In the late seventies, I was a film critic. He reviewed movies primarily for magazines, which meant he saw all new releases at least three months before their release date. In hindsight, it was a wonderful job, but at the time, I quickly grew tired of having to go to screenings every night to see the new movies, most of which were rubbish! But, one of the perks of being a film critic in those days was having the chance to interview people whose work I admired. I interviewed just about everyone I wanted in the movie industry (Cary Grant, Robert Altman, and young Mickey Rourke included) except George Lucas. I was invited to the first Star Wars press trip and questioned everyone on site, but unfortunately Lucas wasn’t there. One person who was definitely not “there” was Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia. She was ‘out for lunch’, but her press office lied that she was jet lagged!
In the late 1970s, most of the national critics were middle-aged. In John Kobal’s book, ‘Top 100 Movies,’ most of them, unsurprisingly, said their favorite movie was ‘Citizen Kane.’ My top ten movie in the book was ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ because it was the only horror movie that made me pass out screaming in the hallways. I wrote about it in “Frantic,” my novel about the early 1970s. “There was a lot of initial laughter when Night Of The Living Dead came on, and Alice, proving she wasn’t provincial, snickered along with her fellow idiots. But soon the condescending laughter from the audience faded into terrified silence and during the unpredictable ‘jump’ of the horror classic, Alice freaked out, screamed her heart out and passed out in the halls.
I was in a gang of young critics who were crazy about horror movies. I once interviewed Antony Perkins over lunch at Pinewood Studios. It was the best restaurant in town, since all the movie stars in costume had to queue up to be served. Perkins had no interest in talking about Norman Bates, his Psycho character. All he wanted to talk about was the danger of sugar and how he had managed to cut it out of his diet entirely. Several years later, when he was promoting Psycho III, which he had directed and starred in, I went to his press conference at a West End hotel. He remembered my voice, but was furious with my colleague who asked him to describe the special effect of one of the murders in ‘Psycho III’. I can’t remember the exact words from him right now—something like, ‘people like you are responsible for ruining the movie industry.’ The Sunday Times reviewer at the time was so impressed with our pertinent questions that he begged us to attend his on-stage interview with Antony Perkins at the National Film Theatre, so that we could then ask the actor scandalous questions.
I wasn’t just able to interview people on movie sets or in their hotel suites. I also went to their houses. In the 1970s, Tony Curtis had rented a house in Knightsbridge with his then-wife Leslie, who had a plunging neckline and kept herself busy arranging flowers.
‘What was it like working with Marilyn Monroe?’ It was my first dumb question. My interview technique in those days was to ask my victims innocuous questions at first, lulling them into a false sense of security before hitting them with the heavy ones.
“Kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler,” Curtis quoted his famous quote about his “Some Like It Hot” co-star. After he stopped ranting about Monroe, he enthusiastically showed me all her paintings and drawings of hers and oozed charm. Richard Young, the paparazzi, who was my photographer at the time, came in the middle of our interview and set up a bunch of gear. Before long, Tony’s house looked like a photo studio. ‘Is this really necessary for a snapshot?’ Curtis asked good-naturedly. Little did he know that Richard later sold the photo for a small fortune to international newspapers. Tony and I hit it off so well that he invited me over to his house that same night for a party. (He did not invite Richard).
Tony Curtis’s party was so nice I don’t remember anything about it. Victor Lownes, Hugh Hefner’s second-in-command, offered to drop me off at the Playboy club afterwards. When we got out of his chauffeured car, the usual hordes of hardcore prostitutes were waiting outside the club, ready to pounce on the Japanese as they emerged from the gaming tables inside. ‘Arrest this girl, she’s a prostitute!’ Victor ‘joked’ with the police. A perfect ending to a lovely evening!