Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 4


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“The audition was just a matter of them looking me over, checking out my legs and my figure, and that was it. They pretty much hired me right away and I got the part of  Diane, one of the six dancers in the film. The night that I went to audition, I was surprised to see stripper Lynn Fontaine walking out of the studio as I was walking in. I had met her the previous year, when I sang at The Stork Club, a strip club in Bossier City, Louisiana. Lynn was the featured stripper at the club and I was the (very) green singer. When I saw her again, I immediately remembered how she had always taken delight in saying things to embarrass me. ‘Lynn!’ I exclaimed, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said, ‘I’m here to do this fuckin’ flick, what do you think I’m doing?’  The f-word wasn’t commonly used back then, as it is now, so, once again, Lynn had embarrassed me!”

With her role in The Monster And The Stripper, Diane would unwittingly be working with one of the most beloved auteurs of 1960s schlock cinema: Louisiana-born Ron Ormond (a.k.a. Vittorio Di Naro and Vic Narno). Beginning in 1948 and continuing over the next thirty years, Ormond produced, directed and wrote over three dozen feature films that ran the gamut from bottom of the barrel westerns and burlesque-type musicals, to hayseed action flicks that were aimed primarily at the rural drive-in crowd. While his career was admittedly a checkered and low-rent affair, it has been dissected and analyzed in recent times with an almost fervent devotion by a fan base that amazingly, continues to grow.

Arguably at the forefront of Ron Ormond’s filmography is his final “secular” effort before he focused solely on producing religious propaganda films: a gory, mind bending, and blood-splattered gem that he and his wife June and son Tim also starred in, called The Exotic Ones (although it would eventually be retitled The Monster and The Stripper). Touted as “one of the most amazing exploitation movies ever made” by psychotronic film expert Michael J. Weldon, the picture centered on the denizens of a down-and dirty-nightclub in New Orleans and the bedlam that ensues when a rampaging caveman is captured in the Louisiana swamps and is brought in as a kind of sideshow act to help save the club’s faltering revenue. With its gruesome scenes of human and animal dismemberment set against a psychedelic canvas of tassel-twirling strippers and backstage catfights, the film was a cinematic blast of color, sleaze and gore—the likes of which had rarely been seen onscreen up till then. “Regurgitating horrors! The night shrieks with the shredding of soft flesh!” screamed the original poster art for the film…and it was a promise the 91-minute feature more than delivered. With little to no effort on her part, Diane had taken a sharp detour from the music business and had landed in what is now considered a cult film classic.

The Monster And The Stripper was filmed in about one month’s time recalls Diane. “I was hired for four days and I received a whopping $200 for my work. The interiors were shot in the same Nashville studio where Elvis had recorded the song Heartbreak Hotel, owned at the time by the United Methodist Church. I had wanted to be in a movie since I was a little girl, so even though it was an extremely low budget film, to have a part in it (and to be paid) was pretty exciting to me. I was disappointed, though, when the film came out as my name had been misspelled in the credits. For some reason, they listed me as Diane Jordon. (laughs)

“As far as the other girls that were hired for the film, Pauletta Lehman was a very sweet person, and she and I sort of bonded. When our costumes arrived, all us girls tried them on. The other three girls were quite flat-chested, while Pauletta and I were both size 36-D. Pauletta and I looked terrible in the tiny black and hot pink tops because they had no support. We suggested to June Ormond that we purchase black bras that fit us and have the wardrobe lady sew the tiny costume over the tops of the bras. June agreed to pay for our bras and Pauletta and I were thrilled that we didn’t have to quit the film. This new development (no pun intended!) infuriated the other girls, because we both looked great. Our second costume was white with polka dots. It consisted of a tiny short skirt and a cone-shaped bra top (you know…just like the kind Madonna wore on stage in the 1980s). This top had a stiff lining so that Pauletta and I were supported sufficiently. Completing our ensemble were sequined masks, fishnet hose, green satin stilettos, and cone shaped hats with balloons on the top. Wild, huh?

“After June paid for new bras for Pauletta and me, the other girls decided they hated us, and it became them against us. Once, when we were all together in the dressing room,  a girl named Judy invited all the other girls to a barbeque at her home, in front of Pauletta and me. Pauletta and I just exchanged looks and laughed about it later. She and I were just grateful that we had each other to hang out with, because the other girls were not friendly. The real-life strippers in the film didn’t like us, either. Believe it or not, they, too, were much less-endowed than Pauletta and me!

“Georgette Dante, the stripper who was one of the main characters in the film (she played Titania), was a real-life contortionist with a background in carnivals. I thought that she had a mean look, and I took great care to stay out of her way. She brought her pet snake with her, which was even more reason to stay out of her way. (When I found out that snakes have to be fed living hamsters and mice, as opposed to dead ones, I just never liked people who kept snakes after that.) Gordon Terry, one of the other main characters, was quite smitten with Georgette. One night during filming, they were in such a hurry to leave together, Gordon forgot his expensive boots in the dressing room!”

Candid shot of Diane taken in the dressing room on the set of The Monster and the Stripper, 1968Scene from Monster and the Stripper, 1968Diane’s role in The Monster And The Stripper consisted of several background scenes and just a single line of dialogue. “Oh, yeah, my one line in the dressing room scene. We were all seated, primping at the mirrored makeup table. Pauletta’s character says, ‘Diane, I didn’t like the looks of that guy you were with last night. He looked like a real hustler.’ Then comes my line (and believe me, I gave it all I had). I slam down my nail polish on the dressing table and say, ‘Oh, he wasn’t a hustler, honey…just a cat who likes to jump.’ With that, Ron Ormond shouted, ‘Oh hell, cut…and print!’ THAT was the extent of his direction. (laughs) I was later told by Harris Martin, a Nashville journalist who was also in the film—he played an artist painting a naked girl—that Ron always referred to me as ‘that Russian looking girl.’

Ron Ormond was very busy on the set, not only directing, but acting in his role as Nemo, as well. Add to that, the fact that he couldn’t have been getting much sleep during that time. Though all of this must have been pretty stressful for him, I got the feeling that he loved what he was doing and that he liked us all. There was a down-to-earth, approachable quality about him and he really put everyone at ease. I wasn’t intimidated by his presence at all. There was also a sweetness in the way that he interacted with June and Tim, while still being totally professional, that I thought was wonderful.”

The plot of The Monster And The Stripper, with its melding of a superhuman swamp creature with a seedy nightclub full of redneck gangsters, circus acts and strippers,was pretty novel, even by 1960s exploitation film standards. “It was definitely over the top,” says Diane. (laughs) “The film centered around a caveman-like monster killing people in the swamp regions of Louisiana, outside of New Orleans. Other than the footage at the beginning of the film, Ormond shot the picture in Waycross, Georgia and Tullahoma, Tennessee.

“The film opens with a man in a small boat, fishing on a bayou. (The man was played by Nashville musician Luther Perkins, who was Johnny Cash’s first guitar player until he died in a house fire in August of 1968.) The fisherman screams as the monster pulls him into the water. Cut to the seedy New Orleans nightclub you described, where Nemo, the nightclub’s owner (played by Ron Ormond, in a really bad wig) decides that if he can capture the thing, he can build a show around it to boost his business. He sends a group of guys into the swamps to capture the monster (played by Arkansas rockabilly singer, Sleepy La Beef). Sleepy was not really muscular, but he was really, really tall. He had no hair on his chest at all, so they had to glue fake hair on him to make him look more like a Neanderthal. (laughs)

“Anyway, back in the swamps, the monster is captured and brought back to town, but not without a couple of casualties first  (of course). I should add that the huge, heavy-looking rock that the monster picks up and throws in one scene, was really made of very light-weight paper maché. It was on the set one day and someone picked it up and we all started tossing it to each other. Word got around the music community in Nashville about the filming, and some of the booking agents and musicians dropped by to watch us work, which made it a lot more fun.

“Back at Nemo’s nightclub, the new show now has a circus type atmosphere, with the performers doing their acts in front of the monster’s cage. In the film’s finale, Gordon Terry announces that it’s time to feed the monster. Judy, one of the chorus girls, walks out, carrying a live chicken in a cage. Had I been the one chosen to do that scene, I would have refused.”

Diane (left),in a scene from The Monster And The StripperSadly, a live chicken was indeed killed during the film’s shoot. “I am an animal lover and it still saddens me to think of that poor chicken,” says Diane. “I have always regretted not doing something to stop it but I really don’t know if there was an active Humane Society in Nashville at the time. The filming of that terrible scene was done at night. Earlier that day, word had circulated on the set that right after the dinner break, the monster feeding would be filmed. Sleepy La Beef would actually tear apart a live chicken. For this horrible act, Georgette Dante’s carnival background elevated her to consultant status. I’m told that she demonstrated the ‘fine art’ of taping razor blades to the monster’s fingers, having seen carnival geeks do this. This would make it easier to rip apart the chicken, which was just totally appalling to me. I later did some research on what a carnival geek does, and I found this description on the Internet: ‘A geek is an unskilled performer whose performance consists of shocking, repulsive and repugnant acts. This ‘lowest of the low’ member of the carny trade will commonly bite the head off a living chicken, or sit in a bed of snakes.’ Just the thought of that sickens me.

“I was there on the set that afternoon, when a farmer brought three caged chickens into the studio. My scenes for the day were finished and later, as I was leaving, I noticed that I was the only one around. I saw the cage of chickens sitting there and I almost broke down crying. Saddened and terrified by what I knew what was going to happen, I seriously considered letting the chickens out of the studio. But, I reconsidered, because I knew that even if the chickens weren’t caught,  Ron Ormond would just have the farmer bring more. I was afraid, too, that I wouldn’t be paid if I caused a delay in filming. I have never watched that scene in the movie…and I never will.

“I remember someone saying that Sleepy said that he really didn’t want to rip up the chicken. I guess that could mean that he didn’t want to, but he did, or that he didn’t want to, and he didn’t! If he didn’t want to do it, then he should have stood his ground and refused. Whether Sleepy actually killed that chicken (or not), I’m sure that the Ormonds could have come up with another way to simulate it. After all, they managed to make another scene in the film where Sleepy pulls out a guy’s arm and then beats him to death with it, look pretty darn authentic. (When they shot that scene, I was already finished filming my part and off the set, so I didn’t get to see it.) In those days, Cecil Scaife, the guy who ‘contributed’ his arm, was an executive at Columbia Records and a good friend of Ron Ormond. Unfortunately, Cecil died in March 2009. I attended his memorial service and reception but I only saw a few people from the music industry there, and no one from the film. Cecil had been living in a nursing home for probably ten years or more, which, to me, is just so sad.

“After I finished working on the film, Ron Ormond said that he was going to use me in another project but just before The Monster And The Stripper he and his family were in a private plane crash in Nashville, and were severely injured. After doing our picture, Ron apparently decided to make only Christian films. You know, several years ago, I searched the Internet to find a contact for Tim Ormond, Ron and June’s only child. He was just 17 at the time we shot the film. Anyway, Tim and I talked on the phone and met for lunch. It was great fun reminiscing with him about the movie. Over the years, Tim has kept up with most of the other performers in the film, which I find very interesting.”

On June 6, 2002, thirty four years after its initial release, The Monster And The Stripper was shown at the Nashville Independent Film Festival. “That was such a hoot”, says Diane. Larry and I had seen the film at a Drive-In when it was first released, but that was the first time we actually saw it in a movie theater. The theater at the Green Hills Cinema was full that night and there was considerable audience response all the way through the film. Let me tell you, a comedy should get so many laughs!

“After the screening, Tim and his mother, June, who was 90 at the time (she died in July of 2006 at age 94), hosted a Q & A session. June’s memory was excellent and she delighted the audience with her humor and her candor. She spoke of her early days in vaudeville, as June Carr, when she performed with Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, and Ginger Rogers, among others. (Tim’s godfather was the great Bela Lugosi.) ‘Ginger Rogers,’ June said, ‘was a lovely person, but that mother of hers was a real bitch.’ That comment brought the entire house down! (laughs)

“Apparently, there had been very few movie posters made for the film when it first came out, but Tim had one made for the showing, to place out in the lobby of the theater. I later borrowed the poster from him and took it to Kinko’s to make some copies. I had one of them framed and it’s currently hanging on the wall of my Hollywood-themed computer room, along with a poster from my other film, the documentary That’s Country, in which I performed one song.

“No, I didn’t have an impressive acting career, but still, it’s pretty cool to be part of a film that is now considered to be a cult classic. Recently, I went on eBay and I found a photo of me for sale, along with a description that referred to me as a ‘1960s Scream Queen’. All because of The Monster And The Stripper! I must admit, that’s pretty funny to me.”

In the fall of 1968, following her brief flirtation with filmmaking, Diane moved into The Brinkhaven Apartments in Madison, a few miles outside Nashville. “I had hoped to get a car but I couldn’t afford both a car and an apartment, and I decided that it was more important to have my own place,” she says. “For some reason, my roommates had become jealous of me. In fact, one of them had gotten drunk and had even admitted to me that she was jealous. I was on the news one night when I had been on a Christmas show at an orphanage, and the girls wouldn’t let me watch it. In fact, I had to go to a neighbor’s house just to see it. When I was dating John Ashley in 1967, one of his movies was shown on TV. The girls said, ‘We’re watching The Flying Nun, instead,’ so I had to again go to the neighbor’s house. I didn’t feel like I was wanted, which is just crushing to a Leo. Another reason I had decided to move was because we had found our garbage can moved to underneath the bathroom window, and we suspected we had a  Peeping Tom. I told Kris Kristofferson about it and he said, ‘Don’t kid yourselves, it’s always a neighbor.’ He went on to say that he and his ex-wife once went through that themselves. One night, my then-boyfriend (and future husband) Larry brought me home and we pulled into the driveway right behind my roommate’s car. We sat in his car and talked for a while. Some time passed and I happened to look over to the right and I saw a man creeping up to the kitchen window, where the light was on. Though there were blinds on the window, one could see in through the sides because the blinds weren’t an exact fit.  Larry jumped out of the car and said to the guy, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’  The guy said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know who you were and I was checking on the girls to make sure they were all right.’ I got out of the car and said, ‘Well, then, why don’t you get on the trash can so you can see better?’  I was shocked as the man I was looking at was our next door neighbor Jim!  He just slinked back to his house like a dog with his tail between his legs. What a creep. When we first found out that we had a Peeping Tom, I told the neighbor women on either side of us. Earlier, the guy’s wife, Waunice, had said, ‘Well if you hear anything, just call us because Jim has a gun.’ So when I saw it was him, I immediately thought, ‘Oh, great, our Peeping Tom has a gun!’  I felt it was a good time to move after that.

“My new, one-bedroom furnished apartment at The Brinkhaven was in the building right across from the office, and the owner, Mr. Selley, was an older gentleman who was very friendly. Dolly Parton had once lived at The Brinkhaven before she married her husband Carl Dean. One day, out at the pool, Mr. Selley came up to me as I was sunbathing, and said, ‘You sure aren’t like Dolly Parton.’  I was puzzled by his comment and asked him what he meant by that.  He said, ‘Oh, not what you’re thinking! You keep your apartment neat and clean. Believe me, Dolly was no housekeeper.’” (laughs)

Six years after the end of her deal with ABC-Paramount, Diane got another chance to record that fall when she was signed to Monument Records. Unfortunately, it would be another experience she would soon come to regret. In 2009, Diane recalled her three years at the label: “Before I signed with Monument, I used to ride a lot of city buses down to Music Row. (I still didn’t have a car at the time.) Going there meant changing buses downtown. I would get off a block or so past the music offices and then walk back so that no one would see me getting off of a bus. For some reason, that was very embarrassing to me. Anyway, I was singing at the time at The Black Poodle, a club in Printer’s Alley. They changed it to a strip club shortly after that, and moved country music next door to The Western Room. Tex Davis, who was a promotion person at Monument, talked to me after my show and asked if I was on a label. When I told him that I wasn’t, he suggested that I go out to Monument to talk to [label head] Fred Foster. Monument was located in Hendersonville, just a few miles outside where I lived in Madison.

“When I went to see Fred, I brought along some demos that I had made. He listened to them and afterwards said that he would sign me. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited because Monument was a really good label to be on in those years. Right away, Fred and I started to look for material for me to record. For Fred, looking for material consisted of making a trip out to Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s house. They had written many, many hit songs in the 1950’s and 60’s, including Rocky Top, Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie, and All I Have To Do Is Dream (the last three for The Everly Brothers). As Felice and Boudleaux played their songs for me, I remember their pet mynah bird contributed background ‘fills’ to the music. (laughs) It was really hilarious! And then, each time the phone rang, the bird would start saying ‘Hello’, over and over. When he was not getting any attention, he would say, ‘Think of that! Think of that!’  (laughs)

“I chose two of the songs the Bryants played for me that day as songs I wanted to record: Your Love Will Stay and Bruises. I didn’t think that either one was a potential hit, but I didn’t want to be impolite and say that I didn’t really like the songs, either. Then I remembered a song called Padre that was a big pop hit when I was 12 years old. I always loved that record and I always wanted to sing it, too. I didn’t even know the original singer’s name, but a guy named Ernie, who I was friendly with when I worked at Hurley’s Tavern in Pennsylvania, contacted a record locator service and they sent the album to me. It was by a 1950’s pop singer named Toni Arden, and it was just a beautiful, beautiful record. I played it for Fred and he agreed to let me cut it. I really thought it was a hit, so it didn’t really matter to me that I didn’t love the other two songs the Bryants had given me.

“Felice and Boudleaux picked me up at my apartment and drove me to the Bradley Barn recording studio the day I cut Padre. They had a beautiful Mercedes 600 with a copper floorboard—I was very impressed. Felice said she wanted me to meet her two sons. I recall her saying, ‘We need a good singer in the family.’(laughs) Dane and Del Bryant were both nice guys and they took me to breakfast one morning after my nightclub gig in Printer’s Alley. I didn’t date either of them, though, as I was already in love with Larry Fullam by then. Had it worked out with Dane or Del, I would probably be a wealthy woman right now—and probably divorced, too.” (laughs)

After Diane finished her work on the Padre session and delivered it to Fred Foster, he told her that he felt the song needed some “tweaking”. He arranged for her to go to Memphis to do some overdubbing on the record with producer Chips Moman, at Chips’ recording studio, American Sound. Diane recalls their meeting vividly. “Chips had driven up to Nashville, and Fred had me come out to the office to meet him. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting on the sofa, next to him and he offered me a cigarette. Before I could say, ‘No, thank you,’ Fred said, ‘Diane doesn’t smoke, Diane doesn’t drink, and I’m not quite sure yet what all Diane doesn’t do.’  I had a very bad feeling right then and there that my record had better hit right out of the chute, or there would be no future for me at Monument Records.” For Diane, who had remembered Tom T. Hall’s disrespectful treatment of her just a short time earlier, Fred Foster’s comments and smarmy attitude towards her that day had a familiarity to them that cut right to the bone.

By the late 1960’s, Chips Moman was renowned in the recording industry for his prowess in both songwriting and producing. Prior to Diane’s meeting him, he had written the stunning song Do Right Woman, Do Right Man for Aretha Franklin, and had produced folk singer Merrilee Rush’s smash hit, Angel Of The Morning along with many other chart hits for such r&b and rock and roll acts as Carla Thomas, Booker T and the MGs, and The Box Tops. “I was beyond excited at the thought of getting to record with the great Chips Moman,” recalls Diane. “When I got to the studio to do the overdubs on Padre, Chips had already added a church bell to the intro and had also added some horns (Fred already had violins on the track). Right away, I began working on my vocals with the two background singers that Chips had hired. I was quite impressed with them knowing that they had just recorded with Elvis Presley. I later found out that the high background vocals on Elvis’s hit, In The Ghetto were done by these same two guys. When we did the overdubs for Padre, I remember Chips telling us, just before a take, ‘Think Catholic!’ One of the guys in the group said, ‘Does that mean we should throw away our pills?’ (laughs)

While in Memphis, Diane would learn an interesting back story to Elvis’s recording of In The Ghetto that painted an extremely unflattering picture of her new producer. “When I went to Memphis to overdub Padre, there was a newspaper article on the wall in the studio, about Elvis’s recording at American Sound. It stated that Elvis loved the studio and said that he was going to record all of his albums there in the future. He said he was happy that he could record right there at home, in Memphis. But Chips Moman messed that up. While I was there, Chips played a new record for me that he had just produced and said it was coming out on Bell Records. He said it was going to be a monster. The title was In The Streets Of The Ghetto. It had a powerful storyline, and once I heard it, I had no doubt that it would be a huge hit. Not long after that, Larry came over one day and said that he had just heard a fantastic new record by Elvis, called In The Ghetto. I said, “Isn’t it called In The Streets Of The Ghetto? He said that he was certain it was In The Ghetto. When I heard it, I knew that it wasn’t the same song, but it was the same story! I then found out that when Elvis had cut the song, Felton Jarvis, his producer (and my former producer) said it would be Elvis’s next single. Chips tried to talk him out of it saying, ‘It’s not a hit…I don’t feel it.’ Then he got his writers to write around the song and rushed it out on Bell Records. Well, that was it for Elvis and American Sound Studio. He never recorded there again. Many Nashville publishers later quit sending songs to Chips when he was looking for material because he would let his writers listen to the songs and then they would write around them. I have searched BMI, ASCAP and SESAC and have found no listing of a song called In The Streets of the Ghetto. I also found a list of records and artists on Bell Records in the 60s and 70s and couldn’t find it there, either. I wonder if there was ever a lawsuit filed and they were forced to just scrap the song?”

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