what you’re afraid is like mother like daughter.” Infuriated, Parker slaps her and Lynley hisses, “I hate you for that” in one of the film’s many over-the-top moments that propelled it to become Fox’s highest grossing movie of the year. In the soapy western The Last Sunset (1961) directed by Robert Aldrich and written by Dalton Trumbo no less, she played Dorothy Malone’s daughter who falls for black-clad outlaw Kirk Douglas while on a cattle drive from Mexico to Texas unaware that he is her biological father! Rock Hudson is also along for the trek.
After taking a break from Hollywood to get married and have a daughter, Lynley returned and was forced by Fox to play a high school student in The Stripper (1963). Vowing no more teenager roles, she was able to graduate to the “sex kitten” beginning with the hit comedy Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) as an enterprising college coed living platonically with her boyfriend Dean Jones to see if they are marriage compatible while staving off the lecherous advances of her playboy landlord Jack Lemmon. Even more high profile was the epic production The Cardinal (1963) from producer/director Otto Preminger with Lynley as priest Tom Tryon’s sister Mona who after her family rejects her Jewish fiancé John Saxon (her bigoted sister calls him “a schimey rag picker”) runs off to become a tango-dancing prostitute. She ultimately dies in childbirth when her priest brother makes the choice to save the baby and not the mother. Preminger was so impressed with Lynley’s acting that he also offered her the role of Mona’s daughter, Regina causing Lynley to joke years later, “I’m probably the only actress on film who has ever given birth to herself!”
The more mature Carol Lynley continued to distance herself from the Sandra Dee comparison. In Shock Treatment (1964) she was a manic depressive who falls for struggling actor Stuart Whitman hired to feign insanity to catch a thief in a nuthouse run by Dr. Lauren Bacall and in The Pleasure Seekers (1964), a remake of Three Coins in the Fountain by the same director Jean Negulesco, she along with Ann-Margret and Pamela Tiffin are single gals looking for romance while living in Madrid. Lynley’s character falls for her married boss Brain Keith (his wife catching them together at a private soiree slaps her in the ladies room calling her “a little tramp”) while ignoring protective playboy reporter Gardner McKay.
Shaking her ingénue image once and for all, Lynley posed semi-nude in the pages of Playboy in a pictorial entitled, “Carol Lynley Grows Up” in March 1965. Though taken to task by powerful mavens Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, Lynley defended her decision and quipped, “It is only skin.” On the big screen, she solidified her assent to adult roles. After receiving critical barbs playing glamorous sex goddess Jean Harlow in the Electronovision production Harlow (1965), she received some of her best reviews as the harried unwed mother newly arrived in London searching for her misplaced daughter who may or may not exist in Otto Preminger’s cult mystery thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965).
Once described as “a cross between a little princess and Brigitte Bardot,” wispy blonde Yvette Mimieux, of Mexican and French dissent, excelled playing the blank-faced waif or the fragile beauty who seemed to be always on the verge of a breakdown. Along with Sandra Dee, Connie Stevens and Carol Lynley, Mimieux was a favorite of adolescent girls. However, unlike her counterparts, Mimiuex was equally popular amongst teenage boys due to the sexiness she brought to her ingénue roles.
Yvette Mimieux was signed to a picture deal with MGM after she was discovered working as a model and a contestant in local Los Angeles beauty pageants. Her film debut was in B-movie producer Albert Zugsmith’s exploitation film Platinum High School (1959) playing a sexy tease who is the only girl on campus at an all-boys military school for delinquents. Though she received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer – Female, she was much better suited to play the beautiful Weena one of the gentle Eloi Rod Taylor’s time traveler encounters in the year 802,701 in George Pal’s classic sci-fi tale The Time Machine (1960). Mimieux then joined Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis on a trek to Fort Lauderdale during spring break in the hit comedy, Where the Boys Are (1960). While Hart’s character talked and talked about having sex before marriage, Mimieux’s Melanie was the one to act on it to land an Ivy Leaguer. This being the prudish early sixties of course her character had to pay for her sins. The wanton young woman gets gang raped at the end and almost mowed down by a speeding car as she aimlessly wanders the street in shock to send a message to the teenage girls in the audience on the dangers of premarital sex. Mimieux received fair notices for her dramatics and raves for her ethereal beauty.
MGM then rushed Mimieux into the role of a storybook princess in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) directed by George Pal and then she was a part of the all-star cast in the big budget flop The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962). Mimieux next stepped in for a pregnant Carol Lynley who had to pass on The Light in the Piazza (1962), according to Lynley’s then husband Michael Selsman writing in his autobiography. Yvette is simply enchanting as rich matron Olivia De Havilland’s mentally-challenged daughter who while an extended tour of Italy falls for likable Italian boy George Hamilton complete with heavy accent. Unaware of her mental state due to a fall from a horse when she was a child, Hamilton pursues the beautiful girl causing a conflicted de Havilland to decide if she should tell him or not. Though his family is welcoming of the girl, her father wants to institutionalize her when she returns. In a change of pace role, Mimieux was the spoiled rich girl who flaunts her Hawaiian boyfriend James Darren in the face of bigoted big brother Charlton Heston with tragic results in the lush soaper Diamond Head (1963). It was then back to another child-like role for Mimieux but this time she received critical pans as the young insecure bride of ne’er do well Dean Martin who now suddenly rich returns home raising the suspicions of his two older spinster sisters in the film version of Lillian Hellman’s well-received play, Toys in the Attic (1963).
The critics again weren’t kind to Yvette Mimiuex concerning her performance as the young wife of law student Richard Chamberlain in the lifeless twenties-set love story Joy in the Morning (1965). The reviewer in the New Yorker insultingly described her as “the poor man’s Carol Lynley.” Trying to shake off her earlier ingénue roles, which she described as “frightened fawns,” Mimiuex co-starred in The Reward (1965) as the companion of fugitive Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. who is pursued across the Mexican desert by two men who want to collect the bounty on his head. Unfortunately for Mimieux, her role was nothing more than window dressing and the film bombed at the box office.
Tuesday Weld had more of an edge to her than Sandra Dee and the other Baby Doll blondes, and in keeping with her real life wild child persona see-sawed back and forth between the mischievous hormonal teenager, the tramp, and the self-absorbed sex kitten. Suffice it to say these roles made her a favorite of teenage boys. As a child, Weld competed with Dee and Lynley for modeling jobs in New York City. She made her film debut at the age of thirteen in the low-budget New York-lensed exploitation movie, Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) as a teenager who schemes to purchase a prom dress she cannot afford. Weld went unnoticed as the rock ‘n’ rollers including Chuck Berry, LaVerne Baker, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, The Moonglows, etc. were the reasons the fans paid to see this.
After understudying on Broadway in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Tuesday Weld went to Hollywood and snagged a contract with 20th Century-Fox. She received a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Female for her secondary role as Comfort Goodpasture a kooky teenage girl who realizes that she likes boys, just not current steady Dwayne Hickman, in Rally’Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) stealing the movie from leads Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. After playing the polio-stricken daughter of Danny Kaye as bandleader ‘Red’ Nichols in the biographical The Five Pennies (1959), Weld was a regular for one season (1959-60) on the hit TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Reunited with Dwayne Hickman who starred as the likable small town teen, Weld was in fine form as Dobie’s unattainable dream girl, vapid materialistic Thalia Menninger, who was only interested in acquiring “oodles and oodles” of money. Though only on the series for one year, it catapulted Weld into stardom of the teenage idol kind. She was every adolescent boy’s fantasy come to life. Not so their parent’s, as her bohemian lifestyle, outlandish statements to the press, and wild antics in Hollywood made her a tabloid reporter’s dream. She was dubbed “Tuesday Wild,” “archetypal nymphet,” and “Shirley Temple with a leer,” amongst others. Needless to say, Tuesday Weld was no virtuous Sandra Dee and was not considered to be a very good role model for the impressionable young.
Despite Weld’s popularity and notoriety, 20th Century-Fox didn’t know what to do with her and instead focused on making the more wholesome Carol Lynley and dark-haired Diane Baker stars. Weld then went freelance and snagged the role of a troubled cheerleader with a bad reputation, just one of a few students new high school teacher Dick Clark tries to help, in Because They’re Young (1960). After appearing in two exploitation films for producer Albert Zugsmith, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve and Sex Kittens Go to College both starring Mamie Van Doren, Weld was back at Fox in a role turned down by Carol Lynley playing a husband-chasing coed who ignores the advances of Fabian and pursues the much older millionaire Bing Crosby who has returned to college to finish his degree in the Blake Edwards comedy High Time (1960).
Critics finally took notice of Weld’s talent and versatility with her next two movies from 1961 though one of the roles she truly desired that of a scatterbrained Scarlett Hazeltine in the Billy Wilder comedy One, Two, Three went to Pamela Tiffin. In the Clifford Odets penned Wild in the Country, Weld does quite well as the unhappy, booze guzzling unwed mother who is a cousin of rebellious con Elvis Presley. He comes to live with his uncle and her as conditions of his parole. Desperate to break free from her stifling home life where she is forced to pretend that she has a husband overseas, Weld sets her sights on Presley to run away with her (“I want hours and hours of heaven that just slides right down to hell.”) even though he loves good though bland girl Millie Perkins) and has feelings for older psychologist Hope Lange who encourages his writing aspirations. An atypical Elvis movie with only four songs sung by the King and an ending where he doesn’t get any of the girls, reviewers were impressed but the fans stayed away. In Return to Peyton Place, Weld takes over from Hope Lange as rape victim Selena Cross who murdered her stepfather in self defense. She at first turned the role down because she did not want to play second fiddle to Carol Lynley but her mother convinced her that the role of Selena was the juicier part. It was. As the town pariah, she has to relive the “whole dirty story of Selena Cross” when best friend Allison MacKenzie recants it in her novel about hypocritical Peyton Place. With a new beau ski instructor Gunnar Hellstrom reading it aloud, Weld flips out when he starts to read the passage of her rape and thinking he is her stepfather clocks him with a fire poker before fleeing like a lunatic into the night. Somehow a stronger Selena emerges (perhaps the cold winter air knocked some sense into her) as she defiantly tells off Peyton Place’s residents and stands up for Allison’s book at a town meeting.
Despite her critical success in Return to Peyton Place, it was back to playing precocious teenagers for Weld but not Lolita, which she famously turned down by commenting, “I don’t have to play Lolita—I am Lolita!” Instead she did the forgettable comedy Bachelor Flat (1962) directed by Frank Tashlin. As a coed who unexpectedly turns up at her family’s beach house only to find her mother’s new beau Prof. Terry-Thomas there alone for the week, the mischievous teen pretends to be a juvenile delinquent on the run needing a place to hideout. Another disappointment was the service comedy-drama Soldier in the Rain (1963), starring Steve McQueen as Eustis Clay a supply sergeant always scheming to make a buck. As the wonderfully named schoolgirl Bobby Jo Pepperdine, Eustis sets her up on a carnival date with his superior Jackie Gleason. Their mutual dislike for each other is the film’s high point in terms of laughs. She greets him with, “Hi fatty.” And he describes her as “an imbecile.” However, after he gets into fisticuffs defending her honor (elated she coos, “You were like Randolph Scott in the movies—a fat Randolph Scott.”), the pair share a tender moment watching a fireworks display.
In 1965, Weld essayed the role of poker player Steve McQueen’s neglected girlfriend in The Cincinnati Kid and then was once again playing a trouble-prone teenager ala Sandra Dee in Take Her, She’s Mine in the much less successful I’ll Take Sweden. High school senior Weld is forced to accompany her disapproving father Bob Hope to Stockholm to keep her away from her amorous boyfriend Frankie Avalon. However, she falls for the handsome free-loving Swede Jeremy Slate to her father’s chagrin. Weld would continue playing adolescent roles until the end of the decade though she had ample opportunity to branch out to more mature parts.
Never the innocent ingénue perhaps due to her looks punctuated by high cheek bones and porcelain skin, pretty Diane McBain seemed to be always cast as the spoiled rich girl or innocent looking bad girl who never got her man. After moving to Glendale, California when she was a child, the blonde beauty became a very successful teenage model. She was spotted by a Warner Bros. talent scout while appearing in her senior class play and signed to a contract in 1958. The teenager immediately began doing guest stints on their popular TV series before becoming a regular on the series Surfside Six in 1960 playing kooky socialite Daphne Dutton who owned the yacht docked next to the houseboat where private eyes Troy Donahue, Van Williams, and Lee Patterson lived and operated. Her film debut was the same year in a small role as Richard Burton’s granddaughter in the epic Ice Palace.
Bigger roles followed in 1961. In Parrish she was Dean Jagger’s spoiled, willful daughter newly returned home drawn to Troy Donahue’s Parrish amid the tobacco fields in Connecticut . The greedy girl dumps our teen dream when he refuses an offer to work for wealthy mean Karl Malden. McBain marries the rich man’s younger, weak-willed son and their dysfunctional, unhappy marriage causes her to drink and sleep around. Realizing money can buy lots of Jack Daniels but can’t buy you love; she makes a desperate pathetic attempt to reunite with Donahue who soundly rejects her In Parrish blondes may have more fun and better acting roles, but a feisty brunette Sharon Hugueny wins Donahue at the fadeout. McBain faced a worse end in Claudelle Inglish, based on Erskine Caldwell’s novel. She beat out Shirley Knight for this role and excelled as a baby doll Southern tramp who uses and abuses men after losing her true love. The enticing vixen has men young and old drooling over her and even exchanges sexual favors for pretty dresses. She pays for her wicked ways with a stomach pumped full of buckshot by an irate father.
McBain’s go as a nice nurse in love with psychiatrist Robert Stack in The Caretakers (1963) was a bust because most of her scenes were excised from the final print purportedly due to the insistence of jealous co-star and investor Joan Crawford. It was back to losers-at-love with the comedy Mary, Mary (1963) as an uptight society gal and health nut whose paramour Barry Nelson leaves her for his ex-wife, Debbie Reynolds after they meet to wrap up their tax problems and the western A Distant Trumpet (1964) as the snooty East Coast fiancée of cavalry officer Troy Donahue who has fallen in love with his commander’s wife Suzanne Pleshette in the Arizona Territory. Though McBain brought a vulnerability to these characters and made the audience empathize with them, they typed her almost forever as the bitch. Warner Bros. next wanted her to play a secretary in the Tony Curtis/Natalie Wood comedy Sex and the Single Girl (1964) but insulted to play such a minor role she asked and received release from her contract. She would be the first Baby Doll blonde to suffer the fate of going freelance in the later part of the sixties.
Sexy Sue Lyon was the last of the baby doll blondes to burst on the scene. A lovely wholesome looking girl with a hint of a wild streak, she was an overnight sensation as the underage nymphet Lolita and should have become the sex kitten du jour but a tumultuous personal life hampered her career.
Following in the footsteps of Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley and Tuesday Weld, Sue Lyon too began her career as a child model. This led to some minor acting roles on such TV series as A Letter to Loretta and Dennis the Menace where she famously gave that little rascal his first kiss. In 1961, producer James H. Harris was having a hard time trying to cast the role of Lolita in the movie version of Vladimir Nabakov’s novel, Lolita (1962). Tuesday Weld, Hayley Mills, Jill Haworth, and Joey Heatherton all turned it down. He and director Stanley Kubrick thought fourteen year old Sue Lyon whom they spotted on TV had just the right quality to project Lolita’s immaturity and peculiar brashness. She met with them for an hour thinking she was interviewing for a TV show. Before screen testing, her protective mother sat her down to explain what the controversial movie was about though the teenager was familiar with the notorious novel by Nabokov. Lyon was the perfect choice to play Lolita as she had the sexy but innocent appearance to make audiences believe that staid James Mason as writer Humbert Humbert would go to such extreme lengths to be with the underage nymphet after first catching a glimpse of her sunning herself wearing a two-piece bathing suit, sunglasses, and picture hat. The scene of Lyon laying on her bed licking a lollipop, while taunting the frustrated Mason, is unforgettable as is when they are living together after the death of her mother Shelley Winters and he paints her toenails while interrogating the girl about her afternoon whereabouts. She sips her Coke nonchalantly feigning innocence about the boys she met at the malt shop. In an interview she did for the 1987 French TV Show Cinéma cinémas, Lyon claimed a lot of the scowls and funny faces she makes in the movie as well as her gum chewing were suggested by her to make the character more childish. For her expert performance Lyon shared the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female with Patty Duke and Rita Tushingham.
Her next movie was director John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana (1964) based on the play by Tennessee Williams where she was once again the scantily-clad nymphet. This time Lyon’s sexy teen tempts defrocked minister Richard Burton on a bus tour of Mexico to the consternation of her controlling sexually repressed chaperone Grayson Hall who unconsciously lusts after her as well. The beguiling bikini-clad blonde sets her sights on the troubled Burton driving him to drink by sneaking into his room at night and whispering about how the boys back home love her soft skin and asking him, “Have I grown up too early?” When he rejects her advances, she gets tipsy with two shirtless Mexican beach boys and turns her attentions to blonde bus driver James Ward who comes to her “rescue.” As with Tuesday Weld, Sue Lyon’s on screen antics coupled with her highly publicized off-screen love affairs and a quickie marriage to actor Hampton Fancher made her every parent’s nightmare and not a teen idol for their children to admire.
It has to be said that all these actresses were working in their teens when most of their peers where in school and doing kid things. Most became the bread winners for their families and were thrust into the limelight at relatively young ages so it is no surprise that some of them said outrageous things to the press over the years. Tuesday Weld was forever publicly blaming the poor choices she made in her personal life (and career) and her wild behavior on her mother who she was forever cutting out of her life. At one point she began telling reporters that the woman had passed away. She hadn’t. Years later, her mother in retribution wrote a Daughter Dearest type book titled If It’s Tuesday I Must Be Dead, which was released shortly after her actual death in 2002.
Yvette Mimieux in an interview with the Saturday Evening Post refused to talk about her male co-stars because she found most of them to be “egotistical, conceited and have no minds.” She then went on to add, “I like stories about me, just me.” Diane McBain stated in the Los Angeles Times, “I never saw an actor I’d marry…Who wants to share the Kleenex box and the mirror?” Carol Lynley once declared, “I like to pull out my check book and gaze how much money I have in it.” After her career faltered, Sue Lyon constantly blamed Hollywood for her troubled personal life and years later commented on screen in Cinéma cinémas that she was never cut out to be a movie star with all the promotional duties that come with it bemoaning, “I hate the spotlight. I hate people looking at me. I don’t like people—strangers—asking me questions. I like to be left alone really.” She eventually got her wish.
The times they were a changing; in 1966, Stay tuned for Part II to see what became of these Baby Doll blondes in the second half of the decade when young people began rebelling against everything, the studio system was collapsing, nudity on screen reared its head, and these baby doll blondes, no longer the “It” girls of Hollywood had to change with the times or they could kiss their big screen careers goodbye.
To read more about some of them see links to my below books and link to my upcoming tribute book to gorgeous sixties cult icon Pamela Tiffin.