Everybody has that one famous beauty who hits all the right notes for them. Me, I've got about a dozen of them, but that's just what happens when you write about hotties every day. No doubt you have at least one who just does it for you like that. Today's Classic Hottie has had a similar special emphasis in my life. Not necessarily for me, but for someone pretty close to me. It was my dad who was once an especially big fan of Angie Dickinson back in the day. This meant that when anything with Angie in it came on, it immediately became must see TV in our household. Good thing then that I came to be quite fond of her as well, watching along with him all the many strong, confident and sexy characters she portrayed in movies and TV over the years. So this week's look into the life of Ms. Dickinson goes out to my dad. RIP, pops.
Born Angeline Brown on Sept. 30th 1931 in Kulm, North Dakota, Angie was the daughter of Frederica and Leo Brown, the latter an editor at the local newspaper. In 1942, shortly after the start of WWII, Angie's parents moved the family to Burbank, CA, looking to take part in the many war production jobs springing up on the US west coast. Angie later graduated from the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in the early 50s. In 1952, she married college jock and future semi-pro football player Gene Dickinson. Married and working as a secretary, Angie decided to enter a local beauty contest, which got her noticed by a producer of the popular NBC variety show The Colgate Comedy Hour. That won her a bit part on the show and a permanent infection from the acting bug. Thereafter she began taking acting classes, earning her first dramatic role in a 1954 episode of the syndicated western Death Valley Days. Once again, it was small beginnings for much bigger things to come.
By the middle of the late 1950s, Angie was an oft seen face on many a TV show of the day, most of them part of the then wildly popular western genre. Shows like Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Have Gun - Will Travel, Cheyenne, The Restless Gun, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Colt .45 and Wagon Train all featured Angie in various one-off roles. And while westerns were where it was at then, Angie did other kids of shows as well, like The Fugitive and Dr. Kildare. While these shows helped get her career off and running, Angie's marriage to Dickinson had stalled out by 1956, resulting in a separation. They divorced in 1960. Undaunted by this change in her personal life, Angie won her first movie lead in 1957 as a madam fighting communists in the Sam Fuller film CHINA GATE. Another big part came the next year with the thriller CRY TERROR.
Though big screen roles were starting to come in, it was a guest role on the famous CBS courtroom drama Perry Mason that got Angie her big break into films when her performance caught the attention of Howard Hawks, producer of the now classic western RIO BRAVO. Angie was cast as the flirtatious gambler Feathers, who becomes love interest to leading man John Wayne - Angie's real life childhood idol. While much younger than Wayne at the time, Angie's confident performance opposite The Duke gave a huge boost to her career. Concurrent with this big break was Angie's private role amidst an influential circle of stars, within which she and her RIO BRAVO co-star, Dean Martin, were important parts. Just like with RIO BRAVO, this other role also held the promise to change the course of her life and career forever.
After her split from her first husband, Angie took up with composer Jimmy Van Heusen. It was during this time when Angie, along with Van Heusen's best friend Frank Sinatra, took a now infamous trip to Las Vegas, where they were joined by a mostly drunken group of celebrities, including Judy Garland, David Niven and Humphrey Bogart. Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall, later gave a name to this motley crew of drunken celebrities, labeling them "like a goddamn rat pack." This was how the now famous moniker became the official title of Frank Sinatra's legendary Vegas stage act, which he performed for years alongside cohorts Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. And right in the middle of it all was Angie, who had an on-again/off-again relationship with Sinatra himself for years. Frank was also good for smoothing over family issues for Angie, who's mother had been frowning on her daughter's choice of vocation for years. That is until her mom met Sinatra, who's charm quickly won her over enough to bless her daughter's pursuits from that point on.
In 1960, Sinatra and crew made the original version of the Rat Pack vehicle OCEAN'S 11, with Angie playing the beleaguered wife of Sinatra's criminal character, Danny Ocean. The part called for her to dye her hair blonde. A natural brunette, she resisted at first. However, Angie apparently had a lot more fun as a blonde and thus remained one for the rest of her career. That year also saw Angie caught up in the highly contentious presidential election between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. Much like the rest of The Brat Pack, she did her part for The Kennedy's - and then some. At the time, Rat Packer Peter Lawford was brother-in-law to JFK himself and Sinatra an outspoken advocate for the young Senator's campaign. Angie was thus a frequent face at many a campaign event across the country. It has been widely rumored that this was how she became a member of JFK's stable of famous mistresses. Accounts speak of the two having illicit meetings at Lawford's LA mansion, even meeting up at Kennedy's inauguration private party. Despite numerous attempts to get to the bottom of the matter, Angie has refused to publicly discuss the details of her association with the Kennedy's. Her only comment on the subject is a 1993 Entertainment Weekly interview, wherein she is quoted as saying "I don't believe in lying. But I will, uh, dodge the question, okay?"
Moving into the 1960s, Angie remained a constant presence on TV, but could now supplement that with smaller roles in many a minor film role. Thus her appearances in films like 1962's JESSICA and ROME ADVENTURE. A brief contract with Universal Studios in the mid 60s, which supposedly took out a 1 million dollar insurance policy just on her legs, produced more mostly forgotten films like CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D., THE ART OF LOVE, POPPIES ARE ALSO FLOWERS and CAST A GIANT SHADOW. Fluff roles aside, where Angie truly shined during this time was in a handful of more gritty roles, playing tough, resolute characters more in line with her natural self.
Among these films was the New Wave Noir remake of THE KILLERS in which she starred alongside Ronald Regan in his last movie role. The film became famous for having the future governor and President pretending to punch out his female co-star, played by Angie. She again excelled in the 1966 film THE CHASE, playing the hard-edged wife of a character played by Marlon Brando. She made a third movie in that vein with director John Boorman's 1967 noir homage POINT BLANK, starring Lee Marvin.
In 1969, Angie helped introduce the world to a then mostly unknown young hunk by the name of Burt Reynolds, giving him his first on screen kiss in the film SAM WHISKEY. The 60s also saw Angie make a change in her private life when she married singer/songwriter Burt Bacharach in 1965. The following year they had a daughter, Lea Nikki. Born prematurely, Lea suffered from chronic health issues, including vision problems as well as Asperger Syndrome, eventually forcing Angie to place her daughter in a psychiatric facility. It was a move she later spoke of with regret.
Despite ups and downs in her private life, Angie managed to turn the 1970s into her most prolific and controversial decade, starting out in a decidedly bizarre fashion with the Gene Roddenberry penned and produced film PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW. Starring opposite Rock Hudson, Angie played a lusted after faculty member of a Southern California high school whose affairs with the student body turn deadly. Angie gave her first nude scene for this role, despite turning 40 that year. While the tawdry nature of the film was somewhat controversial at the time, it proved paltry compared to her next role in 1974's BIG BAD MAMA. Playing the criminally bent mother to a pair of equally felonious daughters who all set out on a bank-robbing spree during the Great Depression, Angie spent much of the movie getting naked and simulating sex in a number of racy scenes, one of which even involved Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Despite being well into her 40s, she nonetheless looked amazing, wowing audiences with her remarkably tight and toned body.
1974 also brought Angie one of her greatest TV successes when her one-off performance in the season finale of the NBC crime drama Police Story got that show's producers thinking about spin offs. Thus the creation of a new show, Police Woman, starring Angie as the titular undercover crime fighter Sgt. Pepper Anderson. With a new bad guy to bust each week and a whole slew of tight-fitting outfits to wear, the show was a ratings hit for a time and won Angie multiple Emmy nominations. Unfortunately, her professional life became secondary to the needs of her daughter, forcing Police Woman to a premature wrap in 1978. Small roles followed for Angie in various mini-series and TV movies for the rest of the 1970s into the early 1980s, when her marriage to Burt Bacharach also came to a close. Despite her personal troubles, 1980 provided Angie with what was to became her most well remembered and revisited role to date.
Now the stuff of nude scene legend, Angie's brief but memorable role in the 1980 Brian De Palma thriller DRESSED TO KILL was something she almost passed on, for fear of it possibly conflicting with her Police Woman fame. Thankfully she did eventually agree to play the role of the disillusioned Park Avenue wife, dreaming of more adventurous exploits in the bedroom. Her much beloved shower scene was destined to become the stuff of frequent rewindings in the burgeoning home video market of the time (as well as a particularly beloved moment for my namesake). It was also one of the most blatant usages of body doubles in cinema history, even though Angie was still in remarkable shape. Despite complaints from feminists at the time, who disapproved of the film's violence against women, her performance in DRESSED TO KILL has become a favorite of both audiences and Angie herself, who pairs it with her RIO BRAVO big break as two of her favorite roles.
Angie continued to find more TV work throughout the 80s and 90s, quite often in shows with a law enforcement slant, thanks to her Police Woman past. In 1999 she was ranked #42 in Playboy's "Sexiest Stars of the Century" list and later #3 in TV Guide's "50 Sexiest TV Stars" list. She even brought a touch of the past to Steven Soderbergh's superior remake of OCEAN'S 11 in 2001, doing a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the film. Sadly, Angie suffered tragedy in 2007 when her troubled daughter Nikki committed suicide at the age of 40. Just as with most of the calamities in her life, Angie did her best to take it in stride, saying of the loss "I miss Nikki so much, but [committing suicide] was her decision. The world was too harsh a place for her.
Now 82, Angie has mostly exited from movie and television work, yet remains one of the most desired women of both TV and cinema history. She's also one of Hollywood's most intriguing figures, possessing a treasure trove of personal stories and accounts of life amidst some of Hollywood's most notorious inner circles. Yet unlike many with tell all tendencies, Angie's juicy tales will mostly likely go with her to the grave, thus adding even more mystique to a woman who no doubt saw and did it all in her time.