Enviable Debauchery: Interview with Norman Thaddeus Vane

Norman Thaddeus Vane at his house party in the Hollywood Hills, circa 1981, with one of the "local beauties." Photo by Brad Elterman

Director/writer Norman Thaddeus Vane has certainly led a full life, if not always a successful one. He was a ladies man in high school in Long Island, in the hip Swinging Sixties nightclubs of Chelsea, London (some of which he owned and operated), in the Hollywood Hills during the sex-crazed 1970s and early 1980s. Judging from his stories, he slept with virtually every actress, model and career girl that ever crossed his path; modesty isn’t his strong suit, but he’s far from a blowhard. In recalling, during my phone interview with him, how he tried to maintain a career on Broadway, in the London theater scene, in British cinema and, finally, in low-budget Hollywood, Vane was brutally honest about his failures, about how certain projects could have developed more to his liking, about whom he butted heads with and why. While still not a household name, Vane has worked with some truly larger-than-life personalities: Lynn Redgrave, Tony Curtis, Charles Bronson, Ferdinand Mayne, Allen Klein (of ABKCO Music & Records, which managed The Beatles), and he has colorful (if sometimes rabid) reflections on almost all of them. Furthermore, he’s not out of the game yet: while retired from directing due to the long, arduous hours involved, Vane is still strenuously trying to get scripts old and new produced.

Except for an illuminating chapter on Vane in Stephen Thrower’s recently published book on horror films, “Nightmare USA,” Vane has seldom been interviewed. As noted in my previous entry on him, I could only find an op-ed he submitted to the LA Times in 1991, decrying how, a decade or so earlier, he was unceremoniously dropped from the William Morris Agency due to his age. But he encouraged other senior filmmakers to follow his trajectory and make low-budget films independently, however unrewarding the profits are. Twenty years later, it’s Vane that has the last laugh; along with hundreds of other television writers (Vane had a brief stint in television), he won portions of a $70 million age-discrimination lawsuit against most of the major agencies and studios. How’s that for sweet (if belated) revenge?

SW: First, I am wondering how you got that awesome middle name.

NTV: It was Theodore, but I have some Polish blood, and the Polish word for “Theodore” is often “Tadeusz,” which translates as “Thaddeus.” When I started using that, people always remembered it, so I stuck with it.

Originally, my last name was spelled “V-E-I-N,” but after I wrote my play “The Penguin,” which ran several months off-Broadway, I changed it to the English spelling, which I liked better. In England I used to go out with a famous lady named Lady Jane Vane [Tempest-Stewart], and we were a big story in the papers.

SW: What was it like growing up in Patchogue, New York?

NTV: It’s a very nice town on the Great South Bay. My friends and I drank beer and went down to the bay in the middle of the night and sang songs. They didn’t know what to make of me later on when I started getting successful. I told my friend Duke, “Guess what, I’m having a play on Broadway!” And he said, “You’re like a dog wagging its tail for approval.” I said, “I just thought you’d like to know. Let me put it another way, Duke. I just made $100,000.”

I was sort of a good-looking kid. In fact, I was the ladies man of my high school. I started to notice that girls were always coming after me and coming on to me. Sometimes older women. There was a reason I wound up marrying Sarah [Caldwell, who was 16 at the time and later cast in “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” (1968) which Vane scripted; Vane later based the script for “Lola” (1970) on this scandalous marriage]. I was a good-looking kid on King’s Road in Chelsea, I had a sports car, I had money, I had a beautiful flat.

SW: Did you have a religious background at all, growing up?

NTV: I was born Jewish and baptized Catholic when I was 17 or 18. I used to sing in a choir at Christmas, I had a soprano voice, and I liked the pageantry of the church. I used to hang out with Huntington Hartford [heir to the A&P supermarket chain] all the time. Huntington and I would go out to his farm on Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. It was six or seven of us and a bunch of girls, and basically the girls would sleep with all the guys. Anyway, we would go on Christmas Eve to the Episcopalian church on 113th and Amsterdam, Saint John the Divine. It’s the largest basilica in the world. I was so impressed by the church that eventually I became a Catholic.

SW: Were your parents shocked when you converted?

NTV: I never told them.

SW: Was your family supportive of your writing career?

NTV: Not really. They all came to see my play on Broadway [“O’Malley the Duck,” which ran in 1956 under the name “Harbor Lights” and closed after only four performances]. But I had nothing but trouble from my family, so I didn’t like to bring them into what I was doing.

I’ll give you an example. I have a nephew, Larry Konner. His ex-wife, Ronnie [Wenker-Konner], is my sister’s daughter. He became a big writer and he plagiarized me twice. I had a script called “Wild Horses, Wild Hearts,” which was optioned by the Wolpers [who produced the show “Roots,” among other projects], and Larry was giving me advice on how to deal with them. Then he wrote a movie for 20th Century Fox called “Flicka,” which was based on an old film and TV series [and on Mary O’Hara’s 1941 book “My Friend Flicka”], but he put my plot in, about a young girl saving wild horses. [NOTE: Vane’s rant about this, posted in 2006 upon “Flicka’s” release, can be read here) Now I’ve rewritten that into “The Magical Ponies,” which takes place in England. It’s a Harry Potter-esque movie, with a lot of CGI. It’s about two boys and a girl that live in Devon, feeding wild ponies. The girl goes out one night in a storm and falls into a tin mine, and it becomes this “Alice in Wonderland”-like world, and the pony she fed starts talking to her.

SW: What did your family want you to do career-wise, originally?

NTV: We never really talked about it.

SW: When you were growing up in Patchogue, what movies did you most relate to?

NTV: I was more into stage. I loved going to plays on Broadway. I always thought I could do that, but I didn’t write a play until I entered Columbia University.

SW: How did you get to Columbia?

NTV: I was in the Merchant Marine for a year and then I was in the Air Force for two years. I was stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, where George Bush learned to fly jet planes later on. I became the base librarian. It was real close to Florida State, so I took a lot of courses there. After I got out of the Air Force, I studied playwriting at Columbia University. The G.I. bill paid my tuition.

When I got there, I saw a notice that said: “If anyone in the theatrical department has a stage play, please drop it in this box and it will be considered for student production.” So I went home and wrote a three or four character play called “The Penguin.” There were probably ten plays and I won the competition. I went to the head of the theater department, and he told me, “We’ll do the production, but you can’t invite anyone besides students. And no advertising. This is Columbia University, not off-Broadway.” So I said OK. Well, I immediately went out and put a small notice in the New York Times. When it opened, a lot of off-Broadway people saw it. I got an offer to transfer the play to off-Broadway, and I was only a freshman at Columbia. It played at a theater on Sixth Avenue called Current Stages, and one of the stars was Martin Landau. It was the first time he got paid for acting. It got quite good reviews. The New York Post critic, Vernon Rice, liked it, even though he had to walk up three flights of stairs and he had heart trouble. He died a year or two later and I always felt like I killed him.

“The Penguin” ran about six or seven weeks, it was a surprise hit, and this theater producer Anthony Parella came up to me and said if I ever wrote a Broadway type of play, to let him know. I went home and wrote, in one week, “O’Malley the Duck.” Guy Thomajan, who was basically Elia Kazan’s assistant, wanted to direct it. He looked tough and acted tough, but he had no sense of humor. He was the last person in the world that should be directing a comedy. And Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, offered to back the play. They gave me an advance of $75,000, which was a lot of money back then. It had a few stars, like Linda Darnell. She was very foul-mouthed, it was “fuck this, fuck that.” The play went on tour and then it came in to the Playhouse Theater on Broadway, and it bombed. [“Everything about it is elusive,” Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote unfavorably of “Harbor Lights.”]  We had a flop on our hands. I got really depressed. But I had a lot of money. So I went to Europe and I stayed 11 years. I lived in Spain a year, I lived in Paris, Rome, and then London.

SW: How did your first film, “Conscience Bay” (1960), come about?

NTV: I got fucked up by a famous cameraman, Walter Lassally. He did “Tom Jones.” I had a play done in London, “The Deserters.” It starred Elizabeth Sellars, who had starred in [“Desirée,” the 1954 film where Marlon Brandon plays Napoleon Bonaparte]. It wasn’t doing that well. It toured in Liverpool and Manchester and it did so-so business. The play closed out of town, and I decided to do it as a movie. I raised probably about $40-50,000 from various people I knew.

I met Lassally at a coffeehouse on King’s Road and gave him “Deserters,” and also the script for “Conscience Bay,” which was an arty movie set in Cornwall, in St. Ives, where I used to live. And Walter read the script and said “I’d like to do ‘Conscience Bay,’ but I don’t want to do ‘The Deserters.’ It’s just too obviously commercial.” It was a war movie, all set in a convent. And I said, “Look, Walter, there’s a big distributor, Sydney Box, involved with ‘The Deserters.’” Sydney was going to put in half the budget. But Walter said, “You tell him that I wanna do ‘Conscience Bay.’ ”

So we went out to Cornwall. We were gonna shoot “Conscience Bay” in 18 days. Walter sends me a telegram, saying “I can’t do ‘Conscience Bay.’ I am going off to Greece to do a big movie with Costa-Gavras.” [NOTE: I could not find any Costa-Gavras film that Lassally shot; perhaps he found another cinematographer in the end] We got another cameraman, Ray Sturgess. It came out as a second feature—in London, they always had a small movie go out with a big one—so “Conscience Bay” became a B-feature, and my career got stalled immediately. If I’d done “The Deserters,” my career would have taken off like a rocket.

SW: Which bigger movie did “Conscience Bay” get released with?

NTV: I don’t remember.

SW: Tell me about your second film, “Fledglings.” [1964] I know it was very improvisational.

NTV: Iain Quarrier was a very good-looking guy when I discovered him. He told me, after he met Jacqueline Bisset, that he took her virginity. I don’t think he ever acted. He had to get stoned to act. I let him. We didn’t even have a script. It was like a treatment. It came about because I met a cameraman who worked at the BBC, and he had access to a lot of equipment. Victor Lownes was in it, he ran the Playboy empire in Europe, and we shot a couple of scenes in his house. He did an improv with Julia White, who was sort of a top model.

SW: Was this around the time you started working with Penthouse?

NTV: When Penthouse launched in England [1965], I submitted a story to Bob Guccione about an English orgy. We used to have them in those days. They happened on Friday and Saturday. There’d be about 15 to 20 people there and they were all very elite. There was a famous barrister who used to throw one. You’d have a very luxurious dinner and little by little, the orgy would start. Bob called me up and said “We’re not ready to do a story about an English orgy yet, even if it’s true. But would you like to be the editor of Penthouse?” He paid me a hundred pounds a week, and he also let me do theater, movie and book reviews. I did that for a year. It was fun, because we were all getting laid by the beautiful girls that wanted to be in Penthouse. I always had sex with them before Guccione did. It pissed him off. I said, “OK, you interview them, Bob.”

SW: So back then it was totally normal to have sex with someone you were interviewing?

NTV: If you interviewed a girl and she wanted to do the center spread of Penthouse, and she went to bed with you, she knew and you knew that that was gonna help, not hurt. It wasn’t all the girls, it wasn’t half the girls, but it was quite a few of the girls. They were not exactly churchgoing debutantes.

SW: I read in “Nightmare USA” that you ran a few nightclubs in England. Were you running them at the same time you worked with Penthouse?

NTV: Yes. I owned three clubs: the Apartment, in Chelsea—my partner was a Polish prince—and also La Discothèque, which was a nightclub downstairs and a casino upstairs. And Esmeralda’s Barn, which I sold to these English gangsters, the Kray brothers. Ronnie [Kray] was gay, and he was always coming on to me, it used to drive me nuts. I was going out with some very pretty models. A lot of famous people were coming to the club, like Terence Stamp. I made a lot of money. We didn’t pay taxes.

Peter Rachman [the notoriously unscrupulous British landlord from which the real estate term “Rachmanism” was born] was my landlord at Apartment, and his girlfriend was Mandy Rice-Davies. She and Christine Keeler were involved with the Profumo Affair scandal [as depicted in the 1989 film “Scandal.”]. After Peter died, I took Mandy out and had a ménage-a-trois with her and this girl Jackie that I was seeing. That was my revenge [against Peter], because he was a horrible landlord. He kicked me out of the Apartment because he lost thousands of pounds gambling there. He wanted me to give him back the money he lost. I said, “We don’t do that,” and he threatened to kick me out. I actually picked up a roulette wheel and said “Get out of this office before I hit you in the head with this.” And he did kick me out. He died a few years later [in 1962].

SW: Were orgies such as this ménage-a-trois very common back then?

NTV: They were quite common in London. It became old for me very fast. When I got to California, in 1974, they used to happen all the time too, on Mulholland Drive. They’d have 40 or 50 people. In fact, I met a girl at one, Delphy Meade [who later became an adult film actress] and she moved in with me for a year. We went to orgies occasionally. If you want to break up with a girl, a good way to do it is to take her to an orgy.

SW: Was it a druggy scene as well, in England?

NTV: I don’t remember a lot of drugs. The only drug I ever took was speed, for writing, when I had a deadline. Which was a huge mistake, because I would overwrite like mad.

SW: How much did you party in Los Angeles? I found some photos on-line, by Brad Elterman, of your Hollywood Hills mansion parties during the 1980s. What were they like?

NTV: Those were my Sunday afternoon parties. I’d have about 100 or 150 people over. A girl would have to bring a pretty girl, and a guy would have to bring two boxes of cookies. I had this big house with a two-and-a-half story living room, with a view of all of LA. They weren’t that wild.

SW: Jumping back a little, tell me a bit about Sarah Caldwell. You actually married her when she was 16?

NTV: Absolutely true. I met her at a party. She was stunningly beautiful. I had a small flat on King’s Road in Chelsea, and she used to come over secretly on the way back from school, and we used to fuck. And she told her parents that she was seeing me—I was probably about 38 or something—and they were angry. Her father was head of the East India Trading Company. The only way we could see each other was if we got married, and in Scotland, you could get married at 16. So we eloped there. I had been sleeping with a Scottish girl from Glasgow. You had to spend three days in residence in Scotland before you got married, so I asked her if we could use her family’s address and she said yes. Sarah called her parents and said “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but I got married today!” The newspapers wrote columns about her, it was like a front page story, for months afterwards. They called me “The Cad of the Year.”

SW: Was it much more accepted in 1960’s England to marry someone so young?

NTV: You know, there were a lot of older guys going out with younger girls. They’re still doing it, look at Hugh Hefner. I was madly in love with her. She went on to become a top model at Eileen Ford. I got her a contract at ICM, but she wouldn’t sign it because she didn’t want to do TV. When I met her, I was at Penthouse, and Bob Guccione wanted to fuck her, and put her in a center spread. I said “She’s a top model, she can’t do a center spread for Penthouse. What’s wrong with you?” So I left Penthouse.

SW: What became of your marriage?

NTV: We broke up after about two years. Then she got the part in “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” It was Saul Swimmer’s idea and I wrote the script. It was a stupid family movie, it had Herman’s Hermits, who were quite big then. They were looking for a girl to play the lead and I told them she was perfect for the part. So [producer] Allen Klein [of ABCKO Music & Records] put up the money. Allen and I hated each other. [NOTE: Vane confirmed the story he told Stephen Thrower in “Nightmare USA,” in which Vane, asked by Klein to do a rewrite at 2 AM, threw over a hotel table with open sodas on it, which spilled over onto Klein and his entourage of girls. Tensions ensued throughout the rest of the shoot.]

There was a girl in the movie, Michelle Cook. One morning, I’m in the Hilton hotel doing rewrites, and Michelle comes in looking for Allen, but he’s not up yet. I said, “Do you want to spend some time here? He’ll be up in a few hours. I’m just gonna jump in the bath and you can sit out here.” She asked, “Can I get in the bathtub with you?” I said, “OK, why don’t you do that?” So nature took its course. Later on, all the kids in the movie and I were having lunch together, and suddenly Michelle looks at Sarah and says, “Guess who I fucked this morning? Your husband!” [laughs] Sarah was furious. She came storming into my suite, yelling “How dare you embarrass me!” I said, “Listen, you and I are separated now. You’re seeing guys and I’m seeing girls. Michelle shouldn’t have done that, but she’s very mischievous. Don’t take it personally. I’m not asking you who you’re sleeping with.”

SW: So how did the script for “Twinky” [AKA “Lola”] get put together?

NTV: “Twinky” was written originally as a stage play, for the West End. Sir Donald Albery, the theater impresario, loved the script. He said “I’ve got to have a star in it, and it can’t be a sixteen year old girl.” He sent me to this famous British actor living in Paris, Sydney Chaplin, and said if he wanted to do it, we’d show it in the West End. Sydney said, “It’s a charming story, but the girl’s part is better. I’m not gonna do it.” So I turned it into a film script.

I had this agent in New York from William Morris, Bill Hart, who was probably the worst agent in the business. He got fired later because he hated the book “Love Story” very vocally, and it turned out to be a hit movie. Anyway, he would send the “Twinky” script out to one producer at a time. We’d have to wait two or three weeks for each producer, and three of them turned it down. So I’m in Bill’s office one day, complaining about this, and he said, “Don’t tell me how to be an agent. I handle Catherine Deneuve, I handle Jack Lemmon.” I said, “But Bill, you don’t send the script out to one producer at a time. I’ve been to other agencies and they tell me they send 40 scripts [at once] to every producer in town.” He refused to do it that way. So I left, and I went to the head of William Morris’ office, and he said he’d send the script all over town. Bill was furious.

Ten days later, there were five offers. And one of them was from John Heyman, who I knew from London. He raised the money from an Italian count, Bino Cicogna, who loved Charles Bronson. I think the movie cost like $1.2 million. Bino wound up having a love affair later with Britt Ekland [the Swedish actress]. She jilted him and he committed suicide. That really shocked me, that anyone would do that because they’re dumped by a girl. If that were true, I would have committed suicide quite a few times.

Anyway, Charles Bronson wanted to play the lead, which I found incredible. It was a comedy, and he was anything but a comedian. We didn’t get along, Bronson and I, but his wife, Jill Ireland, liked the script. Bronson stole her from her husband, David McCallum. She wanted to play the lead but she was far too old, she was like 30.

Dick [Richard] Donner was directing it. He didn’t do a very good job and he had no respect for dialogue. He cut the shit out of the script, and so did Bronson. He would look at a terrific speech and say “I’m only gonna do these three lines.” I said, “Dick, why are you letting him do that?” He said, “Norman, you can’t tell Charles Bronson what to do. He can do whatever the fuck he wants.” I went to Heyman and said, “They’re fucking up the movie.” And he said, “Listen, you can’t control Charles Bronson and Donner can’t either.”

SW: How did Susan George get cast as the lead?

NTV: They were casting the movie out of John’s office in London. I’m standing outside in the rain, and there’s a girl standing next to me. And it’s Susan George. I asked her if she could play a 16 year-old and she said “Well, I’m only 19, but sure.” I told her to jump in a cab and go to John’s office, tell Dick Donner I sent you, and read for him. She went over there. I heard that Dick Donner fucked her on the spot, but I don’t know if that’s true. Anyway, she got the part. She was quite good, she wasn’t great. The movie was a disappointment to me.

SW: I found copyright info online for some of your scripts written during the late 1960s and ‘70s that never get made. What became, for instance, of “Baby’s Baby,” “Zapped” and “Bobby and Honey”?

NTV: “Bobby and Honey” was [an alternate name for] a script I had called “The Fruit Fly,” which almost got [made] several times. It’s a true story about a girl I brought from England to the US. We broke up shortly after and she ultimately got murdered in a crazy real estate drug deal. It was her life story. She had married a gay guy who ultimately knocked her up. She had a breech baby, it was upside down. This priest told the gay guy to marry her, so he did, and she started having the baby right in the church. Zsa Zsa Gabor wanted to do it. I had several meetings with her at her house. She was putting up $500,000 to make the movie and then her accountant talked her out of it.

“Zapped” was another name for “Gas Pump Blues,” which I’m still trying to make. I gave it to John Heyman and he’s coming to meet with me soon. He seems to be involved with television in China, but I’ll see what he makes of it.

SW: Were there any other scripts that never got produced?

NTV: I wrote a movie called “How the West Was Lost” for Nicholas Ray [director of “Rebel Without a Cause.”] When I met him, he was an older guy. He had a patch over one eye. He wanted me to write a comedy to be shot in Greece, where he had a [contact] that offered to put up half a million. He got a big English actor, Stanley Baker. He told me to write a four or five page [treatment] in one night, just think of something, so I did. He and Stanley loved it, and he called me from Athens and said “We’re gonna do the movie.” I said, “You gotta work out a deal with Maggie [my agent in London]. She’s not gonna allow me to go to Athens with you, because you have a very bad reputation about not paying people. So unless $25,000 is deposited immediately, I’m not writing the script and I’m not going to Athens.” I got the money and went to Athens and wrote the script in the hotel room. Nick took $40,000 out of the account and lost it gambling. The Greek [financier] came to my suite and said, “Nick Gray said he spent $40,000 on camera testing. Is that possible?” And I said, “No way.” He called the movie off. I was so pissed.

I also wrote a script for ABKCO called “The Tunnel.” Sly Stallone ripped it off. Allen Klein sent it to Universal and Stallone read it and did one just like it. [“Daylight,” released in 1996]. The same story, with the collapse under the Holland Tunnel, and people get trapped. I could never prove he stole it. I got paid for writing it, but not a fortune.

I wrote the script of “Snowblind” [from the non-fiction book “Snowblind: A brief career in the cocaine trade” by Robert Sabbag] for Sidney Furie. It almost got made several times. John Marshall [producer] was very obnoxious and pissed everyone off, and whenever we had a meeting, he would fuck up the deal.

SW: Getting back to your movies that did get made, what happened in the five years between “Shadow of the Hawk” [1976] and “Black Room” [1981]?

NTV: Beats the shit out of me. I was probably writing and selling scripts.

[NOTE: As I mentioned  in the previous entry on Vane, Thrower’s interview with Vane in “Nightmare USA” covers a lot of ground on the making of “The Black Room,” “Frightmare,” “Midnight” and “Shadow of the Hawk.” Therefore, I am omitting most of Vane’s comments on those films in my interview, as they were basically reiterations]

SW: Do you think “Weekend at Bernie’s” ripped off the scene in “Frightmare” where the students are hanging out with the actor’s corpse?

NTV: Yeah, they out and out stole “Frightmare” from me. It’s the same fucking story. That happens all the time, you can’t stop that.

SW: Do you know why “Club Life,” which was released nationwide, is not on Netflix, while some of your other films like “Frightmare,” that had more limited theatrical runs, are available?

NTV: I have no idea. “Club Life” made money, but at the end it was distributed by a really schlocky distributor, Troma Entertainment. The worst.

SW: Do you know why it took a few years for “Club Life” to come out nationwide? It wrapped in 1985 and didn’t hit New York, for instance, until 1987.

NTV: I don’t know. Troma did it and that was as low as you could get.

SW: The only reviews I could find for most of your movies after “Club Life” were in the LA Times. Do you know why those movies didn’t run outside LA?

NTV: It was because of the distributors. I don’t know [exactly] why.

SW: How do you respond to negative reviews?

NTV: You can’t do anything about it. I’ve had great reviews and bad reviews. I noticed that if you have big names in a movie, you tend to get better reviews. If you make a low-budget horror film, you probably won’t get good reviews. They seem to be impressed by the fact that Lynn Redgrave or Tony Curtis is in it, and you get a more prominent position in the newspaper. In LA, they only write small capsule reviews for movies with no names.

SW: Besides the story I read in “Nightmare USA” about Tony Curtis abusing cocaine, what was the atmosphere like on the set of “Club Life”?

NTV: Dee Wallace was obnoxious and hateful. The day we wrapped shooting, Dee was leaving, and I said “Don’t you want to say goodbye to Tony and the cast and crew? We just did a movie together.” She said, “I’m in a hurry.” She did say goodbye, very reluctantly. She actually spoke bad about the movie, though she did quite good in it. [NOTE: Wallace declined to comment, through her agent.]

I didn’t care much for the kid that played the lead [Tom Parsekian]. I wanted to use Christopher Jones, quite a well known actor, but he was a nutcase. The producers were worried he wouldn’t show up or would quit in the middle of the movie. Michael Parks was terrific.

SW: I just talked to Don Shebib, who worked with Michael Parks in the ’70s, and he compared him to Charlie Sheen. He said he was really out of control.

NTV: He could be anti-Semitic at times. He lived in Studio City, in the Valley, and he’d ask for someone to pick him up. I’d say, “I don’t have anyone to get you and I can’t come.” And he’d say, “You’re acting like a Jew cocksucker! If I need you to come and get me, come and get me!” He said this more than once, which bothered me a little.

I actually did read Charlie Sheen for the lead part, and I didn’t like him. The producers  said, “Do you know who he is?” and I said, “I don’t care who he is. I’ve read him three times. That kid is never gonna make it in show biz. He can’t act.” [laughs] He was wrong for the part and he was quite arrogant, too.

SW: Can you elaborate on the story you told Stephen Thrower, about how you stole the negatives for “Club Life” because the producers wouldn’t pay you?

NTV: I had almost finished the movie and Guy Collins [producer] still hadn’t paid me anything. The movie was being edited at Consolidated Film Industries, and I went over and stole these really heavy cans of negatives and put them in the cellar of a friend’s house. And then I told our representative, “Listen, tell Guy Collins that I’m not giving the negatives back until I get some serious money.”  They called the police and I said to them, “I’ve been working for this company for three months and I haven’t been paid dollar one. I’m holding the negative as a lien against the money they owe me by contract.” The police took my side. Guy’s brother came over and paid me $40,000 and said he’d owe me another $40-50,000, but I never got it.

I actually sent two scripts [recently] to Guy. One is “The Magical Ponies” and the other is called “It Happened at the Hilton,” all set at the London Hilton [based on Vane’s experiences with Allen Klein during the making of “Mrs. Brown”]. I haven’t talked to him since “Club Life.” He was very angry at me.

SW: How did you get the idea for the sex scene on the waterbed with the fish inside, in “Club Life”?

NTV: It was an idea I’d been cooking for a long time. I asked the art director to build it and put fish in it, they’ll be swimming around while they’re making love. He said, “The fish are gonna die,” and I said “We’ll just get goldfish. We only need them for half an hour. It’ll be a spectacular scene.”

SW: How long did it take to shoot the scene? Was it difficult?

NTV: It took longer than that. It was a nice scene, it was very different. We had to shoot it three or four times from different angles.

SW: How’d you get the idea for staging the funeral in the club, with the woman singing? Have you personally experienced that?

NTV: No, it just came about. Tony Curtis improvised his whole speech in that scene.

SW: Did you intend for a lot of “Club Life” to be funny?

NTV: Yeah. All my stuff is dramatic in a funny way.

SW: In “Nightmare USA” you described some of the tensions with Lynn Redgrave on the set of your next movie, “Midnight,” [1989] when she refused to cut lines and then ditched the post-production dubbing sessions. Were there any other outrageous incidents with her on set?

NTV: Yeah. I almost killed her, towards the end of the movie. The scene where she’s crawling on the floor in this mist-heavy air, which was carbon dioxide. And she couldn’t breathe, she collapsed. We had to pull her out of the set. I didn’t know carbon dioxide did that.

SW: Your last released film was “Taxi Dancers” [1993]. Did you shoot “Taxi Dancers” at the same club as “Club Life”?

NTV: Yes, I forgot what it was called. The owner was very friendly. He charged us $1,000 a day. It’s in downtown LA, off of Pico Boulevard.

SW: What was the shoot like?

NTV: It was fun. The girls were sexy and funny. There really are taxi dancers in LA, it’s still going on. You pay to get in the club and dance with the girls. Some of them are hookers, some are not. You shoot pool with them and pay by the hour. I thought it was quite a sweet movie. It only cost about $100,000. It played in LA for ten or twelve weeks.

SW: What’s the status of “You’re So Dead” [finished in 2007, with distribution deal pending]?

NTV: It may be coming out [in the US]. It’s been selling in a few countries in Europe. It was made for about $400,000. I’m waiting to see if the Iranian guy that put up the money will finance a limited release in North Hollywood, in February or March. If not, it may never see the light of day.

SW: Any other projects in the works?

NTV: I’m probably not directing anymore. It’s too much work now. It’s 14 hour days. I don’t have the strength to go through that again. There was a lot of fighting on “You’re So Dead.” Everyone thinks they should be directing the movie. If “Gas Pump Blues” gets made, I’ll look for another director. Sidney Furie’s not that young but he could do it.

SW: Are there any other directors you’d love to make your movie?

NTV: I’d love to work with Scorsese. I thought “Hugo” was probably the best movie I saw this year.

17 thoughts on “Enviable Debauchery: Interview with Norman Thaddeus Vane

  1. Hi – I have a friend who’s an old friend of Norman Thaddeus Vane, going back to 1958. You may have already heard from her, but if not I would like to give you her contact information. Thanks very much.

    DOuG pRATt on dograt.com

  2. De

    I had the worst and most bizarre date of my life with Norman. He told me we were going to dinner and a party at Mt. Olympus in the Hollywood Hills. We went to a restaurant in Santa Monica, and he said not to eat too much because there would be a lot of food at the party. We got to the party, and everyone was dressed as though it was a costume party. It wasn’t! I looked for the food, and all there was on this large table was bread, a block of cheese and a huge bowl filled with a white substance. Being a naive Mid-Western girl, at the time, I thought it was powdered sugar. It was, of course, cocaine. I insisted Norman take me home, when we got to my apartment off Sunset Boulevard, Norman said he had too much to drink and would have to.spend the night. When I said I would drive home home, he sobered up quickly and started insulting my apartment. He was such an ass that he never asked me anything about myself. He never knew my age or that my parents were mutli, multi millionaires, and that I owned a home in Tucson. His home in the Hollywood Hills wasn’t at all impressive to my family home. He was a typical Hollywood cad.

  3. Christopher

    I am trying to locate anyone who may be Norman’s heirs. I knew him well in the 60s in London and I’d like to find out if he left any documents about this time period

  4. Lyndra

    I briefly worked for Norman in the early 2000’s. He had the most amazing stories of debauchery I’ve ever heard in my life. He truly was, to put it politely, a hedonist, but very honest about it. He did very scandalous things, starting in high school, even by today’s standards. I begged him to write an autobiography, but he was never interested. I truly wish he had. He regarded all women as sex objects; he was obsessed with sex. He was the Hollywood your mother warns you about, but what a life. The people he knew, the things he did and saw – I wish I could list it all here.

  5. bob grove

    He was married to a sweet girl named Doris for a short time in the early 2000. She was a nice girl . I always wondered how they got together?

  6. Seriously, Norman was an asshat. I was 18 to 19 when I stayed with him and I can say with out a doubt, he was a jealous, a poor writer, and mean…he gave me several black eyes, his sister told me to run as fast as I could, and as soon as I finished Sawyer secretarial school and left moved into a studio apartment behind the old, now famous and gone Schwabbes Drug Store on Sunset Blvd. It was 1976. I met my future husband and we are still madly in love. Nowadays Norman would have been justly arrested. He took advantage and hurt quite a lot of women. He also had an older brother who lived in San Francisco who often gave money to Norman when he found himself without funds.

  7. I ran into one of his ex wives. She told me she wasn’t married to him for long. She said he was a sadomasochist!!!! He really got off on hurting her. Think God she got out before he killed her! He sent her to an expensive acting school by day…beat the shit out of her at night. She said he was a sick man!!!

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