Monday, June 1, 2009

Phil Spector: Da Doo Gun Gun

Chances are that Phil Spector will die in prison. Last week, a judge sentenced Spector to life imprisonment for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson; Spector will not be eligible for parole until 2028, the year he turns 88.

Spector wore a sober shag wig to his sentencing. The hairpiece made Spector look like a fossilized Mod from Swinging London '67 and not as if a lofty intolerance for style caused him to exert undue influence over electromagnetic currents.

As a record producer, Spector shone early and then faded into the 1980s. His major achievement in the past decade was in being dumped by England's Starsailor. Back in the mid-nineties, something went awry with Celine Dion. Those fruitless projects spanned seven years of his career. Then, a jury says he put a gun into Lana Clarkson's mouth, pulled the trigger, and wrote the coda for his both his career and for his life as he knew it. It's hard to say what life Spector knew; he holed up in his Pyrenees Castle and, by a good number of accounts, menaced people.

The circumstances of Clarkson's death are odd; she was found slumped in a chair in the foyer of Spector's home, spine either fully or partially severed, with a purse hanging from her shoulder. Spector claimed this was an "accidental suicide," shortly after he said that he thought he shot her. Oops! Another mysterious accident for the tabloids, kiddies, right up there with the death of Paul Bern, the suicide of Thelma Todd, and other sordid Hollywood classics. The Black Dahlia. Of most recent vintage, Bonnie Lee Bakeley springs to mind.

Spector had an assortment of guns worthy of the Forge of Vulcan. He was a recluse who raved about his home in a Batman costume. During his trial, a few women swore under oath that he had terrorized them with his weapons; one, who had been assaulted after a party, went back the following week for another party before deciding never to be alone with Phil Spector again. A stripper testified she'd been forced to fellate him at gunpoint and Spector's third defense attorney strongly suggested that Lana Clarkson had been going down on the gun when she accidentally pulled the trigger.

What a wild night! You hear kinky stories from Hollywood, but this one has the added thrill of lethality. In this scenario, the dame misjudges what will turn Phil on and blows herself into oblivion instead. Indignant, Phil calls her a "piece of shit" on an audiotape that later becomes part of the defense.

It's one hell of a story.

Clarkson had the better narrative, though, because of its dull arc of endeavor. She lived the fundamental lie about Hollywood: If anyone "makes it," so can you. Why can't that anyone be you? Can anyone truly say what separates diamonds from roughage? Whereas Bonnie Lee Bakeley was a grifter looking to fleece entertainment has-beens, Clarkson simply wanted to be a star in the land of black holes. Friends testified that she had been very recently depressed; she saw herself as a Monroe Moderne and then had failed to achieve much more along those lines than sharing a hair color and dying a puzzling death. Clarkson knew she had washed up and struggled against it. Someone said Clarkson was "humiliated" by taking the hostessing job at the House of Blues. Meantime, all around are greater successes; they peer down from billboards and win awards and buy big houses that are threatened by fires in Malibu Canyon.

It was a titanic struggle. A career that consisted mostly of fitful casting in B-grade sci-fi movies was set against a desire to perform exquisitely broad comedy, as shown in her latest project Lana Unleashed, a reel she hoped would break the restraint that was keeping her from reaching stardom. What else could it be but lack of notice, of apathy? Lana Unleashed sounded more like a porno flick than it did a serious marketing tool, but perhaps in the twisted provocation of the title lay reason to at least take a peek.

With a voiceover looming, Clarkson hadn't quite disappeared into the hole, but she had begun to hang above it by a thread. The gravitational pull was strong, hence the hostessing job. She was making a major effort to keep up without understanding the basic Hollywood rule of thumb, which more or less requires applying a multiplier of 1.5 to any age over 30. By that measure, Clarkson was 60 years old and soon to approach the employability of Nick Nolte. Still, Clarkson had more success in Hollywood than most, even if by Hollywood standards she was no sensation and would, outside of death, never be. She fell early and hard into Amazon roles, a special typecasting reserved for tall women who look as if they could kick the shit out both men and scary alien monsters. Another highlight of her career was a sequel to 9 1/2 Weeks cleverly titled Another Nine & a Half Weeks (in France, the rather more romantic Love in Paris). In this, she was billed as "Woman at Fashion Show." Clarkson's type of actress is generally offered Bitchslappin' Babes II before The English Patient winds up on her doorstep.

This is where Spector came in. The culimination of their meeting resulted in a lot of speculation: Just what was Clarkson doing going over to Spector's home in the middle of the night? She hadn't any idea who he was when she barred him from entering the VIP party at the House of Blues and then there she was in his limo, heading out to Alhambra. Hollywood is nothing but a web of chance associations, old-boy networks, and inflicted karma. Spector/Clarkson fell into the first category, that of the random run-in with the famous. It happens all the time and most people live to tell about it and to post documentary evidence of it all over cyberspace, sometimes unflatteringly. Maybe Clarkson thought Spector was a lucky break, or maybe Spector was so physically exciting that Clarkson couldn't resist his overtures. Marilyn Monroe had her own diminutive champion in Johnny Hyde. Hollywood places such merit on the physically beautiful that it is sometimes hard to see value in difference; Spector may have been a champion Lothario with alluring and chivalrous entreaties, or he may just have been Hollywood lumpen with a deadly misogynistic streak. It doesn't really matter. Whatever happened, Spector looked attractive enough that Clarkson went home with him.

He had on one of his better wigs.

These tales are rarely uplifting. The horror isn't blunted because it happened in the Hollywood you aren't supposed to see. Hang on a minute. We will see it on cable television. Somewhere, someone is optioning a script. HBO will make a movie out of this. It's better than the Bonnie Lee Bakeley story, because the victim was sexy, attractive, and the only bang in the house that night was the gunshot.

1 comment:

Winnie said...

I never read up on this whole case but you've certainly enlightened me. The case as well as Spector are definitely very odd indeed.