A recent email from a fan started me thinking about Nicky Hilton again. Sometime ago I had put a story about Nicky on the back burner. Now's the time to heat it up and let it simmer. I had written about Nicky--son of the legendary Conrad Hilton, heir to the Hilton hotel empire, and brother of Barron (who is chairman of the board of Hilton Hotels today)--in my book "Playing the Field" back in 1986. Unfortunately, the editorial concerns of my publisher, Putnam, caused me to shorten some parts of the story and omit others. Now, through the magic of the World Wide Web, where no editor can tell me what to write, the whole story.
My first date with Nicky Hilton was arranged by the Universal publicity department chief, Al Horowitz. Al asked me to attend the premiere of "The Glenn Miller Story" but I didn't have a date. At my suggestion he called Nicky. Elizabeth Taylor had just divorced Nicky after a brief marriage and very public divorce. In a few minutes Al called back to say the date was on. My first response to just about any event is to go buy a dress. This time I picked out a strapless, slinky Ceil Chapman gown all beaded in white. I had just finished my second movie at Universal--"Yankee Pasha" with Jeff Chandler and Rhonda Fleming--and was still getting established as a "star." Since this was my first premiere, I wanted the studio to know what a glamorous, valuable asset they had in me.
The night sky above the Pantages theater was sliced with bright klieg lights when Nicky and I arrived for the premier. Fans crowded the sidewalks on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard, straining against the police barricades. They cheered "May--mee! May-mee!" as we walked, waving back to them, up the red carpet and into the theater. Nicky was very poised as we ran the gauntlet past the noisy fans. He waved back to the throng, but he was modest enough to let me take center stage.
The Pantages, grand and brightly lit inside, was a roller coaster time machine ride for me. This lobby, all glittering chandeliers and movie stars now, was where I had stood not so very long ago, dressed in my little usherette's uniform and pillbox hat, showing people the way to their seats with my flashlight. It was my first job. I lied about my age because I was 14 and too young to work. Somehow they believed me, and, for a while, I got to watch every movie over and over, hiding sometimes in the shadowy alcoves of the beautifully ornate theater to avoid the customers and watch the show.
Now, the show was me and all the rest of the movie people here to celebrate the opening of the "The Glenn Miller Story." Jimmy Stewart and June Allison--the stars of the movie--made their grand entrance and everyone began moving towards their seats. When our usherette showed us to ours, Nicky and I exchanged disbelieving looks. The seats were a half dozen rows from the screen, reminding me in no uncertain terms that I was still low on the totem pole of stars at Universal Studios.
"Looks like maybe you said yes to the wrong starlet, Nicky," I said dejectedly.
Nicky took my hand and squeezed it. "I'll be damned if that's so. We're going to enjoy ourselves in spite of these seats."
He put his arm around me and said," Hell, Mamie! You're with a Hilton!"
And we did. Nicky was the perfect date for such a gala evening. He took me home and kissed me good night.
I came down with a terrible cold the next day from sitting in those drafty seats in that bare dress, but the studio publicity department was happy. Pictures of Nicky and me were in all the papers.
We began seeing each other regularly after that. We went to the most exciting places in Hollywood. We often had dinner at Romanoff's, invariably greeted at the door by "Prince" Mike Romanoff himself and shown to the best table. Or we might eat at Chasen's where, on our way to Nicky's favorite table, it was not unusual to stop at Gary Cooper's table, chat with Betty Grable, or exchange greetings with Marilyn Monroe and her friend Sydney Skolsky, the Hollywood columnist.
Nicky was a fun companion, but I quickly discovered that he drank to much. Once seated at one of his favorite star studded watering holes, he would order a drink and begin his metamorphosis. In reality he was a shy man who drank to overcome it. After he'd had a few he became happy and sociable--a marked contrast to his bashful, almost diffident attitude when he was sober.
Here's a surprise. In the beginning of our relationship, Nicky and I did not have sex. It was pre-pill America, and there was always the risk of getting pregnant. And I didn't want to give in to his advances too quickly. It seemed to intrigue Nicky that I had not instantly fallen prey to the famed playboy Hilton charm. Before long he began acting more serious about me. That was when he took me home to meet Conrad.
Nicky decided to take me to his father's Bel Air mansion for dinner. It was an impressive estate with giant iron gates and a long, winding driveway to the front of an ornate house the size of a Hilton hotel.
Conrad was divorced from Nicky's mother and lived alone, attended by a house full of servants. An imposing figure of a man, broad shouldered and still tall though in his seventies, he made Nicky look small and weak. In fact, I could see in no time how thoroughly dominated Nicky was by his father.
Throughout the evening, Conrad made a point of ignoring me. We toured the house and grounds, but it was as though I wasn't there. Nicky spoke to me in asides. Conrad showed Nicky the newly remodeled pool house and encouraged him to come back and live there. Nicky was noncomittal, aware, I believe, that living there would put him even more under his father's control.
The three of us sat at an enormous table in the formal dining room--Conrad at one end, Nicky at the other, and me in the middle. Conrad talked to Nicky, Nicky talked to Conrad, and Nicky talked to me. When I spoke to Conrad, he answered through Nicky. It was as though we were speaking different languages and Nicky was our interpreter. Conrad belched loudly during the meal, punctuating his dialogues with Nicky with a loud, "Burrp!" As the servants cleared the table and brought glasses of port, Conrad tilted slightly in his elegant chair and from the depths of the upholstery came a deep, rumbling fart. I'm sure my mouth dropped open, but neither Hilton paid any attention. A relaxed, satisfied look came over Conrad's face. Nicky nonchalantly lit an expensive Havana cigar.
I continued to date Nicky after that bizarre dinner, but I realized that any serious romance between us was hopeless. Conrad would always dominate his oldest son, while Nicky would always be in the double bind of wanting to prove himself and knowing he could never succeed. Besides, our lives and attitudes were oceans apart. I had gown up around too many hardworking people. My father was still getting up early and coming home late five and six days a week from his job as a heavy equipment mechanic. I was doing everything I could to make something of myself in the movie business. Nicky, in contrast, had no real job. He slept until noon, put in occasional token appearances at the Hilton corporate office, and bought a new Cadillac at least once a year. Most of his life consisted of going out every night and drinking; going to Las Vegas, gambling and drinking; going to Europe, gambling and drinking. But I continued to see him because it was, after all, fun. Until the low point came.
Nicky and I double dated with a girlfriend of mine named Jill and an oil man named Tex who was a friend of Nicky's. We went to a party where the two men drank heavily all evening. When we left the party, Nicky suggested we all go to another party. That "party" turned out to be at Tex's apartment and there were only the four of us. Tex hustled Jill off to the bedroom and Nicky began drunkenly wrestling me onto the couch, clumsily trying to fuck me. When I struggled to get free, he tore my dress. I gave him a hard knee in the balls and stormed out of the apartment, angry and in tears, headed for Sunset Boulevard to catch a taxi. When Nicky came running frantically after me, we had a scene in the middle of the street. Lights began coming on in the neighborhood and he tried to quiet me. He apologized profusely and I ripped into him. "Nicky, you're a very spoiled man. You're so selfish you don't ignore how people feel, you're unconscious of it." I pulled at the top of my torn dress. "All this tough guy and fake party stuff doesn't make it with me. Understand?"
He nodded contritely. "I'll buy you a new dress."
By then, Jill was in hysterics inside the apartment. She refused to be driven home in the same car with Tex. When she quieted down, Tex stayed in the apartment while Nicky drove Jill and me home.
The following day Nicky sent flowers and called me on the phone. When he tried to placate me, I cut him short. "I'm sure your father must have said something to you like, 'Son, you don't have to marry her to go to bed with her.' And I'll tell you something, Nicky, he's right. Only not for the reasons he thinks. I just don't see any reason why a woman shouldn't have the same rights as a man when it comes to playing the field. I like you or I wouldn't have continued seeing you after the premiere. We've had a lot of fun. We could have a lot more and let the marriage part of it take care of itself. But I'm not going to be strong-armed into bed or marriage or anything else by force or the Hilton fortune."
Rather than go back under his father's thumb and move into the Bel Air mansion's pool house, Nicky moved into a new apartment a few weeks later. When he called and asked if we could start over, I was busy shooting "Francis Joins the WACS." When I found time to go see his new apartment, I was shocked, though Nicky was very proud of it. The decorator must have put everything in it he couldn't sell anywhere else. It was so full of 1950's gauche furnishings that you could barely find a place to sit down. And the colors were so bright it gave you a headache. Nicky's pride and joy was an enormous black-and-white television set (color was still a couple of years away) in his bedroom. We would spend hours lying in bed watching television instead of going out. On one such night we finally had sex. After sipping champagne, Nicky turned off the bedside lamp and we made love in the flickering bluish light of the TV set. From that night on we fucked often--as often as Nicky's drinking would allow. Like many heavy drinkers, he often lacked the ability to perform.
As my career occupied more and more of my time, we eventually drifted apart. Nicky came to Las Vegas to see my show in 1957 at the Riviera. We spoke briefly back stage, but it was the distant conversation of former lovers who were now friends. We shot craps for awhile and Nicky appear to be nearly sober. The last time I saw Nicky was in 1962 at Hollywood Park race track. I was to make an appearance in the winner's circle after a race that was dedicated to me. Driving into the track I saw Nicky in the car next to me. We waved and smiled.
In 1986 Putnam edited a line in my book to read: "Nicky was generously equipped as a lover." Today I would write instead that he had a large cock--and I would add that he was curiously unskilled in using it. Nicky was a man with little self-confidence and self-esteem. Having been the eldest son of such a remarkably successful father, he was doomed to live out his short life in Conrad's shadow. But he was likable, handsome, and, when sober, fun to be around.
In an odd postscript to the story, my path crossed Conrad Hilton's in the Philippines in 1968. I had gone to Vietnam that year to entertain the troops and make a tour of the Far East. My plane landed at Ton Sun Nhut airfield just as the Tet offensive was getting underway. The vietcong launched an attack on the airfield, and, within minutes, my plane took off again bound for the Philippines, loaded with refugees. I was scheduled to play the Nile Club in Manilla, so that was as good a destination as any. Staying in the brand new Manilla Hilton Hotel (so new that you could hear hammers pounding throughout the day), I was having breakfast one morning when Conrad Hilton himself strode into the dining room. By then he must have been in his eighties, but he was still the same imposing figure. He sat at a table in front of me where he was beset by a gaggle of chattering young Philippino girls. Occasionally, he smiled over at me in invitation to come say hello.
Nicky had been Conrad's favorite. He was closer to him than Barron, I believe, and had great plans for him. But Nicky was not strong. Certainly it broke Conrad's heart to know how weak Nicky was, and he did the best he could to shape his son. But all of Conrad's control was not enough. Conrad's heart would be broken again by Nicky's untimely death.
I had just had a taste of war. I was working hard, as I always had, to make a living. And my heart had been broken by many things too. I finished my breakfast and walked out of the dining room without speaking to Conrad.
Better than B
I am amazed that Jeff Chandler is still the most underrated leading man of the Hollywood big studio era. The star of nearly 50 movies in his short life, Jeff acted opposite some of Hollywood's most famous leading ladies. He had an Oscar nomination for his role as Cochise in "Broken Arrow." Jeff was one of Universal Studio's biggest box office stars, yet he is often referred to today as a "B" movie actor. If you look at any of his nearly 50 movies, you have to wonder why.
Jeff's path crossed mine in 1954 when I was cast as the slave girl Lilith in "Yankee Pasha." It was my second starring vehicle since my name had been changed from Joan Olander to Mamie Van Doren. (Everyone's name got changed when they came to Universal. Jeff's real name was Ira Grossel.) In a storm of excitement the year before, I had been "discovered" in a play at Ben Bard's theater in Hollywood and cast as a night club singer in "Forbidden" starring Tony Curtis and Joanne Dru, then offered a contract at Universal. Mine was the beginning of a standard career path for contract players in the big, well oiled movie machine that Universal was in those days. When scripts came along that you fit into--or maybe you didn't quite fit into--you went to work.
Two other girls were up for the role of Lilith. One was sexy Mari Blanchard, who was an established player at Uni. The three of us tested for the role with Jeff, but he liked me the best and insisted that I play the role. The character of Lilith is a silly, pretty little chatterbox of a slave girl who is given to Jeff as a gift by the sultan, played by Lee J. Cobb. And what slave girl wouldn't have loved to be a gift to Jeff Chandler? With that big square jaw and broad shoulders, salt-and-pepper hair, what's not to love? Of course, Lilith embraces the idea with enthusiasm, putting her in jealous opposition to Rhonda Fleming's character, Roxanna, and the two have a cat fight over Jeff. (During that fight, Rhonda got into the role a bit too much and slugged me in the jaw!)
Jeff was one of the nicest stars I ever worked with. Having seen him in so many exciting movies when I was growing up, the thought of being in the same movie with him was a real thrill. Strangely enough, Jeff in person was, well, not that much of a turn on for me. Don't get me wrong, he was every bit a movie star. But he was also a sort of fuss-budget who was curiously vulnerable.
Now it's time to weigh in with my feelings about Esther William's autobiography. In it she writes some very unflattering things about Jeff, not the least of which is her description of coming home unexpectedly to find him dolled up in a flowered dress. I know, I know. You can't ever know what goes on in other people's bedrooms. And I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with cross dressing. God knows, women have been doing it for years. Men are just catching up. But what Esther said just sounded so...nasty. Like she was getting even for something. Not long ago I had an email from a fan who said that scene in Esther's book was nearly identical to a scene in the movie "Ed Wood." Now there's a coincidence.
Here are some of my memories of Jeff. He was very nice to a young, inexperienced actress who was just learning the ropes of the Hollywood studio system, one of the most competitive, brutal, cruel, narrow-minded, and rewarding industries known to man or woman. He was helpful and wise and funny.
I have written elsewhere about the infamous Universal bullet bra. It was a device designed to side step the Hayes office censors. (Yes, this was the 1950's, so often fondly remembered by so many, a time during which the movie studios timidly self censored themselves lest the powerful McCarthyites and their ilk do it for them.) The first time I wore the Bullet Bra was for Yankee Pasha. Jeff said, "Good God, Mamie! Is that all you?"
The pressure was on Jeff for "Yankee Pasha." It was Universal's first movie in the expensive Cinemascope process, and, as one of the studio's most bankable stars, Jeff carried a huge responsibility for the movie to make money. William Goetz, the head of Universal, had told Jeff to knock off twenty pounds for "Yankee Pasha." He turned to me one day during filming and asked, "You don't think it makes my cheekbones stand out too much?"
"Jeff, you've got the greatest cheekbones in Hollywood," I answered. "Why not show them?"
Jeff had spent much of his career at Uni playing in costume dramas and Indian pictures. He fancied himself as a song-and-dance man, and very much wanted a shot at a musical. He took voice lessons and eventually opened in Las Vegas with a pretty good act. I had a front table opening night, and Jeff had a respectable voice and great arrangements, all of them done by an assistant musical arranger at Universal named Henry Mancini.
The movie Jeff made after "Yankee Pasha" was a sword-and-shield picture called "Sign of the Pagan" which costarred Jack Palance. You can read elsewhere in these Bedtime Stories about how Jack turned my head.
When Jeff finally dug in his heels and refused to do anymore Indian roles, the studio whined and cajoled, but Jeff got his way. The part of Son of Cochise went to Rock Hudson. . . who hated it.
Jeff died at age 42, the victim of a botched operation on his back for a slipped disc. The surgeon nicked an artery and Jeff bled to death on the operating table. Like all those who die young, what he would have become as he continued to mature in Hollywood remains a mystery. Compared to some, Jeff had a less flamboyant dark side, and because of it, was less interesting. James Dean and Marilyn get their pictures on tee shirts, and are the subject of many stories, true and not. But Jeff was a better actor than he is given credit for by critics and cineastes, and he was a better person than his ex-lover Esther makes him out to be.
I was listening to Howard Stern one morning earlier this year when I caught an interview he did with Cassandra Petersen, aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Howard was pumping Cassandra, as he does all his guests, for intimate details of celebrities she had slept with when she mentioned an affair she'd had with Tom Jones. Howard pressed for details and she said that Tom was huge--that she could barely walk when they were done.
Not long after that, Mary Wilson of the original Supremes was Howard's guest, and said in passing that she too had boinked Tom. When Howard quoted Cassandra that Tom was huge, Mary remarked, "That girl's lyin'."
This brought to mind the different views of President Bill Clinton's penis expressed by Gennifer Flowers (kind of small) and Monica Lewinsky (really big). I suppose that one girl's Louisville slugger is another girl's fly swatter, but the facts are the facts and tape measures don't lie. I can't speak for the Presidential pecker, but I am prepared to reveal the answer to the Tom Jones conundrum.
Some of you may not remember when Tom Jones hit the U.S. record charts. From the early 1960's Tom Jones, who was born in Wales, began making records in Britain. When I met him in 1965 he had two hits on U.S. charts: It's Not Unusual and What's New Pussycat? His onstage act was regarded as wildly sexual because of his gyrations, much like Elvis a decade or so before, and because of the obvious bulge in his pants. He was banned from television in England and looked at suspiciously by the networks in the states.
I was working at the Latin Quarter in New York when Tom called and asked if I'd like to go out. It was the perfect combination: the sexy blonde who was too hot for tv and the sexy Welshman who was too. I said yes. I began to think about that bulge. It spoke volumes to me (as I'm sure it did to his other female fans) of the treasures that must lie beneath.
We had a pleasant dinner somewhere and went back to my place. We made out for a while. When the time seemed right we made ready to fuck. Tom took that bulge into the bathroom to get undressed, but when he came out it was gone! Tom was not sporting a slugger, alas, but a rather unimpressive swatter. I didn't whip out a tape measure, but it must have been four or so. I made the best of it that I could. We did the nasty and parted company.
If you've read my article in Glamour Girls: Then and Now on penis size, you know that I have a certain ideal when it comes to a man's most intimate of areas. I don't like HUGE, but I do like size. Tom and I went out once more, and I didn't turn him down at the end of the evening, but all in all, it fell short.
And so the winner is Mary Wilson with the correct answer: it wasn't that big. And Elvira? I like to think she was being kind, or telling Howard what he wanted to hear.
It was most certainly not unusual. Mamie doesn't lie, kids.
Not long ago I saw Bob Costas being interviewed on TV, and he was asked who his most difficult interviewee was. His answer was Jack Palance. Costas had done a one-on-one interview with Palance, and throughout the interview Jack answered only in monosyllables. His reply to questions was invariably, "Yes" and "No" without further elaboration. This is hell for an interviewer. If your subject doesn't expand on his answers to your questions, even short six-minute segments can seem like a lifetime. Through his considerable skills as an interviewer, however, Costas sweated through it.
The Conquering Hun
When the cameras were off and Costas was breathing a sigh of relief, Palance turned to him and said, "You know, once I was driving with Marilyn Monroe in my convertible and we had a flat tire in a driving rainstorm."
In consternation, Costas said, "Why didn't you tell me that story in the interview? What happened?"
"I got out to change the tire as quickly as I could, and everyone stopped to help me."
I blinked at the TV screen. Convertible? Driving rain? The memories came flooding back.
The year was 1953. Two costume dramas were filming at the same time, both starring Jeff Chandler. One was titled "Sign of the Pagan," and it also starred Jack Palance as Attila the Hun. Jack already had a reputation as a competent movie "heavy," and he had just the kind of dark, bad-boy good looks that appealed to an innocent-looking little blonde starlet whose hormones were working overtime. The other movie was "Yankee Pasha" which would co-star Rhonda Fleming and me opposite Jeff Chandler.
While in the makeup department in the early mornings having my own makeup done, I quickly located Jack Palance's chair. I found reasons to wander by in my costume as Lilith the harem girl while Jack was having his barbarian makeup applied. He was sexy in that Fu Manchu mustache and heavy fur costume! Without too much difficulty I managed to make myself noticed by the conquering Hun. One day as I passed his makeup chair, his makeup man handed me a note, which read: "What is your phone number, harem girl?"
I quickly scribbled my number on it and handed it back. How could I say no?
The fact is that I should have said just that. Jack was married with two children. For me-an up-and-coming starlet at a major studio-an affair with him was courting disaster. Any hint that I was seeing a married man would have caused a scandal. Given that the bitch-goddess of Hollywood columnists, Louella Parsons, had conceived a powerful hate for me because my manager, songwriter Jimmy McHugh, was her boyfriend, it was a terrible risk. One whif of that sort of scandal and Louella would be on me like a hyena on a crippled antelope. Or, the most vicious of the tinsel town scandal mags, "Hollywood Confidential," would have relished printing a story like that. In any case, my career would have been short-lived. I should have backed away. But I didn't. I felt lucky.
Jack took me to dinner at a nice restaurant in Studio City near Universal Studios. After dinner we sat at the piano bar and had drinks while the piano player ran through his repertoire. Jack fancied himself as a romantic and a poet, and he loved to play the sensitive, artistic side of his personality against his tough-guy image. He asked the piano player for some moody background music and launched into a recital of Annabelle Lee. His voice was very soft, barely more than a whisper. It was hard to believe that this was the barbarian I had seen at the studio that day. He finished the poem and looked at me. As I looked back at him, I knew that I would sleep with him. The big question was where?
Here's a little history lesson. In 1953, America-even Hollywood-was a much different place than it is today. A man and a woman could not easily register in a motel unless they actually had a marriage license. I didn't even have a fake wedding ring. And Jack Palance was much better known than I was at that time. He would have been recognized in a second, and many fans would have recognized that I was not his wife.
We left the restaurant and went dancing at a large dance hall not far away. After dancing for a while we went to Jack's car, parked in a far, dark corner of the parking lot. Rain had begun to fall and the weather had turned cold. Whatever cold I felt from the weather outside was burned out by the heat I felt from passion inside. We plunged into each other's arms and began necking furiously. We slipped out of as many clothes as we needed to and fucked on the front seat. Thank God bucket seats had not yet become standard equipment in American cars!
Though Jack is a big man, he handled me gently, like I was a china doll. He kissed fabulously. As we made love, he was tender and strong at all the right times. I watched the raindrops trickle down the windshield as we climaxed together.
Jack and I dated one more time. I've forgotten now where we went, but I'm sure we ended up in the front seat of that convertible again, cramped between the arm rests on the doors like a couple of teenagers.
When "Sign of the Pagan" was completed, Jack went on to another picture somewhere else. I finished "Yankee Pasha" and did the same. We both understood that what we had was a one- or two-night stand.
Our paths crossed again in 1970 when I was in Madrid doing a Spaghetti Western. Jack called my hotel and said he was in town working on a movie too. He asked if I would like to go the flea market. I was working 20-hour days on my picture and was exhausted. When I told him I couldn't make it he seemed upset. We never spoke again.
Jack became a special kind of sex symbol in his own right. Remember his one armed pushups on the stage of the Academy Awards? He has done numerous commercials, but the most memorable for me is the Mennen Skin Bracer ad. After splashing on some Skin Bracer, Jack smiles wickedly into the camera, feeling assured at being clean shaven and smelling so good.
"Confidence!" he rasps, appearing to have swallowed the nearest canary. "It's sexy, don't you think?"
Yep. Still is. Jack, I'd still go for a ride in your convertible-rain or shine.
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Elvis: Almost Love Me Tender Burt Reynolds, Briefly Sex, Drugs, and Steve McQueen Sex, Power, and the Oval Office: Sweet Dreams, Marilyn Revised
March 3, 2002
My Date With Henry Kissenger
Rock Hudson: My First Studio Date
People Are Talking
©Copyright Mamie Van Doren
All Rights Reserved
Elvis: Almost Love Me Tender
Burt Reynolds, Briefly
Sex, Drugs, and Steve McQueen
Sex, Power, and the Oval Office:
Sweet Dreams, Marilyn
March 3, 2002