Jill St. John The Batman and James Bond Girl
HER SWINGIN’ ’60s CREDENTIALS:This red-headed hour-glassed knockout blazed across the big screen in lightweight comedy, adventure and thriller flix alongside some of the decade’s most famous leading men.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN’ CHICK: Movie Star and TV Star
BIRTH: She was born in 1940, so she was a perfect 20-29 through the decade. Her moniker at birth: Jill Oppenheim. Her exotic birthplace: Los Angeles, California.
IMPACT ON THE ’60s: Jill St. John lived, looked, and played like a big star, but she was probably more show than substance (this explains all her guest-star appearances on those Bob Hope specials, even though she didn’t have a heavyweight movie career). One person who knew Jill in the early days was Grace Slick, who became friends one summer back in their early twenties. Wrote Grace in her book, Somebody to Love?: “She was extremely intelligent and remarkably beautiful, and when we went shopping at Bullock’s, she demonstrated the rich-and-famous ability to seek, find, spend, and acquire.” Jill later attended Grace’s bachelorette party before Grace got married.
CAREER IN THE ’60s: She was a consistent star with the looks to steal scenes all decade long, foreshadowing her sparkling appearance as the first major Bond Beauty of the ’70s, Tiffany Case in ’71’s Diamonds Are Forever. She was only twenty years old when she starred in Irwin Allen’s The Lost World (’60). High-profile movies filled her 60s, including Jerry Lewis’s Who’s Minding the Store? (’63), The Liquidator with Rod Taylor (’65), Tony Rome with Frank (’67), and Eight on the Lam with Bob Hope (’67). Unappreciated by film critics, these credits and more (including a couple of TV movies, numerous TV specials, and “Batman” in ‘66) still didn’t add up to Jill getting much respect as an actress. In fact, some sources say she was only brought into Tony Rome because she was Frank’s girl (he did get parts for all his gang in that movie, including his lawyer Mickey Rudin, pals Shecky Greene, Jilly Rizzo, and Mike Romanoff, plus a couple of other playmates, Deana Lund and Tiffany Bolling.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE ’60s: She got off to a good start in the late ’50s as a sweet star in four flicks, including Summer Love in ‘58. After she got all glamorous and stunning, she was a major Bond Chick in the penultimate Connery Bond flick, Diamonds Are Forever in ‘71. By the way, that name, Tiffany Case, is explained as being the result of the character having being born on the first floor of Tiffany’s jewelry store while her mom shopped for a wedding ring; upon hearing this, Bond quips, “I’m glad for your sake it wasn’t Van Cleef & Arpels.” Her many TV appearances include a half-dozen TV movies, regular cooking demos on “Good Morning America,” plus “Magnum, P.I.” in ‘81 and “Seinfeld” in ‘97. She’s also written a column for the USA Weekend newspaper, and her Jill St. John Cookbook was published in ‘87.
TALENT: Great set decoration, she was never really taken seriously as an actress; supposedly she was only brought into Tony Rome because she was Frank’s girl; in fact, he got parts for all his gang in that movie, including his lawyer Mickey Rudin, pals Shecky Greene, Jilly Rizzo, and Mike Romanoff, plus a couple of other playmates, Deana Lund and Tiffany Bolling.
HER ’60s LOOK: With that stunning face and hair, she was one of those actresses so darned attractive it doesn’t matter if they’re great actresses or not, a la Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress. In ’63’s Movie Life Yearbook Jill’s stats were given as 5′ 6,” plus 36 and 1/4″-23-36. Hers was a figure that resonated long after any movie was forgotten: a slender bikini stuffed with big scoops of firm vanilla ice cream, or a long lean glamour girl decked in jewels, she was always the center of attention, no matter what else was happening. She’s still got it, too, as evidenced by her appearance with other Bond girls in the November ‘99 issue of Vanity Fair — most of the other ’60s actresses are refined and covered up, but not Jill, she’s flashing plenty of seductive leg, as sexy as ever.
LIFESTYLE: She once said that “the longest period of celibacy for Jill St. John is the shortest distance between two lovers.” In laymen’s terms that translates into lots of husbands and lots of boyfriends. Of her four husbands, one was Lance Reventlow, son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, and another was singer Jack Jones, that was ‘67-’69. She had some hey-hey with Frank Sinatra, and something undefined with Henry Kissinger. Of the latter, Jill found his intellect to be his most admirable feature and a good match for her own high I.Q. (see EXTRAS below). Since 1990 she’s been married to Natalie Wood’s ex-husband, Robert Wagner (as kids, Jill and Natalie were in the same ballet class). Jill and Wagner worked together on the TV movie How I Spent My Summer Vacation in ‘66; they were reintroduced in ‘82, two months after Natalie tragically drowned off Catalina Island. Friends first, they graduated to dating and within a few years shared homes in Colorado and California; they married on May 25th of ‘90. They now have homes in Aspen and L.A.’s Pacific Palisades where Jill keeps a number of horses. Jill and RJ (his nickname) have been in several recent screen projects together, including the Around the World in 80 Days miniseries (’89), The Player (’92), and Something to Believe In (’98); they’ve also toured together with A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters. Wagner has found a whole new career playing a bad guy in the Austin Powers movies. Devoted to her husband, Jill said in a TV interview: “We’re kindred souls … it’s a great life … you can’t look in those eyes and see that smile and not smile yourself.”
EXTRAS: Some sources credit her with an I.Q. of 162, (about equal to Jayne Mansfield’s supposed 163) which makes Jill a terrific actress because she plays such a convincing dingaling … just before Valentine’s Day in 2002 Jill and her husband did a romantic interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, excerpted below:
“Q: When was the last time you spent a night apart?
RW: We don’t spend time apart too often.
Jill: We try not to. … I did not marry my husband so I can be away from him.
Q: Is that why you started doing Love Letters together?
RW: Yeah. The producer asked me if Jill would be interested in doing it, and I said, ‘I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?’ He asked her and she said, ‘I don’t know.’ So he told her to just try it and see how she liked it. So we went into Bally’s in Las Vegas. There was no publicity for the piece, and the room was filled with about 1,200 people. She went onstage and we did the performance. It came to the end, and she said to me, ‘Is that it?’
Jill: I was like a deer trapped in the headlights. I hadn’t been onstage since I was 11 years old in “Annie Get Your Gun.” I couldn’t believe it. But I loved doing the play.
Q: Does it feel different doing it with your wife?
RW: I tell you, I love doing it with her. It’s something we enjoy doing together. Every night it’s different. We rehearse it, we talk about it, we don’t just leave it alone.
Jill: There’s a shorthand between us because we really do love each other. The reality of that makes the performance all the more believable. And because we know each other so well, we are able to get some values out of it that are very particular to us.
Q: How is it that you don’t get fat with all the cooking Jill does?
RW: Well, I’ll tell you what it is. She watches what she feeds me. It’s all very pure food.
Jill: I mainly shop the organic food markets. Why I started cooking is because I love eating so much.
Q: Do you pig out after the show?
Jill: No. Sometimes we’ll eat lightly after the performance. But usually when the performance is over, you won’t be hungry because you’ve been through this odyssey. As many times as we have done Love Letters, we get carried away by it.
Q: No wonder you look so fit.
Jill: Well, we also ski, ride horses, play golf, work out.
Q: Didn’t Jill go to school with both Stefanie Powers, your co-star from “Hart to Hart,” and Natalie Wood, your late wife?
Jill: No, that is not true. We were all in the same ballet class. We didn’t go to school, but we did go to ballet class every day.
RW: There is that famous picture of the three of them graduating together.
Q: What is it with you and girls from that class?
RW: I don’t know.
Jill: Yeah, were you hanging around that ballet class?
RW: No, I was cruising another place at that time, I think. I was cruising a nightclub, probably, while you little kids were dancing away.
Q: So when is the autobiography coming?
Jill: The only books I write are cookbooks.
RW: They’re kind of after me to do one. I’ve worked with so many amazing people. I always wanted to be in the industry. I always wanted to be in the movies. I was so excited when I first started, and I still am. It’s been so good to me, and it’s taken me so many places. It’s been a miraculous career. It’s been 54 years, and I’m getting ready to go to work on Wednesday.
Jill: He’s doing the new Austin Powers.
RW: It’s really wonderful. People ask me when I’m going to retire, and I don’t even think about that.
Jill: We don’t believe in retirement.”