Last night, I was thrilled to have a chance to meet Don Bachardy, 80, who met the late, great English novelist Christopher Isherwood (August 26, 1904—January 4, 1986) as a teenager and became his life partner. For 30 years, the men were together, and over time Bachardy established his own identity (no easy feat when you're perceived as the boy-toy of a genius) as a gifted portraitist.
I actually knew about Bachardy before delving into Isherwood; I bought Pagan Love Songs from Alyson or a similar publisher while in college, and was enchanted by the dreamy illustration of “Naked Poet” (and porn actor and writer and...) Gavin Geoffrey Dillard on the cover. I wrote him a fan note and we corresponded for a few years.
Matt & Don
Bachardy signing for his fans
I would've offered to draw some of the attendees naked, myself.
Parker Stevenson (L) & Ryan O'Neal (R) by Bachardy
The illustration had been by Bachardy.
Isherwood and Bachardy by Dillard, 1985
Now, Bachardy's entire oeuvre of Hollywood portraits—Kate Hepburn? Of course! Parker Stevenson? Why not? David Hedison, Teri Garr, Natalie Schafer? The more the merrier!—has been collected in the posh tome Hollywood (Glitterati Incorporated, $75). It's a stunning document of his life's work.
Bachardy was deligthful in person, immediately asking me to come see him in Santa Monica. I'm there next week, maybe I should take him up on that! Years ago, an associate of him suggested he might like to draw me nude, but I never figured out if that was a come-on from a friend or a real offer. And I could also never figure out who on earth would want to see me nude.
I was also pleased to meet his associate Richard Sassin, a former actor and charming man who told me that he and Bachardy had recently watched In the Cool of the Day (1963), which is apparently a must-see, can't-believe-how-bad-it-is Jane Fonda film in which her hair was unnaturally dark. Bachardy drew her portrait (it was on display at the signing) for it. I told Sassin that as a movie, it sounds like it made a good portrait—he agreed.
The most famous portrait of Don (L) & Chris (R). See my take on the film Chris & Don here.
I'll keep you posted on that front, but until then, check out the lovely book here.
“'Fuck the Pope!' I screamed in childbirth. And fuck the Taliban who behead their women for baring their heads, and fuck the crazy Orthodox Jews taking land away from a people so like themselves and for teaching nothing but myths. Fuck them for making proud Lenny Bruce crawl. Fuck them all!”—Lee Grant, I Said Yes to Everything (2014)
Lee Grant's (b. October 31, 1925, or maybe 1926?) new memoir I Said Yes to Everything (Blue Rider, $28.95) is as absorbing a read as I've had in years, a self-reflective, unapologetically feminist tour de force sprinkled with just enough Hollywood revelations to make you feel both enlightened and titillated without ever feeling preached to or guilty for craving gossip.
BOY CULTURE RATING: **** out of ****
Grant has always excelled at playing neurotics, so it wasn't surprising to me that she self-identifies as having...issues...in the book, but I was taken aback by just how frankly and intelligently she discusses the hang-ups that have limited her (especially her career) in several ways—her worries about her age (some sources put her at 88, others a few years younger), about looking beautiful enough for casting directors (she had a facelift in the '50s at age 31!), about being able to remember her lines (after the jump. watch her recall the incident that ended her celebrated stage career), about being a good mother, wife, person.
Instead of being a linear cataloguing of every project she's ever done—no mention of Columbo (1971), The Spell (1977), Backstairs at the White House (1979), For Ladies Only (1981), Dr T. and the Women (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001) or her last-ever movie Going Shopping (2005)—the book instead is an intensely personal remembrance of how she came to be the person she is, the things that gave her joy, the things that perplexed her about life, her embarrassingly short-sighted mistakes, her wise choices.
Most movingly, Grant reveals herself to be an expert at observing others (real people and characters on the page) and summing them up with breathtaking sincerity, sometimes humorously, sometimes unsparingly, but without cruelty.
Achingly, Grant recalls her mother, Witia, and her aunt Fremo as a pair of fun-loving kindred spirits who doted on her, who believed she was God's gift, and who taught her the beauty of being a woman, and of being herself, a lesson she would need to re-learn after a painfully restrictive early marriage to much-0lder control freak and Communist Arnie Manoff (April 25, 1914—February 10, 1965) left her ego decimated and led to her being blacklisted from working in film or on TV for a dozen years.
Grant & raves
She writes glowingly of her gifted daughter, Dinah Manoff (b. January 25, 1958), but also reveals how rocky their relationship was for 15 years. Things were even worse with an adopted daughter, Belinda, whom she admits to outright buying, with her producer husband Joey Feury (b. circa 1936), in Thailand:
“The doorbell rang, and a shortish man stood in the doorway with what looked like a two-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, one under each arm. Joey checked them out and said, 'We'll take her. Let's have lunch!' We had met our daughter...The little girl's mother met us in a park near the hotel, bringing two fair-haired, fair-skinned sons with her...I asked her about [the little girl's] father. 'I don't know,' she said. 'I don't remember.' She was pleasant and ordinary and matter-of-fact. We gave her five hundred dollars; she gave me Lindah.”
And in case you're worried it's all about Grant's family, there are unforgettable speed-portraits of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932—March 23, 2011) to “cunt!” Shelley Winters (August 18, 1920—January 14, 2006) to Bruce Willis (b. March 19, 1955) to “fish-headed” David Gest (b. May 11, 1953).
Willis screwed Grant over—big-time—when he pulled out of her film Broadway Brawler in the '90s.
Grant sums up her work impressionistically, and almost always to underscore a life lesson learned or to ruminate on her motivations as an actor, director, artist. The book is a must-read for thesps.
The camp classic Airport '77 (1977) takes flight in just a few lines:
“My character was a brittle rich woman married to Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame); she is not someone you want around in an emergency. Olivia de Havilland is traveling with a black female companion (whom she later saves, of course). My old friend George Furth was there, too, playing a cranky person.”
She doesn't give us all the behind-the-scenes details of the making of that (or any) film, but instead uses an anecdote about de Havilland's excitement at drowning on screen to make light of her own diva attitude (Grant sheepishly admits she'd demanded a body double). Our heroine wound up doing the drowning scene herself, having been shown up by the older Hollywood legend's professionalism and curiosity, even that late in her silver-screen journey.
With good pal Sidney Poitier (b. February 20, 1927) in In the Heat of the Night
Grant's career trajectory was offbeat, starting like gangbusters with a raved-about stage debut and an Oscar nomination for her first film [1951's Detective Story, in which she could be playing the mother of Cyndi Lauper (b. June 22, 1953)], getting sidetracked by a long stint on the Blacklist for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and then a mixture of high-class classics like In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Landlord (1970), Shampoo (1975) and low-brow dreck like Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Of the latter, she writes of young Michelle Pfeiffer (b. April 29, 1958) excitedly talking to a co-star about how her vegetarian diet was affecting her bowel movements.
Why did she do this offensive, inane piece of shit? She had a yen for paying her rent!
The ping-ponging from success to failure is relatable, and is related with warmth and with regret. Finding out she was still struggling financially in her fifties, post-Oscar, is illuminating, as is her recounting of how she re-invented herself whenever reality demanded it.
Most charmingly to me, Grant doesn't hesitate to say when she doesn't remember something, even things she could have Googled and pretended to remember perfectly. This is sorely lacking in so many other Hollywood memoirs. I mean, who believes that Shelley Winters remembered specific meals she had with people in the '50s? Okay, maybe.
In short, this memoir is dazzling. Don't miss it.
Keep reading for a clip of Grant talking about Peter Falk's inability to save her when she needed saving...
I don't have a lot of time to read, but I'm interested in two current books. First up is Tony Cointreau's memoir with a title that I doubt has been used before: Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa...and Me (Prospecta Press, $24.95). As I've dipped into it, I've been intrigued by Cointreau's troubled but colorful childhood, his career as a singer and his extensive contact with Mother Teresa. His work with Mother Teresa revolved around caring for people with AIDS, a syndrome too many gay men these days seem too eager to want to forget ever existed, let alone still exists.
My old pal Owen Keehnen has cooked up a hilarious novel in Young Digby Swank (Wilde City, $14.99), a comic, Catholic Catcher in the Rye filled with Keehnen's trademark wit and his gift for observation. An area is described as being like what the Garden of Eden was "before Adam and Eve ruined it for everyone," and Digby's desire for teen heartthrobs is summed up thusly:
"Whenever Digby bought the latest issue of Tiger Beat, he'd wait until he was the sole customer near the checkout at the drugstore, and then rush to the counter. Mr. Lister would always clear his throat and say, "Well, um" and adjust his glasses."
Bowers then and today at 88 [right courtesy of People (March 5, 2012)]
For years, Hollywood insiders have known about Scotty Bowers, an ex-Marine and close confidante of Gore Vidal's who was said to have provided free and/or paid sex to some of the industry's biggest names. Over the years, Bowers has apparently been an anonymous source for film bios, but only in a limited way; he had said he would never tell his full story for fear of hurting people.
Don't judge it by its hideous cover
As he approaches his eighty-ninth birthday and with most of the people he helped achieve orgasm dead and buried, he's changed his mind and collaborated with Lionel Friedberg on a tell-all that would make Shelley Winters blush—Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove Press, $25). It came out on Valentine's Day, but there's very little romance involved. Instead, the resourceful Bowers, who supported himself as a bartender and handyman all through the years he was tricking and dry-pimping, handily serves up hardcore sex with a cheerful lack of shame and not a little humor.
I say "dry-pimping" because, as Bowers stresses several times throughout the book, while he took money for sex countless times throughout his life, he never got paid for arranging what sounds like it could be tens of thousands of liaisons for men and women of all sexual persuasions. He's either the coolest dude ever or the stupidest; imagine the fortune he could have made considering so many of his clients were millionaires or better?
If you don't believe Katharine Hepburn loved the ladies, this book isn't for you. However, points off for misspelling her name in chapter five.
You might have read something about this book already—likely something dismissive as to its veracity, as to the probability that Bowers really and truly could have set up Katharine Hepburn with over 150 women—but the book has more to offer than just Scotty's Hollywood hijinks. One aspect of the memoir that is left out of most of the coverage is that Bowers, born into poverty in Illinois, has been turning tricks since his pre-teens. His stories of life as a shoe shine boy willing to polish the knobs of various priests and businessmen are just as compelling as his later tales of cornholing people you grew up thinking of as untouchable icons.
As of midnight last night, it was exactly six years since my first post. It's been a tough thing to keep up with a dayjob and outside activities, and just when I think I might walk away, a valuable connection or interesting opportunity or a kind word comes my way. Thank you all for reading me.
I own dozens of biographies; they're my favorite kind of book to read, and increasingly, due to the decreasing amount of time on my hands, they're becoming the dominant type that I actually get through.
The best biographies are the ones on subjects about whom I thought I knew everything, but about whom I learn something new on virtually every page.
I recently found a bio that I enjoyed in this way—Sal Mineo: A Biography (Crown, $25.99) by Michael Gregg Michaud, about the late actor and one-time teen heartthrob Sal Mineo. Mineo rose to fame as the tragic Plato in Rebel Without a Cause, briefly became a singing idol, had uneven success as a dramatic actor and was brutally stabbed to death 35 years ago today during a botched robbery while he was in the middle of a potential professional comeback.
Mineo is now something of a gay icon; he never came out (he died in 1976), but his homosexuality was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood and common knowledge among at least some of his fans.
One thing I found so compelling about Sal Mineo: A Biography was Michaud's unsensational approach, which is hard to do while at the same time confirming Mineo, who was close pals with David Cassidy, fucked Bobby Sherman.
Despite these tidbits and despite Mineo's sexual kinks (he apparently harbored a fetish for briefs and seemed to be especially attracted to barely legal/barely illegal types), his life is recounted in a firmly matter-of-fact way that starts out feeling a bit cut-and-paste in its rigorous detail but that quickly becomes diaristic. Is it possible to write someone else's diary for him? Because I felt every aspect of Mineo's life had been explored and recorded, presenting a full picture of a thoughtful, iconoclastic, troubled, loving man bursting with creativity and ambition.
Mineo with longtime lover Burr, whose reflections make Sal a uniquely affecting bio
In his pursuit of the whole story on Mineo, Michaud spent years persuading the late icon's two most important intimates—actors Jill Haworth (left, who created the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway and who died of natural causes last month unexpectedly) and Courtney Burr. Thanks to winning their trust, Mineo's life is captured with the help of his most important male and female lovers, and not with the breathless adulation of a fan or the judgmental cynicism of a skeptic. In that regard, it's a "bi"-ography unparalleled by any others I've read.
Mineo daringly posed fully nude in the early '60s for Harold Stevenson's The New Adam
The book is also a fascinating look at a gay man's mid-life reassessment of his purpose, and a heart-breaking reminder to leave nothing undone and to regret nothing one's done.
I reached out to the author with some questions and he kindly found the time to reply. Keep reading for the full Q&A...