Legendary screen siren Jessica Rabbit left a strong impression on movie history. Seductive and impossibly-proportioned, she was also two-dimensional. And that’s not an insult. Because Jessica was a hand-drawn animated character, created for the 1988 hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The inspiration for Jessica, on the other hand, was all too real. Vikki Dougan (born Edith Tooker in 1929) never set Hollywood alight as an actress, but as a model and “It Girl” she was always talked about. In fact, some draw comparisons between her and the Kardashian-fueled celeb culture which exists today.
As discussed in an article for Jezebel.com, “For all those cultural snobs bemoaning a trend of untalented people like the Kardashians or Courtney Stodden or The Situation being famous for nothing, Dougan’s story offers some helpful historical perspective.”
Just as Jessica was the invention of male screenwriters, Dougan’s image was carefully-crafted in line with the male gaze. Tinseltown publicist Milton Weiss, who worked with stars such as Ava Gardner and Anita Ekberg, came up with an attention-grabbing sartorial move that cemented her into popular culture.
During the 1950s he adorned her in a series of backless dresses, some of which plunged so low you could see her buttock cleft.
Weiss sent Dougan to all the happening spots, where her presence naturally drew great attention. Photographer Ralph Crane immortalized her comings and, most strikingly, goings for Life Magazine.
Dougan’s public image was dubbed “The Back,” and Weiss intended her to be a contrast to the likes of Jayne Mansfield with their hourglass profiles. Sometimes the effect was a little too powerful.
The Daily Mail mentions that the “plunging designs got plenty of media coverage for the starlet, especially after she was thrown out of a preview party for attracting too much attention.”
She dated Frank Sinatra, among other notable figures, and offered an opinion on the dating scene in a 1958 gossip column: “The men you go with want to get married… The trouble is, they never say when.” Dougan had two marriages, in the 1940s and the ’60s.
Veronica Lake got the credit when Jessica Rabbit burst onto the scene for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though Dougan’s backless appearances were arguably the key visual aid for director Robert Zemeckis and his team.
A distinctive and influential blend of live action and animation, the ambitious project delighted family audiences. That said, the movie wasn’t without its share of controversy. Risqué frames were added to the fun, which along with other adult references gave Roger’s antics a salacious dimension.
Jessica Rabbit’s scenes had an impact on many a young boy’s outlook, in addition to causing arousal and probably a fair amount of confusion in the minds of their fathers.
Her infamous line of dialogue has a life of its own. Referred to on the website Messy Nessy Chic, the parallels between it and Dougan are plain: “Much like Vikki, whose image was ‘created’ for her by a Hollywood publicist, Jessica Rabbit’s most memorable quote in the 1988 film hints at their connection: ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.’”
Even all these years later Zemeckis is interested in drawing Jessica again, in order to bring her and her hopping husband back for a sequel. Various logistical problems have gotten in the way however, not least of which the death of star Bob Hoskins in 2014.
In an interview for The Telegraph, the director revealed that “The current corporate Disney culture… has no interest in Roger, and they certainly don’t like Jessica at all.” This certainly ties in with the arguably more wholesome approach taken by the House of Mouse to its multitude of billion dollar properties.
As for Dougan’s reaction to the Jessica Rabbit phenomenon, she was interviewed for Hollywood Exclusive in 2009. It transpired she’d never seen the movie.