Sally Kellerman Turned Down Brando, And Other Great Stories


One of my favorite actress/singers, Sally Kellerman was Oscar nominated for M*A*S*H and has also popped up through the years in some of my other personal classics like The April Fools, Lost Horizon, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Welcome To L.A..

And she sings, in a wonderfully lithe and relaxed manner full of California soul.

With the release of her memoir, Read My Lips, Sally talked to me about her life and loves.

Hi, Sally. Loved the book. I read it in one day, two sittings. So you turned down Brando?

A mistake I won’t be making in my next life. I wanted to be special and believe me I was special. He was so mad that he’d spent the night wasting his time again. He was banging drawers. I was special all right. [laughs]

You also talk about turning down a part in Nashville. Which one?

I have no idea. Altman called me from McCabe and Mrs. Miller, saying ‘Would you be in my picture after next?’ I had no idea what it was. I was in that arrogant place where I was believing my own publicity, and here’s a man I loved and was a close friend and backed everything I did, particularly my music, and I’m turning him down! I said, ‘Is it a big part?’ and he hung up on me. He was as arrogant as I was. I found out later it was Nashville. Ronee Blakley was so incredible. It certainly wouldn’t have been that. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if it meant not having her in it.

You’re so slinky, Sally. Has that hurt or helped you?

That’s great. Yo no se. I don’t know. I didn’t know I was slinky. I was thinking today I was a little dim witted. It had to do with my comprehension problems. I didn’t learn anything and I had no overview, no sense of how to build a career. I was following my passion. On getting nominated for an Academy Award, I thought, ‘I’ve got that set. Now I can work on my music.’

You learned by doing. You did nothing wrong. And your book makes it clear that your experiences have been very rich, not regret-filled. Besides, by turning down The Poseidon Adventure, you didn’t really miss much.

I don’t think I missed a whole helluva lot, but I loved Gene Hackman. How dare he retire? I love him.

Did you find writing this book painful or pleasant?

It was really great. Years ago, my mom said, ‘Darling do you have to tell everything you know?’ I said, ‘I guess so, mom.’ I told my pervert story in the book. Standing there with this huge erection and I’m so naïve because I’m going, ‘Thank you so much.’ After I got over the shock of dropping his clothes!

Amazing. What about the fact that you dated Henry Kissinger?

It was platonic! It was two nights and he went to Hollywood and wanted to meet people…

Kissinger’s ‘affair’ with Jill St. John was platonic as well. Let’s talk about Lost Horizon, which is such a bizarre all-star musical that I’m utterly obsessed with. The library duet with you and Olivia Hussey is so weird, up and down the steps.

I love that part because Hermes Pan was so darling and elegant. Olivia was pregnant. And I was so thin you could see me sideways. But it’s a cult film and the people who love it are deeply devoted.

I’m one of them. You’re obviously a skilled musician to do your solo song, ‘Your Reflection Reflects…,” because it’s really complicated.

I love [songwriters] Burt Bacharach and Hal David so much. I knew Burt before that, slightly. I read the script, which was weak. I said, ‘I’m not doing this picture unless Burt writes me a song of my own.’ I gave him my first album, Roll With The Feeling, which was just rereleased. Forty one years later, I’m hip! It’s got a Janis Joplin/Laura Nyro influence–it was raw. He heard it and said ‘James Brown.’ Then he wrote ‘Reflections’. I thought, ‘I’ll sing one of his ballads and there’ll be a closeup and I’ll be a singing sensation all over world.’ I should have gone to Burt and said, ‘Give me The Look of Love.’ Hermes said, ‘You don’t even have to dance, you’ve got those shoulders.’ I used to do imitations in my living room and pretend to leap over rocks. They have the uncut version of Lost Horizon now. There’s a big huge production of guys in loincloths.

I’ve got to see that! I also love that you did group therapy with Jennifer Jones.

She was like my other mom. She was such a lovely, darling, funny, unique person. She introduced me to everyone. She had relationships with all the people she worked with and she shared all that with me. She was always in my corner. The day we picked for my wedding turned out to be the anniversary of the day her daughter had died. She said, ‘This is good. You are my daughter. This makes it a happy day.’ She always had her hair and makeup done every day of her life, and I’d love to have the man that did it. When she had temper tantrums, it was like watching Duel in the Sun. She made me laugh.

You make me scream ‘Brava!’ Thanks for letting me read your lips.