Lachlan Mitchell goes on and on about yet another old white woman, but promises it is interesting this time.
I don’t care for using Twitter much – I scroll through it quite a lot, but I don’t follow many people, and my own interactions are pretty limited. I like David Farrier’s feed quite a lot. But Twitter still remains distant to me, like the waist-high glass wall keeping the Tasmanian devils away from my thighs at Auckland Zoo. I could always jump in if I wanted to. However, despite this separation, it’s still enjoyable in its own ways. I recognise Twitter’s utility as a method of keeping up with the news, seeing the permanent trench warfare between increasingly fractured sub-groups of leftist podcasters and the acolytes that swarm in their mentions, and as an unrivalled Rube Goldberg mechanism for engineering the most sociopathic takes on… as I am writing, charcuterie. Mr. Culture War’s Wild Ride doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
But one aspect of Twitter I find endlessly enjoyable, and something I wholeheartedly throw myself into, is its ability to feed into my degree of White Women Studies; in particular, keeping up with those niche survivors of bygone film eras, who are no longer ‘stars’ but are quite comfortable in their status as relatively private citizens, spending their days posting about pasta recipes and more than likely raging against the heavens against Donald Trump, if only so it gives them something to do.
I promise all this has relevance to Craccum’s Sex Week, I swear. In this case, I am fascinated by the idea of the blonde bombshell, the stars who were created in direct admiration of – and a hope to siphon off – Marilyn Monroe, who became so central to the film industry’s sexual self-image that it was impossible for the studios to be satisfied with just one woman. That, and well, it never hurts to try to make more of your best-selling product – did McDonalds ever complain about having too many Big Macs? The blonde bombshells were pumped up and pimped out en masse, carefully relying on a self-aware mix of humour and “Oh! I Have Big Tits, Sir?” self-deprecation that was essential to get around in the 1950s film industry. You could have rockin’ bazongas and an ass that could stop a rhino, but you couldn’t know you did, or else you’d show a little bit too much agency that the aging, impotent studio heads would furiously suppress. These girls, to say nothing of their usually underrated acting talents or genuinely interesting grasps of their personas, became the embodiment of robust asbestos allure and tongue-in-cheek ‘come fuck me once the movie’s over’ sexuality. Jayne Mansfield, in particular, was criminally underappreciated.
However, the blonde bombshell slowly went out of favour, mainly due to changing tastes towards wide-eyed waifs and over-saturation of the market; no one complains about the Big Mac, but sometimes you just want a filet o’fish. That, and well, the most famous blonde bombshells were literally dying in public spectacles. Desperate to create a new trend of woman, one that wasn’t seen as threatening to the female consumer, the blonde bombshell was left to fade away, unfairly getting the brunt of much misogynistic cultural aftermath for daring to be… as hot as they were allowed to be. It wasn’t okay to be seen as a bimbo archetype if the executives were now into Mia Farrow. And so, those who remained alive lingered on, slowly adjusting to life without the industry’s PR teams carefully constructing their every move, moralising but heavily publicising their every instance of sideboob. And one by one, they all passed away.
All, but Mamie van Doren.
I first noticed her presence in 2018, after listening to a You Must Remember This podcast about Jayne Mansfield, and was curious as to whether any of the bombshells were still alive. And I couldn’t have found a better answer. Mamie van Doren is certainly the most low-key of the bombshells in terms of film impact, having mainly been in early exploitation films with little plot but plenty of ‘substance’, if you get my drift. Still pretty interesting, however. Her most famous film (Untamed Youth) has seen its greatest light in recent years as a featured movie on MST3K, her fame coming more from her cultural proximity to Marilyn and her plucky way of advertising herself to the horny-but-not-too-horny tabloid structure of the time. A girl’s gotta pay bills, and if Howard Hughes wanted to do so, that’s what happened. However, she is anything but low-key when it comes to maintaining a presence as a near 90 year old in the era of Twitter.
Simply put, everything van Doren has is on offer. And I do mean everything. Wikipedia describes her as being ‘active on multimedia’, which is a modest way of saying ‘her bazongas are still getting good use on the camera over six decades later’. She and her husband run a website and multiple social media pages dedicated to posting highly edited pictures of herself, usually tastefully teasing her senior citizen audience, trying to tap into the same kind of 1950s Americana that Lana del Rey has spent almost ten years making a part of her persona. Usually she can be found wandering the Santa Monica Pier, or taking flash photography of her layered makeup in pitch black darkness, or using her pet dog as a quiet cover for her still-massive breasts. I swear I am writing as factually as possible here – and I promise that this is the sort of attention she wants. Which is what I find so interesting; even after all these years, even after every single bombshell from her time has died off, she’s living the exact lifestyle that her era desired of her. Her world may have died, but she’s simply translated it to the current day, and she holds no shame whatsoever.
Mamie van Doren, above all else, still projects a deeply sexual identity out there, for whoever is interested. Much of her autobiography is about detailing her affairs with the who’s who of Hollywood males of eras past, and her Gmail is firstname.lastname@example.org, if you wanted something a little more blunt. While much of her Twitter is spent trying to single-handedly oust the Trump administration, most of her time is spent either advertising the gorgeous pictures of her youth, or resolutely telling the world that she still thinks she is beautiful, and she will absolutely prove it to you. And, well, she does have a point. Even with the gratuitous editing that one can forgive of someone who was in her 60s at the rise of the internet, and the facelifts, she looks a good two decades younger. But others’ opinions of her beauty isn’t the point; it’s the fact she still thinks so, and is happy to do this until the day she dies. It’s fascinating – while the last actors of her era have long since retired, settled into obscurity or taken roles that poke fun at just how old they are, Mamie is unique. She’s the only one that still proudly revels in being an objectified and deeply sexual woman, an unexploded bombshell, and has seemingly never stopped revelling in it.
It could be said that she’s sacrificing her dignity in order to keep living a past that is long since behind her; Mamie van Doren’s response is simply, what past? This is her, and if she can post some light boob while recalling hearing speeches from FDR, then that’s a good Thursday afternoon.
The feminist question of whether self-objectification is freedom will probably rage on for another few decades, but perhaps Mamie van Doren has answered that question already; if not for us, if not for her now-deceased peers, then certainly for herself.