Read Read My Lips Online

Authors: Sally Kellerman

Read My Lips (7 page)

BOOK: Read My Lips
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E
VEN ON A WAITRESS’S SALARY,
I
COULD AFFORD TO LIVE RIGHT
in the middle of it all, just steps from Sunset Boulevard. And I could afford acting classes to boot. Working at Chez Paulette was my first big star turn—mingling with the greats. At that point I was waiting on more movie stars than I would work with over my entire career.

Carroll Righter, “Astrologer to the Stars,” came in the first night I worked at the Chez. He called out to me: “Waiter!” thinking I was a man because of my height. Psychic? Maybe not. But Max told me I had to be nice to him. I usually found even the grouchy customers fun. The surlier, the better.

“Can I have some salt?” one regular asked me as I put down his hamburger. And I scooted off to retrieve it.

I returned, salt in hand, and went about my business. A few moments later he called me over again.

“Can I have some mustard?”

Of course. I fetched the mustard and brought it over. Within moments he called me over once more.

“Can I have some pepper?” he asked.

“How about asking for it all at once?”

“Look, lady,” he said. “It’s not my fault you’re a waitress.”

Will Sage was an older actor who came in regularly and always left me a ten-cent tip. “Buy yourself a new hat,” Will would say. A nickel was the norm among customers. Occasionally a diner at Chez Paulette would be in a good mood and leave a quarter. One time an older man left me a whole dollar, and I chased him down the street, yelling, “Sir! Sir! You left your money!”

Will was so kind. He’d stop by my apartment, which was always
unlocked in those days, and fix little things for us. He always left a note that said, “The bunny was here.” For the handyman work, I should have been tipping him.

You never knew who else would stop by at Chez Paulette. John Cassavetes, John Barrymore Jr., other producers and directors. There may have been a couple of famous Hollywood women that I waited on, but I mostly remember the men.

Steve McQueen would stop by with his very pregnant wife, Neile, dropping her off so she could relax and stay off her feet while he took off on his motorcycle.

The first time I saw Warren Beatty he was with his agent Paul Brandon. Warren asked Paul to find out if I would go out with him. Paul asked. I looked at Warren and thought, “Aw, he’s just a kid my age.”

“Absolutely not,” I said.

At the time Warren asked me out, I liked an actor named Harry Guardino, who was older, dark, and Italian. He used to come into Chez Paulette all the time. One night a customer said to me, “You’re really big.”

Harry leapt to my defense: “No, she’s not. She’s a woman and beautiful!”

That’s all it took. I had an official crush. Unfortunately, Harry was married. The next year Warren Beatty was being celebrated as the handsomest guy in town and starring in Elia Kazan’s
Splendor in the Grass.
But then I’ve never been known for my foresight.

A
T THAT POINT
I
WAS IN THERAPY.
I
STILL REMEMBER THE
first question my therapist asked me:
Do you masturbate
? I cried for the whole hour, I was so ashamed. But once I got over that—while continuing to pray for forgiveness every time I masturbated—I spent my first half year or so of therapy trying to get over my mad, desperate love for Marlon Brando. Then one night, as we were closing up and I was wiping down the tables, Max came rushing over.

“We’re OPEN!” he said in an excited whisper.

I looked up, and in walked Marlon with a tall blond man I’d never seen before. I froze, then quickly thawed myself out and got back to wiping off the tables on the patio.

The last time I’d bumped into Marlon, I was with Virginia. That had been a short while after my infamous first car ride with him. That night he’d invited Virginia and me up to his house along with a couple of his friends: Christian Marquand, the French actor many will remember from
Lord Jim
and
Apocalypse Now,
and Roger Vadim, who would go on to write
Barbarella
and marry its star, Jane Fonda. At this point Vadim may have been coming out of his marriage to Brigitte Bardot.

We had all gone to Marlon’s place on Mulholland, where he played the bongos for us. At the end of the night he instructed Virginia and me to drop off Christian and Vadim. Instead of taking the guys straight home, we stopped at the Sea Witch for a snack and then went back our place on Havenhurst. Christian and I hung out in the living room, necking on my box spring, while Virginia was in the bedroom with Vadim. Nobody got laid, or “lost our snowflakes,” as we liked to put it. As morning dawned, we drove the guys back to the Beverly Hilton in Virginia’s Plymouth, which had ratty lining that hung down in all our faces. The guys got out of the car and said they’d call the next day.

Of course they didn’t.

Despondent after waiting all day by the phone, we finally gave up and decided go to see . . .
And God Created Woman,
written and directed by Vadim and starring Bardot and Christian. That just made us sicker than we were before; Christian was so gorgeous and Vadim so obviously talented. We went to drown our sorrows at Cosmo Alley. As we arrived—wearing the same clothes we’d had on the night before—who should we see come strolling out the door but Marlon, Vadim, and Christian?

Marlon said, “Look, boys! Your girls are here!”

Then he said good-bye and abruptly walked off, leaving his friends behind.

Vadim looked at me and said, “I’m very disappointed in you, Sally.”

“He’s not really leaving, is he?” Christian asked, referring to Marlon.

“I think he is,” I said.

Looking puzzled and awkward, Vadim and Christian started chasing after Marlon, yelling, “Marlon, come back, come back, don’t leave us!”

Virginia and I just looked at each other.

Afterward, whenever we thought of that night, Virginia and I would blame our disappointment on the lining of our Plymouth. “They would have loved us if we hadn’t driven them home in the old Plymouth,” we’d always joke.

That had been a few months before. And now here was Marlon again. Max barked at me to bring him and his friend their menus. Fine. I dropped them off and made a beeline for the other end of the room. I kept wiping the same clean tables over and over again, but then wiped myself into a corner right next to Marlon’s table.

“Sally,” he mumbled in his cool, raspy voice. “Don’t you remember me, or are you playing it cool?”

I whirled toward him, just as I had the first night I’d met him.

“I’m playing it cool because every minute I’ve ever spent with you was the worst minute of my life!”

He just smiled.

“Would you like to come up to the house?

“Yes, I would,” I said.

I took off my apron. The three of us got into Marlon’s car, with me in the middle, frozen again, just as I had been at Cosmo Alley. When we arrived at his house, Marlon ran quickly inside, saying he needed to go to the bathroom. I stood alone in the dark with the other man.

“It must be wonderful to be so quiet and self-contained,” he said.

I could definitely never keep up that act. I was tempted to flee before the real me showed up and started talking a mile a minute.

Marlon showed the three of us up to his bedroom, where I was certain he was trying to set me up with his friend. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but at one point I got a little teary. Marlon reached over and touched my leg, trying to comfort me, and I said, testily, “Don’t touch me, because you’ll never touch me as much as I want you to.”

I looked up to see that the blond man was gone. I was alone in bed with my hero.

I spent the night fighting him off, all because I wanted to be special. I didn’t want to be one of many. He was
my
hero. I always felt he would understand me if he really got to know me. I was special, all right: Marlon hated me. The next morning I awoke to slamming doors and drawers. Marlon was huffing and puffing and stomping around.

I sat straight up in bed and said, “Hey! You can’t be mad at me because I didn’t sleep with you.” A mistake I wouldn’t make in my next life.

I left, having said no to Marlon once again. I didn’t see him at the Chez after that.

I think back to those days at the restaurant and realize now that they were a snapshot of unspoiled, classic Hollywood. Imagine Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen sitting undisturbed as they ate their food, not surrounded by cameras or reporters or iPhones. Steve was already a big name, and Marlon was a legend, having done
Viva Zapata, The Men, Guys and Dolls, Streetcar Named Desire,
and
The Wild One,
to name just a few of his films. He had been nominated for five Oscars and won one, for
On the Waterfront.
And there he sat at one of our tables, not bothered by a soul. Can you imagine George Clooney and Brad Pitt sitting down for a hot apple cider on Sunset Boulevard today, being left alone, in peace? It was another world. The actors we admired were larger than life and yet within reach.

O
F COURSE, MY FRIENDS CAME INTO
C
HEZ
P
AULETTE AS WELL.
Everyone hung out there: Jack, Luana, Carole Eastman, my friend piano player–singer-songwriter Morgan Ames, and the rest of our class. Jack, Luana, and Sandra Knight (who later married Jack), had been “runners” at MGM, teenagers taking scripts and notes from one building to another. Luana and I were thick as thieves. I was still rooming with Virginia, and though we hung out occasionally, we didn’t have a lot in common because Luana and I weren’t girlie girls like her. We looked down on perfect hair and makeup. Somewhere between Beatniks and hippies in our shirts and messy jeans, we thought ourselves cool and soulful and the ones with the real goods.

Luana had grown up in foster care, so trust wasn’t something that came easily to her. But she was such a great listener and so giving that everyone adored her. I’d mention something in passing that I liked—a purse, a top—and it would show up hanging from the doorknob of my apartment the next day. Virginia wanted to be friends with Luana, but Luana wasn’t interested. “Is Sally here?” is about all she’d say to Virginia, and then Luana and I would go sit in my little walk-in closet—the only real private place in the apartment because I shared a bedroom with Virginia—and giggle.

Morgan Ames was another great pal, with lacy plastic eyeglass frames and a bad perm until Luana and I helped her get rid of both. She played piano and was a struggling musician at the time, and we had been introduced because a mutual friend, Bud Dashiell, of the folk duo Bud and Travis, knew I wanted to sing and thought Morgan and I would make a perfect duo. I don’t know who was the worse performer back then, her or me. Morgan was the one who’d coined the phrase “snowflake” as code for our virginity, which was the topic of the day.

After long nights waiting tables, I’d get to bed around 2 or 3
A.M.,
so I’d sleep in. In the mornings I would meet Luana or Morgan for breakfast at Schwab’s, two blocks away from my apartment
on Havenhurst. Schwab’s had everything: it was a soda fountain, a pharmacy, and a place where, anytime of the day, you could see someone you knew—mostly out-of-work actors. Plus, Schwab’s had great soup.

Next to Schwab’s, on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, was Googie’s Coffeehouse, a big spot for after-hours hamburgers. Its design was out of this world. John Lautner, a famed architect, had designed it with a real midcentury, space-age, atomic feel, with sharp angles, angled rooftops, and starbursts—a classic, funky, 1950s Los Angeles look that would define an entire architectural style known today as “Googie.” Sadly, Googie’s and Schwab’s are long gone. Today the space is a shopping behemoth sporting a Trader Joe’s, Veggie Grill, Crunch Gym, and Rockin’ Sushi.

BOOK: Read My Lips
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