Joan Lucille Olander was born in Rowena, South Dakota, the daughter of Warner Carl Olander and Lucille Harriet Bennett. In 1939, the family moved to Sioux City, Iowa and then during May 1942 to Los Angeles.
In early 1946, Olander began working as an usher at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. The following year, she had a bit part on an early television show. She also sang with Ted Fio Rito’s band and entered several beauty contests. She was married for a brief time at seventeen when Olander and her first husband, Jack Newman, eloped to Santa Barbara. The marriage was dissolved quickly, upon her discovery of his abusive nature.
In the summer of 1949, at age 18, she won the titles “Miss Eight Ball” and “Miss Palm Springs.” She was engaged to boxer Jack Dempsey, but broke off the engagement upon signing a contract with Universal.
Olander was discovered by producer Howard Hughes when she was crowned Miss Palm Springs. The pair dated for several years. Hughes launched her career by placing her in several RKO films initially with a bit part in Jet Pilot and then a further small part in His Kind of Woman (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell and Vincent Price.
Following no further success in movies Olander turned to the stage where she was very successful. Hollywood was not done with her yet though. While appearing in the role of Marie in a showcase production of Come Back, Little Sheba, Olander was seen by Phil Benjamin, a casting director at Universal International.
Olander signed with Universal Studios on January 20th 1953 and along with it came a name change. Now Universal were banking on her becoming their “Monroe” so to help with the publicity (which included signing her the same day as the inauguration of President Eisenhower) they changed her first name to Mamie the same as Eisenhower’s wife. Also at that time the surname Van Doren was associated with success in America uncluding two Pulitzer Prize winning brothers, Carl (biographer) and Mark (poet), and Mark’s wife Dorothy, an academic and historian – Universal seized this surname and Mamie Van Doren was born!
(Later, Mark and Dorothy’s son, Charles Van Doren, made front page news both by winning $129,000 on a television game show in 1957, then admitting in 1959 that the program was rigged. This scandal kept the ‘Van Doren’ name in the newspapers and tabloids.)
Van Doren’s Universal debut was in a minor role as a singer in Forbidden, starring Tony Curtis. Then came roles in The All American (1953), Yankee Pasha (1954), Ain’t Misbehavin‘ (1955) and Star in the Dust (1956).
Van Doren grew tired of Universal, which was only casting her in non-breakthrough roles so began accepting bigger and better roles in better movies, from other studios. These movies became known as her “Bad Girl Movies” are brought her a cult following including the rock’n’roll rebellion movie Untamed Youth (1957), Teacher’s Pet (1958), Born Reckless (1958), and High School Confidential (1958).
In 1959 Universal Studios chose not to renew her contract but life as a free agent was a struggle. Van Dorenbegan appearing in low-budget B-movies such as The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), The Beautiful Legs of Sabrina (1959), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) and Vice Raid (1960).
Tommy Noonan convinced Van Doren to appear in 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt in 1964. Van Doren had turned down Noonan’s previous offer to star in Promises! Promises! as she did not wish to appear nude. In 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt, she did a beer-bath scene, but is not seen nude although she posed for Playboy to promote the film.
Van Doren next appeared in The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966), You’ve Got to Be Smart (1967) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968).
In 1971, Van Doren had a supporting role in The Arizona Kid. Since then, Van Doren has appeared only in cameo appearances in low-budgeted films. To this date Van Doren’s last film appearance was a cameo role in Slackers (2002) although she has appeared on tv in Jukebox Jury, What’s My Line, The Bob Cummings Show, The Jack Benny Show, Fantasy Island,Burke’s Law, Vega$, and L.A. Law.