Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sue Lyon

I just did a little research about Sue Lyon, who played Lolita in the 1962 Kubrick film. The most detailed, and also most sleazy, account is on E! online:
[See update, below.] The E! story is yet another small act in the series of exploitations that began before the movie and exploded after it. Lyon was the youngest of five children in a poor family (her father died when she was a baby), and she was sent out to model as a pre-teen in order to bring in some cash. She won the role of Lolita when she was 13 or 14--the actual age of Lolita--but was, I gather, fifteen when the film was shot. So she was only a tiny bit older than the character, but was cast because she looked more adult than others her age. She had large breasts, unlike Nabokov's Lolita. So much effort went into confounding the audience's prurient/moral expectations about filming this story. How do you film it without doing damage?

Lyon went on to have a fairly terrible life. Divorced several times, she married a man in prison for murder at one point; before that she had married an African-American man and fled with him to Spain due to the uproar. She is now married to someone else and doesn't grant interviews. She's been diagnosed as bipolar but apparently found treatment later in life.

Incarnating Lolita appears to have done her no good. She received much of the lurid attention that the fictional Lolita did, and it should be remembered that the tendency then and even now was to portray Lolita as the seductress of a relatively helpless "middle aged man." E! Online says as much. The entwined artistic and commercial imperatives to film Lolita, combined with Lyon's poverty, the lure of celebrity, and finally the ageless pleasure of condemning girls for arousing sexual desire in others: the same cultural constellation trapped Lyons and Nabokov's Lolita, another fatherless child.

UPDATE 10-1-12: Sorry, folks, looks like E! has taken the story down. If anyone has other links they'd like to share, please do so in the comments.


yadymekam said...

thanks for your research; I did not have to go to the e article after your capsilization. I just stumbled upon your article when I wondered "what happned to"
The most consoling fact is that Sue finally found relief later in life for her bi-polar disorder. I had first hand experiene with a Bi Polar person and it is quite nasty to be around. Imagine if Sue had made that film today and was a teen in Hollywood today in the current climate. Move over Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton/Nicole Richie and the rest of them.

Elaine Kime said...

I had the opportunity to spend 1 day with Sue in 1977 in Estes Park, CO. I was stopped at a stop light in the middle of town, during a blizzard and Sue and her little girl jumped in my car. We spent the entire day together, because she offered me a job. I really do believe she is bi-polar, after the time I spent with her. She had 8x10 pics all over her house of her husband Cotton Adamson. It's a long story, and a very interesting story at that. I was 20 and living in Estes Park at that time. Cotton was the man she married who was in prison. It was the oddest day of my life.

serialsingle said...

Just finished watching Lolita for the first time and was doing some follow-up online research. Thanks for the detailed timeline!
@Elaine-where did she work in Estes Park, do you know? I live in Denver so I was curious if she mentioned the place(s) she worked.


stony22701 said...


rudy2 said...

Sue Lyon was not in The Poseidon Adventure...maybe you are thinking of Shelley Winters who was in both.

willardsmythe said...

carol linley was in the blonde in poseiden adventure

smithsmith said...

Hi, I just have a question.
I have trouble accessing the link it just redirects to the Australian homepage (I am Australian). How long is the feature on Lyon (on e-online). If it is comprehensive then I might send them an email.

Ann said...

smithsmith, looks like E! took the page down. If you find out any more info, please do share. Thanks!

sfndjb said...

Hello Ann,
I'm preparing a story inspired by the hectic life of Sue Lyon and I would like to get information about this lost E-online link. Could you tell me what kind of information was contained in the article, or what information was the most memoreable at least ?
Thank you very much