“Guess what my favorite movie is,” says Heidi Fleiss, standing in her Hollywood Hills kitchen, clad in her preferred movie watching garb—fluffy pink pajamas she designed herself (they’re part of her Heidiwear line), making a second stab at microwaving some popcorn, shortly after scorching the first bag to a smoking cinder. After suggesting we get together to see Hal Ashby’s 1975 classic sex-farce “Shampoo”, starring Warren Beatty, a film Fleiss has somehow never seen, I find myself in the kitchen of the notorious former Hollywood Madam, making helpful popcorn-zapping suggestions while she challenges me to guess her most-beloved film.
“Heidi Fleiss’s favorite movie?” I think to myself. “’Pretty Baby’? ‘The Happy Hooker’? ‘Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungles of Death’?”
“’Becket’,” she proclaims, interrupting my thoughts. “’Becket’. With Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton.”
I know the film. Released in 1964. Richard II of England facing off against the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s all about sex and madness. It’s about corruption and greed.
“It’s about power, and how to use it,” Fleiss asserts, firmly. “It addresses the issues we all have to face in life: betrayal, love, anger and loyalty, society, politics, and religion. I’ve always been very interested in that stuff, especially the subject of power. Ever since I was a kid, organizing all the neighborhood girls out on baby-sitting jobs, taking a piece of the profits for myself. Power is one of the great themes of literature.” It’s a theme she explored, in depth, in last year’s quirky, coffee-table memoir Pandering, and which she revisits in her newest work The Player’s Handbook: The Ultimate Guide for Women ($14.95, One Hour Entertainment), in stores this May.
We come back to that theme two hours after successfully making the popcorn, after kicking back in Fleiss’s plush large-screen home theater to watch the DVD of “Shampoo”—the misadventures of spineless, motorcycle-riding, compulsively-womanizing hairdresser George (Beatty), who can’t keep his pants on and thus loses both the woman he loves (Julie Christy) and his dream of buying his own hair salon. In Fleiss’s opinion, poor clueless George ranks as one of the least powerful players in cinematic history.
“He’s an idiot!” she shouts, laughing. “A total, total idiot. What he needed was to sit down and try to imagine where he’d be in ten years, to ask himself, ‘What do I want out of life? What will give me happiness, structure and balance?’ George is all over the place. You can tell by the bewildered look on his face. He’s total dumbfounded and distracted by everything. He has no goals, no direction, no balance, no structure.”
“George has goals,” I say, surprised to find myself defending the guy from the playful wrath of Heidi Fleiss. “He’s got the goal of owning his own shop,” I point out.
“Yeah, but he can’t make it happen,’ she replies, “and why? Because— he’s a fuck-up! If George had stood up tall and said, ‘I want that shop and I’m gonna get it,’ he could have walked into that bank and gotten the loan. He could have shown them all how good he was—and I’m sure one his many women was rich enough, and willing enough to have cosigned the loan. It would have been easy.”
George, as legend has it, was based on several real life hairdressers from Los Angeles, the late Gene Shacone being the primary model.
“I knew Gene really, really well,” Fleiss reveals. “I used to go on motorcycle rides with him when I was 21. I once ditched him at the Playboy Mansion. We were very close friends.
“Even in the illegal wiretaps of my phone,” she continues, referring to the police investigation that led to her arrest and three–year imprisonment for money laundering and attempted pandering, “there was a 45-minute conversation with Gene where he told me all about his penis and different options for getting it up and things like that.”
“Bet the LAPD loved that,” I remark.
“They were perverts,” she suggests, before continuing her description of Shacone. “Gene always told me everything about his sex life,” she says. “Two months before he passed he told me he’d just had sex with a woman who was 83 years old, and no man had ever gone down on her before. So he did, just so she’d know what it was like, and I remember saying, ‘Gene, you are a Ten for doing that for her, a Ten! To go where no man has gone in 83 years.’ Gene always told great stories.”
Ahem. Let’s get back to the movie.
Fleiss liked it, claiming it as a surprisingly realistic portrayal of sex and relationships. George is, it seems, like many people, is destined to be lonely.
“Just like Gene,” she says. “He died a lonely man. Right to the end, he was always looking for someone else to make him happy, and he never found it. It’s very sad. Companionship is vital to our well-being, whether it be for a single night or for a lifetime. Who care’s whether you’re gay, straight or whatever—it’s vital to have someone to share your life with, to vent, to express, to share your ideas and your thoughts with. We’re not supposed to be alone.
“And movies do express that,’ she adds, “but they usually make it seem too simple, too fantastical, and when there is pain, like in real life, movies end up being ridiculous.”
“Do you think most people go to the movie’s for a realistic view of life and love?” I ask. “If so, how do you explain the success of a movie like “When Harry Met Sally”? Or “Sleepless in Seattle”?”
“Most people want to see a fantasy about sex,” she admits. ”They don’t want anything ugly, and face it, sometimes sex and relationships are ugly.
“Trust me,” she adds, laughing. “If anyone knows that, I do.”
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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