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Angie Dickinson Could Hang with the Boys — Read About Her Storied Career Alongside John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra

Best known for her work in Westerns, the original 'Oceans 11' and 'Police Woman,' the actress is a Hollywood icon

With shapely legs and exquisitely defined cheekbones, Angie Dickinson was not only sexy, but talented as well, proving she could go toe to toe with the best of them. And she did, starring with the likes of John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin and even future president Ronald Reagan. She also had a 10-year on-and-off relationship with ole Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, who she remained friends until his death.

The early years of Angie Dickinson

Angie Dickinson poses in stockings and blue sweater against studio lights in a publicity portrait circa 1959
Angie Dickinson poses in stockings and blue sweater against studio lights in a publicity portrait circa 1959Getty

Born Angeline Brown in Kulm, North Dakota on September 30, 1931, Angie fell in love with the movies at an early age as her father was not only a newspaper publisher, but also the projectionist at the town’s only movie theater.

At age 11, her family moved to Burbank, California where, as a senior in high school, Angie won the Sixth Annual Bill of Rights Contest. Taking a cue from her publisher dad, she had dreams of becoming a writer, but took a job at Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank as a secretary while working her way through school.

But Angie gave up this dream after coming in second at a local preliminary Miss America contest, which she only participated in because one of the prizes turned out to be a small part in the Doris Day film Lucky Me. She also caught the attention of a casting agent ,who gave her a spot as one of six showgirls on The Jimmy Durante Show.

the actress in 1955

Good looks and great legs brought her to the attention of a TV producer who suggested she consider acting as a career, so she studied the craft and a few years later was approached by NBC to guest star on a number of variety shows, among them The Colgate Comedy Hour. “I walked in and there was Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante singing. I said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be a part of this!’ It was just magical. And seeing Frank Sinatra in person was the beginning of our long friendship and the beginning of what we all call `We got bit by the bug.’”

She became Angie Dickinson in 1952 when she married football player Gene Dickson, but the marriage didn’t last.

Angie’s TV and Film Career

Angie Dickinson wearing a yellow gingham dress, circa 1955

It was New Year’s Eve 1954 when Angie made her TV acting debut in an episode of Death Valley Days, which led to roles in other TV shows, many of them TV Westerns. In 1965 she had a recurring role on Dr. Kildare.

Her big screen career didn’t start off with a bang, but, instead, with that small, uncredited role in Lucky Me. Other small parts came her way in quick succession: 1955’s Man with The Gun and The Return of Jack Slade along with Hidden Guns in 1956. Her first starring role was alongside James Arness in the same year’s Gun The Man Down followed by China Gate in 1957.

the actress in 1958

Angie didn’t want to follow in the paths of platinum blonde sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield, so she would only let her brunette hair be dyed a honey blonde. With her new hair color, other Westerns and B movies came and went along with a femme fatale role in Cry Terror in 1958.

Hollywood leading lady

Angie’s big screen breakthrough came in 1959’s Rio Bravo opposite her childhood idol, John Wayne; the film also starred Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan. She played a feisty widow called Feathers.

Angie Dickinson during the filming of the western 'Rio Bravo' (1959)
Angie Dickinson during the filming of the western Rio Bravo (1959) Getty

The movie pushed Angie into another category of film roles. She became a prominent leading lady of the next decade, beginning with The Bramble Bush with Richard Burton and Ocean’s 11 with guy friends Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Angie had the chance to shine as one of the few women in that film, playing Beatrice Ocean, wife to Sinatra’s Danny. Along with Henry Silva, she is one of only two actors to appear in both Ocean’s 11 (1960) and its remake in 2001.

Angie Dickinson in Police Woman

The actress in 1964

From 1974 to 1978, Angie starred as Sergeant Pepper Anderson on Police Woman, a procedural that broke new ground as she was the first woman to star in an hour-long drama as a police officer. In hindsight, the actress who applauded the fact it blazed a trail for women on TV, later said, “I am sorry I took the series, but I was proud of that.”

Biographer James Stratton, author of Angie The Life and Films of Angie Dickinson, offers, “What attracted her was the fact that she was going to get to play all these different parts out of being undercover on Police Woman. Yet when she went undercover, she was doing so as escorts, hookers, models and airline stewardesses — things that were just cheesecake parts. So she was fighting against that. There were some episodes where she breaks through and has a good dramatic scene here or there, but it really did become cheesecake and action and she complained about that a lot.”

Her frequently being costumed in skimpy undercover attire was one of her main reasons for remorse, but on top of that, being in a TV series at the time ensured you were overlooked for movie roles. Yet according to the star, the series did result in a surge of applications for employment from women to police departments across the United States.

Dressed to Kill

Angie Dickinson In 1993

With few movie roles coming her way, director Brian dePalma convinced Angie to take on the role of ill-fated, sexually frustrated New York housewife Kate Miller in his 1980 erotic thriller, Dressed to Kill. If she thought her star was waning, she gained considerable notice for this role that garnered her a Saturn Award for Best Actress.

Later years of Angie Dickinson

The actress in 2023

Less substantial movie roles included Death Hunt (1981) and she was offered the chance to play Krystle Carrington on the TV series Dynasty, which she declined, wanting to spend more time with her daughter. Several TV movies such as One Shoe Makes It Murder and Jealousy were attempts at a small screen comeback, but it wasn’t until Hollywood Wives in 1985 where she had a pivotal role that got some recognition. One of her last major projects was the 1995 remake of Sabrina, where she had a supporting role and which she claimed was not a pleasant film set. Her final acting credit is the 2009 Hallmark movie Mending Fences, after which she retired from the craft she loved so much.

As Stratton explains it, the actress always felt luck to have enjoyed the career she had, noting, “She didn’t feel many regrets over the choices she made. She constantly defended the fact that she was seen as a sex symbol. She embraced it and ran with it. She never denied that it was part of what made her career successful.”

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