Sunday, February 1, 2009

Posies for Pia

Remember Pia Zadora? Maybe a little? Not at all? After some experience as a child actor (see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – no, on second thought, don’t), she met, at age 17, a Wealthy (the capital “W” is not a typo) businessman more than 30 years her senior. They married in 1977, divorcing amicably in 1993. While married, the undeniably cute Pia did ads for Dubonnet; her husband was a big stockholder in the producer of the aperitif. He also helped generate roles for her in several movies, starting with Butterfly (1982), which not even the presence of Stacy Keach and Orson Welles could salvage. The critics were beyond unkind. She was the first person to win two RAZZIE awards in a row for worst actress, though in truth she wasn’t as bad as all that. Her movies were bad but she wasn’t.

The popular response was far less rude. Her pop albums sold well in the 80s, she opened for Sinatra in Las Vegas, and she even won a Golden Globe. She posed for Penthouse, and that issue sold out. By the end of the decade even the critics mellowed. The reviews of her stage performances in the 90s were good. She retired comfortably a dozen years ago and recently sold her Beverly Hills home reportedly for more than $17,000,000.

Why is she so largely forgotten? She was no megastar to be sure, but she wasn’t obscure either. Other entertainers from the era with lesser careers are remembered better. I think it is because she skillfully exploited the opportunities provided by her marriage (her complete openness about this seems part of what irked the critics) and lived a responsible life. There were no drunken appearances on the Tonight Show, no break-ins of ex-boyfriends’ apartments, no sex tapes, no shots fired, no cocaine busts, no paternity suits, and no forgotten underwear in front of paparazzi. How boring.

It will be two years next week that Anna Nicole Smith died, and the tabloids already are full of retrospectives on her life and death. A true post-modern celebrity, she was famously famous for being famous. She dropped out of high school, stripped at a Houston club called Gigi’s, posed for Playboy, married a Wealthy businessman over 60 years her senior, and briefly hosted a bad reality show. She is not the first pole dancer to marry a large bank account, yet somehow she became a focus of national attention even though she didn’t even pretend to be talented in the usual sense.
Orson and Pia

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and like ecdysiasts. I also respect the year of happiness Anna gave to an 89 year old man. I don’t condescend because she didn’t cultivate other professional skills. She didn’t need to. No one likes to see a personable and harmless person die young. Yet, there is something off-putting about the reports of how much pain there was in the life of someone with beauty, health, wealth, love, and fame. (The loss of her son a few months before she died was a real tragedy, but that explains nothing about the years prior.) Under the circumstances, overdosing was more exasperating to this observer than sad.
Miss Smith left too early, and this is truly unfortunate. Yet, here is to Pia who did it better – and is still doing it better.

Fake-Out (1982) - Opening Number

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