PINUP OF THE PAST - MISS AUGUST 2007
She’s probably best known for being a close friend to Marilyn Monroe. Pop singer Taylor Dayne has called her “the real deal.” New York Times bestselling author J. Randy Taraborrelli has said, “she’s a part of the Hollywood mythology.” One things for sure, Jeanne Carmen was quite the party girl in her day.
But Jeanne was more than that. The busty beauty from the South was a 1950’s pinup model and a burlesque dancer. She later became the first and only female trick-shot golfer. Last, but not least, she became known as the Queen of the B-Movies. She was well on her way to becoming a household name like her iconic friend, but in 1962 Jeanne dropped out of the public eye and retired from the entertainment world.
She was born Jeanne Laverne Carmen on August 4, 1930 in Paragould, Arkansas. Her family was poor and Jeanne spent most of her early childhood days picking cotton. She ran away to New York as a teenager. It didn’t take long for her to become a successful model and dancer.
She was dancing on Broadway by the age of 17 in a show that starred Bert Lahr, who later was the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.” By age 18, Jeanne was photographed by Irving Klaw and featured in Titter magazine. She soon appeared in various other magazines that pioneered the way for Playboy such as Carnival, Glance, Dare and Pose. Jeanne, who later said she was born to model, once graced the cover of as many as 13 cheesecake and pulp magazines at once.
Then her career took quite a different turn. While auditioning to model golf clubs, Jeanne learned she had a knack for the game. She shot 80 barefoot her first time out and soon was touring with trick shot artist Jack Redmond.
“The next thing I know I was a professional trick shot golf artist, who hit a golf ball off someone’s mouth 210 yards,” Jeanne told Java’s Bachelor Pad in 2006. “There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do with a ball. And I had another career. That ended most of the modeling.”
Jeanne traveled the East coast performing golf tricks, making as much as $1,000 a day putting on as many as three shows per date. After getting involved with Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli, the exotic brunette-turned blonde bombshell found herself in Las Vegas for a while.
Roselli put Jeanne’s skills on the greens to use making a different kind of green. The pair hustled nave tourists. “Johnny would find wealthy hotel guests and set them up,” Jeanne was once quoted as saying. “He’d point to me and bet them they couldn’t beat me. I’d start slowly and let them get ahead for the first five or six holes. Then I’d make this amazing improvement. I never lost.”
She soon began to hang out with the Rat Pack, various other celebrities and found herself in Hollywood by age 22. She gave golf lessons to many entertainers, including Jayne Mansfield, and once performed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
By 1952, Jeanne was back in the entertainment game. She was on the cover of Esquire Girl’s 1952 calendar of pinups. Two years later she danced her way through “Striporama.” The burlesque variety show, later released by Something Weird, also featured Lili St. Cyr and Bettie Page. Jeanne and Page were also in a beauty pageant together held by See Magazine. Somehow neither won the Most Beautiful Girl in the World Contest. They had to settle for runners up, while the winner is an unknown today.
It was around this same time, Jeanne met Marilyn Monroe at a bar near the Actor’s Studio. Jeanne was preparing lines for a shoot and Marilyn offered to help her. The duo instantly formed a bound that lasted till Marilyn’s death. They lived next door to each at one point, sharing secrets and wild nights with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable and Robert Kennedy.
Once they even gave Jack Benny a spanking in a sauna while they were in the buff. Benny scared the duo half to death by faking a heart attack after they turned him down for sex. To get even with him, Marilyn held Benny down as Jeanne swatted his backside.
While this was going on in her private life, which she later revealed in her autobiography “My Wild, Wild Life as a New York Pin Up Queen, Trick Shot Golfer & Hollywood Actress,” Jeanne’s acting career was also taking off. Though she says she never really cared for acting, she made her big screen debut as a Spanish senorita in “The Three Outlaws.” The 1956 movie told the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and starred Alan Hale Jr., who later became known as The Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Jeanne next appeared as an Apache named Yellow Moon in “War Drums.” The Three Stooges short “A Merry Mix-Up” followed. She was then featured in the juvenile delinquent/girls in prison/rock-n-roll drive-in romp “Untamed Youth.” The film starred starlet Mamie Van Doren and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Cochran. “Untamed Youth” went on to find a cult following and later appeared in an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It was also one of the only cinematic appearances of Cochran, who later recorded the hits “Summertime Blues” and the Jeanne Carmen-inspired “Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie.”
Jeanne’s acting resume also includes brief appearances in Van Doren’s rodeo feature “Born Reckless,” Diana Dors’ “I Married a Woman,” “Too Much, Too Soon,” which starred Errol Flynn and Dorothy Malone and the gangster feature “Guns Don’t Argue.” Two of her meatier roles were as Iris in the noir shocker “Portland Expose” and the Scream Queen Lucy in Irvin Berwick’s creature feature “The Monster of Piedras Blancas.”
The 1959 horror/sci-fi film “The Monster of Piedras Blancas” was about a sleepy lighthouse town terrorized by a monster. It starred Don Sullivan and has been called a scarier version of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” At the film’s premiere, Jeanne’s $300 dress was practically torn off by a group of overzealous young boys.
Off and on through her career, Jeanne also made appearances on various television shows. “Have Gun - Will Travel,” “Riverboat” and “Martin and Lewis’ Colgate Comedy Hour” are among her highlights as she starred along side Telly Savalas, Bob Hope, Burt Reynolds, Richard Boone, Fred MacMurray and many more.
The 1962 satanic cult film “The Devil’s Hand” sadly ended up being Jeanne’s last acting role for a number of decades as the multitalented lady left the entertainment world behind her. The death of Marilyn Monroe proved too much to handle and Jeanne dropped out of sight. She moved to Arizona and settled down to raise her three children.
In the nineties, Jeanne was featured on The Golf Channel and “E! True Hollywood Story.” She also appeared in Pacific Bell wireless commercials and the George Michael video for his song “Outside.” But it wasn’t until shock rocker-turned filmmaker Rob Zombie penned a cameo for her that she returned to acting. A fan of Jeanne’s, Zombie wrote a scene for her in his original “House of 1,000 Corpses” screenplay that featured her as an ex-glamour girl named Miss Bunny that puts on revues with dead animals. Though it was filmed, the scene was later cut.
Most recently Jeanne could be seen on DVD in Ted Newsom’s “The Naked Monster” along with Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, Forrest J. Ackerman, J.R. Bookwalter, Michelle Bauer, as well as many, many others. The movie began as a student film for Newsom in 1984 to pay homage and spoof horror and science fiction titles from the fifties. Twenty-one years later, the project was completed. Jeanne played the wife of John Harmon, who appeared as her father in “The Monster of Piedras Blancas.”
Currently, a biopic based on Jeanne’s tell-all autobiography is in the works. Pop princess Christina Aguilera has been one of the many names that has surfaced as a possible lead in the film. Regardless of who plays her, there will only be one Jeanne Carmen. Now in her late 70’s, Jeanne says she has no regrets and feels her on-going career has happened exactly how it was suppose to. “Everything I’ve done, I think I did at the right time,” Jeanne told Java’s Bachelor Pad. “I’m as happy as a pig in a pond.”
- CCF, August 2007
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