London, 1968 to 1973 The Savoy, Death by Champagne
“Dear Prudence.” How often that Beatles refrain has been sung to me over the decades. One evening I learned the song’s origin at a concert conducted by André Previn at the Royal Festival Hall. His publicist, Wendy Hanson, took me backstage to meet Previn and his wife, actress Mia Farrow. When Farrow heard my name, she told me, “My sister’s name is Prudence, and when we were studying under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India, Prudence wouldn’t come out of her room. So the Beatles gathered outside her door and sang, ‘Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play.’”
Many years later I met Paul McCartney in Barbados, where my friend John Iversen (former manager of the Savoy Group’s Lancaster Hotel in Paris) was managing the luxury resort the Sandy Lane Hotel. He had invited me to spend Christmas there. John always wore a tuxedo in the evenings when on duty. When asked why, he’d say, “It’s very hard to insult a man wearing a tuxedo.”
While at Sandy Lane, I bumped into the English actress Rita Tushingham, with whom I’d worked with in Toronto. She was staying in a different hotel, as were her friends Paul McCartney, his wife, Linda, and their kids. The McCartneys were being besieged by fans on the beach. My friend Montreal stockbroker Jacques Côté was renting a coral villa away from the tourist area, and I suggested that the McCartneys use the beach there the next day.
That morning, I arrived at his hotel at the specified time, and McCartney drove up in a beach buggy with Linda and their three children, aged between five and nine. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“Nanaimo,” said I.
“I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you,” grinned Paul.
“Follow me,” I laughed, and off we all drove to the beach. When we arrived, the kids rushed to play in the sand and everyone relaxed. Linda was cool, and so was Paul. But then a wee drama took place. Paul’s son stepped on a prickly sea urchin. Paul brought him up to the house. Believing that uric acid helps relieve the sting, our host peed into a teacup and presented it to Paul, who poured it over his son’s foot and said, “Thanks, Jacques. Whenever I need a nice cup of pee, I know where to come.”
As the poor lad was still suffering, the family left not long after, but not before Paul McCartney kissed my cheek.
When Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau came to London in February 1969 to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, I briefed his press attaché, Vic Chapman, in advance. Among London events, I mentioned that Barbra Streisand would be in town for the Funny Girl premiere party at Claridge’s, where Trudeau was staying, and that Edward Albee would be in town for a premiere of one of his plays. I arranged the tickets for the film and the Funny Girl party through a chum at Columbia Pictures. Thus did Trudeau meet Barbra Streisand, whom he dated for a period. Edward and I received invitations to a cocktail party at the Canadian High Commission near Grosvenor Square to meet Trudeau. As it turned out, Edward was the only American at the party. Someone had goofed. It was one of the few times I saw Edward actually take a drink. So did Canadian actor John Colicos, who was hanging out with us. He’d been playing Winston Churchill in the West End; it was a good thing he wasn’t onstage that night!
After the cocktail party, Albee, a very drunken and raucous Colicos, and I accompanied Trudeau across Grosvenor Square along with a security detail from Scotland Yard and the RCMP. Trudeau had invited us to his suite, but by the time we got to Claridge’s, Colicos was so boisterous that the invitation was rescinded. This, however, did not stop us from partying with Trudeau’s Canadian aides. By then I was getting rather out of hand myself. I remember Edward saying, “Listen to Prudence. She’s speaking fluent Swedish!” Next time Trudeau came to London, he stayed at the Savoy.
A Career Change
Nanaimo Girl Goes to the Movies
Good Will Hunting, 1997
The farthest I ever drove to work on a film was for Angela, but the runner-up was Good Will Hunting, which earned nine Academy Award nominations — including Best Picture — and won two: Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
Though much of the film was shot in Toronto, Boston was also a major location, and I had to find my way there. Because I didn’t have a work permit for the United States, I decided to drive the three-thousand-kilometre return trip under the guise of visitor.
Most films go through a dogged step-by-step procedure from the moment the first word is written to the first spoken “action” on the first day of shooting. It took five years before Good Will Hunting faced the cameras. It had been conceived by Matt Damon in 1992 as a creative writing assignment when he was a student at Harvard. When he showed the fifty-page story to Ben Affleck, his long-time friend thought it would make a great movie. The duo, both raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had aspired to be actors since they were fourteen and sixteen when they went to New York together to audition for parts. They began landing parts in commercials and films and read at least five hundred scripts a year, very few of which were acceptable. So they wrote their own screenplay, which evolved from a thriller to a strong character-driven piece.
It became a coming-of-age story about an orphaned working-class math prodigy (Matt Damon) from South Boston who comes to terms with his life and genius primarily through the relationship he develops with the psychologist (Robin Williams) who treats him.
Having sunk their savings and time into writing the script, Damon and Affleck couldn’t believe their good fortune when a bidding war took place for the screenplay. At the time, the two had very few film credits and were both unknowns. But when Robin Williams became interested, Miramax came aboard.
The package finally came together in 1997. When Robin Williams signed, he had only a short window free, forcing the production to start principal photography almost immediately. Matt, Ben, and Robin were joined in the cast by Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgård and Gus Van Sant was hired to direct.
What an honour to be involved with such a cast and crew, particularly on a film that literally launched Matt Damon’s and Ben Affleck’s careers. A year later, an even greater honour arrived in my mailbox: a black leather-bound hardcover copy of the script from Robin Williams. Over a photograph of him and Matt Damon, he’d signed, “Prudence, thanks for the good word, Robin Williams.”
Suck, Toronto, 2008
No actor is funnier than Malcolm McDowell. I had previously worked with him on Between Strangers and had a chance to reconnect in 2008 on the rock ’n’ roll vampire comedy Suck, in which he played a vampire hunter who is afraid of the dark. This was a low-budget film with a high-budget cast featuring shock rock pioneers Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop. Written and directed by actor/musician Rob Stefaniuk, Suck also featured Jessica Paré, Dave Foley, satirist Henry Rollins, and musicians Moby, Dimitri Coats, Alex Lifeson, and Carole Pope.
I thought I’d have my hands full with Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper. I’d contacted their agents beforehand to clear the way for any media interviews. When I was introduced to Iggy and his charming wife at lunch, a very civilized Iggy said, “Please sit down. I understand that there are a few things that you’d like me to do.” I was pleasantly surprised. Actors never offer to help publicists out with impending interviews. I told Iggy the media names and outlets and suggested that he could be interviewed by two or three at the same time so that, in effect, he would only have to do one interview for three outlets. “That sounds like a good idea,” said Iggy, who then asked a very interesting question: “Are they gentlemen?” In my opinion, they were all respectable, one being Michael Rowe, a distinguished novelist and freelance journalist. I’d also invited a reporter from the Globe and Mail. When the day came, Iggy sat down companionably and chatted away. Then he was called back to set. I thought, Uh-oh, that’s it, but, unescorted, he returned of his own volition after the scene to resume the interview. He’s my hero. If only other actors were as cooperative as he was, my working life would have been a dream.
Alice Cooper was just as cooperative, charming, laid-back, and funny. He hung out on the set like a regular guy. When he posed for a picture with me, he joked, “Wasn’t that a wild night?”
Like Iggy, Alice created his wild public image. His daughter Calico, who had a cameo in Suck, explained, “Dad found a niche — that of Captain Hook as opposed to Peter Pan.”
David Foley pointed out, “A rock ’n’ roller looks like a vampire. They live very similar lifestyles, sleeping all day and spreading despair and destruction all night.”
Director/screenwriter Rob Stefaniuk said, “Rock ’n’ roll and vampires have more in common than just being cool and dead. There is also a long history of white face, black eyes, and black lips. Alice Cooper first combined rock ’n’ roll and horror with the white-faced, black-eyed look.”
McDowell was naughty but nice, energetic and hilarious. His presence on set always added a little electricity — and he electrified me one freezing night when we were shooting in a graffiti-covered alley. My hair, which ranges in colour from magenta to fuchsia to pink, attracted Malcolm’s attention. “Prudence,” he said, “we’ve been wondering if your pubes match your hair!” That very evening, I was christened with a new nickname, “Magenta.”
American singer and activist Moby, who is a strict vegan, played Beef Bellows, the lead singer in the Secretaries of Steak. “I love the idea of one of the most famous vegans in the world being named Beef Bellows and playing in a hardcore band where the audience throws meat at him,” said Stefaniuk.
The meat was, in fact, molded silicone rubber steaks with spongy bags inside that oozed fake blood when squeezed.