A key cult American actress of the sixties, tall Nancy Kovack was mainly unforgettable in the imagination of guys my age for the role of Medea in the awesome action/fantasy picture Jason and the Argonauts. Oddly, her screen time is more limited than we remember now in this production, but nobody questions that her sexy dance number is a highlight (which is not bad, as she was competing for our attention with monsters and creatures animated by the legendary Ray Harryhausen). To top it all, it has been said that Nancy’s vocal performance was overdubbed by soon to be Bondgirl Honor Blackman, maybe for the need of a more classy British accent? I just love these period movies where everyone talks Shakespearian…
Nevertheless, Nancy Kovack was instantly recognizable on television and movie screens, mainly for her unbelievable cheekbones and smouldering gaze. She didn’t seem to have a problem rubbing shoulders with Tarzan, Batman, the Three Stooges, Vincent Price, Dean Martin, Captain Kirk or Elvis Presley, all great cultural icons, as I’m sure you can agree. So what was it about Nancy Kovack? Her characters’ solid determination? Or just her fabulous figure? For some reason, Nancy confessed in never wanting to be a major movie star, preferring supporting roles. But her 15-year career contains many gems and surprises.
On March 11, 1935, was born Nancy in Flint, Michigan. Yes, the same Flint, Michigan, made popular by another prominent child of the city, Michael Moore, in his film documentaries. Our girl was a brainy student type, as it was reported that she enroled at the University of Michigan at age 15 to eventually graduate around 19! She took the time to be a radio deejay and to win a lot of beauty contest titles (at least eight) by the age of 20.
At some point in the late ‘50s, Nancy was invited to a wedding that was taking place in New York City. She was “discovered” and became a Glea Girl for The Jackie Gleason Show, which began a professional television career. She moved to The Dave Garroway Show, The Today Show and Beat the Clock. After some stage work, she was approached in 1959 by Columbia for a contract. The same year, she had her first real TV role in The United States Steel Hour program. The next year was the beginning of her movie career, as she was cast in Strangers When We Meet, a Kirk Douglas melodrama, playing a booze-loving suburbanite.
The rest of Nancy’s resume is a mix of movie and television credits. She had a starring role in 1962’s The Wild Westerners, alongside James Philbrook, and was mainly seen on TV as a prize girl on the game show Number Please. But 1963 was a pivotal point, as Nancy took part in two projects that are still fondly remembered to this day. The first was a co-starring role in Diary of a Madman, a Vincent Price horror thriller. With the zany character name Odette Mallotte DuClasse, Nancy’s beauty was ravishing, even if the movie was a third-rate attempt to cash in on Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series. See it for Nancy wearing thight Victorian dresses! And watch out for her bust! Yes, her bust! (you’ll understand…)
Then came the already mentioned Jason and the Argonauts, which was filmed in Italy in the fall of 1961. Released in the summer of 1963 (because of the many months the special effects took to be shot), it was not the success anticipated, mainly because the Hercules series had recently ran out of breath. A shame, because Ray Harryhausen still considers it his favorite movie project, with his usual top-notch Dynamation effects. Young fans around the world were equally impressed by Nancy Kovack’s physique, generously displayed in a powerful erotic dance sequence, as she played the High Priestess Medea. We would have loved to see more of her, though. Nancy was successful in creating an heroine that could be a match for those portrayed by fellow Siren Chelo Alonso for sword and sandal adventures. Oddly, Nancy seemed uncomfortable recalling this scene in more recent interviews.
1967 Enter Laughing 1969 Marooned