I hope you’ll forgive the provocative photo I’ve selected to depict Barbara Nichols (Barbara Nickerauer, 1928-1976). Ones that aren’t as sexy don’t seem to exist. And of course, many of you won’t mind that at all. The brassy, dye-blonde bombshell specialized in playing gun molls and burlesque dancers in film and television for 20 years, and even if you think you don’t know her, you know her.
Born in Mineola, Long Island, Nichols was raised in Queens, attending Woodrow Wilson High in the Jamaica neighborhood of that burgeoning borough. In the late ’40s she worked as a chorine at the Latin Quarter and other New York nightclubs. She claimed never to have stripped on stage, but she certainly took plenty off as a pin-up model. I could scarcely find any photo where she wasn’t falling out of her dress, and I mean that in the most approving sense possible. She also took home many beauty titles early in her career, including Miss Long Island, Miss Mink of 1953, Miss Welder of 1953, and if the publicity is to be believed, Miss Dill Pickle.
Much like Marilyn Monroe, Nichols started out in bit parts in films but was so eye-catching she rapidly began to get assigned name characters. Unlike Marilyn, she never became a star, but she sometimes cast as one of the principals, and her turns were flashy and memorable. She was dance hall girl in River of No Return (1954), Sandy in The Wild Party (1956), Birdie in The King and Four Queens (1956), Rita in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Poopsie in The Pajama Game (1957), Gladys in Pay Joey (1957), Stella in Ten North Frederick (1958, also based on a John O’Hara novel), Mildred in The Naked and the Dead (1958), Mayme in Woman Obsessed (1959) with Susan Hayward, Jane in That Kind of Woman (1960) with Sophia Loren, Gloria in Who Was That Lady? (1960), Lola in Where the Boys Are (1960), Texas Guinan in The George Raft Story (1961), Candy Kane in House of Women (1962), Miss Marlowe in The Disorederly Orderly (1964) with Jerry Lewis, Sadie in The Loved One (1965), Blossom La Tour in The Swinger (1966) with Ann-Margret, and Flora in The Power (1968) with George Hamilton, among many others.
Nichols also did scores of guest shots on television. She was in comedy sketches on The Milton Berle Show, The Red Skelton Hour, The Jack Benny Program, and The Jackie Gleason Show. She played “Maid Marilyn” in two episodes of Batman and “Chickadee Laverne” in two episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. She played gun molls on The Untouchables and The Scarface Mob. She did loads of live TV dramas and anthology shows. In the early ’70s she did the requisite turn on Love American Style, and played lots of troublemaking dames on things like Dragnet, Adam-12, The Rookies and Emergency.
Nichols’ last screen appearance was in the 1976 movie Won Ton Ton the Dog That Saved Hollywood (1976), because everyone on earth is in that movie. Her sudden, and slightly mysterious death in 1976 is said to have been from damage to her spleen and liver in two separate car accidents several years earlier. But I’m no sawbones — I just report the news.
For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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