Tag Archives: Academy Award

Cybill Shepherd: A Photo Op

Cybill Shepherd feature imageAs a writer who transitions to the editorship of a consumer magazine, there are lots of opportunities to meet and be photographed with celebrities if you know the tricks of the trade.

The actress Cybill Shepherd was an immediate star at age 21 when she debuted in The Last Picture Show (1971), a film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Then she made impressive appearances in The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Taxi Driver (1976), but her star dimmed with films that failed at the box office.

Cybill Shepherd from the early 70s

When I met Cybill Shepherd in 1976, she was touring dinner theatres in a production of A Shot In The Dark. As the former girlfriend of Elvis Presley and other Hollywood notables, she still had audience drawing power.

Following her performance in A Shot In The Dark at the Tidewater Dinner Theatre, there was a wine and light fare reception for theatre patrons.  I was attending as the editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, a monthly, 100-page plus urban features publication. One of the magazine’s most popular sections was titled “Metro Eye” and consisted of a two to four-page layout of photos taken at area social, cultural, and business events.

As editor, I assigned free-lance photographers to a number of these “Metro Eye” events each issue, and our photo coverage was very welcomed and desired at these venues.  My payment for these photographs was insultingly low, but the photographers were allowed to sell their pictures to event sponsors and individuals.  Usually it was very profitable for them to be identified as a Metro photographer, and many good free-lancers wanted those assignments.

Monty and wife Theresa with their best friends Peter and Bess Decker pose with actress Anne Francis at a Tidewater Dinner Theater reception

Monty and wife Theresa with their best friends Peter and Bess Decker pose with actress Anne Francis at a Tidewater Dinner Theater reception

Coincidentally, one of the Metro photos appeared in the program for A Shot In The Dark. Theatre executive Alan Sader had included a gallery of pictures from past shows showing patrons with such stars as Forrest Tucker, Dana Andrews, Yvonne De Carlo, and Pat O’Brien.  My best pal Peter Decker and his beautiful wife Bess were pictured with me and my then-wife Theresa beside actress Anne Francis who had starred in a production of Cactus Flower.  Anne Francis is best remembered for her roles in the 1950s classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet, and for the 1960s television series Honey West.

Monty hams it up with the then-27-year-old actress Cybill Shepherd

Monty hams it up with the then-27-year-old actress Cybill Shepherd

A Metro photographer was working the theatre reception event, and of course, he wanted to ingratiate himself to me by taking my picture with Cybill Shepherd. It became obvious to Ms. Shepherd that the photographer, in bringing us together and directing the photograph, was paying more attention to me than he was to her. He was also taking a lot more shots than were necessary.

When the photographer finally released us, Ms. Shepherd turned to me with an expression of wonderment and demanded, “Just who the hell are you, anyway?”

How could I possibly respond to her without confessing my exploitation, so I answered with something both short and reasonable that I hoped she could accept.

“I’m the mayor,” I said.

Cybill Shepherd recovered from local pretenders like me to star in an Emmy Award winning television series, Moonlighting, with Bruce Willis (1985 to 1989).  Cybill Shepherd is a gal with spunk, and I like spunk.

Cybill Shepherd and Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis

Cybill Shepherd and Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis

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Telly Savalas: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

telly savalas who loves ya babyIn the summer of 1975, I was brought into the extended family of television and movie star Telly Savalas to celebrate the opening of his stage show at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  Here is what it was like being around Telly in the prime of his performing career.

My best friends in those days were Peter and Bess Decker. Bess’s sister was married to Telly’s older brother, Gus, and thus the family connection.  When the entire Savalas clan was urged to join Telly for his Las Vegas opening, Pete and Bess invited me and my then-wife Theresa to join the Norfolk, Virginia contingent.  Our junket host on the private charter flight required only the male gamblers to post $1,500 that could be redeemed in casino chips.  Otherwise, the flight, hotel room, meals, and drinks were covered as we were expected to be active players in the casino.

In 1975, Telly was one of the most popular stars in show business. His New York City police detective show, Kojak, was in the middle of its five-season run (1973-1978). TV Guide ranked Telly number 33 on its 50 Greatest Television Stars of All Time list.  And if that were not enough, his singing-talking rendition of the song If (If a picture paints a thousand words….), was #1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975.

Telly Kojak

Telly had won an Emmy (1974) and two Golden Globe Awards (1975-1976) for Kojak, so when we met him as the shaved head, lollipop sucking, assertive NYC cop character with the famous catch-phrase “who loves ya, baby?” he was universally known.

In person, Telly Savalas was joyfully entertaining, but his sensitive and generous side shined through in his consideration of family.  His older brother, Gus, a Foreign Service Officer stationed at the American Embassy in Athens, came from Greece to celebrate Telly’s success.  Gus even sang a song as a surprise guest in Telly’s opening night at the Sahara.  Gus proved to have a grand operatic voice and was obviously the best singer among the Savalas brothers as Telly playfully acknowledged.

l-r Teddy, Telly, Gus & George

l-r Teddy, Telly, Gus & George

George Savalas

George Savalas

Younger brother, George, who played Detective Stavros, a wild-haired, quiet, comedic foil to Kojak’s street-wise savvy and dramatic darkness on television, was also there. I had established a previous friendship with George and his family when he served as the Celebrity Grand Marshal of the Neptune Festival Parade in Virginia Beach. I was a member of the festival committee, and I also saw George several times when he visited the Deckers in Norfolk.

To really appreciate Telly Savalas, you ought to know that he served in the US Army for three years during WWII and received a Purple Heart. He earned a degree in psychology from Columbia University and began his entertainment career as the host of a popular talk show on the Voice of America radio network.  Oddly, Telly also worked as an ABC network senior director of special news events. He began doing character roles on television drama series in the 1950s and 1960s.  His more than 50 guest appearances included the Twilight Zone classic episode “Living Doll.”

Living Doll episode from The Twilight Zone

Living Doll episode from The Twilight Zone

Telly got his start in feature films when he was discovered by the legendary Hollywood star and producer Burt Lancaster who cast him as his deranged prison mate in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).  Telly received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for that performance.

Telly Savalas in Birdman of Alcatraz

Telly Savalas in Birdman of Alcatraz

That same year, he also appeared in another box office hit, Cape Fear, with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. For the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, Telly shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate and then decided to remain shaved for the rest of his life. Big film roles followed:  Battle of the Bulge (1963), The Dirty Dozen (1967), the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970) with Clint Eastwood.  In total, Telly played the villain in 34 feature films and diverse character roles in another 21 films from 1962 to 1988.

telly savalas kelly's heroes

Theo Kojak was conceived in a television movie pilot for the Kojak series titled The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973).  After the television series ended, Telly reprised the Kojak character in seven made-for-television movies between 1985 and 1990.

Telly Savalas IFIn Las Vegas during our time with him, Telly invited us to his Sahara showroom rehearsals where he sang If and danced a soft-shoe routine with a few shapely showgirls.  Mainly, the show was built around an entertaining patter of show business anecdotes.  Most evenings that opening week, the family party gathered in Telly’s dressing room for refreshments, and then the men went out with Telly for late- night gambling.  Telly was a world-class poker player who finished 21st in the 1992 World Series of Poker.  In 1975, his preferred game seemed to be baccarat, which he played with the high rollers behind a red-velvet roped VIP area.

Since most of us were not in Telly’s high-roller league, Peter, Gus, George and some others in our party kept to the craps tables where we found no luck even when we tried tables in other casinos.

On opening night of Telly’s Vegas show, I brought a bag of rubber skinheads for the men to wear at the Savalas family tables.  When Telly announced the presence of his family in the audience, and the spotlight turned on us, there we were, every man shaved headed like Telly!  Telly was totally surprised, and the gimmick got a big laugh.

One night, Telly got us all invited to a Paramount Pictures reception where I met a very gracious Dionne Warwick, and a Glen Campbell who must have been going through a rough patch in his personal life.  A few years before this encounter, I had been part of a production team that brought Glen Campbell’s touring show to the Hampton Coliseum. When I reminded him of our previous meeting, he was very rude in demonstrating a “so what” attitude.

On one of our final nights in Las Vegas as we enjoyed a late after-show private party  with Telly, he asked for our attention.  He announced that he had to leave to attend another party. Regretfully, he said, he could not take us with him. Frank Sinatra had just called, and we understood that even Telly had to go when summoned by the Chairman of the Board.  Anyway, we had already seen the Sinatra show at Caesar’s Palace from a front-row table.

Frank Sinatra and Telly Savalas

Frank Sinatra at a Vegas party with Telly Savalas. Photo by John Rimmington

When Telly died of cancer at the age of 72 in 1994, his friend, Frank Sinatra, attended his funeral.  Another attendee was Don Rickles who was in the film Kelly’s Heroes with Telly.  Telly Savalas was a generous friend, and I will always remember his great kindnesses to me and my wife that week in Las Vegas when he treated us like family.

As an Afterword to the Las Vegas events of July 1975, I must confess that in my excitement of mingling with the stars, I gambled way more than I could afford.  When my markers were gathered, I had lost nearly $5,000, which was enough that year to purchase a new Ford or Chevy.  And although business and book research has taken me back to Las Vegas a half dozen times, I have never gambled a single dollar more!


Filed under Famous People, Memoirs, Movies, Music, Writing

Elizabeth Taylor: Her Violet Eyes

violeteyes In 1977, I was on the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival Committee and thus earned a seat at the table that hosted the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, John Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy, who was then running for a Virginia US Senate seat.  As the Grand Celebrity Marshall of the month-long festivities, Elizabeth Taylor would crown King Neptune IV on his arrival from the sea.

That late September, Elizabeth Taylor was still amazingly beautiful at age 45.  And yes, as I can personally attest from close-range observation, her violet eyes were mesmerizing. Her major movie career triumphs, including Academy Awards for Butterfield 8 (1960), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1965), were behind her, but she was still a major world-class celebrity.  Why she decided to marry John Warner and seek Washington society as a junior US Senator’s wife was an enigma to her fans. Nevertheless, there she was on the campaign trail doing her best to get Warner elected.

Elizabeth Taylor as she appeared in Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor as she appeared in Cleopatra

Prior to the memorable close-contact Neptune Festival Committee dinner party, I was invited as a magazine journalist to a Republican fund-raiser reception featuring Elizabeth Taylor as the ultimate attraction.  Prominent Republicans and their best dressed and bejeweled women paid big bucks to potentially socialize with the once Cleopatra (1963), and the hotel ballroom was overcrowded, with all eyes focused on the doors where the gorgeous one would make her entrance. After an hour of disappointed expectation, it was rumored that Elizabeth (we were all on a first-name basis with her by now) was having problems with her hair and that she was screaming at a local hairdresser who was obviously unworthy of her trust.  That, at least, was the unconfirmed rumor sweeping the ballroom.

When queen Elizabeth finally entered the end of the ballroom, there was a mad stampede of women toward her.  They ran recklessly head on with flailing arms and handbags. From my view among their stunned and discarded men, the women appeared to have lost all sense of decorum in their determined dash to gaze into the star’s famous eyes.  Their behavior was shameful and embarrassing, and I wondered then how the women at our upcoming Neptune Festival dinner might react in their close proximity to the star.

When we were seated at the table for ten at the Neptune party, I arranged for my then-wife Theresa to sit next to Elizabeth Taylor, while I took an opposite seat.  From the very beginning of the dinner, socially prominent women approached the seated celebrity and leaned in on her with excessive attempts to engage her.  My wife was rudely pushed aside as these women wedged themselves between her and Taylor.  Theresa reported to me that some of these star-struck ladies who were smoking cigarettes actually spilled ashes into Elizabeth Taylor’s hair.

Monty and Theresa

Monty and Theresa

Throughout the ordeal of the interruptions, Elizabeth Taylor kept her composure, but she did not eat her dinner, and she left the event as soon as she reasonably could.  Theresa apologized for the bad behavior of her peers, and Elizabeth hugged her for the sincerity of it in parting.

Taylor and Warner alongside the Carl Vinson ship.  Photo from Carl Vinson Public Affairs

Taylor and Warner alongside the Carl Vinson ship. Photo from Carl Vinson Public Affairs

As a witness to the outrageous conduct of celebrity fans, I wonder if fame is worth the abuse.  Elizabeth Taylor endured all and thus helped John Warner win the Virginia Senate seat in 1978. She had married him late in 1976 as her 6th husband, but they were divorced in 1982. The role of a senator’s wife, as many had predicted, was a miscasting of Elizabeth Taylor.  Then, too, how many Washington society dinner parties could she have endured with rude women leaning on her and spilling cigarette ashes into her hair?


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Alfred Hitchcock: The Chasen’s Restaurant Connection

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

In 1975 one of my first assignments for Holiday Magazine was to attend the annual reunion of the Holiday Magazine Fine Dining Awards winners at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas.  The reunion group was a private association of the top restaurateurs in North America as qualified by their Holiday awards.  As the associate publisher of Holiday, I was an invited guest, not a member.

The host committees of these annual reunions plan their extravaganzas years in advance, with a can-you-top-this attitude.  The gourmet foods, the exceptional wines, and the lavish entertainments are always world-class.  For example, the feature dinner party at the Fairmont included a bicentennial-themed parade of hundreds of costumed actors, some on horseback and some firing Revolutionary War weapons, as the pageant passed through the ballroom.

Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans

The following year, in New Orleans, the final dinner at Commander’s Palace consumed the final bottles of the red wine that the Shah of Iran had served under desert tents for the 5,000th anniversary of the Persian Empire.  The New Orleans hosts had searched the wide world and acquired all remaining bottles of the famous vintage.  Robert Lawrence Balzer, the Holiday food editor, wept as he recited the vineology of the wine before we carefully consumed it and ended its existence in wine history.

Maude Chasen

Maude Chasen

At the grand reunion party in Dallas, I was seated at a table with Maude Chasen and her sister.  Maude’s husband, a minor vaudeville and Broadway performer, had come to Hollywood to act in a Frank Capra film, and then stayed to open a restaurant in 1936 to feed the movie crowd his chili and barbecued ribs.  The West Hollywood location then expanded into a restaurant of comfortable elegance that attracted entertainment celebrities from nearby Beverly Hills.  Chasen’s had an intimate clubby feeling, and Dave and Maude Chasen protected the privacy of their celebrity guests with a policy that made the dining rooms off-limits to photographers and the press.  They also discouraged table-hopping.

Regulars at Chasen’s were scores of A-list celebrities like Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and Groucho MarxRonald Reagan proposed to Nancy in a Chasen’s booth.  In 1962 Elizabeth Taylor famously ordered ten quarts of Dave’s chili  to be airlifted to her on the movie set of Cleopatra, then being filmed in Rome.  Alfred Hitchcock had his favorite booth reserved every Thursday “whenever I am in town” for a period of 30 years.

Dave Chasen had died in 1973, so when I met Maude, she was a widow but still a landmark figure in the restaurant world.  I was reared as a Virginia gentleman, and my wife being absent, I felt responsible to dance with every unescorted woman at my table, regardless of age or beauty.  I am a storyteller, so I not only danced with the two older women, but I also attempted to amuse them.  At the end of the evening, Maude was especially grateful for my attention to her and her sister, and she offered me her influence to put one of her celebrity regulars on a Holiday cover.

Family Plot   Back at the Holiday office, I wanted Maude’s influence to get the pop song hit maker Elton John on a Holiday cover, but my more conservative editors selected Alfred Hitchcock whose final film Family Plot was due for release.

Alfred Hitchcock was 77 years old when he and his wife Alma Reville arrived at Chasen’s to shoot the Summer 1976 cover of Holiday Magazine.  On that issue masthead, I was listed as Associate Publisher and Director of Marketing.  I also contributed a feature story to that issue titled “Norfolk: The Ship Came In.”  The Hitchcock feature “If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Hitchcock: An Epicurean Profile” was written by Sylvia Drake with photos by Gene Daniels.

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

The cover shot shows Hitch at his favorite booth posing with an aperitif in his hand.  The table itself had been laden with food wonderments—a crown rack of lamb in the foreground, a side of smoked salmon, and a seafood display of cocktail shrimp, crab claws, and oysters on the half shell.  I had hoped to go to Los Angeles to direct Hitchcock since I had arranged for the cover shot, but my schedule forbade.  I was later advised that he directed himself and cautioned the photographer to “get it over.”

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

Although Hitchcock was “the master of suspense” in such hits as Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo, only Rebecca (1940), his first American film, won the Best Picture Oscar.  Without a single Best Director Academy Award, he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1979, only one year before his death in 1980.

Monty Joynes HOLIDAY press card

Hitchcock was famous for his cameo appearances in his own films, and I now regret that I did not use my publisher status to make my own cameo appearance at the Holiday cover shoot at Chasen’s.  Of course, in attempting to direct the great one, I would only have been told to “get it over.”

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