Say, are you in the mood for a little time travel? Great! Let's all jump into the Way Back Machine to the year 1981.
A former B-movie actor from the '30's and '40's--Ronald Reagan--was sworn in as president.
While 700 million of their nearest and dearest watched, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.
The Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl.
And during the annual Golden Globe Awards, an unknown starlet named Pia Zadora was named "Best New Star", beating out such candidates as Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern. What's more, the flick she won her Globe for--"Butterfly"--was a slimy box office bomb about possible father/daughter incest co-starring--I kid you not--Ed McMahon and Orson Welles.
No sooner had Pia's name been announced than Tinsel Town began buzzing that Zadora's win had been stage managed and bank rolled by her hubby, the very rich Meshulam Riklis.
Thus begins the tale of Pia Zadora, one of Junk Cinema's most beloved figures, and her ill-fated odyssey To Be Taken Seriously.
After her dubious Golden Globe win, Pia naturally thought long and hard about her next project. It obviously needed to be something intelligent and classy that would show off the pint-sized, chipmunk cheeked actress' dramatic depth and range--first glimpsed in her cinematic debut, 1964's "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."
Hmmm. Medea, perhaps? Portia in Merchant of Venice? Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire?
No, no and no. Instead, Pia's handlers chose "The Lonely Lady", a tale of hope and heartache in Hollywood, written by the Sultan of Sleaze, Harold Robbins.
In this indescribably tacky turkey, Pia plays Jerilee Randall, an earnest young miss who dreams of becoming a writer--specifically, a screen writer. To each his own. Along the way to acclaim and riches, Jerilee will be assaulted, humiliated in a hot tub, develop a drinking problem, sample a bit too much Bolivian Marching Powder, undergo an abortion, date a variety of scumbags, suffer a nervous breakdown and wear a series of outfits of such astonishing ugliness that even a Kardashian would find them tasteless.
As all Hollywood sagas must, "The Lonely Lady" begins at the "Award Presentation Ceremony", Tinsel Town's biggest night--however, any resemblance to the Academy Awards is purely coincidental and probably illegal. Jerilee is up for Best Original Screenplay. While she waits for her category to come up, she wanders back into flashback land. Here we see Jerilee as a graduating senior, decked out in pigtails and a gingham dress a la' Ellie Mae Clampett. She's just been recognized as her school's "Most Promising English Major". While accepting her honor, Jerilee launches into an earnest speech about how writers must speak the truth and make their characters "honest", "open" and concerned about important "issues". The battleaxe running the ceremony rolls her eyes and quickly hustles her off stage--the first of many slights our heroine will endure while trying to articulate her personal voice.
Then Jerilee makes the first of many contrived mistakes meant to underscore her Loss Of Innocence as well as how dirty, scummy, rotten and just plain yucky the world is, at least according to Harold Robbins.
After her high school awards ceremony, Jerilee joins her needy, nerdy friend Bernie for a party "at Kim's". Jerilee is having such a great time dancing to awful disco music that she refuses Bernie's request that they leave. Instead, Jerilee accepts the invitation of Walter Thorton, Jr. to meet his famous screen writer pa, Walter Thorton (Lloyd Bochner). Joining then at Walt Jr.'s house is the future "Something Wild", "Field of Dreams" and "Goodfellas" star Ray Liotta. In his cinematic debut, Liotta plays "Joe" a rich, scummy pothead you just know is trouble. Yet even after he insults Jerilee's award ("It looks like a penis") and makes a grab for her breasts, "The Lonely Lady" producers felt the need to ramp up Joe's repulsion level even more. Thus, we have the scumbag sexually assaulting Zadora with a garden hose.
Back home in a catatonic state, Jerilee is tended by a doctor who doesn't even wipe the blood off her face. Even worse, Jerilee's ma Veronica (Bibi Besch) refuses to go to the police because EVERYBODY knows those rich Bel Air snoots never pay for their crimes and the justice system is rigged in their favor and she, a poor widow, doesn't have the money to hire lawyers and besides her daughter was "assaulted" not "raped" and, oh, let's just forget about the whole thing, OK?
Believe it or not, the doctor agrees!
When next we see her, Jerilee is dressed in over-alls and pigtails, like an extra from "The Waltons". Walter Sr. has arrived with her English major award. Although he makes no amends for the the horrible attack on her person that took place at his house, Walter and Jerilee manage to become friends. They jog in the park, discuss Pushkin, go on dates and finally kiss. Then Jerilee announces that Walter--who is old enough to be her father--has proposed marriage. Mother Randall is aghast at such news, rolling herself up into fetal position and screaming, "I'm not listening to this! I'm not listening to this!" And how does the teenage Jerilee articulate her deep love for Walter? "I want to go to bed with him!"
Jerilee and Walter do marry, but it's clear their love is doomed. It's not just their age difference or the fact that Walter turns out to be a controlling husband or that the famous screen writer is threatened by his wife's talent (Jerilee publishes an acclaimed collection of short stories. Did I forget to mention that?). No, it's because Walter is impotent and unable to satisfy his young, frisky wife. As Viagra is a good 10 to 12 years in the future, Jerilee and Walter find their relationship becoming increasingly tense.
After the success of her short story collection, Jerilee decides to write a screenplay. Hubby Walter isn't happy about this, but he agrees to allow Jerilee to handle rewrites on the set of his latest picture. This blockbuster, which appears to be set in 15th century Spain, has run aground because the leading lady can't play the graveyard scene Walter has penned. Jerilee rewrites the scene, replacing all of hubby's dialogue with the simple phrase, "Why?" Naturally, Walter is furious, but everybody else on the set loves it. The actress delivers a powerhouse performance, wailing, "Why? Whhhhiiii?" Later, the critics signal out that scene as one the movie's highlights. Much to his wife's dismay, Walter takes FULL CREDIT for Jerilee's work, shrugging, "In this business, you can't afford self respect."
Back home, Jerilee pleads with hubby to go to bed with her. Still unable to "perform", he refuses. She then begs him to come inside so they can "talk. We need to talk." Walter, however, is in no mood to talk. Instead he picks up a garden hose and sneers, "Is this more your kick?"
Divorced, Jerilee tries and fails to get her scripts sold. Just about every business meeting she attends results in some guy wanting to sleep with her in return for representation. Jerilee refuses such offers, determined to conquer Hollywood her way. Meanwhile, Pia begins an affair with a married movie star named George (Jared Martin). After all the complications with hubby Walter, Jerilee is "set free" having lots and lots of sex with her new cuddlemate. Of course, it's all fun and games until someone gets a bun in the oven. When Jerilee reveals her condition to George, he coldly rejects her--he's married, after all. So Jerilee is forced to call upon her disapproving ma for help, who, naturally, is less than supportive.
Finally realizing that everybody in the whole entire universe has used and abused her, Jerilee has an epic meltdown. First, she takes a shower with her clothes on. Next, she rampages through her flat, knocking over furniture, vases, books, knickknacks and rips her precious script into confetti. Then Jerilee stumbles upon her typewriter and begins madly hammering on the keys. Her delirium at a fever pitch, she hallucinates that all those who have wronged her have materialized out of thin air to taunt her. While her abusers distorted heads mouth their distorted lies, Jerilee manically swats at them as if under attack by a swarm of aggressive fruit flies. At the breaking point, poor pitiful Pia yanks at her hair, cups her face in her hands and shrieks like a dental drill.
But hold on! We're not done yet! After Pia emits her primal scream, the camera freezes and then the colors red and green are superimposed on her hilariously contorted mug.
Now a patient at a pricey mental hospital (paid for by ex-hubby Walter. After all her put Jerilee through, it's the least he could do), Pia lies in a catatonic state. Arriving to offer her own unique brand of "tough love" is Mrs. Randall. "(Jerilee) was suffering from paranoia and hallucinations," the orderly explains, "induced by tranquilizers, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol"--none of fazes her ma. "She's always been difficult," Mrs. Randall shrugs.
Slowly but surely, Jerilee recovers. Part of her therapy is to write and soon enough she bats out a script titled "The Holdout". Meeting with a reputable director and studio head, Jerilee sells her script for "$75, 000 plus points." However, when she learns that ex-cuddlemate George is signed up for the male lead, Jerilee balks. She doesn't want that user/abuser in her movie. With the whole deal hanging in the balance, the sudio head changes Jerilee's mind with a bit of truly tasteless advice: "You've already had one abortion--don't have another!"
So off Jerilee goes to meet with the producers. Alone. They are a married couple. Hmmm. When Pia arrives at their estate, the hubby ushers her into their backyard. he hands her a drink. Then his hefty wife beckons Jerilee to join her in the hot tub. The camera zeroes in on our heroine's stunned face. Is history repeating itself? What will Jerilee do?
Suddenly we are back at the Oscar's--I mean the Award Presentation Ceremonies! As the host makes weak jokes about the importance of writers "to the industry", we wait on pins and needles for the name of the Best Original Screenplay winner to be read. To no one's surprise, it's Jerilee--after all, it's Pia's movie, so what did you expect? Anyway, Jerilee strides to the podium to accept her statuette. She dutifully thanks her producers, her director and even her leading man. In concluding her speech, Pia utters the words that are destined to be her epitaph: "I don't suppose I'm the only one here who's had to f*@&! her way to the top!"
While the glittering black-tie crowd gasps in horror, Jerilee grabs her award and purposefully strides off into the sun set...as did Ms. Zadora herself, who never starred in a major motion picture ever again.
Uh, hooray for Hollywood?
"The Lonely Lady" has so many things wrong with every aspect of its being that it would take an encyclopedia to detail them all. Therefore, I will limit my discussion to the following items:
Location, Location, Location: Although "The Lonely Lady" is suppose to take place in California, it was actually shot in Italy. This explains why so much of the flick takes place indoors and in restaurants.
What's in a name? Plenty, apparently! "The Lonely Lady" had two characters named Walter, two characters named George and two characters named Jerilee.
A girl's best friend is not her mother. Jerilee's ma Bibi Besch is a truly hateful person. Not only did she refuse to contact the police when her daughter was raped, but she belittles her at every turn. She's awfully inconsistent: one minute she's appalled that her daughter would marry an older man, the next she's gleefully enjoying his wealth. At one point, Mrs. Randall appeared to be jealous that Walter, Sr. was interested in her daughter and not her. Not even Jan Brady had mood swings like this!
Location, Location, Location, part 2. Jerilee and Walter's wedding reception takes place in the exact same spot where the heroine was brutally assaulted. How could the director, cast and continuity person over look this detail? And did they really think the audience wouldn't notice, either? Dumb and tasteless.
All in the family. What happened to Walter, Jr.? Although his pa said he was "in England visiting his mother", how does Walter, Jr. feel about having a stepmother the same age as himself?
Hair don'ts. You can amuse yourself for hours counting how many times Pia changes her hairstyle in this movie. From pigtails to ponytails to a bun to a pouf to long and shaggy to an up swept chignon--Pia has more hairstyles than facial expressions. For a performer trying to establish her dramatic credentials this is not good.
Because of the cheap, shoddy, low rent, laughably awful quality of "The Lonely Lady", the flick became an instant bad movie classic, a certified Junk Cinema Jewel and one of the corner stones of annual Golden Raspberry Awards. In fact, "The Lonely Lady" made Razzie history by earning eleven nominations when there were only ten categories! The flick received six "wins", including Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director and Worst Original Song. When the Razzie's honored the worst cinematic achievements of the century, Pia was up for Worst Actress of the Century (she lost to Madonna). Talk about staying power!
Yes, many are called, but few reach the heights of true junkiness like "The Lonely Lady". It is an accomplishment everyone connected with this misbegotten mess-terpiece can take pride in.
So, until next time, remember that money can't buy you happiness, and SAVE THE MOVIES!