Tag Archives: Hollywood

Polly Bergen & the Newmans

Polly Bergen Bel Air California

Roger Asquith and Polly Bergen

Just a Bel Air neighborhood afternoon. Actress Polly Bergen passed away a short while ago at age 84. I met Polly Bergen on the set of MOVE OVER, DARLING, with her co-stars Doris Day and James Garner.  Polly plays the 2nd wife of James Garner. His first wife, Doris Day, is presumed to have died in a plane crash … but she didn’t… and thereby hangs the tale!!! My associate and I had been invited to Polly’s Bel Air mansion to talk about the film and also the new beauty products being added to her successful new business POLLY BERGEN COSMETICS. Arriving at the entrance to her home, I pressed the intercom and announced our arrival.

The huge decorative iron gates swung open and we crunched along the driveway to the house where Polly was there to greet us. Ten minutes later we were appreciating a frosty glass of ice cold Margaritas on the patio with a fantastic view of the various multi million dollars homes nestling between the Palm trees. Polly told us Bel Air was a very close knit neighbourhood where everybody was very friendly. Elizabeth Taylor lived very close by and next door was the home of her friends, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Just like movie magic, a few minutes later, Paul and Joanne came walking across the lawn to bring Polly a belated birthday present. Obviously they didn’t announce themselves at the huge iron gated entrance. “They live next door,” whispered Polly “and take a short cut across their lawn then squeeze through a  gap in the fence. It was hard to believe Paul Newman having to squeeze through anything, but here he was stalking across the manicured lawn like HUD the tough cattle rancher in the film he was making on location in Texas.

Paul and Joanne sat down with us on the patio while Polly served up another round of Margaritas.  Being Hollywood, the talk was all naturally about movies. Joanne was filming WOMEN OF SUMMER. She had taken over the role after the tragic death of Marilyn Monroe. Paul took the role of HUD very seriously and trained as a cattle rancher in Texas until he could rope a steer like an expert, furthermore, he had the calloused hands to prove it.    Co-star Patricia Neal won the Oscar for Best Actress in the film HUD even though she was only in the film for less than twenty-five minutes.

The Hollywood chatter continued and we had another round of Margaritas, then my associate signalled she had to leave for another appointment. Reluctantly we left Polly, Joanne and Paul to finish their drinks. Driving back to Hollywood, my friend was more interested in the bag of cosmetics that Polly had given her than talking about Paul Newman whom she had just met. “He’s quite a short guy, isn’t he? I thought HUD is supposed to be a tall hunky Texas Rancher,” she said, sniffing some cold cream “I guess he has to stand on boxes like Alan Ladd in in the film SHANE.”

I stared in horror at my associate, how could she be so crass as to tell the truth when writing about a film star?!

Well, I guess THAT’S HOLLYWOOD.

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The Oscar Goes To…

  “Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.”
~ Rosalind Russell

With Robert Conrad and Norman Taurog on the set of  "Palm Springs Weekend"

With Robert Conrad and Norman Taurog on the set of
“Palm Springs Weekend”

Who is qualified to judge the best actor in town?  Award winning actors are all around us.  You, me, the window cleaner and especially the car salesman at the used car lot on the edge of town trying to convince you that the clapped out 2007 Chevy may have a few dents here and there, but the inner workings are in great shape and good for another five years, while all the time keeping his legs crossed that the lemon of the lot will make it out of the yard. …and how about the bedraggled panhandler bringing tears to your eyes  when he tells you about his starving wife and ten kids in a shack on the wrong side of town?  When in reality his wife and two daughters are on the game, bringing in a thousand bucks a day at Fifi’s secret bordello on the right side of town. We’re all actors, and the award should go to the one who succeeded in selling the lemon on the lot, or the panhandler who stroked your conscience until you threw a couple of coins into his begging bowl.

How could Cate Blanchet be a better actor than Judy Dench or Meryl Streep? They all convinced us they were playing the real thing. We were there sitting amongst an audience caught up in their drama, witnessing their problems, their plight, shedding a few tears or enjoying the humour of their situation. Granted there are a few deadbeats on the screen who experience problems crawling out of ye olde paper bag, but it’s highly possible they gave an Oscar winning performance in the producer’s bedroom a few nights earlier.

Having been to scores of Hollywood Press previews, the one I’ll never forget is because the hard bitten audience of critics applauded one scene so loudly they literally stopped the show/film. It was from THE MIRACLE WORKER, the story of Annie Sullivan’s struggle to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Annie was the teacher who had the patience of a saint and the strength of a lion, dragging Helen to a water pump in the garden and patiently taught her to say the word WATER.  It was so painful, so exhausting and so real, the entire audience of film critics stood up en-masse and applauded for so long, the projectionist re-wound the film and showed the same scene again. I doubt if that has ever happened before or since… They were both rewarded with a well deserved Oscar.

Actors in film are only required to learn a few lines at a time, and can film the scene over and over again until they get it right. I remember being on the set of  PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND with Connie Stevens and my friend Robert Conrad playing the frustrated boyfriend.  Robert waited patiently while the lead actor fluffed his line again and again about fifteen times until Robert desperately looked straight into the camera. “Excuse me, you guys,” he groaned, “but I gotta take a leak.”   Conversely, stage actors have to remember the whole script and rely on the prompter behind the curtain if they forget their next line …but no prompter could help out when English actor Kenneth Williams, who starred in the popular “Carry On” film series, was performing on the stage in London. Kenneth and Dame Edith Evans were starring in the   London Stage production of Gentle Jack.

Edith and I were on stage supposedly dining in a very expensive restaurant being served by a snooty waiter,” explained Kenneth. “As the waiter bends over to serve Dame Edith, he suddenly breaks wind ─ a loud rip roaring fart.  The audience were hysterical laughing and poor Edith tried so hard to keep a straight face. When the laughter finally died down, Edith looked out at the audience and said in a very haughty voice.
 “My Goodness! This place has certainly gone downhill since last night.”  Remember your lines and don’t knock over the furniture  is the advice usually given to stage actors, but there is no advice to any actor who breaks wind.

Some of the characters in my book THAT’S HOLLYWOOD are based on real people. Big Max is based on a real life producer I once knew. The fat gutted s.o.b. with his penchant for porno, and stinking gut-twisting belches, always gave an Oscar winning performance. Chewing on his ever present ten dollar cigar and dribbling down his white shirt, he delivered his acid comments like a well-trained stage actor, pausing every few seconds to judge the reaction of his audience… and Kurt Hahn, the prevaricating producer at Fairfax Studios also features in THAT’S HOLLYWOOD, Stan Laurel, if he was still around, would be perfect casting in the movie.

I should have been awarded an Oscar for my acting performance in the Cuban jail. My fellow prisoner and I had just witnessed six drunken guards enjoying an afternoon’s entertainment shooting off the arms and legs of a dozen prisoners outside our cell. I was trying to convince my hysterical cellmate that we were not destined for the same firing squad, we were being held for ransom, even though I expected to be lined up and shot any minute. ..  It’s all written up in my book CUBAN TRADER.

The Oscar Awards? Who is it? Who are they? Uncle Oscar or Oscar de la Renta? Is it an award show for the supposed Best Actor, or a fashion show for the supposed best dressed?   Some actresses give an Oscar winning performance sashaying up the red carpet, stopping or slowing down for anyone with a camera or microphone. Many are wearing a rented gown still warm off the model’s back ─ other’s, desperate for attention, wear a transparent blouse and no bra to prove they’ve “still got it” (or them) and have joined the Beverly Hill’s chapter of the “Burn the Bra” brigade.

…and the winner is Lady Gaga walking upside down!!!!  Well Folks! That’s Hollywood.

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Bad Boy Bieber

Justin Bieber“There’s no such thing as bad publicity, just spell the name right and include the title of their latest movie or music video.” With millions of dollars worth of free world-wide publicity, and his pix splashed all over the world’s press, what more could Justin Bieber’s  agents ask for? It’s obvious what their Golden Boy is asking for, some time off from work. Standing up in front of hundreds of screaming teenagers and belting out your latest hit record over and over again…that’s work.  At 19 Justin should be  in college getting an education, or at least given a couple  months away from his demanding fans and  money hungry agents. He should be vacationing incognito at some sunny resort and relaxing with his trusted friends.

Me and Elvis

Me and Elvis

Elvis Presley was also bad boy.  Fortunately for him, any scurrilous reports about his penchant for San Quentin quail  and shooting up his TV screen if he didn’t like the program were  successfully kept out of the press by the omnipresent  and repressive Colonel Tom  Parker  who vigorously censored any press release on his golden boy.I was invited to have lunch with Elvis many times when he was shooting his musicals at MGM. He was the perfect host making sure his guests were well fed and always handed out a signed copy of his latest L.P.  plus an invitation to the premiere of his movie…but all this would have ended if I had let a few cats out of the  bag  about  his private life. My motto in Hollywood was simple, why bite the hand that feeds you, furthermore I thought everyone was entitled to a private life.

Who are these 76.000 people  demanding Justin  Bieber  hand  in his American Green Card working permit and be deported back to Canada ?  Where were they when Justin’s fellow foreigners broke the rules?

Richard Harris from Ireland was a notorious drunken hell raiser.  I met him on the CAMELOT where fortunately he behaved himself and left the bonking to Vanessa and Franco, but, having no Colonel Parker around to suppress them, his drunken brawls made headlines in all the American gossip columns, but there’s no demand for his deportation.

Colin Farell, another handsome Irishman who quickly rose to fame after his TV series BALLYKISSANGEL which was made in Dublin. Colin soon flew out to Tinseltown to make TIGERLAND  and  garnered a lot of  attention when he appeared naked in the movie, willingly showing off his “dangly bits” . With his new found fame and fortune , Colin soon became a hell raising  womanizer. Charged with drug addition, bad behaviour and the scandal of appearing in a sex tape, he managed to avoid and jail time, became a father and started taking life seriously. Playing the title role in the film ALEXANDER, he donned a blond wig and romped thru the film with his broad  Irish accent accompanied by fellow Irishman Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers who was born in Dublin, is another Green carder holder with an American work permit.  He too has had his share of bad publicity as a hell-raising party animal. He was arrested for drug use and bad behaviour but survived to play such diverse roles as Henry VIII, the Tudor king of England and Elvis Presley, the one-time king of Hollywood.  He, like his fellow Irishman , Colin Farrell avoided jail time, toned down his behaviour and is now taking life a little more seriously.

Russell Crowe an Australian actor with an American work permit and a notorious bad temper that has got himself  into trouble with the police. Arrested many times for his drug addiction and loutish  behaviour  he is still in Hollywood and making movies.

Jude Law an English actor with an American Green Card work permit  and the father of three children, hasn’t exactly been on his best behaviour when  in Hollywood.  He may have avoided being arrested, but his notorious womanizing has certainly caught the attention of gossip columnists.   Yet being famous as a world-wide womanizer, Jude  successfully played  “Bosie”  the selfish gay lover boy of  Oscar Wilde,  in the film WILDE which starred Stephen Fry in the title role.

Justin Bieber certainly let off steam in Florida, racing his million dollar Lamborghini along the deserted streets of Miami , cheered on by his selfish entourage, but  does  this  stupid and dangerous offence call for his deportation back to Canada. He has done nothing worse than his fellow foreigners who have an American Green Card and they are still welcome in Tinseltown….

Well I suppose  That’s Hollywood!

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The Hollywood Hangover – Golden Globes

golden_globes_standSo, the annual booze up, organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press has successfully kept up the tradition of giving the best booziest party in town ─ and why not? If it’s a free host bar and the sponsor is taking care of the bill, let’s have another one for the road! Now that all the booze bottles, empty magnums of Moet Champagne have gone to be recycled (we hope) and the new and shiny Golden Globes have settled in amongst the memorabilia in the cabinet, we wish all the winners a belated congratulations and hopefully will see you at the Oscars.

My first encounter with the Hollywood  Foreign Press was in 1959. I had  been smuggled into a screening of THEY CAME TO CONDURA at the old Director’s Guild near Doheny and Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. It was my first Hollywood preview and I didn’t know the procedure  ─ that the back row is reserved for the stars of the film ─ so, being a very nervous late arrival,  clutching my program,  I took my seat right in the middle of the empty back row ─ the best seat in the house.  Minutes later, this tall, blonde hunk shuffled along the aisle followed by a gorgeous shapley red head ─ it was Tab Hunter and Rita Hayworth  and they were followed by Gary Cooper and Van Heflin...the stars of the film.

Yeah Man, I had hit the jackpot. Furthermore at the end of the film we all sashayed into the adjoining Green Room for the party. Me, hobnobbing with the big nobs, Wow! I could easily get used to this caper. I ordered a large Tanqueray G&T at the bar, with a slice of lemon and not too much ice. Why not, it was all free! Then, I sashayed around the crowded room like I was the Queen of Sheba on ice skates. I complimented Rita on her turquoise dress, completely ignoring the studio publicist who was expecting me to ask questions about the film we had just seen.  Tab was quite talkative, but Van and Gary were swallowed up by the  New York Press. Afterwards the stars and studio big wigs sailed off in their shiny limousines  and I walked across  Santa Monica Boulevard  and caught  the Metro bus to  Hollywood and took the elevator to my boudoir in the Y.M.C.A.

That was my first Hollywood piss up, compliments of the Hollywood Foreign Press…and I had gate-crashed their star studded shindig. I was very impressed. I had schmoozed with Rita Hayworth and Tab Hunter,  I was three sheets in the wind, full as a tick and slept like a baby all night. What more could a gate-crasher wish for? The next day, armed with at least a dozen of my blurbs printed  in British magazines, I went to the H.F.P office in Hollywood, where I was met by two tall Swedish gentleman ─ identical twins, one had a monocle in the right eye and his brother  in the left. After a brief interview I was welcomed into the club. I had joined the booziest organization in town. From then on I started to get weekly invitations to studio press previews of their films, usually followed by a piss up on the adjoining sound stage. “If you’ve produced a lousy movie but wanna a great review, invite the Foreign Press to a party and lay on plenty of free booze,” advised Jack Warner, who was never very diplomatic.

With so many invitations we all became very blasé about the so-called piss up après le movie. Disney had very bubbly hosts and hostesses, but usually served freshly squeezed Orange Juice. Columbia and Universal served the brands of booze you see on the shelves of a Tijuana liquor store.   20TH Century Fox were quite generous, especially considering one used up half-a-tank of gas, driving all the way out to their lot in Century City. The stars in the film were usually at the party, swanning a round, posing for pix and dodging awkward questions. The Foreign Press were all issued with I.D. badges, with our name (usually spelled wrong) and the name of the magazine. Many of the so-called stars should also have worn name tags ─ they always seemed to be much shorter, older and frequently lost for words without a script in their hand.

I remember the preview for “What’s Up Doc?”  starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal.  None of us were very sober ─ or even wanted to be.  Miss Streisand was working the crowd and sashayed up to me, examined my name tag, sniffed and walked away. “And the same to you with brass knobs on,” I yelled. That was the second time the diva had snubbed me. After that I made sure I, or any of my sub editors, never mentioned her name in any of our magazines again.

The Hollywood Foreign Press were not taken very seriously at first. “It’s no good inviting the Foreign Press, because half of them will be deported by next week,” whispered  big wig from Paramount .

“You’re a member of the Foreign Press, Mister Asquith,” sneered some pen pusher from the London Times. “I’d never join that mob, they’re just a bunch of foreigners and alcoholics.”    

natalie_wood_great_raceI remember one shindig at Warner Studio to publicize their movie The Great Race starring Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon. The studio had invited scores of newspaper editors from all over the world. The largest sound  stage had been transformed  into a replica of the famous Coconut Grove nightclub and one of us “local” scribes were seated at a table with the foreign guests to answer any questions and  “push” the film. I was seated with a two beautiful French women dressed in their latest Parisian rags and elaborate beehive hairdos sparkling with jewels. They certainly knew how to quaff the champagne , but spoke very little English. My school boy French wasn’t much use. All I had remembered from my school days were Merde! and  a saucy invitation for the lady to sleep with me!

Since none of these bon mots were apropos,  I was glad when a less-than-sober  Dean Martin came on stage, sang a few songs then announced. “Ladies and Shentelmen,” he slurred, “It gives me great, great….. pressure to introduce our host, Mister Jack Warner.” We all applauded and applauded and applauded, but no Jack Warner came on.  Dean got very nervous and was about to burst into song, when suddenly Jack swaggered onto the stage. He stood their grinning and adjusting his fly. “Sorry, I’m late,” he said, “I had to take a leak.”

Zee leak? What is zee leak?,” questioned the puzzled French Fifi at my table. It was an awkward  question, but  fortunately I had too much of the bubbly to worry. “He had to visit the pissoir,” I replied, trying not to laugh. “Mon Dieu !  Le pissoir ?  Sacre Bleu!”  screamed  Madame  Fifi. “Monsieur Warner dans le pissior?” Now you can bet our French Fifi had plenty to write about when she got back to Paris and it was not all about Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon in The Great Race

The H.F.P.A. may garner a lot of headlines about their booze ups, and wild parties, but it’s seldom written up about their donation of $18 million dollars to educate disadvantaged children, or their on-going financial support for the restoration of old classic films. Being an ex-member, I can testify they are a great bunch of people who know how to have a good time and share the wealth. But then, THAT’S HOLLYWOOD!

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Nothing Like a… Dame Angela Lansbury

AngBed“There is nothing like a Dame, “ chorused the sailors in the musical “South Pacific”, perhaps not meant in the same context as a real British Dame, but nevertheless a compliment in every sense of the word. In Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s Honour’s List, British/American actress Angela Lansbury was recently made a DAME , this is equivalent to being knighted and given the title SIR. Helen Mirren, Penelope Keith, Diana Rigg and Elizabeth Taylor have also been awarded the title for their outstanding services to the theatre and it’s various charities.

Dame Angela Lansbury genuinely believes in the much loved phrase, “Charity Begins At Home ,” It was not so much charity, it was in the form of generous overtime payments for the cast and crew working for her production company of MURDER SHE WROTE, the TV series which ran for 12 years. Angela starred as the writer and female detective, Jessica Fletcher solving crimes in her little village and at the same time employing out-of-work actors to play either the victim or the villain.

Overtime in film studios, usually referred to as Golden Time, is very expensive and a definite No No at many film companies. At five o’clock the cameras generally stop rolling and everyone quits work and Clocks Out …but Dame Angela Lansbury ’s company rarely stopped work at five o’clock and the cameras kept rolling until the scene was finished. The cast and crew were paid their well-deserved golden overtime, and consequently Angela is one of the most respected ladies in Hollywood. Her numerous awards, Oscars and Golden Globes have all been well documented, but I’d like to write about an interview I had with her when she was making BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS for the Walt Disney studios.

As usual the studio provides a P.R. person to accompany any journalist on interviews to make sure they asked the right questions . The guy sent to accompany me, a rat-faced little squirt who, in my opinion wasn’t qualified to empty the office waste-paper baskets, ordered me to follow him in my car to Angela’s house in Malibu. “No more than thirty minutes,” he said, when we parked in her driveway, “and stick to questions about the film…and don’t forget we would like to see a copy of what you write before you send it off to your magazine.”

Angela was expecting us and we were warmly invited into her house on the beach. Right off the bat the P.R. guy started off the interview himself expecting me to write down his questions and Miss Lansbury’s replies. She looked at me and winked and replied to his questions like a good schoolgirl in class.

“In the film you play a spinster lady who is training to be a Witch,” he asked. “Was that fun?”

“Fun, being a Witch?” replied Angela. “Actually I was also helping to rehabilitate evacuees from the war in Europe, and being one myself I …”

“Your co-star was David Tomlinson, a British actor, how did you get along with him?” questioned the P.R. man, making sure I wrote down the question. “Well, being British myself, David and I spoke the same language and…” And so it went on. Finally the P.R. guy looked at his watch and announced my time was up. He thanked Miss Lansbury and led the way out of the house to where we had parked our cars. “Don’t forget to send us what you have written before you send it in,” he ordered. Ironic, inasmuch as he had asked all the questions.

Angela then came to the door and told me I had forgotten my brief case. I was amazed inasmuch as I didn’t have one. She waved goodbye to the P.R guy and I followed her back into the house. “My God, what a pain the rear end he was,” confided Angela. “Sit down, Duckie and we’ll have some Earl Grey tea and a slice of my home made birthday cake.” …and so Miss Lansbury brought me tea and a slice of cake and talked and laughed about various films and her first visit to America as an evacuee with the Pied Piper scheme when she and many others, including Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall were sent to America in 1939 to escape the German invading armies. (In 1940, a second ship, the City of Baneres carrying 90 evacuee children to Canada, was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic by a German submarine and seventy-seven of them were drowned.)

Because of their distinct British accents, Angela, Elizabeth and Roddy were soon signed up by MGM. Roddy McDowall starred in the Lassie films, Angela and Elizabeth were together as sisters in NATIONAL VELVET with co-star Mickey Rooney. Unfortunately during the making of this film, Elizabeth fell off the horse she was riding, twisted her spine and suffered excruciating back pain the rest of her life. Elizabeth and Angela both richly deserve the honour bestowed up them by Queen Elizabeth, not only for the acting achievements but their unstinting generosity to their friends and various charities they endowed.

The sailors from South Pacific belting out the song “There’s Nothing Like a Dame,” are right on the button…. but then, THAT’S HOLLYWOOD!

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Bye Bye Phil

Roger Asquith with Phil and Don Everly

Roger Asquith with Phil and Don Everly

The death of Phil Everly, the younger half of the pop rock & roll pioneer duo of brothers, was recently reported in the news. I was fortunate to meet the Everly Bros in a recording studio in Hollywood during an interview for NBC Television. The British fan magazines were eager for news and pix of Don and Phil and I was very pleased to write about them.

Their latest hit recording, Wake Up, Little Susie was playing everywhere across the country and they were in great spirits looking forward to a tour of Europe. In London they would be starring in the most popular television show in the U.K.  SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE PALLADIUM,   following in the  illustrious wake of famous American artistes, like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye  and a dozen others all of whom praised the warm-hearted response from the always very enthusiastic British audience. Furthermore their televised performance at the Palladium would be watched by over ten million fans in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and they could be assured of sold out concerts all over the U.K.

Relaxing later in the Green Room , I warmed in the glow of Don and Phil’s  soft Southern accent which came from their early years performing in Nashville, Tennessee . Phil admitted they were both nervous about their upcoming tour of Europe and asked me a lot of questions about London, where they had been told it was always raining. I assured them that sun soon came out and thousands of fans would be there to welcome them.                                                               .

Don was particularly interested in English history and looking forward to visiting some of the famous tourist venues, such as Westminster Abbey and Hampton Court, one of the homes of Henry the Eighth.  I reminded him that it was Henry VIII who ransacked dozens of  English Abbeys  and monasteries because the Pope would not allow him to divorce the first of his six wives. Don was then even more keen to check out the old tyrant.

The Beatles once referred to themselves as “the English Everly Brothers.” and Bob Dylan said, “We owe these guys everything. They started it all.”  Ironically it was Phil who nearly ended it all, when, during an argument on stage at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, he threw down his guitar and walked off the stage, leaving an embarrassed Don to tell the crowd  “The Everly Brothers have just died.”  Fortunately the two brothers got together again in  1983 and three years later they were inducted into Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of Fame  and soon had a hit pop-country record, “Born Yesterday.” R.I.P Phil.

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Bette Midler and Mae West’s Designer Girdle

Rumor has it the Devine Miss M – Bette Midler, is trying on the legendary Mae West’s designer girdle for an upcoming film biopic. Good Luck! I had my own encounter with the not so devine Miss West and “goodness had nothing to do with it!” 

Mae West 1933

Mae West 1933

MARY JANE WEST was born in Brooklyn in 1893. She was only just over five feet tall and had curves in places where other women never even had places, she also had a wicked sense of humour. It wasn’t exactly what she said that got her thrown in jail, but the way she said it. Her famous quotes have been told over and over again .  “It’s not the men in my life, but the life in my men.”  And there were a lot of men. Mae preferred them to be muscular, she would teach them how to perform. And the reason there have been no “Kiss and Tell” stories from her lovers, is because most of them are on a life-long pension not to spill the beans.

Mae West was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood and bought square miles of sand and desert which later became the San Fernando Valley. When Joe DeVito, a Hollywood publisher  friend of mine asked me if I’d like to have dinner with Mae West, I thought he was kidding.  “Sure  I would, “ I replied. “I’ll go up and see her anytime.” …but Joe wasn’t kidding. He picked me up early one evening and we drove to a friend of his in the San Fernando Valley who was famous for cooking up gourmet dinners using his home grown organic vegetables. Miss West was notoriously fussy about what or who she ate and organic vegetables served up by a Gourmet chef was one of her favorites.

Since Miss West never smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol, we were all served carrot cocktails while waiting her arrival, enjoying the appetizing aroma wafting in from the kitchen . Suddenly there she  was, no fanfare, no spotlight, the diminutive  Miss West had arrived with Paul, her chauffer and handyman.  Her towering blonde wig and a cascade of curls framed her famous face as she was escorted to a seat at the bar.

Mae West did more than sashay ─ she oozed along like a dainty porcelain dish of strawberry jelly ─ jingling in all the right places. She may have been the most famous person there that evening, but it was the host and his gourmet cuisine that was the star of the show. The famous Mae West could relax and enjoy a sumptuous feast. Nevertheless, she was still charming and talkative.  I was introduced to her as an English journalist who could be trusted to never write anything rude or offensive. The legendary star then relaxed and told us about her first visit to Broadway when she was a teenager. She was with her mother, who was from a Bavarian-German Jewish family and quick to notice her innocent daughter was very interested in the sexy streetwalkers parading up and down the sidewalk in their ostentatious furs and feathers.

Flittchen schlecht,” chastised Mae’s Mom. “They’re street walkers, they make money entertaining men.”  Mae was immediately intrigued by their plunging décolletage and sexy swagger. It was an interesting profession to her, one that the enterprising Miss West would keep simmering on the back burner.

A week later, I got a phone call from Mae’s secretary.  Would I like to visit Miss West at her Penthouse suite on Rossmore Avenue for a cuppa tea and a chat?  Are you kidding?  I was there with Belle’s on (This time she let me wear ‘em) The concierge escorted me to the private elevator and seconds later I was zooming skyward to the Penthouse.  The elevator doors opened and I stepped into a blindingly white room. Everything was snow white ─ the carpet, the chairs and even the grand piano.   A French maid dressed in a black and white showed me to a chair and then disappeared. Suddenly, the air was filled with a strong perfume and I realized Miss West was already in the room. She was dressed in a long white translucent housecoat, posing next to the grand piano. Was she for real?  How did she get there?  Did she silently descend from a cloud, a hole in the white ceiling? I was dumbfounded, lost for words, but she had achieved her goal. I was mesmerized, hypnotized, traumatized ─ so much so I cannot remember much of our conversation except it was about her latest film SEXTETTE.

She drawled on in her sexy come hither voice. I laughed and nodded blindly in agreement. The French maid served tea and Miss West glided around the room as if on wheels, pointing out a ghastly original Picasso, a copy of Michelangelo’s David with his original accoutrement ─ knowing Miss West’s propensity for the well-built muscular male , I was mildly surprised the petite David was still intact and hadn’t  been  transformed  into Hollywood’s  expectation of the modern stud muffin in wide screen Cinemascope.

I realized the visit was over when the concierge appeared at the open elevator.  Miss West offered me her gloved hand and before I got to the elevator she had gone as mysteriously as she arrived. Was it all a dream?  Later that day a Press Kit from the film SEXTETTE was delivered and enclosed an autographed photo of the famous Miss West, but I still wandered around wondering if it was all for real. A few days later I was shocked out of my trance when I read about Mae’s famous morning enemas, claiming they made her skin like silk and  left her “smelling sweet at both ends.”

Without dropping names, I should mention my friend Liberace (I had given him many good write-ups in the magazines I edited) was showing Brian, my younger brother, and I around his mansion in the hills overlooking Sunset Blvd. The piano shaped pool ─ the twenty foot turquoise mosaic tiled bar with miniature grand pianos full of Liberace’s Hot Nuts to nibble on, as well as his crystal piano and gold lacquered pipe organ.

Upstairs in his wildly decorated boudoir was an imported replica of  Marie Antoinette four poster bed.  Adjoining the bedroom was a long closet with racks of his ostentations costumes. Lee even allowed my brother to try on the magnificent white fur coat he wore on the stage in Las Vegas. Brian was a hunky truck driver, but groaned under the weight of the white heavy bearskin and hundreds of rhinestones.

Finally, just as we were leaving, Lee unlocked the door to a secret room in the hall.  It opened up into a cosy and ornate rest room. “This is my friend Mae’s private john,” Lee confided.  It certainly befitted the image of one of Hollywood’s greatest legends. A wash basin with gold plated faucets, a huge gilded mirror and directly over the john was a sparkling Strauss crystal chandelier…which tinkled when she did.

Well folks, you know That’s Hollywood!

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