Remembering My Friend, Yvette Vickers – Page 3


Last Update: 3/9/13
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Steve Cochran and Yvette’s Classic Cult Films

Steve CochranI, mobster“A guy I did see exclusively for a time was actor Steve Cochran—although our initial meeting was less than promising. In 1958, the same year I did The 50 Ft. Woman, I played a junkie in a crime film titled I, Mobster, and Steve was the leading man. I had one brief scene with him where he delivers some drugs to me at my apartment, and I try to seduce him. I’m sure everyone knows how good-looking and wild Steve Cochran was (and how charming he was with the ladies), but on the set, he was very cold to me––real aloof, and not at all friendly. However, I didn’t take it personally. I just accepted it for what it was, and figured he had his reasons. So it kind of surprised me one evening after we finished the shoot when, out of the blue, he invited me up to his house on Mulholland Drive, for dinner. I was very curious about this change of attitude in him so I went up there and we wound up having a wonderful meal together. I guess you could say that he really fooled me.

“That night, Steve had two female servants waiting on us hand and foot, and I remember thinking, ‘Aww, what nice little old ladies’. Later on, I learned that these two wrinkled, old women were actually only fourteen years old. Someone told me that they both looked so weathered because they would stay up all night, drinking and partying with Steve. Whew…I won’t comment on that!

Yvette Vickers“I began seeing Steve after our dinner date that evening, and ours was an exciting—if relatively brief—romance. He had his pilot’s license, and we flew up the California coast a lot in his private plane. Steve was a very handsome and sweet man. I remember him helping me when I was trying to get the role of the trashy, pregnant farm girl in the Universal film This Earth is Mine. He very patiently did line readings with me and helped me prepare, but I wound up losing the job anyway. It wasn’t his fault; I never do my best work at auditions. I’m at my best when I already have the part and can just throw myself into it. So, I suppose I wasn’t in the proper mindset for that role.

Rock Hudson, the star of the picture, wound up pulling some strings and got his friend Cindy Robbins the part. That was a real bummer—I felt I could’ve done some really good work in that film, and it broke my heart to lose the opportunity. I think it would have built on what I had already done in the business, and it might have also kicked up the heat a little on my film career. As it turned out, though, it didn’t do very much for Cindy Robbins. I have no idea why.

“Anyway, Steve and I split up after a while, but we remained friends. I know his drinking habits increased greatly over the years, which is a shame. I last saw him just a short time before he died. We bumped into each other at a local marina, and he was very excited about his boat. It looked like an old pirate ship and Steve just went on and on about it. It was clear to me, though, that he had been drinking very heavily that day. Well, just a few weeks later, Steve died of a sudden heart attack on that boat while he was out at sea with a group of young girls. It was horrible. For several days, those poor girls had to float around in the middle of the ocean on that thing, along with Steve’s dead body. When I heard that story, I cried my eyes out. Steve Cochran was a sweet, funny, loveable rogue, and he was gorgeous, too. But, my God, he drank way too much.”

Attack of the 50 ft. womanIn the months following Yvette’s slinky bit as the predatory drug addict in I, Mobster, she made the two classic cult films for which she will forever be known. “I’ll never tire of talking about Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman or The Giant Leeches. The fans love those films and they’ve done an awful lot for me. I was offered the part of the honky-tonk harlot in 50 Ft. Woman the same time I was up for a really good role in a Lana Turner film at Universal (Imitation of Life). My agent, Jack Pomeroy, told me to take the part of “Honey” and worry about the other job later. Although I didn’t get the Turner film, it was not because of 50 Ft. Woman. It all worked out the way it was supposed to. I mean, who would have ever thought back in 1958 that 50 Ft. Woman would still be the object of discussion all these years later?”

Yvette VickersA robust—if sometimes unintentionally hilarious—marriage of space-age paranoia and pre-feminist revenge, the film’s cornerstone is a disaster-bound love triangle involving a warring married couple (played by Allison Hayes and William Hudson) and the husband’s sluttish, roadhouse paramour (played by Yvette). Whether shaking her hips to a hot, r&b sax blaring from the bar’s jukebox, or undressing behind a wardrobe screen in her tawdry bedroom, Yvette is tough and sexy—and makes the most of every frame she is in. Throw a flying saucer, a bald, male giant in a Nordic breastplate, and some cheesy special effects into the mix, and you have the stuff of which legendary cult classics are made! The irresistible combination of alluring female pulchritude, the star’s colorful histrionics, and a fun script that featured a transparent Hayes prowling the California desert in a jumbo-sized bikini, has endeared the film to fans the world over. Says Yvette, “People just can’t seem to get enough of that picture. If only we had known we were creating something so lasting when we filmed it! I loved working with Allison and Bill. They were kind and wonderful people, God bless them…very professional and serious about doing good work. We did 99% of our scenes in one-take. Since the picture was shot in just eight days, there was no time for fooling around. The special effects might have been lousy, but I think the acting holds up pretty well. I thought Allison, in particular, was very good. She played that role so believably and so straight.”

50 ft woman Allison Hayes

Attack of the Giant LeechesAttack of the Giant LeechesThe Giant Leeches followed in 1959, and it found Yvette once again enacting the part of the naughty tramp—this time, as a cheating wife in an isolated swamp village that’s been targeted by the titular creatures. “The Giant Leeches was another eight-day shoot. Roger and Gene Corman produced it, and they were adorable. They both have such an appreciation of actors and such respect. It makes a big difference.

giant leeches“Again, we were restricted a lot by the budget, as you can tell when you see the stuntmen writhing around in those plastic garbage bags! And yet, a lot of it works, somehow. Those scenes where the leeches have a bunch of us stored (and ripening) in the underwater grotto, where they’re slowly sucking all the blood out of our bodies, were very frightening. It was also kind of haunting the way it took me so long to die. At first I didn’t understand all that prolonged moaning and groaning I was asked to do, but now I think it really added to the film’s overall creepiness. The down-and-dirty, white trash ambiance really worked, too. The characters were interesting and believable, and I think that parts of the film almost resemble a play by Tennessee Williams. I loved the character of Liz, and I appreciated the fact that they took time to explain her history a little bit. She was married to this heavyset, middle-aged shopkeeper (played by Bruno Ve Sota), which, on the surface, doesn’t make much sense, but then that two-shot by the water with (co-star) Michael Emmett reveals the events that had brought Bruno’s character and her together. That one little scene really strengthened the film.”

Yvette VickersWhen not fending off mammoth mutants and blood-slurping worms, the late 1950s found Yvette an active participant in Hollywood’s Beat scene, a gathering of poets, writers and artists who reveled in a liberating—and groundbreaking—environment of nonconformity and self-expression. “It was absolutely where I belonged at the time. The people I surrounded myself with all shared an interest in jazz, literature, and social issues, and we took our various career goals very seriously. In those days, there were a lot of beat clubs and coffee houses down on Sunset Boulevard and I went to all of them. I was a bit of a nocturnal creature back then, so that whole trip suited me just fine. We were a fun loving group––very politically aware, a bit idealistic, maybe, and a little rebellious. But we all had a passion for living that couldn’t be tamed. I know I sure did.

“You know, I’ve always done exactly what I wanted to do; whatever my heart told me was right. That’s probably what got me into health food.” (This was an interest of Yvette’s that sustained her until old age and bad luck sadly took their toll.) “I can assure you,” she continued, “that very few people in the 1950s were into eating right and taking nutritional supplements, but I intuitively knew those were things I needed to do to stay healthy, so I followed that regimen religiously. I had a health guru back then, a wonderful lady in town named Marie Deauville Ellison, who showed me how to prepare all these wonderful vegetable juice concoctions, and they helped me stay at the peak of my game. I would say that whole part of my life, especially my involvement in the Beat scene, was very important to me (and to my growth as a person). It was an intellectual setting…very vital, very exciting, and absolutely alive with energy and ideas. It was great.

leaning ballet bar“I sometimes refer to that period of time (1956 to 1963) as my Hot Property Years. I worked non-stop during that stretch… doing a lot of television (especially), plus my stage work, some modeling, and of course the two cult movies and the other film work I did. Along with all of that, I was also taking three ballet classes a week, studying acting in various workshops, and having a ball in my personal life. So, it really was a jam-packed couple of years, but I loved it.”

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