Farewell Yvette Vickers – By Philip Smolen

When I was growing up, sleepovers were not a common event. My parents were very uptight about them. But when I was 10, I finally got the chance to sleep over my friend Danny’s house on a Friday night. It helped that his father came over and spoke to my parents to put their minds at ease. We had a great time going to the movies (we went to see 1965’s “Crack in the World” with Dana Andrews) and sleeping in Danny’s room that night. The next day, I was astonished to learn that Danny could eat his breakfast in front of the TV! This practice was unheard of in my house. So as we both settled down to enjoy our cereal (I believe we each had a bowl of Quisp), “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” (1958) started on Channel 9. Danny had never seen it before, so I convinced him to watch it. Needless to say the two female stars of the film, Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers, garnered most of our young attention. I already had a huge child crush on Yvette Vickers, and by the time the movie was over, Danny had developed one too. After the movie finished, we went out to play our favorite action game, fighting evil as the heroes from TV’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Our mission that day was quite special: we had to rescue a female scientist named Yvette from the evil clutches of the Russian government. Needless to say Yvette Vickers remained very prominent in my mind, that day, and for many years to come.
So I was very distressed to learn that Vickers (1935 – 2010) was found in a mummified state in her home this past April, and that she had probably died alone almost a year ago, making her death doubly tragic. Vickers was one of my favorite scream queens when I was a young boy. Her sultry performances in schlocky B sci-fi movies like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches” (1959) stood out for me. As a result, I always looked for her name in other films. I was delighted to see her in a small role in Paul Newman’s “Hud” (1963), but after that she disappeared from the screen. She may not have had a long or fruitful career, but she touched millions of lives with her strong performances, and set many young boys’ hearts ablaze with her blond beauty and sexy figure.

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Early Career

Vickers was born in 1935 to musician parents and attended different schools as a young girl. She even went to a Catholic high school in Los Angeles for a time! At the age of 16, she was cast in a bit part in the Billy Wilder classic “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) as a young aspiring actress. She can be seen in the beginning of the film giggling on the phone during the party scene. When she was still 16, Vickers entered UCLA and eventually graduated with her degree in theater arts. When she was 18, she won the role of the White Rain shampoo girl, and did a series of commercials for the product. This led to guest starring roles in many TV shows in the 1950s including “I Led Three Lives”, “The Red Skelton Hour”, and “Mike Hammer.”

While performing on the Los Angeles stage in a local performance of William Inge’s “Bus Stop”, she was spotted by film legend James Cagney who cast her in a co-starring role in his film “Short Cut to Hell” (1957), a tale of a hit man who blackmails the cop that’s chasing him by kidnapping and threatening his girlfriend. Her lively performance as Daisy opened some Hollywood doors, and Vickers started acting regularly in both TV and movies, but was typecast as an ambitious small town tramp. It was a role that she would play time and time again. She was never the lead actress, but usually had to be content to play the second female lead. It was during this time that Vickers scored her most remembered role– that of scheming harlot Honey Parker.

Hello Honey

“Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” is remembered fondly by lots of male baby boomers like me. Yes, the film is trashy and cheesy, but there are two main reasons that it is lovingly recalled: Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers. Both actresses turn in energetic performances that make the film totally watchable. It doesn’t matter that the dialogue is dumb, or that the special effects are terrible, or even that the giant hand prop looks ridiculous. When Hayes or Vickers are onscreen, you are magnetically drawn to them. In the film, Hayes plays alcoholic heiress Nancy Archer. She drinks because her husband, Harry (William Hudson), ignores her and plays around with town hussy Honey Parker (Vickers). When Archer drives out to the desert in a drunken rage, she encounters a huge round UFO and its giant alien pilot, who tries to grab Nancy. She escapes and convinces Harry to drive back out to the desert with her to prove she’s not insane. They eventually do meet up with the UFO again. Harry, being the two-timing cad that he is, leaves Nancy in the clutches of the giant and high tails it back to town. When Harry is informed that Nancy was found on the roof of their house in a horrible state, he calls in her doctors. But within the next few days, Nancy undergoes a metamorphosis and grows into a giant (the most beautiful and alluring giant in movie history, I would like to add). She breaks free from her bonds and goes into town to look for her two-timing husband. She finds him in the arms of Vickers and proceeds to issue swift vengeance. She’s eventually killed by a power line, but not before she’s taken the lives of both of her tormentors– Harry and Honey.

Vickers is one of the main pleasures in the film. Her provocative and sexy performance was quite risqué for 1958. She makes the most out of every one of her scenes. When she’s dancing in the local bar, she gyrates her body without inhibition while clad in an extremely tight dress. Honey’s an exhibitionist and flaunts her sexiness for everyone to see. One of her great scenes is in the beginning of the film after Nancy has stormed out on Harry and his girlfriend. Honey’s determined for Harry to get a hold of Nancy’s millions. She hatches a plan and coyly plants the idea in her lover’s head:
Harry: “I never should have agreed to go back to her once we separated.”

Honey: “Why did you?”

Harry: “You know why. I couldn’t pry one nickel out of her. That community property routine only works for women. A man hasn’t got a chance.”

Honey: “Unless the wife dies.” (looks innocently at Harry) “I didn’t say anything.”

Harry: “You were thinking it.”

Honey: “Not the same thing. Didn’t you say she was in the nuthouse for a while?”

Harry: “A private sanitarium.”

Honey: “What’s the difference? She was off her rocker wasn’t she?”

Harry: “I suppose so. They probably got some fancy name for it. Mostly she was having violent headaches and she got falling down drunk. Still has them to this day. What are you getting at?

Honey: “Come on now Harry. Let’s not be naive. You’ve made a good start. Now follow through. She’s on the brink and you know it.”

Harry: “I don’t know it. Dr. Cushing seems to be helping her. She’s tapering off on the bottle, too. She hardly took a drink all evening. You saw it.”

Honey: “All she needs is a little help. Play the husband right to the end. Once she’s in the booby hatch, throw the key away. That would put you in the driver’s seat.” (Honey’s words now purr like a kitten) “You’d make a wild driver Harry with 50 million bucks.” (Honey then plants very passionate kisses on Harry.) (1)

In this one scene Vickers elevates the film tremendously. Her performance accentuates that Honey’s not just a typical blond bubblehead, but a brilliant scheming weasel. The kisses Honey plants on Harry are promises of sexual favors; and they burn the screen with a white hot intensity. She’s letting him know what he can expect out of her if he does what she wants. Her performance is so enjoyable that it’s actually sad when Honey meets her fate and is crushed by the collapsing building during the film’s climax. Hudson gingerly cradles the dead Honey in his arms trying desperately to convince himself that she’s not really gone. In most films, the audience applauds when the scheming tramp is killed, but here, there is a touch of pathos to her death. Honey Parker may have been bad, but Yvette Vickers’s performance made her very, very good.

Enter Liz Walker

The other low budget sci-fi movie that Vickers is fondly remembered for was 1959’s “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” In the film, leaking radiation from nearby Cape Canaveral has mutated leeches to man size proportions. They start to kill some of the locals in a small Florida swamp town. Game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark) becomes worried by all of the disappearances, but can’t convince the local sheriff (Gene Roth) to do anything about it. But when Vickers, (who plays Liz Walker, the two-timing wife of store owner Dave Walker [Bruno Ve Sota]), and her lover are taken by the monsters, Clark decides that it’s time to act. He dons a wetsuit and places dynamite around the creature’s lair. Clark makes it out just in time as the dynamite seemingly destroys the horrible monsters.

Like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”, “Attack of the Giant Leeches” is a dismal sci-fi movie. It suffers from uninspired direction, a slipshod script, poor performances by its leading actor and actress, and bad special effects. Originally, executive Gene Corman wanted low budget effects artist Paul Blaisdell to create his swamp creatures, but the producer offered him so little money that Blaisdell turned him down. The result is that this movie has the feeblest giant creatures from any monster movie in the 1950s. They make the giant hand prop in “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” look credible, which is no easy feat. The one aspect that director Bernard Kowalski injects any life into is a genuine “God’s Little Acre” backwoods feel. Some of the actors look like they would be right at home in a boondock general store.

The main bright spot in the film is Yvette Vickers’ performance. As in “50 Foot Woman,” Vickers gives Liz Walker little character traits and makes her look like a cat on the prowl. Her first scene in the film is very memorable. It takes place in Dave’s store. Dave is talking with ‘the boys’ when Liz saunters out of her bedroom wearing a short, clingy robe while slowly and sensuously brushing her teeth. Dave chastises her and she slinks back to the bedroom, but not before making sure that all of the men’s eyes are on her. Back in the bedroom, pudgy Dave enters and tries to make up with his hot young wife. But Liz will have none of that. She erotically rubs lotion on her taut, tan legs while ignoring Dave’s lustful stare. She then removes her robe revealing a skimpy bra and panty ensemble and slowly struts in front of her husband. When Dave touches her shoulder, Liz recoils as if she’s been touched, not by her husband, but by a convicted criminal. She then puts on a slinky tight dress and goes out to meet her lover. It’s a great scene and Vickers injects all the sex appeal she can get away with. She presents Liz as a woman who enjoys tormenting her older husband and relishes reminding him of what he’s not getting.

Later Roles

After “Attack of the Giant Leeches” Vickers continued acting in movies and TV. In July 1959, she was chosen as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month. Her photos were taken by “Mr. Pulchritude” himself, Russ Myer. In 1963, she got a significant role as one of Paul Newman’s many lovers in “Hud.” Unfortunately, most of her scenes were cut out before the movie was released. It’s rumored that Vickers’ scenes were cut because Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, objected to the onscreen chemistry between the pair. In 1964, she met the love of her life, actor Jim Hutton, and stayed with him until his death in 1979. She made a few more movies in the 1970s, but mostly made her living by selling real estate. In the 1990s Vickers made one more movie, the horror film “Evil Spirits”, but was very unhappy with the way the filmed turned out. During the 1990s and the early part of this decade, she made frequent appearances at sci-fi/horror movie conventions. She was delighted to talk to her fans about her life and her loves.

Although I never met her at a convention, Yvette Vickers remains one of my favorite scream queens of all time. I wish that there were some way that the 10 year old inside me could have told her how happy I was watching her films. She may have disappeared from this life, but not from my heart. Honey Parker and Liz Walker will always have front row seats there.

The Short Film Career of Yvette Vickers

1. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
2. The Sound of Fury (1950)
3. Reform School Girl (1957)
4. Short Cut to Hell (1957)
5. The Sad Sack (1957)
6. I Mobster (1958)
7. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
8. Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
9. Pressure Point (1962)
10. Hud (1963)
11. Beach Party (1963)
12. What’s the Matter With Helen? (1971)
13. The Dead Don’t Die (1975)
14. Evil Spirits (1990)

Citation

1. Warner Brothers Pictures (Allied Artists). Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) [DVD]. Los Angeles, CA.

Selected References

Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/279/Yvette+Vickers/index.html. Accessed May 30, 2011.
The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0896035. Accessed May 29, 2011.
Palmer, Randy. Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. 1997.
Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (The 21st Century Edition). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. 2010.
Weaver, Tom. Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. 1991.