Born in 1944 to life-long entertainer Ray Heatherton, Joey Heatherton got her big break as a stand-in and chorus member in the original 1959 Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.” A recurring role on The Perry Como Show soon followed, which lead to guest star roles in such TV shows as Route 66, The Virginian, and I Spy. She also had some roles in films like Twilight of Honor, (1963) Where Love Has Gone (1964) and My Blood Runs Cold (1965).
The film parts soon dried up, but Joey was a better singer and dancer than an actress, anyway—sort of the opposite of rival 60’s sex kitten Ann Margaret. She soon became a regular on the then-thriving television variety show circuit, starting with this 1965 appearance on “Hullabaloo.”
That same year she performed “I’ve Got Your Number” on Dean Martin’s show.
Say what you will about the inherent cheesiness of variety shows, but it’s pretty clear that the woman can sing and the woman can dance. Joey was a regular on Bob Hope’s USO tours of Vietnam, and not surprisingly, the troops loved her.
Here she is in 1970, singing Bread’s “Make It With You” with Tom Jones. The song’s double entendre seemed to make Joey a little uncomfortable. Tom, clearly, had no problem with it.
Here’s a 1971 commercial for Serta Perfect Sleeper. It speaks for itself.
By 1972, Joey was ready to try something new. She was getting over an embarrassing divorce from football player Lance Rentzel, who had been arrested for exposing himself to a ten year old girl. Re-invention was in the air. Thus, The Joey Heatherton Album. The first single, “Gone,” made it into the Top 40.
Good, solid 1970’s mainstream pop. The B side was pretty good too.
Unfortunately, the album’s sales were poor, and this was the only album Joey would record. In addition to further TV appearances, including one on Laverne and Shirley, she made a few more movies (Bluebeard and The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington) but they were poorly received. Alcoholism, cocaine addiction and bulimia (and the declining popularity of variety shows) basically put Joey on the “Do Not Hire” list in Hollywood until 1990, when John Waters made a characteristically brilliant casting choice and put her in Cry-Baby. A 1997 Playboy layout was pretty much the last we’ve seen of Heatherton. Hopefully she was able to save enough from past projects to retire comfortably—Lindsay Lohan, please pay attention.
Let’s end this with Joey’s version of Melanie’s “Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma,” from a 1973 Jack Benny special. Note the change of Ma to Pop, as well as the verse in French, as well as the surprisingly inventive set design, as well as the sheer, take charge exuberance of it all. Variety shows might have been cheesy, but damn, were they fun.