The busty Southern beauty was also a burlesque dancer, and later became the first and only female trick-shot golfer.
Can you say “Renaissance Woman”?
Carmen is probably best known, however, for allegedly being a close friend of Marilyn Monroe, a story many Marilynographers have disputed, calling Carmen in no uncertain terms a "liar." Oddly enough, no photographs exist to the MooT's knowledge of the two together. For now, the image of Norma Jean and Jeanne has to exist only in the imagination, and believe you me, I'm purdy good at imaginin' those two together!
One thing's for sure, the 36-26-36 Carmen was quite the party girl in her day.
Born Jeanne Laverne Carmon on August 4, 1930 in Paragould, Arkansas, her family was dirt-poor and she spent most of her early childhood days picking cotton. She ran away to New York when she was 13, stopping in other cities along the way, learning to hustle for room and board.
Before her family knew it, a 17-year-old Carmen was dancing on Broadway in a show that starred Bert Lahr, best known for his portrayal of the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
By age 18, she had posed for infamous girlie photographer Irving Klaw and was featured in Titter magazine. She soon appeared in various other stroke magazines that paved the way for Playboy, in various states of undress, including Carnival, Glance, Dare, and Pose. Carmen once graced the cover of as many as 13 cheesecake and pulp magazines simultaneously, which seems an unrepeatable feat by today's standards.
Then, in 1949, her career took quite a different turn. While auditioning to model with golf clubs for a magazine ad, Jeanne learned she had a knack for the game. She shot 80 her first time out barefoot and soon was touring with trick-shot artist Jack Redmond.
“The next thing I know I was a professional trick-shot golf artist, who could hit a golf ball offa someone’s mouth 210 yards,” Carmen told Java’s Bachelor Pad in a 2006 interview. “There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do with a ball. And just like that I had another career. That ended most of the modeling.”
Teeing up balls in someone's mouth other than her own must've seemed ironic to even to her. And she admits as much in her biography Jeanne Carmen: My Wild, Wild Life As A New York Pin Up Queen, Trick Shot Golfer, and Hollywood Actress, a wild life-story crowned by unvetted copping to hobbing the knobs of the likes of Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and JFK. She even claims that Presley passed out in the middle of cunnilingus.
Carmen traveled the East coast in the early Fifties performing golf tricks, making as much as $1,000 a day. After getting romantically involved with Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli, the exotic brunette-turned-blonde bombshell found herself in Las Vegas, where Roselli put her skills on the greens to use making a different kind of green. How? By hustling naive tourists. “Johnny would find wealthy hotel guests and set them up,” Carmen admitted. “He’d point to me and bet them they couldn’t beat me. I’d start slowly and let them get ahead for the first five or six holes. Then I’d make this amazing improvement. I never lost.”
She soon began to hang out with the Rat Pack, and various other celebrities, and found herself in Hollywood at the ripe old age of 22. She paid the bills by giving golf lessons to many entertainers, including Jayne Mansfield. She once demonstrated her golfing skills for then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But she soon tired of being a novelty act, and a reputation as "the 19th hole" at any golf course she happened to be working at grew tiresome.
By 1952, Carmen was antsy to into big-time show-biz. She got the cover of Esquire Girl’s pinup calendar that year, and started earning her keep as a cheesecake model. Two years and a few hundred photo spreads later she got a role as a featured dancer (named Venus Beauty) in “Striporama” (1953), a burlesque variety show with massive cult appeal even today that featured dirty-dance queen Lili St. Cyr and the legendary model/professional naked person Bettie Page. Carmen and Page even competed against one another in a beauty pageant sponsored by See magazine. And neither of them won!
It was supposedly in 1952 or 1953 that Carmen met Marilyn Monroe at a bar near the Actor’s Studio. She was rehearsing lines for a job and Monroe offered to help her. To hear Carmen tell it, they became fast friends on the spot. The platinum blonde bookends who bore a slight resemblance to one another, especially when kneeling in the surf in lingerie even lived next door to one another at one point, according to Carmen. As neighbors, they shared girlie secrets and sex stories about the proclivities of celebrities like Presley, Sinatra, Clark Gable, and even John and Robert Kennedy. Once, Carmen says, the pair got naked and gave Jack Benny a spanking in a Los Angeles hotel sauna. Benny had scared them half to death by faking a heart attack after they turned him down for steam-bath sex. To get even with him, Monroe held a sweaty Benny down so Carmen could paddle his wet, dimpled old-man ass. (Rochester, I have it on good authority, was nowhere to be found.)
While such shenanigans were going on in her private life, Carmen's acting career was taking off, or, at least rolling down the runway. She made her big screen debut as a Spanish senorita in “The Three Outlaws.” The 1956 movie told the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and starred Alan Hale, Jr., who later became known as The Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Carmen next appeared as an Apache squaw named Yellow Moon in “War Drums” (1957). The Three Stooges short “A Merry Mix-Up” followed the same year. She was then featured in the juvenile delinquent/girls-in-prison/rock-n-roll drive-in opus “Untamed Youth,” also made in 1957 (same year the MooT was made). The film starred starlet and Monroe-wannabe Mamie Van Doren and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Cochran. “Untamed Youth” eventually commanded a cult following and was lampooned on an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It was also one of the only cinematic appearances of Cochran, who later recorded the hits “Summertime Blues” and the Jeanne Carmen-inspired (or so she says) “Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie.” Carmen herself had only a bit part, as Lillibet, one of the minor floozies in the flick.
Throughout the second half of the Fifties, Carmen added to her acting résumé with brief appearances in the rodeo feature “Born Reckless” (1958), also with Van Doren; “I Married a Woman” (1958), a Hollywood vehicle for British sex goddess Diana Dors; “Too Much, Too Soon” (1958), which starred reputed ex-lover Errol Flynn and Dorothy Malone; and the gangster feature “Guns Don’t Argue.” Two of her meatier roles were as Iris in the film noir shocker “Portland Exposé” (1957) and as nascent scream queen Lucile in Irvin Berwick’s creature feature “The Monster of Piedras Blancas” (1959).
Perhaps the high water mark of Carmen's movie career, “The Monster of Piedras Blancas” told the tale of a sleepy lighthouse town on the Pacific terrorized by a monster. A WOR Channel 9 staple for many years when I was a teen, TMOPB plays as a much creepier and somewhat gorier version of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” At the film’s premiere, Jeanne’s $300 dress was practically torn off by a group of overzealous young male fans, doubtless sexed up by Carmen's skinny-dipping scene. Capped by a lingering shot of the monster's scaly hand fondling her frilly underpants while she's swimming, maybe they shoulda called it “The Panty Sniffer of Piedras Blancas”?
Carmen also made appearances on various television shows in the late 1950s, including “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Riverboat,” and “Martin and Lewis’ Colgate Comedy Hour,” co-starring with the likes of Telly Savalas, Bob Hope, Burt Reynolds, Richard Boone, and Fred MacMurray.
1962's “The Devil’s Hand” ended up being Carmen’s last acting role for nearly three decades. She said that she dropped out of the limelight to raise her three kids.
Suddenly, in the nineties, she was profiled on The Golf Channel and got her own “E! True Hollywood Story” in 1996 (and which you can view in its cheesy entirety on YouTube). She also appeared in Pacific Bell wireless phone commercials and the George Michael video for his song “Outside.” But it wasn’t until rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie penned a cameo for her that she returned to acting. A fan of Carmen’s, Zombie wrote a scene for her in his original “House of 1,000 Corpses” screenplay that featured her as an ex-glamour girl named Miss Bunny that puts on revues with dead animals. Though it was filmed, the scene was later cut.
Most recently, Carmen sporting her trademark “mink-white” hair could be seen on DVD in Ted Newsom’s “The Naked Monster” (2005), along with exploitation stalwarts Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer. The movie had its origins as a student film in 1984 which Newsom started to both pay homage and spoof horror and science fiction flicks from the Fifties that he loved. Twenty-one years later, the project was completed. In it, Carmen played the wife of John Harmon, who had appeared as her father in “The Monster of Piedras Blancas.”
Currently, a biopic based on Jeanne’s tell-all autobiography is in the works. Cheesy and cheap, true or false, it's an American tale about a piece of classic tail certainly worth telling.