Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Q&A with Lily Collins

 
I recently had the opportunity to experience the love, friendship and adventure of an iconic storyteller in the film biopic of J.R.R Tolkien. From the legendary halls of Oxford to the grim and bloody trenches of World War I, this enthralling biopic explores the early years of J.R.R Tolkien (played by Nicholas Hoult) and the relationships that defined the legendary author he would become. Chronicling his romance with Edith Brant (played by Lily Collins), as well as the various members of the Tea Club, Barrovian Society, Tolkien slowly grows from a shy and bookish young man into one of history’s most beloved writers, seasoned by life, and everything that comes with it.

In a Q&A interview with Lily Collins, she talked about the role she played in this remarkable movie. For those who are not familiar with Lily's work, she broke out as an actor with the likes of Priest, Abduction and Mirror Mirror, where she played Snow White. She then starred in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Stuck in Love The English Teacher and Love, Rosie. She won a Golden Globe nomination for Rules Don't Apply and earned much praise for To the Bone and the TV miniseries Les Miserables.

In what ways did the story of Tolkien resonate with you, Lily?

Lily Collins: Something that resonates with me very strongly in the story is that one can have a soulmate and it doesn’t even have to be romantic. It can be a friendship, and in this story we deal with Edith and Tolkien’s love, and that from a very young age was a soulmate connection. But he also has these three friends who are very much soulmates in their own right. You don’t necessarily know the impact you are going to have on someone and vice versa. It could be years later that you are still having that impact on them. Also, Tolkien, to me, is a creator of stories that deeply impacted my wanting to be an actor.

How so?

LC: I lived in the English countryside when I was little. It was very Shire-like and I used to go around the garden pretending that there were magical creatures everywhere. I would read the books and disappear into this world in my head and I wanted one day to translate that to other people. Acting is exactly what that does for me and, ironically, I ended up doing a movie about the man behind that. Tolkien found the magic in the mundane and in nature and that felt very connected to me from such a young age.

Did you read other books in that genre? C. S. Lewis, maybe?

LC: Anything fairy tale. C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter, Tolkien, anything fantasy based. I also loved reading the darker side of fairy tales, like the Grimm stories, which maybe are not the Disney versions we all know.

Who did you want to be in the Tolkien books?

LC: The elven characters resonated very deeply with me because I used to run around the garden pretending there were elves and fairies everywhere. I auditioned for one of the Peter Jackson films to play an elven character, one of hundreds of people, probably, and didn’t end up getting it. But then again, eight years later here I am playing the woman who partly inspired her and was quite muse like in that regard for all the elven characters. That was something I felt naturally inclined to.

What happened at your Peter Jackson audition, Lily?

LC: I didn’t do well. There was no script to read, just these sides that were quite confidential. Don’t ask me to do it now because I won’t be able to but we had to speak Elfish! And we had to make it up because they hadn’t given us a proper language. It was the role Evangeline Lilly played [Tauriel], so another Lilly, but not this Lily! It was just an honour to just go in for it.

Was Peter there?

LC: No, it did not get that far. So he probably never even saw it.

 

Both these characters follow their dreams so how important was that for you, to be true to yourself and to follow your dreams?

LC: Something that I have always been taught me from an early age is to follow your gut and your heart and to do what it is that pleases your soul. But that doesn’t always come easily. Growing into adulthood has been a journey of discovering what it is that I really enjoy and why I enjoy it, as well learning about myself, and getting to know that road blocks are going to come your way; it is how you deal with them that defines who you are and where you end up. That is pretty much the book I wrote a couple of years ago — the book dealt with those kinds of things, too. It is an ever-evolving process and the goal is always to stay true to what makes you happy and to find people to surround yourself with who respect that, and maybe share some of your interests.

What are your own experiences with writing?

LC: I used to write for magazines when I was younger. I wrote for US and UK magazines, online stuff, and then I wrote a book two or three years ago which was a memoir of sorts.

What inspired you to write the book?

LC: I was receiving a lot of messages on social media, specifically Instagram, from young women all over the world expressing to me their insecurities and fears and feelings about themselves and always prefacing them by saying, ‘I know that you cannot relate to this because you are an actress and live in Hollywood, but this is my insecurity, my issue.’ I thought they were so brave because on Instagram your photo is right there so it isn’t anonymous and I thought, ‘If they are going to be brave and do that, I am going to be brave and do that.’ They are feeling alone and if they don’t feel alone, maybe it will help them get through it and maybe I will find something therapeutic about that, too. So it was really just me trying to say, ‘You are not alone so be brave.’ And for me, I felt I had a lot of baggage that I was carrying around, not that anyone knew about it but I thought I had to get rid of that in order to take on the baggage of any characters I played.

Was it difficult deciding what to sift out when writing the book?

LC: I’m not sure that there was a lot that I left out, to be honest. Maybe there will be a Part 2! At the beginning when I started to write it, my editor said, ‘Don’t sell yourself short. You can go a little bit deeper here, here and here.’ It was interesting because as I was writing, I was shooting To The Bone, which is about a subject matter that I write about [anorexia]. And my experiences within acting greatly influenced my understanding of some of my chapters. Therefore, I went deeper into those chapters and came to an inner peace more because I had worked through them. It was really interesting that they both married with each other.

Who introduced the Tolkien books to you?

LJ: I just remember the time period of being in elementary school and having always had this love of magic and fantasy, knowing the world of Harry Potter and then also Tolkien; they took me away to different worlds. I used to go to the library as a kid in school and I would just sit and read them. It was a private time and a sense of escapism in a way. And then I would look forward to the Peter Jackson films when the trailers were coming out. I got really excited and I would look at the release date and go with friends and I still have all my ticket stubs; I keep all my ticket stubs.

Lily, how did it feeling turning 30?

LC: It was great. I had a great time. It was gong to happen regardless so I thought I had better have a good attitude about it. I was filming in Birmingham, Alabama and my mom flew up for my actual birthday. But then the next weekend two of my best friends from the age of five flew out. We took a road trip to Nashville. It was so fun. We had 36 hours. We rode horses and went to all of the honky tonks, we went to the bars, wore cowboy boots and cowboy hats. It was great, just pure innocent fun and then I drove back and I went to work the next day.


 TOLKIEN debuts on Digital Download on August 26 
and Blu-Ray & DVD on September 9
 With thanks to Sadira Cunningham at Fetch Publicity 

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

50 Years Ago Tonight Ann Moses Met Elvis

 

As many of my regular readers and visitors to this blog will remember, last year, Ann Moses, the former editor of Tiger Beat and the Hollywood correspondent for Britain’s NME wrote a fabulous guest blog for me about her first ever trip to Graceland as a guest speaker at Elvis Week 2018, and provided me with some excellent shots of her visit, so for this blog piece, to mark the 50th anniversary of Elvis’s first live appearances in Las Vegas at the International Hotel, I called on Ann again, to ask her if it would be okay for me to reproduce a passage from her autobiography (Meow, My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols) as she was there on the opening night, and to this day, her account of how it was, is probably the best I have read of Elvis’s opening night 50 years ago tonight. I must also thank Ann for supplying the lead picture of her with Elvis at the after show press conference, just eleven days before man landed on the moon during the historic Apollo 11 space flight. A slightly different pose of the same shot appeared on the cover of Elvis Monthly in May 1970, that featured a six page article by Ann entitled An Elvis Fan, Then and Now. 

If you haven’t read Ann’s book, you really should, as it includes a lot more Elvis. As many Elvis fans know, Ann was seen on the famous 1968 TV Special, sharing the screen with Elvis when her face was superimposed with his during Can’t Help Falling in Love, visited him on the set of his final scripted movie, Change of Habit, went to many of the Vegas shows, appeared in the 1970 concert movie Elvis – That’s the Way It Is, interviewed director Dennis Sanders, which was featured in the book of the 2014 deluxe 8 disc box set and also wrote the liner notes for the 2013 FTD On Stage Season 2-CD set as well as writing countless reports about Elvis in Vegas for the NME in England. What follows is Ann's story of Elvis’ opening live show in Vegas, as it appears in Chapter 19 of her book: Elvis Goes to Vegas (and I follow)... 

The day of Elvis’ July 1969 concert in Las Vegas finally arrived. I left early in the morning, hoping to avoid much of the desert summer sun, because my VW Bug had no air conditioning. By noon, it was 107 degrees in my tiny car, even with both windows rolled down. The air-conditioned lobby of the brand-new International Hotel, with its ten-foot-high letters spelling out Elvis’ name, felt wonderful.

 

The Colonel had arranged for a carnival-themed Elvis fantasyland, with young women in straw hats handing out free Elvis swag. Comical and exciting at the same time, there were custom-made banners, pennants, posters, oversized cardboard records, and Elvis pictures plastered on every pillar and wall, both inside and outside the hotel. Nick Naff, the International’s publicity director, gave me a tour of the thirty-story hotel. It had been open less than a month and, with 1,500 rooms, was the biggest hotel in the world. The main showroom seated 2,000 and was the largest room of its kind anywhere, with a sixty-foot-wide stage bigger than Radio City Music Hall’s in New York City. The International set out to capture a first-class clientele with Japanese, Italian, French, and Bavarian restaurants and crystal chandeliers imported from Czechoslovakia. Each floor was decorated in Spanish, French provincial, and Oriental decor—as far removed as could be from the Vegas strip hotels with their five-cent slot machines and two-dollar buffets.

After my tour (during which I’d peeked into the lounge showroom where Ike and Tina Turner were rehearsing), I killed an hour on the quarter slots and watched tourists play roulette, craps, and blackjack until the showroom opened. My mom had made me a sleeveless, embroidered lace mini-dress from the latest French Vogue pattern book. It was simple but elegant, and I felt stunning. Unlike the concerts presented in Vegas today, the Elvis shows back then followed the traditions of an old-time Vegas dinner show. When the magic hour arrived, I was led to a table just to the right of center stage - as front-row-center as I could get. From my seat, after dinner, I could see Elvis arrive in the wings.

“Elvis live, again!” I wrote in my NME article. “And I was there to see it for you!” I went on to promise that Elvis could hold his own with the new stars of the day, and pointed out that even the deep breaths he drew between songs elicited applause. He performed medleys of all his hits, as well as new material like “Memories,” which he’d introduced on the comeback special. Designed by Bill Belew, Elvis’ black tunic shirt with the four-inch turned-up collar would very soon be copied by everyone from the Osmonds to the Jackson 5, but on that night, it was an original.

So, too, was his humble approach to his audience. “I’d like to do my latest release; it’s been a big seller for me,” he told us, then added shyly, “something I really needed.” He performed two Beatles songs and introduced a new song, “Suspicious Minds,” which would go on to be another million-seller for him. He wrapped things up with the Ray Charles hit “What’d I Say,” clutching the microphone, shaking his legs, and doing karate punches as he screamed the lyrics. Almost before the song ended, Elvis walked off the stage to a standing ovation.

As Elvis performed his encore number, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Graylon slipped behind me and whispered in my ear, “There’s a press conference in Room C3. Get there as fast as you can!”

I practically ran to the conference room, where I grabbed a chair in the front row. Elvis greeted us by saying, “I’m really beat. That was the fourth time I did that show today,” referring to the three dress rehearsals he’d done earlier in the day. He didn’t look beat; he looked confident as he basked in the glow of a wonderful performance. He answered questions for more than an hour, after which Col. Parker told us if we’d like to have a picture taken with Elvis, to please line up. I was third in line for that opportunity, and I have the greatest picture of me looking up into his handsome face. He shook my hand, and, when I told him how much I’d enjoyed his show, he replied with his trademark, “Thank you very much.”

I raced back to my hotel room, typed out my story about the show for NME, and the next morning, took a cab to the nearest post office so I could send my copy out via airmail, the fastest way to get written material overseas at the time.

Ann's book is available from Amazon - or for an autographed copy go here

Thursday, 13 June 2019

How I Almost Got Physical with Olivia Newton-John


Back in the early 80s, I was a graphic designer that specialised in the design of record sleeves and tour merchandise, such as tour books, posters, and flyers, and in January 1983, I was on my way to London from Brighton to meet with Arthur Sherrif, Roger Davies' UK rep, who was Olivia Newton-John's manager. The idea of our meeting was to discuss the possibility of me doing some artwork for what was to be the UK leg of Olivia's successful Physical tour which had only a few months earlier finished playing a record breaking 64 shows around North America during a 50 date concert tour, and was expected to visit Britain next on what was originally planned to be a world tour in support of her then best selling Physical album. From a set list, dated one month before the tour kicked off, seen by yours truly, it was obvious that a world tour was on the cards, as an asterisk note denotes three songs (Come On Over, Jolene and Landslide) might not be performed in South Africa.

Although a concert tour wasn't something she had planned to do at that time, or was even keen to do, when the Physical album exceeded 10 million sales, and the single placed her at number one in Billboard's single chart for ten weeks, and became the equal second longest chart-topper in US pop history behind Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog, she knew it was time to hit the road, for what would turn out to be the biggest and most successful tour of her career. Most of the dates across North America were staged in large stadiums and arenas and were pretty much sold out, but the one that attracted the largest audience, and had fans going mad for tickets was at the open air CNE Grandstand in Toronto on the 26 August 1982. For author Darlene L'Archeveque, then a 17 year old fan who had travelled on a Greyhound bus for three solid days from one side of Canada to the other, it was, she wrote in her award-winning book, A World of Good, one of the most magical moments of her life! Having been a fan since she first heard Have You Never Been Mellow seven years before, she couldn't believe she was now in the same place at the same time as Olivia.
 

"There were thousands and thousands of people just like me there waiting to see Olivia. We were all there for the same reason. Suddenly, loud crisp music began to play and the crowd burst into cheers. Flashes from the camera bulbs played with my vision. A giant video screen played a retrospective of Olivia's career from her Country days, to Grease and Totally Hot, to Xanadu, Cliff Richard, and then, Physical. The response from the crowd was deafening. Just when l thought it couldn't get any louder, from out of nowhere, Olivia appeared! I clapped along but I was as so captivated by the sight of her that I preferred to stand and take it all in. The atmosphere was spectacular. Even from a distance Olivia looked absolutely radiant."


Equally  excited was Brad Gelfond, then a young agent, who was involved in the booking of the tour, and spent a lot of his time on the road with the tour. "There was something really thrillingly excellent about being in the arena when the lights go down, and the fans start screaming for the artist. When the artist arrives on stage, it’s the greatest moment. I learned a lot about representing big, popular clients through working with Olivia. The coolest thing for me was that they were traveling by private jet. That meant that they would be based in a centrally located spot, like Atlanta, Nashville or Dallas, for a week or so, and on the afternoons of the shows, the touring party would hop in limousines to the airport. The plane would take off when we got there, and we would fly for about an hour to the next city, get limousines there, and then go to the backstage area of the arena. After the show, before the lights were even on in the arena, we would be in the limos on our way to the airport, then flying back to the city we were based in." Not that was always the case. In Toronto for instant, Olivia stayed overnight, in her tour bus, which also doubled up as a dressing room in certain cities that the tour visited.

With the success of the Physical TV special and video release the previous year, and the album now being in the Top Ten albums of the decade, it was no surprise that she became obligated to providing footage for a TV Special and video release of the tour. That footage was filmed during two shows at the Weber State University in Ogden at Utah on the 12th and 13th October, which to many seemed an odd choice as it was the very same city where two radio stations had banned Physical for its suggestive lyrics, but perhaps that was intended as a statement of just how popular Olivia and her #1 song had become. The final edit for the TV special and subsequent video release of the concert, with added special effects and several songs and video interludes cut from her 90 minute set, was first shown on BBC1 in the the UK as a 60 minute special on 21 December 1982, one week before Grease had it's first UK TV airing on the same channel. In the States, HBO premiered the 90 minute version on 23 January 1983, as Olivia: Live in Concert, and later released on both VHS and Laserdisc by MCA Home Video. As expected the TV special was quickly snapped up for worldwide distribution and ended up being shown on most television networks across the world, as well as being released on VHS video in most international territories. The project was another roaring success the world over, winning awards and accolades and added yet another dimension to what had now become the most successful period in Olivia's career. In Britain it was supported with the release of a new 20 track Greatest Hits compilation and a single featuring a remixed I Honestly Love You and an extended live version of Physical.

Olivia with her 1982 tour crew, rig truck and bus. Photo by Michael Landau

Since the album had been released I had collected a stack of promo material from EMI, for my own private collection, as well as providing me with all the necessary material to create some visuals for my art portfolio to illustrate my graphic design abilities in my attempts to get bigger and better artwork gigs! I produced a tour book cover, an EMI Records ad and a backstage pass, simply to have her in my portfolio! Unbeknown to me at the time, they would provide me with enough material to show Arthur what I was capable of as a graphic designer. But that was before I had seen the tour book that Arthur showed me in his office and told me to take home to take a closer look at it to give me some ideas. When l looked at it, it completely blew me away, simply because it was so arty, creative and imaginative, and was something I felt I couldn't have bettered or even equaled! To me, it was light years away from the kind of tour book I had been doing at that time, which was simple tour book design for the likes of such artists as Frankie Laine, Rita Coolidge and Glen Campbell. Olivia's tour book was what I called the top end of the pop market, the kind that bands like Bananarama were producing.

Back in those days, of drawing board graphics, and being pretty much a newbie in that field, I was still some years away from doing tours for the likes of Elkie Brooks, Chris Rea and Elaine Paige! I think that is when I realised I couldn't better it, and had Olivia toured the UK, as was being planned at that time, Roger Davies Management would have simply done the customary thing and sent the U.S artwork to the British promoter for the appointed merchandiser to change things like the itinerary, tour credits, discography, update the programme notes to reflect her career in the UK, and change the album page from her MCA catalogue to her British EMI releases, so I realised pretty quickly that all I could hope to get out of it was maybe artworking some of those changes, and perhaps designing a poster, newspaper ads, and backstage passes! Back then, before I was a writer, I was chasing several ideas for my Artsleeves design studio, all of which included designing for Elvis, Blondie and Dr Hook, and along with Olivia, I did in fact have mock up visuals for all those artists in my portfolio! What haunted me in early 1983 was the fact that this was likely to be the last time Olivia would tour for some years, so it was the perfect opportunity and my best chance yet of getting my foot in the door, so to speak, despite the fact that it was at that time, out of my graphic design expertise. Having Olivia in my portfolio was a perfect artist to have among my mock ups to show tour promoters, merchandisers and record companies, but like with my ideas for the Elvis, Dr Hook and Blondie album covers, nothing came out of it! Call it timing, inexperience or just unfortunate, but I was chasing something I wasn't quite ready for.

When Physical came out in 1981, the album not only transformed her but also her fans, of which I was one, and had been since seeing her live at the Brighton Dome in 1971. It was like we had all suddenly been given permission to get physical from an artist who was thought of as a miss goody-two-shoes but actually wasn't. By her own admittance she regarded herself too old to be innocent. It was like she was duplicating her own coming of age and was telling a generation of musical virgins to lose their virginity to her album! The impact that the album, the tour, the TV specials and videograms made on me and a whole generation of Olivia and music fans was truly amazing to witness. You couldn't walk into a store in 1981 and not hear the album being played over the loudspeaker system, or see the VHS showing on TV screens that some shops had set up in their stores! Olivia and Physical was everywhere! She was the hottest name in music! More so than she had been in her entire career. And I wanted to be part of it, but sadly for me, there was nothing to be part of!

Olivia during tour rehearsals with Dennis Tuffano

Four years later, I got a taste of what meeting Olivia could have been like, when I designed the tour book for the 1987 Elaine Paige UK tour, and had to take the artboards for Elaine to approve where she was rehearsing at the Nomis Studios in London. After we had been through the artwork page by page, I was invited to stay and watch her run through her show with just her basic band! To be in a tiny studio and observe Elaine sing live, just yards in front of me, was in the words of Olivia's 1980 hit, magic! Although I had listened to Elaine many times on record, nothing prepared me for how powerful her voice would be in person in such an intimate setting. Simply put, it was out of this world and to use an overused cliche, literally blew me away! I imagine that is exactly how I would have felt had I watched Olivia run through the set list for her Physical tour if she had brought it to the UK and had I got the gig!

With thanks to Darlene L'Archeveque for the scans from her private collection of the Toronto Star cutting, Michael Landau's tour crew photo and her after show guest sticker, and to Sabrine Korsel for allowing me to use the rehearsal shot she posted on the Official Olivia Facebook group, and to Bri Leic for the audience recording of Olivia's concert in Oakland on 10 October 1982.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Cliff and Olivia's Lost TV Special


If you were one of millions who tuned into the popular It's Cliff Richard series on BBC TV on a Saturday night, and if you can cast your mind back to September 1972, you most probably remember the hour-long special titled The Case, which co-starred Olivia Newton-John and Tim Brooke Taylor, and like me, are probably wondering why it has never seen the light of day on DVD or Blu ray, or why pre-DVD, it was never released on a commercial VHS, and are probably thinking it's long overdue for a remastered and restored release, especially when you consider Cliff's series was one of the most popular light entertainment programmes of that decade and was the series that contributed to launching Olivia's career in Britain.

For those who don't know or remember, The Case was a comedy caper that follows the farcical aftermath of a situation of mistaken identity, and the unfortunate switch of two very similar bags, but with very different contents. Cliff played himself and along with Tim Brooke-Taylor (from The Goodies), are touring the It’s Cliff Richard show around the Scandinavian countries, when a television recording of the show over-runs, which means that they are late in catching the train to their next destination. Meanwhile, a pair of robbers have just held up a bank and are intent on making their getaway with a large bag full of the money they have just stolen. A fleeting, unknown meeting at the station results in Cliff taking the bag of money and the robbers picking up his similar bag, filled with the music for the television show.

Once the thieves realise the mistake, they are determined to follow Cliff, now split from Tim after missing the train, and do whatever they can to recover their ill-gotten gains. From one country to another, by car, train, even an overnight ferry, they get closer to Cliff, who, reunited with Tim, does all he can to get away from them. Once the police get involved, the situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction – or is it?

As per usual Cliff put in a great performance that showed his versatility as an actor and comic, laying the foundations for some of the slapstick that would appear the following year in the theatrical release of Take Me High (recently restored and released on DVD and Blu-ray), which he honed from the years of working on his Saturday night light entertainment shows. As with the majority of his full-length feature films, the narrative was developed with a sense of fun and is interspersed with a number of song performances, including a duet with Olivia, If I Was Close to You, which shows the beauty and blend of their vocals when performing together.

Broadcast during the summer run of his television show in 1972, this special has only been aired once and is now a significant rarity, a curio, and an important document of Cliff’s career as a broader entertainer rather than being pigeon-holed as Britain's Peter Pan of Pop!

With the exception of Cliff's Living In Harmony and Olivia's two solo numbers, the other songs were all recorded specially and exclusively for the special, and have never been commercially released. The duet with Olivia is particularly noteworthy as it was, at that time, only the second recording they had made together, the first being the B-side track, Don’t Move Away, and its extraordinary beauty shows that it deserves a broader release for fans of both performers to see and hear. For Olivia fans, there was footage of her performing her then current single Just A Little Too Much and Banks of the Ohio, the second hit single from her first album, in specially filmed sequences. And for Cliff fans there was the new rendition of Move It! that combined and melded the guitar-driven approach of the original with the orchestral arrangement that was released on his 1967 Top 30 album Don’t Stop Me Now!

A first-time ever release of this special is now crying out to be done and for most film and TV buffs, would be perfectly suited to Network, the video releasing company that seem more committed than most to showcasing unique works of television and film, that have been unjustly neglected and gathering dust in the vaults of TV companies. With their encyclopaedic knowledge of TV and film archives and library content, they have released a wealth of material in stunning DVD and Blu ray packages with spectacular remastering and restoration techniques that would have otherwise been left unseen.

If Network greenlighted The Case for release, the opportunities for extras are endless. In keeping with their vast catalogue of releases, it could include a detailed booklet with synopsis, production notes, cast biographies, press items and an image gallery of stills and photos, as well as some relevant PDF material and a song only menu. As a bonus special feature, the release could also include a collection of Cliff and Olivia's duet performances and skits from It's Cliff Richard between 1970 and 1974. Can you imagine how amazing it would be to see such material scanned from the original camera negatives and extensively restored to their original television aspect ratio of 4.3? And even better to see it restored without any film dirt, damage, instability, warping and density fluctuation.


With thanks to Victor Rust, Juliette Iaciofano and Leo's Den Music 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Cliff Richard Diamond Liner Notes

Last Monday, the Cliff Richard Fan Club's charity CD single was released, one day after Cliff's 78th birthday and he had been presented with a copy by the fan club, during a soundcheck at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The strictly limited CD edition of the single had been available on pre-order since 24 September from Leo's Den, but had sold out in less than a week. For those unlucky enough not to have got a copy, here are the liner notes that I wrote for the CD version, but not available with the MP3 download that is currently available on Amazon...
The story of how this very unique CD single came about started long before it was decided to green light the project and turn it from an almost impossible dream into a reality. It really started with an email in November 2017 which Carol Hall, the president of the London and Surrey Cliff Richard Fan Club received from Susanne Fritsch, one of the club members, asking if there were any plans to present a gift for Cliff from his fans to celebrate his 78th birthday on 14 October 2018, and to mark his 60 years in show business. Carol decided to raise Susanne’s suggestion with the club’s Facebook page members and run a poll to establish if the members would be interested in donating to such an idea. It soon became apparent that they were! Everyone it seemed loved the idea of a Birthday and anniversary song, but the reality of making it happen was the part that needed careful planning and execution. If this could be pulled off, then it would be a fan club first that no other artist fan club had even got close to! Far more important than that was the sentiment of the project. To have a professionally written and produced song inspired by lyrics and sentiments donated by fans, which would be an extraordinary and unprecedented personal gift to Cliff. The big question was how to go about it and make it happen?
By her own admission Carol knew nothing about the record industry or even how one would go about producing a song, let alone getting it recorded. After commandeering the help of industry veteran Steve Carroll, it became clear that the fund would have to cover the cost of recording, studio time, mixing, mastering, artwork, packaging, manufacturing costs, digital distribution, producer, vocalist, musicians, and a load of other incidentals that Carol probably hadn’t even thought of. In other words, a ton of money. Initial enquiries came up with a ball park figure of around £4.5k to realise Susanne’s idea for a song for Cliff, but what an achievement it would be! What better way to thank Cliff for all the years of enjoyment he had given his fans than through a specially written song in which every fan had the opportunity to express their love and dedication! Carol launched a fund raising campaign on Facebook and through her club magazine, but little could she or Steve have imagined how fast and furiously the money would start flowing in to what was now called “The Diamond Song Project”.
The idea was to raise the budget needed for a song to be professionally written, recorded and produced, made available to download as an MP3 to be released on 15th October, and to produce the limited edition CD you now hold in your hands. This in turn would give the project the added bonus of giving proceeds from its sale to one of Cliff’s favourite charities, Tearfund, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary during this same year as Cliff was celebrating his 60th. Cliff had announced a new concert tour, and that could just provide the ideal opportunity to present the fan club’s gift to him, either on or off stage, on his birthday at the RAH in London, but by no means was this guaranteed. The presentation to Cliff would include a copy of the CD, plus a specially framed ‘scroll of honour’, which would include the name of everyone who had donated and contributed to the project. In addition to offering fans the chance to donate to the project, it also offered them the chance to submit up to two lines of lyrics that might have been incorporated into the finished song. Another Facebook poll meant that they could also vote on whether the song should be an up-tempo number or ballad. They decided it should be a ballad. When you think of the project in those terms and just how complex it was, and what was involved in making it happen, it was, without question, one of the most ambitious ever launched by a fan club of any artist. Many would regard it impossible, a farfetched dream, and above all, simply not feasible. 43 days after the idea was put to fans though, enough money had been raised to make it happen, so now the real work began to turn the dream into a reality.
From January onwards, Carol kept raising money through the fan club Facebook page, and started to collate the lyrics that fans were sending in with their donations. By the end of February, Carol had contacted the UK Songwriters Guild and eventually found Paul Whitfield who agreed to write the song, both music and words, based on the lyrics Carol had collected from fans. Paul produced a demo two months later in April. During this same period Carol was thinking over who should sing the song, and agreed with her partner-in-crime, Steve Carroll, that it should be a female. She got in touch with Suzie Furlonger and Helen Hobson who were both honorary members of the fan club. Suzie and her husband were expecting their first child so declined the offer, but Helen, was delighted to become involved, offering her professional services for free. It had been some years since she had seen Cliff and had played Cathy to his highly acclaimed portrayal of Heathcliff from 1996 to 1997, and so, the idea of being able to sing a song dedicated to someone she admired, loved and had worked with, simply delighted and thrilled her. Carol, of course, was equally thrilled to have found her voice.
Steve was busy pursuing more donations for the project, including a sponsor for the presentation frame. Both Carol and Steve were busy trying to improve every aspect of the project. Then in early June, another unbelievable surprise happened, when Carol received a message from none other than Alan Tarney who after being told about the project had expressed an interest and was keen to come on board to produce the track, also agreeing to offer his professional services for free as it was a charity single. It was Carol’s icing on the cake, the answer to her dreams to find someone to produce the song. She was completely, as she put it, “beyond excited!” Alan, probably best known for his production of Cliff’s ‘Wired For Sound’ and ‘Always Guaranteed’ Top 5 albums was the perfect choice to undertake producing duties. On the 17th June, Helen laid down her vocals at Alan’s studio, with Alan at the helm and John Brant engineering the sound. The competed track was sent a few days later to Cliff’s regular sound engineer, Keith Bessey, who Alan had in mind from the start for mixing and mastering the track ready for MP3 download and CD production. Once again Carol was literally blown away that she had managed to secure three major players for her project that at one time or another, had and still do, play a role in Cliff’s own recording career. What a literally astounding result for a project that had started out as just an idea. It was now happening for real and with three people she could have only hoped for. When she broke the news on Facebook, the fans were equally ecstatic, and who wouldn’t be? There was even more exciting news around the corner for her to share with the fans. The project has come in under the budget thanks to so many for giving their time and expertise for free. Carol had collected - at the time of writing this - a staggering £8.5k which meant the club’s donation to Tearfund far exceeded what she hoped for, that anybody could hope for. When she broke that news to Tearfund, they too were very excited. No one had raised money for them in this way. A very unique CD project!
When Keith Bessey sent Carol the finished, fully mixed and mastered song, she was suddenly and quite unexpectedly hit by the enormity and emotion of everything she and the fans had achieved. You’ve bought this song, and you have contributed to it. It is, as the cover suggests, the perfect gift to Cliff from his fans to thank him for all the fabulous years of pleasure he has given us through music, movies, TV performances and concerts. This song... a specially written, produced and beautifully crafted song, really says it all.
From us to you!
Thank you Cliff, Happy Birthday and huge congratulations on your 60th anniversary!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Oh Boy! Album - 60 Years On!

 

Although many people think Cliff Richard's first album was the live set he recorded, backed by the Drifters, at Abbey Road Studio 2 in front of an invited audience of 200 fans in February 1959, simply titled Cliff, and released two months later, his first appearance on LP, was in fact on Jack Good's Oh Boy! soundtrack album of the hit TV show that was released on EMI's Parlophone label in October 1958, six months before his own debut album appeared the following year, so not only is Cliff celebrating the 60th anniversary of his first single, Move It, this year, but also his first appearance on an LP, that he shared with other artists from the show. What is remarkably interesting though, is that Cliff had more tracks on the album than any of the other artists featured. But perhaps that shouldn't be surprising when you consider this was the show that launched Cliff as "the boy who was going to rock the world!" Out of the twenty four selections, seven were by Cliff, while the rest of the album was made up by numbers from the other show regulars such as the John Barry Seven, the Dallas Boys, Vince Eager,  Peter Elliot, Cuddly Dudley, Neville Taylor and the Cutters, and the Vernon Girls.

When I was working on upgrading Cliff's catalogue for EMI with Peter Lewry, this was one of the albums we suggested should be put out as a special edition with bonus tracks, but sadly there were licensing issues due to getting clearances on the tracks by the other featured artists, despite the fact they had reissued the album a couple of times before, in the late seventies, through their own budget and mid price MFP (Music For Pleasure) label. Although we were unsuccessful in persuading them to re-release the original album, or produce a special edition, we did manage to include all the tracks that Cliff had recorded for the album on the four disc Rock 'n' Roll Years box set in 1997. What many may not realise is that Cliff was not at the recording session in Abbey Road's Studio 2 along with everyone else on the evening that the album was recorded as he was playing Colston Hall in Bristol as one of the support acts on the Kalin Twins package tour, so he went into Studio 2 to record his seven tracks for the LP two nights later, all of which he had performed in various episodes of the TV show, and like the rest of  the album were taped without an audience, even though it was marketed as if there was.

To celebrate this milestone, below are Jack Good's original album liner notes...

This recording was made in one session on the evening of October 19, 1958, the day before ABC Television had transmitted the sixth edition of 'Oh Boy!' and already the show was a smash hit. The number of viewers had doubled. Stage shows and films were being mooted. And now the L.P. In six short weeks 'Oh Boy!' had grown to the stature that '6.5 Special' had taken nine months to achieve. For, by an odd coincidence, October 19, 1958 marked to a day the first anniversary of the session at which the '6.5 Special' LP was made. And at that time '6.5 Special' had been running nine months. Both discs were made by Norman Newell and at both sessions I held a watching brief as producer of the television programme concerned. The difference of these two occasions formed a clear reflection of the changes that have taken place in the world of popular music.

A year ago we were at the height of the coffee bar era. The music was frantic, erratic and, for the most part, it had an intimate and amateur flavour. Nowadays the whole thing has become much more streamlined and professional. The music is no longer improvised to the large extent that it was. All the "Oh Boy" numbers are carefully and brilliantly arranged by our MD, Harry Robinson. Melody is now playing a much more important role - though the beat is just as insistent and exciting. Singers are currently set a much higher standard than in the early rock days. They are expected to count bars and sing in key, two things formerly regarded as frivolous refinements.

Summing all this up, the '6.5 Special' LP session had the excitement and hubbub of a jumble sale; the "Oh Boy" session had the excitement and organisation of a rocket launching. All the artists and all the numbers on this record have been featured on the actual show and, just as in the programme, we race from one item to another without pause. It was a very happy recording session. The audience has a whale of a time (as you can hear) - so did the artists. But then they always do. It is such a friendly team that every rehearsal and transmission is like a party. That this atmosphere has been vividly captured by the L.P. is a tribute not only to the skill of those at E.M.I. who created it, but also to the imagination, faith - and, dare I say, courage? - of A.B.C Television who gave the "Oh Boy" show a chance to prove itself on the millions of television screens it serves.

Cliff's first solo album, simply titled Cliff was released in April 1959

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Guest Blog: The Elvis Week Experience


I am thrilled that Ann Moses has written this guest blog exclusively for my blog about her recent trip to Graceland as a guest speaker during this year's Elvis Week. For those who may not have heard of Ann, or know who she is, she was the editor of the U.S Tiger Beat magazine from 1965 to 1972, sat on the stage for Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special, toured Elvis’ and Colonel Tom Parker’s offices, observed Elvis filming Change of Habit, and attended Elvis’ opening Las Vegas show in July 1969, so to most Elvis fans, she was one of the few reporters that got more access than most to Elvis in the late 60s and early 70s.

As we didn't have Tiger Beat in Britain, I first became aware of Ann through her "America Calling" column in Britain's New Musical Express (NME), and in particular, her reports about Elvis in Vegas. For anyone who was an Elvis fan, Ann was the Hollywood Correspondent who kept British fans up to date with the latest Elvis news, more so than any one else, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see her pop up on screen in Elvis' 1970 movie, That's The Way It Is, having been a fan and follower of her column. When she published her autobiography last year, I was equally thrilled, simply because I would now discover more about her work at Tiger Beat, her interviews with some of the biggest teen idols of the period, and how she ended up in the Elvis movie, so now you know who Ann is, and how she played a part in my life as an Elvis fan, here is her story of her first Elvis Week experience at Graceland...


It’s been fifty years since I became a born-again Elvis fan (after falling for him when he sang Don’t Be Cruel on the Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956, I strayed when the Beatles became a world-wide sensation in 1964). Being one of the fortunate few who attended one of the two tapings of his comeback special in 1968, simply titled Elvis, I could have never imagined all the things that would take place after that night.

Fast-forward to Elvis Week 2018 and here I was standing at the gates of Graceland with a VIP lanyard around my neck, as an invited guest speaker for Conversations on Elvis: Connections. Won’t you come along with me as I tour Graceland for the first time, tell my stories to moderator, Tom Brown, and the fans who are part of the reason any Elvis Week is a phenomenal experience?

Let’s start with introducing the Guest House at Graceland, the 450-room hotel which officially opened in October 2016. Before his passing in 1977, Elvis had plans drawn up for a guest house, for friends and family. These plans and his ideas were the nucleus for what turned into this five-star resort hotel, the perfect place to stay for Elvis fans. The first thing to strike me as we checked in was the Elvis music that played 24/7 in the public spaces (all of them) at the hotel. It was loud enough so I caught myself singing along as we went to our room, but I laughed when I saw other guests doing the same thing! It was infectious. The décor was unique and upscale. I loved that the floor each had an original photo, usually close-ups of his costumes, as the floor marker as you exited the elevator.

Wonder why there are no photographs of Elvis in the Guest House? As Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley were the principal designers for the GH, they knew that Elvis would never have put up pictures of himself in a guest house for family and friends. After our check-in and a great burger at E.P’s Bar and Grill, we were off to see the main attraction: Elvis’ home, Graceland. Surprise #1 on my first tour of Elvis Presley's Graceland: John Stamos narrates the tour on the tablet each person receives - and he shares that his character of Uncle Jesse on Full House was named after Elvis Presley's stillborn twin, Jesse Garon Presley.

My impressions of touring his home were just that – that it was his home, tailored for his lifestyle, a place designed for family and friends that was comfortable and lived in. I was inside many famous celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, but Graceland was unlike a celebrity home (except for EP’s love of state-of-the-art technology – like the TV room he had designed after he saw President LBJ’s set-up with three TVs and an early microwave in the simple kitchen). Many of the speakers at Conversations said the same thing “when you’re inside Graceland, you just get the feeling that Elvis will walk down the stairs at any moment.” 


The photos on the walls are of family (his parents, Priscilla, some of EP, and Lisa) – all from happier, more carefree times. As you are touring his home, there is a warmth and friendliness in the atmosphere, which let’s you envision Elvis sitting with friends and enjoying a meal in the dining room, or everyone playing pool in the billiard room, or Lisa Marie frolicking with her toys as Elvis plays the piano. 

All the fabulous photos which mark every period of his legacy are on full display throughout the attractions and exhibits of Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which opened in March 2017. EP’s Memphis includes the Graceland Mansion tour, Elvis’ Airplanes, Presley Motors Automobile Museum, Presley Cycles Exhibit, Archives Experience, ICONS: The Influence of Elvis Presley Exhibit, Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum, Lisa Marie: Growing Up Presley Exhibit, VIP Exhibit and Lounge, Elvis’ Tupelo Exhibit, Hollywood Backlot, Mystery Train: The Sam Phillips Exhibit, Hillybilly Rock Exhibit and Graceland Soundstage A.

While we enjoyed every exhibit, I could have spent days at the Archives Experience – looking at every fascinating piece of paper or a Presley possession. One is overwhelmed with the volume of the Archives. One of the coolest things about the Guest House, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, the tour of the Graceland Mansion and even the shuttle buses – no matter where you are, Elvis songs are playing 24/7, and when you step off the bus in the middle of Hound Dog, you hear the song continue as you walk up the entry, and then it continues wherever you go next – and it’s all synced for the entire place. It’s the most unique and perfect “attraction” for every Elvis fan. And to think they have the playlist like no other, it reminds you of the King’s legacy from his first release to his last.
 

Besides the attractions, to me, the fans themselves are like an attraction. We saw fans groups with matching tee shirts that had been around since the Heartbreak Hotel days through today. We saw fans from Scandinavian countries, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, and, of course, the USA fans. There were grandparents, kids, entire multi-generational families, women and men, boys and girls. Elvis fans come in every ethnicity and country around the world. And yet they all have Elvis in common. It’s a powerful atmosphere. And because every one has a bond with the others, it’s like a congeniality convention. No one hesitates to engage another person in an observation or conversation. Too cool!

On the day we arrived at Graceland, we knew we had a special night ahead of us: 7:00 pm Graceland Soundstage – 68 Special 50th Anniversary Celebration. But I had no idea how much of a celebration it would be. The event was sold-out, gathering over 1,500 Elvis fans in the magnificent soundstage auditorium. I had not seen the Special since it’s original air date of December 3, 1968. But it all came flooding back and the tape rolled. And all of the excitement I had felt on that night 50 years ago, I was feeling again as feelings of déjà vu overwhelmed me.

Before presenting each segment, the evening was enhanced with live, on-stage appearances recounting the making of the Special from Producer-director Steve Binder, musical director Billy Goldenberg, and writer Allan Blye. Each shared their own candid memories before introducing specific scenes. Dancer Tanya Lemani, who portrays the belly dancer in the Little Egypt scene, made a surprise appearance, dancing while donning a costume similar to what she wore 50 years earlier. Prerecorded reflections from Priscilla Presley, Elvis confidant and collaborator Jerry Schilling, songwriter Mac Davis and the late D.J. Fontana added even more perspective. The Costumes For the first time, Elvis’ trademark costumes from the original program, including that unmistakable black leather suit, were displayed onstage during a 68 Special screening.

So as each segment was aired, I found the dancing segments were nostalgic, but didn’t hold up as well as the live, Elvis-in-black-leather segments, backed not only by his buddies on stage, but a full orchestra. It wasn’t until the musical director, Billy Goldberg, told us how he had a full orchestra backing up Elvis in the background that I became aware of how much that enhanced the whole show.

Yes, I counted seeing myself five times. It was one of the eeriest feelings I’ve ever had. My folks never had a movie camera while I was growing up, so I had no memories of how I acted as a kid, but seeing myself at age 21 was so very cool! And to see myself, again, with my face superimposed with Elvis’ as he sang Can’t Help Falling in Love, was so mind-blowing and I hadn’t realized that I was singing along as he sang. But nothing at Graceland is ordinary. And this night was no exception. I had missed the Gospel celebrations earlier in the week, but on this night, we and the entire audience were astounded when, as Elvis was singing gospel songs on the big screen, below the Tennessee Mass Choir had gathered below the screen, live and rockin’ – and we were all on our feet, moving and joining in the revival-style music of this outstanding gospel choir. I had the same feeling that I had when we attended a moving service at the Anglican Church in Parys, South Africa.


I have to share this funny bit: a Graceland insider told me she was surprised that the Comeback Special audience was an overflow crowd because, “they can all watch the Comeback Special in their rooms at the Guest House – it’s shown 24/7 on the Elvis Channel available anytime in each room at the Guest House. Who knew? When we were in our room, I was studying my previous articles on Elvis and the Comeback Special published in the New Musical Express in 1968. While I had continuing memories of that day/time, I didn’t want to miss any detail, like some of the ad-libs those of us in the audience heard as the special was taped, and I wanted to share all those nuggets when I participated in Conversations on Elvis.

The next morning, we woke to a slightly cloudy Memphis morning. By the time we were ready to climb on the shuttle to the soundstage, the clouds had cleared and it was sunny and very humid, which is what we expected being in Tennessee. I was feeling nervous, as I have never been too comfortable getting up in front of an audience. I have never been, nor did I want to be, the center of attention. I always preferred being on the “other” side of the camera. As I visited with the other guests for Conversations-all performers who were used to the spotlight-it came to mind that they were not all that different than me, just folks who had a special talent. And while I did not feel apart of the group with special talents – be it gospel singing, back-up singing, country music or the like – I did have a confidence inside because moderator Tom Brown had shared with me in a warm-up phone call the week before that “Elvis fans love ALL the details.” Armed with that info and becoming more comfortable as all of us chatted in the green room, I was feeling a big better.

They had wound up the segment before mine and my introduction came on the big screen. Here I was, standing backstage at the foot of the steps, and on the sound desk screen (which was huge), my face suddenly appears on the screen. They had pulled my “interview” from the documentary Elvis That’s The Way It Was, where Denis Sanders is interviewing me at my desk at Tiger Beat, and cover shots of me working with an art editor. Even though I have this DVD at home, I had not watched it for years! There I was again, now age 22 and I’m talking about what it’s like to be an Elvis fan.


And before I could even grasp that concept, I heard my name introduced over the sound system by Tom Brown. I was massively nervous walking on stage, but as Tom greeted me, I think he was going in for a hug, but it just seemed right to smack a little kiss, so that’s what I did, which prompted Tom to say, “I didn’t know I was getting a kiss,” or something like that. The most unexpected thing happened – I relaxed and as I sat down and began answering Tom’s questions, I realized for the first time in my life, I was comfortable and actually enjoying the experience of sharing my Elvis experiences. It felt so freeing!

It was truly heartwarming to recount my experiences to an audience of about 300 people, all of whom were hanging on every word. It was empowering. They laughed at the funny bits, they cheered, whistled and clapped when I told about kissing Elvis during the filming of That's The Way It Is in 1971, and sighed when I said Elvis came up and talked to me one-on-one during a break in filming on the set of Change of Habit. Note to audience: thank you for your enthusiastic response – you truly have changed my life.

Following the final Conversation on stage, we were asked to be available for autographs at the back of the soundstage auditorium. I was permitted to sell my book and autographed pictures of Elvis and me, taken following his press conference after his first live appearance at the International in August 1969. But still, it was my first experience of people lining up and anxiously waiting to see me! Unexpected and thrilling. And everyone was so sweet. They would ask, “Can I take a picture of you,” and we would say, "Get over here, let’s get a selfie,” my husband would run around the front of the desk, grab their camera and get a shot of us. It was such a blast for all of us.

 
 Ann's book is available from Amazon - or for an autographed copy go here

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Winona Ryder - The Biography Revisited

In this first part of this special two-part blog article, I am thrilled to offer some background information on the making of my Winona Ryder biography that was published in the UK twenty years ago today in paperback by John Blake Publishing ... 


My love of movies dates back to the early 1960s when I first went to the cinema, with my parents, to see Carry On Constable, or at least that is my recollection of the first time I was treated to a night out at the pictures, but then twenty-six years later something extraordinary happened, I went to see a movie called Lucas. As I watched the scenes that featured a total unknown named Winona Ryder, I was moved by the vulnerability behind her huge hypnotic brown eyes. She has captivated me ever since with her public profile and each of the movies she has appeared in from the age of twelve. When I discovered in 1996, some ten years and almost twenty films later, that there had never been a biography about her, I felt compelled to write one, which then consumed the next two years of my life, and with running a Facebook fan page for the book, still does to this day. 

Twenty years on from when it was published, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what became a major turning point in my writing career as up to that point I had only written music reference books, with the exception of a lightly worded illustrated biography of the Rolling Stones first ten years, but now I was jumping in at the deep end to write a full length biography of my favourite actress. I also want to try and address some of the questions I am often asked about the book. Several questions persist. How and when did I get the idea to write the book, did I ask Winona to participate, how did I go about the research, who did I speak to, and when will I update the original book?

Strangely enough, I was hoping to publish a special 20th anniversary edition this month, but could not find a publishing home for it. The idea for the all new edition was to completely revise the existing book by doing a new volume which would have been divided into three parts. The first part would focus on revisions to the original manuscript that have come to light since the book was first published, the second part would have been the original biography as it was published in 1998, and the third part  was to go from where the original book left off up to the present, Stranger Things, and her latest movie Destination Wedding. But every publisher that I approached with it didn't feel that now was the right time to be republishing, even with all the additional content and Winona's renewed profile. My feeling was and still is that there is no better time to re-access her life and career. As I told the editorial and sales teams, as an actress who changed the way cinema depicts women, and has championed for so many in the industry, she deserves a really good and up-to-date biography to be available, but sadly it was not to be. The new edition would have created a completely new portrait, which among other things would have told the exclusive untold story of her first and fascinating experience with the still camera some years before she was cast in her first movie, including my author interviews with photographer and stylist, take a fresh look at her early years from her first kiss on a playground carousel to her love of skateboarding and returning to the limelight in the medium she once swore she would never do, and to question why she still refuses to conform to the Hollywood ideal of fame.      

So how did the book all come about in the first place? Well, the initial idea came from Hannah MacDonald, then the publishing editor at Virgin Publishing. I had called her to ask if she would be interested in commissioning me to write a biography of Olivia Newton-John. Hannah's reply was not really. She said she was looking for someone more current at that time, someone who was regarded as young, cool and hip, someone like Winona Ryder. What Hannah didn't know that just a few weeks before that call in June 1996, I had gone to see Winona's then latest film How To Make An American Quilt at the MGM multiplex in Eastbourne with my daughter Kim on National Cinema Day that was celebrating 100 years of cinema, when 742 cinemas across the UK showed selected films all day long and charged only one pound to see any film. There were over 150 films to chose from. As well as the current releases there were 27 previewing films and classics ranging from Casablanca to the Sound of Music, and one of the previewing films was Winona's movie. When we left the cinema I said to Kim, "It's no good, I have to write a book about her!" So can you imagine how excited I was when Hannah told me that Winona was the kind of biography subject they wanted to publish, and not ONJ. I was secretly thrilled and spent the rest of the call trying to persuade Hannah that I was the right person to write a book about Winona. I prepared a proposal, sent it to Hannah, which she presented at a number of publication meetings, but it was rejected, which although disappointing, still encouraged me to start touting it around other publishers.

Most rejected it in their belief that Winona, although ranked among the top ten box-office stars, and certainly one who encourages millions of fans, still didn’t have the profile to warrant a book. I remember one publisher telling me that most bestselling film biographies were the ones about the male heartthrobs, or if female, the ones with a reputed gay fan following, and as Winona didn’t fall into either category, I didn’t find anyone rushing to do my book. The only publisher that showed any real interest was Robert Smith who owned Smith Gryphon Publishing, and had been producing a steady flow of celebrity and true-crime bestsellers since 1990. Although he could see how passionate I was about Winona as a biography subject, and had liked the attention of detail in my Stones book, he was still unsure about commissioning me unless the book was authorised, and I already knew that wasn't going to happen. Like Robert, I was only too aware, how difficult it is to encourage someone like Winona to participate and contribute to a book project, and even though Robert shared my view that it is better for a celebrity to co-operate and/or authorise a biography to ensure accuracy, not many Hollywood stars and their publicists shared that view. Nevertheless I had a go. In fact, I approached Winona’s publicist several times with several ideas asking for Winona’s co-operation and an interview, but as I have explained in my author note, her publicist made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the idea of a biography at that stage. When Hannah moved from Virgin to Andre Deutsch, she came up with the idea of Winona writing her own film dairies for a year or so, with me editing, but even that was a no-no.

Out of all the publishers I approached, Robert was the most interested, and despite turning it down to start with unless I could get Winona involved, he did eventually come back to me about eight months later, when I was about to put the book on the back burner, with an offer for an unauthorised work, and gave me a weekend to consider his offer because if I was going to accept, he needed know two days later so he could include the book as one of the lead titles in his Autumn 1997 catalogue, which had to go to print the following week, so after chewing things over, and accepting his terms and conditions, I began writing in the early part of that April, and quickly got up to speed as the manuscript had to be delivered at the end of June for publication that October to coincide with the landmark release of Winona’s twentieth film, Alien Resurrection. But about two weeks before it was due to go to print, Robert told me that he was having to dissolve his Smith-Gryphon publishing operation. The company and his entire catalogue of books would be offered for sale to other publishing houses, so my book, then titled Winona Ryder: The Unauthorized Biography, became stagnant, and was seemingly caught in the middle of a liquidation trap.  

After several offers were made to Robert's receivers, Smith Gryphon was eventually sold to Blake Publishing, who acquired the entire SG catalogue, but I still had no idea at that stage if they would publish my book or not, but as it turned out, once they had managed to rescue the book from Robert's printers, they scheduled a publication date for April 1998. The icing on the cake was the plan to publish it in hardback, now with two picture sections, rather than one, and with a new cover design. But their attempts to rush out my book didn’t really work out. WH Smith, then the biggest and most powerful bookseller in the UK were reluctant to order a hardback, and they also felt that they had not been given sufficient notice of publication, which was rather strange since Virgin’s sales teams had already been out selling the title for Smith Gryphon. Reluctantly Blake put publication back to September, and also decided to produce the book as a large format trade paperback instead of a hardback, simply because that's what WH Smith wanted and as they would be ordering more books than any other bookselling chain, Blake went along with their demands and decided to publish as a paperback edition only. The only differences would be the price and would now be in soft covers rather than a hardback. Even though I'd had my heart set on a hardback edition for April, there were advantages. with the delay and different format. I now had the opportunity to ensure that my book on Winona would be the most up-to-date published, which I think it was at that time since it ended with the story of Winona dating Matt Damon. Something that surprised Entertainment Weekly when they had been sent a proof copy for review and interviewed me for their magazine. They seemed genuinely amazed it was so up to date. The delay had allowed me to do that. It also give me the opportunity to do some fine tuning and polishing to other parts the manuscript. Not so good however was how we had to change the picture spreads due to some permission issues.

Most of the film companies were reluctant to grant permissions for some of the movie stills because the book was unauthorised, which was understandable. Although we could have licensed the stills from a number of picture agencies, my picture editor thought it was best not to since the film companies had objected to their use. I do remember calling Fox in the States to ask if we could use a publicity still from Alien Resurrection, whose response was yes as long as I got permission from Sigourney Weaver, Winona and the photographer, none of whom I had phone numbers for, and as Fox weren't about to share them with me, we didn't pursue it any further as it seemed out of our reach and a bit of a prohibitive exercise. With or without the Alien Resurrection shot, we lost a lot of images that we wanted to use. Mainly stills from Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, The House of the Spirits, Reality Bites, Little Women and The Crucible. It was very disappointing, but we managed to replace them with some relevant pictures, something that still had a connection wherever possible. For instance, we used Winona receiving her Golden Globe for The Age of Innocence, and Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis at The Crucible premiere in place of the actual movie stills.

In fact, I think we ended up with a selection of pictures that at that time hadn't been seen before, but then again it was in the pre-social media days and when the internet was still in its infancy, so yes, they were pretty rare for their day. Back then, I thought it made the plate section for the book far more interesting, personal and relative to the text. We actually ended up with some rather good shots. The most amazing find came from the Petaluma Argus-Courier who had shot Winona's very first publicity photo in her classroom at Petaluma Junior High in 1986. It's quite remarkable to look back on now because I don't remember there were any permission issues for the pictures in the Smith Gryphon version. Most of the photos had come from my private collection, and included some very iconic images of Winona, but I don't remember ever being questioned about ownership, but back in those days I was still a bit of a novice when it came to such things, and perhaps Robert wasn't too bothered about it either, or maybe, he thought I owned the photos or had clearance on them to use. 

In the next part of this article, I revisit how I went about the research for the book, who I managed to speak to and interview, including a scheduled but cancelled phone interview with Winona, and look at the aftermath of the publication and how the book came a Daily Telegraph bestseller and got nominated for a literary prize!

The cover for the Smith Gryphon version of my book