I was always puzzled by the fact that in the South Seas Islands the young women were so svelt and beautiful but the older women were always pretty hefty. And it’s not just a geographic issue, because even when the Tongans move to Utah, having been convinced by young Mormon missionaries that they would be closer to God if they lived in 12 feet of snow instead of the lush green tropics surrounded by white beaches and turquoise water, they arrive as slim and fit and in no time they are enormous. For a while we believed that the only logical explanation was that at some point, the old women ate the young women.
But seriously, I always wonder why beautiful women let themselves go. And further, is it possible to predict that (beyond the fact their names end in y), it’s going to happen. Remember Shelley Winters before the Poseidon Adventure? She was shapely and very sexy—never anorexic but certainly not big. I thought she was a terrific comedienne and a wonderfully talented actress. Her success was certainly not based on a Marilyn Monroe kind of beauty but rather her abilities as a character actress. The first time I met Shelley was in 1976 when she decided that she wanted to be politically active and she was interested in helping Mo’ Udall’s Presidential campaign. I was in New York working as a celebrities coordinator. They needed to find something for me to do because I had been traveling with Mo and his wife Ella as personal staff, and in a drunken rage she decided I wasn’t her pal. I was replaced by two very nice and very blonde friends who the campaign referred to as the “gold dust” twins. Anyway, Mo wanted me to remain with the campaign so I went to NY and immediately became the liaison to the stars like Paul Newman, lots of Broadway talent, and the Saturday Night Live cast during the years of Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Gilda Radner, but that’s a whole other blob. I thought it would be glamorous. Little did I know that it was the last job any of the smart people in NY wanted to do. Catering to the whims of the famous is not much fun, but it is also not without challenge.
Anyway I was told that I needed to meet with Shelly Winters in her apartment. When I arrived the doorman told me to go right up. Her apartment door was ajar and I knocked and yelled “hi” to announce my arrival. She was in bed. My initial impression was that she looked like a beached whale. She took a large amount of what was probably a queen sized bed. “Get a drink” she ordered without saying hello. “And get me something. There’s liquor in the living room.”
“Anything in particular?” I said.
“Do I look particular?” she said with a laugh.
I poured us both a scotch and brought the drinks back into the bedroom. “Sit down and tell me about Mo and about what I can do.” There was no place to sit but a small area left unoccupied on the bed. So I sat down and we talked for about three hours.
When I left I had such mixed emotions. Here was this smart, talented, very funny woman who had allowed a kind of “has been” status to replace the attractive person she had been with a big and almost frightening lush.
I recently saw Kirsty Alley as a contestant on the “Match Game.” I saw it in reruns or I never would have known her as a celebrity. Mel Harris told me that as aspiring young actors many of them were able to support themselves as winning contestants. Mel, who later starred on “Thirty Something” also won “The $100,000 Pyramid.” Kirsty, who was very cute, was an entertaining guest and won a couple of games. The first time I saw her was when she took over the female lead on “Cheers”. I didn’t ever like her character, I was not a big fan of her acting ability and there was something about her that was ‘horsey’. It wasn’t that she was heavy, she was just horsey. As the years passed she seemed to go from pony to plow. So I was not surprised to see her on the front page of the “Enquirer” at 800 pounds. I am not unsympathetic about a battle with weight. I have fought it all my life, but at what point do you just give in and do nothing but self destruct?
The thing is, you can almost look into the future and predict what’s going to happen to some of these people. I think it will happen with Britney Spears. I don’t think she’s going the anorexic route. My guess is that she becomes a big mama, like Barbara Cook or Rosemary Clooney – not that she has anything close to their talent, but I think she must have a similar appetite. This is just a guess. Being big certainly does not decrease your value as a human being, but when the career you choose is impacted by the way you look, it is not unlikely that (for whatever reason) the road to ruin might be an inability to stay away from the fridge. This is not schadenfreude, but it would be interesting to be around when Britney explodes. We’re just sayin...Iris