The GUILTY PLEASURES Collection
Originally Published April 14, 2003
MY LATEST GUILTY PLEASURE
My Secret Craving for
looked like an extra-terrestrial
in this 'Xanadu' ad, but she
was all-goddess in the movie
Do you think she felt
the waves of puppy love?
Ron Miller previously has confessed to "guilty pleasures" over Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, dog stories, the movie "New Faces," movie serials about undersea kingdoms, low budget musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, Smilin' Ed McConnell
and his Buster Brown Gang, Doris Day before she was a virgin, retro country music, the Victoria's Secret catalog and Ricky Nelson albums. In other words,
the guy's a freakin' mess, so take pity on him.
By RON MILLER
They tell me John Travolta let it slip the other day that he had a crush on his "Grease" co-star, Olivia Newton-John, when they made that famous film back in 1978. Well, John, welcome to the crowd! The fact that Olivia made both our hearts go pitty-pat may be the only thing we'll ever have in common.
I fell for the lovely pop singer from Down Under after discovering that sweet, wistful voice actually emanated from a beautiful young woman and not the middleaged fat lady I was prepared to find on the album cover.
My expectations were so low because of a painful childhood experience. When I was a little boy, I received a series of flirty phone calls from a sexy-sounding girl from my sixth grade class. She refused to tell me her name, but I finally tracked her down. On the phone, she sounded like a coy little wood nymph. In person, she looked more like a hungry lumberjack. So, I learned never to fall in love with a voice until you find out what kind of package it might be wrapped in.
Yes, I know--that's a shallow and intolerant attitude. I'm still working to change it. My only defense is that I've occasionally been subjected to pretty much the same reaction from women. I used to have a radio show, so some women knew me only from my radio voice. Upon meeting me in person, one female listener remarked, "I thought Charles Manson was still in prison!"
I would say that was just about the perfect squelch.
However, I feel confident that I'll someday lose my bigoted outlook about the importance of good looks. If I'm lucky, it will happen when I'm on i.v. tubes in the old folks home and my only contact with the female sex will be a 300-pound nurse named Yolanda, who most likely will have a chirpy little voice like Betty Boop.
Anyway, I was so smitten by Olivia that I became totally unreasonable. Though it was a very late-arriving case of puppy-love, I still bought all her records and spent an appalling amount of time just staring at the covers, which were just about the sexiest on the market in the early 1970s. I played her music so often and so loudly that I became a sort of "easy-listening" commando, purifying a musical landscape then polluted by endless Motown sounds and acid rock.
My passion for Olivia was to be expected. She was the antidote to the gratuitously sultry female pop stars of her time. She was clean, sweet and cute. She was Doris Day--The Next Generation. Though I always could be moved by gratuitous sultriness in the privacy of my own motel room, my lasting lusts have always been for "nice" girls. They wear well.
As a matter of fact, I don't care for "Grease" that much, even though it's Olivia's most popular movie. That's because she "tarts up" in the last reel and vamps Travolta like some sort of high school Madonna. That's not the Olivia I adored.
The Olivia of my dreams is the one from "Xanadu." Actually, I'm a little embarrassed to say it's my favorite Olivia movie. Everybody else thinks it was a bomb of bunker-buster proportions. I'll admit it's just a series of music videos wrapped around an anemic storyline. I'll also confess I have no explanation for the screwy fact that Olivia seems to be on roller skates in every other scene, along with most everybody else in the movie.
But Olivia gets to tap-dance with the legendary Gene Kelly in "Xanadu," wearing a World War II WAC uniform, and looks pretty convincing. They didn't film her just from the waist up while dubbing in somebody else's feet for the close-ups. I'd like to see Jennifer Lopez try that without doing a pratfall!
On the negative side, Olivia's co-star was Michael Beck, who was about as musical as Charles Coburn. He neither sings nor dances a lick and he looks about as inept on roller skates as I would. (I once spent an entire evening with my wife at a roller skating rink and never got off the floor.) I didn't mind at the time because I'd liked Beck in "The Warriors" and thought he'd look good with Olivia. When I see the movie now, I just wish he were Travolta--or even Russ Tamblyn.
But Olivia looked marvelous in "Xanadu"--and she played a goddess, which I considered the ideal role for her in 1980. To me she was--and probably still is--serious goddess material.
Olivia has that irresistible Anglo-Aussie accent instead of the slangy, lowdown vernacular of the Hollywood girls of her era. She also had a slim, athletic and discreetly feminine shape that appealed to me bigtime. American girls of her vintage all seemed too artificially pneumatic for my taste. If you surprised Olivia as she was stepping into the shower, I figured she'd look like a real girl, not one of those bimbo wannabe's that couldn't take a shower without taking off pounds of prosthetic devices that supplied them with all their make-believe curves.
I guess another reason I loved "Xanadu" so much was because it was a remake of "Down to Earth," the 1947 movie in which Rita Hayworth played Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, who comes to Earth and falls in love with a mortal. I fell in love with Rita Hayworth while seeing that movie as a grammar school kid. I'm a sucker for goddesses. So, call me irresponsible.
As it turns out, I finally got the chance to find out if Olivia Newton-John really is a goddess or just another Hollywood fantasy. At the peak of her fame, she did a musical special for the ABC television network and I was invited to her first press conference in Los Angeles.
I was still goofy over her and I guess I hadn't kept it much of a secret from my pals on the TV beat. (My wife knew about it, too, but considered it a sure sign I was prematurely entering the middleage phase of my life.) I found out Olivia was going to meet the press in a fairly small room where reporters would gather around her at a long conference-style table. So, I got there early and sat down right opposite the chair where Olivia was going to sit. When she showed up, she was a goddess, all right, even though she was warm and friendly, just like a regular girl.
I generally behave fairly well at such events and was careful not to pant or drool. But I found myself having a hard time coming up with any charming or witty remarks as we informally chatted in the few minutes before she'd begin the formal question and answer period. Then one of the wiseguys next to me told Olivia that I'd been waiting at the table since 4 a.m. (chuckle, chuckle), so I probably should get to ask the first question. She looked amused.
"What did you want to know?" she said, giving me a dazzling smile that made my shorts start smoking.
One of the guys who knew of my passion for her, leaned over and whispered, rather loudly: "He wants to know if you'll....." (Modesty forbids my printing his full remark. Let me just say that he suggested a place where she might sit, which might have approximated a sexual act still illegal in some states.)
It was probably the closest I ever came to having a stroke during a press conference. I don't know if she actually heard the lewd remark or not, but she giggled a little about something. I had no choice but to ignore the remark, assume she hadn't heard it and quickly ask her a serious and relevant question that she'd have to answer. Somehow I managed to keep a straight face. So did she. And the press conference went on.
Olivia on 'American Idol 2'
this year. Now 54, she
still looks goddess-like
That was that. I never saw her in person again. The spectacular phase of her career lasted another couple of years. She conquered the pop charts, the country charts and seemed destined to become one of those rare pop music stars who makes a smooth transition into acting and finally becomes an enduring movie star.
But it never really happened for Olivia Newton-John. She married a younger guy, Matt Lattanzi, who was a dancer in "Xanadu"; had a baby daughter, Chloe; had a serious scare from breast cancer in the 1990s and recovered in fine shape, but then gradually wound down her career, concentrating on motherhood and her abiding interest in environmental causes and other social issues.
Today Olivia Newton-John still records, still performs on tour--in fact, she's supposed to tour the U.S. this year--and recently appeared as a talent judge on TV's "American Idol 2." She's still nice and went easy on all the amateur performers. Though divorced and free to play around, she isn't a regular in the tabloids, which is fine with me. This September, she'll turn 55, which you'd never know by looking at her.
I suppose my enduring affection for "Xanadu" qualifies as a "guilty pleasure" with oak leaf clusters. But I have absolutely no guilt about still being hung up on sweet Olivia. After all, I established to my own satisfaction that she's a goddess--and they're supposed to be worshipped endlessly, right?
©2003 by Ron Miller. The Ron Miller caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The "Xanadu" illustration is from the DVD and is ©1980 by Universal Pictures. The photo of Olivia today is from "American Idol 2" and is ©2003 by the Fox television network.
RON MILLER was a nationally syndicated television columnist from 1977-99 and is a former national president of the Television Critics Assn.
COMING NEXT IN THE SERIES:
Joyce Kiefer, a virgin in the field of "guilty pleasures" revelations, offers up
her first major public confession: Her passion for a certain daily soap opera.
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