Beauty To Die For: The Tragedy of Joi Lansing

Beauty To Die For: The Tragedy of Joi Lansing
darksouls1 / Pixabay

Arguably once the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, Joi Lansing was immortalized in the greatest opening tracking shot in film history:

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Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” (1958).

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The nervous hands of a professional assassin set a ticking time-bomb to explode in three short minutes.

And place it in the trunk of a luxury convertible in a deserted parking lot of a seedy Mexican border town.

The assassin flees the scene as a custom-tailored obese older man and a breathtaking blonde, portrayed by Joi Lansing, settle into the doomed convertible and drive off.

To what the audience knows, but passersby--among them stars Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston---do not, is certain death.

The convertible passes through a checkpoint.

Joi’s character innocently exclaims, “I keep hearing this ticking noise inside my head.”

No one pays heed.

A moment later and a block away the convertible explodes in a fireball, immolating driver and passenger.

One of the best story hooks ever.

Like the characters portrayed by Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, every viewer wants to know why.

“Touch of Evil” is classic film noir.

And a troubling parallel to the real-life fate of Joi Lansing.

Joi Lansing Was Signed by MGM at Only Fourteen

Maturely beautiful at only fourteen, Joi was signed by MGM.

Technicolor eye-candy, she appears for an instant, uncredited, in their timeless musical, “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).

Seen once, she cannot be forgotten.

Never a featured player.

Never a leading lady.

Dubbed “TV’s Marilyn Monroe,” Joi’s career was always limited to bit roles and walk-ons.

She can be seen as a policewoman posing as Superman’s Super-wife on the hit TV show, “Adventures of Superman” (1958).

Girlfriend of Frank Sinatra, she had minor roles in two of his pictures: “A Hole in the Head” (1959) and “Marriage on the Rocks” (1965).

Cosmetic enhancements were recommended to further her career.

Cosmetic silicone injections---now banned by the FDA---and daily estrogen treatment, never indicated in a young and otherwise healthy woman.

You can see the results here, in this Scopitone video, as she sings, somewhat incongruously, of loneliness and longing:

“The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else.”

Joi is now well beyond eye-poppingly attractive.

Did unethical doctors unwittingly gild a human lily?

Our minds can easily conceptualize a three-minute ticking time-bomb, but not one that works slowly for decades.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” -- Albert Allen Bartlett, Physicist

Joi Lansing died at 43.

Breast and ovarian cancer.

Frank Sinatra paid for her medical care.

Long-Term Studies

There are notoriously few long-term studies in healthcare.

Most medical trials are, of necessity, time-limited and thus do not reveal the exponential function—the compounding effects--of toxic exposures.

The health risks of tobacco use are now, finally, universally acknowledged.

But for decades the tobacco industry could summon scientists who insisted tobacco was harmless.

Apart from incentive-caused bias, the observational periods of their research were too brief to reveal long-term harms.

As Professor Bartlett warned: we are not designed to perceive

the exponential function.

Double a penny for a day you get two pennies.

Double a penny for a month you get ten million dollars.

Work it out for yourself so you perceive and apply the exponential function.

Humphrey Bogart looks oh-so-tough smoking cigarettes and drinking bourbon in “Casablanca” (1942).

Dead of esophageal cancer in 1957.

Gene Tierney is the height of sophistication, framed in a haze of cigarette smoke on a Manhattan penthouse terrace in “Laura” (1944).

Dead of emphysema in 1991.

So we have finally learned, as a society, to shun cigarettes and limit alcohol.

What of the toxicity of sex hormone treatment?

What are the long-term side effects over a lifetime?

Estrogen treatment increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Results are even clearer for testosterone in human longevity.

We have a “natural” epidemiological study:

The Korean eunuchs of history!

Castrated males with, inevitably, vanishingly low testosterone levels.

An off-putting source of wisdom, this academic historical study is all but irrefutable:

The eunuchs of old Korea lived 14 to 19 years longer than their socioeconomically equivalent intact peers.

Informed Consent

Shouldn’t every prospective patient-candidate for testosterone treatment—male and female alike---learn of this study?

And what of widespread illicit use?

Testosterone enhances muscle growth, libido, energy, strength, endurance and aggression---and clearly and appreciably shortens life.

That last side effect has not been known to any patient I have encountered on testosterone supplementation, medical or otherwise!

What did Joi Lansing know of the risks of the treatments she underwent?

And did she die for her beauty?

Updated on

Mark Tobak, MD, is a general adult psychiatrist in private practice. He is the former chief of inpatient geriatric psychiatry and now an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, NY. He graduated the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Columbia University School of General Studies. Dr. Tobak also has a law degree from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the NY State Bar. His work appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Times, and American Journal of Medicine and Pathology. He is the author of Anyone Can Be Rich! A Psychiatrist Provides the Mental Tools to Build Your Wealth, which received high praise from Warren Buffett.
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