SPECTOR DOCUMENTARY LAYS BARE MEGALOMANIA, WHILE REMEMBERING LANA

SPECTOR (SHOWTIME)

Reviewed by STEVEN TRAVERS

Showtime recently concluded its four-part documentary about the rise and fall of Phil Spector. It laid bare the utter megalomania of Spector while going out of its way to show that his victim, Lana Clarkson, was a lovely and loving woman who left behind many friends and family who still miss her.

Spector said that timing was everything, and it sure was. It was everything in his rise, and everything in his fall. He was a lonely, ugly, shrimp Jewish kid whose father, a blue-collar worker who loved and supported the family, drove his car, parked it, put a hose in the tailpipe, ran it into his car, and asphyxiated himself. He was Phil’s whole life.

But things changed for the better when the family moved to Los Angeles in 1958, which he plainly stated was a time and place that could not be re-created, and from which he found a calling that 10 years later he would not have been suited for.

He found himself at Fairfax High in Hollywood. This was a school filled with the sons and daughters of Hollywood stars and influencers. Many of these children dreamed of stardom themselves. Spector immediately understood the zeitgeist, which was an America and particularly a Los Angeles of dreams and wealth, of teenagers for the first time with money in their pockets, and of a music industry growing too big for the mobsters and hucksters who had previously dominated it.

He was still a weird little Jewish boy, but effected a stylized look (imagine Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island with a small goatee). He wore dark shades, his hair longer, his clothes befitting his hipster image. Fairfax was not the kind of school where football jocks ruled the corridors. Spector’s razor-sharp wit and humor kept him one step ahead of persecution. Then he formed a band called The Teddy Bears, and while still in high school he wrote and played guitar on a hit song called “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” While outwardly a teen love melody, it was his ode to his late father.

He immediately started a label and over night created the “wall of sound,” an early 1960s sound track separating itself from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, or other seminal groups. He specialized in black girl groups featuring attractive, oft-underage singers with lovely, lilting background sounds. The voices and the instruments, such as multiple pianos and guitars, created the “wall of sound.” It was new and exciting and it all went straight to the top of the charts. Everything he touched turned to gold. Musicians who worked with him were instant millionaires. Everybody wanted to be produced by Phil Spector. 

Then he turned his attention to The Righteous Brothers, like Elvis a white group with the soul of a black band, and the result was the most-listened to song of all time, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Then he turned Tina Turner into a star.

The women flocked to him. Some married him. He did strange things like adopting children and giving them to one of his wives like a Christmas present. He was mentally deranged. He always had guns and waved them around. On a national TV show early in his career he was completely incoherent, arguing with the host, threatening him with harm from bodyguards in the dressing room, always on the defensive, convinced everybody was out to get him.

He was manic depressive, bi-polar, and like most children of suicide, had control issues, which in his case he had the ability to actually control, as in locking people in his home. Many of his friends spoke of not being allowed to leave his house; or of having to escape a bar or restaurant through the backdoor because Phil would not let them leave on their own. His mansion, strangely located in Alhambra, once a part of Hollywood’s past, now filled with Korean immigrants, had double locks so somebody could be locked unknowingly in rooms within rooms. 

Guns, alcohol, drugs, sex, fame, money; it’s the same old story, the same old song and dance, my friends. In many ways he was a sympathetic figure, though. His daughter loved him to the end, and his many friends and associates knew his generous, loving side.

Finally in the late 1970s Spector decided to produce The Ramones, a punk band. He had success as usual, turning “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” into a hit, but the band felt alienated and he called it quits after that, living like a recluse alone in his mansion.

Occasionally Spector would venture out. He would get very drunk and find a waitress or bartender, and talk them into letting him squire them around town until daylight. All the while they would try to escape, and often they saw his guns. He waved them at multiple people. He was entitled and got away with all of it.

Then in 2003 Spector journeyed to The House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. There he met Lana Clarkson. The best part of this documentary is its depiction of Lana. First of all, she was drop dead gorgeous, although her looks locked her into “blonde bombshell” roles such as she-warrior princesses, Viking goddesses, hookers, bimbos, trophy wives, and the like. Her friends described what Lana had to go through, dealing with the “casting couch” and a slew of sleazeball producers all trying to lure her into bed. 

But none of this kept her down. She was loved by her family and friends. She worked extremely hard and consistently found roles. She was not a millionaire but she was a working actress. She was not looking for a “sugar daddy.” She believed in herself and felt the role of a lifetime was out there waiting for her. In fact, as she was aging and over time would no longer be the “sex pot” of her youth, she could be seen for her talent and given a role befitting her ability and devotion to her craft. At least this was what she was hoping for, although the filmmakers admit that a sexy blonde actress pushing 40 is often at the end of the line.

Lana made a tape exhibiting her abilities as a physical comic in the mode of Lucille Ball. It demonstrated a range of skills and she was still very attractive. Then she accidentally fell while dancing on a slippery rug, injuring her wrists. This set her back as she could not take roles for an extended period.

But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Lana went to The House of Blues and asked for a job. A beautiful, energetic and friendly hostess of a sort. This was where she met Phil Spector. He was drunk as usual and asked her to accompany him. She was unable to do so as she was working, but eventually relented and ended up at his house. 

Most likely, Spector pressured her to have sex and she refused. Attempting to leave, Spector probably locked her in his home as he had done with numerous others in the past. He produced a weapon. Perhaps a struggle ensued. She was shot in the mouth, dead.

Spector’s driver heard the shot and claimed Spector said, “I’ve shot somebody.” The defense later cast doubt on his testimony, claiming he may have said, “Somebody’s been shot.”

Lana had a bruise in her mouth consistent with having a gun shoved down her throat, but the blood spatter evidence favored Spector’s version, which was that Lana killed herself. (This could have been an episode of Dexter.) This was the one thread of evidence that cast some doubt with the jury, who could not come to a consensus guilty verdict. 

Spector appeared in court with weird wigs and strange clothes, a look of mystical strangeness on his face. He assumed he, like O.J. Simpson and other celebrities in L.A., would get away with it. He acted entitled to it and besmirched Lana’s memory, blaming her for coming into his house and ruining his life. When Lana’s acting tape was played Spector and his gold digger wife smirked and made fun of her valiant efforts to establish a career. It was disgusting. Her friends assured the filmmakers that suicide was the last thing she would have done to herself.

After the 10-2 jury resulted in a mistrial, prosecutor Alan Jackson, a great lawyer and true hero, assured Lana’s family he would pursue justice to the end, which he finally did. Spector went to prison and died there a few years ago. 

His daughter did not excuse her father, but she remained loyal to him.

“To know him is to love him,” she said.

Steven Travers is a former Hollywood screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the brand new Best Sports Writing Ever and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.

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