I’m always fascinated by the life stories of a wide variety of women. 12th-century empress? 20th-century fashionista? They’re equally compelling to me.
Today was my lucky day in the 20th-century fashionista category. I’ve been interested in 1960s fashion designer/amphetamine-queen Tiger Morse since reading the Edie Sedgwick biography Edie by Jean Stein in 1986.
In December 2010, I was happy to find Tiger in the book Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties by Joel Lobenthal, so I wrote a blog post about her and Diana Dew, another ’60s designer out of Edie. That post was published two months after Instagram launched; I remember being like, “Should I use this latest social media or nah?” Fast-forward 11 years and now, not only do I have FIVE Instagram accounts (one business, one personal, and one for each pet), but I’ve stumbled across a Tiger Morse Instagram feed that leads to a spiffy website created by Alan Rosenberg. Thanks to Mr. Rosenberg, I learned that Tiger died at the age of 40, exactly 49 years ago today, on April 22, 1979. The New York Times has a major project underway to publish obituaries for all the significant women, Black people, and other people of color that it overlooked over the course of its history, but, much to my surprise, Tiger made the Times in her day. It’s a short obit, but a great read. I particularly like this:
“‘I work all day and I swing all night,'” said Miss Morse, who was fond of giving unusual parties, such as one held for 450 people in a huge rented loft where Miss Morse danced in a cage above her guests.”
Of course, it’s nicer for a woman to know she is appreciated while she’s still alive, and the Times coincidentally came through on that count today with a major Thursday Styles story by Isabel Slone about 1950s Ford-model-turned-starlet Vikki Dougan — aka “The Back.” I had been following a #vikkidougan hashtag on Instagram because I do love a backless dress, and no one wore a backless dress like Vikki. Unfortunately, Instagram and Getty Images are making it tough to embed a photo in here, so you can check out the hashtag and enjoy them on your own.
So many people are Vikki enthusiasts that the Times tracked her down in her rent-controlled apartment for seniors in Beverly Hills. Dougan, the story says, was born Edith Tooker “the same year as a major stock market crash but would prefer you not do the math.” Here’s a wild paragraph:
“The woman who once graced the cover of Life magazine and dated Orson Welles, George Getty II, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Barry Goldwater Jr., Henry Fonda and Warren Beatty sleeps each night on an Ikea pullout couch. She said she is estranged from her two daughters and has no other living family members besides a half sister she calls ‘crazy.'”
Another anecdote that I simply have to share is about Sinatra:
“Ol’ Blue Eyes took Ms. Dougan out to an Italian restaurant after one of his shows in Miami, where she remarked on how much she’d like to sew a dress out of the red-checked tablecloths. He gave her a lift home in his chauffered car — ‘he gave me a kiss, I remember his lips were very soft’ — and handed her a brown paper bag full of tablecloths from the restaurants.”
The darker side of male celebrity is one of the reasons her acting career stalled after 1957, when she was hyped up as “the most notorious ca-rear girl in town.” In 1959, for instance, she tried out for a role in the movie Elmer Gantry, but she said that after she rejected star Burt Lancaster, he kicked her in the back and pushed her into an elevator. She wound up married to another actor, divorced, and then struggled to make a living. “Maybe I’m having a resurgence,” Dougan said to Slone, sounding slightly shocked about her Internet fame. I hope Dougan does get an agent for Backless in Hollywood and Other Tales, the memoir she wants to publish. I also hope that book includes the poem of support she wrote and sent to Bill Clinton in the midst of the revelations about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The twists and turns of this story, right?!