‘50s sex symbol Mamie Van Doren on leaving Hollywood after Marilyn Monroe's death: 'There were a lot of drugs'

At age 89, Mamie Van Doren is eager to tell all.

The actress, who was known as one of “The Three M’s” alongside Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, has been keeping busy writing the highly anticipated follow-up to her titillating 1987 memoir “Playing the Field,” where she detailed her adventures and sexual escapades as a star in Hollywood during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The blonde bombshell insisted there were many more stories left on the cutting room floor — and this time, she’s gearing up to release them for fans, all while sharing her wisdom on getting older in the spotlight.

Van Doren spoke to Fox News about being recognized as a sex symbol, coping with the casting couch, and why she turned out a royal’s offer along the way.

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Actress Mamie Van Doren poses at home in Los Angeles, circa 1956.

Actress Mamie Van Doren poses at home in Los Angeles, circa 1956. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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Fox News: Looking back, what do you believe has been the secret behind your success in Hollywood?
Mamie Van Doren: I don’t know if it’s a secret, to be honest. Believe it or not, I stepped away from doing a lot of publicity. I’m not crazy about going out and trying to find publicity. I moved out here to Newport Beach simply because I didn’t like it in Hollywood. Your life is too much of an open book up there. So I got away.

Fox News: What’s life like outside of Hollywood?
Van Doren: I love life. I got away from all the bad stuff that was going on. This was around the ‘60s when I left. There were a lot of drugs. Marilyn died. Jayne died. A lot of my contemporaries were gone. I just thought it was time to leave Hollywood. It just wasn’t agreeing with me.

And I had a son. I wanted to give him a better life than Hollywood. And he got interested in boats. I took a different turn and a different lifestyle from what I was used to. I kept some of my friends. I didn’t have that many friends in Hollywood to begin with. I shy away from going to parties so much. I had stacks of invitations and I just never used them.

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Actress Mamie Van Doren gave birth to a son in 1956.

Actress Mamie Van Doren gave birth to a son in 1956. (Getty)

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Fox News: How does it feel to still be recognized as a sex symbol?
Van Doren: Well, being sexy is nice *laughs*. I like being sexy. Hell, I like sex. I like it better than rock ‘n’ roll. I was the first to do rock ‘n’ roll on the big screen and that definitely exudes a lot of your sex appeal. It comes from within. You can’t learn rock ‘n’ roll. You have to be born with it. It’s gotta be natural.

I think I was born with it. I certainly opened a lot of doors during a postwar time when things were very conservative. I was way ahead of my time. I didn’t know what the women’s movement was, but I was there living it. And I have large breasts. I’ve always had naturally large breasts. That was sometimes a hindrance. But sometimes it wasn’t. I wasn’t going to be playing nun roles, that’s for sure.

Fox News: Is it true that you were discovered by Howard Hughes as a teen?
Van Doren: It’s true. I was about 16. I was Miss Palm Springs. He was in the audience and I didn’t know it. I soon got a call from the studio he owned. He wanted to meet me. So I met him. I had two interviews to meet him. He didn’t show up the first time. My mother told me not to even go the second time. But I did go. And he put me on 4-5 movies. I learned everything while I was there. I absorbed as much as I could because I wanted to be an actress. I was in one movie, "His Kind of Woman" with Jane Russell and Bob Mitchum. I was then able to buy my first car.

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Mamie Van Doren was considered one of 'The Three M's' alongside Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.

Mamie Van Doren was considered one of 'The Three M's' alongside Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)

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Fox News: How difficult was it to make your mark as a blonde bombshell at the same time Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were stars?
Van Doren: I didn’t have much of a choice. Marilyn, I liked very much. I got along with her fine. I started going to her drama coach, Natasha Lytess. But she just wasn’t right for me. So I went to another one… But I went along with it because I really didn’t have much of a choice. And it was all men that ran everything. I don’t think I saw one woman in charge of anything. So I don’t know – I just managed to get it done and it seemed like I was able to do it. A lot of girls couldn’t. They would be on contract for six months and then disappear… But I was lucky. And when I did "Untamed Youth," that’s when I really got to be myself.

Fox News: How did you cope with the casting couch?
Van Doren: I’m the type of person that if I don’t like someone, I’m not going to bed with them. I don’t care who they are. I missed a couple of good roles because of it. But looking back, I’m glad I didn’t do them... If some guy said to me, "I’ll put you in a movie if you do me" – I just couldn’t do it. I worked my a-- off to make sure the public wanted me in movies — and they did. So there were always parts for me. Therefore, I didn’t have to do all that crap. And then I became unapproachable. They didn’t dare. You have to put yourself in a position where you’re unapproachable. But if I wanted to do it, I’ll do it.

Fox News: Your love life is the who’s who of Hollywood. Tell us about your time with Frank Sinatra.
Van Doren: My husband Ray [Anthony] would record with Frank. So I met Frank through Ray. And then he went to see me when I was doing my nightclub act. And then right after I separated from Ray, I got a call from Frank. He wanted to know if I would go out to dinner with him one day. He didn’t waste any time trying to date me. So I dated him. He liked me a lot. He fixed me lasagna on his Russian China. He went out of his way for me. But I just wasn’t into Frank Sinatra sexually. If I had been, he wouldn’t have gotten away. But I wasn’t. So that was that.

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Mamie Van Doren and her then-husband, bandleader Ray Anthony.

Mamie Van Doren and her then-husband, bandleader Ray Anthony. (Getty)

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Fox News: What about James Dean?
Van Doren: He was just a ride on a motorcycle. That’s all there is to it.

Fox News: And Johnny Carson?
Van Doren: I wasn’t in love with him. He was funny. We would watch his show at a hotel. We necked, screwed around. But it was hard to get married to something like that. I wasn’t ready to get remarried at that time. I was too wild. I guess I was always wild. I was never satisfied with one man. I wished I hadn’t been so much like that. I was just being natural. I was being me. And that got me in trouble with the movie industry. We’re talking about the ‘50s, kid. You didn’t do the things I did then. And then along came a girl named Madonna. She made a whole career out of it.

Fox News: You were engaged to Jack Dempsey, but then broke it off. Why?
Van Doren: He was too old for me. I was only 18. He was in his mid-50s. I got my contract to Universal and they didn’t want me to go with an old man. So, boom. Then they put me on a first date with Rock Hudson. It sounded a lot better to them than Jack Dempsey. I mean, Jack was a lot of fun. He was an old fighter, but my God, he had a young heart. He knew everyone. And everyone loved Jack Dempsey. He treated me pretty well. But he was uneducated. And it just didn’t last very long.

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Jack Dempsey with Mamie Van Doren.

Jack Dempsey with Mamie Van Doren. (Getty)

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Fox News: What was your date like with Rock Hudson?
Van Doren: When I was under contract, I had no knowledge of him being gay. I was only under contract for two weeks when the publicity department called me and said I was going on a date with Rock Hudson. And I was just so worried. The girl casually said, "You don’t have to worry about him – he doesn’t go for girls." So we went out… We became great friends. I remember him being really down to earth and just a nice guy. So when he became sick, it was very devastating.

Fox News: What about Prince Axel of Denmark?
Van Doren: Wow *laughs* you’re really digging deep with that one. Well, it could have gone further, but it didn’t. I met him at Universal when he were visiting. I was doing a movie at the time. We ended up having lunch together. Nobody even knows he was there. He asked me if I would be interested in coming to Denmark. I told him I would be, depending on my work schedule.

I was doing one movie after another back then. At Universal, you were just working all the time. Then I was asked if I would come over during the holidays, like Christmas. And before you know it, the studio said, "You’re doing a movie now." So I had to say no. Well, he sent me another invitation and I had to say no to that one. That kind of ended my relationship with Prince Axelrod.

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Mamie Van Doren with Rock Hudson.

Mamie Van Doren with Rock Hudson. (Getty)

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Fox News: What was your impression of Joan Crawford?
Van Doren: I remember meeting her – she was a little tipsy. And she was just so pissed off at Marilyn who was showing off [at a event] – she didn’t like that at all. She didn’t like the fact that there were so many new young people coming up in Hollywood. My real name was Joan Olander – I was actually named for Joan Crawford. She was my mother’s favorite.

I wasn’t expecting to meet my namesake, who turned out to be pretty drunk *laughs*. And the way she was so upset, I wouldn’t have dared to say I was named after her. But later on, she was doing a movie called "Female on the Beach." She had a car and it had her name on the side of it – JC. I got to know her and I finally told her she was my namesake. She was really nice about it. I ended up being very friendly with her.

Fox News: What’s your favorite memory of Marilyn Monroe?
Van Doren: It’s strange, but some of my memories of Marilyn are sad ones. When she wasn’t around people, she was sad. She was sad most of the time. But when she would go out, have a few drinks, she became Marilyn Monroe, the one everyone knew. She became what she wanted to be. But Marilyn expected too much from herself. As she got older, she wasn’t quite as popular as she used to be. And I think that really upset her very much because she had so much attention during those early years in Hollywood. She couldn’t do too much back then without everyone knowing. But as she entered her late 30s, things weren’t as easy for her. She also had a problem with men. She couldn’t seem to hang on to them. A very strange thing. She just couldn’t hang on to a man.

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American actress Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) with photographer Milton Green, 1955.

American actress Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) with photographer Milton Green, 1955. (Gene Lester/Getty Images)

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She had strained relationships. And she didn’t know very much except the movie business… She wanted to be a good actress. She worked very hard for that. But it didn’t come easy for her. It was hard to accept the fact that someone would reject you. Her expectations were way beyond what reality was like. She couldn’t accept that. I don’t think she had the ability to do that.

Fox News: How much of an impact did entertaining the troops in Vietnam have on you?
Van Doren: That had a huge impact on me. That moment lives with me every second of the day. I felt guilty I came back actually. I was faced with guilt. I had dreams of those troops. I could never forget their faces, the sounds I heard, the screams. How could you? That moment will always be with me until I die. It’s hard to imagine the reality of what war is really like. But it hits you when you see all of those young faces. Some of them didn’t even know why they were there. I felt so badly for them.

I wanted to meet every single one of them. That experience made me a better person. It’s the most important work I’ve done. I can still remember them putting their arms around me, hugging me, wishing they could come back with me and crying.  And these were just young kids who didn’t know whether they were going to live through it all. It made you appreciate life. And I still hear from some of them — my brothers and sisters. They are all a part of me.

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Mamie Van Doren today.

Mamie Van Doren today. (Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)

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Fox News: What have you been up to these days?
Van Doren: I’m trying to get my book written. I seem to be very slow at that *laughs*. I started writing it five years ago and I’m still writing it. But I think when I finish it will turn out OK hopefully *laughs*. But it should be coming out not too far from now.

Fox News: What kind of book can readers expect?
Van Doren: I wrote my first book in 1987. It was called "Playing the Field." But a lot has happened between 1987 and 2020. So now I’m writing about what it’s like getting older and appreciating life a little more as you go along, as well as getting smarter as you get older. There’s so much to write about. A lot of material just didn’t make it in the first book. My book publisher was very conservative and a lot of stories were taken out. So I’m putting a lot of those stories back in.