My new book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 (McFarland) was recently released
and I keep getting asked the same question. Why a book on Pamela Tiffin? I
expected this from non-Sixties cinema fans but have been getting asked by more
fans and experts on the time period as well. So to answer why a book on Pamela
Tiffin? She is one of that decade’s most beautiful and talented actresses who
left an indelible impression on movie fans. For me, she is prettier than Raquel
Welch; funnier than Jane Fonda; and more appealing than Ann-Margret. Yet, they
all became superstars and Pamela did not. My book tries to explain why I think Pamela
Tiffin, gifted with expert comedic ability, did not achieve mega stardom though
she remains a cult Sixties pop icon to this day.
I first saw Pamela Tiffin in the
colorful travelogue The Pleasure Seekers,
which was broadcast on the ABC-TV 4:30
Movie sometime in the mid-Seventies. By then I was a huge Carol Lynley fan
due to The Poseidon Adventure and
would seek out her other movie appearances. I had heard of co-star Ann-Margret
but was not familiar with the handsome brunette Pamela Tiffin, the third member
of this romance-seeking trio. I recall not being impressed with Ann-Margret in
the least, though I thought she did swell performing the title song. I do love
Carol Lynley in this movie, but I found myself beguiled by Pamela. She took
what was the typical sweet naïve ingénue role and made it funny, touching, and
sexy. I was only thirteen years old or so at the time and even at that young
age I knew Pamela had a certain something the other two actresses did not. Soon
after, I began seeking Pamela’s movies out and the 4:30 Movie came through with For
Those Who Think Young and The Lively
Set. I was hooked and could not understand why she was not as a big of star
as Ann-Margret or even Carol Lynley.
I began researching Pamela Tiffin’s
career in my local Long Island library to discover that she practically
disappeared from the silver screen after 1966 with a few Italian movies popping
up thereafter. My determination to uncover all about Pamela Tiffin culminated
when I interviewed her at her New York City home for a series of short magazine
articles and a chapter in my first book in 1998. She was elegant and charming
with that same whispery voice. We stayed in contact for a brief period, but
then I stopped hearing from her, though my devotion to her never ceased.
Pamela Tiffin once described her
entrée into Hollywood “as a kind of Cinderella story.”And it truly was. A model and cover girl, she
was discovered while on vacation having lunch at the Paramount Studios
commissary. She won critical raves for her performances in her first two films Summer and Smoke (1961) and the Billy
Wilder comedy One, Two, Three (1961)
giving a wonderfully amusing performance as an addled-brain Southern belle who
sneaks into East Berlin and marries a Communist to the chagrin of her guardian
in Germany. Everyone from James Cagney to Billy Wilder to Jose Ferrer praised
her acting ability, especially her forte with comedy.
While most Sixties starlets were playing the fame game in Hollywood, Pamela refused to relocate and remained in New York taking college classes and modeling between acting gigs. Though commonplace today for actors to live outside of Los Angeles, it was unheard of then. Movie roles kept coming though through her contracts with Hal Wallis, 20th Century-Fox, and the Mirisch Brothers, but nothing equal to her first two films since Hollywood typed Pamela as the naïve marriage-minded ingénue in a string of campy teenage comedy romances aimed squarely at the drive-in crowd beginning in 1962 with the musical State Fair co-starring Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. She next could be found in the airas a novice stewardess in Come Fly with Me; on the beach as a surfing coed in For Those Who Think Young; on the drag strip as a coed determined to land a race car driver in The Lively Set; and in Madrid as a tourist who falls for a Latin playboy in The Pleasure Seekers.
With her beauty and seductive soft-voice, Pamela Tiffin instilled in her romance seeking characters not only a wide-eyed naïveté and endearing flightiness, but a sexiness that her contemporaries at the time could not match. It was these qualities that made these movies better than expected due to the actress’ comedic abilities and made her rise above the competition of the time including Sandra Dee, Connie Stevens, Shelley Fabares, Deborah Walley, and Hayley Mills. For boys and young men, it was not very cool to admit to being a fan of those actresses. It was hip to dig Pamela Tiffin. Though they all played the innocent virgin, Pamela just exuded sex appeal far more than the others. She was the sex kitten masquerading as the girl-next-door and male moviegoers were able to see through the chaste façade Hollywood foisted on her. It wasn’t until the bikini-clad actress jiggled the diving board as the love-starved Miranda in Harper opposite Paul Newman, that she finally let the sex kitten purr, leaving the ingénue far behind.
It was at this pivotal junction that a major change happened in Pamela Tiffin’s movie career. A chance to become Marcello Mastroianni’s first American leading lady in 1966’s three-part Oggi, domani, dopodomani sent her to Italy where she was required to bleach her hair blonde and act the air-headed, vapid sexpot taking her overt sexy image begun in Harper one step further. She never looked back, though the movie sat on the shelf for two years. The new sensuous, fair-haired, more curvaceous Pamela Tiffin should have then taken Hollywood by storm. Instead, she made her Broadway stage debut in Dinner at -Eight and then- unhappy with her marriage, she ran away to Rome to start anew in 1967.
Italy welcomed Pamela Tiffin with open arms and paired her with some of the country’s most popular leading men including Ugo Tognazzi, Nino Manfredi, and Vittorio Gassman. She was perfectly suited for sexy Italian comedies such as L’Arcangelo, playing a seductive vixen with murder on her mind and Il Vichingo venuto dal Sud playing a Danish coed who moonlights as a porn actress. Back in the States, she entertained as a mini-skirted activist coed with hay fever who sides with Mexican army general Peter Ustinov who has retaken the Alamo in the comedy Viva Max. Returning to Italy, she gave standout performances playing two diverse roles in a pair of movies with international star Franco Nero. In the underrated giallo Giornata nera per I’Ariete/The Fifth Cord, Tiffin played the sexy playful girlfriend to his murder investigating alcoholic reporter and in the entertaining spaghetti western Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears she was a feisty whore to his amorous gunslinger. Unfortunately for American moviegoers, most of her continental films were not released in the U.S. or received very limited distribution.
Though Pamela Tiffin could not participate in the book, I used our prior interview and any other source material I could find in my research where she was quoted. I also spoke with a number of her co-stars including Franco Nero and Hugh O’Brian, and elicited comments from a number of film historian specializing in Italian cinema including Roberto Curt.
As early as 1972, her fans were writing to movie magazines asking, “Whatever became of Pamela Tiffin?” Hopefully I have provided an answer to this question while paying tribute to this talented gorgeous actress.