At HBO airs "Phil Spector," the producer's friends remember odd nights with the man who knew people thought he was a "megalomaniacal hermit"
While Al Pacino is bewigged and bold as the eccentric movie producer Phil Spector in David Mamet’s HBO film “Phil Spector,” does he capture the real Spector?
Some, from Spector’s wife to the former publicist for Lana Clarkson, who was shot to death in Spector’s house in 2003, have said no. Mamet has responded to TheWrap with a wonderfully blunt assessment of his film: “Anything which is a matter of record is completely accurate, and anything which is a matter of invention is completely made up.”
(Pacino as Spector, left; Spector as Spector, below)
A decade ago, when Spector was arrested for the shooting death of Clarkson at his hilltop house outside Los Angeles, I spoke to a number of his friends about what the music legend was like. They didn’t talk about the shooting, but about life with Phil.
Here are a few unpublished glimpses of that strange world, from interviews conducted for Playboy magazine in 2003:
Hudson Marquez, artist: “A mysterious woman would call you at all hours of the night on his behalf. You'd answer the phone, and she'd say, ‘I'm calling for Phillip. He's inviting you to a party at 11:30 tonight in Beverly Hills.’ Of course you would go, and it would be at the house of some 50-year-old woman who was once married to a songwriter who got $50 million in royalties through some shady means, and she wound up with a chunk of that money.
“So a bunch of people would go over to her house — the rascaliest people, legendary music business people. Not lawyers or accountants, but music people.”
Bob Merlis, record executive: “He was very convivial. I never felt threatened, never saw a firearm. I usually went to his house, but he also came to my house. When he showed up at your house, it was in a white Rolls Royce, not a Toyota Camry. That was the only difference.”
Marquez: “He'd warn people about the dogs outside his house, but they literally were Irish Setters. Phil would disappear for a couple of hours at a time. I don't know why, and I cannot conjecture. And before he left he'd say, ‘By the way, the dogs are out.’ That would be his exit line. I knew they were just Irish Setters, but I'd let him have his fun. If Phil wanted people to think he had Rottweilers or Dobermans outside, let him.”
Anonymous writer: “His place was straight out of 'Sunset Boulevard' and Norma Desmond. He always made the delayed entrance, always with the dark glasses. But he was very polite, very soft spoken.
“There were heavy drapes on all the windows, and a real musty smell to the house. But also there was usually a whiff of bleach in the place.
“The living room was dominated by a jukebox – a great, great jukebox. It had all his big hits in it, and lots of great old R&B and rock records. But I heard he never plays it. He always had Dean Martin playing when I was there.
“All over the living room are photos of him. Basically, everywhere where you and I would have family photos, he’s got pictures of himself with famous people.”
Marquez: “A great meal at Phil's house would be on very fancy serving dishes — sterling silver dishes with domed lids. And underneath would be hot dogs. And for dessert, cake and ice cream from Safeway.”
David Kessell, guitarist: “Phil had so many gags in the studio. He had lots of little props that you might find in a novelty shop — a leash that looked like it had an invisible dog attached to it, a magic wand that lit up so he could conduct the musicians with the lights out … But the guns alarmed people more than the other gags.
“People would go, ‘What’s going on here?’ And the regulars would say, ‘Relax, it’s just a Phil Spector session.’”
Marquez: “Phil would drink scotch and regale you with tales of the record business when it was wild and wooly. He'd talk about the days when you could write a song and make a record in a week, put it out, go down to Philly and [see] Dick Clark, and then by the time you got back to New York on the train the record would be a hit and you'd make a couple million dollars. Then two weeks later they'd fire the artist and shut down the label.”
Burt Prelutsky, writer/Fairfax High School classmate: “I don't know that we had an official 'least likely to succeed' tabulation, but if we did I think he would have gotten the honor. Of course, a year later he had the number one record in the country.
“At the 10-year reunion, he showed up in the limo that he owned, with three bodyguards to keep the rest of us at bay. I was writing a column for the L.A. Times then, and I got to interview him about it after the reunion. He said he did it to let everybody know that he felt about them the same way they felt about him when he was in high school.”
Marquez: “He knows he has the reputation: Phil Spector, megalomanical hermit. People go nuts, and he knows that. He knows the answer to every question he asks before he asks it, and he knows the effect everything he does has on people.”