Before 1955’s The Big Combo, I’d never seen Helene Stanton before. In the small role of Rita, a Burlesque performer with a heart of gold, she wowed me (enough to be the header image for this blog). From her striking looks to the sad character she played–no hope of winning over Lt. Diamond (Cornel Wilde) once he’d fallen for wilting Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), girlfriend of sadistic mob boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). You can tell Stanton’s Rita can take care of herself, and that means she doesn’t need a big strong man to protect her. It isn’t that Wallace’s Susan is unsympathetic. It’s just that Rita deserves better than she gets. Wilde’s character doesn’t give a second thought to her well-being or happiness, but he sleeps with her just the same.

Rita (Stanton) just wants to help ease the tension for Lt. Leonard Diamond (Wilde).
Rita (Stanton) just wants to help ease the tension for Lt. Leonard Diamond (Wilde).
Rita takes what she can get.
Rita takes what she can get, but she knows this man isn’t hers..

If you’re looking for other films in which to catch more of Stanton’s beauty or talent, the pickings are slim. Her first role was in One Girl’s Confession (1953), one of Czech emigre Hugo Haas’s overwrought B noir productions in which he stars, writes, directs, and produces. She plays Haas’s girlfriend, Smooch (yes, Smooch).

Smooch" (Stanton) pretends to doze while she steals money under the table in One Girl's Confession opposite Hugo Haas.
“Smooch” (Stanton) pretends to doze while she steals money under the table in One Girl’s Confession opposite no-goodnik Hugo Haas (L) and leading lady Cleo Moore (R).

She is also known for dreck like The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and Jungle Moon Men, both films made, like The Big Combo, in 1955.

Helene Stanton as Oma in Jungle Moon Men
Helene Stanton as eternally young and very blonde Priestess Oma in Jungle Moon Men with Johnny Weismuller.

If her small list of roles is underwhelming, consider also these facts from her life before Hollywood:

  • born 1925, studied voice from 13
  • played “The Merry Widow” at 18
  • performs in The Vagabond KingDesert Song, and Die Fledermaus
  • sings with the Cosmopolitan Opera Company in Philadelphia
  • is part of the opening act for Frank Sinatra for his first performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas (1953)
  • performs in Las Vegas with The Ben Blue Orchestra
  • sings at the Dunes in Las Vegas

And feel free to adore her beauty, too:

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Sadly for us, soon after her second marriage in 1957, she left stage and screen for good. Hollywood failed to use her for musicals and left us far too little to enjoy. But I’ll always love Rita in The Big Combo.

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Final factoid: Stanton’s son is David Drew Pinsky, aka media personality “Dr. Drew.”

This post is composed for the “What a Character” Blogathon, co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club. All the details here.

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