Life

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Darlene Tompkins

Hollywood starlet who was one of Elvis's girls in 'Blue Hawaii'

DARLENE Tompkins, who has died aged 78, was a screen starlet who enjoyed a steady yet brief career during the early 1960s, which included two appearances with Elvis Presley.

"Elvis was just as down to earth as you could imagine," she recalled. "I was a complete unknown, a stranger to him, when we met on the set of Blue Hawaii, yet he greeted me with a wide open smile and treated me as an individual. He also had this rather wonderfully unique laugh. It was like no one else's. It could fill a room!"

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She was born Darlene Perfect in Chicago on November 16, 1940, into a show business family - her parents were vaudeville veterans, while her aunt was Beverly Washburn who made her own break for Hollywood in 1950. When Darlene's parents divorced and her mother remarried, she was given her stepfather's surname.

A bright and ambitious child, she blossomed into an active teen, until she was mauled by a neighbour's dog which dramatically affected her self-confidence: "I got my chest scarred up from that," she recalled. "I always wore blouses and sweatshirts to cover myself."

To combat Darlene's excruciating shyness, her mother pushed her to enter beauty pageants.

Aged 18, she tried her hand at modelling and appeared in commercials, leading to a series of small parts in films such as the teen comedy Wake Me When It's Over (1960) as "Girl in Bikini".

Around that time, she was signed by the agent Henry Willson, whose roster of talent included Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter and Robert Wagner.

Jerry Lewis told reporters that Darlene Tompkins was his choice to play Cinderella in his comedic take on the classic fairy tale, Cinderfella (1960), only to give the role to Nola Thorp; the film took such a strain on Lewis that he suffered his first heart attack, at the age of 34.

Instead, Darlene Tompkins was the female lead, the telepathic Princess Trirene, in the sci-fi romance Beyond the Time Barrier (1960), about a test pilot (Robert Clarke) whose aeroplane is caught in a time warp which propels him to the year 2024. There he discovers that a plague caused by nuclear weapon-testing has sterilised the population. "Any doubts that glamour won't exist in 2024 are dispelled by Darlene Tompkins," Variety reported.

Lewis had recovered enough to direct and star in The Ladies Man (1961) and gave her a bit part. She then landed the role of one of Elvis Presley's girls, Patsy Simon, in Blue Hawaii (1961), about a handsome army veteran who defies his parents' plans for him to work in the family business and takes a job as a tour guide.

In 1963, she was given a spot in the Debbie Reynolds comedy My Six Loves, co-starring Cliff Robertson, and was back the same year with Presley in Fun in Acapulco. On television she had guest spots on Sea Hunt, The Bill Dana Show and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

But just as she was making progress in her career, she married Larry McFall, and had two sons in quick succession, derailing her chances of stardom.

Following her divorce in 1974, she returned to the screen, but only as an extra and stand-in. She was an occasional stunt double, for Cheryl Ladd in Charlie's Angels, and in Starsky & Hutch.

In 1983, she remarried, to Walter F Kightly (divorced in 2001) and retired once again, though she was a frequent guest at Elvis Presley film festivals and autograph shows.

Darlene Tompkins, who died on July 18, is survived by her sons.

Sunday Independent

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