When the Burtons and Brando and Malcolm McDowell Blew Through Town


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
June 21, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 25

Hype! Hype! Hooray!
by Arthur Bell

A heat wave blew into town last week. So did Merle Oberon, Malcolm McDowell, the Burtons, Ron O’Neal, Alice Cooper, Marlon Brando, withered endives, chopped liver from Miami, several Indians seeking their civil rights on television and Binnie Barnes.

In a last minute gasp before the summer doldrums, press agents and product pushers opened their pocketbooks and celebs and opinion makers sipped the results at indoor swimming pools and outdoor roof gardens. Some smoked the results. By Friday, it was all a maze. The Women’s Wear Daily and Inter/view crowd couldn’t tell Hermione Gingold from Joanne Woodward or gazpacho from mock turtle. The New York Times stayed away from it all. So did Popular Mechanics.

Those who play the screening room circuit were bombarded with new product that ranged from “Ssssss” about a man who turns into a King Cobra and falls for a woman who looks like Gloria Steinem to “Jesus Christ Superstar” about a tourist who has his hair styled by Vidal Sassoon. Like addicts looking for the ultimate fix, the Liz Smiths and Fran Lebowitzes and Pauline Kaels wandered from “The Legend of Hell House” to “40 Carats” to “Dillinger,” searching for a “Tango in Paris” but finding a “Shaft in Africa.”

Marlon and the Indian, Merle and the face lifts, the Gatsby look, anti-perspiration pills, campari and soda, and corruption in the record business were in. Billy the Kid films, frozen yogurt on a stick, the Brasserie, the Cannes Film Festival, liberation movements, George Segal, and corruption at Watergate were out.

At the bash at Jimmy’s that Warner Brothers records gave for Alan Price (he wrote the score for “O Lucky Man!” and performs in the film), Malcolm McDowell’s cock was the center of attraction. The wife of a rock writer couldn’t take her eyes off of his pants and she said she’d give a year of her life to be with Malcolm — in them. Malcolm posed for photos with Alice Cooper. Alice wore teeny hot pants which showed his inverted bellybutton and little else. He said the last film he saw was “Sleuth” and he had to take it easy because a fan got him in the head with a tequila bottle in Texas.

Ed McCormack of Rolling Stone sat on the floor and showed off his new Russ Tamblyn haircut. Fran Lebowitz of Inter/view sat on a barstool and showed off her new figure. Alan Price sloshed up to Jude Jade O’Brien and tried to convince her that ignorant people will understand “O Lucky Man!” and Jude said that everyone in the world is ignorant and Alan called her a snob and Jude yawned in his face. Jude, earlier, asked Malcolm McDowell if his bedroom had a mirror on the ceiling. Lindsay Anderson looked uncomfortable. An r&r man vomited while talking to Alice Cooper and Alice said it was cool and they continued as if nothing had happened. A stench filled the corner of the room. Lisa Robinson left the party. Everybody left the party, except six people, who talked about the sweetness of Malcolm. The joints came out.

The crowd that came to the West 58th Street Studio for the Brando-Cavett catastrophe consisted mostly of people who read the news that Alice Cooper makes and Ed McCormack reports. Fans, as opposed to movers and shakers. The little old man who claims he’s second cousin to Ross Hunter. Ida who adores Irene Dunne. Few got in to see Marlon baby. The studio audience was papered — Manhattan-based Indians who wore headbands and ABC executives who had headaches.

When Marlon finally blubbered in, 45 minutes late, he kvetched and psychoanalyzed and scratched and stared at his shoes and picked lint from his jeans and never once looked at the Indians or the executives. He was tired, an Indian co-guest was inarticulate. Dick Cavett was off-base, and the show was miserable.

But photographer Ron Galella, who waited outside the studio in his little red car, was happy because tough stars make for high-paying pictures, and he’s tackled with the worst of them, from Jackie Kennedy down. A couple of hours after Bobby Rosengarden had played the last strains of “Cherokee,” Marlon and Dick left the studio together and Ron followed them and cornered them in Chinatown. He snapped his Leica. Marlon put his foot down and told him to stop it and socked Ron in the jaw, breaking it in three places. Ron went to the hospital. The pictures went to Time. The Indians went back to the Bronx. And the world of hype got an unexpected shot in the arm.

“The Last of Sheila” was not the talk at the “Last of Sheila” party the following night. Brando was. Richard Benjamin said, “I supported what he did at the Oscar show and liked what he did on Cavett. He’s his own person.” Neil Appelbaum quipped, “He’s turned into Wally Cox,” and Adolph Green snipped, “He’s effective just by sitting there and being photographed.”

The “Sheila” party took place at the exclusive Excelsior Club where a demented version of the boat that figures prominently in the film buzzed its battery-operated way up and down the swimming pool. (The toy belonged to a Warner Brothers publicist.) No one jumped into the pool, though Edward Sherman threatened to and Hermione Gingold look as if she wanted to.

Warners dragged out their “A” list for the party honoring Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (they collaborated on the script) and Richard Benjamin. Guests included Tammy Grimes, Stephen Schwartz, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward. Fran Lebowitz was not present. Nor Pauline. Nor Ed McCormack. Nor Rex Reed, who hated the film. Nor Raquel Welch, whom Dick Benjamin said was too busy being a movie star. Nor James Mason, who fought with Raquel. It was a celeb and photographer’s party — the kind Life used to go to.

Alexis Smith, who had taped the Cavett show that evening, said no mention was made of l’affaire Brando. Bobby Van said that wife Elaine Joyce picked up German measles a few weeks ago — “I noticed swastikas on her ass.” Carole Schwartz was pregnant. Stephen Sondheim was humble. The chicken liver was greasy. Norma Stoop wished she had her After Dark tote bag. Tony Perkins was as introverted as Alice Cooper’s navel. Tony’s roommate, Berry Berensen, took photos. When asked if a marriage to Tony was imminent, Berry answered, “Why bother?” Paula Prentiss wore a tuxedo. Radie Harris wore a caftan. Bill Como was a vision in white. Elsa Maxwell is dead. Marlon Brando is in the hospital with a fractured hand. The little people are home in bed. Hi ho the glamorous life.

Those who didn’t attend “Sheila” were either at the Merle Oberon 400 party that Earl Blackwell gave at his digs which were decked out to resemble Merle’s Mexico. Or at an intimate 30th birthday dinner party for Malcolm McDowell at the Pierre (guests included Malcolm’s press representative, the “O Lucky Man!” press representative, an MGM publicity person, and Jude Jade O’Brien). Or at Candy Darling’s nightclub debut at Le Jardin, a “male” discotheque in a fleabag hotel on West 43rd Street. Candy confided she divorced her last husband, Sam Greene, and is finding solace in her art and with her new fluffball dog, Ronnie. She sang “Peel Me a Grape” and pointed with pride to her Sandra Dee bubble bob.

It was a frantic night. But no more so than the following night. Crowds jammed outside the Criterion Theatre to get a peek at Ron O’Neal and Sheila Frazier, the superstars of “Super Fly TNT.” Paramount preemed the opening. The weather was hot. The climate was hotter.

Included in the crowd was a contingent of CORE demonstrators who marched behind police barricades, shouting “Exterminate Super Fly,” “Bring Out The Fly Paper,” “Get Black Exploitation Films Out of Our Community.” One middle-aged CORE woman explained, “All our kids want to do is to be Super Fly now. They want to sell dope and sniff cocaine. I know Ron O’Neal personally. He came out of our poverty program. He learned his art there in Harlem. He’s a a traitor to his race.”

When O’Neal entered, dressed in his Super Fly brim fedora and shantung white suit, the crowd went wild. Some tried to push through the barricades, but the cops and the Paramount publicists handled it with kid gloves, no one was hurt, and Ron and Sheila maneuvered through the flashbulbs to the inner lobby where they chatted with Melba Tolliver for the evening news.

The demonstrators continued picketing outside while “Super Fly” unspooled on the screen, and a couple of CORE protesters managed to crash the party that was held in the mezzanine. They distributed pamphlets but eventually joined Ron and Sheila and Paramount and Buddha Records and the invited guests in their dashikis and Gatsbys and partook in the sweltering heat of the corned beef and cherry tomatoes and bottled domestic grape.

Domestic champagne and Pepperidge Farm cookies were served at a reception at the American Place Theatre following a $50-a-ticket benefit hosted by trustee Myrna Loy. The occasion was a little weepy. “The Women” was about to close and Myrna’s co-stars were all present to sip the bubbly and wish one another godspeed. Alexis Smith, who never wears the same pants suit two nights in a row, said she’s be doing “Applause” in summer stock. But Kim Hunter, Bobo Lewis, Marian Hailey, and most of the others had nothing lined up, so they drank and enjoyed and talked about camaraderie and Marlon Brando.

The surprise appearance of the evening was Ron Galella. Fresh from the battle of Pell Street, Ron snapped at Myrna, who didn’t belt him one. Ron’s mouth was a mess. It resembled the liver at the “Sheila” party. “I’ve got to be very careful about what I say,” he said, “my lawyers are working on the case.”

Has success spoiled Ron Galella? “It doesn’t affect me. My character is set. I’m not like one of those stars who always have to prove themselves. I’ve worked all my life to be a good photographer. All I know is that Marlon Brando is at the New York Hospital of Special Surgery with my toothmarks in his hand.”

American Place p.r. David Roggensack made a list of Myrna’s party guests to send to Suzy. “The Women” p.r. Shirley Herz told the one about the famous columnist who doesn’t always write his own columns. Myrna’s p.r., John Springer, volunteered that Elizabeth Taylor had lost weight and was resting with Richard in a Quoque. Myrna Loy autographed a fan’s souvenir program. Ron Galella said, “I need a couple of bodyguards.” And the rains came and the heat wave broke.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]