Pretty Mary Mitchel resembled and sounded a lot like Connie Stevens. But Mitchel was more appealing and less annoying than her famous counterpart as she played the ingenue in various low-budget drive-in movies during the early to middle ‘60s. She danced in the rock-and-roll musical Twist Around the Clock (1961) and screamed her way through Panic in Year Zero (1962), and the cult horror movies Dementia 13 (1963) and Spider Baby (1964). In 1965, she hit the beach for typical teenage shenanigans in A Swingin’ Summer with William Wellman Jr. and Quinn O’Hara, and The Girls on the Beach with Martin West, Aron Kincaid, and Gail Gerber. During this period she was married to actor/producer Bart Patton. She retired from acting in 1968 to work behind the camera.
Read more about Mary Mitchel in my book Drive-in Dream Girls.
A sultry petite raven-haired Texas beauty with a lilting Southern accent, Ann Morell decorated a number of sixties movies including two with Elvis Presley but never made it to the big time due to missed opportunities and her strict moral convictions.
Ann Morell’s screen debut was in the sci-fi film Beyond the Time Barrier (1960), which was filmed in her native Texas, followed by a bit role in the forgettable talking duck comedy Everything’s Ducky (1961). For the next couple of years, Morell worked steadily alternating between decorative roles and ethnic parts due to her dark exotic looks while posing for pin-up and cheesecake photos like every good starlet and contract player did during the sixties. In the Robert Goulet comedy Honeymoon Hotel (1964) she was a newlywed, in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965) she was one of the many starlets draped in veils as a harem girl, and in Red Line 7000 (1965), directed by Howard Hawks, she was the “Girl in the Café” jilted by two potential suitors after sultry French babe Marianna Hill saunters by. In between movies, Morell also kept busy on television in shows such as Burke’s Law and Branded opposite Burt Reynolds. Back on the big screen, Morell snuggled up to Elvis Presley playing one of the many sexy denizens at a dude ranch for models in Tickle Me (1965) and as a curvaceous brunette itching to work as Elvis’ secretary for his helicopter tour business in Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966). British blonde beauty Suzanna Leigh got the job in the movie while in real life she was nominated for “Star of Tomorrow” at the Hollywood Deb Star Ball in 1967 but lost out to Sivi Aberg. On TV, Ann’s varied roles ranged from a sexy barber on It Takes a Thief and a Latin American revolutionary on Mission: Impossible, to appearing as herself on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Dating Game.
After being cast as a sexy Italian belly dancer in the long forgotten spy spoof The Phynx (1970), Ann Morell finally landed a co-starring movie role albeit in the Grade-Z production Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) directed by Al Adamson. Sporting some of the shortest mini-skirts ever worn on screen, she played a former biker chick turned hippie who aides buxom Vegas lounge singer Regina Carroll search for her missing sister at a carnival freak show. Ann’s last movie before retiring was as a prostitute during the Depression who befriends Barbara Hershey as Boxcar Bertha (1972) produced by Roger Corman and directed by Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately, most of her scenes were cut and the film did not generate any more roles for her as her life took a new direction as wife and mother.
Read my interview with Ann Morell in my book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood!
Blonde bombshell Bobbi Shaw was known for her trademark saying, “Yah! Yah!” clad in her trademark fur bikini in a series of American International Pictures beach party movies beginning with Pajama Party (1964) where she was the sexy foil to comedian Buster Keaton. She made such a huge impression and became an instant fan favorite that AIP paired her again with Keaton in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). The studio let her stretch her acting chops to great amusement in bigger roles in Ski Party (1965) as an amorous Swedish ski instructor and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) as a conniving carnival worker. Once the tide rolled out for the beach movies, Shaw began doing improvisation and then teaching.
More on Bobbi Shaw with my interview with her in my upcoming BearManor Media book Talking Sixties Drive-in Movies.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the story of All-American girl rock trio who travel across country to Hollywood where they are re-named the Carrie Nations by music industry impresario Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar) and experience fame, fortune, and heartache. Keeping with his casting of big bosomed actresses in lead roles such as Lorna Maitland in Mudhoney, Tura Satana in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and Erica Gavin in Vixen, it is not surprising that Meyer cast these two former Playboy Playmates as the girl rockers. British Dolly Read, Miss May 1966, played Kelly MacNamara the lead singer and long-lost niece of her dead mother’s sister Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis). Success goes straight to Kelly’s pretty head as she dumps naive Harris Alsworth (David Gurian) her loyal high school sweetheart and the band’s unofficial manager, falls in with the pot-smoking Hollywood in-crowd, and begins a romance with actor/gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) who cajoles her to go after a bigger share of her grandfather’s inheritance held by rich Aunt Susan. Kewpie-face Read projected a sincere naivety with her performance as she spirals down into the valley of the dolls but comes to her senses, ditches the drugs, drops the suit, and reunites with a now paralyzed Harris who accidentally fell from a catwalk during one of her concerts. Read also convincingly lip-synched all her songs including “Come with the Gentle People,” which were actually sung by Lynn Carey and bared her breasts a number of times.
Cynthia Myers, Playboy’s Miss December 1968, clinched the role of Casey the guitar-playing lost soul of the group due to her 39DD cup, which bosom master Russ Meyer flipped over. A powerful senator’s daughter who has been used and abused by men, Casey falls in love with Lesbian clothes designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin). However, when her jealous lover learns that she is pregnant by Harris after a drunken one night stand, she demands that Casey have an abortion. She goes through with it, but pays for her wanton ways when at the film’s climax she and Roxanne have their pretty little heads blown off by the crazed Z-Man who reveals a set of knockers to rival any Playboy Playmate. He goes off the deep end as Super Woman also beheading a bound Lance clad only in leopard bikini briefs.
Russ Meyer aimed Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to be “the first rock, horror, exploitation film musical.” And he succeeded spectacularly!
Read more about Dolly Read and Cynthia Myers in mu bool Glamour Girls of Sixtues Hollywood.
One of my favorite film genres is the alienated youth films from the late sixties. I am a sucker for those movies featuring aimless young shaggy haired guys who reject conventionalism while trying to find themselves during such a turbulent period. For me, one of the best of this ilk is Model Shop, director Jacques Demy’s homage to the city of Los Angeles and the youth culture of the time. Not to everyone’s taste, it is very laid back as the cameras follow Gary Lockwood (fresh off 2001: A Space Odyssey) during the course of a day where he encounters practically every type of young person who populated LA ca. 1969 from grasping starlets to pot smoking hippies to long-haired musicians to radicals who want to change the world.
A laconic Gary Lockwood, at his sexiest wearing tight blue jeans and a T-shirt, plays George Matthews an alienated twenty-six year old unemployed architect who quit his job because his creativity was being stifled by “the man.” He now has the draft hanging over his head and needs $100 to prevent his roadster from being repossessed. He lives with his vapid, self-absorbed blonde starlet girlfriend Gloria (lovely Alexandra Hay, the poor man’s Sue Lyon, who should have turned down the whininess a notch or two) who has given up on him because he won’t marry her or give her a baby.
The movie then follows George during the course of a twenty-four hour period as he drives around LA to get the cash. While trying unsuccessfully to borrow money from his friend who works as a parking lot attendant, George spots a beautiful French woman (a touching Anouk Aimée) clad in a white form fitting dress with matching head scarf picking up her white Mercury convertible. On an impulse, George follows her out of the parking lot and into the Hollywood Hills where she enters a mansion with beautiful views of the LA basin. George drives off and picks up a hitchhiking hippie who needs a lift to the Sunset Strip. She chatters while rolling a joint, which she gives to him as payment for the ride before she hops out of his car.
George returns to his task of getting the dough to save his automobile and visits his friend the lead singer of Spirit. George hits pay dirt as the group’s first album is hot off the presses so they have money to spare. George takes it and stops at a burger joint to eat where he spots the French woman walking down the street. He follows her to the Model Shop where perverts can rent cameras at fifteen minute increments to take photos of their “models.” George chooses his mystery woman of course and learns her name is Lola. He barely says a word as he snaps away. The rest of the movie has George obsessed with Lola. While visiting some friends who publish an underground radical newspaper, we learn George is really a lost soul. They talk of the Vietnam War and George confesses his fear of death. He then recounts his feelings about LA when seeing that view from the Hollywood Hills and how he wants to design a building for the city he loves but doesn’t know how to begin. He then calls his parents in San Francisco and shockingly learns he is to report for military service the next day. Dumbstruck, he opts to spend time with Lola who he thinks he has fallen in love with (and eventually learns is an unhappy divorcee trying to earn money to return to France to see her 14 year old son) rather than with Gloria who is only interested in landing a TV commercial set up by a male friend. By fade-out George has lost most everything.
Both Hilarie Thompson and Anne Randall have small roles in Model Shop. Thompson is the pot smoking dark-haired hippie and Randall is the model/receptionist painting her toe nails at the Model Shop when George comes to see Lola the second time. Both actresses had scenes only with Gary Lockwood and both only had fleeting memories of him. Thompson said, “All that I remember about Gary is that he took me out on a date and tried to seduce me—unsuccessfully I might add.” Blonde Anne Randall must not have been Lockwood’s type as she remarked, “I found him to be very professional. By that, I mean, he didn’t ‘hit on’ me. I didn’t get to know him and I really can’t remember any kind of exchange with him.”
Despite their small parts, both actresses consider Model Shop one of the highlights of their careers due to director/writer Jacques Demy. Anne raved, “Jacques was a very nice man and so easy to work with. He was wonderful and [doing this film] is one of my favorite memories!” Thompson mused, “I hardly remember the picture itself but as I was playing this role I felt more like myself. I usually felt like a cartoon caricature of a hippie in most of the hippie roles that I played but not here. It’s hard to talk seriously about “hippies” these days because it is conceived as a silly, youthful fad. But I was a hippie. Having survived a harrowing, bohemian childhood, to finally be able to be the neurotic, war protesting, free loving and thinking person I was “raised” to be was quite liberating. The late 60’s liberated me from that 50’s and early 60’s bourgeois life style of the normal and functioning which my family was not.” Kudos must go to Jacques Demy for making such an exceptional film of this genre.
You can read my interview with Hilarie Thompson in my book Drive-in Dream Girls and my interview with Anne Randall in my book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood.
A classic beauty with dark hair and olive skin, the late sultry Italian born Nicoletta Machiavelli made a name for herself in the popular spaghetti westerns of the sixties usually playing Native Americans or Mexicans. With her wind blown long mane of hair, dust on her clothes, and stunning vistas of Spain’s Almeria desert behind her, Nicoletta was visually perfect for the genre. She also spoke English fluently, which was a great asset since she was cast opposite many American actors. The Hills Run Red was her first, but the movie most remembered in the U.S. was Navajo Joe starring Burt Reynolds as the title character out for revenge with Nicoletta as a helpful Indian. It never received much of a release in America, but became infamous from all the bad-mouthing Reynolds has given it over the years. More spaghetti westerns followed including Hate Thy Neighbor; A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die; and Garter Colt. Nicoletta proved talented and versatile enough to work in other genres including very popular mid-sixties spy spoofs such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and Matchless.
Read my interview with Nicoletta in my upcoming BearManor Media book Talking Sixties Drive-in Movies.
A platinum-blonde beauty in the vein of Marilyn Monroe, Carol Wayne became extremely popular acting the bubble-headed ditz. But what made Wayne special was that she instilled a charming wide-eyed innocence into her characters making them lovable and endearing rather than just the typical daffy buxom bimbo with an eye popping figure.
Carol Wayne made her television debut on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. followed by her made her film debut playing a very minor part of a sexy blind date in Blake Edwards’ Gunn (1967) the big screen version of his popular TV series, Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens as the super cool gumshoe. Edwards cast Wayne again in his comedy The Party (1967) starring Peter Sellers as a bungling Indian actor who is mistakenly invited to a big time movie producer’s A-list soiree. Wayne portrayed one of the guests—a Hollywood sexpot clad in a pink mini-dress with a plunging neckline that accentuated her 39-24-25 figure quite nicely. Though she doesn’t utter a line of dialog for the first 20 minutes she is on screen, audiences could not help but notice the platinum blonde in the background with the kewpie doll looks, bountiful bosom, and curvy body. For unknown reasons, movies didn’t beckon much for Wayne but she remained very active on television. She popped up on I Spy and I Dream of Jeannie among others.
Carol is best remembered for her 101 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson beginning in 1971 playing the dippy but dazzling Matinee Lady to Carson’s lecherous host Art Fern in the “Tea Time Movie” skits. Wayne wasn’t the first actress to essay the role but once she did the part was hers to keep. Its success was partly due to Wayne’s caught-in-the headlights stare as she appeared not to understand Carson’s bawdy jokes and double-entendres. She usually joined the guests on the couch after the skits and one of her most hilarious lines came when comedian Don Rickles mentioned to Johnny that his mother just moved to Miami. Wayne cooed in her little girl voice, “Oooh, Miami Beach. That’s God’s little waiting room.” Daytime fans were treated to Wayne’s brand of humor as she appeared regularly on the women’s talk show Mantrap in 1971, and the game shows Celebrity Sweepstakes and The Hollywood Squares. But acting roles were few and far between for Carol as she was becoming known for being more of a personality than actress. She had a supporting role in the forgettable battle-of-the-sexes TV-movie Every Man Needs One (1972) starring Ken Berry and Connie Stevens and landed dramatic guest star roles on The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, Mannix, and Emergency! In between she played various roles including distracting secretaries and love-starved women in six episodes of Love, American Style. When The Tonight Show was shortened to an hour in 1980 most of Carson’s skits were jettisoned including the one with Carol Wayne.
he returned to the big screen playing cameo roles in the comedy Savenger Hunt (1979) and the obscure drama Gypsy Angels (1980) starring a pre-Wheel of Fortune Vanna White as a stripper for falls for an amnesiac stunt pilot. Marriage to husband number three, Burt Sugerman, producer of the rock music TV show The Midnight Special, kept Wayne employed making a few appearances on the late night staple. During this time she let her natural hair color grow out and posed semi-nude in Playboy at age forty-two. Wayne won the best reviews of her career and proved she had acting talent when she was cast as an artist’s kinky model complete with garter belts and leather accessories in Heartbreakers (1984) starring Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso as two men in their thirties who have to finally face growing up. Wayne gave the film’s most poignant performance when after agreeing to a manage a trios with artist Coyote and his pal Mancuso she touchingly reveals her feelings about herself—from what she thinks of her body to her dreams that have passed her by. Unfortunately, Carol Wayne was never able to capitalize on the raves she received from Heartbreakers. The newly divorced actress drowned while on vacation with a companion in Mexico on January 13, 1985 shortly after the movie was released. To this day, her death remains a mystery and foul play has long been suspected. She was survived by her sister Nina and son Alex from her second marriage to photographer Barry Feinstein.
Happy Birthday also to the late Jody McCrea! Tall, strapping, square-jawed Jody McCrea became a favorite of the teenage audience for his amusing performances as Deadhead in Beach Party (1963) and its sequels Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach,Pajama Party (as Big Lunk), Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. As the dumb surfer in the bunch, Deadhead could be counted on to say something idiotic in his slow drawl. Though McCrea was always assured a laugh based on how the role was written, it is to his credit that Deadhead came off as sweetly naïve rather than a complete moron.
Read more about Carol Wayne in my book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywoodand my interview with Jody McCrea in Hollywood Beach and Surf Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969.
Pert, perky, and pleasant were some of the adjectives used to describe talented Cynthia Pepper. The daughter of a vaudevillian and his dancer wife, this green-eyed blonde was destined for show business. She co-starred on the sitcom My Three Sons for a year before landing her own series Margie in 1961. After the show was cancelled after only one season, Pepper played a coed in Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) starring James Stewart and Sandra Dee. But drive-in fans remember her for her turn as a WAVE who is romanced by a blond Elvis Presley in the hit film Kissin’ Cousins (1964).
In 1963, Pepper along with most of Fox’s contract players were let go due to the ornate movie Cleopatra, which almost bankrupted the studio. “I was kind of depressed after Fox dropped me,” admits Cynthia. “I was literally praying for a job. Things just weren’t happening for me and all actors think that their last job is their last job.” In the sixties, lots of sitcom stars saw themselves typecast and couldn’t get decent roles after their series ended. Though Margie was not a huge hit, Pepper become very popular and may have been typed as a TV performer. But her luck was about to change. “I was out one day and when I returned my housekeeper told me to call my agent. I asked what for and she said, ‘If you can get over to MGM in forty-five minutes you have a part with Elvis Presley playing dual roles of a G.I. and his distant blonde hillbilly relative in Kissin’ Cousins.’ I ran over there—this was on a Friday—and had to report to wardrobe. Sam Katzman [the producer] must have seen a picture of me because he told my agent if I fit into the uniform the role was mine. Thankfully, I did. Monday we were off to Big Bear to shoot for a week.” Reportedly, Shelley Fabares dropped out of the movie at the last second and the producers were scrambling to recast. The role Pepper won without auditioning for was that of Midge an Air Force secretary who accompanies her boss to Smoky Mountain and falls for hillbilly Jody while dark-haired G.I. Josh is romanced by Daisy Mae types Yvonne Craig and Pamela Austin.
It was back to TV for Cynthia after this, but two pilots (including a sitcom version of Three Coins in the Fountain with Yvonne Craig and Joanna Moore) failed to sell. More teenage films should have come Cynthia Pepper’s way, but like most of her contemporaries her family became her number one priority.
You can read more of my interview with Cynthia in my book Drive-in Dream Girls.
An Asian beauty noted for her long jet black hair, this Playboy Centerfold never rose out of minor roles and was almost always bikini-clad in her movies to the delight of her many male admirers. China Lee became Playboy’s first Asian American Playmate of the Month when she disrobed as Miss August 1964. She was one of 1964’s most popular centerfolds and came close to being named Playmate of the Year but lost out to Jo Collins. With an alluring smile and a figure measuring 35-22-35, it is no wonder movies beckoned for this captivating beauty though throughout her career she was considered a sort of poor man’s Irene Tsu.
Lee made her film debut playing a hooker in the obscure comedy The Troublemaker (1964). She then joined a gaggle of starlets as anonymous gold lame bikini-clad robots in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) a takeoff on James Bond’s Goldfinger. The following year Lee kept busy in a string of minor roles beginning with Harper starring Paul Newman; The Swinger starring Ann-Margret; and Paradise, Hawaiian Style starring Elvis Presley.
But the film that brought China the most notoriety was Woody Allen’s spy spoof, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966). Allen took a serious Japanese spy adventure, threw out the original dialog and plot, and re-dubbed it turning the movie into a comedy about an agent trying to foil an evil organization from getting their hands on the world’s best egg salad recipe. China Lee doesn’t appear until the very end in a new scene added with Allen. As he lounges on a sofa munching on an apple, the curvy lass dressed in a tight black dress begins stripping for him as the end credits start to roll. Just as she is about to remove her black panties, Allen stops her and says directly to the audience, “I promised I’d put her in the film…somewhere” as the screen freezes and then fades to black. Lee’s curvaceous bikini-clad figure was prominently displayed on the movie’s poster art. Though the movie brought Lee to the masses as the still of her in her swimsuit was used to promote the movie worldwide it didn’t bring her any significant film roles.
China was back playing bits in the Sonny and Cher musical Good Times (1967) and in the satire on Southern California lifestyles Don’t Make Waves (1967) starring Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate. Lee’s last film role was a minor bit as a rowdy roller derby patron sitting next to Robert Forster and Marianna Hill in Haskell Wexler’s groundbreaking film Medium Cool (1969). She retired from show business shortly after.
You can read more about China Lee and past birthday girl Bettina Brenna in my book Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood.
Blond and sexy, with the bluest of eyes, the late Venita Wolf was one of the prettiest actresses to grace the drive-in screens of America. The fact that Wolf, who resembled a cross between Carol Lynley and Diane McBain, appeared on screen in only one beach film, Catalina Caper (1967) was a real loss for girl watchers. During the mid-sixties, Venita Wolf, like Andrea Dromm, first achieved fame in a series of TV commercials. She was the sparkling hair model for Lady Clairol. Casting directors quickly took notice and the acting offers came rolling in. Film producers Bond Blackman and Jack Bartlett were savvy enough to sign the fetching blonde to co-star in the feature Catalina Caper.
The movie featured Venita as Tina a denizen of Catalina Island who finds herself attracted her brother’s college classmate Don (Tommy Kirk). The duo along with the rest of the beach crowd go scuba diving, dance on the shoe an don yachts, and get entwined with art smugglers. The rest of Wolf’s short acting career comprised roles on commercials and TV shows. She made her TV debut replacing Sharon Tate as Miss Murray, Mr. Drysdale’s enticing receptionist, in a few episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. She made enough of an impression to be presented by Bob Hope as one of the “Stars of Tomorrow” along with Susan Saint James, Chris Noel, and Eileen O’Neill, among others on his comedy special in 1966. Star Trek fans will remember Wolf as Yeoman Teresa Ross in the episode, “The Squire of Gothos.” She along with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the others are held prisoners on a planetoid by a childish super being named Trelane played by William Campbell, who is fascinated with the violent history of human beings. Shortly after Venita then faded from the Hollywood scene by 1970.
Former showgirl Bettina Brenna was a statuesque Glamazon who didn’t amass many film or TV credits but she could not but help stand out due to her physical attributes. She is most remembered for Funny Girl (1968) as one of the glamorous Springtime Brides she of the nasally voice.
Read more about Venita in my book Drive-in Dream Girls and more on Bettina in my book Glamour Girls in Sixties Hollywood.