The actress Lee Grant was nominated for four Academy Awards during her illustrious movie career. She came away empty-handed her first time, for her role in 1951’s Detective Story, and shortly thereafter was blacklisted for 12 years for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. She had better luck with her third nomination, for her torrid performance opposite Warren Beatty in 1975’s Shampoo. Grant candidly reflects on her experiences filming the latter movie in this exclusive excerpt from her memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, out today.
On the Set of Shampoo
Warren Beatty was Mike Nichols’s friend. Mike had a wonderful-looking assistant, a tall young girl, built like a tall young boy. Mike was offering this jewel to Warren, but Warren was interested in me.
“I have a movie for you,” he said.
The movie turned out to be Shampoo, which he wrote with Bob Towne. Goldie Hawn was in Shampoo and so was Julie Christie, both with whom Warren had had romances. With Julie, long; with Goldie, movie-length.
I found that good danger zone again in Shampoo. And I found depth and an absence of depth in the narrow life of my character Felicia. Costumer Anthea Sylbert designed the clothes. She’d done them for The Prisoner of Second Avenue and I knew her well. She had my character’s name embroidered in the lining of her mink coat. I’m glad I did the role before my fear of failing spread to films.
The first scene we shot, Warren and I, was the scene when I return to my Beverly Hills mansion with my hair in rollers under a scarf. Warren the hairdresser is there waiting for me, ostensibly to comb out my hair, but really to meet my ravenous sexual needs. As I write this my heart thumps in remembered anticipation, my sense memory of it is so strong.
The hairdresser Warren plays in the film has just fucked my daughter, played by Carrie Fisher. I open the door to her room, see him there, and say something like, “Come upstairs and comb me out.”
Before we ever did the scene, Warren sat me down at a little glass table, and proceeded to tell me what my character, Felicia, was thinking in the script. I was stunned. Hal Ashby, my friend and favorite director, was directing Shampoo. He would never say anything but “surprise me” to me. And here was Warren, who I was supposed to relate to as my hairdresser, sitting me down before I went on camera, telling me what my character thought.
“Listen,” he said. “A friend of mine had someone going down on him under a desk. His girlfriend walked in, walked out again. She never saw it. Didn’t choose to know. She blocked it out.”
“Maybe she knows that’s what comes along with the territory,” I said.
“No, no,” says Warren, “I really know this, women just don’t see what they don’t want to see!”
I went home that night with a raging migraine. I couldn’t sleep. I went to the set the next day. The migraine was so bad I couldn’t see straight. It was the scene where Felicia takes the hairdresser up to her bedroom to have sex with him. I kept on my mink coat, my headscarf, and my boots, pulled down my panties, and got on top of him. Behind the camera, Hal hissed, “Open your mouth, open your mouth, use your tongue!”
“I can’t,” I hissed back. “I’m sick. I’ll throw up.”
The next day I came onto the set after thinking all night. The migraine was gone and I wasn’t working that day. I went up to Hal.
“I’m quitting,” I said. “I can’t work with an actor who gives me direction.”
Hal had a movie to shoot.
“Okay” he said.
Hal was mellow. I asked Warren to give me a minute when he was free. I sat on the iron ladder steps, watching the action, at peace. Warren lunged up the iron steps, clanging, and sat on the step below me.
“I’m quitting,” I said. “I can’t work with an actor I’m playing with directing me.”
“It’s making me sick. It’s not how I work.”
“You’re my hairdresser. My hairdresser doesn’t tell me how to think. And you’re not my director. Hal would never tell me what I think about anything.”
“No, this is not going to work. Get someone else to play the part.”
“Willya listen a minute? What do I know? Huh? This is my sixth movie. Do what you want. I’m crazy about you, you know that?”
Huh? Huh? “You mean it? You’ll stop pushing your dumb theories about women on me?”
That’s when I became Warren’s romance for the movie. The air was so thick with heat that the hairdressers had hot dreams. I, as frustrated Felicia, sex-starved Felicia, was in such a constant state of heat that I wanted to pull truck drivers out of their cabs. No one was safe. Of course Joey got more and better sex than he’d dreamed of, but my point was, I/Felicia knew immediately that my hairdresser made love to my/her daughter. I/Felicia was so crazed with need when I/she caught them that all I/she cared about was getting laid, then! Right away! Now! Now!
The analyst I drove to like a maniac when I was doing Shampoo told me he hadn’t a clue as to who he was treating, Lee or Felicia. I came in with all her problems and I worked them out. I left my movie husband, beloved Jack Warden.
Warren loved women. Loved them with a ravenous appetite the way my husband, Joey, yearned for food. The way Fremo and Gladys had love for painting. That Waldo Salt had for writing screenplays, that Jimmy Breslin has for writing, that I had for acting. An appetite, an appreciation, an involvement that is obsessive, fascinated. Warren had a speech in Shampoo, addressed to Goldie’s character, when she caught him having sex with Julie Christie. Something like, “I love women. I love their look, their smell. When I go into an elevator I see a woman and I just want her legs around me.” I’m quoting my recollection, not what the exact lines were. Warren wrote the lines.
When he shot that scene with Goldie, I was halfway across the soundstage from where they were shooting. I heard Warren say those lines with a passion and exposure I’d never heard from him before. I ran back to the set.
“That’s it, Warren,” I said. “Don’t do any more.” I was so moved.
While he appreciated my reaction, he went on to do a hundred or more takes, until the exposed Warren was tamer, more acceptable to him.
Goldie, who had to do the scene with him for a hundred takes, went outside and threw up when the scene was over.
For a consummate filmmaker, Warren plunged into the boy part of himself as an actor. His hairdresser is an innocent.
To act in a film he both produced and co-wrote is a big jump. Maybe that’s why he needed all those takes.
The Chateau Marmont was a second home when I was working and had to be ready on set at eight am.
I occupied the suite on the fourth floor with the long balcony. It once looked out over Sunset onto a huge billboard of the Marlboro Man, which was then a permanent fixture of the landscape. It was where I stayed when I filmed Shampoo.
The morning after we completed the movie, I was in that suite at the Chateau, packed up and ready for the ride back to my life in Malibu. The phone rang. It was a girlfriend, Joanne, with a long story to tell about an incident in a diner the night before. As I listened to her complain, the doorbell rang. It was Warren. Standing in the doorway. We kissed and kissed, and walked/staggered to the window kissing, me listening all the while to my friend Joanne.
“Uh-huh,” I’d say breathlessly. “What did you do then? And what did he say?”
Felicia had taken over my body. She finally said good-bye to her hairdresser for the last time.
Joanne was still talking as I stood at the door, watching Warren walk down the carpeted hallway to the stairs, waving good-bye with his back to me. All that energy, lightly, jauntily, taking the stairs. It was still morning, after all. He had the whole day and night ahead of him. I heard the phone squeaking in my hand.
“I’m still here.” I said.
We had never kissed in the film, just been naked in bed together for a few uncomfortable days, with me simulating fucking and sucking, the crew around our bed, our director, Hal, sitting close by. “Suck harder” he instructed me as I knelt beneath a blanket somewhere between Warren’s legs.
So the visit to the Chateau was a lovely, tender farewell. Romantic and passionate and clandestine, kissing took on a whole new meaning, one that left Felicia and the hairdresser behind and let Lee and Warren say good-bye, in the most delicious way.
There is a postscript to this idyllic ending.
About a week after we’d finished shooting, Warren called. I’d been getting ready to have a big cast party at the Red House. I thought he wanted to add a few more people as guests.
His voice was low, seductive. “Why don’t you drive down to Brenda’s tonight?”
“Mmmm — I don’t know.”
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon”
The truth was I missed him. I loved the guy. I missed being teased, too. I thought … Never mind what I thought.
When I arrived at Brenda’s house, Warren was there. And Jack Nicholson, and Kenny Solms, Michael Douglas was home, the usual crowd. In that period, Michael was very serious about marrying Brenda. He’d come to the Shampoo set one day, sat in my trailer and talked about his conflicts. Brenda was, in those days, gorgeous and, as in these days, unique. They broke the mold with her. Hilarious, original, a daredevil, always.
Anyway, Warren was giving me his deep focus, his “let’s get away from all these people and go somewhere, just us” focus. And I was eating it up, heating up in his sun, loving the attention, being the girl of the moment in front of all my cool friends, when I saw Warren’s eyes attach themselves to something in the distance. I turned around and saw in the next room, the dining room, Dolly Parton, quietly sitting at the table, alone, scribbling on a pad.
In an instant, I could feel myself dropped as this new yummy dish was making Warren’s mouth water. He actually licked his lips as he left me on the couch and sat down next to her at the table.
I followed him like a jilted wife, jealous, clumsy.
I needn’t have bothered; Dolly was immune.
Warren tried the whole deck of cards, Dolly concentrated on her numbers, adding, subtracting, and smiling adorably at his attempts.
Watching her, I couldn’t blame him for trying. It was 1975. Dolly was all cream and roses, just astonishing and nice.
I rose from the table; Warren was relieved. I said my good-byes and drove back to the Red House, humming to myself.
We were packing up to leave the Red House the week of the Oscars. I had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Shampoo. A film crew was covering all the nominees. Lily Tomlin and Ronnie Blakely from Bob Altman’s great, great classic Nashville, my friend Brenda Vaccaro, and Sylvia Miles. I had never won an Oscar. I had never been a bride. My first marriage had been in Hoboken, dressed in Fremo’s jacket. I married Joey wearing jeans just before stopping at the market. Shampoo was my third nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I yearned to be the bride this time around, not a bridesmaid yet again.
I went to my costumer, Burton Miller, who showed me the charming antique white lace dress that said, “Take me, take me!” I loved her. I rented her. Burton found me shoes and a light blue satin sash, and a little comb with white satin flowers for my hair. I was ready for my secret wedding. I was marrying my past and leaving it behind.
When you walk down the red carpet as an Oscar nominee, all the fans and the paparazzi scream your name.
“Camera’s over here, Lee.”
“Look here!” Flash, flash, roar of the crowds, like the Roman Colosseum.
Oh my God. How important am I! They love me, they love me!
Then, when you lose, those same adoring camera people are elbowing you, stampeding you out of the way to get a shot of the winner. It’s good for one’s humility to lose a couple of times. But the truth is everyone wants to win.
There’s an apocryphal story of Tony Quinn and Marlon Brando meeting in the parking lot after they’d both just lost the award to another actor. “I’ll read my speech to you if you read me yours,” Tony said.
Sitting in my seat in that enormous red and gold theatre, grim, sinking in my bridal dress, I heard “And the award goes to Lily Tomlin.” I leaned forward to congratulate Lily, who was sitting right in front of me, a big silver crown shining on her head.
“Lee,” she said, “they said your name!”
I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. A lot of people were looking at me now. Someone was pulling me out of my seat and pushing me into the aisle. As I walked with rubber legs and a roar in my ears ten yards to the stage, it was an out-of-body experience. I don’t know what I said, but I know it meant “I do.” I do know at this minute I am loved. I do know no one in this vast audience is out to get me. I’d been nominated for my first Academy Award in 1952 for Detective Story — I won in 1976 for Shampoo. Twenty-four years later, exactly my age at the time of the first nomination. Twelve years after the Blacklist ended for me in 1964.
I had an historic sense as I stood there onstage alone, my mouth thanking people, looking out at a vast audience, bobbing faces, balcony full. I felt on top of the wave. My heart rested. Peace.
Whatever the decade, the seventies, had been, it was a good decade; artistically in film, a great decade. Those people at that moment adored me almost as much as my mother did. I could celebrate the work and leave behind the torment. And probably my need to prove myself was over.
Excerpted from I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir by Lee Grant with permission from Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (Inc.). Copyright 2014 by Lee Grant.