This interview was conducted in the winter of 2009. I spoke with both Dyanne Thorne and her husband Howard Maurer. They were both incredibly lovely people. My questions, looking back now, are incredibly naive though.
Down the street from where I grew up, there was a video store. This was perhaps, the first video store chain I had ever been into by the time I reached age 15. Of course, I knew of Blockbuster Video back then, but we didn’t have one in my immediate area. We had Mom and Pop shops, busy grocery stores that rented out a hodge podge of tapes, then–this chain store that went by the name of Mammoth Video. All of these were in bicycle or walking distance from home.
In the days of pre-DVD, my friends and I would spend hours in this video store going through every single VHS tape. We were trying to uncover that one hidden gem, that perhaps none of us us had ever seen or heard of before.
As we stumbled into the action section we of course encountered films starring Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, even the occasional ‘misplaced and not supposed to be in the action section’ oddities like the David Lynch film, DUNE (1984) for example. One weekend afternoon, as we made our way down the alphabetical rows, I stopped quickly, when out of the corner of my eye I discovered three VHS tapes sitting side by side that all had very similar cover art in common. The same woman was also featured of each box, but I had noticed that the woman on each of these covers was dressed differently. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover I subconsciously thought was the most attractive, and above this woman read the words in bold face red type, “Dyanne Thorne” Below the woman, the verbiage violently followed up with ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S.
For a few weekends straight, my friends and I would look at these covers in curious wonder, we’d all share a laugh about the cover art, asking each other what we each thought these movies could possibly be about, and at times even making up fake and hilarious titles for our own Ilsa film. We did this perhaps, because we never had the guts to rent any of these.
Finally, after weeks of boredom I went to the video store alone and rented ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. (1975). Getting home, and putting it in my VCR quickly, I couldn’t wait to see what this movie was all about. By the time the film was over, my jaw slapped against the floor, my body convulsed in a ‘oh my god’ discovery and my eyes exploded out of my head in pure exploitation astonishment. ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. provided me a cinematic self combustion that I still haven’t recovered from all these years later. Today, I still consider the film to be the most bizarre and important over the top exploitation film ever released in the United States. It’s a filthy, raw extremely exaggerated sadistic story with comic book nuances and sexual escapism and I love every damn bit of it all these years later.
The essence of film ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. (1975) will always be that of character actress Dyanne Thorne. Dyanne is a glowing, raving actress that brings a dangerousness to the ILSA role all the while a sexual ambiguity. The character is cruel, seductive, painful, beautiful and all the while deadly. Dyanne Thorne would go on to play this character of ILSA again in following sequels, ILSA: THE HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL-SHEIKS (1976) and ILSA: TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977). These are exploitation classics that everyone out there in Mondo Video land needs to experience at least once.
Dyanne Thorne started out on the theater stage at a very early age. As a young women, she studied religion and anthropology at the university level before her singing and acting career blossomed and sent her heading toward California. Once arriving, Dyanne would continue performing on stage while she landed walk on roles in classic 1960′s television shows like STAR TREK and FELONY SQUAD. In addition, she would work on the stage in Las Vegas while occasionally taking on film roles in low budget fair like, LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO (1968), POINT OF TERROR (1971) and BLOOD SABBATH (1972).
POINT OF TERROR (1971), penned by actor Peter Carpenter is a soapy ’70′s rock-n-roll melodrama about a struggling singer trying to hit the big time by befriending and seducing a rich but obsessive music executives wife who has a penchant for blackmail. The film, with it’s rich psychedelia, music, sex and dramatics did not receive a wide distribution on its initial release and prior to a DVD release was all but forgotten. In recent years, the film has been considered by many to be a cult classic, and features Thorne in her greatest performance to date.
Shortly after, Dyanne would meet and marry her soul mate, Howard M. Maurer, a successful musician and songwriter, and the two would settle in Las Vegas permanently. Over the years, the two have been a non-stop force on the Las Vegas strip writing and performing numerous shows all the while starting their own successful wedding chapel.
Howard and Dyanne created A SCENIC WEDDING in Las Vegas. Each are independent officiants and non-denominational ordained ministers, with Dyanne herself receiving credentials including being accredited as a Professor of Comparative Religions. The business is very successful and fans from across the United States travel to Las Vegas to be married by the one and only, ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. In addition Howard and Dyanne travel to several horror/exploitation movie conventions each year throughout the United States and Canada where their martial services are utilized in front of hundreds of ghoul/ zombie / and monster movie fans. 35 years after her infamous role in ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S, Dyanne continues to receive a great deal of fan mail yearly, and takes the time to answer every single letter that arrives in her mailbox.
Speaking with Dyanne and Howard has been one of the most positive, uplifting and enlightening experiences of my life. They are both gems, glorious souls that offer up genuine caring and interest for the lives of their friends. Both are exceptional people, with warm hearts, fun, filled with rich stories, and overall just a pleasure to speak with.
Justin: I love how great the two of you guys are together. I was curious to see how the two of you met?
Dyanne: I was working a show in Las Vegas. The gal I was working with, we went on to do our own show together that we called, Thomas & Thorne. All the while we were doing our show she was always saying to me, “I”ve got a guy you’ve gotta meet!”
Howard: Right, and I was friends with her as well, and every time I’d see her, she’d say to me, “I’ve got a girl you gotta meet!” The more she said that, the quicker I was running the other way. I was traveling a lot. I was doing well. I was thinking that “this girl” must have a problem or something with her. So I was in Los Angeles working in a club, and they contacted me about writing some music for them. So we met in a club in Los Angeles, and that was it. We looked at each other, and that was that..
Dyanne: It was funny cause I thought we were just going to this club in Los Angeles to discuss business. I hadn’t put two and two together about the fact that we were going to meet the guy that my friend was trying to set me up with. When I met Howard, we just hit it off right away, but we were both very busy. I was going out of town to do stage work. He was going out of town to perform his musical act. But we stayed in touch, we wrote letters to each other for over a year every week. We got married not long after that, and we’ve been together ever since.
Justin: Very nice. So how did the two of you start your wedding chapel in Las Vegas?
Howard: Dyanne had been ordained a long time ago. I was here in Vegas playing music at a lodge. I overheard the owner of the lodge say that they needed a minister for a wedding that was coming up in a couple weeks. Now, in order to be able to marry people legally in Nevada you have to be issued a certificate by the state. At the time it was a very involved process. Dyanne was approved and did receive it. So, having that I was able to offer up Dyanne to the lodge owner. So that was Dyanne’s first Vegas wedding.
Now, how we opened up our business that was several years later. We have two close friends that were getting married and they asked Dyanne to marry them, plus they asked me if I’d play at their wedding. Which we did. Then someone who was at that wedding heard us and saw us, and then they asked us if we would do their wedding. So, we really built the business out of word of mouth.
Dyanne: The irony of it all, was that we were producing and starring in a show on the strip, which was an afternoon show. So we were free to do weddings on the weekend. So we did that for a few years, and the business just started doing very well for us. And now we’re marrying people at these movie conventions that we’re going to.
Justin: Right. So before we get into talking about some of these exploitation movies, I wanted to skip forward and talk about how you guys got involved in the shooting of the film ARIA (1987)?
Dyanne: Oh..I’d like to tell this one. We both had an agent, who was also the same agent for Jay Leno. Her firm was getting big, so she had sub-agents. I was listed with one sub-agent and Howard was listed with another. So we both went to see the casting people. But they didn’t know that we were married. So I was cast as the bride and then I went home. A while later Howard came home, and told me that he was cast as the groom. But they had saw each of us separately you see, so it was by chance that we were cast as bride and groom for the movie. [laughing]
Howard: [laughing] Right..so it was fate or just good casting.
Justin: So Howard, I know you’re a musician. So how did you become interested in music?
Howard: My family was musically involved. I had generations of my family that were involved in music. When my mother was a young girl, she was offered a role in Ziegfeld Follies, but her parents wouldn’t allow her to do it.
I grew up in the Bronx. There was a lady in our apartment building that was offering piano lessons for cheap. All the kids in the building took piano lessons. Shortly after there some kids in the neighborhood asked me if I wanted to play in a band. Right away, we got offered a job to play at a hotel up in the Catskill mountains. This was for an entire summer. So I just became the piano player. I played piano through high school, I played my way through college, in which I was originally interested in going to med school but I realized right away that there was no way I could be in class at 8 a.m, when I was staying out playing music all night long. So that’s when I realized that I was a musician.
From there, my brother and I started a very successful musical act. We headlined casino’s like MGM, Caesars Palace, and The Sands—so business was really good. We were playing clubs and hotels, and my sister was even performing with us at times. One thing that you’ll find interesting is that when the business started to slow down some, I had just met Dyanne. So that’s when I decided to move to Las Vegas. And when I moved to Las Vegas one of the first jobs I got was managing The New Aladdin Theater which I opened up with Neil Diamond.
Justin: So Howard… Who are some of your musical influences?
Howard: Louis Prima. I just loved what he did. He influenced me as a performer. Also, George Gershwin. Cole Porter’s lyric’s knocked me out too. Mel Torme. Plus growing up in New York City, I used to go to Birdland Jazz Club. So I got to see all the great jazz musicians. Also, I got to see Lenny Bruce several times in New York. You probably don’t know this, but I went to high school with Bobby Darin, and we used to play cards together many years ago.
Justin: So Dyanne…Where did your initial interest in acting come from?
Howard: Dyanne knew she was gonna be an actress from the minute she was born. [laughing]
Dyanne: When I was three years old there was a Christmas pageant. And the girl that was supposed to be in it, had gotten sick. So my mother came home one day with this nice pink satin dress, and told me that I was gonna be her replacement. They had been rehearsing for months prior. So I went in with no rehearsal and they kindly instructed me on where to walk, and what to say. My mother being my mother, told me that I stole the show. So I think I caught the bug then.
Justin: So I know that you’ve got this major background in comedy as well. Where do you think your interest in comedy comes from?
Dyanne: Survival. [laughing] Comedy is much more fun and mellow. That was the fun for me of doing the ILSA stuff. Comedy has always been something that’s attracted me to acting I think..
Justin: Now growing up didn’t you also have an interest in Anthropology as well?
Dyanne: Yes I did, but honestly the money just wasn’t there for me to follow that interest. When I was growing up they didn’t have scholarships that helped you pay for college, unless you were a straight A student, and I wasn’t.
So while I did study Anthropology for about a year, I did not get a degree. But I did get to go on a couple anthropological digs, which was great. In the last few years it’s been written that I have a degree in the field, but I don’t. So then my idea was to be a journalist working in the Anthropology field, and study at N.Y.U. Along that path, my singing career started to open up some doors for me, cause I had studied singing very seriously since age 12. So I found that I could make more money on the weekend singing at places than any of my journalist friends could make writing. So I switched my interests to singing and drama.
Justin: Right, and didn’t you have the opportunity to work with Stella Adler around this time?
Dyanne: Yes, I worked with Stella Adler and she recommended me for my first movie role, which was for a movie called ENCOUNTER. Robert De Niro was in the film. I worked with Lee Strasberg too. It just kept moving forward for me, I met some good people, and that lead me out to California. I will say that doing the film stuff has been great over the years,, but I’ve also done thirty years of work on the stage, that no one ever asks me about it. [laughing]
Justin: So do you think acting is a natural ability for most people that pursue it?
Dyanne: That’s a good question. That’s sort of like judging someone, like you’re saying that I don’t see the natural ability in you. Years ago here in Las Vegas I was teaching acting at a local college in the theater department. It was wonderful. I pulled out every script I had ever read.
Justin: So how did you get involved in the film, LOVE ME LIKE I DO (1968)?
Dyanne: I was living in Los Angeles at the time. I was doing a lot of television. I did that Star Trek episode, and I did an episode or two of Felony Squad on which Richard Donner was the director. I had an agent, who was getting me work, so I was very loyal to him. But he was really sort of retired and he wasn’t really submitting me as much as I would have liked. So this agent had invested some of his own money into LOVE ME LIKE I DO (1968). So I was sent in, I read for it, and I got it. Charles Napier was in the film, and Peter Carpenter as well. And the best thing about that was that the next two films that those guys did I worked on. They recommended me on those, and that’s how I got POINT OF TERROR. So I’m working with these kids, trying to inspire them and I was trying to get them to read these plays and scripts, and they’d come in and tell me that they weren’t gonna read it cause they just wanted to be a ‘star.’ I was so disgusted. I just couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t the mentality that I had growing up.
So I couldn’t imagine that someone could say that, how they were just interested in the party of it all, and not necessarily interested in the craft itself.
Justin: Yeah, I love POINT OF TERROR (1971). I think it’s perhaps the performance of your career? How was that experience for you?
Dyanne: I had a wonderful director on that film. He was so experienced and professional. Alex Nicol was a real director. He took the time with me to rehearse and discuss the film. I think if I would’ve been more confident back then, I would’ve done even better in it. Now I have the confidence but just no job. [laughing]
I was in really great shape back then. I can’t tell you all the things I did back then to keep my body in shape. Remember that scene where I show up in a bikini? Peter Carpenter thought it was too much. Originally I was supposed to enter the scene from the water. I was supposed to come up out of the water, and Peter would see my body and I would lie next to him. So they changed the direction and had me come down from up on that hill and the next thing you see is that I’m laying down next to him covered up by a towel, like there’s something wrong with my body. [laughing[
Then there was that pool scene where Peter and I are supposed to be making love. While we were shooting it, Peter was wearing a jock strap, and he wouldn’t take it off. Not that we were going to do anything, but the pool was lit from underneath, so the jock strap showed on the film. So they couldn’t use very much of that footage in the finished film. So there is stuff like that I think that could have been done better.
Justin: So do you know if POINT OF TERROR (1971) was successful on its initial release?
Dyanne: Not really. I don’t know. It was originally distributed by Crown International Pictures. At the time it was released, I wasn’t living in Vegas yet, but they brought me to Vegas for promotion. I did some radio interviews, I think I went to some drive-in’s to promote the film. I never even saw the poster to the film when it was released. I didn’t see it in fact, until after Peter Carpenter passed away actually.
Justin: So playing someone like “Andrea” in POINT OF TERROR (1971) and playing “Ilsa” in the ILSA films is it more interesting as an actress to play a villain rather than a hero?
Dyanne: This will sound corny, but I think we all have that side in each of us, where we wanna be someone else. There’s a dark side, a light side. As an actress, it’s a challenge to pull that out of yourself. I’ve played a lot of dumb blonde’s on stage, it’s just interesting to do that. I have also had the honor to work with Tim Conway on stage, and comedy is of course wonderful to do. As an actress it’s a challenge. So to do that, to play someone like ‘Andrea’ there isn’t much to it, but to dig deep and pull it out of you.
Justin: So by the time you did POINT OF TERROR (1971) you had done a lot of television and the film LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO (1968), but at this point in your career is there any frustration that you’re not getting bigger roles?
Dyanne: Not really. Not if you truly love the craft. You don’t ever judge it, big or small.
Justin: In the ’70s were you ever approached by someone like Russ Meyer or Playboy magazine to be in any of his films or the Men’s magazine?
Howard: I do remember that Dyanne had been approached by men’s magazines which suggested the exposure could give her a big break; she turned them down, until Cinepix arranged for her to fly to Chicago for a OUI magazine photo-shoot to promote TIGRESS.
Plus I know that Quentin Tarantino’s office approached her for a cameo in his GRINDHOUSE movie, but she was busy doing something else at the time.
Dyanne: I was approached by Russ Meyer at one point; his films are respected and very successful, but just were not my cup of tea.
Justin: So doing all these movie conventions that you guys are starting to do, is it a positive experience for you guys after having done all these movies and now meeting these fans?
Howard: It’s dynamite. These people come up to us and tell us how much they love these movies. They come from all over, and they’re all very wonderful and respectful.
Dyanne: Yes, they are simply wonderful.
Justin: Doing some basic research on the internet I’ve seen some pictures of you guys hanging out with Joey Ramone and then Johnny Lydon from The Sex Pistols. Aren’t they ILSA fans?
Howard: Dyanne get’s calls all the time when those guys come into town.
Dyanne: Yes. We’re wonderful friends with a lot of these musicians, and they are fans. I was wonderful friends with Joey Ramone. When he passed away it was very upsetting to me. We’re friends with the manager of Motley Crue. When he comes into town, we get together sometimes..
Justin: So going to these movie conventions, what do you guys think about some men that may consider Dyanne or the ILSA character as a sex symbol of sorts?
Dyanne: [laughing] ILSA a sex symbol? Have you seen pictures of the actual Ilsa Koch? I was trying to represent her. You don’t think about how you look, you just go and do the role. It’s really amusing that some may consider ILSA a sex symbol. Certainly there is nothing wrong with someone being a sex symbol, or people admiring a sex symbol but that wasn’t my motivation certainly. I don’t know how someone could be aware that they are a sex symbol. Unless maybe, people are constantly telling you flattering things. I’m sure there was some sort of subconscious part of me at the time that would have admitted that I looked good, sure. But did I think of myself as a sex symbol? No. But I may have thought at the time that I could show off what I had. [laughing]
Howard: Also, I’ll tell you that we don’t see too much of that at these shows. We have guys coming up to us at these shows and their age ranges from the young to the old. Mostly they are genuinely interested in her work as an actress. Like what you said early about POINT OF TERROR (1971). People come up and talk about that movie with her, not just the ILSA movies. Dyanne get’s a huge amount of fan mail, it’s overwhelming to me, but she always, always takes the time to answer all of these letters. It may take her a while but she does it.
Justin: Dyanne, how did you get cast as “Ilsa” in ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S (1975)?
Dyanne: I had an agent at the time, that sent me out for it. At the time, I was in need of another job. Things were slow so I had taken a part time job as a chauffeur. So when I showed up to the audition I had my chauffeur’s suit on. It was strange, when I went in there to audition the room was filled with people. Don Edmonds the films director was there. Some of the other actors that were eventually cast in the film were there. So I read for it, and after that they asked me to wait around. So after a few minutes, they called me back in and started talking to me about the shooting schedule, and they said they would be in touch with my agent. Two days later I got the role.
When I read the original script I was appalled. It was just awful. But this was typical of the ’70s. Sometimes you’d just get an script outline, make yourself available and then everything would get filled in later. So I was a little worried initially signing on, but a friend at the time told me that he knew Don Edmond’s personally and that I shouldn’t worry cause I would be in good hands.
Justin: So when you read the original script for the film, were you OK with the fact that the film would have so much nudity in it?
Dyanne: Well when I read it there really wasn’t any nudity. There was a love scene in it, but they told me that we would discuss it, cause I told them up front that I wouldn’t do any frontal nudity. What was funny is that the male actor that I was supposed to work with in that love scene was tipsy, the day we shot it. I’m not sure if he was just tired or what. Because he had waited outside like 10 or 12 hours before we even got to him for that scene. So when we were ready he was barely able to keep his eyes open, so they took away most of his lines, and I think you see way more much of me in the scene.
Justin: Didn’t you do a lot of research to prepare for the ILSA character as well?
Dyanne: I read a lot of books. I had a friend who is now gone but he had been an English teacher at Oxford University, so I called him up and he started telling about all these different historical situations that I wasn’t aware of. He gave me a list of books that I should take a look at. Then I read up about Ilsa Koch, and all the horrible stuff she had done.
Justin: So where do you think you pulled the German accent from for the film?
Dyanne: Well as an actor I had already studied dialects. As an actress you work on things of course. I did try to hire a professional dialect couch for the role, but the movie wasn’t willing to pay for it, and I didn’t have the money for it. It was really expensive. So I just read a book on it, dug in, and hoped for the best.
I’ll point out that there were times when it was simply awful. For example when we did the ILSA: THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977) film. It was the same situation, we started shooting the film and they wanted me to use a Russian accent, then they decided I need to do a German accent, then about half way through the shoot they decided that they didn’t want the character to have an accent, so I stopped doing it all together. They had told me that they were gonna re-shoot those scenes, but there was no money to do that by the time we finished. So the dialogue doesn’t match, and it makes it look like I screwed up, but that was what I was asked to do.
Justin: If someone was to ever remake ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. (1975) who do you think you’d want to be re-cast in your role?
Dyanne: Oh, I don’t know. We have the human part in each of us that would say, ” I can’t imagine anyone playing that role but me. “ But years ago, I used to watch a show on USA Network that was called La Femme Nikita. The actress that played “Nikita” was named Peta Wilson. Now the show wasn’t that great, but I thought she was great, and I thought that maybe she could have been ILSA if they would have ever decided to do a remake of the film.
Over the years, I’ve been approached to do something like, ILSA and her daughter. That sort of movie. I’ve always turned it down, cause ILSA would never have had a daughter like that. That would include “Greta” as well in GRETA: THE WICKED WARDEN (1977). I want to set it straight and say very clearly that the Jess Franco film GRETA: THE WICKED WARDEN was not part of the ILSA story… It gets lumped in there, but it was designed to be a stand alone film, and it was based on a entirely different story separate from ILSA.
Justin: Okay, I gotta ask simply because I would be remiss if I didn’t… If the money was there. The story, the time, the director everything was there for you today, would you make another ILSA film? What about ILSA 2000?
Dyanne: Nah…What would the point be? What could they do? All the previous ILSA films were based on some sort of true story.
Justin: Okay, so here’s my last question. So given all the life experiences you’ve had, all the interests you’ve had, working in film, on the stage, spending all this time marrying people in Las Vegas, having this amazing and long lasting marriage – with all this wisdom you have, what is the secret to happiness and success?
Dyanne: Well, that’s a little much isn’t it? [laughing] If I knew I’d have a magic wand. I think that’s why I did THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO (1971). I could hold that wand over everyone’s head and say, “It’s OK, It’s OK.” I really don’t know. If we go into the wisdom box I’d truly say that you have to accept yourself, dare to dream, and stop judging yourself for thing’s you’ve done and what you haven’t done.
I worked with Omar Sharif in the film, PLEASURE PALACE (1980). He was such a gentleman. It was his birthday the day I was there. I had a scene with him. I was dressing in the girl’s room, and I didn’t have a make up artist. So he was so kind and he offered his hair dresser and make-up person to me. So be kind to one another. These are the memories that we don’t forget, and this was over 30 years ago. So you have to be kind to one another, but you know that already.
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