Hollywood Tragedy: A tribute to Yvette Vickers
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
A dark end from the lonelier trail of a Hollywood career...
The death of any famous actor is always a sad occasion for many film fans whether it’s a big mainstream star or a popular cult name. But nothing could be worse than the tragic and mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Yvette Vickers.
Vickers found her cult spurs in the fifties as the star of several popular low budget science fiction films. Although more talented than most of the blonde bombshells of that era, she could not escape B-movie typecasting, and despite coming extremely close, failed to attain the major film stardom she was quite capable of achieving. Branching out into other areas of entertainment did not prevent her minor film status from falling into obscurity, and as such, her sad and lonely death illustrates only too well the creepy downside of Hollywood.
Vickers came from a musical background, both her parents being successful recording artists. Her father was Charles Van Vedder, a successful jazz musician and saxophone player who formed the Chuck Vedder Trio, a group that specialised in rock-and-roll and jazz instrumentals. Her mother Maria had carved out a career as a concert pianist. Being the daughter of two musicians gave her a strong appreciation of jazz.
Born Lola Yvette Van Vedder in Kansas City, Missouri on 26 August 1936, she moved to California with her family when she was 6 months old and with her parents being working musicians, she was touring with them from birth.
Following an education at a catholic high school, Vickers initially studied journalism. She then spent three years at UCLA where she majored in picture and theatre arts. Despite having a good singing voice, she opted for an acting career.
Making her film debut (unbilled) in Sunset Boulevard (1950), Vickers acted in variety revues and occasional Broadway shows before moving to New York, where she got her first TV break as The White Rain Girl for a series of commercials. She later returned to California to act in several TV shows.
In 1953, Vickers married jazz bassist Don Krell (she was previously married to actor Tom Holland). Making a permanent move to Hollywood, she finally made her official film debut after being picked for a leading role by James Cagney, for his directorial debut, in Short Cut to Hell (1957). Unfortunately the film flopped at the box office.
Vickers slowly worked her way from bit-parts to leading roles in low-budget movies. A beautiful blonde with a lovely round face and expressive blue eyes, she was ideal for girl next-door-parts that may have been a tad out of place in the fifties, when most young men were drooling at Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Divorcing Don Krell in 1957, Vickers secured her cult status in the science fiction classic Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman (1958), an inspired piece of hokum starring the equally statuesque Alison Hayes in the title role. As playing Honey Parker, the voluptuous mistress of the lead character’s husband, Vickers holds her own despite being (literally) overshadowed by her towering co-star.
Vickers consolidated her B-movie bad-girl image with the equally hilarious Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). Marrying Leonard Burns in 1959 (the marriage did not last the year) she posed for Playboy Magazine. Named Playboy’s Miss July 1959 (her measurements were 35-22-35) the photos were taken by the future king of nudie movies, Russ Meyer.
Vickers worked mostly on television in the early sixties. Her subsequent films roles were usually uncredited but her career received a very high profile boost when starred opposite Paul Newman and Patricia Neal in Hud (1963). As Lily Peters, Vickers was supposed to have a much bigger part in the film but Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward was unhappy with the couple’s on screen chemistry and arranged to have most of her scenes cut before the film’s release. Despite the career setback, Hud (1963) should have led to better things; but as it transpired, major film stardom eluded her. From the mid-sixties onwards, Vickers concentrated mainly on the theatre.
Like many attractive blonde actresses, Vickers’ personal life always attracted more attention than her performances. With three divorces behind, she was rumoured to have had affairs with Hollywood stars Lee Marvin and Cary Grant. She also had a 15 year on/off relationship with actor Jim Hutton.
From the seventies, Vickers continued to make occasional film and TV appearances, which included the horror films What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and The Dead Don’t Die (1975). She also worked in real estate to supplement her income.
By the time she was interviewed for Jewel Shepard’s book Invasion of the B Movie Girls in 1992, Vickers had some success as a cabaret singer/dancer, and worked as a recording artist on the jazz and blues circuit. In the nineties she paid tribute to her parents by releasing the Jazz CD A Tribute to Charlie and Maria. A dedicated animal rights campaigner, she was active in the groups PETA and Greenpeace.
Vickers was described by a neighbour as ‘fiercely independent’ woman who kept to herself. However in her later years she had become paranoid about being stalked and as a result she became increasingly reclusive in her later years – and this would contribute to the tragedy that followed.
On 2 May 2011, a neighbour visited Vickers' run-down Beverly Hills home and after pushing through a mountain of unopened fan mail, bills and letters found the mummified corpse of the 74 year-old actress, who was lying next to a heater that was still running.
At the time of writing this article, the body had not been officially identified so there is no exact date or official cause of death confirmed, nor are there any suspicious circumstances. What makes this extremely tragic is the fact she had been dead for over a year. Surely someone should have noticed something wasn’t right. The house had fallen into disrepair and her mail box was filled to capacity with letters. The postman should have sensed something was wrong – especially from the house.
Yvette Vickers’ film career on the whole was disappointing, with only Hud and the science fiction movies that she will be remembered for. Her sad and lonely death will certainly add to her unique cult status.
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