Then head over to the Egyptian Theatre on June 14th for a double bill camp fest-1967’s Valley of the Dolls, the wonderfully bad adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s sexy, best-selling novel starring Sharon Tate, Patty Duke, and Barbara Parkins, followed by 1971’s What’s the Matter with Helen?, a delicious horror thriller penned by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? novelist Henry Farrell and starring Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters.
It’s definitely a two-popcorn evening.
Introducing the films is veteran journalist Sue Cameron, who has a potboiler of a new book called Hollywood Secrets and Scandals: The Truth Behind Stars’ Closed Doors. Come early and catch Cameron signing copies of the book in the Egyptian Theatre lobby starting at 6:30 p.m.
Upon graduation from USC’s journalism school over five decades ago, Cameron has worked as a daily columnist and TV editor for The Hollywood Reporter, was a columnist for TV Guide, was director of daytime program development for ABC, and was one of the founders of Women in Film. She’s written over 2,500 columns and such sexy Susann-esque novels as Love, Sex & Murder and Honey Dust.
Cameron has served as consultant to such entertainers as Kim Novak, Valerie Harper, Phoebe Snow, and Dusty Springfield. She’s had close encounters with a who’s who of legendary stars such as Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner and such music greats as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Cass Elliot (the two were best friends), and had a few “magic moments” with Perry Como.
|Author Sue Cameron|
She recently chatted with me on the phone from her home in Palm Springs.
I imagine you chose these films because of your experiences with Jacqueline Susann and Sharon Tate and your over 40-year friendship with Debbie Reynolds.
That’s exactly why I picked the two of them.
How did you meet Susann?
I was doing Laugh-In. Occasionally, Laugh-In put columnists on so they could make fun of them and make us look silly in front of the camera. I was there taping my bit and I had no idea who was in the audience because they taped those without a studio audience.
People would just drop by. I didn’t like the ending [of my bit]. I made a face because I thought they weren’t taping. I started to just walk through the studio and I saw Jacqueline Susann sitting on one of the seats with another woman. I almost fainted. I started talking about how much I hated what I did. She went, "I read you every day and you will write a book like mine."
Did she explain why she thought you could write a novel such as Valley of the Dolls?
She said I had a breezy style and a sense of humor and I got everything. There are a few moments in my career that really stand out and that was a main thing. In 1990, I got a call from Warner Books asking me if I want to write those kinds of books. It just came out of the blue. I went "OK. OK, Jackie. I guess I’m supposed to do this." It was amazing.
"Mama" Cass Elliot was one of your best friends. You met Sharon Tate when two of you went to a party in the summer of 1969.
I wanted to leave [the party] early, and Cass said, ‘OK’. We walked off to this parking [lot] near the Santa Monica Pier where they had little tram thing to bring guests to their cars. Sharon was sitting in the back of the tram in this drop-dead gorgeous mink coat. She had this tacky columnist with her who really didn’t do anything other than write for movie magazines. She was pregnant, and it was like three weeks or a month [before she was murdered]. She was breathtaking in person.
|Actress Sharon Tate|
Cass was supposed to be at the party at the house the night of the Manson murders.
She really was. So many people afterward went around saying, ‘Oh I was supposed to be there.’ It was a status symbol thing” But Cass was the one who really was invited and didn’t go at the last minute because she didn’t feel that well.
Valley of the Dolls received horrible reviews when it was released, but it’s such a cult fave now. It’s just wonderfully entertaining.
I love great bad movies.
What’s the Matter with Helen? doesn’t have quite the cult following, and didn’t do well at the box office.
Debbie’s fabulous in it. And Agnes Moorehead is totally over the top as [real-life religious leader] Aimee Semple McPherson. They don’t call her Amy, they call her somebody else. There’s an incident involving a rabbit…it’s corny, but it’s good.
|Agnes Moorehead as an evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson type character.|
[Reynolds] put almost all of her own money in it. She paid for that movie. There were other people who invested, so she had enough money to make let’s say, a $3 or $4 million movie. That’s when she started to have more money troubles.
Reynolds and Winters are such different actresses. I know you mention in the book that they weren’t the best of pals on the set.
They rarely even saw each other. Shelley was at one end of the [set] and she was at the other. But Shelley would insist on playing that old Victrola [to get in the mood.] Not in her dressing room - on the set.
You are good friends with Kim Novak and you encountered many of the sex symbols from the Golden Age of Hollywood including Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake and Lana Turner. A lot of their stories are so sad - alcoholism, sexually abusive parents, Alzheimer’s, multiple marriages, murder. Even Kim was raped by a man when she was 11.
Do you think they all became actresses out of neediness?
Kim is different from most people. She didn’t need anything. In fact, she had a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. She has a belief that fate pushes you. When she came down from San Francisco to go to Hollywood, she was just accompanying a friend because she had never seen Los Angeles. She was simply in the waiting room of an agent’s office [when she got discovered]. So, when this happened, she said it was a sign that this was what she was supposed to do. So, she went into it with no desire to be famous or do anything. She was following the path that was shown to her. So that’s different because these other ladies really, really wanted to be actresses.
But, I think when people, even little girls, when they are innately sexy, particularly in the ‘30s and ‘40s when there was no consciousness about anything, nothing was ever discussed. They fell prey to these monsters.
Can you imagine how their lives may have been different with the #MeToo movement?
Kim is so thrilled about #MeToo. She has done a painting called ‘#MeToo.’ It has made her so happy She feels good about being able to speak out. It’s been wonderful for her.
|Kim Novak's painting A Time of Reckoning|
Kim was very, very, very strong. She had the ability to fight. Rita [Hayworth], I guess, did not have the ability to fight in the early years and then she got Alzheimer’s. She just never stood a chance.
Do you get enjoyment out of taking to contemporary actresses?
I love Nicole Kidman, who is so bright, so interesting and so strong. Most of the time, I try not to even interview them because I find them so boring and inexperienced, with no culture.
Today, everybody’s business is on Twitter in real-time, but there was a time when Hollywood kept secrets. Celebrities kept each other’s secrets. Sue Cameron's book looks back at many Golden Age of Hollywood figures from Garbo, Dietrich and Lizabeth Scott, to mid-century celebrities like Sonny and Cher, Joan Rivers and Carole Burnett with her stories of secrets and scandals.
So why now? Why is this book coming out at this time?
I wrote the book in two months last summer. It just poured out of me. I wrote it at first with no thought of having it published. I just needed to put my memories on paper. When I lost Joan Rivers so unexpectedly, it was a devastating blow. I realized that my stories about all these significant people were too important not to be told. The world really needed to know who they really were.
As much as I consider each chapter a “love letter,” not everyone was 100% happy. I felt I needed to tell some personal things that created a complete picture. No friendships were hurt. I am very proud of what I’ve done.Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.