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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Golden oldies tell all

Feature of mine from today's Independent...

Christmas is coming early this year for gossip-hungry film aficionados everywhere, as a slew of screen legends are lining up to dish the dirt on their long and often scandalous lives at the height of Hollywood’s glamorous golden era.
Tony Curtis, Sean Connery and Robert Wagner are just some of the ageing stars who have penned tell-all books that promise to settle old scores and cash in on whatever sexual skeletons they have in their closets. And those skeletons are sure to be plentiful – after all, the average age of all the authors is 76.
Excerpts from some of the memoirs have arrived in a week when sexy sixtysomething actress Helen Mirren caused a storm of controversy by confessing to a men’s magazine how she loved doing cocaine in her 20s, and by airing her controversial opinions on, and experiences of, date rape.
True to Hollywood form, sexual confessions and indiscretions prove to be the hook in most of these veterans’ tales too. Screen legend Tony Curtis’ memoirs, American Prince, deliver the most bang for the readers’ buck in this regard. The 80-year-old former hellraiser and womaniser, who claims to have slept with over 1,000 women, revisits his five marriages (one of which was to Psycho star Janet Leigh), as well as his early sexual relationship with his future Some Like It Hot co-star Marilyn Monroe.
Curtis confesses that his affair with Monroe was “a messy business” and that she could never reach orgasm during sex. Later in the book, the star admits to using cocaine in the 1980s saying: “One of the big reasons I started using coke was that I was told it was great for sex. It didn’t make me superhuman in the longevity department, but it certainly did make my sexual experiences more intense.” Curtis was to lose a son to drug overdose in 1994.
Elsewhere, Hart to Hart star Robert Wagner uses his new book to shed light on one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries: the death of his wife, Natalie Wood. In Pieces of My Heart, the 78-year-old writes about the night of November 28, 1981 when Wagner, Wood and her Brainstorm co-star (and rumoured lover) Christopher Walken boarded the couple’s yacht, Splendor, for a late evening sail.
Soon after midnight, the dead body of West Side Story beauty Wood, then aged 43, was found floating in the Pacific Ocean. His view on what exactly happened that night has never been publicly stated by Wagner (or Walken for that matter) – until now.
In his new tell-all, Wagner admits that he had a huge row with Walken over Wood’s future career and that he broke a bottle of wine out of rage. This prompted his wife to go below deck, which is where he last saw Wood alive. According to Wagner’s account, Wood must have heard a dinghy banging loosely against the side of the boat, went to fix it, slipped and hit her head, and rolled into the water unconscious.
Other titbits of note in Wagner’s book include his rather ungallant discussion of his doomed love affair with femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck (he was 22, she was 45), and comparing being on a date with Elizabeth Taylor to “sticking an eggbeater in your brain”.
Meanwhile, former James Bond, Sean Connery, is exercising his licence to thrill with dramatic new memoirs this autumn. In Being a Scot, the 78-year-old sex symbol talks about his affair with Hollywood bombshell Lana Turner while filming Another Time, Another Place (1957) in England, and how this incurred the wrath of her mobster lover, Johnny Stompanato.
The crime lord was so enraged by news of the couple’s dalliances that he flew to England to confront Connery on set, but not before phoning Turner threatening to kill, or at the very least, disfigure her. But when Stompanato turned up at the studio, brandishing a gun at Connery, the Great Scot laid him out with a punch, and he was deported by Scotland Yard. Turner, however, wasn’t finished with Stomapanto - not by a long shot (see panel).
There are also bean-spilling books on the way from Dynasty star Diahann Carroll (covering her adulterous affair with Sidney Poitier), Christopher Plummer (who casts a caustic eye over the making of The Sound of Music, or “S&M” as he calls it), and The Man from UNCLE star Robert Vaughn (75), who recounts how he and Steve McQueen used to cruise the Sunset Strip, picking up girls.
The end products themselves are sure to be a mixed bag, but the message from this publishing blitz is clear: these Hollywood old-timers may be in the final acts of their lives, but that doesn’t mean they are exiting the stage without one last dramatic flourish and a hearty round of applause. They really don’t make ‘em like the used to.
Hollywood history is littered with scorching, lurid and bitchy tell-all exposes that rocked the movie world to its core. Here are ten of the most famous examples:
*Mommie Dearest:
Christina Crawford lifted the lid on her allegedly horrific life with her adopted mother, actress Joan Crawford, in perhaps the most notorious Hollywood expose of them all. In the book, which was re-issued with new allegations earlier this year to mark the 30th anniversary of its publication, Christina claims the screen legend was a tyrannical, alcoholic control freak who subjected her two adopted children to years of physical and mental abuse, with Crawford even attacking her for using wire hangers in her closet. The 1981 movie version, starring Faye Dunaway, is a modern camp classic.
*You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again:
This 1996 roaster, written by prostitutes Robin, Liza, Linda and Tiffany, is seen as the definitive tell-all about the sexual shenanigans of Hollywood’s elite. Among the stars the girls named as clients were Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Timothy Hutton, James Caan, and Charlie Sheen. A 2006 sequel included accounts of romps with a before-he-was-famous Brad Pitt and even ‘Governator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger.
*High Concept: Don Simpson and the Culture of Hollywood Excess:
Simpson was the producer of such high-octane, leave-your-brain-at-the-door movies as Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, who also had a $60,000 a month drug habit and a history of sexual shenanigans that were bizarre even by Tinsel Town standards. Following Simpson’s death from an overdose in 1996, Charles Fleming’s book revealed Simpson’s predilection for videotaped S&M sessions with hookers (as well as snuff films, apparently) and his obsession with plastic surgery, even going so far as to allegedly have collagen injections to his penis.
*Hollywood Animal:
Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ explosive memoir chronicled the dark, seamy side of movie production, interspersed with his own various sexcapades with Hollywood actresses. There are potshots at Sylvester Stallone for trying to take credit for one of his scripts, and at director Paul Verhoevan for ruining his notorious movie Showgirls by sleeping with its star, Elizabeth Berkley.
*Postcards from the Edge:
Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher’s Hollywood mantra is: “Good anecdote, bad reality”. In this semi-autobiographical 1987 novel, Fisher used the character of Suzanne Vale to relay her own “bad realities” of drug abuse, rehab and her relationship with an egotistical showbiz parent (Fisher’s folks are Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds). Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine played daughter and mother in the film version.
*The Private Diary of My Life With Lana:
Screen siren Lana Turner was most famous for her tumultuous private life, marrying eight times (twice to the same man) and becoming embroiled in a notorious murder case when her 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane apparently stabbed and murdered Turner’s mobster lover Johnny Stompanato. Eric Root, Turner’s personal hairdresser, later revealed in this book that Turner told him she killed Stompanato and pinned it on her daughter.
*The Man Who Heard Voices:
The Sixth Sense director M.Night Shyamalan saw his career tank due to his ferocious rows with Disney over his 2006 turkey Lady in The Water. Shyamalan co-operated with writer Michael Bamberger to create a first hand account of the director’s vicious falling out with the studio that had backed all his movies. It’s full of cringe-inducing detail: after one Disney executive told Shyamalan that the film made no sense (a valid criticism), the director burst into tears and split with the studio on the spot.
*Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on my Life, Loves and Leading Roles:
Husky-voiced Kathleen Turner was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, and in this recent memoir, she recounted her experiences of working alongside various leading men. Turner slammed Burt Reynolds as a “very rude man” and revealed that her Peggy Sue Got Married co-star Nicolas Cage was twice arrested for drink driving. Cage filed a lawsuit against her, and Turner publicly apologised.
*From Mother and Daughter to Friends: A Memoir
Nancy Dow made a major boo-boo in 1999 when she penned a book about the tumultuous childhood of her famous daughter, Jennifer Aniston. The Friends star’s relationship with her mum was already strained – apparently Dow used to mock Aniston’s appearance before she got a nose job. After this book, Aniston disowned her mother and didn’t invite her to her wedding to Brad Pitt. The two only reconciled after Aniston’s marriage broke down.
*Foster Child
Jodie Foster’s brother Buddy went into excruciating detail about their childhood in the 1997 tell-all Foster Child. In the book, Buddy claimed his Oscar winning sister was bisexual and that her name was chosen as a tribute to their mother’s lesbian lover. Foster disowned her brother, slamming the book as a “cheap cry for attention and money”. They haven’t spoken since.

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