She was a voluptuous B movie star, a Playboy Playmate – and a longtime recluse

By Stephen M. Silverman
May 03, 2011 09:50 AM
Everett Collection

She caused guys at the drive-in movies of the ’50s and the readers of Playboy to swoon, counted Cary Grant and the actor Jim Hutton (father of Timothy Hutton) among her lovers, and even appeared – briefly – opposite Paul Newman in the Oscar-winning Hud. But when it came to Hollywood endings, pinup model and actress Yvette Vickers reached a heartbreaking fadeout.

As her uncollected mail gathered cobwebs outside, inside Vickers’s dilapidated Los Angeles home last Wednesday, police, acting on a concerned neighbor’s tip, discovered the mummified remains of the onetime 36″-24″-36″ cult star of the space-alien B-movies Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and Attack of the Giant Leeches.

Vickers was 82, had long been a recluse – and could have been dead for as long as a year, reports the Los Angeles Times.

An autopsy has been ordered, though foul play is not suspected. If anything, her sad demise almost seems like something out of a movie in which Vickers once played a cameo, as a giggling girl in Billy Wilder’s acid-etched 1950 portrait of a glamorous movie life gone sour, Sunset Boulevard.

“She kept to herself, had friends and seemed like a very independent spirit,” her neighbor in Benedict Canyon, actress Susan Savage, told the Times. “To the end she still got cards and letter[s] from all over the world requesting photos and still wanting to be her friend.”

Still, the Times also quotes Boyd Magers, editor and publisher of the movie publication Western Clippings, as saying the once “bright, intelligent” actress grew “paranoid” in her later years and was convinced she was being stalked.

“We’ve all been crying about this,” said Savage. “Nobody should be left alone like that.”

Vickers’s earliest professional work was in commercials for White Rain shampoo. According to Variety, it was Billy Wilder who discovered the actress, though her studio career was short-lived and completely finished after a major role in Paramount’s 1957 crime drama Short Cut to Hell, a directorial effort by actor James Cagney that flopped at the box office.

Turning to B movies and TV Westerns, Vickers also appeared on Broadway, acted right up until 1990’s horror flick Evil Sprits (starring Virginia Mayo, Karen Black and Laugh-In‘s Arte Johnson) and even recorded a couple of jazz albums – one, a tribute to her parents.

Both the Times and Variety report her birth name as Yvette Vedder, born in Kansas City, Mo., to jazz-musician parents Charles and Iola Vedder. Entering UCLA at the precocious age of 16, she studied journalism but left school to seek an acting career. Her Playboy appearance, shot by “King of the Nudies” filmmaker Russ Meyer, was in July 1959, the same year she starred in Attack of the Giant Leeches, in which she was, well, attacked by giant leeches.

“I did want to play other kinds of parts and to go on into bigger pictures,” Vickers is quoted as saying in author Tom Weaver’s 2006 Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes, “but these things just eluded me.”

Her relationship with Hutton was said to have lasted 15 years, and she and Grant reputedly remained friends after their affair. Married and divorced twice (“at least,” says the Times), Vickers leaves no survivors.