Angie, Angie - We can't say we never tried...

by Susie Hodgson

She was born in a tiny town in North Dakota in 1931. Her father was a small-town newspaperman who never achieved his dreams. He wanted to be “somebody,” but the Depression hit and he became yet another man living a life of “quiet desperation” and turned to alcohol. So the family picked up and moved where there seemed to be lots of jobs, lots of opportunities, and lots of days of better weather.

The girl was named Angeline Brown. She was a good student, although she had a miserable home life. Her new home was Burbank, California. Her mother got a job as a proofreader at the local paper, The Burbank Review, and her alcoholic Dad floated from job to job. Angie, as she was called, enrolled in Bellarmine-Jefferson High School and graduated at the age of 15. She enrolled at Glendale Community College and later transferred to Immaculate Heart College, but suddenly married a football star named Gene Dickinson when she was just 17. Anything to get out of the house. Soon she landed a job as a secretary at Lockheed.

In 1953, Angie entered a beauty pageant and placed second. This event changed everything. It wasn’t long before a television producer chose Angie to join the long-legged beauties who graced the background of TV variety shows, including the Colgate Comedy Hour. And it was at the Colgate Comedy Hour that she would meet the man who would become “the most important person in my life,” as she later put it. Frank Sinatra.

Angie – that is, Angie Dickinson, if you haven’t already figured it out – would begin either a ten-year or a 20-year affair with Frank, depending on which interview you read.

The studios had her dye her naturally dark brown hair blonde and she got her first big break in the John Wayne classic Rio Bravo in 1959. After her divorce in 1960, she went on to play Frank Sinatra’s wife in the original Ocean’s 11 (1960). Next thing you know, Angie became the only female member allowed to fraternize with the Rat Pack, which included Peter Lawford who was married to JFK’s sister Pat. Angie was definitely eye candy for the Rat Pack (and she knew it) but she also played a hell of a poker game. At that time, Frank Sinatra was campaigning hard for Kennedy for President. Soon Angie was campaigning for JFK too.

It was at JFK’s inauguration that the rumors started. What rumors?, you may ask. (But we bet you already know the rumors!) Many a tongue has wagged with tales of Angie’s tempestuous affair with John Kennedy. Mostly, Angie has denied these stories. On CBS’ Sunday Morning, she flat out said “No” – there was no affair. Even when asked if JFK made any moves on her, she insisted, “No!” But in a 1993 interview with Entertainment Weekly when asked if she had an affair with JFK, Angie responded coyly, “I don’t believe in lying. But I will, uh, dodge the question, okay?”

In 1964, Angie has said she almost married Frank Sinatra. But he said he didn’t want to marry an actress. (Interestingly, he married actress Mia Farrow in 1966.) Still, the Angie-Frank affair casually went on for years.

Angie remarried too. As her career began to wane, a certain songwriter named Burt Bacharach’s career began to soar. In 1965, the two got married. Unfortunately, it was an unhappy union. They had a daughter, Nikki, in 1966, but she was born three months prematurely and had several serious health issues, including severe vision impairment and Asperger’s Syndrome. Bacharach has since admitted to being a bad husband as he racked up infidelity after infidelity. The pressure of having a special needs child also affected their union. Bacharach got so frustrated with his daughter (he called her difficult and dubbed Angie a terrible mother) that he had Nikki committed to a psychiatric center for nearly ten years. Angie says that Nikki always blamed her father for doing that and Nikki also said it ruined her life. Bacharach tried repeatedly to apologize, but Nikki refused to forgive him and, tragically, took her own life at the age of 40. By that time, Angie and Burt had long been divorced. Nikki’s suicide devastated them both.

But before the divorce, in 1974, Angie got the role of her lifetime: Police Woman. At first she didn’t want the role, but the TV producers convinced her if she took it, she’d become a household name and that she liked. The producers were right. Also, applications from women to join law enforcement agencies all over the U.S. surged when Police Woman was on the air!

Angie Dickinson has long been considered the “thinking man’s sex symbol.” She flirted with Ronald Reagan while making the 1964 film The Killers (Reagan’s last movie). She dated Dean Martin, David Janssen, director Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra of course, and even Larry King. (Plus maybe JFK!) She even gushed over Bill Clinton when he was President (“He’s so good looking!”) She played a memorable part in Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) and had a cameo in the remake of Ocean’s 11 (2001).

Burbank’s own Angie Dickinson has certainly lived quite the life. Lots of movies, lots of TV shows, and lots of men!

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
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