Celebrating Cult Movie Star Fiona Lewis!
Here’s how watching a movie leads me to a great new book!
I came across Actress Fiona Lewis when I watched the classic 70’s Vincent Price film “Dr. Phibes Rises Again!”
Curious about her, I did a little research, and guess what? She’s written a fantastic autobiography!
This Wednesday’s Bookmobile is taking a ride with Lewis through her wildly entertaining film career, all the way to the south of France, where she bought a house and wrote a fascinating memoir “Mistakes Were Made (Some In French)”…
Lewis was one of England’s hottest Model / Actresses during London’s “swinging” Sixties social scene – and at one time shared a flat in a ‘squalid’ part of Belgravia (“back when Belgravia had squalid parts”) with fellow party girl, actress Jacqueline Bisset.
She recounts all of her fascinating adventure in her memoir “Mistakes Were Made (Some In French)”, published in 2017 – it’s a funny, fascinating and extremely candid look at her life – from her life in London and Paris in the 1960s, Los Angeles in the 1970s, and lots of stories about life in the Hollywood “fast lane.”
Lewis tells about growing up in England in the early 60’s – and what that meant when you were female:
“In those days it was considered perfectly acceptable that a girl be sent out into the world having mastered nothing more than the art of riding sidesaddle and how to curtsy to the queen. We were being groomed to be debutantes and, beyond that, perfect wives.”
But she had bigger plans for herself…
She very candidly discusses all of the wild antics of her life – which continue today, as the book begins in the modern day, when she says she “woke up in my early 50s” and realized she was unfulfilled.
‘I had a good life, I had a husband who loved me but I woke up one day and thought, “Is this it?” I was fundamentally unhappy in myself.’
Lewis was referring to her husband, Producer Art Linson, whose producing credits include The Untouchables, Heat, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Fight Club, and Scrooged!
The book’s structure is great, as her modern day “enlightenment” comes during a visit to France, where she impulsively buys a ruined château. The book tells how, brick by brick, she restored her sanity and happiness. ‘I rescued the house but it ended up rescuing me,’ she says.
Her memoir is a raucous and often poignant tale of a life laced with sex, drugs and the outrageous antics of her A-list friends, such as when she casually mentions she recently had dinner with Leonardo DiCaprio and one of her closest friends, Robert De Niro.
As she says:
‘Bob is a perfectionist, which is what makes him so great,’ she says. ‘When he was playing Al Capone in The Untouchables he insisted on getting Al Capone’s underwear recreated so he could “feel” the part.’
After graduating and moving to London in the mid-60’s, Lewis made her film debut as one of the many “mod girls” in the 007 spoof “Casino Royale.”
In February 1967, she had an appearance in Playboy as part of the 13-page James Bond parody pictorial “The Girls of Casino Royale.”
Fiona has appeared in cults gems like “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, directed by Roman Polanski, and had this to say about her affair with the Director in the book:
“I thought his films were extraordinary, and I’d never met anyone like him. He was a volcano, bursting with energy and curiosity, and unlike British men with their veiled references, he said exactly what he thought.”
Yet that Polanski connection had a dark twist, as she writes in her book about an offer from Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate:
“Later, when Sharon was eight and a half months pregnant and had gone back to Los Angeles, she invited me to stay with her at the Cielo Drive house. I had already booked my flight, but at the last minute I signed up for the Jerry Lewis movie. The Manson murders took place the week I was supposed to be there.”
With eh 50th anniversary of those shocking murders just past, it really hit me when she recounted how close she came to being one of the victims that night.
She discusses all of her film work, but perhaps her most notorious role was in Director Ken Russell’s “Listzomania!”
The role as composer Liszt’s busty mistress was opposite The Who’s Roger Daltrey!
The film was an improbable rock ’n’ roll version of the maestro’s life, which involved her swinging half-naked from a chandelier.
Lewis has interesting memories of the film. In her memoir she wrote:
While Daltrey ‘was a sweetheart, never laid a finger on me’, director Ken Russell was a ‘mean, insensitive brute who would yell and scream in the hopes of making you cry’.
The Actress also appeared in such mainstream films as “The Fury,” “Strange Behavior,” “Strange Invaders” and “Innerspace.”
She turned to writing, married Producer Art Linson – and ended up in the French countryside.
The memoir alternates between growing up and working as An Actress, and her rehabilitation of the rundown French Chateau. It was a grueling process.
Finding layers of old tiles on the floor, she tears away at them, only to find cement underneath! She grabs some tools and starts digging away at it. As she writes:
“After an entire morning, I’ve only managed to remove a foot or so. But what’s underneath is encouraging: a section of the original floorboards, wide planks, 200 years old. All I have to do now is remove another 3,000 SQUARE FEET OF CEMENT.”
She also tells fascinating anecdotes about the workmen she finds in the French countryside to help renovate her house…although, it’s a complicated “dance” as she describes in the book:
“When I call local workmen – ‘ouvriers’ – at random, listed in the local yellow pages, each one tells me, without question that he’s busy. As as I’ve discovered, “busy” does not always mean “unavailable.” Gentle persistence is required. And what has become almost as thrilling as someone starting work is someone arriving to DISCUSS the work, even when they assure me they’re booked up and have absolutely no time to TAKE THE JOB. Because if I manage to get them on the phone (during meal times), with a little flattery and some polite begging, after complaining about how ‘inonde’ – overbooked – they are, invariable they admit they might be able to drop by the house next Tuesday as they’ll be working in a village nearby. Of course, they promise nothing.”
And THAT is the “dance” – and it’s a hilariously ongoing series of encounters that help get her massive renovation done.
“Mistakes Were Made” is a great read – Lewis is funny, honest, and a great writer…she reminds me of Hollywood’s “IT” Girl of that same era:
Eve Babitz was a talented Writer who lived in Hollywood’s “fast lane” – a new biography tells her story and you can read more about her here:
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Thanks so much for reading!
A big recommendation on this “Wednesday Bookmobile” for Fiona Lewis!
Categories: 70's Cinema, Action Films, Art, Books / Media, British Cinema, Cult Movies, Exotic Travel, Exploitation films, Hollywood, Memoirs, Movies, Obscure Movies, Paris, Pop Culture, Real Estate, Talent/Celebrities, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir