By Curt Phillips
Speaking of children and nightmares—and memoirs—Todd Bridges has a book out this March called Killing Willis.
(Uproarious laughter.) I so love Todd. I’ve always loved Todd. And I’ve done a couple of things with him. He’s really got his shit together in the last few years. We were at something for TV Land and he told the most hysterical story about a tattoo. He talked about the last time he got in trouble—some years ago, he got arrested. He told the story about how he’d really gotten it together and was off the drugs and hadn’t gotten arrested in years. And he decided to get a tattoo one night.
He said, “When I went to the tattoo parlor, I swear, God is my witness, I heard a voice in my head say, ‘Don’t get that tattoo.’ I didn’t know where the voice was coming from. I was like, ‘What was that?!’ It says, ‘Don’t get the tattoo.’” He said, “I ignored it and got the tattoo.” A few days later, he was in a bar and that was the altercation where the guy got in a fight with him and he chased the car. When he was chasing the guy in the car, he said, “I thought, What am I doing? This is ridiculous. I don’t even care about this guy.’ And he got arrested. Thank God his probation had ended or he’d have serious jail time. But as he was taken to jail, as they shut the door to the holding cell, the voice said, “I told you not to get the tattoo.”
Weren’t those the exact words running through your head on the set of Fantasy Island?
“Don’t get the Tattoo!” That must be it. It’s all to do with Herve Villechaize.
Todd is so smart and he’s so funny. Killing Willis, huh? I love the title. Oh my God.
Your book’s title is pretty great, too.
It’s Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. Yes.
How did your show develop into a book? And what’s ahead this spring for the show?
People ask, “How long have you been reading the book?” “All my life!” In the Nineties I started writing stuff. I’d talk to people who'd say, “You should do a book.” Then I started doing the show in, like, 2002—the (show) that it is now. I had a literary agent call me and say, “Hey, is there a book to go with this?” I said, “Oh, you bet there is.” And now I’m with Harper Collins.
So it does come out of the show, the true stories, but obviously it’s a book so there are a lot more stories. I do talk a lot about the series and my life before and after, and my wacko family. It’s fascinating. All these years trying to write things that are fiction or trying to do a stand-up act that had somebody else writing jokes for me, or telling jokes or stories that were made up. It just didn’t work. It worked to a certain point and then, ahhh. Now that I’ve chucked everything and I tell actually true stories, I just wrote a completely nonfiction book about everything that ever happened to me, it’s, like, really working. (Laughs.)
The thing about child actors … God, I can’t wait to read Todd’s book. I’m just in hysterics. Killing Willis?
With a title like that, no wonder the Little House staffers told you girls never to play with the Diff’rent Strokes kids. Of course, Gary Coleman was always too busy supporting his family—and what does he have to show for it now?
Fortunately, I actually had a trust fund … Jess Petersen, a guy who worked with my dad as a manager, noticed the account they had it in wasn’t getting enough interest. So he had to go to court and go to the banks in order to break into the account and roll it over to another account so it’d get more interest—making him the only man in history to break into a child actor’s bank account to put more money in.
Every (child actor) got ripped off. It was absolutely unbelievable.
When people give Gary Coleman grief, all I can think is, “My God, this kid made these producers and this studio rich, and now he’s stuck with little more than a catchphrase.”
Right. And also, he has a kidney disorder and has to get dialysis. He had a kidney disorder as a child, which is why his growth was stunted. His parents decided that the answer to this was to put him in a grinding, grueling, eight-hour-a-day job? When I went to work I had to get a work permit. Not only did the school have to sign off, I had to have a medical exam every six months and the doctor had to sign off that I was physically fit enough to work on a TV series. Who signed Gary Coleman’s medical report? That’s what I want to know. It’s brutal, man.
You were close with Dana Plato?
Poor, poor Dana. I, like everyone else who knew her, tried to be friends with Dana Plato. She was such a mess, the poor thing. She was one of those people who are really, really innocent and sweet and kind of gullible—and these are the ones who get in the worst trouble. Because I was more “Hollywood” and jaded, I could handle it better. She was just this sweet little bunny rabbit loose on the freeway. Not a clue. She was so sweet and it just got worse and worse.
Melissa Gilbert really got close to her. She and Melissa Gilbert share a birthday and they were both adopted. Melissa tried to befriend her and say, “Look, I understand, you’re adopted. There’s problems, okay? I’ll help you see my shrink, whatever (you need).” She was really trying to get her on the right track. But she couldn’t do it.
Dana was a tragic figure. She died in a motor home in Tulsa. Sad.
When she died there were, like, five or six guys who claimed to be her fiancée. Another ten claimed to be her manager. Because she was so drugged up by then that she’d hook up with some random guy and go, “Yeah, you know what? You should manage my career and we can get married.” She would tell everyone that—as long as they were paying the rent and giving her drugs that week. It was that crazy. So by the time she died there were all of these guys going, “What do you mean you’re her manager? I’m the fiancée. Who are all these people?” It was horrible.
Do you credit your parents and their roots in the business side of Hollywood for giving you an education and keeping you on the right track?
I think so. My parents were not pillars of moral servitude. As my father said when found out how my child actors’ parents took all their money, he said, “I could’ve stolen that money? What was I thinking?” But because they were in the business, indeed, it was more sort of an opposite thing. Because I was exposed to and saw early on through my family and their friends all sorts of horrible things about the business and terrible things people were doing. Instead of being this innocent little lamb being led to the slaughter, I’d already arrived a little jaded going, “You know there’s a lot of bad stuff going on in this town, right?’ So when people said to me, “Hey, we’re having this after-party, I already knew not to go.” (Laughs.)
With Dana Plato, it’s like nobody told her not to get in the car with the stranger. It was that kind of thing. I knew not to get in the van.
And my Auntie Marion, my mom’s sister, took me to the set and was my guardian on the set because my parents were both working. She really was very moral; she really had her act together. I think she really gave me a sense of what’s right and wrong and what are reasonable things to do and not. (Laughs.)
And you had Nellie as a conduit for your aggressions.
I think that’s very important. There still is an emotional pressure, and at least I had a vent for it. It’s fantastic: My blood pressure is so low. I’ve never had high blood pressure. I went to the doctor recently. They took my blood pressure and were like, “Are you on anything?” I have fabulous blood pressure and I’m extremely healthy, and I think that’s part of it.
On a sad note, though, your TV husband, Steve Tracy, died of HIV-AIDS in 1986. What course of treatment did he take?
It was back in the day when you went from HIV to AIDS in zero to 60. It was 1986 when he died, and you didn’t test positive if there wasn’t a test. It just showed up as Kaposi’s sarcoma or PCP pneumonia and you were told you’re dying. In fact it took him almost a year to get a proper diagnosis. He was sick in ’84-’85, but people were so in the dark. He went to four different doctors and said, “I think I have the Kaposi’s, I have the cancer.” The doctors kept telling him, “Nah, it’s a blood vessel,” because they were so out of it. And doctors weren’t all talking to each other then; it wasn’t all streamlined. You could go to one doctor and they wouldn’t know about AIDS, and the next doctor had never heard of it. It was still that kind of Dark Ages, so they didn’t know what to do with him.
So he finally got diagnosed. They hadn’t even come out with (the drug) AZT yet, let alone a cocktail. There were a lot of experimental drugs, regular kind of chemo stuff. He did participate in several of these experimental drug trials. He said, “I don’t know if any of this will work on me, but after I’m dead somebody else’s life could get saved.”
You two were close. How did that experience change you, and how did his going public change the stigma-ridden landscape?
We’d just found out about Rock Hudson. And Rock Hudson never came out and did this big, brave thing. They found his death certificate and ratted him out. When he died, it was confirmed. He never really said, “Yes, I have AIDS.”
And Liberace was still claiming to be on the watermelon diet. That’s what he told people. My father had worked for him years before with Seymour Heller. And Liberace’s agent-managers were calling my Dad: “He’s been saying it’s the watermelon diet. We’re trying to get him not to do this.”
It was just sad. People were not coming forward. And Steve did go on national television and to the Enquirer and say, “Yes, I have AIDS.” Of all people, someone from Little House on the Prairie. It was unheard of.
And I was put in what I call the Linda Evans position, because everyone thought Linda Evans must have AIDS since she kissed Rock Hudson. “Oh, my God, Linda Evans has AIDS?” I got phone calls like that: “Do you have it now?” I’m like, “Okay, we didn’t exchange bodily fluids. It wasn’t that kind of a show. I mean, what did you think they were doin’ on the prairie?”
I was very young and really hadn’t had a lot of people die in my life, aside from very elderly people. So to have someone so close to my age have this terrible disease and die … It wasn’t like now when someone says, “I have AIDS” and now how long they have to live is anyone’s guess depending who their doctor is, which meds they take and what they do. You can pull a Magic Johnson now; we don’t know. But in ’85-’86 if someone said, “I have AIDS,” I think the average life expectancy was nine months if you were be treated. Untreated, it was several weeks.
So it was very stressing and it was very traumatic to have someone in my life die that young. And I wanted to help. He was very lucky to have things like medical insurance, some money and a place to live. And his mom and his sister flew in; his family stood by him. So he wasn’t sitting there languishing alone. And he was no dummy. He called up everyone: AIDS Project Los Angeles, he tapped out every service they had going. So he was working the system and his mom was all over it.
But when I got involved, what I saw was most people’s mothers were not out on the next plane. People’s mothers were disowning them and leaving them to die. And they weren’t getting services, and they didn’t have a doctor, and they didn’t have health insurance, and they hadn’t called up APLA or anybody else. It was a train wreck for most people. So that’s why I started helping. I wound up at the (Southern California) AIDS Hotline and the speakers bureau. I really worked pretty much any volunteer capacity they had. People weren’t getting food. It was ridiculous. It was a forest fire burning out of control, so I did everything I could.
How did you become an advocate for children with AIDS?
I wound up at Tuesday’s Child working with children with AIDS. At that time, there was nothing for children. People knew that babies got AIDS, they just didn’t know what the hell to do with them yet. And so people would call the mainstream AIDS service providers—the APLA, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis—and say, “Okay, my kid’s got it. What do I do?” … The food bank didn’t stock baby food or diapers. They had, like, one case manager that dealt with families and children and was trained for that. They had hundreds of child clients and were like, “We don’t know where to put them.”
Tuesday’s Child got started to provide things like the baby food, the formula, the diapers, the crib. We had a woman come in with a baby. She was living with her parents and they threw her out when they found out she and the baby had AIDS. So we said, “Okay, we’re getting you Section 8 government housing.” We were getting her hooked up with all these services: Do you need a crib? Yes. Do you need a stroller? "Yes." Finally she said, “Look, just check everything on the list. You see the clothes on my back and the baby? This is what I got.”
It was that crazy. And people who were aware of the discrimination against gay men with AIDS, I don’t know if people realize how ugly it got for children with AIDS. Something about a baby with AIDS made people crazy. We had so many clients who either had their house burned down or threatened to be burned down. It was awful.
The Ray family had three little boys with hemophilia. Their house got firebombed. I know them. They’re very nice people. They explained to me that they got tipped off. They got a phone call. Someone saying, “You need to get out. These people are probably coming tonight.” And they got out in time. The incendiary thing was thrown into the back bedroom, which was the kids’ bedroom. They meant to kill the children. It was their intention to murder an 8 and a 9 and a 10-year-old sick boy.
Talk about Dark Ages. The way the nation responded to AIDS in the Eighties was kind of like how Little House on the Prairie’s residents reacted to people getting knocked off by the plague.
I used to say that if AIDS was on the prairie, we would’ve got it right. Rev. Alden would’ve said, “Let’s help these people.” Miss Beadle would’ve taught a class. Pa Ingalls would’ve been running a Project Angel Food kind of thing, going up to people’s houses. Doc Baker would’ve been terribly frustrated; he didn’t do anything. Mrs. Oleson would’ve been handing out rubber gloves and masks. Nellie Oleson would’ve been the LaRouche of the whole thing.
And Mary would still be blind.
And Mary would still be blind. And unhappy about it. (Laughs.)
But the kind of stuff that was going on (in the mid-‘80s) was really freakish. So, hell yeah, I got involved! And you had, what—Liz Taylor, Morgan Fairchild, Joan Rivers, Madonna and me. (Laughs.) I remember thinking, Is this really the way to save the world? A bunch of weird broads in high heels? Is this really gonna work? I don’t know. I love Morgan Fairchild. But Morgan Fairchild and Nellie Oleson—we’re gonna stop this epidemic? Okay.
But you helped get the word out at a critical time.
Because of Little House on the Prairie I was able to reach an audience that not everyone could. I got the word out to people who wouldn’t sit still for a lecture about HIV and AIDS. They were willing to because it’s Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie.
Was it a gay-themed holiday film or a holiday-themed gay film? We’re not sure! (Laughs.) Make the Yuletide Gay is like a Hallmark Christmas special, but gay. It’s really very much a family film. Like a lot of gay cinema, it’s very, very in its own little niche. This doesn’t have any gratuitous sex, and I think somebody swears once. It’s almost squeaky clean.
It’s not that the two young men don’t wish to have sex. But the one boy’s mother keeps interrupting them every five minutes. She’s a busybody mom. It’s hysterical. He’s a very nice young man, and he comes home from college and he hasn’t told his parents he’s gay. Well, the problem is his boyfriend gets stood up by his family when he decides, Oh, I’ll go to my boyfriend’s house. It’s the surprise, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner routine. And they’re like, “Who’s your friend?” “Uhh, my roommate.” And chaos ensues. His ditzy parents are very out of it and somehow do not get it, no matter how obvious it is at times. Every possible hilarious farcical moment happens; it becomes a bedroom farce.
It gets really silly. And they’re like, “Don’t you want to see your ex-girlfriend from high school?” They keep dragging the ex-girlfriend over. And, of course, she has the busybody, cougar-esque, obnoxious mother, which would be me. It’s kind of Nellie Oleson in 2009 in leopard print.
That must’ve been fun.
Oh my gosh, it was so much fun. I thought, This will just be a lark. It’s three days, we’ll all have great costumes and this will just be fun and, hey, no one will see this. Did you know the bloody thing’s a hit?! It’s played every gay film festival in the world. It’s in Dallas today. And it won the South Korean Film Festival. Who knew there was a South Korean Film Festival? We won audience favorite, best picture.
It wins audience favorite at everything. They had to screen it twice at Outfest in L.A. because they couldn’t fit everybody in the theater. It’s played Brussels, it’s played Germany. It’s released on DVD in German now. It’s going to France. The French really love it because I’m in it. It’s all over the world. There’s a waiting list to see it at Netflix. It’s the best-selling independent film on iTunes. It’s gone cuckoo. It’s all over the Internet and they can barely keep it in stores.
Attitudes have certainly shifted in the last 20-plus years, but maybe not as much as people thought. What do you make of California's Prop 8 victory and Supreme Court fight?
I’m very good friends with Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were one of the original couples (to sue the state of California in 2004 to challenge its same-sex marriage ban). When the law passed (in 2008) and people were getting married on the courthouse steps, the first couple to get married in L.A. were Robin and Diane. They got married in front of the courthouse with Gloria Allred in attendance as the best woman. I was at that.
I’ve known Robin Tyler since I was 15. People ask, “What do you think about marriage?” And I’m like, “Look, my friend’s trying to marry her girlfriend for God’s sake.” I bought them a pink toaster. And Robin said, “Only you would buy a butch lesbian a pink toaster.”
I’m old. I remember when white people and black people couldn’t get married. I’m old enough to remember that when I was a girl. That only happened in, what, ’68 for Christ sakes? … When I was a little girl I remember a kid actually telling me this in the schoolyard: “If white people are allowed to marry black people, it will be legal for you to marry your dog.” I remember people saying stuff like that, deadly seriously, in public. That if black and white people marry, it will be the end of marriage, it’d be a disaster, it’d be immoral and the Bible was against it.
They said, “What will become of a child of interracial parents? It’s so hard on the children, because they won’t really be black or white. They’ll have to become President or something.”
The legalization of divorce has done more to impact the sanctity of marriage than anything.
Because it was a political campaign. The pro same-sex marriage people were very complacent. They sat on their hands and they ran a shitty campaign. The ads, they didn’t run them till like the last week? They weren’t going door to door. They didn’t do diddly poo. But the pro Proposition 8 ban-gay-marriage people went door to door, hit the streets, doing mailings, radio, television. They were all over it. They ran a really good, advertising-political campaign. Were some of their ads just emotion, did they lie? Sure. But it was a good political campaign.
Gay marriage was a hot-button thing. The real point of Prop 8 was to get people to the polls who would vote Republican and vote McCain and Palin.
There are people who didn’t know what (Prop 8) meant. They didn’t read it. There are people who’ve said, “Oh, shit. That was to ban gay marriage? I thought it was for gay marriage.” There are people who say they’re against gay marriage. But if you sit them down and ask, “You do not want same-sex people to file a joint tax return?” they go, “What?” They’ll say, “Oh, no. I’m for that. And I’m for that (other right), too.” You say, “You just described gay marriage.” And it’s, “Oh, I guess I am for that.”
And then you have the religious divide.
It’s one thing to say, “My religion prohibits gay marriage”—if it does. Well, isn’t it also against your religion to eat pork or play cards? We don’t have laws against eating pork, and we don’t have laws against card playing. There is a separation of church and state. And we have that so everybody gets to do their little thing and live happily ever after any frickin way they want to. But we don’t make everyone in lockstep. We make allowances that somebody somewhere might believe something else. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
I’m doing all of this stuff now with PROTECT and child abuse, and I’m now seeing the things people are willing to do in politics truly defy description. But a good political campaign is a good political campaign. In court, however, it’s a different standard of proof. And as (the sides) have found in court already, if you just get up and say, “But the Bible says so,” one of the judges will go, “The Bible says a lot of stuff. Separation of church and state. Next question.” They will make you come up with something else.
They’re asking both sides to prove their case. Both sides are being challenged. And you just can’t go on emotion.
What outcome do you anticipate?
My guess of what’s probably gonna happen is I think it’ll be a long, slow, unpleasant process. And it’s ultimately going to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, just like interracial marriage and the right of women to vote did. And it’s gonna drag itself out. The U.S. Supreme Court will initially try to avoid it. They’ll probably pass a couple of times, it’ll eventually land on their desk and they’ll have to resolve it. And ultimately … same-sex marriage will be legal.
I like that we’re going to court and making people pony up. That’s the other thing, too. I roll my eyes at the people who’re on the pro-(gay) marriage side who say things like, “Well, it’s about love.” I want to say, “No, it’s not about love. It’s about property rights and taxes.” Love is love and marriage is marriage. Marriage is about property rights and taxes, I assure you. (Laughs.)
You have quite a bit of experience with the law and politics through your cause of stopping child abuse with PROTECT.org. In 2004, you came out as an incest survivor on Larry King Live. What prompted that decision?
I did it for the law. I know people have gone on TV and talked about being abused, either just to talk about it or to sell a book. I’d never gone on TV and talked about it. My friends knew, my husband knew and I told my therapist. Then I got embroiled in changing the law in California. We had this freaky-deaky thing in California—actually, it’s all over the country, in 30 states—where if you’re related to the victim, even if you plead guilty … you will not only not get jail time, you also get deferred entry of judgment so you never had a conviction.
It’s very much a white-collar crime. It’s very much a middle class, privileged white guy defense. Poor people tend to go to jail. But if you’re a middle class guy, you can say, “Well, I’m the breadwinner in the household, I’m a pillar in my community and all I did was rape all four of my daughters every day for several years”—and you don’t have to go to jail … (The family-member provision) included “someone like a family member living in the home.” So the boyfriend and houseguests also are included in that. And boy did they work it. It was the loophole of doom and defense lawyers and child molesters across America were like, “Yee-haw!”
The molester would leave court and go home with the victim. In some cases, they would order the victim into therapy with their molester, whether the victim wanted to go or not. We had a woman testify that when she was 12 and her stepdad raped her, he had to pick up trash on the freeway … and she had to go to therapy with him. She said, “I don’t want to go to therapy with him. If you want to send him to therapy, fine. I’ll even concede that. Send the poor bastard to therapy. Just leave me the hell alone.” The court order was, “You have to go to therapy, and if you don’t go, we’ll send you to jail while your dad is picking up trash on the road.” And she testified to this in Sacramento in front of a committee.
And then there was the girl who went along with the whole thing. She said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll go to this group therapy thing with him.” And her mother kept pushing her to let the guy come home. She said, “Okay.” And then he proceeded to rape her younger sister. This happens … well, multiply that by a couple of thousand basically.
The idea was that the guy would go to jail for his second offense. But by the second offense you have a kid who says, “Why should I trust the legal system?” So they don’t call the cops. And the reason the girl with the guy who raped her sister made the papers is because he had been appealed. He said, “I shouldn’t have to go to jail for raping the sister. My record was expunged when I raped the first one, so it’s only my first offense.”
So that’s what was going on. And I said, “Yeah, that’s bad.” (PROTECT) said, “So should we change this law?” And I said, “Yeah, I think we should.” We got Senator (Jim) Battin and we got a lawyer to draft legislation. It was that whole process like “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock.
During all of this I testified. And initially they were shot down. The Public Safety Committee said, “No, we like the (family member) exception. We don’t know what the hell you people are talking about. Beat it. Scram.” There were politicians fighting to keep this on the books.
That’s when I went on Larry King. (Laughs.) Because what do you do after that? You go on Larry King and you tell him everything. And people went absolutely berserk. Everyone who saw Larry King said, “What?!” And they picked up their phone and they called their senator. And surprise, surprise, we were reintroduced and got another hearing. And, oh, by golly, we won. Shockaroo. They had to change the law.
We did the same exact frickin thing in New York. When I got there I went to the New York Post. They’d had an article in The New York Times. Didn’t work. I went to the New York Post. FOX, CNN, they all called.
Was going to the Little House on the Prairie set as a kid an escape or a catharsis for you?
Absolutely. The molestation went on from age 6 to 9. So getting Little House at age 11 was huge. It wasn’t only because I now had a way to vent my rage, it was being around people who were very supportive and protective of me. I was really shy when I started the show, but getting on the set and having people really encourage me in a safe environment was huge.
When Mackenzie Phillips came out with her book—and her claims that her father, John Phillips, had sex with her—what was your reaction as an incest survivor?
I e-mailed her on Facebook. We did a set of plays (of) women doing men’s roles. Mackenzie and I did a scene together, and I adore her.
I kind of suspected … Okay, she started doing heroin when she was, what, 12? Everyone does not do that. She’s in so much pain that she’s shooting up at 12—do you think maybe something was wrong? Even Dr. Frickin Drew has figured it out: You find a drug addict, you find a molestation survivor. People who do a lot of drugs and have a lot of trauma … They’re starting to flat-out ask when you’re entering drug rehab, “So what is your history of trauma?” And they all go, “Oh, that? Oh, yeah, I was.”
I really need to sit down and read her book. I’ve read her interviews. She’s very well-spoken. The gist of the story I’m hearing is that she’s saying remembers her father—she’s also said her memory is not clear—starting this thing when she was 17/18. From what I know—and I’m not a doctor, though I’ve hung out with a lot of doctors and people who do this all day for a living—guys don’t usually just pop up one day when their daughter’s 18 and decide to start raping them. It’s usually been going on for quite a long time. If a guy’s gonna molest his daughter at 18, he’s gonna molest her at 12. He’s not gonna go, “Oh, I’ll wait.” And your dad’s helping you shoot up at 12? Is there some reason he wouldn’t try having sex with her then? Because he was such a great guy?
If someone’s shooting up at 12, statistically, mathematically my wild guess is that this may have started happening at age 3 or 4. She may not know or she may not wish to discuss that. It’s highly unlikely from a medical standpoint that’d she be so traumatized and screwed up that she’s need to start shooting up at 12 and her father would only start molesting her at 17/18. It absolutely defies all logic and how these things go. It almost always starts younger than you think.
When I tell people I was molested, they say, “Like at 11 or 12?” And I say, “No, at 6.” I knew something was wrong with Mackenzie Phillips back in the Seventies. I thought, “Oh, my God, the poor girl. What the hell did they do to her?” She was in this very kooky, dysfunctional (group). I mean, look at all the people she was hanging around with at that time period. Lord knows who’s done what to this poor girl. She may not know.
People say, “Do you think it’s as bad as she described?” And I say, “No. I think it’s probably twenty times worse." And she’s either sanitized it or left stuff out. I think it’s far worse than what she’s described. She did go back and explain that when she said “consensual” she meant “consensual (as in) it wasn’t like an assault.” Almost everyone I know who was sexually molested by a relative doesn’t want to call it rape. It is the kookiest thing. My therapist said, “You know that thing you just described? Yeah, that was rape.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, but it wasn’t like the time…” “No, no, no. That was rape.”
Give Mackenzie a few months or years and she’ll be ready to call it rape. How consensual is it if it’s your dad? He woke up on top of her. It’s not consensual, people. If being in your father’s good graces includes shooting heroin at age 12, and this guy forces you to have sex—is that free choice? It doesn’t suddenly become consensual between ages 18 and 25. If you’re 18 and stoned off your ass, you’re not consenting—especially if it’s your old man. It’s all about control. It’s slavery. And (by coming forward) she caught a lot of shit from her family. I really feel for her.
On a lighter note, what’s coming up for you? I know you have a busy five or six months leading up to the book’s release.
Today I have to go pick up a magic trick. It’s the Magic Castle, so I gotta show a trick. So … I gotta pick up a trick. That sounds good, doesn’t it: I gotta go pick up a trick! Tomorrow I’ve gotta go pick up a wheelchair. Don’t ask. (Laughs.) Then Saturday (Jan. 16) I’m doing the Theatre of NOTE performance marathon. That’s really fun. Then Sunday I’m going to see Tippi Hedren perform at the Castle. Then on Monday and Tuesday I’m performing at the Castle. Then on the 28th I fly back up to Canada for my Dad’s memorial on the 31st at the Vancouver Playhouse shindig.
In the midst of all of this I got, “Here are some more revisions to the book to go over.” We’re almost done with it. In March I go to France. You know, I do my show in French. It’s called Confessions D'une Garce de la Prairie. Then I come back and the book’s out in June. Then I go back to France in July to do the Mirande Country Western Music Festival in south France. French people are cuckoo for country and western music. Go figure.
Are you still doing the Dearly Departed Tours in Hollywood?
Oh my God! There’s not that much death on my tour. They normally do a lot of dead people tours. They have, like, a Manson tour. So being a twisted company, they were able to come up with a Nellie tour. I’ve done several of these. It’s a three-hour tour. We have a professional driver/tour guide who knows everything about everything in Hollywood. And I’m in the passenger seat. It’s a little van—like you and seven of your closest friends.
A lot of the things are themed to, like, where I lived. We do go by Paris Hilton’s house. You know the little crippled girl on Little House on the Prairie that I was so mean to? That’s Paris Hilton’s aunt, Kim Richards. I talk about working with her. And we go around Hollywood and we go by Liberace’s house. I do like a stand-up act in the car, telling these apparently hysterical stories about all of this madness. Then we drive around and get our pictures taken in front of the Hollywood sign. And I bring the wig. People can try on the wig. There’s a question-and-answer period and everybody gets an autographed picture at the end. It’s really fun. You can go to the website (http://DearlyDepartedTours.com). I think they’ve got openings in February. It’s a blast.
What a hoot. They should call it the Hollywood Survivor Tour. Given the heavy topics you shoulder as an activist, I can see how humor's been a life-saver.
Oh, God, yes. Without it, they’d have locked me up years ago!