Angie Dickinson talks Pretty Maids in a Row

The Angie Dicksinson film Pretty Maids All in a Row arrives on DVD for the first time thanks to the Warner Archive Collection.

The 1971 sex romp featured Dickinson as the sexy secretary of fun-lovin’ girls school principal Rock Hudson.  A gaggle of young female hopefuls, not averse to strutting their stuff for French filmmaker Roger Vadim, play the school’s shall we say, curious, naughty and scantily-clad boarders.
Trouble brews when the girls are murdered, one after the other.  Dickinson calls the film “bizarre” but remembers working with Vadim as exciting. 

Dickinson, now 79, was the Angelina Jolie of her day, an associate of Hollywood’s exclusive Rat Pack, best known as tough broad Sgt. Suzanne ‘Pepper’ Anderson in TV’s Police Woman, the films Big Bad Mama, The Sins of Rachel Cade, the original Oceans’ Eleven, and for turning down, among other projects, Dynasty.
Dickinson reflected on Pretty Maids and her remarkable life in Hollywood recently with Monsters and Critics.

M&C – What a great pleasure to speak with you.  Have you been satisfied in your career as an actress?

AD – I am not dissatisfied, but I always felt I had more to give.  But it was okay.  The diverse roles I had amazed at when I look myself.  At least I didn’t get typecast.  I’ve gone along with my age pretty much the whole time and I am still working – in mature roles.

M&C – Pretty Maids All in a Row seems to have been rather explosive when it came out in 1971.  It was controversial for a lot of reasons, especially director Roger Vadim’s obsessive shots of naked young girls.  Did you see it that way?

AD – I think so.  I was relieved not to be one of those girls because they were the very loose and free and my sensuality was a naïve woman hung up on football coach.  I didn’t feel a part of the controversial aspects of the film.

M&C – Does it have the same bite today?

AD – I don’t think it has the same bite today, first of all.  Except for Rock Hudson to have played the part was so unusual.  It’s not as if it was John Malkovich!  It was almost like a dream sequence.  I don’t know how else you would describe his erratic, erotic behaviour.

I don’t even remember what Telly Savalas and Roddy McDowall were doing.  Rock Hudson was the Tom Cruise of that time and he just didn’t care.  If he had been somebody they could shoot down they would have   He was such a sweet, gentle man. 

M&C – Was he closeted at that time?

AD – No, he wasn’t out at the time. I don’t remember thinking that of him and it was none of my business.  I didn’t pay attention.  I was more likely to get into a good argument with him. 

M&C – Roger Vadim seems like an odd duck and a magnet for controversy.  Tell me about him.

AD – He was a very sophisticated guy and one of the early Hollywood hippies.  He wore sandals and socks and people were shocked.  He was so confident and virile and creative and handsome and exciting to be around.  He made exciting movies so he had big appeal.
M&C – What was his vision for the film?

AD – Someone told me that Gene Roddenberry wrote the screenplay of Pretty Maids based on a European novel, so that made sense.  I think Roddenberry interpreted it to make it interesting.  But I don’t know what they were after.  It was bizarre.  And very naughty.

It seemed so innocent, but Rock’s dream sequence, maybe it brought out his feminine side.  It made me feel that way about him.  When he was doing Pillow Talk, it was so innocent and sweet.

M&C – You have been extremely careful throughout your career, refusing roles, or image makeovers to remain true to yourself.
AD – I did, yes.  When I was under contact to Universal, I had wanted to work with Gregory Peck, and they wouldn’t let me unless I signed a contract.  My career was slow at the time.  I was hanging around and hadn’t done anything and so I signed.  They didn’t know what to do with me. 

It seems odd, but they didn’t have any idea.  But someone found a dream niche for me.  Most people are looking for fresh people somebody who looks like, that why Howard Hawkes was brave because he knew women and he saw what other people didn’t see in me. 

The problem was that they were not brave enough and there was this chain of doubt.  It’s tough.  Making a movie is harder than it appears.  There are two options if things go wrong, reshoot, or make a movie that is not good.  I was lucky and I was brave.

M&C – You have been a sex symbol and symbol of beauty your entire career.  You’ve been linked to some interesting men (Frank Sinatra, Burt Bacharach (husband), David Janssen, and John F. Kennedy).  Do you count your blessings?

AD – All the time!  I have always felt blessed, my baby book filled with me smiling and I felt lucky to be myself.  I was satisfied with whatever I did or didn’t do.  Very lucky.  I was brave and lucky.  I’m not sure what I wanted to do but I am satisfied.

M&C – They released some private diaries of Marilyn Monroe this week.  Are you fearful of that kind of exposure?

AD – Yes.  I burned my diaries, I’m sorry but again the choices are turning left or right.  Had I not, then what kinds of problems might I have had?

M&C – Are you writing a biography about your experiences in Hollywood?

AD – Book!  I have thought about it a lot and probably will if I ever get my closet cleaned out.  Once you start, you are committed.  It’s a big job; it’s an 8 hour a day job.
M&C – You are as gorgeous as ever.  What’s the key to looking good and feeling good for you?

AD – I dropped ten pounds and need to drop 15 more and then I can accept your compliment.  When you look at people who never gain weight, it’s amazing.  That is one of the big, big things.

I came from a family of heavy people, so I definitely really have to buckle down, and be vigilante, play ‘em right.  It’s so easy to gain weight, and it’s the same for men too.  Those stars who have lasted didn’t gain weight.  Cary Grant was 84 and looked 64.  And he kept his hair!

Pretty Maids in a Row is available at the Warner Archive Collection.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.