Tune in Tonight: "Hollywood Wives, Part 3"
Finally, we made it! Is that Bob Mackie you’re wearing? Oh darling, you look divine. It’s just perfect for the party of the year at Ross and Elaine Conti’s house, where the average age of the guests is 65 and there’s not so much as a single cocktail wiener to be found. Let’s grab a white wine spritzer and check out this geriatric prom.
Oh look, there’s our hosts Elaine (Candice Bergen) and Ross (Steve Forrest), so learned in the fine art of keeping up appearances that you’d never tell that their marriage fell apart only an hour earlier. Marilee (Joanna Cassidy), Elaine’s best friend, appears to be there under duress, and spends most of her time either bitching about the guest list, or bitching at her young male escort (that Joanna Cassidy, who just three years earlier played Zhora, the ass-kicking exotic dancer replicant in Blade Runner, would need to pay a man to take her to a party is one of this miniseries’ more dubious claims). Also having the time of their lives is Sadie (Angie Dickinson), who looks at Ross with an expression on her face that suggests someone is constantly farting in her presence, and George (Robert Stack), fully aware that Ross is shtupping his daughter, and who makes catty soap opera villainess remarks about his lack of talent. The simmering hatred these people have for each other could peel the paint off the walls, but hey, a party invitation is a party invitation.
Montana (Stefanie Powers), described by George as “the prettiest writer in town” (and thus dealing a devastating blow to Paul Schrader), shows up driving a VW Bug, in case you didn’t get that she’s A Rebel Who Refuses to Play by Hollywood’s Rules. But wait, where’s Neil (Anthony Hopkins), her husband? Well, he’s not looking too well, but decides to drop by Gina’s place to get their sex tape before going to the party. You’ll be absolutely gobsmacked to know that Gina (Suzanne Somers) made several copies of the tape, and is now upping the ante, not just demanding a screen test but that she be cast in Final Reunion. In a shocked rage that a woman who began their relationship with lies and blackmail is continuing to lie and blackmail him, Neil attacks her. Anthony Hopkins, who up to this point has stumbled around in what appears to be a NyQuil-induced fog, really comes alive here, bellowing like a wounded steer and thrashing around in the throes of some sort of epileptic seizure while attempting to strangle Gina. It looks like they’ve both suddenly discovered a new fetish, however, as Neil stops trying to kill her and they “passionately” kiss. I put “passionately” in quotes because, man, I cannot emphasize enough how watching these two have a meant-to-be sizzling affair is like watching someone rub two frozen trout together in a simulation of coitus.
Thanks to the kindness of two minor characters we never see again, our young lovebirds, Buddy (Andrew Stevens) and Angel (Catherine Mary Stewart), are at the party too. Their ubiquitous “What are you doing here?” “What are you doing here?” reunion is interrupted by Oliver (Rod Steiger), who comes barreling into the party like a mob boss, flanked by two bodyguards. Rod Steiger must have looked at the dailies of parts one and two and determined that what part three really needed was him treating every scene he’s in like a pit bull treats a pig’s ear, mercilessly shredding it to unrecognizable pulp. He bellows at Angel about accepting a leading role in Final Reunion, which she ends up turning down, and then later stops the party dead to announce that George has been cast in the other leading role instead of Ross, making the entire party pointless.
Though just one scene earlier Karen seemed mildly concerned and remorseful about her affair with Ross, after a few drinks she’s all over him like cat hair on a sweater, making out with him on the dance floor mere feet away from George, her father. George confronts her, and because every single one of these characters has a dark and terrible secret they’d do just about anything to keep from getting out, we find out that he once slept with a 15 year-old girl, and that’s why Karen turned herself into the town tramp. Don’t worry, though, a little thing like statutory rape isn’t enough to keep them from having a tearful reconciliation, and they’re fine after that. Well, “fine,” as evidenced when Pamela (Frances Bergen), Karen’s stepmother, takes her hands and says “George told me you ironed out your differences,” and Karen replies “I wonder how he’s going to react when he finds out I’m pregnant with Ross Conti’s child.” Pamela snatches her hands away like Karen just said “I wonder how he’s going to react when he finds out I have typhoid.”
Oliver, having gotten a last minute rewrite as a villain rather than just a greedy Hollywood blowhard, decides that the party is the best time to break it to Montana that Neil’s been sleeping with Gina. As if those words cast some sort of dark magic, Neil has a heart attack in the middle of sex with Gina, and it’s incredibly hard to believe that Suzanne Somers sitting there and shrieking “Neil? Are you okay? What’s wrong?” was overlooked come Emmys season. Upset about Neil’s infidelity and too drunk to drive, Montana allows Buddy to drive her home, and, exercising the restraint that absolutely no one else in this movie seems to possess, they somehow don’t sleep together, even if they have much more believable chemistry than with the people to whom they’re married. She doesn’t find out about Neil’s heart attack until the next morning, and Oliver, who may actually be the Devil, is at the hospital before she is, blasting her for not getting there sooner, even though he just told her less than 12 hours earlier that Neil was cheating on her.
Buddy finally manages to get an appointment with Sadie, who eyes him like a starving man looking in the window of a Golden Corral, and sets him up for a photo shoot. This results in a beefcake poster of a shirtless Buddy and the words “Who is Buddy Hudson?”, which is the exact same campaign she used to promote Ross as a new star twenty-five years earlier. She invites Ross to her home under false pretenses, claiming she’ll represent him, but instead shows him Buddy’s picture, in some sort of elaborate plan of “revenge.” How this works isn’t entirely clear—does she only have room in her agenda for one client at a time?—but Sadie seems satisfied by Ross’s reaction, which is “mildly perturbed.”
Meanwhile, in that other movie, Deke—who, for the last time, is not played by Andrew Stevens in a wig and fake beard, where do you get these crazy ideas??—tracks down a woman named Nita Carroll (Fran Ryan), who helped his birth mother sell him to his adoptive parents. Thankfully, even though it was more than twenty-five years ago she knows exactly where to look for the folder containing the information about Deke’s birth mother (she mentions keeping it around in case she ever needs to blackmail anyone, because, in case it isn’t abundantly clear, everyone in this town is a total fucking scumbag), and is rewarded for her efficiency with a couple of bullets to the head. Because this miniseries still has almost another 45 minutes to go, and this is supposed to be the “suspenseful” part of it, Deke just looks at an index card and says “My muddah.”
Speaking of mothers, mother-to-be Karen tries to pin down Ross to make an honest woman out of her. Showing some remarkable personal growth, she tells him “I’m tired of being George Lancaster’s little girl. Now I want to be the new Mrs. Ross Conti.” Though the look in her eyes seem to suggest that Deke isn’t the only character in this miniseries who will resort to murder to get their way, Ross blows her off, and Karen, thankfully, albeit puzzlingly, disappears, never to be seen again.
Oh, hey, how is Neil recovering from that heart attack? Well, he’s dead. Oliver, who is definitely the Devil, waits until they’re barely ten feet away from Neil’s casket before telling Montana that he’ll need to renegotiate her contract for Final Reunion, which apparently is show biz talk for “go fuck yourself, very recent widow.” This movie is trying to say something about Hollywood, and the callousness of people who work in the entertainment industry, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out what it is. It’s very subtle. Meanwhile, in other subplots that are hastily wrapped up before the last ten minutes, Buddy confronts his estranged mother. Turns out, he has a pretty good reason to not take her calls – though they refuse to just come right out and say it, Mrs. Hudson (K Callan) just couldn’t keep her hands off her handsome, aspiring actor son. But you know what, it’s fine, it’s cool – she’s not his real mother anyway, and before we get a chance to ponder how that excuses molesting a teenager, she goes on to tell Buddy that he was purchased as an infant, from a woman named Nita Carroll.
Wait a minute. Nita Carroll? You mean like…but…could it be? Nah, come on. That’s a completely different guy, looks nothing like Buddy.
Buddy, now with his hair slicked back and the pallid complexion of a vampire, and walking with a bizarre drunken pirate’s reel, comes to Sadie’s house for another appointment. Sadie and her assistant think he’s doing some sort of Method acting thing for a role he hasn’t actually been cast in, but wait. What? No. It’s not really Buddy, it’s…Deke?!? You might need a moment to compose yourself, but underneath that completely convincing beard, Buddy and Deke look exactly alike. In fact, they’re twins, born to Sadie, who believed they were stillborn and didn’t know they had been sold to other families.
It’s a pretty sad story, but Deke didn’t drive 2,500 miles and murder anywhere between four and sixty-five people just to get a sincere apology from a woman who never meant to do him any harm. He wants his revenge against Sadie, who was lied to and had her children taken away from her under false pretenses! Thankfully, Buddy shows up just in time, and though you might hope, even pray, that we get some extended good twin/bad twin interaction, alas, there’s only a brief struggle, and then Buddy shoots Deke. “I never even knew I had a bruddah,” Deke says, before passing out.
Oh, and by the way, Ross is the twins’ father, but, really, we’ve been watching this thing long enough.
As it turns out, Deke the spree killing maniac hitting town is the best thing to happen in Hollyweird in months. Thanks to him, families are reunited, careers are restored, and marriages are saved. Well, not all marriages. Though Elaine picks Ross up at the hospital after he’s treated for a gunshot wound, and helps him put on a good image for the paparazzi, she leaves him in a limo and walks away, no longer interested in being THE Mrs. Ross Conti. Ross looks out the back window of the limo in a panic, as if the doors locked on their own and it’s about to drive him to Hell.
Speaking of Hell, the miniseries ends with His Infernal Majesty, Oliver, using the aftermath of a brutal attack that might have left at least one minor character dead to announce his next project starring Ross and Gina, a movie that absolutely no one would want to see, as the camera pans over to the HOLLYWOOD sign, and uplifting “a new day breaks” music plays on the soundtrack. Hooray for Hollywood!
Well, this was quite a ride. Glorious trash, and yet not anywhere near, barely a fraction as trashy as the book. Hollywood Wives is a silly, entertaining adaptation of a weird, deeply unpleasant novel. I reread it while on a Greyhound from New York to Philadelphia (because life is a cabaret, my friends), and I was struck by how much it deserves to be in the same category as the weird, unpleasant books written by Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis. All three are written in that singularly 80s tone of “style over substance,” and detached to the point of clinical when it comes to their characters. Even distilled down to the most relevant plots, the movie does a better job of humanizing many of the characters, who come off as comically monstrous in the book. Chapter one opens with Elaine accusing a Latino pool boy of wanting to rape her, while Ross fondly reflects on how he’s “had some of the best little cocksuckers in show business,” while actively getting his helmet waxed, and it only gets worse from there. Nobody fares worse as a character in the novel than Buddy, the closest thing the movie has to a hero. In the book, he’s an egotistical asshole, who refers to himself as “Buddy Boy” and bristles with rage when another man so much as dares to look in his direction. Not so much a struggling actor as a failed actor, he lies to Angel about the state of his career, which is easy, because Angel comes off not so much as naïve but instead like someone who’s just recently suffered a massive head injury, so dumb she thinks that when someone offers her coke, they mean a beverage.
The novel doesn’t play coy as to whether these people like each other, as the reader is subjected to frequent, often repetitious internal monologues from various characters, mostly about how much they either hate or want to fuck (while still hating) other characters. All speaking and thinking in the same crude voice, they’re not so much people as collections of repugnant stereotypes (non-whites and gays are written so poorly there should have been picketing on Jackie Collins’ front lawn) and random body parts—an “aquiline” nose here, a “wide, sensuous mouth” there, and good lord, so many references to breasts. This book is more obsessed with tits than a 14 year-old boy. If I had a dollar for every time someone’s breasts or nipples are mentioned, I could afford to be my own Hollywood Wife.
Speaking of boobs, Gena, how are the sex scenes? I mean, we all know people don’t read Jackie Collins novels for the masterful world-building, after all. Not great, unless you find such elegant turns of phrases as “I’m lost in her juices” and “his balls ached for her” particularly stimulating. It’s all mostly transactional anyway, with characters fucking each other because they need or want something, or to get back at someone else who wronged them, and, like the book overall, it’s gross and exhausting.
Like Truman Capote’s La Côte Basque 1965 if it had cum shots, Collins sold the book on the angle that her characters were based on real people, but, unlike Capote, coyly refused to even hint as to whom. They’re so vaguely drawn that they could be anyone, which, I suppose, might have been the point. According to Jackie Collins, Hollywood is a machine powered on ego, sex, and status, and anyone who doesn’t understand that will be chewed up and spit out like so much gristle. Neither the book or the movie makes it seem like the grief its characters put themselves and each other through is worth getting to have lunch at Ma Maison, or being at the same party as 70 year-old Gregory Peck. But what do I know? My entire experience with Hollywood is limited to one day, doing what hayseeds who’ve never been to Hollywood before do, which is drive down the boulevard and get my picture taken next to the Hollywood and Vine signs. Jackie Collins herself lived there, so clearly she must have found something to like about it, but it’s sure not to be found here.
Original airdate (part 3): February 19, 1985