#hollywood

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    Actress Charlize Theron, and recent star of the film Bombshell, has spoken in length to NPRabout her experience with sexual harassment by a “very famous director” early on in her career. The actress reported that the incident occurred in 1994 when she traveled to an audition to a well-known director’s house. Once Theron arrived, the director was “drinking in his pajamas” and at some point during the night, he touched her leg inappropriately, prompting her to get the fuck out of there.

    Like many victims of abuse and harassment, Theron blamed herself for not telling him to stop. She also figured that the motives behind the audition’s location should have been apparent, being in his private residence on a Saturday night. She felt foolish. "I put a lot of blame on myself... that I didn't say all the right things, and that I didn't tell him to take a hike, and that I didn't do all of those things that we so want to believe we'll do in those situations," she said.

    In Theron’s latest role, she plays former Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly, who alongside Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman, portrays the real-life story of how women took down the CEO and chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment at work—leading to his resignation. Although the story is a remarkable one, Kelly and her colleagues were anything but feminists and have made some insulting remarks before (Kelly’s career has never recovered since she defended Blackface on air). After all, this is Fox News we’re talking about.

    But Theron and her co-stars know this. She commented on how their aim wasn’t trying to make them “heroes” or “whitewash” anything, “We were going to pepper those things into the film so that we were authentic to them and the story and still feel like, through all of that, that what they did was still incredible. They took down this media mogul, and that has never happened before.” Maybe her opinion would differ if she wasn’t white.

    Still, the coinciding of the film’s release and her story feels like we could be about to receive a second wave of the MeToo movement. The decision to speak out was changed from a moment she recalls a plan on confronting the accused years later, only to feel disappointed with his dismissal of what happened. He dodged the subject and acted like it was nothing, regardless of how much it had obviously affected Theron. She wanted this big moment but never got it. And now she feels that this is the start of his retribution.

    The importance of details, severity, names and so on are not what matters in this case. What does matter is the prevalence of this happening to women then and now and in every industry. When, and if ever, Theron decides to name the director is up to her. For now, what’s important is allowing women to feel safe to share their stories and see the sufficient actions taken against the perpetrators.

     

    Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

     

     

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  • Lena Dunham 2012 Shankbone 3e00d aeb25

    Lena Dunham has established herself through writing that satirizes a specific sort of individual: self-absorbed, young, white. Her resume includes Tiny Furniture (recent white college graduate), Girls (twenty-ish white college graduates) and most recently, Camping (unpleasant white yuppies). Dunham's body of work makes Variety’s recent report all the more frustrating: Dunham has been tapped by Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams to adapt Melissa Fleming’s Syrian refugee tale, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival.

    The book tells the true account of Doaa al-Zamel, a young Syrian woman who, after a brief relocation to Egypt, attempts to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Soon her boat—carrying 500 refugees—is attacked and capsizes. Adrift for four days, al-Zamel is one of 11 people to survive. Fleming’s is an imperfect biography, but the refugee story presents necessary questions: How can the international community recognize the humanity of brown, foreign bodies? How do ordinary individuals endure war’s extraordinary trauma?

    To tell a refugee tale well is tricky. The best biopics display a deep knowledge of, and empathy for, the country’s sociopolitical history. In this case, Syria’s complicated place within the Arab Spring. So is Dunham, a master of white privilege TV, the most apt choice to tackle this subject? The answer is no. Just, no.  

    Dunham doesn't have a long, or successful, track record of writing characters of color as anything more than accompaniment to the white cast. Remember Donald Glover's short-lived stint on the second season of Girls? Glover played Hannah's Republican boyfriend, who was dumped by Hannah after two episodes. When Dunham asked Glover over email if he felt tokenized, he responded, "Let’s not think back on mistakes we made in the past, let’s just focus on what lies in front of us."

    I can't help but feel more mistakes are ahead, though. Hollywood has long had a problem with Middle East and North African representation. A study presented in 2016 by the MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition (MAAC) titled “Terrorists and Tyrants: Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Actors in Prime Time and Streaming Television” analyzed 242 programs and found that MENA actors occupy only 1% of regular roles. 78% of guest roles were “terrorists, soldiers or tyrants.”

    Hollywood movies set in the Middle East are plagued by racist tropes: a dusty sepia tone and wide shots of war-torn cities, a score of that tired “leily ya leily” chant. Last year’s Jon Hamm-led Beirut had the tagline: “2,000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder. Welcome to Beirut.” Foreign film-viewership is low in America, so these depicitions often influence Western ideas of the Middle East. 

    There is a real need for more MENA screenwriters and the informed perspectives they offer. It’s dispiriting to imagine what an Arab author could do with the opportunity given to Dunham.

    Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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  • mayerfarrow 028f8

    Sunday night, The New Yorker published an incendiary report of new sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In the piece, Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, recounts how Kavanaugh exposed his penis to her at a freshman party, to the jeers of male onlookers. Kavanaugh and the White House denied the accusations.

    By Monday afternoon, national media began discussing Ronan Farrow, a reporter attributed to the piece. The outlets’ headlines tell an unflattering, but illuminating, story:

    CNN reports, “Ronan Farrow details new Kavanaugh allegations.”

    The Huffington Post reports: “Ronan Farrow Stands Behind Reporting on Latest Brett Kavanaugh Accuser.”

    From Yahoo News: “US Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh latest target of Ronan Farrow.”

    Notice anyone missing from those headlines? Maybe New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, who shares a byline with Farrow on Sunday’s article? Mayer is a staple of the magazine; she's been on staff since 1995 and is the current chief Washington correspondent covering culture, politics, and national security. 

    Mayer is no stranger to covering Supreme Court nominees accused of sexual harrasment. Mayer co-authored with Jill Ambramsom Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas (1994), a study of his fractious nomination and appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas' case reverberates strongly today; in 1991, Anita Hill testified before an all-male Senate Judiciary committee that, as her previous boss, Thomas had sexually harrased her. Hill was deemed delusional, called by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a high ranking member on the Judiciary committee—who is still a member 27 years later—as suffering from "erotomania."

    After hundreds of interviews, Mayer and Abramsom illustrated the political machinations that conspired against Hill. Machinations still at work in favor of Brett Kavanaugh. So Mayer is not some transitory contributor or entry-level writer. She is an authority. While readers aren’t privy to the magazine's exact division of labor, their shared byline implies equal reporting. So why then is the spotlight trained on Farrow?

    As the son of Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow was, in a way, never far from the public eye. As a journalist, he shot to professional prominence in late 2017 after his expose in The New Yorkerhelped uncover Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse. He would go on to be jointly awarded the Pulitzer Prize with The New York Times’ team, led by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Both teams helped spur monumental change within mainstream reaction to sexual abuse; we are, according to most media outlets, in the throes of a “reckoning.”

    Yet of the three reporters, Farrow alone was referenced during the 2018 Emmys opening monologue. When addressing Netflix, host Colin Jost joked, “Netflix, of course, has the most nominations tonight. If you’re a network executive, that’s the scariest thing you can possibly hear, except maybe ‘Sir, Ronan Farrow is on line one.'”

    Farrow is of a selective class: the Celebrity Journalist. The term was first coined in 1986 by The Atlantic writer James Fallows to describe the journalist as public personality, a highly-paid figure whose presence rivals the story in prominence. This “celebrification of journalists” is usually credited to Watergate and its principle journalists, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. 

    Female journalists, even those working the same story, are often not awarded the same recognition. There are, of course, the exceptions—the Joan Didions, the Christiane Amanpours—but history favors male journalists. In 2007, Ira Glass curated the unfortunetly titled journalism anthology, The New Kings of Nonfiction. Of the authors included, the gender ratio of women to men was 2 to 14. Last year’s report by the non-profit feminist organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts had a similarly dismal outcome. That year, only 2 of the 15 major magazines had published more women writers than men. Women’s writing accounted for under 40% of the overall articles published. It was a 15% rise compared the previous year, but far from ideal.

    So, we return to the New Yorker article on Kavanaugh. Return to Jane Mayer, Ronan Farrow, and forgotten bylines. Female journalists deserve credit for their work, especially during an era when unethical portrayals of women reporters are on the rise. This situation also showcases the trouble in making any one journalist the voice of the #MeToo movement. Celebrity is a double-edged sword; the journalist’s name contributes gravity to the piece, but can threaten to eclipse the issue. And when the issue is sexual abuse, we—reporters, readers—should stay especially vigilante to the gender politics at play.

    Top photo: Jane Mayer by Larry D. Moore, Ronan Farrow by Fuzheado, both via Wikimedia Commons

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    Javier Bardem has (yet again!) voiced support for director Woody Allen. During a master class at the Lumière Film Festival in Lyon, France, Bardem told the audience Allen is “a genius,” adding that, “I would work with him tomorrow,” reports Variety. The Spanish actor played the passionate painter, Juan Antonio, in Allen's 2007 film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

    The allegations that Allen sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, have long polarized Hollywood elite. In February 2014, Farrow published a New York Times op-ed, writinging, “when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me.” 

    Allen has resolutely denied Farrow's accusations since the '90s, and no charges were filed after a police investigation. The accusations gained newfound attention in the #MeToo movement, compelling past collaborators—including Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Colin Firth, and Timothée Chalamet—to apologize for working with Allen.

    Bardem, apparently, will not join in what the Huffington Post reports he describes as a “public lynching" of Allen.

    According to Vulture, Bardem told the class, "Today, 11 years later, it is the same accusation. Public accusations are very dangerous. If some day there is a trial and it’s proven to be true, I would change my opinion, but at this moment, nothing has changed.”

    This isn’t the first time the  actor has defended Allen. In an April interview with French newspaper Paris Match, Bardem said he was shocked by #MeToo’s “treatment” of Allen, saying he has “doubts” about Dylan Farrow’s accusations.

    Whether Bardem will face (harsher) backlash is to be seen. But despite Bardem’s confidence, Allen’s fan club only grows smaller. 

    Top Image:Wikimedia Commons / Georges BiardGeorges Biard

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  • 1920px Olivia Munn 29726372858 05aba

    The latest news regarding Shane Black’s reboot of 20th Century Fox’s Predator franchise gives the film’s title a more sinister meaning. On September 6th, The Los Angeles Times reported that the studio cut a scene featuring Olivia Munn and Steven Wilder Striegel, a longtime friend of Black. After filming, Munn discovered that Streigel is a registered sex offender: in 2010, Striegel pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer in response to allegations of his attempts to seduce a 14-year-old girl into a sexual relationship. Striegel served six months in prison.

    After Munn shared this information with her lawyer and manager, Fox studio executives were quick to remove Striegel from the film. In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, a Fox spokesperson said, “Our studio was not aware of Mr. Striegel’s background when he was hired. We were not aware of his background during the casting process due to legal limitations that impede studios from running background checks on actors.” However, Shane Black was well aware that his friend is a registered sex offender and originally issued a defense saying, “I personally chose to help a friend,” but later released a follow-up statement and apology.

    Munn told The Los Angeles Times that she found the ordeal “both surprising and unsettling that Shane Black, our director, did not share this information to the cast, crew, or Fox Studios prior to, during, or after production.” She then had to go to Toronto International Film Festival to promote the film, explaining on Twitter that she's contactually obligated to do so. However, Munn found that she had to do interviews alone (save for one with eleven-year-old Jacob Tremblay). According to The Hollywood Reporter, most of Munn’s co-stars chose to withdraw from scheduled interviews, likely because of the controversy surrounding the deleted scene. 

    After finishing an interview with Tremblay, Munn sat down for a solo interview with The Hollywood Reporter in which she discussed what transpired after the initial bombshell, as well as her justified disappointment in Shane Black and her fellow cast members. What’s important to note here is that no matter how shocking and uncomfortable this news was for the entire production staff, Munn immediately emphasized that “It’s been most tough on the Jane Doe that was in the story because the victim is the victim. Whatever she’s gone through the subsequent years is most important to me.”

    When asked about how difficult it’s been to deal with this incident with the rest of the cast and Shane Black, Munn does not mince her words, saying, “I don’t know why this has to be such a hard fight. I do feel like I’ve been treated by some people that I’m the one who went to jail or I’m the one that put this guy on set… I don’t know how to pretend, I don’t know how to skirt around the issue. I just know how to be honest about it. It’s a very lonely feeling to be sitting here by myself when I should be sitting here with the rest of the cast.” She added that while she appreciates Black’s apology, she would have preferred to receive it directly as opposed to reading it on the internet.

    After the Hollywood Reporter interview was published, Munn's Predator costar Sterling K. Brown gave a statement supporting her on Twitter, and Keegan-Michael Key's representative gave a statement to the Hollywood Reporter saying Key had reached out to Munn privately to support her the week before. Predator cast members Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, and Thomas Jane have not commented. 

    In response to questions regarding a more structured hiring system to prevent such things, Munn specifies that the industry’s top executives cannot be relied on to make changes as “they are the people who created this disparity in the first place.” She credits people on the internet for keeping the outrage and the conversations alive. “If the fans and public keep expressing that they won’t go support people who are abusers or organizations or companies that support that, then that will make them change.” 

    Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America

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  • Screenshot 2020 01 08 16.37.37 74b29

     The idea of having a film made about yourself, narcissist or not, sounds great in theory. You get to watch a ninety-plus minute, romanticized version of you played by a better-looking actor or actress on screen and see how you’re perceived by others, which most have always wondered about— at least, I do.

    Yet, the 2019 film Hustlers' real-life protagonist Samantha Barbash, played by Jennifer Lopez, is unhappy with the way she was portrayed and is now suing the actresses production company for $40 million dollars. Maybe unhappy is an understatement.

    Hustlers was inspired by the Jessica Pressler New York Magazine article about “A modern Robin Hood story: the strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting men and gave to, well, themselves.” As the title suggests, strippers, who were led by Barbash, often drugged their clients and stole from them while they were unconscious and inebriated. These clients also happened to work on Wall Street, meaning it wasn’t just a couple of hundred dollars; it was estimated that the group stole around $200,000. Barbash was eventually convicted and pled guilty to the charges which included assault, conspiracy, and grand larceny, resulting in five years probation.

    But, despite Pressler’s article and coverage in the media, Barbash feels the way her story was told is inaccurate, particularly in the film. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Barbash mentions the aspects that stood out to her, from Lopez’s mannerism to concocting drug mixtures with her daughter- which never happened. Further, these depictions jarred Barbash, “I’m actually offended by that. That’s attacking my character. I’m a mother. My son is grown. But I’m still a mother,” she said.

    Barbash was asked to contribute to the making of Hustlers but declined due to the compensation. “I’m a businesswoman. J. Lo doesn’t work for free. Why would I? At the end of the day, I have bags that are worth more than what they wanted to pay me,” she said.

    The film did well among critics and in figures, grossing over $33 million the first weekend of its release. After numerous people asking if Barbash had watched Hustlers as well as its popularity she figured she’d go and see it for herself and was somewhat disappointed. So much so, that she filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Nuyorican Productions for exploiting her image and proceeding to use it anyway, without any waivers being signed by Barbash. She is seeking $40 million dollars in total, half for compensation and the other for punitive damages.

    “Defendants did not take caution to protect the rights of Ms. Barbash by creating a fictionalized character, or by creating a composite of characters to render JLO’s character a new fictitious one; rather they engaged in a systematic effort to make it well-known that JLO was playing Ms. Barbash,” the lawsuit reads, reported by Page Six. It also includes halting producing copies of the film.

    It’s a gray area because although the film didn’t have consent from Barbash to tell her story, it was public interest and it’s not the first occurrence of the media using someone’s identity for profit. Still, in this age, anyone can become an unwanted viral meme overnight, be catfished, have multiple "finstas" and have our Google searches and likes saved to an unknown database. The internet has skewed the concept of identity and will continue to.

    Image Courtesy of TMZ via YouTube

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  • Mamie Van Doren  Photo: photofest

    Discovered by Howard Hughes at 18 and poised to become Universal Studios’ answer to Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren made a name for herself in the ’50s playing big screen bad girls. Now 90 and as daring as ever, Van Doren opens up about sexism, censorship, and that time she almost hooked up with Marlene Dietrich. 

    Mamie Van Dorenis a Hollywood icon. Tough as diamonds, she is the very last of the platinum blond studio starlets—appearing in 41 films between 1951 and 2002—and she is, at this very moment, casting her spell on me.

    “Do you like one-night stands?” Van Doren asks sweetly over the telephone from her home in Newport Beach, CA. She says exactly what she means and isn’t waiting for a permission slip. After decades of rebelling against ageism and gender norms, today she still poses as a nude model, and her desire to destigmatize female sexuality is ever-present. Within minutes, she’s uncovered my peculiar fetish for pencil mustaches and begins to dish. “Clark Gable had that mustache, you probably would’ve liked it,” she says, giggling, then goes on to describe how his signature facial hair tickled her in the kissing scenes for their 1958 film Teacher’s Pet. “We had to shoot 10 takes [because of it]. I had such a crush on him.”    

    A complex and provocative woman, Van Doren is the star of numerous midcentury films centering around counterculture and rebellion, including Untamed Youth (1957), High School Confidential (1958), and The Beat Generation (1959). Her performances made her the subject of juvenile delinquent fantasies for decades to come and gave her a reputation as the ultimate bad girl.

    Often captured bewitching audiences beneath a shock of icy blond hair, the points on her bullet bra sharp as daggers, there was nothing safe about Van Doren, and the censors knew it. A decade before the sexual revolution, she had the nerve to prioritize her own pleasure, saying and doing what she wanted, and she’s still that way today. 

    The press crowned Mamie Van Doren, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield the “Three M’s” in the 1950s. Hollywood’s “It” girls, they were considered the cream of the honey-haired crop. But while her peers would go on to die tragically in 

    their youths, further glorifying and commodifying them, Van Doren would not, outliving the combined ages of both Monroe and Mansfield decades ago. Her survival has spared her legacy the tacky adorations sold at tourist traps next to Van Doren’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But it also keeps her from the same degree of deserved recognition. 

    "I guess I’m known for fucking. That’s become my favorite word.” 

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    Photo: Thomas Dixon

     

    summer, 1975

    Photo: Still fromUntamed Youth, 1957

    “Can you imagine? I’ve been here almost a hundred years?!” she exclaims, laughing. “Imagine all the crap I’ve been through!” In fact, when I catch up with her she’s just celebrated her 90th birthday and is busy working on the follow-up to her 1987 memoir, Playing the Field. “How you treat your age depends on your attitude, so try to fucking forget about how old you are,” she muses before adding, “life doesn’t even start until 40.”

    Born Joan Lucille Olander, she grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression. Her family had no electricity or running water and scarlet fever, polio, and tuberculosis were rampant in her community. “Only the strong survived,” Van Doren recalls. “Every day, I saw a hearse taking someone away. The whole family [next door] was wiped out from scarlet fever.”

    As a child, she was weaned on golden-era greats like Mae West and Jean Harlow, who helped her develop a taste for the sultry more than the sweet. And when her family moved to L.A. when she was 11, her interest in Hollywood grew. Taking her cue from her favorite femme fatale Carole Lombard, she paled her blonde to platinum and set out to see her name in lights.orn Joan Lucille Olander, she grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression. Her family had no electricity or running water and scarlet fever, polio, and tuberculosis were rampant in her community. “Only the strong survived,” Van Doren recalls. “Every day, I saw a hearse taking someone away. The whole family [next door] was wiped out from scarlet fever.”

    Her ambitions almost ended before they began, however, when she eloped at 17 and found herself in a violent marriage. One evening, her husband attempted to throw her off their second-story balcony in a drunken rage. She fought for her life, escaped that man, and recommitted herself to creating a career. “I really wasn’t interested in getting married,” she says of her outlook after that. “A woman had to cook and be a prostitute for [her husband]. They had to do everything for him, and all he had to do was go to work in the morning. I don’t think so, that’s not my scene. I did what I wanted to do. I always have.”

    Van Doren marched on, landing a gig modeling for famed pinup artist Alberto Vargas and winning the Miss Palm Springs pageant when she was 18, which brought her to the attention of producer Howard Hughes. Through Hughes, she eventually made it into the pictures. But even in the small roles the studios assigned her at the beginning of her career, she always seemed to draw focus. “Oh God, the [studio executives] were afraid of me,” she recalls. “They wouldn’t put me on certain shows because they didn’t want women copying me and being independent.”

    And as her screen time grew, her voluptuous figure and provocative moves soon provoked the ire of the censorship board trying to make films of the day adhere to the “Hays Code.”According to the Hays guidelines, “no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it.” This meant no “unnecessary passion,” interracial relationships, homosexuality, and of course, none of Van Doren’s signature pelvic thrusts. “I couldn’t do a forward bump when I was doing my dancing,” she recalls. “It wasn’t acceptable. Elvis was acceptable but women were not. Well, I just said, ‘Fuck that noise,’ and I went for it.” 

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    Photo: Photoplay magazine, 1958

    Rock ‘n’ roll was just making its way into the mainstream as Van Doren’s career was taking off. But fearing the havoc her hips would create, censors insisted she stay seated while singing during certain televised performances. “I was constantly a target,” she says of that time. “I was banned from TV because I was too sexy. I was giggling and wiggling, and they didn’t want women to do that. So, I was bad, and Marilyn was good.” 

    The Catholic church would come for her, too. The “Legion of Decency” was a rating system created by the Church to censor films they deemed indecent and immoral. And Van Doren’s film Untamed Youth was the only American film condemned by the Church in 1957. “They wouldn’t give me The Legion of Decency because, I guess, my breasts were too large, or I wore a cute sweater,” she quips. “That’s why he hated me, because I was a woman.” The “he” she’s referring to is Cardinal Francis Spellman, the enraged archbishop who personally condemned Van Doren and did his best to destroy her career. (Though it’s interesting to note that credible allegations of child molestation against Spellman eventually surfaced in 2019.) “He thought he’d stop me, and he did for a while. You have no idea, I was fighting the studio, fighting the Hays office,” she says with both pain and pride in her voice. “I was really having a problem. But I managed to pull it off. I’m glad I could help others in the future. Mae West opened the door for me. I opened the door for Madonna.”

    In the 1960s, Van Doren began transitioning from film to live performances. In one memorable brush with fate, she was unable to perform a gig down South, so Jayne Mansfield was offered the job instead. It was on her way to this show that Mansfield was killed in a fatal car crash. Profoundly affected by the tragedy, Van Doren decided to give back by making her first of two trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops. “Nobody knows what war is up close until you witness it,” she says. “For three months, I flew around in a helicopter wondering if any second I’d be shot out of the sky.” Then one night after a performance in the Mekong Delta, it looked like her fears might come to fruition. “All of a sudden I saw a red light...they were shooting rockets off, and the rockets were really coming after us. We nearly didn’t make it.”

    Another very close call would be in Saigon. After dinner one evening, she surprised a group of children attaching grenades to her jeep. Shortly after visiting multiple army hospitals, she would find herself admitted to one, spending three months bedridden with dysentery. “I nearly died in Vietnam,” she recalls. “I came so close to death.” In recognition of her service, Van Doren was made an honorary Colonel in 2015. “I sign certain things Colonel Van Doren,” she says, humbly.

    But even the horrors of war couldn’t prepare Van Doren for the date she went on with Burt Reynolds not long after returning home. In a misguided attempt to seduce her, he  invited her to his set to watch him perform his own stunts. “That, to me, wasn’t very impressive. I had just gotten back from Vietnam. That’s the genuine thing,” she says. “He jumps through a window and gets lots of applause and I’m thinking, ‘I’m bored to death.’”

    But then he said something that made her decide to give him a chance: “You know,” he told her, “I’ve been considered the male Mamie Van Doren.”

    She decided to indulge her curiosity. “Well, I found out when I got to his apartment, he was no male Mamie Van Doren,” she recalls. “One of those lady cigarettes would have covered itnicely.”

    Reynolds, however, was far from Van Doren’s only celebrity lover. She and music mogul Quincy Jones actually met as teenagers and quickly became sweethearts in the 1940s when racial segregation was overt, not implied. “We started to go out, making out, and going to all the Black places,” she recalls. “We weren’t allowed to go to any white places, they wouldn’t serve him. They wouldn’t serve me, either. It was really bad. We’d have to hide.” This was at a time when studios contractually controlled everything about an actress—from dictating their diets and monitoring their weight to managing their sex lives, pregnancies, and marriages. The studio executives were clear, dating a Black man would mean the end of her career. “I didn’t care,” she says, “he was perfect for me.”

    Other celebs the press has romantically linked to Van Doren include Clark Gable, Johnny Carson, Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Warren Beatty. But for Van Doren, there will always be one star she will think of as the one who got away. It was a rainy day in 1956. Van Doren was in a powder blue suit and fox fur stole on her way to a fitting at Columbia Studios. When she arrived, a German accent caught her attention. “Oh my God, I’m thinking to myself, it’s Marlene Dietrich,” Van Doren tells me. “I felt so, I’m just, I’m just shaking.” Dietrich perched herself above Van Doren, her rain hat dapperly covering one eye. “Well, that was enough to do me in,” she tells me. “I knew she kissed women in her movies and that really turned me on.” Dietrich was oozing confidence. “I never had anyone flirt with me like that, and it was Marlene Dietrich on top of it! She acted like she was interested!” Van Doren explains she had just given birth—to Perry, the son she had with her second husband, bandleader Ray Anthony—and wasn’t sure what to do. “Today, it would’ve been a different story. Now that I’m older, I would realize being with Marlene Dietrich would be very sensuous, and she must be very, very, good at what she does,” she tells me with the only hint of regret she reveals in our entire two-and-a-half-hour conversation.

    Van Doren would go on to finally find the love of her life in her fifth husband, actor and dentist Thomas Dixon, whom she has been married to for the last 42 years. “I’m very sexy, even now. My sexual desires run really good about once a week,” she says of keeping that romance alive. “The feeling is even better than it was when I was younger because I enjoy it more.” Dixon is 17 years her junior and Van Doren thinks that is part of what makes them work. “It pays to be with somebody younger so when you get older you have somebody to help you. Generally, it’s the other way around, the men expect the women to take care of them.”

    When it comes to passions, however, Van Doren isn’t single minded. She’s also deeply invested in politics. During the last administration she reveled in using her Twitter account to troll Trump and she campaigned hard for Kamala Harris, whom she believes will be our next president. “We will have a woman, a Black woman, president. Isn’t that something?” she exclaims. “I never thought I’d live to see that. I hope I live that long to see it. I mean, I really do.” 

    bornreckless

    Photo: Born Reckless poster, 1958

    It’s clear after meeting her that the real secret to Mamie Van Doren’s eternal glamour is her unwillingness to self-destruct. Many forces tried to stop her, but she just continues fighting for the right to be herself. And at 90, she remains unjaded, unfiltered, and deeply inspiring. She would, unlike so many others before her, survive the double-edged sword of Hollywood starlet stardom, only to emerge stronger than ever. “You can do anything you want to do,” she reassures me before we say goodbye. “If you want to do it bad enough.”  

     

    Words by Kelly Kathleen

    This article originally appeared in BUST's Summer 2021 print edition. Subscribe today!

     

  • 14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop tagged

    In the past several months, we’ve seen the #TimesUp movement challenge a romanticized idea of Hollywood and reveal just how much work the film industry has to do with the way it treats women. But the hope is that the exposure of this raw reality leads to progress. Cinema Libre Studio, based in LA, claims they’ve noticed a “subtle but important shift in the industry,” marked by the release of films about women who shaped history, directed by women. This year, the studio is telling the story of Mabel Stark, a female circus performer who performed stunts no man would at the time, and Lou Andreas-Salmome, the first female psychoanalyst. These women broke ground in their professions and eras, but their stories aren’t well known. The directors of these films are hoping to change that. We spoke with Leslie Zemeckis, creator of the documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, about what drove her to explore Stark’s history.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel working with one of her tigers.

    You make documentaries about female performers. What inspires you to tell these stories?

    I am drawn to women that were hugely famous in their day, but have since been forgotten. Their stories have never been explored, we just know the headlines of their lives. Mabel’s, for example: “World’s First Female Tiger Trainer Mauled.”  We don’t know why she ever walked into the cage for the first time, or how hard was it for a woman—back when women did not even have the vote—to break into a male-dominated arena. I am always seeking the “why” and searching for inspiring voices that women today can look up to. It was so difficult on many levels in the early 1900s for women to succeed at any endeavor, be it burlesque or the circus (both which were a bit frowned upon), or really any other career. I like to look to the past to inspire the future and all that we, as women, can do.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer.

    What kind of influence do you think telling these stories have on our world?

    I think if we show women what other women went through, they will prevail. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman had to marry who she was told, her husband was in charge of her finances and property, and women weren’t allowed to enter certain careers. But Mabel Stark did not let being a female or an older female prevent her from pursuing what she loved. She trained tigers into her 70s!

    What happens when more stories about strong women are told?

    We become stronger. 

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel Stark at the dining table with her tigers.

    Why is it so important that women work behind the scenes on films?

    Because we have important stories to tell that others might not pursue. When I decided to do my first movie about the history of burlesque, Behind the Burly Q, no one (producers and financiers) was interested. Why do you want to do that? I wanted to because no one had. And the movie is hugely popular, bought by Showtime, and that led to my next subject, Siamese vaudeville stars, and now Mabel. All subjects no one had explored before. Women have to take a leap of faith that what might interest them will interest others.

    14 09 HarlemH 077 idling AL crop taggedMabel worked as a stunt double for Mae West in “I’m No Angel” in 1933

    If you could go back in time to any era, which would you choose?

    I’d love to pop into the 1930s and 1940s! I’d see all the shows and would love to experience a big original authentic circus.

    Top photo: Mabel was in the ring with more tigers than anyone could possibly fight off her.

     All photos © Cinema Libre Studio

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    Queens Sandra Oh, Regina King, and Glenn Close each won their categories and our hearts with their Golden Globes speeches last night.

    Oh made history as the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role in BBC America’s Killing Eve—and for being the first Asian host of the show. In her acceptance speech for her win, she thanked her parents, speaking in Korean. As sweet as it was, the real speech to watch from Oh came at the conclusion of her opening monologue with co-host Andy Samberg.

    “I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here, to look out into this audience, and witness this moment of change,” Oh said. “I’m not fooling myself; next year could be different, it probably will be. But right now, this moment, is real. Because I see you, and I see you. All these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else.”

    This moment of appreciation for the diverse casts of 2018 set the tone for the evening. Many award winners throughout the night spoke about their gratitude for the stories told in 2018.

    Regina King won Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Her acceptance speech added to Frances McDormand’s inclusion rider speech from last year’s Oscars, as King promised, “I am making a vow, and it’s going to be tough, to make sure everything I produce [in the next two years], that it’s 50% women.”

    King ended her speech by challenging those both in and outside of the entertainment industry to use the power they have to follow suit.

    In one of the last awards of the night, Glenn Close won Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for The Wife. The movie, about a woman who writes her husband’s Nobel-winning novel, took a long time to make—“It’s called The Wife. I think that’s why it took 14 years to get made,” remarked Close.

    Close related her mother’s subservience to the societal expectation of women as nurturers, but turned it into a call for women to find their own fulfilment in life. She received a standing ovation.

    It may feel as though these speeches, among others throughout the night and surely ones to come this awards season, are beating a dead horse. Is it necessary for everyone to still reference Time's Up, #MeToo, and the need for diversity in filmmaking?

    In short, yes.

    Filmmaking is a long process. The average amount of time it takes to make a studio film from greenlighting it to the wide release is just under two and a half years, according to data researcher Stephen Follows' "Film Data and Education." And that’s a studio film, AKA the well-oiled machine version of movie-making.

    That means we haven’t truly seen the repercussions of #MeToo and Time’s Up on the big screen yet. It also means those in power in the industry are only just now seeing the positive returns of diverse stories and casts on screen. This is exactly the right time for award accepters to emphasize the need to continue the push for more women and people of color in front of and behind the camera because in the timescape of filmmaking, those in power are still in the “testing the waters” phase, deciding if this is a trend that should become the norm or not.

    Until it is the norm, we'll continue to have awards shows like last night. Several films with diverse cast and directors of color will get nominations (BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, etc.) but will walk away empty-handed, while more mild-mannered films that loosely and problematically claim progressive values (*cough* Green Book*cough*) win big.

    We stan these three Golden Globes queens and their inclusive, inspiring messages. Hollywood, please heed their requests accordingly.

    Top photo: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

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