Actress, singer and socialite

Born: March 25, 1927;

Died: January 25, 2020.

MONIQUE van Vooren, who has died of cancer, aged 92, was a singer, socialite, sex symbol and actress with one of the most diverse filmographies in Hollywood.

Her credits ranged from Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953), in which she was the She-Devil, to the Andy Warhol movie Flesh For Frankenstein (1973), in which she played Baroness Frankenstein, who has a fling with a farm labourer because her husband is too busy creating a Serbian super-race to satisfy her carnal desires.

But van Vooren felt she lost out on a lot of roles because she was so beautiful. “Some people think you must be ugly to be a good actress,” she told one interviewer in 1961.

She also had a successful career as a nightclub singer and was a noted New York socialite and raconteuse. She rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous. Warhol was a personal friend; at one time her Facebook profile picture was a photograph of them together. At other times it was her and David Bowie or her and Rudolf Nureyev.

During a stint at the Rainbow Room in New York her backing dancers included one Ronnie Walken, who had acting ambitions of his own. “Why don’t you call yourself Christopher?” she said. He did, and went on to become an actor and win an Oscar. Walken has confirmed it was van Vooren’s suggestion.

She was born in Brussels in 1927, where she was, according to her own account, a beauty queen and champion skater. She appeared in the Italian film Tomorrow Is Too Late (1950). Tarzan and the She-Devil was her first Hollywood movie, with Lex Barker as Tarzan and California doubling as Africa. “Every producer I met wanted to hire me,” she said, “but always for the wrong reasons. They told me ‘Don’t worry about acting – leave that to the plain girls – just stand there and look beautiful.’”

Her acting career rather stuttered along between America and Europe. She appeared in a TV adaptation of What Makes Sammy Run? in 1959, played the Penguin’s girlfriend, Miss Clean, in a couple of episodes of the campy Batman television show in 1968, and she was the Queen Of Skulls in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Decameron in 1971. After Flesh For Frankenstein she more or less retired from acting, though she did have a tiny role in Wall Street (1987).

Van Vooren also seemingly found time to appear on numerous celebrity game shows, study philosophy (on a Fulbright scholarship, according to the New York Times), learn half a dozen languages, get married “three or four times” – she did not seem entirely sure how many -- and write a cook book and a novel. Reviewing the latter for the New York Times in 1981, Mel Watkins said: “It’s no surprise that Monique van Vooren’s Night Sanctuary reads much like a tabloid gossip column. The author is an entertainer whose name is often linked with the jet set… real luminaries move in and around the lives of her fictional characters.”

She was in the news in 1983 for cashing her mother’s social security cheques for several years after her death. She was given a suspended sentence and ordered to do community service and get psychiatric help. She was back in the gossip columns in 2001 when Joan Rivers’s partner left her for van Vooren. She is survived by a son from her marriage to the showbiz producer Gerard Purcell, who died in 2002.