How Tina Turner dealt with her troubled past

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – ‘As crazy as it was,’ said Tina Turner, ‘I laugh about it. ’ The queen of rock’n’roll, who has died aged 83, was talking about her difficult childhood in Tennessee and her abusive marriage to rocker Ika Turner.

That dynamic spirit and joyous optimism rang through her recordings and performances. She wrote (with Kurt Loder) about her life in ‘I, Tina: My Life Story’ in 1986. Speaking the following year about her TV special ‘Tina Turner Breaks Every Rule’, she told me the book came about only after she had appeared on the television news programme ’20/20’.

‘It was the first time I described what my life was like,’ she said. ‘I was talking about it for a few years before I wrote the book. I’m not one to dwell on the past and I became a bit depressed talking to the press. I was pulling out a lot of stuff. It touched me in psychological places. I became emotional. One of the reasons to write about it in the book was so I don’t have to talk about it.’ 

Relaxed and friendly, two years after her success with Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, she said she had always dreamed of being an actress and she was looking for a script with the same kind of action. ‘I want to do some really wild things like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens,’ she said.

For her ‘Tina Turner Breaks Every Rule’ show, Turner admitted that she had wanted Bruce Springsteen but the Boss wasn’t available. She asked Wilson Pickett but that fell through. Instead, for the HBO concert film taped during her world tour for her sixth solo album, she landed blues guitarist Robert Cray (pictured top) and everything worked out fine. The show, recorded at the Camden Palace in London, features Turner performing old hits by artists such as Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. ‘I had rehearsed a lot of them, she said, ‘so there was no point in wasting all that eneregy.’

My other favourite memory related to Tina Turner involves Tony Joe White, the Swamp Fox famous for songs such as ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’. When he and his wife Leanne, close friends of my in-laws Charlie and Margaret Ann Rich, spent a little time in Los Angeles with their daughter Michelle White (who went on to be a great performer), I sat in silent awe as they worked on new songs in their hotelroom. 

Tony Joe and I played a round of nine holes at the Studio City Golf Club and afterwards sat in his SUV while he played tapes of two new songs he had written for Tina Turner – ‘Steamy Windows’ and ‘Undercover Agent for the Blues’ – which showed up on her album ‘Foreign Affair’ (pictured above). That was a trip.

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When Joan Collins kicked me off the set of ‘Dynasty’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Joan Collins was pointing at me. I was on the set of the hit primetime soap opera ’Dynasty’. It’s important to make yourself as invisible as possible on a busy TV soundstage so I stood quietly at the rear. TV shows proceed at a rapid pace and performers often need to be prompted by a floor manager. I wasn’t surprised to see Collins blow her lines. Finally, she cried out. ‘There’s someone in my eye line. It’s distracting. Someone in a white shirt.’ Her outstretched right hand was aimed directly my way. I had been standing quite still and my shirt was a soft off-white denim but all eyes pinned me down. An assistant director gestured with his thumb: Out! 

Joan Collins kicked me off the set of ‘Dynasty’. 

Earlier that day in 1982, I’d enjoyed lunch with the actress, who turns 90 today, for a cover story in Canadian TVGuide. Collins entered the busy 20th Century Fox commissary looking every inch a movie star. Striding serenely past Alan Alda and other cast members of ‘M*A*S*H’, she joined me at our reserved balcony table. 

Following mutual greetings, she said, ‘So, tell me something. The other day I was driving along when I saw some youngsters waving to me. I waved back, a sort of Queen Mum wave, and when we came to a light, I rolled the window down. They came over and they were yelling, “Alexis, we hate you! We hate you!” I found this a bit staggering. Does it mean people really think I’m Alexis Carrington?’  (pictured above with Linda Evans as Krystal Carrington)

I suggested that they might be forgiven if they did, so convincing was she as television’s supreme female viper of the day. She smiled at the compliment and after we placed our orders, she began to relate some well-rehearsed stories about her career. I interrupted her. ‘Joan,’ I said, ‘I’ve read your book.’

Starting out in her career in Hollywood, Collins was ‘Britain’s bad girl’ dubbed ‘the British Open’ by Bing Crosby, her golf-loving co-star in ‘The Road to Hong Kong’. She made headlines with her troubled marriages to actors Maxwell Reed and Anthony Newley and affairs with several actors including Sydney Chaplin, Warren Beatty and Ryan O’Neal. She had written in detail about her escapades in a tell-all autobiography titled ‘Past Imperfect’ that was published in England in 1978. Too much detail, she later decided, and the book was not published in America. 

Collins stopped talking and smiled sweetly. She tapped fingers on my wrist and said, ‘Ah, then let’s start again.’ 

Her autobiography, she confessed, had caused her a lot of grief. ‘I don’t like the book,’ she said. ‘I put a lot things in it that I regret. I don’t want to defend it. My defence is that I’ve not allowed it to be published here and I don’t want to talk about it. I spent a year defending it in England and I’ve had it. We all make mistakes.’ 

Born in London, one of two daughters of theatrical agent Joe Collins (sister Jackie wrote best-selling novels such as ‘The Stud’, ‘The Bitch’ and ‘Chances’), Collins got into films in England at 16 after one year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After a string of movies including ‘Cosh Boy’ and ‘Turn the Key Slowly’, playing juvenile delinquents, she had the lead in a the comedy ‘Our Girl Friday’ (above) with Kenneth More and she was an Egyptian princess in Howard Hawks’s epic ‘Land of the Pharoahs’.(pictured below left).

Collins moved to Hollywood under contract to 20th Century Fox and went on to a long list of screen credits few of which she thought were worthwhile. ‘I seem to have been in an enormous number of films that are memorable only for being totally unmemorable,’ she said. ‘I don’t think anybody has made as many forgotten films as I have. I know that “Land of the Pharoahs” has become something of a cult film and plays constantly on television but that’s because they don’t have to pay residuals.’

She liked only three of her fifty-odd movies: ‘The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing’ with Ray Milland and Farley Granger, ‘Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys’ with Paul Newman (pictured below) and Joanne Woodward, and ‘The Stud’ based on her sister’s novel. (poster below)

’I can truthfully say that there is none other than those three that I think have any particlarly merit,’ she said. ‘Please don’t tell me that “The Wayward Bus” or “Seven Thieves” or “Tales From the Crypt” are works of art because they are not.’

She made no apologies for appearing in them. ‘If you are not one of the top actors and you want to make a living, you take mostly what’s offered,’ she said. ‘If you want to starve and do art, then you live in a garret and you wait for the right part to come along. Sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. I’m pragmatic and I don’t want to starve. I also like working and I always manage to enjoy what I’m doing. You have to have enthusiasm for the thing at the time because you couldn’t make it if you thought it was a total piece of crap.’ 

‘Dynasty’ came out of the blue, she said, when producer Aaron Spelling decided the show needed a colourful character like J.R. Ewing in ‘Dallas’ to spice up things. ‘A character this rich, this juicy – I would have been a nut to turn it down,’ she said. ‘Of all the parts on television, if I were given a choice, if they said you can play anything that you see, I would choose her.’ 

She had no intention of ever retiring and, of course, she hasn’t with a great many TV credits since I spoke to her. ‘I’d like to go on for another 30 years,’ she said. ‘Not if I have to be wheeled on in a wheelchair but I’d like to be a vigorous old character actress. I consider myself very blessed to be in the arena, as it were. I can never understand why so many actors are ungrateful.’ 

The interview, I thought, had gone very well and then she had me booted off her set. Some twenty years later, I was invited to a function following a game at the Oxford Town Football stadium where Joan Collins was to be a guest of honour. I had no reason to go except to give my daughter Shannon the chance to see her first pro soccer game. At the reception, a publicist urged me to speak to Collins so with reluctance I went over and introduced myself.

‘What brings you here?’ I asked. Collins reacted in horror and turned to a club executive complaining, ‘I didn’t know there would be press here!’ He said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing here’ and hurried her away. Ah, that’s my Joan.

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Why British comic Eric Sykes didn’t become a movie star

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Eric Sykes, who was born on May 4 one hundred years ago, was one of Britain’s most treasured comedians on radio and television but he might have become a leading actor in movies too as ‘The Liquidator’.

English thriller writer John Gardner wrote more than fifty novels including fourteen original James Bond yarns at the request of the Ian Fleming estate.

‘The Liquidator’, his first novel published in 1964, was a smart and funny spoof about a reluctant secret agent named Boysie Oakes. Mistakenly thought to be a ruthless killer but actually a coward who hates guns, he hires a real assassin named Griffen to bump off people in order to keep the rewards coming.  Continue reading

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That time Michelle Pfeiffer thought she’d sworn on live TV

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Michelle Pfeiffer was worried that she’d dropped an f-bomb on live television.

The actress, who turns 65 today, came to meet me right after she appeared on CNN to talk about the John Landis black comedy ‘Into the Night’ in which she played a wild-child who discovers the dark side of Los Angeles. She’d said she knew something about that and told of an encounter that occurred when she was just getting started as an actress. A man offered her some cash and an all-expenses paid 24-hour trip. She turned him down. Continue reading

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Composer Patrick Doyle on his triumph over cancer

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Anyone who has spent time with film composer Patrick Doyle (above with wife Lesley and me) knows that he is one of the funniest men alive. Not so many know that his sense of humour played a large part in keeping him from an early death. Continue reading

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When Dar Robinson leapt from Toronto’s CN Tower

STICK, Dar Robinson, Burt Reynolds, Jose Perez, 1985. ©Universal

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The perfect word to describe legendary movie stuntman Dar Robinson, who was born on this day in 1947: unfuckwithable. It allowed him to create thrilling stunts in films such as ‘Stick’, ‘Sharkey’s Machine” (below)), ‘Papillon’ and ‘Magnum Force’ and combined with a bright smile and killer pickup line, it made him catnip to the ladies. Continue reading

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Seven Michael Caine guilty favourites …

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Michael Caine, who is still making films in his 90s with ‘The Great Escaper’ due out this year, has made so many movies that some tend to get lost. Here are seven I’ve always found worth a watch even though they are of varying quality. Continue reading

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Why Michael Caine faced every film with dread

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Almost forty years ago, I created a weekly movie supplement in Canadian TV Guide called Bigscreen. I wanted a big name for the first edition and Hollywood publicist Jerry Pam facilitated a Q&A with his longtime client, Michael Caine. As Caine turns 90 today, here’s what he had to say when he was nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Educating Rita’ (above with Julie Walters). Continue reading

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When watching the Oscars used to be fun

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Maverick banshees all at once, Elvis sadness, women on water, Fabelmans on the western front. Tár but no thanks. There was a time when I really cared about movies and found the competition for Academy Awards entertaining. Take 1973.

Nominees for Best Picture included John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’, Jan Troell’s ‘The Emigrants’ and Martin Ritt’s ‘Sounder’.  For me and my Windsor Star colleague Ron Base, it was all about the battle between a terrific crime picture and a brilliant musical.  Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ versus Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’.  Continue reading

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When Topol stood me up to go off to war

Topol x650

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ star Chaim Topol cancelled my interview with him in June 1967 but he had a very good reason. He left his starring role of Tevye in the hit West End production to return to Israel to be there for what turned out to be the Six-Day War.

The Israeli actor, who died on March 8 aged 87, had made tickets for the show at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s Haymarket almost impossible to find, but when his country faced peril, he didn’t hesitate. Continue reading

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