This is the second of two parts remembering Jeanne Carmen, who starred in the 1959 film “Monster of Piedras Blancas,” which was filmed in Cayucos. Carmen died Dec. 20, 2007, of lymphoma at her Orange County home. She was 77.
Jeanne Carmen made a name for herself in the 1950s as a pinup model and B-movie actress, but her claim to fame in the final decade of her life was in the stories she told of life in the Hollywood of the late 1950s and early ’60s. Rat Pack Hollywood.
These were the waning days of the studio system and changing movie mores and public tastes. This was the era of Marilyn Monroe and, in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
Author Paul Parla knew Jeanne’s stories and of her old friends. He convinced her to begin selling autographed pictures at memorabilia shows, which led to Jeanne’s celebrity comeback in the 1990s. That in turn spawned the 1998’s “E! True Hollywood Story Jeanne Carmen: Queen of the B-Movies.”
“She’s an icon in her own way as exemplifying the beauty of the 1950s starlet,” Parla said in a TV interview. “She’s really basically the same 18-year-old girl who bagged Frank Sinatra for a good time.
“She’s got these great stories to tell, and whether you believe them or not, she’s part of the Hollywood mythology. She’s in there with the Kennedys and Marilyn (Monroe) … just part of the mix.”
Here’s what she told me about three of the biggest celebrities of that era:
• Frank Sinatra: “Frank was a sweet guy, but he was boring to me because I was a young girl still in my early 20s, and he was in his late 30s,” she said. “It’s OK when you’re 38 and they’re 48, but not when you’re 21 or 22. That’s not OK because you’re just living, and they’ve already lived. So I found him to be very boring. I’d go down to spend a weekend with him in Palm Springs, and I could never stay the whole weekend. I’d sneak out in the middle of the night and drive home, or I’d say I was going to the hairdresser and never come back. I was very independent. I was a young girl with a great body, an interesting face, and money. You got to be a little bit of a monster on that one, haven’t you? But I was a nice monster.”
• Elvis Presley: “I met Elvis when he was 21 (or Presley’s breakout year in 1956) at a party. We started dating until he went into the Army (in 1958). Elvis was sweet, but he was, at that point, inside of himself, very shy and quiet. I was sophisticated and grown up when I met him. He was still like a little boy. He was still in awe of everything. I had already been with Sinatra. How can you go from Sinatra to Elvis is what it came right down to.”
• Marilyn Monroe: “Marilyn was one of the sweetest people I think I’ve ever met. She would give you the shirt off her back. You wouldn’t dare say, ‘I like those earrings.’ She’d hand them to you. She really got her lumps in Hollywood. She was not all those things they called her. She was just a really nice girl, wanting very much to be a movie actress, not a movie star particularly. She wanted to be a great actress so bad.”
Success despite headstrong attitude
Jeanne continued to act in the late 1950s, landing roles on TV and in B-movies, including Allied Artists’ “Portland Expose,” Warner Bros.’ “Untamed Youth,” with rocker Eddie Cochran, and as a lead in Republic Pictures’ “The Three Outlaws,” a story about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Alan Hale Jr. (who gained fame as the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”) before landing a role in “Piedras Blancas.”
Her last role was as Mrs. Lipschitz in 2005’s “The Naked Monster,” a film co-directed by Newsom and Wayne Berwick. As a kid, Berwick also had a role in “Monster of Piedras Blancas,” which was directed by his dad, Irvin Berwick.
“I succeeded in spite of myself,” Jeanne told me. “I just kept going up the ladder. I was always saying no to everything that came along, but I always had people, other actors, husbands, whatever, who pushed me into it.”
After Monroe’s death in 1962 — Jeanne believes the actress was a victim of foul play — she left Los Angeles, gave up the fast life and became a housewife and mom in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I would have done really big things had I not left (Hollywood),” she said. “I was starting to really get offers, but I left town … and didn’t come back for 18 years.”
After her three kids were raised, Jeanne ventured back into the industry, using memorabilia shows and her roles in B-movies and Three Stooges shorts to reconnect with old fans.
“I’ve had the most interesting life, probably, than anyone that you’ll ever meet, or know or hear about,” she said with a hearty laugh. “I can’t imagine anyone from where I came from doing what I did.”
• • •
Jeanne’s son, Brandon, has written a biography of his mom: “Jeanne Carmen: My Wild, Wild Life as a New York Pin-up Queen, Trick Shot Golfer and Hollywood Actress.”
For more about Jeanne Carmen visit her Web site.
— Jay Thompson
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