Interview by Justice Howard
Most all of you will be a little too young to know who Kathleen Hughes is. She is born of a different era. An era where movie stars dripped allure and class like honey. Where cigarettes were smoked between fingers wearing long black elbow length opera gloves and white fox furs draped across shoulders with alabaster skin. Rhinestones glistened on red carpets and black seamed nylons were worn back when garter belts were a must and panty hose wasn’t even thought of yet. In her era starlets were the epitome of glamour, charisma and timeless sex appeal. This era, back in the 40’s and 50’s was when movies were about bad guys and bad blonde dolls who fell for them.
After meeting Kathleen at a Beverly Hills dinner party I went on a quest to find out more about her and when I did, what I found was very interesting so I thought it best to do an interview. The interview would include some of her wonderful history (as told by Kathleen herself) as well as some of my recent photos of her as well as some pin up shots of her from the 1950’s. Kathleen is a former pin up movie queen who has done a slew of racy Hollywood movies with titles like “3 Bad Sisters” and the 3D cult classic that she is most well known for “It Came from Outer Space”. She is one of the sexiest pinups of her time and was initially brought on the movie scene to replace Marilyn Monroe.
One of the most interesting places I have visited recently is Kathleen’s bathroom. Reason being, she has her movie poster collection housed there. I photographed all of the posters accompanying this article directly off of her bathroom wall. Many of her movies are still played today. A variety of them, on Turners Classic movie station or American Movie Classics tv channel. The cool thing about Kathleen, even though now well into her 70’s, is that she is still blonde and vivacious. A lot of pin up queens let themselves go but Kathleen is still blonde, wearing her red lipstick and having a ball with her notoriety. She regrets nothing about her movie career and would do it all over again at the drop of a hat. This, I know, because I asked her. And what is to regret about being a leading lady opposite Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson?
One special photo of her is probably her most famous image. It is from the cult classic “It Came From Outer Space” and it is Kathleen in, what I call, the “eeeeeeek pose”. This shot has been used everywhere. On condom packages, hummus jars, for sale signs, and just about anywhere you can think of. Tower Records was having a sale and inadvertently used the infamous “eeek pose” without any knowledge of the image itself or who the model was on all of its in-store advertising posters. Since she lives in Hollywood, Kathleen marched into the Hollywood Tower Records store and asked them if they had permission to use her image on their posters and then informed them that it was indeed her in the photo on the posters displayed in their store. They came to some kind of agreement with both Kathleen and the store happy and as added incentive, Kathleen had a batch of the stores’ posters in her possession. I am the proud owner of one of them, having it personally signed to me by her. It remains on the walls of my studio, with Kathleen in her famous “eeek pose” and daily reminds me of having the great honor of meeting one of the most wonderful actresses of the classic movie genre as well as pin up queen extrordinaire .
SG: Were you friends with Marilyn Monroe?
KH: I wasn’t friends with her, but I met her. I first met Marilyn when my
cousin, Diana, was in a show with her at the Studio Club at Fox. These
were people behind the camera basically, the secretaries and the
mailroom people; my cousin was studying acting on the lot because her
father was F.D. Herbert, the writer. He was under contract to Fox so he
was able to get her in. This is before I was signed to a contract. So I
went to see my cousin in the show, and she said ‘You’ve got to see this
wonderful girl who’s just been dropped. Her name is Marilyn Monroe and
she has a great number in the show.’ She did a song called “I Never Took
a Lesson In My Life,”—it’s funny, this was over 50 years ago and when I
mention it to somebody they will start singing the song. They know every
word! I was so impressed with Marilyn, and so shocked they could have
dropped somebody with such talent. She was beautiful and she did the
number so well. She sang and she danced, and I thought, ‘If there are
any executives that come to see this show, they’ll realize they made a
terrible mistake and they’ll sign her back.’ But they didn’t. Shortly
after that I started my contract.
SG: It’s rumored that you were actually designated as Fox’s answer to…
KH: No, that was much later. I didn’t want to be another sexpot, I wanted to
be another Jean Crane. I had dark hair… stop the tape, I want to show
you something… [sound of the tape shutting off and turning back on] So
my contract started and I began doing pictures and supporting actors in
screen tests, including Rock Hudson. When they gave him his screen test,
I played opposite him and gave him his first screen kiss. Anyway, they
were doing a picture called A Ticket To Tomahawk, with Dan Daly and Anne
Baxter, and the studio called me and said, ‘Can you dance?’ I said, ‘I
don’t know, I never tried.’ I had always wanted to take dance lessons
from the time I was a little girl when my mother took me to see the
Megland Kitties. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so wonderful, that’s what I want
to do.’ But I never got my dancing lessons. So they took me over to a
soundstage and a dance director worked with me. I think that’s what I
wrote about in Tales From the Casting Couch; the dance director worked
with me from nine in the morning to six at night, and by six o’clock at
night I still couldn’t learn a simple time step. Could not. My feet were
not connected to my brain in any way. Well, they remembered Marilyn
could dance—they needed four contract players to play four dancing
girls, and I would have been the fourth—so they called her. That’s when
I met Marilyn the second time. I was very chummy with Dan Daly, we were
very close friends. One day he told me they were shooting one of the
musical sequences there at Fox, on a soundstage—cause a lot of the
picture was made on location—so I went on the set and I met Marilyn
again. I watched her and the three contract players do this number…
which, I guess, I could never have done in a million years. I didn’t
start dancing until I was over 50, and I found I could pick up a step
fast so I don’t know what happened.
SG: Tell us about how you transitioned into pin-up movie queen, or did you
start doing sexier roles after you went blonde?
KH: Well, yes. I had a sexy part in For Men Only, and I started doing… I had
nine months of freelancing in television before I went to Universal. One
of the jobs I did was the Frank Sinatra show; I played a sexy nurse in a
skit with Leo Durocher and Sinatra. A friend of Sinatra’s, Don McGuire,
who was a writer and director, came to watch rehearsals. He saw me and
came backstage afterwards and said, ‘I think you should be at Universal,
would you be interested?” I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Do you have any
film?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I have a picture called For Men Only.’ So they
ran the film and I got the contract. Then they said that I was
Universal’s answer to Marilyn Monroe; until a short time later when
Mamie Van Doren came along and they decided she was Universal’s answer
to Marilyn Monroe. But I didn’t care, I was having a good time. My whole
career has been nothing but fun.
SG: Most people know you from It Came From Outer Space, can you tell us
KH: I had to fight for that part. What happened was, because I was very
two-dimensional, they were testing the 3-D cameras before they made It
Came From Outer Space and they picked me. I was already a pin-up queen,
so they had me parading back and forth on a runway with the 3-D cameras
rolling. At the end of the picture there’s a piece of film from the
original camera tests that was not used in the film. Naturally, since I
knew they were making a 3-D picture, I insisted on seeing the script. I
read the script and there was only one part in it—I mean, Barbara Rush
already had the lead and that wouldn’t have been the right part for me
anyway. I saw this little scene and I thought, ‘I want to play that.’
They said, ‘Oh no, that’s much too small.’ Because my first picture
after I was signed was Sally And St. Anne (with Ann Blythe and Edmund
Gwynne.) I played kind of a sexy part in that. It was a big part. So
they said the part was much too small. And I said, ‘But it’s in 3-D, how
can that be small?’ I begged them and finally wore them down. They had
to give in and give me that part. That was the best career choice I ever
SG: Yeah, you don’t see Barbara Rush in hummus ads.
KH: [laughter] Right. Yeah, the ad stills I did for the picture, the
screaming ad still, we called it ‘The picture that would not die!’ And I
hope they will be using that picture long after I’m gone.
SG: I’m sure they will. You’ve done how many movies?
KH: Oh god, I’ve never really counted them. Between 30 and 40, at least.
SG: Who’s you favorite leading man?
KH: Hmm. Well, John Forsythe.
SG: Second favorite?
KH: Edward G. Robinson.
KH: I loved Edward G. Robinson. I thought he was so attractive. People think
this is weird, but I have very strange tastes in men. I think Herbert
Lom is the most attractive man I’ve ever seen.
SG: I read somewhere that Edward G. Robinson was a great kisser…
KH: Yeah. We sometimes necked between scenes, but always with the dressing
room door open. He was a very nice man.
SG: Tell us about your years as a famous pin-up queen. You were just in a
book called Invasion Of The B-Girls, and you’ve been in a bunch of other
books; maybe you’d like to mention them.
KH: I don’t even remember all of the books. I used to have them in a pile
somewhere but I can’t remember which ones; I’m in a lot of books.
SG: Do you have any regrets about being a sexy pin-up girl?
KH: Oh no! I loved it. It was great. I never did any nasty pictures, they
were all very artistic. I was really happy once when—I don’t know
whether it was Ray Jones from Universal—but one of the big photographers
from Universal took me to Long Beach as part of a pin-up demonstration.
He chose me, and everybody was taking pictures of me, and I just loved
SG: Great. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
KH: Just that I’ve enjoyed my entire career. I hope it isn’t over. You never
know when something’s gonna come along. After I hadn’t been active for
some time, Jack Nicholson gave my name to casting director in New York
for a part in Ironweed; he had suggested me to play the part of his
wife. I read the book and I found a much smaller part called The Hot
Lady, she’s this over-sexed middle aged woman who had sex in her
basement with this filthy, ugly trashman when he made his rounds. And
she liked an audience so the trashman invited Jack Nicholson’s character
to watch. So, while I’m sitting on a barrel being had by the trashman, I
look up and I see Jack Nicholson reluctantly looking—he really didn’t
want to look—so I waved to him and continued. [laughter] Unfortunately,
that scene was cut. So if I’d played the wife I would still be in it.
But I didn’t feel I could do a good job because the wife was too
straight. I don’t like to do anything that’s too straight. Anyway, the
point is that I hadn’t worked in a while and I’m guessing Jack Nicholson
went through the players directory to see who could play his wife. He
saw my picture and knew that he had seen me in movies. Because I asked
him, ‘How did you happen to pick me?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, I must
have seen you in something.’ So that’s what I’m relying on now. I’m not
that eager to work, but if someone wants me for a part, I’m here.
SG: What’s your favorite movie you’ve done out of all of them?
KH: It’s hard to pick one favorite.
SG: OK; top three then.
KH: Well, The Tall Lie and The Glass Web. Those are the two.
A lot of these movies are continuing to play on the Turner Classic
Movies channel so you have a revived life on cable.
Yeah. And I have a new life in Film Noir festivals. We went to one in
Palm Springs recently. I’ve been invited again next year and they’re
gonna run another picture. Also, I think I’m very lucky that I’ve done
pictures in so many different categories. I’ve done a western, I’ve done
a horror film, an Arabian Nights film, science fiction… so there are all
these possibilities for different conventions.
SG: Are you doing autograph signings now too?
KH: Yes, I’ll be doing one in January. It’s in the Valley, at the airport
Hilton I believe.
SG: Oh, I know that one. I think my friend William Smith does that one too.
KH: And Mamie’s done that one.
SG: You were friends with Mamie as well?
KH: Yeah. We were friends at Universal and we’ve been friends ever since.
SG: What’s your most vivid memory of your movie days that you can just close
your eyes and see perfectly; good or bad.
KH: Well, I don’t remember anything too vividly after all these years. I
mean the early days. I remember my screen test. When my uncle found out
Fox was interested in me, he offered to direct my test. If it hadn’t
been him, and some stranger had done the test, I think it would have
been hopeless. But he wrote such a cute thing. There were no lines, he
spoke to me and I had to answer him, but we had a very cute set-up where
I was sitting at a dressing table and he was talking to me off-camera. I
kept looking at this thing on the dressing table and blowing kisses, and
he thought it was a mirror and told me to stop admiring myself. Finally
I said, ‘No, this is a picture of somebody wonderful, the most wonderful
man in the world.’ And he said, ‘All right, show it to me.’ So I picked
it up, turned it to the camera, and it was Darryl F. Zanuck! [laughter]
It was just so clever. That’s what they call a personality test. Some
tests were scenes, where you did a scene from a play, or they write a
scene for you. The scene I did with Rock Hudson for his test was written
specially for the test but other times—I did a scene from Petrified
Forest with Rock Ford, I believe that was the actor I supported in that
test. Then there were the personality tests. For some of the personality
tests you just sat there and they asked you questions about yourself,
you know, personal stuff. But this was so clever.
SG: How about some of your brief encounters
KH: That’s one of the nice things about being in the business, all the
famous people I’ve met. I was at a party at Marlon Brando’s house, he
gave a party for Stella Adler and spent the whole evening snuggling up
to her on the couch. At one point I was heading for the ladies room and
was walking down the hall, he was coming back from somewhere and we
passed in the hallway. He looked at me as he passed and said, ‘You’re a
very impressive looking woman,’ and kept right on walking. I loved that.
SG: How were you discovered?
KH: Right after I graduated from high school I went to City College. And, at
the same time, I had read about a scholarship contest in the paper for a
little theater at Wilshire and Fairfax called Gala Workshop. They needed
girls to play opposite the G.I.s that were returning who had
scholarships to the acting school. I sent my picture in, and I won a
scholarship. The second year I was there I was in a play called Night
Over Taos, by Maxwell Anderson. I was very sick that night and had taken
painkillers. I had to stand onstage for the entire first act, and when
the curtain came down, I passed out. But I was revived and went on for
the second act. There was a talent scout from Fox in the audience and he
came backstage after the show and said, ‘I’d like you to come out to