In the late seventies, I was a film critic. I was reviewing movies mostly for magazines, which meant I would see all new releases at least three months before their release date. In hindsight it was a wonderful job, but at the time, I quickly got 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 opportunity to interview people whose work you admired. I interviewed almost 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 I questioned everyone on the spot, 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 suffering from jet lag!
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 that 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 laughs when Night Of The Living Dead appeared, and Alice, proving she was not provincial, snickered along with her fellow idiots. But soon, the condescending laughter from the audience faded into terrified silence and during the unpredictable ‘jump’ from the horror classic, Alice freaked out, screamed loudly and passed out in the hallways.
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, as all the movie stars in costume had to queue 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 eliminate it completely from his diet. Several years later, when I was promoting Psycho III, which I 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 his exact words right now – something like, ‘people like you are responsible for ruining the movie industry.’ The Sunday Times critic at the time was so impressed with our relevant questions that he begged us to attend his on-stage interview with Antony Perkins at the National Film Theater, so that we could then ask the actor scandalous questions.
Not only did I get 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 huge cleavage and was busy arranging flowers.
‘What was it like working with Marilyn Monroe?’ was my first silly question. My technical interview in those days consisted of asking innocuous questions of my victims at first, lulling them into a false sense of security before hitting them with the ‘heavy’.
“Kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler,” Curtis quoted his famous quote about his co-star in ‘Some Like It Hot’. After he stopped ranting about Monroe, he enthusiastically showed me all of his paintings and drawings 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 lot of equipment. Before long, Tony’s house looked like a photo studio. ‘Is this really necessary for a snapshot?’ Curtis asked good-naturedly. Little did she suspect that Richard later sold the photo for a small fortune to international newspapers. Tony and I got along so well that he invited me to his house that night for a party. (He didn’t invite Richard).
Tony Curtis’s party was so nice that I don’t remember anything about it. Victor Lownes, Hugh Hefner’s second in command, offered to drop me off at the Playboy club afterward. 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!