May 13, 2011

Yvette Vickers: A Legacy Among the 50 Foot Leeches of Hollywood

You would think my time spent around Kenneth Anger over the years would have prepared me for the news I was about to find on facebook on May 4th, 2011. I logged on as I always do only, this time there were more than a couple of emails regarding the passing of my friend Yvette Vickers. Now Yvette and I went back a number of years all the way to 1980 in fact, but I had not really been in touch with her since 2005 when our paths crossed in Burbank at Ray Courts’ Hollywood Collector Show. Yvette was selling her autograph as usual along with a CD she self-produced, a jazz tribute to her parents.

My partner of 20 years had just died in December and Yvettte and I needed to catch up as Chris had been close to her as well. She did not look well and I expressed concern but as always with Yvette she had a real talent for getting on with it regardless of the reality of any given situation depending on her sunshine personality to shake all the blues away.

Yvette's home where she was found.
The macabre revelation that the mummified body of Yvette Vickers was found in her neglected ramshackle home off West Wanda Drive, having been decomposing there for the better part of a year was definitely a chapter out of HOLLYWOOD BABYLON. How could something like this have ever happened in Beverly Hills, or West L.A. since her address was really in L.A. county. Yvette had friends, many like myself, that had known her for years, as well as the monster kid/fanboy element that she accumulated from years of attending horror conventions across the USA, signing autographs from the two films that really kept her legacy alive, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN and THE GIANT LEECHES. These films were rarely, if ever, off television so everybody knew her face and sexy figure from those films, so by the time MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 got hold of them and camped them up, Yvette was rediscovered once again.

Yvette had a juicy role in "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman."

The more I re-read these sordid accounts of her death, the more I began to think of another talented blonde actress I used to know who also ended her life alone in a neglected house in Hollywood, the late Joyce Jameson. Both of these ladies put aside their own careers to act as faux trophy wives for selfish men who took their love for granted, all the while, pursuing successful careers of their own. Joyce spent over 12 years with Robert Vaughn while Yvette lived with Jim Hutton from 1964 until his premature death in 1979.

"The Giant Leeches" poster, with Yvette prominently featured.
My memories of Yvette are now welling up inside me like a damn ready to burst. The more I try and put that image of her lifeless body lying in that decaying house on West Wanda Drive out of my mind the more I remember just how she might have gotten there in the first place. You see, from the very first time I met Yvette it was clear she was a Hollywood lady on a bum trip. Her film career was over except for cameo's in feeble films like Gary Graver's EVIL SPIRITS, or the masterful WHATS THE MATTER WITH HELEN?...which might have mattered for Yvette had she a real role to play. Curtis Harrington placed her in his film for the camp value of having a cast member from 50 FOOT WOMAN, a film he would send up again in RUBY a few years later. Even in her glory days, Yvette was doing cameo's, as in Martin Ritt's classic HUD, which features Yvette in what could have been a break-though role except according to Yvette "Paul's wife Joanne demanded my part be cut because of what she perceived to be "funny business" going on between Paul and me. Paul was a flirt, but guess what? So am I." In any case, Yvette's showy role as Paul Newman's married lover was reduced to a walk-on. None of this would bother Yvette at the time because her real life lovers continued to pick up the slack, blurring the reality of a film career in decline. Yvette really came forth as an actress in 1957 with her showy role in James Cagney's only directorial effort SHORT CUT TO HELL, followed by a couple of Roger Corman flicks and then, of course, her beloved cult horror films that forever preserved her image as a scream queen thanks to a certain 50 foot Allison Hayes and a swamp filled with driving men dressed in rubber suits hung together with safety pins, those GIANT LEECHES.

Yvette and I during happier times.
The first time Yvette and I sat down together and really got to know one another, she brought over a VHS cassette of her first break though commercial in New York as the “WHITE RAIN GIRL”, a riff on Gene Kelly's ‘Singing in the Rain’ number. Yvette was adorable as the pretty girl caught in the rain. I loved the humor Yvette displayed in those days. She still had the acting bug but thanks to investments in real estate, she did not really have to work unless the right part came along. As time went by, those parts never turned up. At that point she moved onward to what she hoped would be a new beginning in Cabaret as a jazz singer.

Yvette, as she looked during her early 'Playboy' photo shoot days.
My most vivid memory of Yvette may also explain why she became more reclusive as the years went by. At the time, I was preparing my cable talk show “Sinister Image” in Santa Monica and I was very lucky in securing a number of well known cult figures for the first few shows, among them Russ Meyer. When I told Yvette I had Russ for my next show, she became very excited, telling me on the phone, "Oh David, I really have to be on that show too because you know Russ photographed my Playboy centerfold." When I heard this I could not have agreed more that this would be a classic reunion show if nothing else and I already booked the studio for two shows as I wanted to do an entire show on just BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Now I just assumed that Yvette had seen Russ since that shoot which took place in 1959 and this was now 1987. As the taping got closer, I reconfirmed her appearance, as I did with Russ. On the day of the show, Russ arrived first and he immediately adapted to the scene, as we arranged the chairs for the camera's and so on. I told Russ that Yvette was on her way and he affirmed that they had indeed not seen one another since 1959. When Yvette arrived, I could tell Russ was taken aback with Yvette's appearance, which is understandable if your last memory was of a pin-up girl at the height of her career and now here was Yvette nearly three decades later and bit worse for it. Anyway, Russ concealed his feelings rather well and greeted her with a hug and then we sat down for the duration. Yvette really didn’t enter into the conversation until we reached Russ's ‘Playboy’ days and then she sprang into action, recalling Russ asking her to say the name 'PAUL' over and over again to make her mouth pucker in a certain way. We taped for a half hour and then she had to leave, giving Russ a hug and a kiss as she left the studio. After she left, Russ looked at me and said, "What the fuck happened to Yvette Vickers? She looks like a boozehound to me, David. I've seen this happen to these broads time and again. What a shame because she had real sex appeal once.”

Shimmying for us in Silver Lake, Yvette was channeling her younger self.
A few days later, I invited Yvette over to a friend of mine who lived in Silver Lake to watch the finished product as I had just gotten it back from the lab. She was happy to do this and she too had something to share with me. It seems she had been working on her Cabaret act and wanted to show off one of her new numbers. Russ Meyer's words were still ringing in my ears when she arrived, wearing her party gear and more than ready to break in her new material. But first things first, as I put on the tape of our show with Russ and Yvette slowly began to really look at herself, perhaps for the first time in years and she did not like what she saw at all. I waited to see what, if anything, she was going to say about how she came off but instead in typically Yvette fashion she went on about how good an interviewer I was and so on without really addressing what I knew was bothering her, ever since I showed the damn thing to her. We had been serving Champagne and kept on serving it until we had gone through at least four bottles and she did not seem to care about driving all the way back home to Benedict Canyon from Silver Lake which is a long haul when you are sober and Mt. Everest when you’re drunk. In any case, Yvette decided it was the time to do her number and whatever she saw on that tape, this song was going to wash all the clouds away. She choose the Peggy Lee standard “Fever” to do that night, pushing away all the obstacles on the living room floor. She then placed a large pillow in the center and then turned on the record player, making her entrance from the front door into the center of the room, bumping to the beat: “I give you fever...when you kiss me.” In retrospect, it was very much like Marilyn Monroe doing her Cabaret act from BUS STOP, the only difference being Monroe was, well, Monroe. When Yvette was through, we reacted like everyone else in her life, like the number was fan-fucking-tastic. “Great stuff sweetie…you go girl!” She was pleased for about 10 minutes before she started to fade back into a more depressed state. By now, my friend and I knew she was not going anywhere near her car until morning and we pretty much told her so. Yvette remained sweet about it all but insisted she was leaving. “I always prefer to sleep in my own bed thank you very much, so gang way boy's, I am out of here, mama's going home."

Yvette Vickers, the beautiful movie star we will all remember her as.
I told her, “At least let us make some coffee and then call you a cab”, after all we could drive her car back in the morning as we were not in any shape to drive either. We were out of the living room for no less than five minutes only to return to find the front door wide open and of course Yvette and her car were gone. I was horrified and pissed in equal measure, feeling more than responsible for the whole mess. My friend was a bit more level headed and asked me who I could call to help intercept her before she harmed herself, or worse, a total stranger on the road. I remembered she was, at that time, dating a mutual friend Dave Stevens. Dave, was at the time, becoming a star in the world of comic art as the creator of THE ROCKETEER. Sadly, Dave passed away in 2008 and I am here to tell you a finer man you will not meet. Dave was a prince in everyway and he loved Yvette. Once we got Dave on the phone, he decided to start driving towards where we were, hoping to find Yvette before she got into Beverly Hills. After nearly an hour, Dave Stevens called back saying, "It's over. I caught up with her just as she was being arrested.” It seems Yvette got as far as Hollywood before her erratic driving got her pulled over. She could not pass a breathalyzer so she was booked on suspension of drunk driving and that was that. We were all relieved she was unharmed and pulled through this without having an accident or worse. I still fondly remember Dave Stevens (whose grace and good humor made him the very best friend to have in a town like Hollywood) laughing at one point when he described what he saw when he pulled up to the spot where they were about to place Yvette Vickers in the squad car. She was yelling, "YOU LET GO OF ME THIS INSTANT. DO YOU KNOW WHOM I AM?…I AM A MOVIE STAR, GODDAMN IT.” I will always be grateful that Russ Meyer never heard about this since it was his observations that made this incident all the more tragic. Remember everyday is Halloween in Hollywood.

I do have a few more similar anecdotes regarding Yvette but they all have this dark side as a common denominator. Yvette was a beautiful woman in her youth and achieved success in both her public and private life. However, nothing lasts forever and as I have pointed out in chapter after chapter in my book, sometimes it is important to know when it’s time to let go and just be happy with what life has given you, rather than dwell on how or why the glow has left the rose. The worst thing Yvette did to herself was to use alcohol as an alternative to facing her demons and casting them aside. Her real beauty was within and always was, if only she could have understood this sooner rather than later.

It took her passing for me to open up about my time with her and I do this with the objective that anyone reading this, who has a eye on a career in this business, will take heed to stay focused on what is real and never ever believe your own publicity, especially when YOU are the one doing the PR.

Watch the marvelous Yvette in her classic shindig scene from, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” I love how she lifts up the back of her hair when she walks toward the camera as if to say, “You see, I am something special.”


  1. Excellent piece, David. Thanks for sharing these memories.

  2. Wonderful David!!! Thankyou for giving us your insight on this tragic and very talented actress!!!!!

  3. Another fantastic look at a Hollywood icon!!