A key cult American actress of the sixties, tall Nancy Kovack was mainly unforgettable in the imagination of guys my age for the role of Medea in the awesome action/fantasy picture Jason and the Argonauts. Oddly, her screen time is more limited than we remember now in this production, but nobody questions that her sexy dance number is a highlight (which is not bad, as she was competing for our attention with monsters and creatures animated by the legendary Ray Harryhausen). To top it all, it has been said that Nancy’s vocal performance was overdubbed by soon to be Bondgirl Honor Blackman, maybe for the need of a more classy British accent? I just love these period movies where everyone talks Shakespearian…
Nevertheless, Nancy Kovack was instantly recognizable on television and movie screens, mainly for her unbelievable cheekbones and smouldering gaze. She didn’t seem to have a problem rubbing shoulders with Tarzan, Batman, the Three Stooges, Vincent Price, Dean Martin, Captain Kirk or Elvis Presley, all great cultural icons, as I’m sure you can agree. So what was it about Nancy Kovack? Her characters’ solid determination? Or just her fabulous figure? For some reason, Nancy confessed in never wanting to be a major movie star, preferring supporting roles. But her 15-year career contains many gems and surprises.
On March 11, 1935, was born Nancy in Flint, Michigan. Yes, the same Flint, Michigan, made popular by another prominent child of the city, Michael Moore, in his film documentaries. Our girl was a brainy student type, as it was reported that she enroled at the University of Michigan at age 15 to eventually graduate around 19! She took the time to be a radio deejay and to win a lot of beauty contest titles (at least eight) by the age of 20.
At some point in the late ‘50s, Nancy was invited to a wedding that was taking place in New York City. She was "discovered" and became a Glea Girl for The Jackie Gleason Show, which began a professional television career. She moved to The Dave Garroway Show, The Today Show and Beat the Clock. After some stage work, she was approached in 1959 by Columbia for a contract. The same year, she had her first real TV role in The United States Steel Hour program. The next year was the beginning of her movie career, as she was cast in Strangers When We Meet, a Kirk Douglas melodrama, playing a booze-loving suburbanite.
The rest of Nancy’s resume is a mix of movie and television credits. She had a starring role in 1962’s The Wild Westerners, alongside James Philbrook, and was mainly seen on TV as a prize girl on the game show Number Please. But 1963 was a pivotal point, as Nancy took part in two projects that are still fondly remembered to this day. The first was a co-starring role in Diary of a Madman, a Vincent Price horror thriller. With the zany character name Odette Mallotte DuClasse, Nancy’s beauty was ravishing, even if the movie was a third-rate attempt to cash in on Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series. See it for Nancy wearing thight Victorian dresses! And watch out for her bust! Yes, her bust! (you’ll understand…)
Than came the already mentioned Jason and the Argonauts, which was filmed in Italy in the fall of 1961. Released in the summer of 1963 (because of the many months the special effects took to be shot), it was not the success anticipated, mainly because the Hercules series had recently ran out of breath. A shame, because Ray Harryhausen still considers it his favorite movie project, with his usual top-notch Dynamation effects. Young fans around the world were equally impressed by Nancy Kovack’s physique, generously displayed in a powerful erotic dance sequence, as she played the High Priestess Medea. We would have loved to see more of her, though. Nancy was successful in creating an heroine that could be a match for those portrayed by fellow Siren Chelo Alonso for sword and sandal adventures. Oddly, Nancy seemed uncomfortable recalling this scene in more recent interviews.
In 1964, Nancy played in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and also took part in an adventure for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. She was given a Golden Laurel nomination for Top New Face. The next year, she took the part of Annie Oakley in the Three Stooges’ western comedy The Outlaws Is Coming, alongside Adam West, with whom she would guest-star in an episode of Batman the following year. Nancy worked in other high-profiles TV series such as Perry Mason, Twelve O'Clock High, I Dream of Jeannie, I Spy, Family Affair, Get Smart, Hawaii Five-O and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. She displayed of fine flair for comedy in Bewitched, enjoying a semi-regular role as Sheila Summers, former girlfriend of Darrin Stephens. In 1966, Nancy could be seen in The Silencers, a Matt Helm movie starring Dean Martin, as she’s killed after a striptease. Other cuties involved are Cyd Charisse, Stella Stevens and Daliah Lavi. The Helm series was, of course, spoofing the James Bond craze. At least, that’s what we all hoped.
The same year, the shadow of 007 was hanging over another Nancy Kovack project, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, where the jungle hero displayed some Bondian traits in his exploits. But Nancy has a blonde? Naaaah! She also met Elvis, the eternal King of Rock’n’Roll, for the musical Frankie and Johnny, playing Nellie Bly. Actually, 1966 was our actress’ busiest year. Things began to slow down a bit soon after, but Star Trek fans could still appreciate her in the episode A Private Little War, as Nona. Yes, this is the famous episode displaying the Mugato or Gumato or whatever that ape-like white-furred creature’s name was. This dude ruled! And Miss Kovack was insanely beautiful in that fetching warrior-witch outfit.
In 1969, Nancy took part in a last movie project, the sci-fi drama Marooned. She took part in a Mannix episode, The Girl Who Came in with the Tide, for which she was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Single Performance for her role as Bret Nicols. Maybe for good luck or for being just grateful, she co-starred in Mannix two other times. Another big honor came her way when she said ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal coming from famed orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta. They were united on July 19, 1969. She subsequently popped a couple of times on TV, credited as Nancy Mehta, and was last seen on a Bronk episode in 1976. The couple had two children. Mehta became the music director for the New York Philharmonic. And Nancy preferred to dedicate herself to family life.
Of course, Mehta eventually worked with Pavarotti and Domingo. In 1998 the couple moved to Germany, where hubby became Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera. Also, Nancy lost some money to Susan McDougal, a player in the Whitewater scandal. By her own admission, Nancy Kovack refused to play the Hollywood game, be it casting couch or swingers scene, despite playing seductive and/or sexy roles. She never became a major movie star and this suited her fine. But she’s a star in a book called Cult Sirens and this here chapter is warmly dedicated to her.