Angie Dickinson: Hollywood’s Favorite Femme Fatale
Angie Dickinson lit up the screen in over 50 films, and countless TV shows, including her iconic portrayal of Sergeant “Pepper” Anderson in the NBC hit drama, Police Woman. She played them all: wife, mother, temptress, lover, and the toughest undercover cop around.
Angeline Brown (known as “Angie” to friends and family) was born on September 30, 1931, to Frederica and Leo H. Brown in Kulm, North Dakota. She was the second oldest daughter and had three sisters.
Leo Brown was a small-town newspaper editor and publisher. He also worked as the town’s projectionist at their local theater. This was where Angie first fell in love with the movies. When the theater burned down, Angie cried for a week.
When Angie was 10, she and her family moved to Burbank, California. She was a promising student and dreamed of becoming a writer. Angie graduated from college and got a job as a secretary, but her life took an unexpected turn when she entered a local preliminary for the Miss America pageant.
She didn’t win the competition, but she did catch the attention of a casting agent, who got her a spot as one of the showgirls on The Jimmy Durante Show.
Angie Works Her Way Up in Hollywood
After taking some acting classes, Dickinson got bit parts on some of NBC’s variety shows, including the Colgate Comedy Hour. But on New Year’s Eve 1954, she made her TV acting debut in an episode of Death Valley Days.
She made the rounds on 1950s TV, including parts on Matinee Theatre, It’s a Great Life, Broken Arrow, Northwest Passage, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Cheyenne, The Deserters, Colt .45, and Perry Mason.
Angie Breaks-Out…And Arrives
In 1959, Angie Dickinson finally got her big screen break-out role, playing Feathers, a flirtatious gambler in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. She got to star with her childhood idol, John Wayne, and alongside Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan.
In the 1960s, Dickinson became one of the most sought-after leading ladies, starring in The Bramble Bush with Richard Burton and Oceans 11 with Frank Sinatra. For the next 12 years, she starred in many films, including China Gate, The Sins of Rachel Cade, Jessica, Captain Newman, M.D., The Killers, The Art of Love, The Chase, Point Blank, Pretty Maids All in a Row, The Outside Man, Big Bad Mama, and Young Billy Young.
Her co-stars included Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Ronald Regan, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, and Jane Fonda. She even gave Burt Reynolds’ his first on-screen kiss! At last, Angie Dickinson had arrived.
Career Shifts and TV Success
At the age of 42, Angie Dickinson got a guest spot on the TV anthology series, Police Story. The episode was so popular that NBC offered Angie her own television show, the groundbreaking series, Police Woman.
At first, Dickinson didn’t want to do it, but the producers promised her that starring in this show would make her a household name. Intrigued, she accepted the role. Soon, everybody in the U.S.A—and around the world—knew her.
From 1974 until the show ended in 1978, Angie played Sergeant “Pepper” Anderson, a cop who often worked undercover. The series took off, becoming a number one hit in many countries. During those four years, Angie won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Drama, and she received Emmy Award nominations for Best Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series for three years in a row.
Life after Police Woman was never dull. Angie returned to the big screen in Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill and took on supporting roles in Death Hunt with Lee Marvin as well as a role in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.
She starred in several TV movies, including Once Upon a Texas Train with Willie Nelson. Angie also had a big role in Hollywood Wives, a popular miniseries. She returned to the big screen for Big Bad Mama II.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Angie was in Oliver Stone’s miniseries, Wild Palms, and Gus Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. She had parts in The Maddening with Burt Reynolds and played in the remake of Billy Wilder’s classic movie, Sabrina. She also appeared on the hit HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show, playing an old flame of Artie’s (played by Rip Torn).
Her last films included Pay It Forward, Duets, Big Bad Love, and Mending Fences. She also had a cameo in the remake of Ocean’s 11, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Romance, Marriage, and Motherhood
Angie Dickinson was linked romantically to several celebrities and at least one politician. She admitted to having a romantic relationship with Frank Sinatra and considered marrying him in 1964. In the 1980s, she also dated Johnny Carson, Glenn Ford, and Larry King. Rumors tied her to John F. Kennedy, but she says no such relationship ever existed.
Angie was married twice. Her first marriage was to Gene Dickinson, a star on the football team at the college they attended. They married in 1952 and divorced in 1960. Afterward, Angie kept her married name.
In 1965, Angie married Burt Bacharach, the musician and composer. One year later, she gave birth to their only child, Lea Nikki (known as Nikki). Nikki was born three months premature and had lifelong health problems, including severe visual impairment and Asperger’s Syndrome. Dickinson and Bacharach divorced in 1981, and sadly, Nikki passed away in 2007. She was 40 years old.
Life and Legacy
Angie Dickinson’s unapologetic portrayal of strong women has influenced other female-driven dramas such as Charlie’s Angels, Cagney & Lacey, and more. She said that Police Woman caused women around the country to apply for jobs at police departments everywhere.
When asked if she minded being a sex symbol, she said no, if she was also remembered for being a good actress. No matter who her leading man was, she was a leading lady that could always hold her own.
Now 91 years old, Angie Dickinson is retired. She says she is lucky to have wonderful memories of her daughter and is grateful for her career. When asked in an interview if she ever missed the limelight, she said: “I had my day in the sun, and I’m very content.”