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Last night I watched a DVD of Don't Just Stand There, a 1968 comedy-thriller with Robert Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore. A few minutes into the film, those two are seated side by side on an airplane. Wagner looks down at Moore's legs (she's wearing a short skirt) and then he starts a conversation with a gambit which baffled me at the time.

"Pardon me . . . but aren't you Pamela McCarthy?"

"No, Pamela's my roommate. I just borrowed her legs."

"Well, I'll tell you're taking very good care of them."

Nothing more is ever said about the mysterious "Pamela McCarthy." So whomever she may have been, she was not a character within this film.

I theorized that she was some sort of female celebrity in the 1960s who was well-known, at least in part, for the beauty of her legs. Thus, in the context of the late Sixties, the target audience would be likely to get the joke and appreciate why Mary Tyler Moore's character was not displeased by the suggestion that there was a certain resemblance. But it's been almost 50 years, and I've never heard of her before!

I did some online searching. Nobody named "Pamela McCarthy" or "Pamela MacCarthy" has ever gotten her own page on Wikipedia. (Granted, there could be some other spelling -- the DVD I watched doesn't have subtitles for the dialogue, so I can't be sure of how the name was spelled in the original script.)

When I searched on IMDb, I found that one lady named "Pamela McCarthy" has an entry on that site, but it indicates that her main claim to fame is that after she'd worked as an elementary school teacher for a while, she and her husband founded a company called Hibernia Film Productions. She allegedly has written or consulted on various screenplays over the last 25 years, which seems to preclude the possibility that she was already a well-known figure a half-century ago. So I don't think she's the one the characters in Don't Just Stand There had in mind.

Broader searches, such as Googling for "Pamela McCarthy" and "nice legs," failed to turn up anything promising. (Ditto for when I switched the "Mc" to "Mac.") There seem to have been several women who used one variation or the other of that name, and who at some point were considered "newsworthy" for one reason or another, but none of them seem to have been famous, way back in the 1960s, for owning an impressive set of legs. (Not that I bothered to check out every single link that came up in Google as I searched for various combinations of keywords.)

So I'm hoping someone who knows more than I do about the pop culture of the 1960s will be able to unravel this little mystery for me. Why would Robert Wagner's character think pretending to mistake a girl for Pamela McCarthy was a good way to charm her? Why would Mary Tyler Moore's character instantly know that mentioning that name was a roundabout way of complimenting her legs?

In other words, who was the "Pamela McCarthy" (possibly with a different spelling) whose name was a veritable household word in 1968?

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After our extensive searching (yours & mine), I'm sure this "Pamela McCarthy" reference is not about a real character or celebrity.

Robert's character (Lawrence Colby) appears to have just picked the name at random to start a conversation with Mary's character (Martine), and Martine noticed Lawrence staring at her legs earlier so incorporated that into her comedic reply. A little like a "1968 pick-up lines 101" class. There's also smoking on an airplane, and joking about having a bomb onboard, definitely different behaviour from today.

The movie's based on Screenwriter Charles Williams' own book "The Wrong Venus", some of which is readable here (at least up to p64, I'm not sure if that's the end but it looks like it). The lines in question are the first spoken on the first page, and "Pamela" (or "pam") only appears on pages 1 and 2. Here's the first page to just after the lines in question:

Lawrence Colby by the age of thirty had been a Korean paratrooper, art student, PR man, script-writer, a dealer in art forgeries, and newspaperman, and had once ghost-written the autobiography of a homicidal maniac; he had been married twice, once to an Italian actress with kleptomania and once to a wealthy middle-aged woman who stoned embassies and slugged cops with protest signs at demonstrations; he had been beaten up in riots, shot through the leg in Houston, Texas, by a woman who was trying to kill her husband, and had been down the Cresta Run at St. Moritz three times; but afterward he was prone to look back on all this part of his life before he met Martine Randall as a time when nothing ever happened.

They met just a week after his thirtieth birthday, on a flight from Geneva to London. . . .

* * *

The flight had already been announced when he checked in at Cointrin, so he was the last passenger to board. There were two aisle seats left in the first-class section, one beside a bearded two-hundred-pound Sikh in travel-soiled khaki and the other next to a dream of a girl who was reading the European edition of Time, a luscious brunette with a striking figure and deep blue eyes. She glanced up briefly as he came to a decision and sat down.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, after he had fastened his seat belt and verified his first appraisal of the legs, “but aren’t you Pamela McCarthy?”

She smiled shyly. “Not really, I’m afraid. Pamela’s my roommate. I just borrowed her leg.” She went back to the Time.

He sighed. “Well, I’ll tell her you’re taking good care of it. . . . Goodnight, David.” Lowering his seat back, he closed his eyes.

Normally, he would have probed the defenses at least once more, as the minimal tribute to so much girl, but he was tired: he’d been up most of the night before. In a minute or two he had dozed off, and was only vaguely aware when the plane taxied to the runway and made its take-off run. He was awakened briefly by a stewardess offering lunch, but waved it off, and went back to sleep again.

(Lawrence) Colby calls her David too, likely a joking reference to the closing line "Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News" from the Huntley-Brinkley Report NBC's flagship evening news program from 1956 to 1970, as Wikipedia describes the line "one of television's most famous catchphrases." Colby considers it all "probing her defenses," so I'm pretty confident it's all a game they're playing.

Page 2 continues with Martine hearing ticking from Colby, they joke that he's got a bomb onboard (!!! “Well, actually, it’s just an old prewar model. They don’t go off half the time.”) but it's three hundred self-winding Swiss watches that started running & ticking because of the turbulence. Apparently he could get in trouble with customs, since Martine says:

“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I was just thinking of you going through Customs sounding like the “Bell Song” from Lakmi—”

The plane bounced, lurched from side to side, and swooped again. He closed his eyes and could see the three hundred little rotors swinging, storing energy. Damn the Swiss and their ingenuity.

“—and on a flight from Geneva,” the girl went on in that faint voice full of suppressed mirth. “But I’ll come visit you at Wormwood Scrubs. ... Or I’m sure Pamela will.

“If I had your sense of humor,” Colby said, “I’d never fly. I’d just hang around airports waiting for somebody to crash.”

The line in bold where Martine says "I’ll come visit you... Or I’m sure Pamela will" is pretty definitive that there is no other "Pamela McCarthy," and Martine know that & is toying with the idea that it's her alias. And Colby knows she's joking too. Her next line's even:

“Oh, don’t be silly. We’ll get you through Customs some way.”

We?

“Of course.”

Though not a completely unusual phrase, if she were referring to herself and Colby together as "we", she wouldn't have needed the "you" in "get you through," just saying "we'll get through customs" would be correct. Saying "We'll get you through" implies her and her alter-ego Pamela will help Colby.

  • The excerpt from the original novel is interesting . . . and yet I find myself feeling that this evidence tends to indicate the exact opposite of what you say it does! If Charles Williams meant for 'Pamela McCarthy' to be a randomly-selected name which Martine was never expected to recognize (and neither was the reader), then he should have put in a good strong hint to that effect. For instance, mentioning that this was the name of a girl who had sat next to Lawrence in 4th grade. (Continued in next comment.) – Lorendiac Dec 14 '17 at 1:13
  • And it seems to me that suddenly calling Martine by a boy's name ("David") makes no sense at all, especially not as flirtation, unless it will have special meaning to her instead of just seeming weird or rude. To me, "Goodnight, David" strongly suggests that he is pretending to take her at her word by acknowledging that her name must be "David," because the whole world knows that this is the name of the person who is Pamela McCarthy's "roommate." (As in husband, or boyfriend, or partner in some aspect of the entertainment industry, or whatever.) So, if she claims to be that roommate . . . – Lorendiac Dec 14 '17 at 1:15
  • @Lorendiac I think I've found more evidence in the next page of the book, editing in now. I'd agree it doesn't make much sense, but I don't think the book's been accused of being a classic, so that might explain it. It's probably a common pickup tactic too (maybe more so from the era) the crazier the line the more likely they are to continue the conversation – Xen2050 Dec 14 '17 at 16:37
  • Reacting to your new evidence: I don't find it "pretty definitive." I agree that Martine is joking when she mentions the idea of Pamela visiting him someday. But that just means that Martine takes it for granted that Pamela McCarthy is not actually a close friend of his, and won't lift a finger to do anything for him in his hour of need, and that Lawrence will understand that she is simply teasing him with that remark. Which would be equally true whether Pamela McCarthy really existed or not! – Lorendiac Dec 15 '17 at 2:05
  • I can't help with 'Pamela McCarthy', but I'd bet that ending a conversation with 'Good night, David' is not actually calling her 'David' but rather a reference to the signoff of NBC's daily news program then, the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntley-Brinkley_Report – dave_thompson_085 Dec 15 '17 at 10:31
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Lucky for you guys! Pamela McCarthy was a distance cousin of mine. Pamela was a famous model in the 60s and appeared on magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan. She also starred in TV adverts, such as one for fry’s Turkish delights. She however tragically died in a plane crash while she was only in her 20s. Her sister (my other distant cousin) made sure that almost all of the information on Pamela was taken down, as it was too painful for the family. This is why you won’t find any information on her but yes! Pamela McCarthy was a very real person and relative of mine and was very famous up until she died. Here are some images sourced from her sister’s (Geraldine) Facebook.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    Welcome to Movies.SE! I'm not saying I disbelieve you, but can you provide any evidence to back up your claims? Even if your sister did set out to "take down" all the information about her on the Internet, I find it hard to believe that she could have been that famous and yet never left a single trace. – F1Krazy Feb 5 at 18:46
  • Hi there, that is a very valid point but sadly for us who want to remeber pam, there isn’t much about her, not online atleast. It was then 70s when she died so there wasn’t lot about her online to begin with and it did take Pamela’s sister some years to remove everything. The only evidence I can give you are some pictures of Pamela (which I’ll add as another answer as I can’t do it as a comment). I’m not saying that his reference was referring to Pam but I can’t tell you that she was the only famous Pamela McCarthy at the time. (One of the photos inclduded is one from a magazine). – Grace Robson Feb 6 at 20:04
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    @GraceRobson Thank you for your answer. I'd nearly forgotten I had ever asked this question. I figured the name "Pamela McCarthy" was expected to mean something to people when the movie first came out, but I'd given up on ever finding out just who she was. I do agree with F1Krazy that it would be nice to have a way to confirm the basic facts of her modeling career from that era. By the way, if you want to add pictures, I suggest just editing them into the Answer you already posted, instead of posting a "new Answer." – Lorendiac Feb 7 at 0:00
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    Okay great idea (I’m new to the site you see so I’m not quite sure how it all works) I’ll do some more digging and see what I can find, I can even try to contact her sister as she still keeps in touch with my mother and see if she has any solid evidence, I’ll keep you all updated. – Grace Robson Feb 7 at 16:42

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