The year was 1976. Part 19
"Take It To The Limit”
On Hollywood Boulevard, just west of Vine is where you would find me one winter day in mid-January; standing inside Fredericks of Hollywood, the original store. I had a few dollars in my purse to purchase an evening gown. The Hollywood Foreign Press nominated our film as one in the Best Documentary category, and as one of the featured women, I was invited to attend! I chose a Kelly green gown, simple and not at all what you would expect to find at Fredricks. I wanted a classic look, not cheesy.
The 33rd Golden Globe ceremony was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Rob, the producer/director had picked me up and once we hit the circular driveway that slowly snaked his BMW to the front of the valet parking line the butterflies in my stomach began to flap in earnest.
As soon as the valet opened the car door, light bulbs began going off, it was crazy. The red carpet was mesmerizing, both sides of the walkway into the lobby (and ultimately into the ballroom) were lined with press and paparazzi. It was not like you see now, but much more respectful, asking me to stop and pose... alone or with someone else.
I was preceded on the carpet by real “stars” and followed by more of them, everywhere I looked I’d see a familiar face from the movies or television. It was unreal to be in the midst of such legends as Jack Nicholson (swoon), George Burns, Shirley MacClaine (whose documentary on China was up against my film), Walter Matthau, Ann Margaret, Richard Benjamin, Lee Remmick, Cloris Leachman, Alan Alda...and so many more.
Once inside we were given a table with an incredible view of everyone who was anyone. The Golden Globes are the one award ceremony that people (stars) liked to go to, because you could drink and eat during the ceremony. Our table had the producers and some crew, and of course, Joe Conforte. He’d never miss an opportunity to show up. He dressed up, right down to a mink lined cape. I hated being seen with him, it felt odd sitting there next to him, but because of circumstances we both were there. I was mostly too busy rubbernecking and trying to be cool, to look as though I did belong there.
Telly Savalas kissed my hand that night, after I managed to impress him with asking him how he was in Greek. I also managed to embarrass the heck out of myself on the way back from the ladies room (probably my tenth trip...so much happened in the ladies room). I looked up and this incredibly handsome man was smiling at me. He looked absolutely familiar, so naturally I said, “Hello. Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Have you ever lived in Oakland?” I smiled.
“No.” He flashed me back a bigger smile.
“No.” He was still smiling. I merely stared at his curly dark hair, and his deep brown eyes. So familiar. Where did I know him from.....just then my face must have changed from puzzlement to recognition, because I could see at that very moment he knew that I now knew. He busted out laughing! He was a soap star, one on the show I watched for eleven years (Days of Our Lives). Of course he would look familiar, he was in essence, in my home every day. He was quite gracious and understanding as I excused myself and made my escape. I am sure I was not the first time this scenario played out for him.
The award for Best Documentary went to Shirley MacLaine and her movie on China that night, but when I hear people say, “It is an honor just to be nominated”, I actually know what they mean.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be sitting on a sailboat in the marina. Lois and I were doing exactly that. The two well connected men we had met last year while at our Jolly Roger meeting had invited us to spend some Sunday on the boat, whenever we wanted. Winters in Southern California can be surprisingly warm, as anyone could see if they watch the Rose Parade, and this February day was one of them. We were not out sailing, but were tied up at the dock, making it ideal for the task Lois and I had in mind.
As we bobbed around Lois and I were giggling, one of the men, who were very “connected” in Hollywood, agreed to let us use his Rolodex to call and plead for donations.
Donations? Ah yes, since Lois and I had gotten together we decided we wanted to bring the idea/concept of C.O.Y.O.T.E. to Los Angeles, in the form of C.A.T., or California’s Advocacy for Trollops. We were going to be an offshoot, and since this summer was slated for the First World Meeting of Prostitutes, to be hosted in Washington D.C.. We felt we need to go in order to establish ourselves, thus the fundraising.
You have to be young and immensely naïve to believe you can call up... let’s say Frank Sinatra, and ask for a donation based on the assumption that Mr. Sinatra had, at some time or another come in contact with a hooker. Did he contribute? No, in fact the gruff voice that answered, and who told us, “ You are crazy”, probably had it right.
We did not let a denial (or a few dozen) thwart our enthusiasm though. By the end of the day (and his Rolodex) we had prominent businessmen and celebrities, all who had pledged to donate, even if in unusual circumstances.
By Monday Lois and I would make our way to Rodeo Drive, going into a prominent and very famous women’s clothing store to pick up the first donation. The owner, Mr. H., had instructed us with CIA perfection on how and where to pick up his donation. We were told to come in like customers, browse through the clothing, and when a salesperson asked if we needed help, to ask for Mr. H. Then he would come to us.
The impeccably dressed, model-type saleswoman gave us a once over, and assumed (correctly) neither of us could really afford anything we were looking at. “May I help you?”
I looked at Lois and she back at me...I swallowed and squeaked out, “Is Mr. H. here?”
Her eyebrow raised, her posture stiffened, “Yes, I’ll go and get him. Just wait here.”
Oh brother, it was working, even if she did think we were potential...well, who knows what she thought by then. It was not more than a couple of minutes when a diminutive, elegantly dressed man strode over to us.
“I am Mr. H., how may I help you?” His blue eye twinkled, the touch of gray on his temples only made him appear more important.
Lois extended her hand, “Hi, I‘m Lois and this is my friend Buffy.” They both looked at me so I nodded and smiled. “We spoke to you yesterday, about...” He cut her off quickly, “Yes, I remember.” His eyes darted around the room before reaching into his jacket and pulling out a legal-sized white envelope and pressed it into my hand. “Thank you so much for stopping by.” He said, dismissing us.
We thanked him and quickly left his store. Once outside we roared with laughter at how strange it was, and ripped open the envelope to see what he was contributing. To our utter amazement we found it contained $200.
By the time we finished collecting that day we had enough money for her plane ticket as well as enough to print up T-Shirts to sell. We figured what we could sell in T-shirts would allow us to have some additional money for food and incidentals.
Because my film was going to be premiered at the convention, and then opening in Georgetown, New York, and the “Philadelphia Philmfest”, I had a publicity tour to do, so my plane fare and some hotel nights were free. I was letting Lois share my rooms, thus cutting our expenses, and contributing to what promised to be an exciting trip.
My friendship with Berteil continued, often he gave dinner parties at his Beverly Hills home for other members of the foreign press, or friends from Sweden who were visiting and I was usually invited. On one night he invited me to be his date to the 48th Academy Awards on Monday, March 29th, which I accepted, without hesitation.
I bought a lovely black gown for the occasion and made a hair appointment for noon in Santa Monica, where my hairdresser was. It was an exciting day for me. I had a longer shag haircut, ala Jane Fonda, which he carefully blow-dried straight for me. The only problem was that the weather was unusually hot, I mean around 100º. As I made my way along the 101 freeway in heavy traffic, with no a/c in my car, I began to sweat heavily. Then my car began to overheat. The only thing I could think of to do was to turn on my heater to relieve some of the engine heat, and pray I would make it. I sweated even more, worried the car would break down and I would be so late I would miss the awards. There were no cell phones in 1976.
I made it, but me and my hair were hardly red carpet worthy. I quickly showered at Berteil’s, blew out my hair as best I could and got into my gown. It was then Berteil told me a lady friend of his wanted me to feel special, glamorous, so she has loaned me her full length mink coat to wear! Tears welled up as he slipped it onto my shoulders, both from gratitude and the knowledge I had to make my entrance at the awards looking cool and collected despite this heavy fur coat and the heat. Gratefully we made our way out to his air-conditioned Cadillac. I reached into the pocket of the coat and found a note; “Have a grand evening Buffy.” Indeed I would. I did not even mind when we got to the red carpet and the people in the stands were yelling to me, “WHO are you?”
Unfortunately I do not have photos of either event. But I did save my ticket stub.
On May 23, 1976, the news broke a scandalous story: For nearly two years, Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), powerful chairman of the House Administration Committee, has kept a woman on his staff who says she is paid $14,000 a year in public money to serve as his mistress. "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone," says Elizabeth Ray, 27, who began working for Hays in April 1974 as a clerk. Since then, Ray says she has not been asked to do any Congress-related work and appears at her Capitol Hill office once or twice a week for a few hours. Her “office” was next to that of Rep. Bella Abzug.
The phone at C.A.T. rang.
“This is Buffy, how may I direct your call?”
“Is this the right number for the...ummm, organization that helps hookers?”
I laughed. “Yes, in a manner of speaking. What can we do for you?”
“My name is Carol Conners, I’m a songwriter. I wrote the lyrics for the film, “Rocky” among others.”
“Oh yes, I was at the awards this year. Great song!”
“Thank you. I understand you are going to Washington D.C. soon for a convention. I have a proposition for you, one that could make you a lot of money.”
“I’m all ears.” Hard to imagine why she was calling, but I was about to hear.
“You know about Elizabeth Ray...the mistress of Congressman Hays?” She said in a lowered voice.
“Sure, who doesn’t by now?”
“Well, I have it on good word she has a decent singing voice...even if she can’t type... “ she laughed. “I’ve written a song for her. It’s called ‘Anything Goes On the Hill’. I recorded a cassette of it and am proposing you take it to Washington, and if you can get her to listen to it and agree to sing it, I’m prepared to give you 10% of all proceeds when she records it.”
We took the deal, just as we would take the cassette to Washington with us. How difficult could it be to get Ms. Ray to listen to the tape? She probably needed the money by now; even if the sheer flattery that a song had been written for her hadn’t occurred to her.
There was no doubt we were excited and thrilled to be going. We printed our C.A.T. T-shirts, boxed them up, packed our suitcases and took off for Washington D.C. . On June 20th the two of us young, smart, attractive and politically naive, were off and running headlong into the biggest adventure of our lives.
It is of some note, that in order to incorporate The Feminist Party Convention, The National Organization for Women, and the National Democratic Council (among others) to come up with a Hooker’s Lobby, C.O.Y.O.T.E. was holding a co-convention at the Sheraton-Park Hotel on June 21. It was to address the issues of prostitution, rape, family-violence, as well as the economic exploitation of women.
We (as a group) were also hosting a Congressional Reception on June 21, from 5:30 to midnight. (A no-hostess bar.) It would be held at The Wellington Hotel in Georgetown. We would also be showing a documentary video production of the organizing and de-criminalizing efforts in the United States and Europe. Speakers would include Florynce Kennedy, Margo St. James and myself.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug wrote us back (on official Congress of the United States stationary) to wish us the best, letting us know she could not see us at the cocktail party due to her commitments running for Senate in New York. Would we consider coming to New York during the Democratic Convention?
The night of the cocktail reception Lois and I mingled with the guests, of whom most turned out to be press, though not all. I found myself having a lively chat with a very attractive, charming aide (Steve Hammond) to the Senator (Robert Tunney) from California.
This is me and Margo St. James at the party, as written about the next day in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
I was assigned a meeting room upstairs from the main party to give my talk, so I left ...with nearly all of the press following me, much to the dismay of Margo. My speaking kept the press mesmerized in the room for, over an hour. Margo had maybe three reporters to the thirty or so in my room. I was a thorn in her side, as one reporter rubbed in when he wrote in his newspaper; “I was interviewing Margo St. James. She was interesting but not as interesting as Buffy Wilson ...” This was her dog and pony show, but the youngsters from Hollywood had, quite literally by accident, stolen the show with their freshness.
The following morning I found a letter in my mailbox at the hotel from Steve H. (the aide), asking me to call him for a promised dinner date, and letting me know he’s seen my movie and my part got, “3 stars” from him.
I did call Steve, and we had a wonderful time together. He was so different than men I had known. Raised in the South and son of wealthy parents, Steve was Ivy League, very preppy, tall, with classically good looking features and well-mannered with a natural ease I appreciated. He was a true southern gentleman, in every sense of the word.
He lived in a great big leased house in Georgetown, and invited us to stay there, using it as our home base. His roommates had gone home for the summer but he stayed. The price, and location fit our budget perfectly, so I did take him up on his gracious and generous offer. I must confess... I was completely totally infatuated with him and looked forward to spending time with him.
The convention included the First International Hooker’s Film Festival in Georgetown, with my film kicking off the various groups of women’s films. The film festival would run for three days. My assigned job was to take care of the desk in the lobby, checking off the names of the people (press) who had paid to see various films showing on each day. Of course it was also ideal to autograph items, answer questions and sell additional T-shirts.
Manning the lobby of the theater.
The next day’s Washington Post article and photo showing me there.
The entire convention had been a resounding success, so much so we decided to stay in town longer, over the Bicentennial weekend. Steve had a friend with a boat, and we all would spend the evening partying on the Potomac River watching our nations fireworks celebration of the Bicentennial. It was an unforgettable night.
C.O.Y.O.T.E. was busy organizing a “Loiter-In”, responsible solely due to the fact the New York legislature had just passed a law “prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution”. It was passed just before the convention expressly to keep “working girls” off the street. That enraged Margo, so she mobilized all of us into action. The plan was to have “straight” women meet, and be dispatched to various points around the convention, with no apparent reason for being there, to see if the “law” was discriminatory. The police did not arrest any women.
The decision to attend the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York was made, and we were on our way via train to New York City on July 15th, invited to stay at the Manhattan apartment of Florynce Kennedy (who coincidentally happened to live in an apartment first occupied by singer Billie Holiday). That night Lois, Flo and I began making signs to be carried in the march in protest of many things N.O.W. and other women’s groups perceived as injustices towards women.
This photo of me (right) and Lois (left) would be published in an article that appeared in Ms. Magazine in 1976.
That night I stood in Billie Holiday’s and now Flo’s kitchen, cooking us a Southern dinner of pork chops with gravy. I remember Flo being impressed that I knew how to make country gravy. We were going to need strength for the march the next morning.
In the morning a call came into Flo’s home just as we were about to leave, it was for me. It seems word about the “not so kind” things I had said about Mr. Conforte’s brothel had gotten back to him and he was livid. The message to me, passed along by the film producer, was; “Shut your f****** mouth, or else!” I assured Rob I would be careful, but Flo, being an attorney refused to let me walk in the march, instead riding in her car. She felt it was a “safety” issue and was taking no chances with our lives.
I, on the other hand, was infuriated by the thought this man would reach out and threaten me, through someone else, from thousands of miles away. He did not know me enough to realize the distance between us ( both since I left the brothel years ago, and the miles) meant I would refuse to be silenced by his threats. I had absolutely no intention of shutting my mouth to satisfy his warped ego. I had a job to do and his threats would never stop me from stating an opinion based on my experiences working there.
Each night in New York, we were invited to several parties. The convention was in progress and parties were a part of it. Studio 54 was in full swing, and though we stood in the line outside with Margo and her friend, Lily Tomlin. We did not go inside when they did because we did not have the money to gain entrance with them. We did make it into a photo People™ Magazine took of the line though.
One night we went up to a hotel room where we were informed a great party was going on. We knocked, and upon entering saw a group of young people. I took a seat next to a cute young man, who introduced himself as David Kennedy. Yes, it was the David Kennedy. I caught my breath, then realized he was ...not exactly sober. Also there was his best friend, Chris Lawford, who in turn introduced us to a very strange man, writer Dr. Hunter Thompson. Chris left shortly afterwards.
At one point Hunter took a cassette tape and put it into a player he then shoved inside of a metal trashcan held by David. The sounds emanating and echoing were absolutely sickening; screams and grunts. Hunter said they were sounds of people being prodded with a cattle prod inside of a mental institution. The sound of it seemed to make David sick to his stomach (or maybe it was drugs he was ingesting) but he ran into the bathroom just in time. Lois and I were both questioning how we had ended up with this group. When David came back he continued to flirt me, and invited me to Hyannis Port to meet his family. I chalked it up to him being “high”. Somehow, I seriously doubted that any of the Kennedy’s would have welcomed me with opened arms. We left shortly afterwards, amazed at what was happening there, and not wanting to be anywhere in sight if they were to get busted.
We left NY after the convention and headed for Washington D.C., once again taking the train. The film was opening in the D.C. theaters beginning the next night. I was slated to appear beforehand to sign autographs, and afterwards there would be a question and answer period from the audience.
As the taxi drove up to the theater I froze. When I looked out of the window, the entire side of the theater had been covered with a poster advertising the film, a poster I had no prior knowledge of. It was depicting my eyes, blown up to the size of a building! It was the most surreal moment so far. While I was in the lobby awaiting my talk at the film’s end, a brown Fiat pulls up and Chris Lawford hops out, comes to me and whispers something into my ear, then turns and leaves! It was reported the following day in the Washington Post gossip column, called The Ear. I have always wondered who reported that to the newspaper. In fact, I would make the gossip columns three times during my D.C. days.
The newspaper clipping of the poster advertising the film and my appearance:
I was also busy doing media, television and radio shows in conjunction with my film. I went to Philadelphia because they were running the film at their annual, “Philadelphia Philmfest”. One tv show I taped, “The Joel Spivak Show”, happen to close with the announcement of the following week’s guests. Incredibly Elizabeth Ray was slated. I looked at Lois and she back at me and we knew exactly where we would be the following week. I called the organizer of the film and asked if we could stay overnight with his family to be at the television studio early enough for the show.
Incredibly, the television shows I was doing in Washington had all booked Elizabeth Ray too, so it became our “mission” to try and get the tape of the song Carol had written to her. We carried a cassette player with us and sang it for the press, we approached her in the ladies rooms begging her to listen, were present at her television appearances, until finally she got so paranoid about the two young women who seemed to follow her everywhere, we were forced to give up on the idea. She threatened not to appear on one show after she saw us there, yet again, and locked herself inside of the dressing room until we left.
It had been ten weeks since we left LA, Lois and I had to get back home. We still had big dreams to fulfill there.