Yvette Mimieux, Actress in ‘Where the Boys Are’ and ‘Jackson County Jail,’ Dies at 80

Yvette Mimieux, the radiant actress who created a stir in the 1960s with performances in Where the Boys Are, Light in the Piazza, Toys in the Attic and, in a history-making turn, Dr. Kildare, has died. She was 80.

Mimieux died overnight Monday into Tuesday in her sleep at her home in Bel Air, family rep Michelle Bega told The Hollywood Reporter.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

The enigmatic Mimieux, discovered while horseback riding in the Hollywood Hills, appeared in eight movies before she turned 21 — lots of them in swimsuits — and often was cast as a wounded or sensitive woman early on. “I suppose I had a soulful quality,” she told The Washington Post in 1979 in a rare interview.

In the ’70s, Mimieux wrote and starred as a remorseless assassin in the 1974 ABC telefilm The Hit Lady, portrayed a falsely accused woman victimized by a sadistic guard in Jackson County Jail (1975) and appeared in the sci-fi drama The Black Hole (1979), the first PG-rated film from Disney.

Mimieux was married to Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen from 1972 until their divorce in 1985 and to Howard Ruby, founder of Oakwood Worldwide, a provider of furnished corporate housing, since December 1986. He survives her.

The blond, blue-eyed actress played a co-ed alongside Connie Francis, Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss and George Hamilton in the iconic spring break comedy Where the Boys Are (1960); a disturbed woman in A Light in the Piazza (1962), also featuring Hamilton and Olivia de Havilland; and the bride of Dean Martin’s character in the George Roy Hill drama Toys in the Attic (1963), based on Lillian Hellman play.

Meanwhile, she starred as a princess in George Pal’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) and as the headstrong sister of a Hawaiian pineapple baron (Charlton Heston) in Diamond Head (1963), directed by Piazza director Guy Green.

In 1964, she became what is believed to be the first actress to show her navel on an American TV show when she guest-starred in a two-part episode of NBC’s Dr. Kildare in which her surfer character has an ill-fated romance with Richard Chamberlain.

A year later, she played a struggling law student in a reunion with Chamberlain in the big-screen melodrama Joy in the Morning (1965).

Amid her sudden fame, Mimieux took pains to protect her privacy. “I decided I didn’t want to have a totally public life,” she told the Post. “When the fan magazines started wanting to take pictures of me making sandwiches for my husband, I said no.

“You know, there are tribes in Africa who believe that a camera steals a little part of your soul, and in a way I think that’s true about living your private life in public. It takes something away from your relationships, it cheapens them.”

Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton in 1962’s ‘Light in the Piazza’ - Credit: Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Yvette Carmen Mimieux was born in Los Angeles on Jan. 8, 1942. Her father, René, immigrated from France and had bit parts in movies before working at an electronics firm, and her mother, Maria, was born in Mexico.

Mimieux had done some modeling when she was spotted on a bridle path in the Hollywood Hills by publicist/manager Jim Byron, who gave her his business card and told her to call him if she were interested in a movie career. (Earlier, he had discovered Jayne Mansfield.)

She took dancing and singing lessons and acted in plays for a local theater, and MGM signed her to a seven-year contract in 1959.

She also married UCLA psychology major Evan Engber that year but kept it a secret for almost two years. “Bardot, Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor are the three biggest stars and the three unhappiest,” she told columnist Earl Wilson in 1962. “They might have had happiness if their private lives hadn’t been spread before the public for it to gossip and speculate.”

In addition to Where the Boys Are, Mimieux in 1960 appeared in Platinum High School, starring Mickey Rooney; played a woman living in an apocalyptic future in Pal’s The Time Machine, starring Rod Taylor; received a Golden Globe nomination for most promising newcomer; and was on the cover of Life magazine under the headline “Warmly Wistful Starlet.”

The ’60s also saw her in Vincente Minnelli’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1961), the Francis starrer Looking for Love (1964), The Reward (1965), The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), Dark of the Sun (1968), also with Taylor, Three in the Attic (1969) and The Picasso Summer (1969).

While she was acting, she also was taking classes in archeology at UCLA.

In 1970, she played one of three criminologists alongside George Maharis and Ralph Bellamy in The Most Deadly Game, a short-lived ABC crime series from producer Aaron Spelling, and had the lead in the action film The Delta Factor.

Mimieux was unhappy with the roles she was being offered — “They have no complexity in their lives. It’s all surface. There’s nothing to play. They’re either sex objects or vanilla pudding,” she told the Los Angeles Times — so she wrote Hit Lady, a ratings hit produced by Spelling and Leonard Goldberg.

Her character, an artist and assassin, was “not … a good housewife or sex object. The character I wrote is like an onion, layers upon layers, multifaceted, interesting, desirable, manipulative,” she said.

She also co-wrote, produced and starred as a psychotic soap opera fan in the 1984 CBS telefilm Obsessive Love.

Vincent Canby in The New York Times gave her high marks for her performance in Jackson County Jail, writing that “Miss Mimieux is excellent in a role that subjects her to as many bruises, humiliations and indignities as she might get in the boxing ring.”

She got the part of scientist Kate McCrae in The Black Hole at the last minute after Jennifer O’Neill was injured in a car accident.

Her résumé also included the films Skyjacked (1972), The Neptune Factor (1973), Journey Into Fear (1975) and Circle of Power (1981) and the 1985 NBC primetime soap Berrenger’s, revolving around a family who owns a glamorous New York department store.

After she married Ruby, she put her career on hold but came out of retirement for one last gig — playing a “thinly disguised” Ivana Trump (Donald Trump has a walk-on) in the 1992 Jackie Collins NBC miniseries Lady Boss.

Survivors include her stepson, Michael, and step-grandchildren Iris, Michelle and William.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter

Click here to read the full article.