And now: a story to fill you with titillation, admiration, amusement, horror and melancholy. What a confusing cocktail of emotions come to me when working on a post like this. Yvette Vickers (Yvette Vedder, 1928-ca. 2010) was a pin-up girl for hep cats, the star (and less than star) of some cool and schlocky movies, a singer, and an all-around Hollywood “character”.
Vickers was second generation jazz. Her parents, sax player Charles Vedder and piano player Maria Vedder were musicians in Kansas City’s jazz scene during the same period depicted in the eponymous Robert Altman movie. Yvette learned to sing while hanging around clubs with her parents as a kid. She studied acting at UCLA, then began appearing in tv commercials.
Her first film role is a flashy bit part in Sunset Boulevard (1950). She continued to take classes and act in Little Theatre, honing her skills. From 1953 through 1957 she was married to bass player Don Prell. Then came AIP’s Reform School Girl, Jerry Lewis’s The Sad Sack, and Jimmy Cagney’s Short Cut to Hell, all 1957. “Legitimacy” was not to be her lot in life. Just about all her films were to be B movies, teen exploitation or horror flicks: Juvenile Jungle (1958), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), I Mobster (1959) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959).
Vickers also posed for men’s magazines, a second career that reached its peak in July 1959 when was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. Russ Meyer photographed her centerfold image. This effectively ended her marriage to a writer named Leonard Burns after only three months.
Vickers also acted in television shows like Dragnet and One Step Beyond, while still being cast in films like Beach Party (1963) and Hud (1963). Film work dried up at this stage. She was married to an actor named Tom Howland from 1967 through 1969, then worked steadily again from 1970 through 1976, in such films as What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971, we wrote about it here) and TV shows like Emergency! In the late ’70s screen work dried up yet again and she worked for a time as an estate agent. In 1981 she toured in a one-woman show about Zelda Fitzgerald.
In 1989, she recorded a song called “The Leeches Are Crawling All Over Me” with a punk group called Nyck Varooms Tomb. This briefly goosed her career yet again. She appears in the 1990 horror film Evil Spirits with Karen Black and Arte Johnson, then launched a cabaret act, and made a record album of jazz songs in honor of her parents.
By the turn of the 21st century the former sexpot was getting long in the tooth and she became an elderly recluse at her longtime retreat in the desert mountains. In 2011, Vickers made international headlines for the last time when — very much like a scene from one of her own B movies — a neighbor discovered her mummified remains on the floor of her secluded and decrepit house. Doctors determined that she had died of a heart attack as much as a year earlier. Over the course of all those months, no one had noticed her absence until a large pile of uncollected mail began to gather. It’s a cautionary and unthinkable tale. My wife blogged about it at the time; read her earlier post here.