Hollywood Collector’s Show, April 20, 2013

It was a great day yesterday at the Hollywood Collector’s Show in L.A. I met so many of you and proved to myself once again that I have the nicest fans in the world. Stay tuned for details another book signing in Hollywood coming next weekend, and in Palm Springs May 11th. I can’t wait to meet all of you!
Love and kisses,
Mxo
Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon right now!

The Whisky a Go-Go: it’s only rock and roll

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“It’s only rock and roll, but I like it.” —The Rolling Stones

“If you live in rock and roll, as I do, you see the reality of sex, of male lust and women being aroused by male lust. It attracts women. It doesn’t repel them.” —Camille Paglia

I began hanging out at the Whisky a Go-Go in the summer of 1964. The beginnings of the counter culture were in the air that summer: Jack Kennedy had been assassinated the year before and riots and protests were beginning to challenge the establishment. The country was increasingly in turmoil over civil rights, the Vietnam war, free love, psychedelic drugs, and rock and roll. Night clubs featuring rock and roll music and dancing were still something of a novelty, but the Whisky quickly became the newest hot spot on the L. A. Sunset Strip. People lined up down Sunset Boulevard, passing joints and tabs of acid, waiting to go inside where the music was loud and the go-go dancers shimmied in cages over the stage. The door bouncer would usher me and other celebrities through the jostling crowd into the raucous, smokey interior.

The Whisky incubated some of the greatest rock music of the day: the Doors, the Turtles, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Byrds, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. After being the first woman to perform rock and roll on the movie screen, I still couldn’t get enough of it. As Camille Paglia said, women are attracted to the male lust in rock and roll. My view of sex has always been more male than female anyway—fulfilling my momentary passion rather than trolling for that white picket fence and a house full of kids—so the Whisky was like a magnet to me.

Just about any night you could find me in my booth at the Whiskey with my best friend and hairdresser, Don Morand. Don was the poster boy for the Love Generation, a Bob Dylan look alike, tall and thin, with long hair and a Jesus-beard.

If I wasn’t in my booth, I might be upstairs shooting pool, running the table on Jim Morrison one night. This training would later come in handy when I dated a notorious pool shark named Bo Belinsky.

Since this is a page-turner for Playing the Field, I’ll leave you with two teases. First, Don and I were Frugging it up one night at the Whiskey when I noticed someone else dancing next to me. After a moment, Don discretely sat down. I recognized Steve McQueen and we continued dancing together. It was the beginning of something special.

Second, when I was dating singer Johnny Rivers (“Mabelline”), a regular performer at the Whisky, he escorted me through the mob scene of photographers and fans one night to the booth where George and Ringo of the Beatles were sitting with Jayne Mansfield.
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(The complete stories are, of course, in Playing the Field.)

When that wild summer of 1964 ended, work called and play took a back seat. My agent booked me to first headline at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas, then at the Latin Quarter in New York. It was one of those summers that resonates in the memory, like the rock and roll echoing through the Whisky, impossible to recreate or to forget.

The Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon.

The Kinky Nixon Years

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Quite a bit has been written about my relationship with Henry Kissinger, but less about my relationship with the Nixon administration and the Committee to Re-elect the President, aka CREEP. I was at a CREEP breakfast with Attorney General John Mitchell and his kookie wife Martha the morning Mitchell found out about the Watergate break-in. I was also the object of the affection of a very high official in the administration. I was contacted by one of the CREEP officials and offered money to meet “the man” on a certain day at a certain hotel and to make sure I wore black stockings with a seam up the back.

If you haven’t read about this kinky side of the Nixon folks, the Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon.

Boston

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Watching the news coverage, tears welling up, I decided to write this. The depth of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon so naked in the video tape, runners writhing in pain on Boylston Street, spectators injured and dying behind the street barriers. The explosions shown over and over. Ball bearing shrapnel. Injured carried away in wheelchairs, stretchers.

Misery visits us once again. There are loved ones mourning tonight, counting agonized minutes in hospital waiting areas, bewildered by senseless sudden death. Lives are changed forever. We search for meaning, but it eludes us. We offer prayers for the dead and injured, console the families, and sift the wreckage of our lives for clues.

When innocents are killed by random acts or policy decisions anywhere in the world, there are always shocked families and friends who wonder why. Some of those victims—whether in Boston, Islamabad, or Baghdad—will learn new lessons in hate. If they learn those lessons well, the cycle of murder will continue. We need to search our hearts for the answers to hate because the questions hate poses can destroy us all.

The Session

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I recorded these songs for Capitol in 1957

The sun was coming up over the Hollywood Sign as we all trooped out of the Capitol Records building. Frank Sinatra, Ray Anthony–my husband at the time–and I along with orchestra leader and arranger Billy May, a gaggle of bleary-eyed musicians, Capitol A&R men, and engineers all spilled out onto Vine Street and wandered toward our cars.

It had been a long night in the recording studio for Frank Sinatra. The session had begun late the night before, because late nights were Frank’s preferred time to record, a holdover from his days as a saloon singer. Inside Capitol’s cavernous, bunker-like Studio B there had been an enormous buffet of Italian food from the Villa Capri and plenty of booze to loosen up the most stylish and recognizable vocal chords in the music business.

Frank kibutzed with the guests while the orchestra waited patiently, having been carefully rehearsed with the songs Sinatra would be recording that evening. Frank was casual with everyone, never betraying that the weight of this session–the time and money spent and the force of Capitol’s world-wide corporate presence–rode on his shoulders. He was the King and acted the part with grace, sipping a drink and smoking an ever-present cigarette.

When Frank was ready to record, the studio lights dimmed and he eased onto a bar stool in front of a big Telefunken microphone, flicked an ash off his smoke, took a last sip of his drink, and nodded to Billy May. Tape rolled and the orchestra played as only Billy’s could, while Frank, with almost no visible effort, sang music that would become legend.

The album Sinatra recorded that night, “Come Fly With Me,” would be one of his best sellers, spending many weeks atop the album charts.

Ray Anthony and I were invited to that evening session because Ray and Frank had recorded an album together at Capitol and they were still friends. That friendship would end years later after Ray and I were divorced. Frank was infamous as a consoler of newly divorced ladies and called me soon after Ray and I split. Ray was furious with him even though it was never in the cards for Frank and me. I dated him once or twice and was at his home a few times, but Sinatra’s charm, for me at least, was in the grooves of those vinyl discs. His unforced delivery, matchless phrasing, and rich vocalizing were the stuff that dreams are made of if you aspire to be a singer.

Ray had heard me sing when we were dating and told me that I should pursue a career as a recording artist, as well as my career as an actress. After we were married he helped me get a contract with Capitol, but it was too much for me to juggle movie roles, raising a child, and recording at the same time. I was making a movie every couple of months, and the schedule was brutal.
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I recalled all this as I took my place in front of a Telefunken microphone in a recording studio fifty-some years later. It was ten o’clock on a cold December morning and there was no buffet or booze. My reason for being here was my lifelong penchant for re-inventing the concept of “Mamie Van Doren.” I am not known as a recording artist, after all. I am known as a sometimes off-beat hybrid of movie star, glamour girl, pinup icon, author, and sex goddess. Not a bad list for your resume, I think, but I am restless and there are other things I want to do.

I have sweaty palms and an appreciation for the talent of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald, all of whom I knew well and watched perform many times. Those giants could go into a recording studio and lay down tracks that would live as long as there are ears to hear them.

I didn’t aspire to immortality with this project, only a listenable, fun collection of songs. And yet another iteration of Mamie that might surprise a few people–even me.

You can read about my adventures with Frank Sinatra in the Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field, available in my store and on Amazon.

Censorship

Take away the right to say “fuck” and you take away the right to say “fuck the government.”
—Lenny Bruce

I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
—Mae West

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Younger fans often tell me they wish they had been alive in the glamorous and innocent days of the 1950s. From today’s vantage point, I can understand why the aura of Hollywood in the final days of the big studio system is glossy and exotic. Movie stars seemed larger than life then and their movies looked like perfect slices of life. However, the truth about that romanticized era is that the 1950s were a time of serious repression and censorship in art, literature, theater, and movies.

America’s consciousness, fresh out of WWII, wanted everything to be just right—or at least look that way. America had to be manicured homes on quiet suburban streets, Mom cooking dinner while she waited for Dad to get home from work, and the kids busy with their homework until bedtime. There would be no Communists, negroes, protests, socialists, labor unions, pornography, illicit sex, pre-marital sex, and certainly no same-sex sex. Post-marital sex would be allowed, but ONLY in the missionary position.

This was America as created by ad agencies, whose only purpose was to sell STUFF. It was so unreal that it had to be continually propped up by lies and protected from anyone who might point out that Perfect America was only make believe.

I have been a target of censorship for much of my adult life. Censors were routinely on the sets of my movies, their arms folded and stern looks on their faces. In The Private Lives of Adam and Eve they required me to wear a fig leaf over my navel, the sight of which would presumably consume men with sexual desire and cause them to commit rape on the nearest woman. Marty Milner’s belly button was left harmlessly exposed to the world. Go figure.

My movies were routinely boycotted by the Catholic Legion of Decency. My friend, former L.A. Lakers star Karem Abdul Jabar, told me that when he attended Catholic school, the Legion of Decency always had my movies at the top of their banned list. “Those were the ones we always rushed out to see,” Kareem told me with a grin. As Mae West knew so well, one of the unintended consequences of censorship is that it makes a great marketing tool.

Today the shackles may have loosened on sex in films, books, and art, but we face another even more pernicious form of censorship. Every day the tragic censorship of lifestyles continues driving young gay men and women over the edge to suicide. These young people are so bullied and bashed by churches, government, peers, and parents that there seems no way out of their pain but ending their lives. All of us need to take a stand against all forms of bullying—most especially the brutal coercion of our gay brothers and sisters. And we need to make sure that anyone can marry whomever they love.

Censorship really boils down to someone saying, Never mind what you think you know or what’s in your heart. I know what’s best for you. Censors operate best hidden in the dark. The only cure for their evil is to drag them out into the light and thrash them publicly.

The Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field is available in my store and on Amazon.

What happened to George?

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Recently I was communicating with several Vietnam vets on my Facebook page. In case you haven’t read it elsewhere, I made two trips to Vietnam, entertaining the troops independent of the usual USO or Bob Hope tours—just me with a conductor and a small band traveling in a pair of Hueys, flying into remote fire stations from the Mecong Delta to the DMZ. The vets and I commiserated about the war, our nightmares, and the plight of many Vietnam vets. With Memorial day just around the corner, I thought it appropriate to republish the following column.

What Happened to George?

I first saw George on a cold January morning in 2001 when I pulled into the parking lot of the post office. He sat on the curb with a straightforward cardboard sign, hand-lettered: “Disabled Vietnam Vet. Please help!” He wore a thin jacket over a sweatshirt, the hood pulled over his black baseball cap against the morning’s chilly drizzle. He was African American, skinny even then, long fingers gripping the damp cardboard, legs pulled close to his body, stubbled chin resting on his knees, thin ankles in battered shoes.

My post office errand done, I watched him through the rhythm of the windshield wipers. His face was impassive as cars went past. If he harbored expectations that one would stop and give him a handout, he hid them behind cheap V.A.-issue spectacles, spattered with the light rain.

I dug a $20 out of my purse and started the car. Vietnam is a war that I am intimately familiar with. At the entrance of the driveway, I rolled the passenger side window down and waved the bill. He got up and I could see there was some stiffness—a leg or hip problem, perhaps his back. He took the money. His fingers were cold and dry. He smiled a little.

“Thank you, thank you, ma’am. God bless.”

“Blessings to you, brother. Take care of yourself.”

George was there nearly every time I went to the Post Office, through the last carefree part of 2001, through 9-11, through the wilderness of dark years of Bush-Cheney fascism and their endless lust for world wide military domination. Though George was a homeless veteran of a war four decades earlier, he symbolized for me the real cost of our dangerous hubris. George was the end product, broken and reduced to begging, of the attitude that our way is not just the right way but the ONLY way. If countries or leaders do not do what we say, or, if they have resources that we want, we will impose our military might to get our way. And notice how well that worked for Rome, England, Spain, and Nazi Germany.

I would occasionally see George a few miles from his duty station outside the Post Office, pulling an old carry on bag by the handle, eyes shaded by the ball cap, limping in his old shoes, making his way slowly to the bus stop. I wondered if he had a shelter for the night, or just a special place beneath a freeway overpass. After a while, he set up shop at the traffic light across the street from the post office, finding that it was easier on his back and legs to lean against the large metal box that housed the traffic signal controls.

George was a signpost. The V.A. estimates that every night in this country more than 150,000 American veterans sleep on the streets. In 1996, the Urban Institute estimated that between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year. We have not yet seen the full impact of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s hard to count the homeless, but probably one in three homeless people here in the land of the free is a veteran. Our veteran. One of those we call upon, sometimes against their will, to fight and die for oil, gas pipelines, bananas, copper, diamonds, air bases, or some other tangible asset. Almost never, NEVER, do they REALLY fight for the often spoken lies we give as justification for our wars: freedom, human rights, women’s rights, voting rights. Our leaders mouth pieties about the sacrifices of veterans, while ignoring the reality of veterans’ lives when they return home.

You probably never saw my George, but there are certainly Georges in your neighborhood—sleeping in doorways and alleys, panhandling at freeway off ramps, walking endlessly with everything they own in a shopping cart. Do they wonder what they sacrificed their lives, limbs, sanity, and pride for? Do we wonder too?

Think of this: for the cost of one B2 bomber, a shade more than $2 billion, we could save all the Georges, make our veterans programs really work, fix our health care system, and feed hungry children. Just one fucking airplane.

One day George was absent from his corner. I discovered others who were taking care of George too, giving him money, sandwiches from a local shop, water on hot days, and coffee when it was cold. We talked about him around the counter in the Post Office, wondering anxiously if he was sick or worse. He returned after a few weeks with an aluminum walker, thinner and frail looking. It was a struggle for him to rise to get the twenty, and I waited patiently, holding up traffic while he stood, learning that it was easier to park and walk to give him his money. His eyes were dimmer behind the scratched glasses, but he always managed a smile and a thank you.

The following May, George disappeared from his corner. I did not speak to the other George helpers, but I knew they must have looked for him and felt the emptiness. I feared the worst. I only hoped that George had felt from us what we really meant with the money, the sandwiches, and the coffee—that in an anonymous and yet intensely personal way, we loved him.

A few days later, I passed George’s corner. On top of the traffic signal controller that George used to lean against was a battered black ball cap. Like the helmet of a fallen soldier hung over the butt of his rifle, it was a signal that George was gone. I stared at the cap through my tears until the light changed. Driving away I thought of a line in a George Santayana poem: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Peace, George.

A final note that the quote from Santayana is variously attributed to General Douglas MacArthur and Plato as well as the poet. Whoever said it, our history shows that it is undeniably, appallingly true.
Mxo

You can read about my adventures in Vietnam in the Special Collector’s Edition of Playing the Field, available in my store and on Amazon.