Dyanne Thorne, 83, Star of Scandalous ‘Ilsa’ Films, Is Dead

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Dyanne Thorne, who starred in one of the most notorious sexploitation movies of the 1970s, “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” — a head-spinning mix of Nazi fetishism, sadism and female empowerment that is still talked about by grindhouse film aficionados as well as by more serious scholars — died on Jan. 28 in Las Vegas. She was 83.

Her husband, Howard Maurer, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.

Ms. Thorne began in show business as a singer and comedian before veering into risqué movies like “Sin in the Suburbs” (1964) and a version of “Pinocchio” decidedly not for children (1971).

The release of “Ilsa,” though, in 1975, elevated her to an entirely different level of fame, at least among moviegoers of a certain stripe. The film and her character, a Nazi doctor with a taste for sex and torture, became cultural touchstones of sorts, inspiring, among other things, songs by several rock bands.

The movie, directed by Don Edmonds, begins with Ms. Thorne’s character having sex with a prisoner and then presiding over his castration, her frequent punishment for those who do not satisfy her. “This was the sweetest actor in the world that they castrated,” Ms. Thorne told the website Horror Cult Films in 2011.

Ilsa also conducts medical experiments on female prisoners, hoping to show that women can tolerate pain better than men and should therefore be allowed to serve in combat.

The movie, shot in nine days on the studio set once used by the prisoner-of-war sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” became an unexpected hit, catching on overseas as well as in certain markets in the United States, including New York, when it had a long run in a then-seedy Times Square.

“To our surprise, ‘Ilsa’ went through the roof,” John Dunning, a founder of Cinépix Film Properties, the production and distribution company behind the film, wrote in his memoir, “You’re Not Dead Until You’re Forgotten” (2014, with Bill Brownstein), adding, “It played more than a year in Brussels alone.”

The whip-wielding Ilsa was so popular that, even though she died at the end of the movie, she was brought back for “Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks” (1976) and “Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia” (1977). (Ms. Thorne also starred in another film released in 1977 under various titles — “Ilsa: The Wicked Warden,” “Wanda: The Wicked Warden” — that is sometimes regarded as a sequel and sometimes not.)

Mr. Maurer said in a phone interview that Ms. Thorne, whom he married shortly after the first “Ilsa” movie was released, was simultaneously in demand and untouchable because of the reaction to “She Wolf.” He ended up representing her in negotiations for the sequels because no agent would, he said.

Her interests outside of acting included, perhaps incongruously, the ministry. She was an adherent of Science of Mind, a religious movement established in the 1920s by Ernest Holmes, and was an ordained nondenominational minister, Mr. Maurer said.

The two of them had a wedding business in Las Vegas, with Ms. Thorne generally writing the ceremonies and Mr. Maurer, a musician, providing music. Some clients would opt for an “Ilsa wedding.”

“She would do it in costume, in some of the things she wore in the films that we still had,” Mr. Maurer said (though never, he added, with any swastikas). “She would put in little nuances from the films that every fan recognized. Sometimes she’d use the whip. It was all done tongue in cheek.”

She did her last Ilsa wedding in November.

She was born Dorothy Ann Seib on Oct. 14, 1936, in Park Ridge, N.J., to Henry and Dorothy (Conklin) Seib. She was raised largely by her mother, who held various jobs, including seamstress and jeweler, Mr. Maurer said. She took courses at New York University and studied acting, including with the teacher Uta Hagen, he said.

The theater was her first interest. She was a “Casino Cutie” in the original cast of “This Was Burlesque,” a revue that opened at the Casino East Theater in Manhattan in 1962 and ran for more than 1,000 performances before transferring to Broadway in 1965 (although by then Ms. Thorne was no longer in the cast).

She also appeared in skits on Jack Paar’s variety show and similar TV programs in the early and mid-1960s.

Mr. Maurer said a happenstance of wardrobe helped Ms. Thorne win the “Ilsa” role. She had a part-time job as a chauffeur at the time and arrived at the audition straight from a driving shift wearing her uniform.

“She walked inside in this chauffeur’s jacket and jodhpur pants,” he said, “and one of the guys said, ‘That’s her!’”

The movie was loosely inspired by the life of Ilse Koch, the sadistic wife of the commandant of two concentration camps, Sachsenhausen and then Buchenwald.

The movie won Ms. Thorne so many fans that some were still lining up to chat with her at autograph conventions years later. Vincent Canby, however, the courtly film critic for The New York Times, was not one of them.

When he saw the movie, or at least part of it, in 1975 for an article that carried the headline “Now for a Look at Some Really Bad Movies,” among the things he didn’t care for was her attempt at a German accent.

“At the point I walked out of the theater,” Mr. Canby wrote, “she was having an argument on the telephone with a superior officer whom she repeatedly addressed as ‘Hair Gain-hay-ral.’”


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