Monique Van Vooren, actress with a diverse résumé, dies at 92

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Monique Van Vooren, actress with a diverse résumé, dies at 92
Monique van Vooren in Ten Thousand Bedrooms - publicity still. MGM Photos, NY.

by Anita Gates

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Monique Van Vooren, the Belgian-born actress and singer whose highly eclectic résumé included roles in “Tarzan and the She-Devil,” “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein,” the pop art television series “Batman” and “Wall Street,” died on Jan. 25 at her home in Manhattan. She was 92.

The death was confirmed by Geoffrey Bradfield, a longtime family friend.

Van Vooren found fans in many places. Some U.S. moviegoers knew her from her cult classic films. Others recognized her from her appearances on game shows like “To Tell the Truth” and “Password.” Big-city nightclub patrons knew her as a cabaret headliner.

Her profile photos on Facebook included shots of herself with Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and David Bowie.

In Van Vooren’s youth, writers tended to describe her in terms of her physical attributes — at least one referred to her as “40-24-36” — reflecting an era when actresses’ measurements were a standard feature on their bios.

She made her movie debut playing a schoolgirl in “Domani È Troppo Tardi” (“Tomorrow Is Too Late”), a 1950 Italian drama that starred Vittorio De Sica. In her second film (a very American one), “Tarzan and the She-Devil” (1953), she played an evil ivory poacher, alongside Lex Barker (as Tarzan) and Raymond Burr. In 1955 she starred in two French crime dramas, “Série Noire” (“The Infiltrator”) and “Ça Va Barder,” whose title can be loosely translated as “There’ll Be Hell to Pay.”

Her next role was especially brief. She appeared only in the opening credits of the Dean Martin comedy “Ten Thousand Bedrooms” (1957).

Her other films included “Happy Anniversary” (1959), a romantic comedy starring David Niven and Mitzi Gaynor; “Ash Wednesday” (1973), with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; “Sugar Cookies” (1973), a low-budget story of erotic games and revenge; and “Flesh for Frankenstein” (1974), also known as “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.” Van Vooren played the Baroness Frankenstein, who develops feelings for the stable boy (Joe Dallesandro) while her husband is busy creating monsters.

Two television roles stood out. She was Zizi Molnari, the European starlet, in a 1959 NBC adaptation of “What Makes Sammy Run?,” Budd Schulberg’s bleakly satirical Hollywood novel. Almost a decade later, she played the haughty, hygienic henchwoman Miss Clean on “Batman” (1968), opposite Burgess Meredith, in his last portrayal of the Penguin.

She appeared on Broadway twice, two decades apart. In 1953, she played multiple roles in the musical revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.” In 1975, she played Venus in “Man on the Moon,” a musical written by John Phillips of the rock group the Mamas and the Papas. It closed after less than a week of performances.

Monique Bronz was born on March 25, 1927, in Brussels, the daughter of George Bronz and Louise (Van Vooren) Bronz. She often spoke about having grown up in a convent — presumably a boarding school. According to her official biography, she arrived in New York in 1950, just after appearing in her first movie, to study philosophy at New York University on a Fulbright scholarship.

When asked about the men in her life, Van Vooren once casually replied, “I’ve been married three or four times.” Biographies sometimes mention a first husband in the 1940s with the surname Jacobsen or Jakobsen. She married Curt H. Pfenniger in 1950; they separated in 1954 and later divorced. In 1958 she married Gerard W. Purcell, a producer and personal manager, and they were together until his death in 2002.

Survivors include a son, Eric Purcell, from her marriage to Pfenniger, and a granddaughter.

Van Vooren was an ardent New Yorker. But in a cable television interview in the late 1980s, she complained that the city’s nightlife had gone downhill.

“In New York we have a population of, what, 12 million?” she said, rounding up by about 30%. “Maybe 2,000 people a night go out.”

She also had a career as a singer. Her first album was “Mink in Hi-Fi” (1958), a mix of French and English songs. The cover showed her in nothing but diamonds and off-the-shoulder white mink. John S. Wilson’s enthusiastic New York Times review suggested that she had been “hiding her real talent under a bushel of cheesecake.”

Later, she was known for her cabaret performances. Once, when working at the Rainbow Room, she decided that one of her three male backup dancers, Ronnie Walken, needed a new name. “Why don’t you call yourself Christopher?” she suggested. (Walken has confirmed the exchange.)

Van Vooren was also a writer. Her first and only novel, “Night Sanctuary,” about three women and a male ballet superstar, was published in 1983.

Although her reputation was as a sex symbol, Van Vooren’s only real scandal was financial. In 1983 she entered a guilty plea to lying to a federal grand jury about having taken the proceeds of more than $18,000 in Social Security checks made out to her mother, who had died years before. She received a suspended sentence and was required to perform 500 hours of community service.

There was, however, a whiff of romantic scandal in 2001 when Orin Lehman, a longtime New York state parks commissioner and comedian Joan Rivers’ late-in-life love interest, left her for Van Vooren. Rivers responded by ridiculing the new couple’s advanced ages. Van Vooren retaliated, telling The New York Post: “She’s one to talk. She’s got more miles on her than an old Checker cab.”

Van Vooren’s last appearance in a major film was as “Woman at ‘21’” (referring to the exclusive Manhattan restaurant) in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” (1987). Her final screen appearance was in “Greystone Park” (2012), a haunted house drama of the supposed found-footage genre.

No one ever told her a blond bombshell couldn’t make wisecracks. When newspaper columnist Earl Wilson suggested she had been seen out on the town with a married man, she shrugged off the thought.

“I’m so nearsighted,” she said, “I wouldn’t know whether they were married or not.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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