charlie-oscar2A weekly feature in which my four-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier.

charlie-merleoberonThis has never happened before. When we arrived in Hollywood this weekend, Charlie zeroed in on Merle Oberon’s star. A full hour later he made a mad dash to the star honoring Arlene Dahl and said this was his choice for the week. I told him he’d already picked but he insisted on dumping poor Merle for Arlene. It made me think that perhaps he wasn’t the first man in Hollywood to do so! I feel I must honor his wishes so I’ll just make a passing reference to the Indian-born Oberon’s most famous role, as Cathy in William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights opposite Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff. This version of Emily Brontë’s novel is a timeless classic, despite the fact that Olivier and Oberon detested each other and were miserable during the filming, especially since Olivier had desperately tried to get his fiancée Vivien Leigh the part. Ironically, Leigh was rejected because the studio honchos didn’t want to cast someone who was unknown in America. The joke was on them when Leigh was cast as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and won the Academy Award for Best Actress that same year (while Oberon wasn’t even nominated).

But in all fairness, I feel we must move on to lovely Arlene Dahl, an actress who is still with us at the age of 88, and who I fear is more well known today for being the mother of Lorenzo Lamas and the ex-wife of Fernando. And for her second career as a beauty columnist and make-up entrepreneur.

ArleneDahlLifeCoverBBorn in Minneapolis on August 11, 1925, Dahl worked as a model right after high school and caught the eye of MGM scouts. The studio signed her to a seven-year contract in 1947 and, after a bit part in Life with Father, she appeared in films in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s such as Reign of Terror, Three Little Words, Here Come the Girls and Woman’s World. Her most remembered film is probably the 1959 version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth with James Mason and Pat Boone. I just watched this film on TCM the other day and it’s a hoot (and way more fun, in my opinion, than the 2008 remake or its 2012 sequel!). Dahl largely retired from the screen at this point although she did make a bunch of appearances on television and also appeared in the 1964 movie Kisses for My President — the only irony there being her rumored affair years earlier with then-Senator John F. Kennedy.

Dahl’s personal life was in the news in the 1950s and 60s far more than her acting career. She married actor Lex Barker in 1951 but he left her for Lana Turner the following year. She then fell in love with heartthrob Fernando Lamas and the two were married from 1954 to 1960 (after which Lamas married swimming star Esther Williams). Four more husbands followed that, including Dahl’s current spouse, Marc Rosen. In addition to son Lorenzo, Dahl has two daughters from her other marriages.

arlenedahl-bookArlene Dahl’s syndicated beauty column reached over 30 million readers. In 1965 she published a book called Always Ask a Man: Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity. My wife actually owns a copy of this book. I’m not saying that it single-handedly reignited the Women’s Movement but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was cited by feminist leaders. I’m holding the book in my hands right now and reading the blurbs on the back cover — all from Arlene’s male former co-stars:

Pat Boone: “I’m for girls being feminine all the way. A girl should never disguise the fact that she’s a girl. It’s a lot easier to convince a man that you are a fascinating female if you look the part.”

Yul Brynner: “Simple femininity is the most important thing about a woman, and it is a quality a great many women are in jeopardy of losing. Women are being emancipated out of their femininity in this modern age.”

Richard Burton: “I like curves and poise and good carriage and clothes that show them off. Clothes should fit the outline of the body, not disguise it.”

Oy. I wonder what Merle Oberon would say. The handwritten intro lays out the premise of the book:

Dear Reader,

I like men and I like men to like me — so I dress for them. This I used to consider the normal attitude and approach, one I shared with all women. Then not long ago a survey showed me that the average woman doesn’t dress to please men at all! She dresses to please herself or other women. That fact shocked me into writing this book, “Always Ask a Man.”

I do not believe there is a woman alive who can’t achieve some degree of beauty. But comparatively few realize their potential…This book is not intended for women who want to be beautiful for beauty’s sake. Such beauty serves no purpose…other than self-satisfaction, if that can be considered a purpose. But if you are a woman who longs to be beautiful for and be loved by a man, I believe this book can help you.

Whether you are a student, housewife, mother, working girl, or business woman, to me the only role that really counts is that of being an exciting, feminine woman.

Yours in beauty,
Arlene Dahl

ArleneDahl1Yikes. Arlene goes on in the book’s 175 pages to offer her own tips as well as advice about what women should do from many famous men she knows including Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant and Noel Coward (cough). When asked by Dahl what women should use to enhance their sex appeal, Coward replied, “Soap and water’s quite good for a starter.” Kirk Douglas had a more feminist approach: “I’m glad they gave women the right to vote, but sometimes I’m sorry they have the right to smoke. Most women are messy about it, particularly about their lipstick. I don’t mind wiping lipstick off myself, but I hate to see it on cigarettes, napkins and coffee cups!” I could go on, but I better restrain myself. Sure, most the advice is cringe-producing today, but I don’t mean to criticize Arlene Dahl too harshly using modern sensibilities. There’s also a lot of advice that is quite sound. And she even says that Ethel Barrymore in her seventies was one of the most beautiful women on the screen because of her inner attitude. You go, girl!

You can easily find a copy of Dahl’s book if you want to read her Beauty Resolutions, go on Sophia Loren’s 10-Day Diet (dinner: 4 oz. hot boiled tongue, 2 dill pickles, 1 Kaiser roll, 1 cup black coffee), her chapter on How to Dress (and Undress) for a Man, and her Daily Complexion Schedule. Poor Merle Oberon could have used that. Her face was scarred as a result of a 1937 car accident and she suffered further damage to her skin as a result of cosmetics poisoning and an allergic reaction to certain drugs. It took skilled lighting technicians and make-up experts to conceal the noticeable indentations on her skin.

Now, enough of this two-timing, Charlie. Next week I insist that you make a commitment and stick with it! You’re not too young — Lorenzo Lamas was just a few years older than you when Arlene Dahl wrote her book and Dahl states in her first chapter that she often asked her son for his advice on her hair styles or the choice of a new fashion color. “Children are always so candid!” (Perhaps Lorenzo took that expertise to his short-lived 2003 television show “Are You Hot?” in which he and two other judges evaluated contestants based solely on their physical attractiveness.)