Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peter and JFK

Peter was totally out of his element within the Kennedy family. He was apolitical, and was not yet a citizen of the U.S. and so couldn't vote. But he was useful to Jack Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign because of his experience with television. It was Peter's advice that Jack look directly into the camera (and thus at the viewers) during the televised debates with Nixon. As a result he looked earnest and trustworthy, whereas Nixon looked shifty-eyed. Kennedy often called Peter after a major address to get his critique of his appearance and delivery. (Once Jack called and Peter had fallen asleep. He bluffed his way through the conversation.)

Still, JFK liked nothing more than to tease Peter. The photograph above hung in a hallway near a bathroom of Peter's Santa Monica beach house. Peter was using the facilities, and he heard the president's booming voice calling at him to come out. Flustered, Peter hurriedly finished up and came into the hallway. "Peter, take a look at this picture," Jack said. "What's wrong with it?" Peter wasn't sure what the right answer was."I don't know, sir," he replied. "It looks all right to me."

"I'll tell you what's wrong," Jack said. "Nobody's gonna believe this picture because it looks like I'm listening to your advice!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Joe Kennedy Vets Peter Lawford

Soon after Peter asked Patricia Kennedy to marry him, he had to face her father, the formidable Joe Kennedy, who demanded a meeting with him in New York. Old Joe was "bristling," Peter recalled, and began by telling Peter, "If there's anything I'd hate more for a son-in-law than an actor, it's a British actor!" The patriarch then recited Peter's bank account balance. "I'd been thoroughly checked out," Peter said. What he didn't know was that Joe had called J. Edgar Hoover and been sent a copy of Peter's FBI file. One of the tidbits in the file was that Peter frequented prostitutes employed by "a well-known call-house madam." Rather than destroying Peter's chance to marry Pat, the information was considered positive by Joe, who had heard the rumors about Peter being gay. He gave his consent to the marriage.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012: A Big Year for Barbra Streisand

With the exception of her relatively small but memorable turn as Roz Focker in Meet the Fockers and her smaller and less memorable appearance in its sequel Little Fockers, Barbra Streisand has been off the screen since directing and starring in The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996. She hasn’t appeared in a musical since the 1983 movie Yentl. That is about to change. Barbra is set to star in another film version of the iconic Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne/Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy. She’ll play Mama Rose, one of the most coveted roles in theater history, a part interpreted by Ethel Merman, Rosalind Russell, Tyne Daly, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters and Patty LuPone, among others.  
            Barbra will co-produce with Joel Silver (The Matrix, Sherlock Holmes). Their first executive decision certainly seems like a good one: the screenwriter will be Julian Fellowes, Emmy-winning writer/creator of Downton Abbey, Oscar-winner for writing Gosford Park. He also adapted the script of the film Mary Poppins for Disney’s stage version. No director has been set, but it likely will not be Barbra. Hopefully Rob Marshall will be available.
            Gypsy will likely not be released until Christmas 2013, but 2012 will be a busy year for Barbra for other reasons. October 1 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the day she signed her first recording contract with Columbia Records. The label will celebrate by releasing a lavish 12-DVD set featuring “unprecedented access into Streisand’s professional and personal life [with] never before seen footage directly from Barbra’s archives.”
            To cap off the year, on November 2 Paramount will release Guilt Trip, a road comedy starring Barbra and Seth Rogen as a mother and son who embark on a cross-country trek. It’s her first starring role in sixteen years, and the film promises to be a big hit. It has gotten strongly favorable reactions at screenings, and Rogen is very hot right now. Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, The Proposal) is the director and Dan Fogelman (Cars, Crazy Stupid Love) wrote the script. Among the eight producers are Streisand, Rogen, Fogelman and Lorne Michaels.
            Paramount rescheduled the film from spring to late fall, which is a sign they feel it can compete well with all the major films released at year’s end.

Look for the e-book of my updated biography Streisand: Her Life later this year!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peter woos Ava Gardner--and comes to regret it

Ava Gardner had just been voted the most beautiful woman in the world when Peter began to date her in 1944. She had been married to Mickey Rooney and the bandleader Artie Shaw. Peter liked her, he said, because "You can really talk to Ava. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge." According to Phil Silvers' wife, Jo-Carroll, she also had an insatiable hunger for men: "She was sexually uninhibited, wild, all kinds of goodies and quick. You couldn't get ahold of her. She was gone and off with somebody else before you knew where you were."

Peter learned that was true on New Year's Eve, 1946. He and Ava spent a romantic evening at a friend's party, kissed and embraced at midnight, then went back to Ava's place where they made love. As Peter was preparing to leave at 3 a.m., there was a knock at the door. It was the young crooner Mel Torme coming to pick Ava up. Stunned, Peter watched them get into Torme's car for a drive up the coast.

That was the end of Peter and Ava, but the relationship came back to haunt him. Seven years later, Ava had married and divorced Frank Sinatra, one of Peter's closest friends. He and Milt Ebbins sat and talked with her for about an hour, and that was that. But a gossip columnist ran an item the next day suggesting the Peter and Ava were rekindling their romance. That night, at 2 a.m., Frank called Peter, threatening to break both his legs then kill him if he ever spent time with Ava again, then slammed the phone down. He did not speak to Peter for the next five years. What caused the thaw? It looked like Peter's brother-in-law Jack Kennedy might be elected president, and Frank wanted nothing else more than to bask in the glow of being a friend of the president of the United States.

That would come to pass, but it was Bobby Kennedy who caused Frank to fly into a rage and ostracize Peter from his Rat Pack circle for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Lana Turner Broke Peter Lawford's Heart

Peter and Lana out on the town in 1944
Peter Lawford--handsome, young, athletic, debonaire, English--had his pick of the most beautiful and vibrant women on the MGM lot in the early 1940s. He dated Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, June Allyson, Lucille Ball, Anne Baxter, Judy Garland, and scores of  lesser lights. Lana Turner, one of the loveliest ladies on the lot, was the only one who left him brokenhearted.

For eight months they were inseparable; the sight of Peter's car outside her Beverly Hills home all night became the talk of the neighborhood. Every workday morning they'd go to the Metro lot together; if Peter hadn't spent the night at her house, she'd pick him up in her Jeep at his. One morning she failed to come by. For the next three days she was missing, and Peter was frantic--he wanted to marry Lana, and couldn't bear the thought that she was injured or dead.

Finally she called him. She was in Boston. "When will you be coming back?" Peter asked, trying to sound nonchalant. "I don't know," Lana said--and then she dropped the bombshell. "It's over between us, Peter." He felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach, but fought to remain calm. "Oh. Is there someone else then?" "Yes," Lana replied, "Gene Krupa."

Peter later told his manager Milt Ebbins that it took him a year to get over Lana. But there was one lingering effect. "Ater that, Milt recalled, "he started to just drop women when he was finished with them. He could be cruel, heartless. It was Lana who taught him that."

--from Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets

Monday, March 12, 2012

Some Thoughts on Television

The New Season: My favorite new shows are Alcatraz and Grimm. Television may still largely be, as Newton Minnow called it, a “vast wasteland” (think Kardashians), but the quality of the acting, writing and producing on network scripted shows has improved dramatically over the past decade or so. Alcatraz has a great premise—all the prisoners disappeared from the island in 1963, and reappear fifty years later to continue their vicious deeds—and some of the creepiest villains on television. It also has Jorge Garcia from Lost. Garcia is a likeable actor, but every time I see him I can’t get past his weight. He’s morbidly obese, and if he doesn’t lose weight he’ll be endangering his life.

Grimm is a fun show in the tradition of Supernatural, moodily photographed and featuring great chemistry between handsome David Giuntoli as Detective Nick Burkhardt, a “Grimm” who can see creatures hiding in human form, and the wonderful Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, a Wieder Blutbad, a vicious form of wolf. Monroe has renounced his species’ violence and helps Nick catch other creatures. (The show is set in Portland, and it seems every other person in the city is a beast.)

Enduring Favorites: I love White Collar (starring the perfectly gorgeous Matt Bomer, who just came out as gay), Burn Notice, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles (I love Eric Christian Anderson in that one—what a killer smile!—and he makes a great team with the lovely Daniela Ruah), Supernatural (both stars are very attractive), Law & Order: SVU, Psych, True Blood (I love Ryan Kwanten!), Dexter, Family Guy, Hawaii Five-O, The Cleveland Show, Downton Abbey, and Foyle’s War (in repeats, but always riveting).

The sexiest male duo on TV has to be Alex O’Loughlin as Steve and Scott Caan as Danno in Hawaii Five-O. O’Loughlin is a real stud, and Caan has the same appealing mannerisms and speech patterns as his father, James Caan. (Speaking of which, the elder Caan last week guest starred on the show. I felt sure that he would play Danno’s father, but he played an unrelated character. So then I felt sure someone would say something like, “What are you two, father and son?” or “He’s Danno in thirty years.” But the resemblance went unremarked, and I think the producers missed an opportunity.

A Few Complaints: Why on earth was Chris Meloni never nominated for an Emmy? He’s every bit as good on Law & Order, SVU as Mariska Hargitay, who I love and who seems to get nominated every year. Very puzzling. The good news is that Chris will be joining the cast of True Blood next season as an "ancient, powerful vampire who holds the fates of Bill and Eric in his hands." I can’t wait—Meloni is a terrific, strong actor and should make a sexy vampire.            

And speaking of Emmys, why hasn’t James Roday, the star of Psych, been nominated? He’s very funny on the show, equally adept at physical comedy and the hilarious rapid-fire banter with his partner, played by DulĂ© Hill.  Maybe this year.            

I was going to complain that Family Guy hasn’t been very funny for the last two seasons, but the March 4 and March 11 episodes were much better. Still, The Cleveland Show has been much more consistently funny. I suspect that Seth McFarland has been spending most of his time with Cleveland, but perhaps that’s changing. I hope Family Guy keeps being funny, because I love it to death. A suggestion: give us more Stewie, and a Stewie more like he was the first few seasons—effete, matricidal, and rolickingly funny. In recent seasons he has seemed to be emasculated— in too many episodes he’s only had a few lines, and those episodes that do have more of him now show him as practically a cipher. He’s become bland and—dare I say it?—boring. Seth, if you read this, please give us back the Stewie we knew and loved!

Pet Peeve. It really angers me when a network airs a show with central mysteries and then cancels it in the middle of the story, leaving the viewers, who have invested time and emotion in the show and its characters, high and dry with unanswered questions. Lost at least gave us a wrap-up, as unsatisfying as it was. But The 4400, V, Flash Forward, Heroes, and most recently Terra Nova, were unceremoniously dropped by their networks in the middle of their stories. This shows a total disregard for fans who have become involved with the show. A suggestion to network execs: the next time you debut a multi-layered, myth-laden, mysterious story, have a plan to end the series, whenever that should happen, with a final episode that explains everything. You’ll be showing a modicum of respect for the people who keep you in your job.

Next week: 2012: The Year of Barbra Streisand

Sunday, March 11, 2012

To Peter Lawford, Lassie was a "vicious bastard."

Peter and his costar in Son of Lassie.
In 1945, at 22, Peter played his first over-the-title lead role in the sequel to Lassie Come Home. It was not a pleasant experience for him. "You want to know how we did those scenes [of canine affection]? I had raw meat stuck up under my arms and under my shirt and rubbed on my face and stuck up my clyde. What you saw on the screen was sheer animal hunger...Lassie was a vicious bastard!"

Peter began to refer to the film as "Son of a Bitch," and was really angered when he realized that during dangerous scenes in the bone-chilling, treacherous rapids of the Columbia River in Canada, Lassie was tethered to the shore with rope while Peter was left to his own devices. He learned that Lassie was insured for a million dollars. "I had the suspician that if I was insured at all, it was for a considerably smaller amount."

During a publicity tour for the film, Peter didn't reveal any of his resentments, but he did say, "As an actor, you don't have a dog's chance if you act with a dog!"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Peter Lawford and Liz Taylor at Disneyland

Peter Lawford and Elizabeth Taylor in
the 1948 film Julia Misbehaves.

Peter and Liz were lifelong friends. Dominick Dunne told me (for my Lawford biography), that in 1973, he, Liz, Peter, Roddy McDowall, the director George Cukor and others flew by helicopter from Los Angeles to Disneyland. Inside the park, they were able to escape crowds of people gawking at them by going inside rides like Pirates of the Caribbean. That's when it got interesting, Dunne recalled. "Elizabeth had a bottle of Jack Daniels, and Peter had something, and everybody got the bottles going. Then a bit of coke was going around and you'd hear sniffing. Everybody was just screaming with laughter. It was one of the maddest moments I ever saw in my life. And then the boat came out into the sunlight again. Everybody tried to compose themselves, and Liz waved regally to the crowds as they cheered her."

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm excited!

It's been really great working with my dear friend Laura Van Wormer and Author and Company on the e-Book versions of my Hollywood biographies. It feels good to know that my out-of-print books will find a new audience of eReaders. My New York Times bestseller Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets, has been the first to go up. I'm especially proud of this book, because almost all of it is based on original research and interviews. I had the kind of access biographers dream about, particularly from one man--Milton Ebbins, Peter's personal manager and closest friend for thirty years. Milt shared with me his most intimate memories of Peter--and they include other very famous people, among them Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Onassis, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, June Allyson, Princess Margaret, Rita Hayworth, and of course Marilyn Monroe.

The anecdotes are very juicy, and over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of them with you. I'm sure they will make you want to read the book!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Year of Marilyn

When I was a twelve-year-old Marilyn Monroe fan on Staten Island, I was pretty lonely in my love for her. None of my friends shared my enthusiasm. Some of the boys I went to school with enjoyed looking at the cheesecake in my MM scrapbook, but mostly all I heard was “She’s old enough to be your mother.” In 1962 the biggest female star was Sandra Dee—who, were it not for Grease, would now be almost completely forgotten.
            Which is the long way of saying that if you had told me that there would be so much interest in Marilyn a half century later, I wouldn’t have believed it. August 5 is the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn’s shocking and untimely death, and the interest in Marilyn is stronger than ever. “The Year of Marilyn” could be said to have begun last fall, when the film My Week with Marilyn and David Wills’ gorgeous coffee-table book Marilyn Monroe Metamorphosis were released.
            By February, Michelle Williams had received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for her role as Marilyn. Fans seemed to be split down the middle—some disliked the movie and some refused to see it at all, feeling that no one, and especially not Michelle Williams, could do Marilyn justice on film. The other side, of which I am one, loved the movie and felt that Williams captured MM’s essence even if she didn’t look much like her.
            I found myself tickled that a major motion picture had been made about one week in Marilyn’s life. It was further proof that her legend is just as compelling as ever. For the same reason, I enjoy the TV series Smash, which is about the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn’s life. The girls vying for the lead look nothing like her, and their impersonations are uncomfortably close to caricature, but it’s fun to have a TV series that revolves, at least peripherally, around Marilyn.
            On February 2, the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood premiered the one-hour documentary With Her. Directed by Laurent Morier, it’s a fascinating and respectful film about the members of Marilyn Remembered.
            The official poster for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which begins May 16, will feature a photo of Marilyn blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first Cannes Festival.
            From June through January 2013, part of the collections of Greg Schreiner, Scott Fortner, and others will be on display at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy. It will likely be the largest exhibit of Monroe memorabilia ever assembled. The fan club is also hoping to have an exhibit of other Marilyn items at the Hollywood Museum in June.
            For the twentieth anniversary of Marilyn’s death in 1982 George Zeno and I produced the photo book Monroe: Her Life in Pictures. On several interview shows, I said I was amazed that Marilyn was still so popular. Now it’s thirty years later, and there are at least eight books coming out this year. The first of these, to be published on April 1 by Applause books, is Dressing Marilyn Monroe: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla, by Andrew Hansford and Karen Homer. It’s available now on Amazon at $19.79.
            Six weeks later, Vanguard Press publishes Marilyn Monroe: Murder on Fifth Helena Drive by Keya Morgan. ($17.81 on Amazon.) It’s hard to imagine what new could be written about this subject, but the publisher says it is based on 300 interviews, so who knows? The same might be said about Jay Margolis’s book, Marilyn Monroe: A Case for Murder, out August 3 from iUniverse. I can say it appears Margolis has been very thorough, even examining the interviews I did for my Peter Lawford biography with people involved with Marilyn, which are a part of the Special Collections at the Library of Arizona State University at Tempe.
            On May 26 comes Marilyn by Magnum, a collection of photos taken by the agency’s photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold, Elliott Erwin, Philippe Halsman, and Inge Morath, among others. Pretel Publishing’s description doesn’t say anything about never-before published photos, but let’s hope there are some. The book is priced at $19.77 on Amazon.
June will bring the release, from the Nan A. Talese imprint, of Marilyn and Me: A Photographer’s Memories, by Lawrence Schiller, the man who took most of the famous Something’s Got To Give poolside nudes. There’s no description of the book on Amazon or on the Nan A. Talese website, but hopefully there will be soon. (Amazon: $13.60) There are also reports that Taschen is doing a book with Schiller, but there isn’t anything about it on their website.
            Two books will be released in July. The first, Marilyn in Fashion, is by my longtime friends Christopher Nickens and George Zeno., from Running Press. It’s the first book to examine Marilyn’s enduring influence on fashion, illustrated with many never-before-published photos from George’s world-renowned collection. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon for $19.60.
            Last but definitely not least is Lois W. Banner’s biography Revelations: The Passion and Paradox of Marilyn Monroe from the Bloomsbury Group (July 17). Lois is the co-author of MM:Personal, that fascinating book about the contents of Marilyn’s file cabinets. According to the publisher’s description, Banner “gained access to Marilyn intimates who hadn’t spoken to other biographers, and to private material unseen, ignored, or misinterpreted by her predecessors.” It’s priced at $17.16 on Amazon.
            Every August 5 the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club, headed up so well by Greg Schreiner, holds a memorial service for Marilyn at her crypt in the Westwood Village Memorial Park. This anniversary will be commemorated with a week of activities beginning August 1 hosted by the group Immortal Marilyn, including a day trip to the Del Coronado Hotel, where Some Like it Hot was filmed, and a tour of the places Marilyn lived and frequented in Los Angeles. The week culminates on the fifth with a service in the chapel in which Lee Strasberg eulogized Marilyn so movingly, followed by a reception. Visit the club’s website for more information: www.marilynremembered.org. Also visit www.immortalmarilyn.com.

Next week: Some thoughts on the TV season.