In the late Seventies, I used to be a film critic. I reviewed movies mostly for magazines, which meant I saw all the new releases at least three months prior to their release date. In retrospect, it was a wonderful job, but at the time, I quickly grew tired of having to go to screenings every night in order to view the new films, most of which were rubbish! But, one advantage of being a film critic in those days was being given the opportunity to interview people whose work I admired. I interviewed almost everyone I wanted to in the film industry (Cary Grant, Robert Altman and the young Mickey Rourke included) except for George Lucas. I was invited to the first Star wars press junket and interrogated everyone on the spot, but unfortunately Lucas wasn’t there. One person who definitely wasn’t ‘there’ was Carrie Fisher who played Princess Leia. She was ‘out to lunch’, but her press office fibbed she was suffering from jet lag!
In the late Seventies, most of the National critics were middle-aged. In John Kobal’s book, ‘Top 100 Movies’, the majority of them predictably said their favourite film was ‘Citizen Kane.’ My top ten film in the book was ‘Night of the Living Dead’, because it was the only horror film which made me pass out screaming in the aisles. I wrote about it in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies. ‘There was plenty of initial laughter when Night Of The Living Dead came on, and Alice proving she was no provincial, sniggered along with her fellow dingbats. But soon, the audience’s patronising laughter died away into terrified silence and during the horror classic’s unpredictable ‘jump’, Alice freaked, screaming her guts out and passed out mortuary cold in the aisles.’
I was in a gang of younger critics who were crazy about horror films. I interviewed Antony Perkins over lunch at Pinewood studios once. It was the best restaurant in town, as all the movie stars in costume had to line up to be served. Perkins had no interest in discussing 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 completely out of his diet. Several years later, when he was promoting Psycho III, which he had directed and starred in, I went along 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 for one of the murders in ‘Psycho III’. I can’t remember his exact words now – something like, ‘people like you are responsible for ruining the film industry.’ The critic for the Sunday Times at the time was so impressed with our pertinent questions, he begged us to attend his on stage interview with Antony Perkins at the National Film Theatre, so we could ask the actor outrageous questions afterwards.
I didn’t only get to interview people on film sets or in their hotel suites. I also went to their houses. In the Seventies, Tony Curtis had hired a house in Knightsbridge with his then wife Leslie, who had a huge cleavage and was kept busy, arranging the flowers.
‘What was it like working with Marilyn Monroe?’ was my first lame question. My interview technique in those days was to ask my victims innocuous questions at the beginning, 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 co-star in ‘Some Like It Hot’. After he had stopped ranting about Monroe, he enthusiastically showed me all his paintings and drawings and oozed charm. Richard Young, the paparazzo, who was my photographer at the time arrived in the middle of our interview and set up a load of equipment. In no time, Tony’s house resembled a photographic studio. ‘Is this really necessary for a snapshot?’ Curtis asked good-naturedly. Little did he suspect that Richard later sold the photo for a small fortune to international periodicals. Tony and I got on so well, that he invited me back to the house that same evening for a party. (He didn’t invite Richard).
Tony Curtis’s party was so pleasant, I can’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 hoards of hardcore hookers were waiting ourtside the club, ready to pounce on the high rolling Japs when they emerged from the gaming tables inside. ‘Arrest this girl, she’s a hooker!’ Victor ‘joked’ to the police. A perfect ending to a lovely evening!