Dyanne Thorne, 83, star of scandalous ‘Ilsa’ films, is dead

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 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 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,” 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). (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.)

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.

Ms. Thorne 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, 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.

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!’ ”