Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mortality, Immortality, Yvette Vickers


The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth
.

- Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality

It's a set-up tailor-made for Myron Fass, that could have leapt complete from the depraved frames of an Eerie Publication...
Neighbours near a small, largely boarded Los Angeles home become apprehensive at the complete lack of activity visible on the property. Closer inspection reveals cobwebs in the undisturbed mailbox.
Finally, they force an entry... and discover a mummified body.
Determining the cause of death is virtually impossible, even its identity will only be made certain after much scientific testing. It might have laid there for almost a year...

Of course, in a Myron Fass magazine, this would be where the story starts.
For Yvette Vickers, it's how it all ended, a strangely apposite last stop on her private roller coaster tour of B-Hollywood.
Ah, but she was a bonny thing...

Her parents were jazz musicians. She originally aspired to be a screenwriter. She met Billy Wilder in 1949 and he liked her enough, and thought she had enough of the right stuff, to give her a showy cameo in Sunset Boulevard.
Wilder had been around long enough to see through Hollywood's self-regard and out the other side where they dump the leftovers. He knew its wolves can turn savage when they're cornered, and his film is a knowing knife in Tinseltown's back. For Yvette it might have served as a prescient reminder, not that she was listening, that Hollywood is rarely what it's cracked up to be. She jumped in anyway; auditioned for the big shows, nearly got a few, landed upright but far from target in Reform School Girl and Juvenile Jungle.

Film-makers took one look at her and saw the word 'trampy' above her face like a neon halo. Her two shots at immortality both use her as a demonstration of the dangers of unchecked libidinous desire, as proof that adulterous liaisons invariably lead to death by mutant.
She is Honey Parker, whose fling with married William Hudson kick-starts the Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Then she's Liz, a frustrated Baby Doll in leopardskin underwear, trapped in the Florida swamps, who cuckolds Bruno VeSota, her obese husband, and ends up the victim of man-size bloodsuckers in Attack of the Giant Leeches.
Two utterly unforgettable performances; two certain guarantees of drive-in immortality.
Leeches is my favourite. I just love the way she torments her poor, tub of lard sap of a husband, and that whole extended scene of him threatening murderous revenge, as her supposedly burly lover collapses into whining, begging cowardice while she spits in his face and curses them both... it goes on and on, and is dramatically riveting, ending magnificently when the monsters show up.
This is where the filmmakers were, in the fifties.

But drive-in immortality is a positive encumbrance when you're up for a role in This Earth Is Mine (1959). Director Henry King - who knew what he was looking for - okayed her, big lunk lead-with-co-star-approval Rock Hudson - who didn't, obviously - said no.
From hereon, whenever she was linked with Lee Marvin and Cary Grant it would be strictly in the gossip columns. Screen work was more or less all small screen work, and lucky to get that, from Leeches on. Howard Hughes called her up a few times, too: it was the high life for an hour or two, but strictly taxi-fare back home.

Her 1959 Playboy pictorial ended her second marriage, to writer Leonard Burns. Three months after the wedding he learned of the photographs and walked out.
"He was kinda square," Yvette explained.

She lived long enough to enjoy her rediscovery by cult movie fans, and went to the conventions, and did the DVD interviews.
But behind the bolted shutters, where she never threw anything away and lived amidst mountains of junk, she was becoming increasingly paranoid, convinced she was being pursued and watched. And so we end where we begin, in the Sunset Boulevard twilight of faded Hollywood dreams, and with a fifty foot woman laid low by movieland's giant leeches.

Her body was positively identified on May 13th, 2011.