“I do old movie stars,” 71-year-old public-access host Skip E. Lowe cooed by phone from the sultry shores of La La Land. “Milton Berle, Tony Curtis, Cornel Wilde, Shelley Winters. I’ve interviewed every star there is, from Robert Morse to Kaye Ballard, from Orson Welles to Bette Davis. I’ve done them all—Red Buttons, Vivian Blaine, Mimi Hines, John Biner . . . ”
Help! Awash in this sea of bizarre Oscar winners and Love Boat regulars, I felt that with the mention of one more kooky name—Carol Lynley? Tina Louise?—my tiny head just might explode, the remains coagulating into a re-creation of Hervé Villechaize. But then I hit upon the one stellar appellation that really gets Skip E. going these days: Martin Short. Short has that Comedy Central faux talk show in which he stars as Jiminy Glick, an inept but lovable interviewer who generally embarrasses celebrities, humiliates himself, and amuses us no end. Naturally, I assumed the character was based on me, but cognoscenti feel that the germ of Glick is Skip E. Lowe, who’s a little flattered, but mostly blowing smoke through his celebrity-loving schnoz. “John Biner called me the other day,” Lowe fumed to me, “and said, ‘He’s making you look like an idiot!’ Shelley Winters will tell you—I’m not the worst interviewer.”
So maybe Glick is based on me? No, said Skip E., “It’s Skip E. Lowe’s character! And he’s making me look like a clumsy interviewer! Martin Short thinks nobody remembers that on SCTV, he had a character named Skip E. High with a blond wig and a black turtleneck. Now he’s made it fat and put it in Jiminy disguise and he’s saying it’s based on people like James Lipton and Larry King. Give me a break! He says it’s Merv Griffin. It’s not Merv Griffin, it’s me! He only admitted it once on the Letterman show. He said, ‘It’s a little Skip E. Lowe.’ ”
There was a little Skip E. lull, so I tried to change the subject to, I don’t know, Carol Lynley or Tina Louise, but the waifmeister quickly resumed venting, on a roll—or at least a croissant. “He doesn’t want to give me credit that the character is all me,” continued Lowe, his buttery voice turning to peanut brittle. “And he’s making me look like an idiot. I walk down Sunset and people say, ‘Jiminy Glick!’ It’s awful!”
But wait a minute, girl—on a happier note, they’re also starting to realize that Skip E. is someone to buzz about, especially since he’s just released a zippy memoir, The Boy With the Betty Grable Legs, about his innumerable experiences with the almost famous. Lowe recently sent a copy to, um, Martin Short, wanting him to star in his life story. And what a story! “I was born in Mississippi,” the high-living Lowe told me, “and lived there just one day. Then we moved to Rockford, Illinois. I got raped by four boys. My father beat me up—he blamed me for the rape. I used to wear short pants and show my legs a lot.”
To skip (E.) ahead a few years: “I came back from Vietnam—I was entertaining the troops—and arrived in Hollywood, where I later started a talent show.” That somehow led, 23 years ago, to the program, which has Lowe—an impish cross between Truman Capote and Virginia Graham—leaning into celebrities’ faces and asking things like “What makes Kaye Ballard really tick?”
The show sort of ticks because Lowe averts publicists and books it himself, wooing the luminaries with his own peculiarly elfin charm. “Esther Williams won’t do it because she doesn’t want tight close-ups,” he explained. But every other camp icon craves the camera’s glare and the host’s gooey gushing. Has this scenario ever spelled l-o-v-e? “I think I fell in love with this beautiful man, Tony Curtis,” Lowe admitted, though he added that nothing happened. (“I’m pretty decent when it comes to that.”) Are there dead divas that he especially misses? “Susan Strasberg,” he said, wistfully. “She was a great friend and a Gemini like me.” And aside from Esther Williams, what star from the zodiac has eluded his grasp? Yvonne DeCarlo? Don Adams? No, kids, brace yourselves: “I’d like to have Martin Short on and show him who the real Jiminy Glick is! When he makes me look like a real idiot, that’s got to be noticed!” I’ve noticed, I’ve noticed. Now would someone with a series please start mocking me on a regular basis?
But please refrain from throwing things as I enter a more legit theatrical arena to find out what makes various Tony types tick. At Major Barbara, Broadway baby Lee Roy Reams—who costarred in the last revival of 42nd Street—told me he’s directing his own version of that show in Ogunquit, Maine. “We only have 23 rolls of crepe paper and some fairy dust, but we’ll create magic!” he said—and that’s with no help from Milton Berle or Mimi Hines.
I rode my crepe-paper broom to the Patsy’s bash for Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna‘s play If You Ever Leave Me, I’m Going With You!, but stupidly forgot to ask Taylor about her recent stint as Golda Meir at a Long Island dinner theater! Instead, the ex-Nanny star and I discussed the L.A. production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Taylor commenting, “A lot of people were upset, but I loved it!” Well, I love celebrities who provide a built-in segue when the very next bash beckoning my royal heinie is the Hedwig movie party at the Barneys Co-op Store. That event was loud and way too starkly lit, but star-writer-director John Cameron Mitchell confided, “They told me they had to keep it bright or people would shoplift.” (Please—the lights only make them do it better.)
The movie’s been effectively literalized—only the animation interludes don’t work—replete with really fun scenes of the botched sex change singing for horrified tourists at a seafood chain restaurant. (You expect Skip E. to pop up in the background, but he was probably busy at that Golda Meir show.) “I was sort of burnt out on the acting,” Mitchell told me as I shielded my sensitive skin from the light. “I’d set up the shot for 10 hours and then call, ‘Action!’ and I’d forget my lines and get kind of pissed off. I’m taking a break from acting. It’s like my graduate thesis is over.” Are his Roxy club days kaput too? “I only went there once,” he said, “the one time I did Ecstasy. It was so speedy and really bad, it turned me off.” I hate when that happens!
Apropos of lousy drugs, here’s what hell, 2001-style, would consist of: You’ve just been dumped by Gary Condit, but would rather die than go home to commiserate with your mother, Paula Poundstone. For some quick escape, you get pal Lizzie Grubman to drive you to a snooty nightclub, but on the way, you careen into a dumpster, where you come across the father of your baby, Robert Blake. When he excuses himself to find a gun “to protect you with,” you race off to track down your lawyer, but find him slumped over, dead in a car. Delirious, you call Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean to cop some fairy dust, and end up—most tragically of all—missing band rehearsal the next morning! You’re thrown out of the group and have to take a job at a seafood restaurant, opening for John Biner!
Speaking of Condit, I’m not sure I like the way his supposedly kinky sex habits have been used to imply that he’s an evil person. Wasn’t the sex consensual? Still, I think he’s evil anyway.