All you movie nerds who used to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit and say condescendingly to your friends, “Well, you know, Jessica Rabbit is based on Veronica Lake,” need to check your movie privilege because you are completely wrong. Or half-wrong. Veronica Lake, known best during the early stage of her career for playing the femme fatale, may have influenced Jessica Rabbit’s characterization, but the way she was drawn was pure Vikki Dougan, a struggling actress in the 1950s most famous for crashing parties in backless dresses.
According to Messy Nessy, Dougan was a pin-up girl/slash buttcrack exhibitionist who was trying to break into acting. 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. Here, from a 1957 Oakland Tribune article, is the tale of Dougan’s rise to semi-prominence:
His first move was to have three expensive dresses made for her — without backs. He then titled his client “The Back” and had her appear at previews and parties in her plunging creations. Soon local photographers zeroed in on Miss Dougan’s bare spinal column, and gagsters began originating such cracks as, “Vikki Dougan makes the best exits in town.”
Finally Vikki was banned from someone else’s preview party because her backless formal was drawing too much attention. The incident received proper press coverage. Today Vikkie — born Edith Tooker in Brooklyn — is riding toward fame on the strength of her clothes, what there is of them. It’s a trend, all right.
And a star is born, or made, in this case, by an opportunistic publicist. Dougan’s connection to Jessica Rabbit may owe itself, as Messy Nessy astutely points out, to the idea of celebrity-engineering. When Jessica Rabbit famously says, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way,” she’s tipping the audience off on the concept of manufactured celebrity, of a persona adopted by a celebrity that simultaneously helps her achieve fame and limits her career. Plus, even though Dougan all but vanished from the Hollywood social scene by 1959, the photos Ralph Crane snapped of her for LIFE are still lurking around the internets, proof that Dougan looked as close to a non-toon Jessica Rabbit as the universe will ever allow for.
The Real Jessica Rabbit [Messy Nessy]