July 3, 2013

Dillinger and the Drag Queen

"Nobody fuckin' move!"
Lawrence Tierney was once a bonifide movie star, a tough guy of the movies, who had a reputation by the time I met him of being a manipulative pit bull of a man who navigated his way through his daily existence by using anyone who fell into his path. Even in his 70's he was an intimidating presence, a life long alcoholic, whose over the top anti social behavior got him his own page of infamy in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon with a rap sheet longer than his acting resume. By the time I met Larry he had just finished playing Joe Cabot in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, the role that should should have brought him back as a top flight character actor, however Tarantino was not amused with Larry's dry drunk behavior onset and made it clear he would never work with Larry since as he put in in several interviews, "Larry should not be walking around in public, this guy belongs in a ward at Bellview, he is insane" Larry had blown up at Tarantino onset and Harvey Keitel had to intervene on Larry's behalf since Tarantino had shot so much of the film by then that it was far to expensive to replace him since Tarantino had planned to fire him and it fact had already done so only to be talked out of it by Keitel. Once again Larry almost sabotaged another chance to make peace with his past and resume a acting career that as he himself had stated many times "I have thrown away at least seven careers in my lifetime" The most impressive role Larry was offered during the 50's (when his star had almost faded from view with every studio in town painfully aware of Larry's many brushes with the law] would have been playing opposite Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, the role finally went to Rod Steiger who of course went on to receive an Oscar nomination. It became obvious to those of us who tried to be of help him that Lawrence Tierney was throughout his life a man incapable of compromise.

Although Larry is a hard man to forget, I cannot honestly remember when we actually first met, I do know that we were onset together for the duration of the wrap around material that Jeff Burr shot for his portmanteau film that began as a whisper and then developed more fully into a scream...the final title by the time it hit the big screen was The Offspring. We had already wrapped the film when I decided to throw another one of my parties as I was still doing my column Dateline Hollywood for the UK film journal known as Films and Filming and had something to celebrate in securing the movie star/director Cornel Wilde as a feature interview. Cornel was not only a very nice guy (who was at the moment of our interview planning a sequel to his legendary production of The Naked Prey for Paramount)but a bonafide leading man from the golden age of Hollywood. My favorite Cornel Wilde moment was of course his appearance on the classic television show I Love Lucy show, the episode in question was where Lucy is in Hollywood while Ricky is being groomed for movie stardom. Lucy discovers through her bellboy connection that Cornel Wilde in staying at the same hotel and plots to get in his room for an autograph and a quick close up with her idol. Cornel was very amused by this since he got asked about that shop all the time. We spent a very productive afternoon at his Westwood condo taping the interview and having a quite lunch on his terrance overlooking whishire Blvd. His ex-wife Jean Wallace kept calling during my visit and it was becoming painfully obvious that they were soul mates who coundn't seem to live together anymore. Cornel was at that time engaged to a much younger woman and this simply set Jean off in one ways than one.

Cornel and yours truly
I decided to create a party centered around honoring Cornel's appearance in Films and Filming as well as having as many industry types as possible there to spread the word that the magazine was always looking for more of the same type of interview profiles for future issues. I decided to also invite Larry Tierney because he and Cornel played together in DeMille's The Greatest show on earth, As a matter of fact it was De Mille that ignored the current gossip around town about Larry's drinking and arrests giving him instead the showy role of the tough guy that tires to burn down the big top. Now what I did not know at the time and Larry certainly neglected to tell me was this little tidbit of a tale that around the time of the DeMille film Larry had some kind of a romantic fling with Jean Wallace aka Mrs Cornel Wilde and this all got back to Cornel creating a rather ugly scene for all concerned at the time. Larry's typical response was something like "yeah I did her a few times but I was hardly the only one, she also went for other guys during her time with Cornel and we both were on the sauce pretty good as well"

The afternoon of the party Larry called up and asked if it would be alright to bring a date. I was a bit taken back at first because Larry was already well into his 70's, but robust and tireless so why not, so I asked who the lucky lady was and Larry got blustery saying "listen kid I got this broad who I am seeing andI want to bring her plus I think you are really gonna like her so just be cool and dig what I'M bringin over to your pad and git this she is coming dressed in red" All this hipster chat was also very unlike the Larry I had come to know so this was all adding up to another night of surprises with Dilliger and his current lady in red.

Your typical tall drag queen, not unlike our Vicky Venom
I had so much to do I really couldn't spend much time concerning myself with what or whom Larry might honor me with at tonights clambake. As the evening appraoched I began to have a few drinks to relax as was my custom in those days. By 7pm I had a decent buzz going and a few early arrivals added some grass to the proceeding so by 8pm I was relaxed and ready to party. My first real guest was the British director Ken Hughes a very funny chap who endured Mae West during her swansong Sextette as well as the Kim Novak version of the classic Of Human Bondage. Ken went straight for the gin and watched the door giving a running commentary of the arriving guests. Cornel made the scene about 8:30 by himself and was never from the time he arrived, without someone to talk to and he seemed very pleased to be the center of attention, although he had to constantly tell people to please not smoke in the presense and rightfully so. At about 10 pm Larry arrived with what appeared to be am amazon lady in tow dressed as predicted in bright red with a matching hat and gloves...very over the top I thought although I did  not get a good look at her face, Larry introduced her around to the other guests as "Vicky" when pressed for a last name the young lady replied Venom is the name Vicky Venom...at that point had I been paying attention I would have realized something was a bit off regarding Dillingers lady in red.  As Vicky worked her way into the kitchen where the lighting was much better and brighter my partner Chris came out of the kitchen making a beeline for me laughing like mad at the fact that it appeared Larry had brought a drag queen as his date and then told Chris "Listen kid I thought David needed some spicing up and Miss Vicky can put the fag on the rag vibe on any party she goes to so get into it as I plan on leaving her here when I go home."

Vicky Venom was in reality a really big tall, cumbersome and very awkward guy named Victor whose background was as diverse as his sexuality. His mother was from Mexico and his father was Canadian making him, a mixture of Latin and British gene pools investing him with a high forehead large cheekbones and a square chin like an Indian chief without the feathers, he had grown his own brownish red hair out to shoulder length so he did not require a wig for his drag persona which at no point really ever made him look like a woman, Vicky Venom always looked like a big football dude in an ill fitted dress with the mannerisms of say Charo on ludes. Vicky'Victor met Larry at Walters a tax office in Hollywood. Walter was a kindly old gentleman who did taxes for the acting community at large. Walter had his work cut out for him with Larry because for literally years Larry was too out of it to pay the taxes he owed from as far back as the late 50's. Walter built a case that since Larry was a well known alcoholic with longs stays in medical facilities he was able to reduce Larry's fines to the IRS thus preventing the Feds from maybe even jailing Larry for tax evasion. Needless to say Larry was indebted and grateful to Walter, as well as Victor who also helped Larry in running errands as well as acting as his "date" when the situation called for it as a lark or what Larry Tierney concept of a lark.

"Fuck you, Quentin...I'm Dillinger!"
Cornel finally eyed Larry standing out on the patio loudly describing a tense moment during the making of his then current film Resovior Dogs where he apparently grabbed Tarantino by the neck and raised him up off the ground to make a point about what Mr Tierney will and will not do on a film set. Cornel walked over to me and said "I see you are faced with the same dilemmia all hosts face at one time or another...having the wrong people show up where they are not invited"  I tried to laugh but all I could manage to say was that I had invited Larry because we had just completed a film with Vincent Price called The Offspring and with that Cornel changed his demeanor considerably then saying "I love Vinnie Price we did a couple of films together over at Fox many years ago" Well I see what you mean..you see Mr Tieney and I had a bit of a falling out several years ago and I was just taken back a bit seeing again. I will try and be decent if it comes to that I certainly want your party to continue on the way it is as I am having a great time and I must say David you have a very nice circle of friends then looking directly over in the direction of Larry "that is for the most part" he then smiled that movie star grin of his and went back toward the kitchen,,,,at another point during the evening Cornel made me laugh out loud when he came over and told me "Is that person over there pointing to Vicky...this that Larry's date for this evening please tell me it is because then I can go home tonight and tell Jean that Lawernce Tierney is playing for the other team"

I learned two things that night one regarding Larry who really needed to be looked after at all times when it involved public affairs and the second that you never know who might turn up in your life to alter it or create change for the better for you personally that of the people in your orbit. Vicky Venom turned out to be a decent guy a sweet trusting soul, very much in need of a friend and reculantly as it began Victor as I came to know him proved to be a loyal friend who wound up being there when I really needed a friend when my partner was hospitalized with HIV in 2003 only to surrender to the disease in Dec of 2004. Cornel Wilde would never marry the young lady he was planning to and died a few years later of Leckemia. Lawrence Tieney would continue to work in television appearing on shows like Seinfeld and Star trek. Larry would sometimes stay with me off and on for a good part of his working life, I would surrender my bedroom on now and then so he would be more comfortable and I would sometimes hear that gruff tough guy voice call out from the darkness "Hey kid come on in here and I'll get you pregnant".


  1. Great story! Thanks.

    On a more serious note, did Cornel Wilde discuss his film No Blade of Grass with you when you interviewed him? Did hre have much to say about it? I'm interested because I'm researching some of the '70s films about ecological disasters.

    Peter Winkler
    plwinkler at yahoo dot com.

  2. I love Sir Christopher lee, Peter Cushing,Boris Karloff these 3 gentlemen are the only idols i love and there films and most of all Sir Christopher lee singing.

  3. Today 7th June 2018, Has Been a sad day for me as It is the day poor Sir Christopher lee died and i know 93 is not a bad age, but i trully miss him.A great guy R I P Christopher until we meet again.