Welcome to SixtiesCinema.com the home of award winning author and film historian Tom Lisanti's groovy books on 60's starlets and drive-in movies from Elvis and beach party musicals to biker films to teenage exploitation. Check out his Blog below for updates or tribute pieces on all your favorite '60s starlets and B-movie actors. Purchase his highly entertaining, well-illustrated books directly from Amazon.com
Tom Lisanti is an award-winning author and historian on Sixties B-movies. He has written a series of books on the subject and has interviewed some of the most famous starlets of the time. His latest book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 is now available and look for his next book Sixties Pop Cinema in 2016.
I was perusing some of my Amazon reviews for my older books and came across two posts from former actresses.
Linda Thorson from TV’s The Avengers and later One Life to Life commented on the Gail Gerber memoir Trippin’s with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember:
“Gerber was a wonderful story teller and she saw it all first hand. Told without sentimentality and subtle humor, I loved every minute of this book which evoked many memories of my LA days in the late 60’s and 70’s. Sadly Gail passed away last year. She had an interesting life and as a fellow Canadian, I admire her gumption, getting out and about in the world, expanding horizons but keeping her appreciation of who we are, how we were raised and the blessing it clearly was.”
Vicki London of Village of the Giants fame whom I interviewed for Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood wrote:
“I loved being included in Tom Lisanti’s fun book. Today, I especially remember this time in my life. A time I very rarely talk about. Tom checked the facts and handled my involvement in the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping case respectfully and with great care.It was 1963. I was a teenage girl totally smitten with a teenage boy. A gifted boy. A musical prodigy. Sweet, introverted and so talented. Then, one night everything changed. We were talking on the phone, laughing and fooling around, when I heard a loud knock on the door. Frankie said “Hold on. It must be room service.” Then I heard voices and scuffling and the phone went dead. The next morning the Feds were at my grandparent’s front door questioning me since the hotel’s phone records showed I was the last call Frankie made before he was kidnapped. From that moment on, my life were reporters getting all the facts wrong, being subpoenaed, refusing to show up, so the court “police” came and pulled me out of a rehearsal I was doing for a musical country revue, dragging me to the trial dressed in a cowgirl’s getup. It was surreal, embarrassing and frightening. How can one ever forget such an incident?”
After her appearance on TV’s Land of the Giants in 1970, Francine York told an interviewer, “I can’t escape playing the big parts. Why can’t I play the girl next door? It seems I’m always blowing up the world or something.” Standing 5-foot-8 and measuring 38-23-35, it is no wonder the statuesque dark-haired beauty was usually cast in bigger-than-life roles. Francine made her film debut in the cult low-budget Secret File: Hollywood. She then progressed from featured roles in the early sixties opposite Jerry Lewis, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley to starring roles in such cult drive-in movies as Curse of the Swamp Creatures, Space Monster, and The Doll Squad.
On TV, Francine York held the Robinson family captive on Lost in Space, vamped the Dynamic Duo on Batman, beguiled Robert Conrad on The Wild, Wild West, and became the living goddess Venus de Milo on Bewitched. Francine became so adept at playing these types of roles, that years later when the casting director of the seventies Saturday morning series Jason of Star Command asked her if she could play the evil queen, she replied jokingly, “I am the queen!” Always a pro, York had the ability to command and dominate the screen with her poise and confidence. She has energetically played so many different roles wearing a variety of wigs and using an assortment of dialects (Italian, French, British, Southern, etc.) that she became somewhat of a chameleon in Hollywood. No one ever criticized her for giving a lazy performance. And in a business that can be cruel, especially to older actresses, the self-determined Francine continues to act today.
Read my interview with Francine York in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema and keep an eye out for her upcoming memoir!
Pamela Tiffin is hidden under a red wig playing a religious Catholic Irish lass who is drugged and thinks she has been raped by the devil in one of her last Italian movies La signora e stata violentata (1973). REad more about this movie in my tribute book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974.
Millions of music lovers remember prolific singer and songwriter Jackie DeShannon for her beloved Top 10 singles “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” during the ‘60s. But what they might not know is that the pretty slender blonde embarked on an acting career for a short period of time during that swinging decade. Her film debut was in the beach romp Surf Party (1964) starring Bobby Vinton and Pat Morrow. DeShannon played the doe-eyed, tomboy Junior who accompanies her friends Morrow and Lory Patrick to Malibu from Arizona to visit Morrow’s brother who is the leader of an elite surfing group called The Lodge. Morrow is romanced by Vinton the operator of a local surf shop while Jackie pairs up with Kenny Miller as a surfer who breaks his arm trying to gain entrance into an elite surfer gang.
After appearing in the low-budget drama Intimacy (1966), Jackie teamed with Bobby Vee for the youth-oriented musical C’mon, Let’s Live a Little (1967). It was one of those too-square-to-be-hip movies the major studios released in the late sixties trying to attract the college crowd. DeShannon soon let the acting drift and concentrated on her music career exclusively culminated with a Grammy Award for co-writing the hit song “Bette Davis Eyes” in the eighties.
Read my interview with her in my book Drive-in Dream Girls.
With her short cropped flaxen hair, blue eyes, and shapely figure, sexy Karen Jensen was perfectly cast in the late-in-the-cycle beach movie Out of Sight (1966). She actually looked like she grew up on the shores of Malibu unlike Beach Party star Annette Funicello. Though Karen left an indelible impression on fans of the genre, she quickly progressed to more mainstream films (The Ballad of Josie, Sullivan’s Empire, etc.) and TV shows (The Wild Wild West, Run for Your Life, Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre, etc.). In 1970 she was cast as one of a trio of starlets looking for fame in the series Bracken’s World. As the ambitious one, Jensen had the breakout role and for a time captured the public’s attention. “This was an actress’s dream role,” commented Karen. She received numerous invitations to appear on all the popular talk and game shows and graced the covers of such magazines as TV Guide and Show who called her “television’s first real sex symbol.” After Bracken’s World folded in 1971, Karen’s most notable film credit was the espionage thriller The Saltzburg Connection (1972) co-starring Barry Newman. She retired from acting a few years later and is currently wed to actor Brendon Boone.
Read my interview with Karen Jensen in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema.
A curvaceous statuesque baby-face redhead with a button nose and little girl voice, Pamela Rodgers always seemed on the verge of stardom but never made it to the big time. She made her film debut in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) where she pranced around in a gold lame bikini then played a Slaygirl in The Silencers. More small roles followed in Three on a Couch, The Oscar, and Out of Sight as one of Karen Jensen’s bikini-clad friends. She was a regular for a year each on the sitcom Hey, Landlord! and the variety series The Jonathan Winters Show, which led to co-starring role in The Big Cube with George Chakiris and Lana Turner; and a funny bit in The Maltese Bippy with Rowan & Martin who brought her on to Laugh-In. She was able to parlay the new found fame Laugh-In brought her into appearances on many talk and game shows of the early seventies moat notably Match Game and The Hollywood Squares as well as acting in a few episodes of Love, American Style usually cast as the sexy ding-a-ling. However, she never returned to the big screen and was only able to scrounge up supporting roles in TV-movies such as Suddenly Single (1971) and Jigsaw (1972). She disappeared from show business around 1976 after marrying a third time.
The late Jill Haworth was a saucy, petite blonde with a wonderfully throaty voice and just a trace of an English accent. She was discovered in 1959 by producer/director Otto Preminger and made her film debut in Exodus (1960) as the ill-fated Jewish girl opposite Sal Mineo (with whom she had a romance and long friendship with). She received a Golden Globe nomination and then co-starred in Preminger’s lavish epic The Cardinal as a selfless young woman caring for the terminally ill and his all-star WWII adventure In Harm’s Way as an ill-fated nurse. “When you make three films with Otto Preminger, you’ve made three films with Otto Preminger and no one dicks around with you after that,” said Jill with a laugh.
After appearing in the horror film It!, Jill temporarily abandoned films for Broadway when Hal Prince cast her over countless actresses in the coveted role of Sally Bowles in the hit Tony Award winning musical Cabaret. Jill enjoyed great success as Sally and remained with the show for over two years. When asked years later if she had a shot for the movie, she quipped, “No, they always wanted Liza Minnelli for the movie. She’s still doing the movie!” Returning to films, she played a swinging Londoner opposite Frankie Avalon in the horror opus The Haunted House of Horror. Haworth continued in the horror genre begrudgingly through the mid-seventies before returning to the stage. The eighties and nineties found her only doing voice-overs, but she was coaxed out of retirement in 1999 to play an ex-hippie mother in the independent film Mergers and Acquisitions. Sadly, we lost Jill in 2011.
Read my complete interview with Jill in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema.
The Eve Arden of the motorcycle set, the late wisecracking hazel-eyed blonde Glamazon Alberta Nelson never got her man as the ruff-and tumble biker chick loyal to inept Harvey Lembeck’s Eric Von Zipper in the Frankie and Annette beach movie extravaganzas.
Alberta Nelson began the decade with a Broadway flop. Playing a servant in the 1961 Broadway play Once There Was a Russian co-starring Walter Matthau, Roger C. Carmel, and Julie Newmar, the drama closed opening night. With nothing to lose, Nelson journeyed to Hollywood where she was cast in minor decorative dramatic roles in episodes of Thriller, The New Breed, and Dr. Kildare before Harvey Lembeck chose her to be his comic foil in Beach Party (1963). Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and their friends share a beach shack during spring break where their main concerns are surfin’, dancin’, and romancin’. Their idyll life is interrupted by Harvey Lembeck as the inept Eric Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang The Ratz and Mice who “hate those beach bums.” Nelson and redheaded Linda Rogers were the Mice—the only two girls in the gang. Even early on in the beach party cycle it looks as if Nelson’s character is resigned to the fact that Lembeck will never have eyes for her. Here he lusts after Annette but when she rebuffs him he turns to platinum blonde sexpot Eva Six. Even though she is always passed over, Nelson is a good sport and joins the gang for the end of the movie pie-throwing melee against the surfers. Her character began as the dependable yes-girl but as the bikers began to have more prominence in the films due to their popularity, Nelson delivered more wisecracks in her trademark screechy Brooklyn-style manner.
Nelson reprised her role in all the remaining beach movies from Bikini Beach (1964) through The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966). In between, she and Amedee Chabot play fitness nuts who hang around the bodybuilders in Muscle Beach Party (1964). The service comedy Sergeant Deadhead (1965) featured Nelson as a WAC and in the spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) starring Vincent Price in the title role, Alberta is a robot reject.
With the beach party movies dead at the box office, Nelson returned to television in 1966 with appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show. Impressing the producers of the Griffith series, they brought Alberta back later in the year to play Flora Malherbe, a somewhat naïve, warm-hearted waitress sweet on George Lindsay’s Goober. She played the role in three episodes and in “Emmett’s Retirement” on Mayberry, R.F.D. in 1969. In 1971, Alberta remarried and retired from show business moving with her new husband to Millcreek, Pennsylvania.
They had three children and Nelson spent her free time gardening and doing needle work until her death from cancer on April 29, 2006. She was sixty-eight years old.
A former model, Laurel Goodwin’s only acting experience was doing summer stock when producer Hal B. Wallis saw her photograph in the Paramount studio publicity department and tapped her to play a lead role opposite Elvis Presley in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962). Goodwin was cast as rich girl Laurel Dodge who vies with sultry torch singer Stella Stevens for the charms of fisherman Elvis Presley amid the lush scenery of Hawaii. With her fresh-faced, adorably cute looks, strawberry blonde hair and charmingly perky screen persona, Goodman was a hit in her film debut and won over the critics and fans alike. However, Hollywood typecast her in prim and proper type roles. After playing Jackie Gleason’s daughter in the comedy Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963), she did two B-oaters before getting a good part in the Sam Peckinpah scripted-western The Glory Guys (1965), her last movie. Goodwin’s most famous role though was not in film but on TV. She played Ensign Colt opposite Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike in the original pilot for Star Trek called “The Cage.” When Star Trek finally became a series, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the other cast regulars traveled the galaxies while Goodwin pounded the pavement in Hollywood for a few more years before calling it quits in 1971 to concentrate on her marriage.
A fresh-face, wholesome brunette, Jo Collins was one of the most celebrated Playboy Playmates of the Sixties becoming the pin-up du jour of GIs stationed in Vietnam due to her many visits to that war torn country. Despite her popularity, she was never able to rise above decorative minor roles on the big screen. But with her figure, bikini-clad on the shores of Malibu is where she belonged.
Jo Collins was Playboy’s Miss December 1964 and was selected as Playmate of the Year in 1965 Collins became a favorite pin-up of service men worldwide and to show her support she traveled to Vietnam a number of times to help boost morale resulting in her being nicknamed “G.I. Jo.” She made her film debut in Ski Party (1965) as one of the anonymous beach girls who don ski clothes for a party in the snow. Of course there is an occasion for the gals to doff their bulky sweaters and slacks and slip into their bikinis as Frankie Avalon croons “Lots Lots More” poolside. Collins is featured very prominently in this production number as she dances and gyrates to the catchy pop tune. She also competes with ski bunnies Patti Chandler, Salli Sachse, and Mikki Jamison for pompous ladies man Aron Kincaid’s attention but he only as eyes for Dwayne Hickman dressed in drag as a feisty English lass. Despite her fantastic figure, Jo was pushed to the background in her next beach film How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) though she makes the first comment about bikini girl Beverly Adams, the new competition on the sand, and joins the beach girls singing “Hey, What About Us” to try to get adman Mickey Rooney to select one of them for his new advertising campaign. Later she and the other beach girls reluctantly try to teach Adams how to walk seductively. In the lame service comedy Sergeant Deadhead (1965) the beach gang once again puts on clothes as Collins played one of Deborah Walley’s military friends. Her most outstanding screen appearance was in the satire Lord Love a Duck (1966) directed by George Axelrod. The former Playmate looked fantastic and gave a surprisingly droll performance as a shapely bored starlet seen lounging on a yacht. The star of Cold War Bikini and plaything of producer Martin Gabel, Collins finds him to be “what a drag” when he announces she is too over exposed and will now be playing the older sister to new discovery Tuesday Weld in his upcoming beach movie extravaganza, Bikini Countdown. Jo Collin’s last feature film was Fireball 500 (1966) wherein the beach party gang abandons the shores of Malibu for the drag strip. Collins was part of a gaggle of groupies who coo over handsome racer Fabian rival to Frankie Avalon on and off the track.
After she stopped acting, Collins continued visiting Vietnam while working as a Playboy Bunny in clubs. In 1970 Jo married former baseball player Bo Belinsky. That marriage ended in divorce in 1975 and Collins dropped out of the limelight working at Playboy, Inc. as a Bunny Mother. In the January 2000 issue of Playboy, Collins was named one of the 100 Centerfolds of the Century placing seventeenth. She appeared as herself in the DVD release Playboy: 50 Year of Playmates (2004) and in “Hugh Hefner: Girlfriends, Wives and Centerfolds” on E! True Hollywood Story in 2006.
A popular shapely Playboy Playmate, blonde German beauty Susan Denberg, with the far away look in her eyes, was handed a lead role in a Hammer horror movie after playing one of Mudd’s Women on TV’s Star Trek. She grew up in Klagenfurt, Austria. At age eighteen, she traveled to London where, after working as an au pair, she became a Bluebell dancer in 1963. About a year later she accompanied the famous dance troupe to perform in Las Vegas at the Stardust Hotel where she met and married singer Tony Scotti future star of Valley of the Dolls. The marriage lasted only six months but the beautiful showgirl was bitten by the acting bug and relocated to Hollywood.
After studying at the Desilu Studio Workshop, Denberg made her film debut in the lurid over-the-top melodrama An American Dream (1966) starring Stuart Whitman as a TV talk show host who may or may not have killed his wife and is being pursued by the police and the mob. Small TV roles followed playing a German Girl on an episode of Twelve O’clock High and a gorgeous alien humanoid in “Mudd’s Women” on Star Trek. Denberg looked stunning in her blue off-the-shoulder tasseled mini-dress as one of the three loveliest women in the universe who mesmerize the male crew members of the Enterprise. The gals are cargo being transported by Roger C. Carmel who acts an intergalactic pimp providing brides to lonely men. Standing 5-foot-7 and measuring 34-25-34, Denberg had the same effect on Hugh Hefner who chose her to be Playboy’s Miss August 1966. She lists “Harold Robbins” as her favorite author and her turnoffs are “impoliteness, bad dressers, and self-admiration.” Susan’s pictorial was quite popular and she was one of the finalists for Playmate of the Year in 1967.
Denberg’s notoriety was noticed by Hammer Films in London who selected her to play the female lead in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) opposite Peter Cushing. Wearing a long auburn wig, she played an innkeeper’s timid disfigured and crippled daughter infatuated with Robert Morris as the assistant to Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein. When Morris is set up for the murder of her father and beheaded before her eyes, the despondent lass jumps off a bridge and drowns. Frankenstein retrieves both bodies and melds Morris’ soul with the remodeled Denberg now a ravishing pigtailed blonde beauty. However, things go terribly wrong when Frankenstein’s creation tarts herself up and goes on a murder spree avenging those who framed Hans. After getting her revenge, she meets a tragic end. The movie was a hit for Hammer in part due to the misleading title and promo photos that led audiences to believe that Frankenstein creates the scantily-clad Denberg, but her suggestive poses in a makeshift bra and panties were not part of the actual movie. Though Denberg’s voice was purportedly dubbed by British actress Jane Hands because her German accent was too thick, the beautiful blonde still had the beauty and on-screen poise to become a Hammer Girl like Veronica Carlson and Ingrid Pitt. But Susan got caught up in the excesses of the Swinging Sixties. She turned down many film offers and was content to live off her savings while blowing all her dough on clothes and jewelry by day, and partying by night. Hence, her acting career was blown as well. She is reportedly still alive, despite rumors to the contrary, and residing in Austria.
Read more about Susan Denberg in my book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood.