Vikki Dougan on How She Became ‘The Back’

After winning multiple beauty pageants including Miss Coney Island and the eighth annual New York Skate Queen contest, she began modeling as a teenager. The first agent she spoke with liked her pictures but told her to change her name. She chose Vikki as a homage to the actress Vickie Lester; Dougan was her mother’s maiden name.

In 1953, she appeared on the cover of Life magazine as part of a story on working mothers, with her 3-year-old daughter, Deirdre, the product of a brief marriage at age 19.

She was signed as a model by Eileen Ford and appeared in ads for Maybelline, Cutex and Charmin, and was on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar, Seventeen and Collier’s magazine, in addition to a number of other more lowbrow titles, like Modern Romance. She made upward of $100 an hour working as a model, she said, but always harbored dreams of acting. She took classes with world-class coaches like Stella Adler and Eric Morris, and appeared as an announcer on “The Jackie Gleason Show.”

Ms. Dougan said she was offered a contract by Paramount but declined because it was not enough money. “They offered me for a week what I was making in an hour as a model.” Instead, she signed with Batjac, a move she came to regret. “I should have just signed with Paramount because at least they were making movies.”

She spent the entirety of 1957 attending movie premieres and setting the tabloids on fire but wasn’t called for any auditions. She said the agent who signed her to William Morris Talent Agency, Phil Kellogg, forgot her contract in a desk, which is why she was never sent any scripts. After voicing her displeasure about not working to Batjac, “they offered to put me in a movie with one line, but I said, ‘Forget it.’”

Ms. Dougan’s brief time in Hollywood was marred by a number of unwelcome overtures from famous men, which she routinely rebuffed. Jerry Lewis, whom she describes as “a very big deal,” once called her into his office to read for a part. The script never arrived, but a bucket of champagne on ice did. Sensing the direction the interview was going in, Ms. Dougan made up an excuse about having another appointment to get to. “He had something entirely different on his mind,” she said.

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