Excerpt from Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie
IIn her later book, Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie (GP Putnam's Sons, 1993) Angela Bowie and Patrick Carr devote part of one chapter to her audition for Wonder Woman (page 203-212). Here are some excerpts from this out-of-print book:
"Wonder Woman the comic book character, that is: lush black hair, projectile mammaries, super powers, the works. She first entered my life courtesy of Michael Lippman, an agent, in a scheme he brought to Tony Defries; it involved getting me a screen test for the Wonder Woman part in the television series, then in development, so that I could be on The Tonight Show (hosted by Johnny Carson, of course), so that I could promote David's 1980 Floor Show edition of The Midnight Special.
If that sounds convoluted, it was, and in fact it was even more convoluted than it sounds or I knew. To run it past you again, though, the deal as I understood it went as follows:
First, the Midnight Special show needed promoting as cheaply and effectively as possible. Second, The Tonight Show was carried on NBC, and was available, under the right conditions, as a promotional vehicle for other NBC shows such as The Midnight Special. Third, David was, to put it bluntly, your basic talk-show host's worst-nightmare guest: monosyllabic, elitist, paranoid, defensive, sarcastic, and very probably stoned out of his mind. Fourth, I was the opposite: alert, talkative, confident, aggressive when need be, ladylike when that would play best - an actress, in other words. Fifth, unfortunately, The Tonight Show's policy was that Johnny's guests had to have a legitimate-sounding reason for sitting there on network television, and being the wife of a rock star with a show to promote didn't cut it.
All this led to the final piece of the puzzle, which was that Wonder Woman happened to be looking for its Wonder Woman at the time, and Michael Lippman could arrange for an audition. The fact that the wife of a major British rock star was in Holly wood to tryout for the starring role in an American TV series I was a good enough hook for Carson's people - just dandy, in fact - and so the deal was done.
Such was the arrangement described to me by Tony Defries one pleasant day in London, and I must say it improved my mood considerably. Wonder Woman sounded like a great part, and a marvelous opportunity for me. And how nice that it had come through a Main Man-sponsored initiative, rather than my own! That's exactly how things should be working, I thought. There are a million ways to skin a cat, and if this one had an extra curve or two, so much the better: I would get a significant shot at what could be a career-breaking part, and advance an ongoing Bowie project.
I went at it seriously. I bought Wonder Woman comics and felt out the character, I developed a logic for how to play her, and I got myself a costume. I had Natasha Korniloff make one that came right out of the comic-book pages, and it was a gas. Man, did I look good: a tiny wasp waist, legs going on forever, lustrous long black hair, even artfully padded, projectile-pointy Wonderbreasts! And to make the illusion more than complete, I had the marvelous Terry O'Neill do a photo session.
And off to Hollywood I went, in an energized cloud of creative enthusiasm and superheroine spunk.
Well, what a joke. First I showed them the photographs, which totally flabbergasted the director- things were going well so far- but then, before I went to my dressing room to don the stipulated turtleneck, some woman from the studio came up to me.
"I see you're not wearing a bra," she said. "You have to wear one for the screen test. It's mandatory."
I couldn't believe it. I hadn't worn a bra for years. "Well, if that's what you want, okay," I said. "But I think you're going to have a problem finding one small enough."
She didn't like that very much, but she walked off, and I went to the dressing room.
I was slipping into the turtleneck when someone knocked on the door and then opened it without waiting for a response. It wasn't the woman I expected; it was some nondescript, mildly unattractive man. He came in and introduced himself, then started making small talk, and then started touching me. The scumbag was coming on to me, virtually feeling me up!
I couldn't believe it. I just looked at him. "What are you doing? Who on earth do you think you are?"
"I'm one of the writers," he said, as if that information would immediately convince me to lie back and spread 'em.
It didn't. "So what?"
That seemed to take him aback. He paused, perplexed - this must have been a precedent-breaking turn of events for him, requiring unfamiliar responses. "You do know I wrote the script for ------, don't you?"
I thought about that for a moment, examining my memory of the movie, a famous black exploitation film.
"You're proud of that?" I asked in my very best finishing-school-prefect manner. "I'm supposed to be impressed? Don't you know, you awful little man, that script was truly wretched, and moreover it was the only bad element of an otherwise wonderful production? Now take yourself out of my dressing room before I fucking kill you!"
He left, and needless to say, I considered myself out of the running for the part from that moment on. I decided to go through the motions, though, but I also decided I needed protection, so I got Michael Lippman to come and sit with me in the dressing room.
That's when I got the really bad news. Michael listened to I my tale of woe and outrage, then told me.
"Angie, it's okay," he said. "You were never going to get the part anyway. You weren't even in the running; nobody auditioning is. Lynda Carter's already got the part, you see. All this is just a performance to satisfy the unions, and we're taking advantage of it to get you on Johnny Carson. So really, don't worry about it."
Don't worry about it? You mean, Don't rip your dick off and stick it in your ear, Michael, and then hop a first-class flight back to London and do the same to Tony lying-cheating-manipulating-woman-hating lowlife vermin Defries? Or more to the point, don't blow this pop stand right now, bolt out of here and not even consider showing up on Carson? Don't blow you guys' cozy little can job sky-high and let you crawl around for the pieces?
None of that was actually said, mind you, although sometimes I wish it had been, and even that it had been done. Maybe not to Michael, whom I like and actually respect, but certainly to old Kinky Big-Nose Defries, as we called him.
Cooler counsel from Michael prevailed, however, and I saw some vile pragmatic logic in the whole arrangement. I assimilated Tony's perfidy, taking the measure of his dishonesty - he'd deliberately chosen to deceive me like a pawn or enemy; rather than tell me the plan and invite me into it as a partner and a friend-and I decided that I would never trust him again and left it at that. I was still very angry, of course, and I must admit that vengeful schemes, dreams, and fantasies occurred to me from time to time, but I didn't act on them. I attached myself to the philosophy of the Sicilians - revenge is a dish best served cold - and postponed gratification until whenever the best opportunity presented itself.
In the meantime, back to work. I set about preparing myself to go on The Tonight Show to promote the hell out of the family business, and consoled myself with the thought that television exposure, especially on Carson's show, never really hurt a girl looking for acting work.
I found the experience pretty queer, and I guess I'm not alone in that perception. Rock and roll and TV were worlds apart in those days, and hippies and post-hippies throughout TV-land tuned Carson in just to freak on how abominably unhip his whole trip was. And while Johnny may have been doing the trendy drugs - gossip said that he was snorting quite a bit of coke as well as drinking pretty heavily, which among other things gave rise to much pencil-breaking and object-tossing on the set - neither he nor his people were even fuzzily tuned in to what was happening. Basically, they were just a bunch of racist, sexist, meat-gobbling, martini-swilling, money-grubbing; amoral little philistines.
When the staff saw my dress, which showed a lot of skin, they freaked. They were getting ready to tell me flat-out I couldn't wear it, when I put my foot down. "Look," I said. "I'm in rock and roll, not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! I'm going to wear this dress. Either that or you can go find yourselves another guest. Okay?"
Evidently it was okay, because I stayed on the show. At ant point I overheard Michael Lippman and a man from NBC talking in the corridor. "I hope Angela is good tonight," the NBC guy, was saying, "because if she's not, we're gonna lose thirty percent of our audience for The Midnight Special." Not exactly what you need to hear when you're about to walk out into the lights. I almost had a coronary.
Johnny settled me down, though. He was a good line-feeder and perfect gentleman all around, very nice, even if he did seem a trifle tense.
Dinah Shore, also a guest on the show, on the other hand was all bitch. I think she must have gotten a bug up her posterior; about my dress or something, because she took my presence as a cue to keep harping on the royal wedding of the week/year/decade (Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, I think it was) in a condescending way that assumed I was both English by birth and royalist by inclination.
I had to straighten her out, and did so quite politely: "You seem to be under the misconception that I am English. I'm not. I'm American, and I do not cleave to royalty." Yet she just kept coming at me.
I started to lose it. Even though I really didn't want to get low with an older woman on network television Ian awful breach of finishing-school etiquette), I was primed to let her have it - Look, you provincial prune, get out of my face! What do I care how some mob of inbred, horse-faced foreigners spend their taxpayers' money? - but Joan Rivers, also on the show, stepped in and saved me. She started into one of those wonderful routines she does about the royals, and all was well that ended well. She had to rescue me from the dreadful Dinah again, however, several times. That woman was relentless.
Oh, well. We came out on top of her (although not in the sexual sense - the very thought is nauseating). When she got her own talk show and wanted David and me on it, I was able to refuse point-blank, with no hesitation whatever, and that worked pretty well. She begged us, so we told her exactly whom we wanted on the show with us, got them, and had it all our way. And actually, she ran a pretty good program: smart questions, gracious hosting, and nary a hint of that shrew on the Carson show.
Our 1980 Floor Show was one of the highest-rated editions of the entire Midnight Special series. And as far as Wonder Woman was concerned, my vision of the title character hadn't been too far off the money. When I first saw the show on TV, I was mildly sickened, if not exactly surprised, to note that the script had veered sharply away from its Ms. Wholegrain angle.
Now it featured the classic cartoon approach, and Lynda Carter was running around in an exact duplicate of my costume.
And that's how I started learning about show biz in the real world.
David wasn't at all surprised when I told him about the whole mess, but he was angry.
"That's outrageous!" he said. "I'm glad I wasn't there, babe, I'd have had a hard time not decking that screenwriter. Those fucking TV people are just so low. So are the music business people, for that matter. I mean, I can hardly stand them, and I've been around this business a lot longer than you have."
He had a point, and now I was in a position to hear it. Before, when he'd warned me away from projects I wanted to take on, for instance the first role I might have gotten, in a low-budget film called, self-explanatorily, Groupies, I'd reacted with frustration and resentment. I thought he was stifling my career just because he had a double standard - he said he believed in: women's rights and sexual liberation but balked at letting his own wife work, especially if it meant her showing her skin on screen - but now I realized he had other motives. He may have, been a chauvinist (Iet's not be ambivalent: he was a chauvinist), but he was also someone who'd been down the show business road ahead of me. He knew where the potholes were, and when the trolls lurked, and he wanted to protect me.
But he hadn't seen this one coming. As far as he knew, the Wonder Woman audition was on the up-and-up. "Tony didn't tell me either," he said. "I'd never have let you be put in that I situation if I'd known, babe. Huh. I suppose Tony knew that didn't he?"
"Yeah, I'm sure he did," I replied. "So he manipulated me, and he manipulated you too. And for nothing! I'd have gladly gone and done the audition just to get on the Carson show and push our Midnight Special. I'd have played along with the whole charade from start to finish, and done it smiling, if Tony had told me the truth. So I don't know, babe. He's playing games. I don't like it."
"Neither do I. I'll talk to him about it," David said.
I don't know if he ever did, but I know several other things. I know that a little further down the line, Tony began trying to talk David into divorcing me, painting a picture of me as an extravagant spender and cash-bleeding liability and showing him how much better off he would be without me, and I know David didn't buy that line. I know that as 1973 turned into 1974 and Tony's own personal and professional extravagance mounted, David grew increasingly uneasy; his tone when he talked about Tony began to echo his frustration with Ken Pitt.
I know too that Tony's problem with me wasn't, strictly speaking, personal. In a way he couldn't help himself. He was such a thoroughgoing, incurable misogynist that he had only one option when any woman of talent, intelligence, and ambition appeared within his sphere of influence: he had to banish her as quickly and absolutely as he could, by whatever means were at hand.
Perceiving this about him was not, as you might imagine, pleasant. The news, as it slowly dawned on me, made me feel like a Jew who'd gone to great lengths to hire herself the perfect bodyguard or hit man, only to find out, long past the point of no return, that his real name was Himmler-except that Heinrich probably wasn't as good with figures as Tony proved himself to be. Also, I don't know if Hitler's cold-fish SS boss would have been quite as uptight as Tony became. The wretched fellow didn't seem able to handle the fact that I'd slept with both his common-law wife (Melanie, a California import) and his longtime mistress (Dana, of all people!) before he had.
But anyway, Tony is a tiresome subject and I've had enough of him now.
An unsettling development: After my Wonder Woman debacle (successful as it was in promotional terms), David and Tony concocted a character bearing a superficial resemblance to Wonder Woman physically, and owing everything to her in terms of idea genesis. This was Octobriana, a sci-fi super-priestess of high Bowie camp and magic, and she was a pretty cool customer. I rather liked her. My only problem with her, in fact-and it was quite a large problem-was that she was designed from the ground up as a vehicle for Main Man-managed, David Bowie-financed Amanda Lear. Not, that is, for me."