After a blush of success with her all-girl group the GTOs and a role in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, our Miss Pamela found herself slogging down the slippery slope of showbiz, enduring gropings from lechers, casting calls that went nowhere, a bit part in a Jim Brown film, a lead in a B-movie, close encounters with Robert De Niro and Sylvester “Call Me Sly” Stallone, an even closer one with Michael Des Barres, before heading for the soaps and then a writing career.
At the tender age of twelve, I watched Patty Duke win the Oscar for The Miracle Worker and decided I must become an actress. From the time the Miller family got our first big ol’ TV set, I sat entranced, getting crushes on Bonanza’s Michael Landon, The Rifleman’s Johnny Crawford, and Billy Gray on Father Knows Best. And Ricky Nelson, of course, crooning through the screen with his twinkly eyes. My daddy, O.C., had been a gaffer in the studios before I was born but that’s the closest my blood had come to Hollywood magic.
My parents often took me to the Van Nuys drive-in, and I sat agog, sipping my little can of hot chocolate toddy when Charlton Heston parted the sea in blinding technicolor, and weeping salty tears when Bambi’s mother got murdered. Back home, I’d set my alarm for 2 or 3 AM, and crawl out of my cozy twin bed to watch James Dean melt the TV screen with his sultry angst.
As it happens, my gorgeous drunken flame-haired cousin, Naomi, married Hamill Petroff, a slim, slick Russian choreographer, and they had snazzy candlelit parties in their second-story apartment up the street that seemed like a shimmering faraway fantasy. I vividly remember sitting on Jock Mahoney’s lap, as he regaled the cocktail set with tales of his talented stepdaughter, Sally Field.
Hamill choreographed the frolicking, fawning Golddiggers on the Dean Martin Show and I got to swoon a few feet from the man himself as he swigged apple juice like it was some sort of potent double highball. Fame in the flesh. A few feet away. I still have his signed 8 x 10.
Throughout Junior High and my stint at Cleveland High, I traipsed the floorboards, getting a standing ovation after a solo performance pretending I was watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. (All I had to do was repeat what had actually happened a few weeks earlier in my house on Jamieson Avenue). My friend Iva Turner and I got into the finals at a Shakespearean festival but alas, didn’t win, place or show.
Rock & roll soon lambasted my showbiz dreams, and real live rock stars lit up my life as I fell in and out of crazylove with several rock gods. Then I almost became a rock star myself, even winding up as the centerfold in Rolling Stone with my all-girl group, and for a few years believed the GTOs might give me a career in music. Our mentor Frank Zappa, as usual, was way ahead of his time, and we shook things up for close to three years before imploding all over the place.
It was Mr. Zappa, however, who turned my pubescent acting dreams into a reality when he cast me as the ‘News Hen’ in his groundbreaking madcap opus 200 Motels. I was already in London, staying in a freezing cold funky flat with my fiancé, Sandy Sanderson, singing backups with his band, The Pink Fairies, when I got the thrilling call to show up at Pinewood Studios the next day. The timing was perfecto as I had recently realized I was actually in love with Soupy Sales’ son, Tony, back in Beverly Hills. Oops.
Frank’s groundbreaking movie, shot in a mere two weeks on videotape, featured Ringo Starr as Zappa, Keith Moon as the Nun, and the Mothers of Invention as themselves. Miss Lucy GTO also played herself, and said lines she often actually spewed, such as “Good evening, honey!” when she was thoroughly unamused about something. I sure miss my long-lost Girls Together Outrageously.
Most of my lines were with Theodore Bikel, who played my uncle, but he refused to be in a scene in which the word ‘fuck’ was spoken, so sadly, half my lines were cut. I did get to interact with Mother Motorhead who was dressed as a vacuum cleaner, spend quality time with an actual Beatle, and dally with the hysterical Keith Moon. And I was going to be on the silver screen!!
Everything old is new again – or is it the other way around – as 200 Motels has just been released in a spectacular box set. On the poster, I’m featured with Jimmy Carl Black tearing open my blouse revealing a pointy gigantic bosom I’ve never had.
Back in L.A., I sent out copious photos and resumes, finally landing a C-minus agent who sent me out on a class A movie called The Massage Parlor. I got the part, but don’t remember much about the experience, except for a few really scary massages and the credit I added to my resume.
I then cleaned a filthy theater in exchange for crappy acting classes, enduring snooty looks from paying students, and read for an old fellow downtown who’d been producing an ancient melodrama called The Drunkard for decades at the Alexandria Hotel. William Jarvis was very important in his own mind, and after my reading, gave me the lead role, but insisted my voice was too high-pitched and needed to be “taken down” a notch. Hmmm. He told me to relax on his cracked Naugahyde couch as dust motes clogged the air, then plugged in a vibrator and proceeded to rub it all over my exposed belly. He moved the device lower and lower, asking me to mimic the deep buzzing sound as it finally reached my groin.
Bzzz bzzz bzzz. How low can you go? Yikes!
I leapt off the couch and streaked for the door, dashing any hope of melodramatic downtown emoting.
I lived at the Zappa’s, and continued to cavort with Keith Moon, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Page and the like, but kept going on cheesy casting calls, not landing anything until I got involved with an up and coming dashing young actor, Don Johnson.
While we were together, I’d often read lines with him, aching for my chance to emote. I did get to feel like somebody when Donnie and I attended a matinee double-feature of 200 Motels and his rock & roll western, Zachariah. We sat in the dark, lighting up the theater with our imagined star power.
My next scintillating role was as an extra in The Harrad Experiment, where I sat naked in a circle with other free-spirits while Donnie Wayne from Flatcreek Missouri did what he does best, chatting up a young Melanie Griffith while he was at it. Her mom, Tippi Hedren, was Don’s co-star, and Melanie was also an extra, but they didn’t have to sit naked in the circle. But as usual, I digress.
After a particularly demeaning commercial interview, in which I had to shout “Twirl in a double-belted kiltie!” while twirling round and round in a tiny stuffy office, I was walking dejectedly down La Cienega, when a convertible full of bearded dudes careened in front of me, stopping me in my morose tracks. The driver was an old friend, Jim Morrison, who certainly seemed happier than the last time I’d seen him staggering down the Strip. He told me he was going to France to leave the farce of rock & roll behind to focus on his beloved poetry. Like his compadres, a big ol’ beard covered his beautiful face, but he’d slimmed down and exuded warmth and optimism. As he waved goodbye, I was cheered to see him in such good spirits, and as the Lizard King headed to his fate, I continued to slog along the slippery slope of showbiz.
I landed another small role in Jim Brown’s Blaxploitation gem, Slaughter’s Big Rip Off, but was relegated to lounging by a pool topless, while my one line was given to one of the bevy of beauties with a much larger bosom.
I did manage to score an actual lead in a low-budget joke called The Carhops, and even though I refused to peel off my clothes on film again, I did have to strip down to my spike heels and parade around in a field for the producers, so they could observe my “measurements.” They scrutinized my assets, nodding sagely as I pretended I was OK with it. Acting, right? I got the part and, once again, on the movie poster, as I proudly offer my serving tray, somehow several cups sizes have been added to my jutting breasts.
My oftentimes beau, the generous Keith Moon paid for me to join the Screen Actors Guild, and I was certain stardom was waiting in the wings.
Miss Mercy had added to my life immeasurably when she took me to meet Chuck Wein, an overly bright, outspoken cosmic oddball often called ‘The Wizard.’ He’d worked with Andy Warhol on the film, Ciao Manhattan, but he felt ripped off and was unhappy with the result, ready to embark on his next movie project. I was immediately enthralled with his cool-as-a-cuke demeanor, absolute certainty of his wizardry, and assertion that we were all ONE. Astrology, numerology, Tarot cards, and a brand new healthy dessert, Carrot Cake, filled my days and nights, while Chuck and I got closer and closer.
I kind of fell in love with him for a while, even though he looked me up and down one afternoon, stating, “Stop standing there like you know what’s going on.” Ouch.
It turned out he was gay, but he did adore me, and thought I was worthy enough to play my groupie self in a film he’d write and direct, entitled Arizona Slim. An actual infamous big-lipped pool shark, Sean Walsh, (Arizona Slim himself) pal of Don Johnson, was my co-star, but he’d never acted before and was an off-and-on junkie. Oops.
We were going to shoot in Manhattan, beginning on New Year’s Eve, 1973-74, and cast and crew piled into the Beekman Towers Hotel a week before to bone up on the ever-changing script. It became obvious right away that Sean was decidedly in his ON phase, but Chuck was determined that he must play the lead role, come what may.
In fact…one evening Chuck called my room, asking me to meet him at the rooftop bar to chat with an actor about playing the second lead. His name? Robert freaking De Niro. I’d seen him in Mean Streets and was already enamored, grinningly tongue-tied as he and Chuck discussed the role. When De Niro said, “I’d consider the lead if the timing works out, because I’m leaving for Italy soon to film GODFATHER TWO,” I kicked Chuck hard under the table, but he shook his head, insisting that the lead was cast. Period. So I watched as Robert freaking De Niro walked away into history, imagining what might-have-been if Don Corleone was my co-star.
As was often the case, my manic boyfriend Keith Moon didn’t show up to play the rock star role, so a net was cast over New York City to pull in a British musician who could also act: enter Michael Des Barres.
The lead singer of the glam band, Silverhead, had been a child actor, and was a stand-out teen in To Sir With Love, so we lucked out when he pranced in wearing a slinky lamé jumpsuit and little girl’s flats, nails painted and chipped, his tangled mane sprayed silver. He looked me up and down in my Betsey Johnson short shorts ensemble and asked who I was. “I am the star of this movie,” I announced haughtily, and we proceeded to fall in love, despite the fact he’d gotten married three weeks earlier. It was his 26th birthday to boot.
It sounds like it would be easy to play yourself, spouting lines you often said, as Chuck wrote the script using my own patois and jargon, but it sounded goofy coming out of my mouth. My best scenes were actually with Michael, and during a party scene in which the host slapped me in the face (it was not in the script) he took my side when Chuck insisted I should have “gone with it.” And when I was way too high on various substances one late night, he made sure I had a few downers to get some all-important sleep.
We had a huge premiere on the Sunset Strip, but for all kinds of reasons, the movie was never released. Probably a good thing. Sean is nodding out in half the scenes, and when the second lead, Joey Cortese, is shot and dying, he croaks, “A stiff dick has no brains.” I still try to imagine how Robert De Niro might say that penetrating line.
When Michael finally extricated himself from his former life in the UK, we were about to create a love nest in Hollywood when I got a large role in the long-running New York soap, Search for Tomorrow. I was delighted and distressed all at once. Five hundred bucks a week sounded like a lot of dough, and I’d finally be on the boob tube, treading the boards, lighting up the screen — but what would Michael do? His music career was in LA, and he wound up sleeping on his manager’s couch, who also happened to be a huge drug dealer. Ohhh nooooooo.
I found a perfect Villagey apartment at Bleecker and 7th above a fragrant French bakery and started learning the subway system along with pages and pages of lines. The character I played, Amy Kaslo, started out as a carefree hippie chick, but as the weeks went by, the writers turned her into a straight pre-med student in love with her best friend’s fiancé. My first day on the set I had to strain spaghetti through a tennis racket. Cute, eh? Impossible too.
Of course I became chummy with my costars, the goddess Morgan Fairchild, handsome Michael Nouri, and charming John Heard, who played my nerdy boyfriend, Grover. We had a blast hanging out — camaraderie a go go — but I started looking forward to my days off, staying in my loftbed, cooing and wooing with my betrothed on the phone.
I wish I could say that I was damn good as Amy Kaslo and brought the studio down every day, but I was so concerned about my man 3,000 miles away on a drug dealer’s divan, and my character had become such a pathetic snotty, boring asshole, that the job became a daily drudge. I couldn’t seem to learn my ever-changing lines, and my eyes veered to the TelePrompter way too often. Still it was a horrid surprise when I was called into the producer’s office and canned, six months after I’d arrived to take my bite out of the Big Apple. He said my “heart wasn’t in it,” and he was correctamundo.
As I emerged from the office, downcast and stunned, my three costar pals were standing by the door and embraced me teary-eyed. Then they took me to the Russian Tea Room to get drunk, and confessed they’d been auditioning actresses to take my place for the last few weeks. I was embarrassed and mortified, and down deep relieved.
Back in Hollywood, after I got Michael safely tucked into our cute apartment on El Cerrito Place, and started making him breakfast, lunch and dinner, I snagged a pretty decent commercial agent. Pretty soon I was taking the Nestea Plunge in Arizona, even though I was three months pregnant and had to get a doctor’s note to fall back and back and back into a huge pool fully dressed, grinning madly, clutching a sparkling glass of Nestea. I was very perky in a McDonald’s ad, fluttering booklets of burger coupons over and over again. I studied with tres important coaches, some of whom told me I had real talent, and performed in copious plays. I was very pregnant in Dogfight, an avant musical about Howard Hughes, also starring Edward James Olmos, and a jazzy young singer, Katey Sagal. As with any theatrical experience, the players got all chummy and familial for those couple of months. I still go to Katey’s festive sumptuous Christmas parties forty years later.
Even after my son Nicholas Dean was born, I dragged him to classes and interviews, sometimes bringing an expandable playpen so he could bat at colorful dangling baubles while I tried to conjure up tears or laughter for a director or casting agent who rarely noticed my magical charisma, my desperate longing to perform.
One startling afternoon my agent called about a thrilling Bigtime interview. It seems a certain superstar had seen me a few years earlier, dancing on The Real Don Steele Show (I was a Real Don Steeler, hanging all over the popular DJ/TV host as he introduced bands) and wanted me to read for the lead in his upcoming film, Paradise Alley. I had always been maniacally nervous before an audition, but this was a new freak-out peak, so a couple of glasses of Pinot were in order. I wore my shortest skirt to show off my best asset, my long gams, and sashayed into the gigantic office as if my heart wasn’t whomping like Maxwell’s Sliver Hammer.
I can still see Sylvester Stallone standing up behind his van-sized desk, opening his arms wide to greet me. He raved about the red sequined showgirl garb I wore on the Real Don Steele Show before telling me a bit about the character, a prostitute with a heart of gold. Classic cliché? Indeed. He read the scene with me and seemed to like my take, and the next day I returned to screen test with Rocky Balboa. I had to don a sheer nightie and climb into bed with Sly, as he told me to call him, and implore, cajole and soothe his character, Cosmo, with a New York accent. It was all very heady and swoony and unreal as the bed was suddenly surrounded by lights, cameras, action! Sly had me go through the script a couple of times, told me I’d done a swell job, and I went home to wait it out.
Alas, the part went to Joyce Ingalls, one of the other four actresses who’d been tested, and I was flattened with sorrow until my agent called to tell me Stallone had offered me a smaller role, the tough moll of the antagonist, played by Kevin Conway. I knew I’d given a good performance in the sack, so when I later found out that Stallone and his costar, Ms. Ingalls, had begun an affair that ended his marriage, it somehow appeased my wilted ego.
I only worked for a week as Vonnie, but immersed myself in the exhilarating atmosphere, enjoying the insulated camaraderie with my costars, one of whom, Tom Waits, entertained us at the piano bar during downtime. I had an immediate connection with Kevin Conway, and after my big scene with Armand Assante, Stallone took me aside saying, “You ran the gamut of emotions in that scene,” which caused me to shiver with delight.
I expected auditions galore to follow, but the phone didn’t ring for the girl who ran the gamut of emotions. A hard pill to swallow, but I crushed it up and choked it down.
No longer a potential starlet, and now a busy new wife and mom, I gradually made the very tough decision to put all my head shots in the bottom drawer and give up my childhood Patty Duke dreams of Oscar-winning stardom. I felt wrenched and sorrowful, torn up, but had to chase after a toddler, keep a colorful house and enjoy my hubby. I also had to figure out what to do next. It took a while.
We were living in Laurel Canyon when Nick started first grade at age 5, and suddenly I had several hours a day to call my own. Aaaahhhhh. I’d been journaling from the age of nine when my mom gave me the first little diary that would hold my thoughts, and I’d always known my wild Sunset Strip memories should be saved for posterity. Maybe writing could quell that creative desire that had never, ever dissipated. Just maybe.
I found a writing workshop in the west valley, the now defunct Every Woman’s Village, and the first assignment was to recall a memorable experience, so I gushed away about the first time I met the Rolling Stones. After class the teacher took me aside and said she hoped I’d continue writing about my adventures, that my stories might even be “commercial.” Hmmmm.
That very same week I got a call from Stephen Davis, an accomplished author working on Hammer of the Gods, a tome about Led Zeppelin’s antics. After our interview, he told me my tales were tantalizing, encouraging me to WRITE MY OWN BOOK.
And so I did.
A few years ago, I was asked to play a groupie journalist (myself!) on the soap opera, The Young and the Restless, and all my crazy worlds collided in a full circle kind of way. I didn’t have to take off my clothes, pad my bra, get slapped in the face, sit naked in a circle, strain spaghetti through a tennis racket, or slam backwards into a pool. I didn’t even have to twirl in a double-belted kiltie.