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10 Questions with Tom Lisanti

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Above: Author Tom Lisanti with actress Francine York

Author Tom Lisanti has written numerous books about sixties-era screen starlets including Fantasy Femmes of 60's Cinema, Drive-In Dream Girls, Film Fatales and Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969. Tom's latest book is called Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood: Seventy-Five Profiles and it features many profiles of beautiful actresses from that decade who are often overlooked such as Edy Williams, Lee Meredith, Melodie Johnson, Lisa Seagram, Tura Sutana, Susan Denberg, Sharon Tate, Beverly Adams, Victoria Carroll, Joy Harmon, Inga Neilson, Yvonne Craig and Ann Morell. I recently got the chance to ask Tom a few questions.

Cinedelica: Your latest book is called Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood and it features profiles on 75 actresses as well as some fascinating interviews. Were there any actresses that you especially enjoyed interviewing for your book?

Tom Lisanti: All the actresses were great but I have to say Lisa Seagram and Victoria Carroll kept me laughing throughout the interviews. They were a lot of fun.

Cinedelica: Were their any actresses you wanted to interview for the book but weren’t able to?

Tom Lisanti: Oh, yeah. I tried to arrange an interview with Mary Ann Mobley way back but she kept standing me up and I gave up after the third time. I should have been more persistent. Over the years I have been turned down personally by Anjanette Comer, Tina Louise, Paula Prentiss, Suzy Parker, Mikki Jamison, Noreen Corcoran, and Carol Lynley. France Nuyen let me interview her and then refused to let me publish it! For this book, I wrote to Michele Carey, Mary Hughes, Linda Foster, Eve Bruce, and Victoria Vetri, among others, and never heard a reply. But that’s life in the celebrity interview game.

Cinedelica: How did you become so interested in sixties-era film actresses and what compels you to write about them?

Tom Lisanti: I’m gay but my first TV crushes were Bridget Hanley in Here Come the Brides (1968) and Deanna Lund in Land of the Giants (1968). Go figure. Now when I watch those shows I’m more focused on Bobby Sherman and Gary Conway, but I digress. Later I became a huge fan of Carol Lynley after I saw her as hot pants/go-go boot-wearing Nonnie the lounge singer in the best movie of all-time, The Poseidon Adventure (1972). I started a scrapbook on her and would read TV Guide a week in advance to plan my upcoming TV viewing. I would even fake being ill to stay home from school to watch her on The Hollywood Squares. I would also pretend to go to the library to study but would spend hours scouring movie books for any morsel of information on Carol. My research led me to other actresses of her ilk such as Pamela Tiffin, Diane McBain, Yvette Mimieux, etc.

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Above: Thordis Brandt and Lisa Seagram

Cinedelica: Some of the actresses you've interviewed have been very candid with their responses. Have you ever been surprised by any of the answers you’ve gotten?

Tom Lisanti: Yes, and it is usually about other actors. Unfortunately, most of those remarks don’t make it into the book. Either the actress tells you off the record or once she reads her profile (I need to get them to sign releases) they get cold feet and temper their comments.

Cinedelica: The actresses featured in Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood often mention the problems they faced as beautiful young women trying to get work in Hollywood. Casting couches, demanding directors and extreme competition with other actresses for roles was obviously prevalent in the sixties. Do you think things have changed much in Hollywood in the last 40 years?

Tom Lisanti: I really have no first-hand knowledge as the actresses I have come in contact with now are well past the starlet years. As my friends say, if I come a-calling you know your career is over. But I would hope things have changed in Hollywood. I think young women today are smarter, shrewder and have more power. Back then, they were at the mercy of their agents, producers or directors. Today, they seem more in charge of their careers and less likely to let themselves be exploited without a bigger payoff then their Sixties counterparts.

Cinedelica: I was personally surprised to discover how many young actresses started out as showgirls in Vegas. Las Vegas seemed to be a sort of “hot bed” for budding young talent in the sixties. How much of an impact do you think the Vegas clubs, shows and their stars had on Hollywood during the sixties?

Tom Lisanti: Las Vegas was an obvious place to raid to attract glamorous women who weren’t afraid to show off their bodies in skimpy outfits or teeny weenie bikinis. These gals also had poise and style so it was a natural fit.

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Above: Beverly Adams and Susan Denberg

Cinedelica: Your last book was called Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, which chronicled the teenage beach movies that came out of Hollywood during the sixties. What inspired you to put that terrific book together?

Tom Lisanti: I am a huge fan of beach movies and noticed except for an article here or there in some film magazine or a short chapter in a book nobody had written an in-depth look at these movies, which were hugely popular for a short period of time. So I took it upon my self to do it. I had the interest, knowledge and contact to interview many of the performers. I have to say it was a huge undertaking and the book I am most proud of. I also have to give credit to actor Aron Kincaid who wrote the foreword and was a huge champion of mine. His contributions to the book truly helped in making it so well-received.

Cinedelica: Winter is fast approaching and watching beach movies can be a great way to fight off the winter blues. Can you recommend a few of your favorite beach movies to our readers?

BeachbabesTom Lisanti: Of course, I love Frankie and Annette in their movies together especially Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). And I really do like most of the others but two stand out for me. If you want to watch some awesome surfing with a semi-serious plot then Ride the Wild Surf (1964) is the one to rent. The shots of the surfers riding the big waves at Waimea Bay are incredible. And the cast including Fabian, Shelley Fabares, Peter Brown, and Susan Hart is terrific as is the bitchin’ title tune by Jan and Dean. If you are in the mood for more beach-party goofy antics I like Beach Ball (1965). Coeds Chris Noel, Gail Gerber, Brenda Benet, and Mikki Jamison drop their nerdy ways and learn to groove to entice college dropouts Edd Byrnes, Aron Kincaid, Don Edmonds and Robert Logan to return to school. In between lounging on the shore and surfing the waves, you can see and hear The Supremes, The Four Seasons, The Hondells, and others.

Cinedelica: You’re currently working with the sixties starlet Gail Gerber on her memoir Strange Love: Terry Southern, Hollywood, and Me. It sounds like a fascinating read. How did you get involved with that project?

Tom Lisanti: I interviewed Gail, a fellow New Yorker, for Drive-in Dream Girls and we remained friendly. Three different actresses that I previously interviewed all contacted me to co-write their planned memoirs. I liked all of them and thought they lived interesting lives, but I didn’t think any of them were well known enough to reach the mainstream. It is a lot of work to write a book and if nobody reads it—it’s a bummer! When Gail approached me I felt her memoir had more of a draw since it focused on her life with Terry Southern an icon of the Sixties who wrote the novels Candy and The Magic Christian, as well as the screenplays for Dr. Strangelove (1964), Easy Rider (1969), The Loved One (1965), etc. Their adventurous life together goes from Hollywood to London, to New York to Rome, to Chicago and a farm in Connecticut, with such an eclectic cast of characters making appearances including Peter Fonda, William Burroughs, Jennifer Jones, Peter Sellers, Dennis Hopper, Rip Torn, Joy Harmon, Elvis Presley, Lenny Bruce, Stanley Kubrick, Tina Aumont, Ringo Starr, Robert Walker Jr., Anita Pallenberg, etc. I think it is going to be a very good read.

Cinedelica: Are there any other book projects you’ve got planned for the future that your readers can look forward to?

Tom Lisanti: Yes, there is. I only wrote about my favorite actress Carol Lynley briefly in Film Fatales because I knew I would save her for something bigger. I am thinking of writing a book on her that I have tentatively entitled Carol Lynley, Teen Queen to Scream Queen: Her Career in Horror, Fantasy & Suspense. I think the title pretty much sums it up. She was my first magazine interview but turned me down for a longer piece for my first book. I am hoping a book about her unsung career as a Scream Queen would perk her interest—we’ll see.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Tom and I look forward to all your future projects! All of Tom Lisanti's books are currently available at Amazon or you can order it directly from the books publisher McFarland. If you'd like to learn more about Tom and his books please visit his terrific website Tom Lisanti's - Sixties Cinema.

- Kimberly Lindbergs

Comments

Jeremy

Great interview...I really hope he writes that book on Carol Lynley. She is really deserving of one and I remember his original article on her was terrific.
The Terry Southern book sounds great as well, and I hope Michele Carey returns his call one day, as I have always been curious as to what happened to her...
Great job Kimberly...

Kimberly

Thanks Jeremy! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. I'm looking forward to the Gail Gerber/Terry Southern and Carol Lynley books as well.

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