The Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Starlet, Christa Helm – Page 4


by Steve Thompson and John O’Dowd © 2007 with an Intro by the daughter of Christa Helm
Last Update: 2007
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Encouraged by the Broadway success of Godspell (though less so with its rather tepid screen adaptation in 1973) Stuart Duncan decided he wanted to try his hand at film producing. His first independent film, to be shot in the summer of 1973 in Haiti (to cut down on costs) would be titled LET’S GO FOR BROKE.

Described as both a “spy spoof” and a “high-spirited romp,” LET’S GO FOR BROKE was designed to serve as a star-making vehicle for the new film producer’s protégé, Christa Helm. Having dreamed of stardom from a very early age, Christa took with her all the trappings even though this was only her second movie. (Her bit role in 1972’s THE LEGACY OF SATAN, a Grade-Z horror film directed by DEEP THROAT director Gerard Damiano, was her first film, however it wasn’t released until 1976.) Christa’s entourage while in Haiti included designers, hair stylists, colorists and a makeup artist. Never averse to spending someone else’s money, Christa’s diva behavior undoubtedly played a role in the fact that the film’s $700,000 budget soon inflated to over one million dollars.

Filming in Haiti, especially in that era, was far from the easy tax dodge it might have initially appeared to be. Duncan had to be extremely creative to get around various government restrictions as well as the nasty bouts of Montezuma’s Revenge that regularly hit Christa and several others in the cast and crew.

In the PG-rated LET’S GO FOR BROKE, Christa plays Jackie Broke, a crusading reporter who becomes involved in an international kidnapping conspiracy. Her character was described in a press release at the time as “a cross between Barbara Walters and Barbarella.” Christa told columnist Earl Wilson in September 1973 that she would not do any nude scenes in the film because her family was proud of her and “…they invited everyone in the neighborhood, including the pizza man, to the opening of LET’S GO FOR BROKE, and it isn’t even finished yet!” Thus, the film is toned down a notch or two from similar “sexploitation” movies of the early 1970s, such as GINGER and COFFY.

The film’s outlandish, Bond-style plot deals with a wheelchair bound madman who uses a synthetic dog food on his enemies which causes them to turn into (believe it or not) raw meat! Reporter Jackie Broke is interviewing a feminist who is then kidnapped and taken to Haiti. She herself is later kidnapped by the same villains and also taken to the island where voodoo and various tortures come into play until she escapes and tackles the bad guys with her feminine wiles and elaborate skills in martial arts. As if all that 1970’s action wasn’t enough, Christa even gets to sing the title song over the film’s credits!

Back in New York after filming LET’S GO FOR BROKE, Christa continued her reputation as a disco-dancing, party-loving playgirl and was briefly linked with, among others, NY Jets football great Joe Namath. Seemingly never at a loss for male companionship, by 1974 the willowy and wisecracking blonde was living in New York with an assistant director named Ron Walsh. That relationship, too, would be short-lived and the next time Christa was mentioned in Earl Wilson’s column she divulged that she had been living with adult film producer/director Joseph (AKA Jonas) Middleton, with whom she said she had written a film script titled ILLUSIONS OF A LADY. Although the film was later produced and released to theaters (premiering in Sweden on September 2, 1974), Christa’s name did not appear anywhere in the credits. Before the film hit theaters stateside, the couple reportedly split up when Middleton had insisted in shooting some hardcore scenes for the picture. “He said, ‘I’m shooting it hard’”, Christa told Earl Wilson, “so I got in my car in my bikini and I drove home. He just sat there and let me carry out my own bags! I was livid.” The released version of the triple X-rated ILLUSIONS OF A LADY starred future disco superstar Andrea True (“More, More, More”) and porn legend Jamie Gillis. From all accounts, the film was your typical grind house fare.

Like many other beautiful young women before her, Christa eventually headed for Hollywood to improve her chances of becoming a movie star. Due to her popularity in N.Y. she had many contacts in L.A. and she continued her party girl lifestyle with many famous musicians, actors, politicians…and drug dealers. Shortly after her arrival in town, Christa (with her younger sister Marisa in tow) moved in with internationally renowned financier Bernard (a.k.a. “Bernie”) Cornfeld, who reportedly managed a billion dollar empire in banking, insurance and mutual funds. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Bernie Cornfeld was a rabid womanizer who lived with a virtual harem of magazine centerfolds, film starlets and call girls in a 39-room house in Beverly Hills called Grayhall Mansion. Located at 1100 Carolinian Drive, the house had been built in the 1930s and was once the home of the legendary silent screen star, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. before being taken over in the early 70s by the tiny-stature Cornfeld and his coterie of concubines.

From the start, Christa seemed to fit in just fine with the like-minded hedonists at Bernie Cornfeld’s love nest. By all accounts, the gorgeous starlet loved men, loved sex and was clearly not above using her charms (as many other young hopefuls before her had done) to further her Hollywood ambitions. Christa was smart and fearless, but she allegedly set parameters on what she would, and wouldn’t, do. On September 19, 1973, columnist Earl Wilson wrote that Christa had revealed to him that there had been a time that she was given a chance to be a high-priced call girl but that she had thought about it and then turned the offer down. Even so, Christa’s lifestyle at the time was far from being sedate.

While staying at Bernie Cornfeld’s, Christa’s ever-changing dance card is said to have included actors Warren Beatty, Michael Sarrazin, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and George Hamilton, as well as singer Johnny Rivers. Other names with whom she was linked in the press in the mid 1970’s included recording stars Mick Jagger and Englebert Humperdinck and acclaimed movie director Roman Polanski (whose beautiful wife, Sharon Tate had been murdered a few years earlier by the so-called Manson “family”). Christa’s daughter Nicole recalls staying with her mother in L.A. for an extended period of time and attending a party with her in Beverly Hills in which Nicole says she experienced “a contact high” off the fumes of all the marijuana that was there. “I also remember meeting Mick Jagger at that party,” says Nicole. “I’ve since learned that he and my mother dated for a while.”

Nicole learned to swim in Englebert Humperdinck’s huge, heart-shaped swimming pool (which had once belonged to 1950s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield) and says she was heartbroken when she had a play date with a then six-year old Chastity Bono canceled at the last moment by her mother, Cher. “I know that Mom was acquainted with Cher, but I don’t think they were close friends. You have to understand, in the 70’s my mother knew a lot of people in Hollywood. Whenever any male celebrities in town needed an escort I was told they always thought of Mom first. She seemed to know everyone in town and was very popular as the girl everyone wanted to be seen with.” In those years, Christa even told friends that the Shah of Iran had flown her overseas to his palace for a week. “There was a rumor that the federal government here in the States often used models and starlets like my Mom to get information from him,” says Nicole. “They apparently approached my mother to help them and she began filtering information to them on his activities. The Shah was said to have given her many beautiful gifts, like jewelry and furs. I was told he was quite smitten with her but you know, he had lots of other girls like Mom in his harem.” Said one friend of Christa’s, “She lived as a free agent and frankly enjoyed sex.”

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