On celebrity memoirs

The most interesting thing I learned from reading about Jonathan Goldsmith’s just-published memoir, Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, But When I Do, They’re True and Amazing, is that he’s a short, Jewish kid from the Bronx.

Otherwise, as I gathered from today’s New York Post headline – The Most Interesting Man in the World: I ‘f—ked them all’ – the book is about a failed actor and Hollywood parasite who claims to have bedded a lot of famous women, most of whom are now conveniently dead.

It reminded me of the dilemma I faced when I was writing about books and authors for the Canadian Press in the 1990s.

I understood that CP’s client-newspapers ate up stories of celebrity gossip, but I found these “authors” particularly distasteful and the content of their tales more slanderous than scandalous.

The worst was another failed actor, named Richard Selzer, born in Brooklyn, who recreated himself as the fashion maven Mr. Blackwell.

I interviewed him in the dimly lighted Library bar of the Royal York hotel in Toronto in 1995. He sipped a bloody mary and played the part of the anguished Hollywood queen bee. I gulped down a beer and wrapped up the interview as quickly as possible.

I considered not writing a story, then tried to convey my disgust in the lead:

TORONTO (CP) – Shovel some more dirt on the graves of four Hollywood legends.

A new book says Tyrone Power and Cesar Romero were bedmates, as were Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

And the author, American fashion critic Mr. Blackwell says he slept with all of them.

“I’m amazed,” Blackwell tells an interviewer who expresses no prior knowledge of these show-biz couplings. “I thought it was well known.”

The 73-year-old creator of the yearly 10-worst-dressed-women list  — wearing a diamond stickpin in the lapel of his dark blazer and another gem in his left earlobe – says he considers From Rags to Bitches his epitaph.

I wanted everyone to know I was more than some jerk who got up once a year, crawled out from under a rock, said 10 acerbic things about 10 women who more than deserved it – because that’s not much of a legacy. I have left them a story of survival.”

I regretted writing the story as soon as it hit the wire. I felt more like a pornographer than a reporter, an accomplice in outing three beloved actors – and Cesar Romero – in an abysmal book after they were dead.

About a month later, in another hotel bar in Toronto, I sat down with Wolfman Jack, born Robert Smith in Brooklyn.

(Why did book publicists always arrange my interviews in bars? And, no, I didn’t only interview people born in New York – like me.)

“Just call me Wolf, man,” the legendary disc jockey said when we were introduced, before the conversation got going, with him chain-smoking unfiltered Camels and slurping espresso.

His book was titled Have Mercy: Confession of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. But, again, as with such tales by minor celebrities, it was a 362-page press release spiced with payback to ex-friends and enemies.

And, when skimming the book, I found more sex and drugs than rock ‘n’ roll: Ike Turner getting a blowjob while playing piano in a rehearsal hall; rehashed tabloid trash about David Bowie cruising for young girls at Hollywood High, Wolfman snorting coke with John Lennon.

At the end of the interview, he wrote in my copy of his book: To Ken Baby, A man who knows. Yes, you’re the best. Your friend always, Wolfman.

Our “friendship” didn’t last long. A couple of days later, the 57-year-old Wolfman dropped dead of a heart attack at his home in North Carolina.


A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.


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