24 November 2011

PSYCHOTRONIC PERSONAS: TANDRA QUINN


I just got in the wonderful book I Talked with a Zombie by Tom Weaver, a collection of rare interviews with some of the lesser known or remembered faces in b-movie history. You know the type of screen presence you see here and there but never really know their name or anything about them. Often their film careers were short lived and they went on to live happy –maybe happier- lives outside the movie making machine. Sometimes they become known for just one memorable role in their entire career. Such is the case with Tandra Quinn, aka Jeanette Quinn and born Derline Jeanette Smith. She only made four films in her short acting career in the early fifties (she also played an uncredited child role in the 1945 film Week End at the Waldorf.)  All her films are dated 1953 and then she seemingly vanished forever from films and got married and has lived a quiet life  that eventually finds her looking for gold in Denton Texas. I have never seen her film Problem Girls but her other two features have been reviewed here and the stills I selected –most being from Weaver’s book- should be familiar to any fan of cheesy cinema as one of the true classics of bad film making, Mesa of Lost Women.

In Mesa Quinn plays the mute (or simply very quiet) ‘spider girl’ Tarantella. The scene she has become immortalized for is her mostly improvised dance sequence in the Mexican cantina to the beat of some of the most obnoxious film music ever scored. Quinn herself is lighthearted about the scene and her overall involvement in the project and takes her b-movie fame with a grain of salt and a lot of laughs. Quinn’s bio was the first I selected to read form the book and it was a great choice. She has a great attitude and sense of humor regarding her past though some of it is less than glitter filled. Born during the Great depression in a charity hospital and suffering some near fatal burns to her face and upper chest from a faulty space heater when she was only 2 ½ years old Tandra (then Derline Jeanette) had a less than auspicious start into the world of modeling and acting but with the encouragement of her mother she gave it all a shot and did the best she could. The burns are hardly noticeable unless you’re looking for them but, according to Tandra, the damage done to her bone structure may have cost her a contract with 20th Century Fox when Ivan Kahn –who is listed on IMDB as a screen writer of one film- felt she had “something wrong with her face.”

She did a screen test against Elizabeth Taylor for the lead in National Velvet. Guess who got that part. She also has the honors of having cancelled interviews with Howard Hawks and standing up Howard Hughs as a potential member of his harem. She did not have the stamina to handle the repeated rejections and at the time claims she suffered from serious emotional issues (“I was kind of catatonic, like a zombie.”) and resorted to chocolate abuse to sooth her tattered nerves. In 1954 she got married and left movies to become a happier lady and mom. While her role as Tarantella is the one she is most remembered for she also played another mute girl in The Neanderthal Man. In one scene there is a strange time lapse sequence where she reverts to a primitive Neanderthal girl. The transformation was actually accomplished by touching up stills of Tandra who used her middle name Jeanette for this, her final film. Her film name Tandra was given to her by her would be mentor and Svengali Herbert Tevos who directed the bulk of Mesa of Lost Women (with Ron Ormond giving it some ‘polishing’ up.) Originally the German director, some thirty years her senior, wanted to dub her with the name Tandra Nova but that was a little too much for the then 18 year old Jeanette who had her own thoughts and ideas about things.

If you read blogs like mine and have never seen Mesa of Lost Women I encourage you to do so if for no other reason than to see Tandra Quinn dance as Tarantella and get shot in the gut and live. If you do not want to rent it or buy it I have the complete film here as one of my Uranium Café Matinee features and you can sample it. Last heard of Tandra is sadly widowed and still living in Denton Texas and working for a gold mining company.






9 comments:

David said...

Good Choice, Bill! I read this book a couple of months ago and Tandra's chapter made me search out "Mesa' on your matinee posting. I came away with the biggest point of her interview being that she made some 'odd' choices due to bad nutrition and excess sugar intake. Her dance was fantastic, tho. Having read the interview, you can really see the 18 year old out there trying to do 'adult' moves but she doesn't really have a clue. Enjoy your life, Tandra!

Bill D. Courtney said...

Yea, I still have most of the book to read through but the section on Tandra really stuck out. real adventure and she went on with her life outside the grind of the movie machine. Great lady I think.

Thanks for the great comment.

Bill

CavedogRob said...

Wow! I haven't seen MESA since it was on late nite TV around 20 years ago! Almost forgot all about it. Thanks for jogging my memory!

Arion said...

Hello, you have a great blog. It's always nice to find another horror fan. I've been reviewing a couple of horror-themed comic books on my blog, as well as more classic material such as Barry Windsor-Smith's Conan. In case you want to check it out here's a link: www.artbyarion.blogspot.com

Bill D. Courtney said...

Arion

Checked you out and am following you! Great BWS scans of the early Conan. I will be spending some more time there.

Cave Dog

I put up some audio samples in the as well in the post or two, so that may help bring back even fonder recollections. Thanks both of you and please come back, more mayhem on the cult culture backburner

Richard Freeman said...

A truly, stunningly, beautiful girl. Such a shame she never made more movies

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon the youTube video of the clip from Mesa of Tarantella's dance. I must agree the music was atrocious and obnoxious, and for that very reason I had to keep watching... to see if it would get better. Oh, well! So I had to google the movie to find out the entire plot. Sounds like I didn't miss anything. MST3000 considered showing it but decided (wisely) not to. Found out that Tandra has the exact same birthday as my mother - awesome! Good job on this blog... keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I also ended up here from the youtube video. Tandra Quinn's name was mentioned there in the comments. It's pretty clear you don't care much for the music. If you're not familiar with Cajun music, then you probably wouldn't appreciate it. I will grant you that the music and dancing (if you can call it that) really did not seem suited to one another.

Anonymous said...

I made a youtube music video using vintage black/white classic horror films and I made Tandra Quinn the star. Her dance looks very different when you change the music. I hope you enjoy it. Please share if you do. I don't know how to get the video to Tandra but I think she would like it.

https://youtu.be/UINfkguyvGA