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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Sixties' 'It Girl' Donna Loren shares her prodigious pop career in new photo book

Rare Bird Books

To borrow the title of the first chapter of her new book Pop Sixties—Shindig!, Dick Clark, Beach Party, and Photographs from the Donna Loren Archive, Donna Loren was the decade's "Dr. Pepper's It Girl"—"a mover and a shaker in the center of a mid-sixties pop maelstrom," as it says on the Contents page.

Indeed, Loren had a seven-year contract as spokesperson for Dr. Pepper in the '60s, when she also starred in "Beach Party" movies (including Beach Blanket Bingo, in which she sang her signature song "It Only Hurts When I Cry") and the seminal ‘60s rock TV show Shindig! (she also appeared on shows like The Monkees and Batman). Her 144-page Pop Sixties, co-written with Los Angeles archivist/author Domenic Priore and published by Rare Bird Books, also covers her touring with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars and is accompanied by some 300 photos, images including Loren on her film and TV show sets and with the likes of The Supremes, James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis.

"It's pretty much chronological," says Loren, whose adoptive father (she relates how she didn't learn he wasn't her biological father until she was 48) was a professional photographer who constantly photographed her throughout her career, which began when she was seven (she made her first commercial, a radio spot for Meadow Gold Ice Cream, when she was eight).

"He kept me on a short leash, and was always three feet away from me when I traveled," she recalls, noting that he and her mom sat her down at age seven and gave her an ultimatum: Either she prepare to grow up and clerk at a five-and-dime store or devote herself to learning how to sing—which she already loved to do, since the age of two—as a means of supporting the family. She obviously chose the latter.

"You can see that transition in the photographs, when I literally took on the responsibility of an adult," continues Loren. "Whenever I worked or did any performing my dad was there—unless he was told not to shoot—and the book pretty much covers the 'Dr. Pepper Girl' years, the Dick Clark tours, a lot of intense travel. There's a great aerial shot of a motel swimming pool scene in 1964: He must have climbed on the roof to get it—one of the only times he left me alone!"

Other pool photos show young whites and blacks having fun together.

"It's very cutting-edge in that you see us all together in a pool in the South," Loren says, noting that Dr. Pepper was primarily marketed there and in the Midwest. The book, she adds, visually reflects the cultural progression—in music, fashion and sociopolitical climate--in the U.S. overall from the early 1950s to the late '60s.

She singles out a "typical" photo at the Santa Monica Airport with James Brown after he landed there in his private jet.

"From the age of 14 on I was always told in the morning that I had to be photo-ready," says Loren. "I had to put my makeup on and have my hair done and be ready to go at any time. I'm not sure how it all came about, but my dad apparently knew when James Brown was landing, and I was a few blocks away in Mar Vista--where I was raised—so we got the picture."

The Pop Sixties project began some five years ago when Loren began writing an autobiography—for which her mother sent a box of her now deceased father's negatives taken during her career.

"There were 3,000 negatives that I digitized, photos for magazine covers and all kinds of things," she says. "He always had a Nikon and Pentax [camera] draped around his neck and loved taking pictures, so I lucked out. I then spoke with Domenic, who's included me in several of his other books. He looked at everything and freaked out and took a major selection to Tyson Cornell [the former marketing and publicity director at L.A. bookstore Book Soup and founder of Rare Bird Books], and sold him the idea of a book."

As for her initial idea for an autobiography, Loren now has a 400-page manuscript "on the shelf somewhere, so this is a consolidated version of talking points."

And to accompany her future autobiography, Loren has completed 60 new re-recordings of songs she originally sang in the '60s, either recorded then or performed live in concert or on television, all of which can be accessed at her website and YouTube channel.

Donna Loren performs "It Only Hurts When I Cry" in Beach Blanket Bingo.



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