The silver screen seems to love blowsy blondes. Sometimes dumb, sometimes shrewd. And sometimes put upon.
Her most durable role was that of the working girl pimped out by the unctuous, amoral pressagent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) in the 1957 classic The Sweet Smell of Success.
Barbara Nichols combined just the right qualities of vulnerability and voluptuousness. Hers is a thoroughly credible performance.
Nichols was born Barbara Marie Nickerauer to a Queens, N.Y. couple in 1928. Before making a mark on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood, largely in the Fifties and Sixties, she was what is perhaps euphemistically referred to as a cheesecake model.
She was a looker, so curvy that she was once considered among several serious rivals to Marilyn Monroe. She piled up more than 82 credits over two decades of work, heavily in the later stage on tv.
Along the way, she became a favorite subject of gossip columnists on both coasts, who breathlessly reported on her latest beaux and her raucously loud laugh. One of her supposed maxims: Homely men make the best dates. And handsome men make the worst dates.
She also became something of a pinup star amongst GI’s of her time (see below).
Her most notable movie appearances came in 1957’s Pal Joey and The Pajama Game, 1959’s That Kind of Woman, 1960’s Where The Boys Are and 1961’s The George Raft Story. We’ll always remember her, of course, in The Sweet Smell of Success.
Nichols died early — at age 47 in 1976, from injuries sustained in a pair of nasty car crashes. Although she had a hyperactive romantic life, she never married.