Dorothy Van Nuys was a magnificent Amazon-line beauty, standing six feet tall, with a voluptuous figure and a pleasing face. Yet, as we have learned countless times before, this means so little in Hollywood, place where beautiful women pour in large doses. And Dorothy became one of the many nameless faces in musicals that never propelled their career on to the next stage.
Dorothy Jane Van Nuys was born on November 24, 1922, in Payette, Idaho, to Edward G. Van Nuys and Roma Van Nuys. She was their only child. Her mother and father worked in a tandem as salespeople. The family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, when she was 4 years old, in 1926. She grew up on the island.
Dorothy was tutored by private tutors in Honolulu and attended high school there. She was active in the sports department – she danced, swam, played tennis and took up diving. However, her major passion was deep-sea fishing – she was as good as any guy and undertook multi day excursions around Hawaii to catch big fish. Unfortunately, the adventure came to an end when she got stuck on a coral reef for two days with little to no food and water. She gave up fishing after that, and took up dancing more seriously. This propelled her to try to become a professional dancer.
Dorothy graduated from high school and returned to the mainland in 1940. She worked as a model and Ziegfeld girl, and got her Hollywood shot in 1944.
Dorothy appeared in only two movies in her whole Hollywood career. The first one was Ziegfeld Follies. I have written about this movie before, as a large number of starlets appeared in it. But what is there to say? I myself don’t like this kind of musical. Yes, this is MGM at its absolute best, when the had the best sound stages, best songwriters, best music writers, best dancers and singer. The movie was easily attest to that – just look at the line-up: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Lucille Bremer, Esther Williams, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Lena Horne, Red Skelton, William Powell and so on… The dancing is magical. The sets are superb, and the music is pretty good. Yet, this is a movie with no substance behind the (wonderful) illusion. Mind you, it never tries to be much more than that, but as I said, I prefer my movies with a little more plot and depth. I understand that musicals are not quite the genre for deep philosophical discussion, but countless other musicals had better stories and conveyed stronger (no matter how simple) messages. But well, if you like it this way, enjoy!
Dorothy’s second and last movie role was in The Harvey Girls, another musical. IMHO, this one is a total step up from Ziegfeld Follies. It was made in the same studio – MGM, warranting great production values and wonderful stars, yet it has a coherent story and a message! Yaay! As one IMDB reviewer wrote: the film tells the story, in words and music, of a group of waitresses brought west in the late 1800’s to open another link in the Fred Harvey chain of restaurants. In the process, they encounter all kinds of romantic and dramatic conflicts. Judy Garland plays the lead, and John Hodiak, a decent actor but not material for a musical lead (IMHO), plays her love interest. It’s got everything you could want from this type of movie – humor, a bit of a soapy melodrama, god music, great vocalists and a passable story. And all in lush Technicolor! Dorothy is one of the background dancers (the Harvey girls of the title!).
In 1941, Dorothy graces the newspaper cover all around the States as the official Camel girl. This was a huge boost for her career, as she truly was one of the most visible models of the year thanks to this. Then she falls of the newspaper radar for three years.
In 1944, Dorothy was living with her mother in Los Angeles. One day she phoned home and a fireman answered – the house burned down! Her whole wardrobe, except the thing she had on when she went out that day, was lost. Luckily, her mother escaped the fire in time.
From the early 1940s, Dorothy was steady dating her business manager, Barry Mirkin. Mirkin was born in 1918, and was a fixture in the Los Angeles entertainment world for decades. They broke up in early 1944. Mirkin later married Joan Burnham. He died in 2007 in Los Angeles.
In May 1944, she was “The oddest twosome in town” with George Stone, five-feet-five. And yes, Dorothy was six foot tall! Imagine how cute they looked!
In late 1944, Dorothy dated Paramount director Marty Lewis.
By 1945, Dorothy was back to being a full-time model, and by 1950, she was living and working in San Francisco, part of an acting company. After that stint, she moved to San Raphael and with a few fellow models, gave lectures on how to look like a model. They were very popular, and had plenty of clients. She even had her own charm school at some point in the 1960s, and was a member of the local Models Association. But what about her love life?
Dorothy married Zachary Armand Charles in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 3, 1957. Her movie career far over by that time, the marriage produced no ripples in the journalistic sea.
Zachary Armand Charles was born on November 7, 1918, in New York City,where he grew up. He was good friends with Marlon Brando and Carlo Fiore in the late 1940s, when all three were young and struggling actors. He made his movie debut in 1950, and worked in TV from 1954. On September 11, 1949, he married Donna Beamount in California. They divorced in the early 1950s.
Their daughter Cynthia was born on July 28, 1958, in Marin, California. Their son Jason C. was born on June 14, 1962, in Marin.
Dorothy and Zachary divorced in February 1969 in Marin. He returned to New York and soem time later continued his TV career. In a strange stroke of fate, his last role was in one of my absolute all time favorite video games – The beast within – a Gabriel Knight Mystery. Anyone who played the game – he’s the cuckoo clock vendor!!! Dorothy stayed in Marin and lived quietly there for the rest of her life.
Dorothy Van Nuys died on October 8, 1985, in Marin, California. Zachary Charles died on November 15, 2007, in Burbank, California.