Ron Russell imparts wisdom, love and humor on Hollywood and living a good and interesting life
Ron Russell is utterly delightful in every way. He has a direct way of speaking that is entertaining, endearing, kind, reminiscent of a more civilized time and void of all phony political correctness. He is the costar of Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell, which is the biggest web TV/radio show in the world, with nearly five million viewers.
Ron Russell originally hails from Brooklyn but moved to Los Angeles when he was 10. He started acting but loved the stage so he created a fabulous drag act. He made many friends in the industry including legends like Tony Curtis, Arlene Dahl, Tippi Hedren, Tab Hunter, Lauren Bacall, Cliff Robertson, Lanie Kazan, Esther Williams and Jane Russell. Angelina Jolie was a frequent guest when she was young as she was good friends with Ron's daughter.
He met his now husband and radio partner Jimmy Star at Boca mall and it is obvious that they are a perfect match.
The Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell debuted in May 2011 and it is spectacular for many reasons. First, it is the first hit syndicated show to feature a gay married couple as co-hosts. Next, it effortlessly blends Old Hollywood (Ron's main forte) with what's going on now (more of Jimmy's wheelhouse). And it is super funny and easy to tune in to as it airs on Wednesdays on W4CY.com from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. Pacific time and 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. To watch live go to W4CY.com and hit the iTV button.
It also steams just about everywhere: Roku, YouTube, Sound Cloud, iHeart Radio, Stitcher and iTunes.
The multi-faceted, and ever-so-fascinating Ron Russell spoke with Michelle Tompkins for TheCelebrityCafe.com about his early life, his acting and stand up career, the importance of Classic films, his interview show Set the Record Straight, what he thinks is the biggest problem with Hollywood now and what makes his newest endeavor Around the Table with Ron and Jimmy so special. Boy does he dish on Old Hollywood, and yes, he names names! These stories aren't usually G-rated, but all are fascinating and so wonderfully entertaining.
Michelle Tompkins: I love watching your Around the Table show. You're irreverent and wonderful in every possible way and I love it.
Ron Russell: Yes. Around the Table with Ron and Jimmy is an absolute smash hit. We did it just as a goof, as a joke because we loved everybody we were with. It was all the set of a movie we had gone to see them shoot, friends of ours. And afterward, we just sit around the table and got crazy, and dirty, and stupid, and wild. And it went out there and the people just loved it. They thought it was funny and crazy, and shot terribly, and jumpy camera, it was so real. And I guess that's what folks want these days.
Michelle Tompkins: I can't wait to see more episodes of it. I think people really will like it. I do think the camera work could be a little better, but the content works.
Ron Russell: Well, we didn't do it ever to be shown. That was after we looked at it, we said, ‘Hey, let's put it out there.' It's kind of stupid and funny. The one we just did a couple of weeks ago is a steadier camera and you can see better and hear better. It's a little more entertaining. But, we haven't gotten up yet.
Ron Russell on his irreverent interview style
Michelle Tompkins: I love that the first one, though, you weren't planning on doing anything with it. It was just for fun.
Ron Russell: Absolutely. We just sat around, everybody was drinking and getting crazy, and I just said, ‘Let's do a big round table interview.’
Michelle Tompkins: Well, it turned out really well. I liked everybody too.
Ron Russell: Well, years and years ago when I interviewed the legends of Hollywood such as Jane Russell, Cliff Robertson, Lauren Bacall, Arlene Dahl - God, the list just goes on and on, there's so many - we had to do it right, steady camera, very well-rehearsed, very beautifully done. I always thought that kind of interviewing was so— everybody did it. And how many more times is Jane Russell going to talk about the fact that she was this 36B bra, not a 42DD [laughter]. Jane and I were the dearest and dearest of friends for many years. Interviewing her was like interviewing a relative. She was my first interview and it was a great success.
But now, when I do interviews, I don't want that. I don't want to ask about their movies, and nobody cares. And, yeah, you can find it all on IMDb. I want to know: who are you as a person? So and so came from Chicago from a ghetto. So what was that like? Did your mother beat you up? Did your father cheat on your mother? Was your brother a dope addict? Was your sister a whore? These are the things that people want to know about because today we deal in the real world.
I mean, Gloria Swanson got knocked up and had to go to France to make believe she adopted a baby because it wasn't cool for a movie's silent star to have a child. That's how stupid Hollywood was back in those days. Now that we're into the real world, in the real life, my fans want to know what the person's like. So if a good-looking guy comes on, I say, ‘Are you straight? Are you gay? Do you have a girlfriend, a wife? Are you sexually happy with her?’ I ask those crazy questions. And you know what? The people that come on the show love it.
Michelle Tompkins: Because they know what they're getting there. That's great.
Ron Russell: Well, they all say after the show is over, ‘We love your show. We would do it again. It's a lot of fun. You're so unlike anyone else.' Although there are a couple of people now sneaking and stealing a little bit of our stuff. They're trying to do it, but ever since I was a stand-up comic, for I guess 50 something years, I always had the ability to say things that were off color without offending anyone. There's something about my personality that I don't offend. Other people may when they use curse words or say things that are very offensive. So I'm fortunate that I have that born-in talent.
Michelle Tompkins: Well, I think one of the biggest is that I have in life right now is people who get offended on behalf of other people is that I don't— if you say something and you hurt their feelings or bother them and they say, ‘I'm sorry. You really offended me by that question.’ Or even if they walk up or hang up the interview, I'm okay with that, but I'm not okay with a third-party person saying, ‘Oh, I can't believe you asked her that.’ She liked it. She laughed. She was happy. Shut up, and get on with your life.
Ron Russell: Well, this happened to me. When I was contracted to Time Warner Cable but my show Set The Record Straight Jane Russell, again who was my best friend, I said, ‘Jane, honey, I want to do an interview. I'm starting a new show. Would you be my first interview star?’ She said, ‘Honey, for you I'd do anything.’ So we shot the Jane Russell show first. My first question to her was, ‘Jane, in 1940 what size bra were you?’ And she said, ‘A 36B. I was no cow.’ And that was a wonderful answer.
While one of the other people, who I won't mention her name because she's dead - and I'm happy she is because she was a bitch - was an interview on my network, old lady, real crab ass, ran into the head of Time Warner Cable screaming, ‘Who is this Ron Russell? He's talking about bras and Jane Russell's breasts. What is this network turning into, X-rated porn,’ or something like that? So the executives called me up into the office, and they said, ‘What is going on?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘We didn't talk about her tits. We talked about her bra. She advertised bras on television, the Cross Your Heart bra. What's so wrong with that asking her?’ ‘Well, we don't—.’ I said, ‘Listen. The show wasn't out there two minutes and it got 16,000 hits.’ So they shut their mouths. I said, ‘Let me do what I'm doing. That old bitch,’ I said, ‘she didn't get 16,000 hits in the 70 years she's been on this network.’
I walked out, and I didn't care if they were going to fire me because I had three other people interested in my show. They saw it and they loved it.
I was outrageous then. I mean, Arlene Dahl and I talked about Lex Barker who was married to Lana Turner. When he was married to Lana Turner he was raping Lana Turner's 10-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, who was a good friend of mine. Cheryl sat in my kitchen having coffee with me telling me all about it. So when I interviewed Arlene Dahl I said, ‘You know you married Lex Barker after Lana Turner threw him out, and he was raping her daughter.’ And Arlene Dahl banged on the arm of the sofa and said, ‘Ron, that's an absolute lie. Lex had a package so large had he ever entered a 10-year-old girl, he would have killed her.’ So I thought, ‘Oh, my God... Now my show is going to skyrocket.’
Then they did the commercial for my show that's what they used, a clip of Arlene Dahl talking about his package. You see today people want risque. They want sexy stuff. They've been trained over the last 30 years that sex is the answer to everything, so we think, but it really isn't.
So that's basically what I am. I tell it like it is. As my expression goes, I blow smoke up no one's ass. When I interview them, I'm honest about anything I say on our show, which is the Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell, is an honest statement. I think at my age, 78 years old, I don't have to lie and pretend. I say what I want. I do what I want. If you don't like it, you know what I can tell you. You know the words, eff you [laughter]. But, yeah, that's what happens when you get old. You have a wonderful I don't give a shit anymore attitude. It's so great.
Michelle Tompkins: It helped my dad too. He's 73, and he enjoys that little aspect of life. And I think you'd like him. He's an old Hollywood guru himself, but he actually is enjoying being able to be a little more direct at 73, however, I'm sure he was probably even Un-PC when he was 15.
Ron Russell: Who is your dad? Who is your father, maybe I know him?
Michelle Tompkins: His name is Mike Tompkins. He's a psychologist. He just loves old Hollywood. He's not in the business. He just loves the business.
Ron Russell: Well, I love it. I call it my Hollywood. I love Hollywood the Golden Years. I worked so hard. I was born from TCM, Turner Classic Movies, right, was my inspiration. I met Robert [Osbourne] once in New York on the street, and we spoke about it. He was thrilled that I was helping him to help Hollywood to educate the young people today. Lauren Bacall said to me, Lauren said to me, ‘Ron, a movie is only old after you've seen it.’ I live by that, and I tell that to so many young people.
A few years back I was doing the college thing, lectures at colleges, and one kid was sitting in the front of me, he's got to be 21, 22 maybe, and he was totally oblivious to everything I was saying. I said to him, ‘Do you know who Jane Russell is?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Do you know who Barbara Streisand is?’ He said, ‘I've heard of her.’ I thought to myself, ‘Boy, you go to Europe. You ask a 21-year-old the storyline of La Traviata or Madame Butterfly and he will tell you word for word the entire story, who sang it, and when he's going to see it.’ Europe respects vintage. They love vintage anything. They love art. They love painting. They love sculpture. Vintage history.
Our country, unfortunately, is disposable. Everything is temporary. Everything is now. Tomorrow it's over - fashion, hair, people, stars. It's dreadful that we Americans don't treasure the art of film. Film will last forever. People hundreds and hundreds of years from now will see me, what I look like, and what I do, and probably you, and millions of other people. What a treat that is. Wouldn't you like to see Napoleon or Julius Ceasar or Cleopatra if they had film back then? I know I would.
Michelle Tompkins: I would too. I think one problem of the filmmaker is that they sell the same 10 or 20 films all the time, and in the Golden Age, almost every movie was good. Even the B movies are good. It's that there really weren't that many awful movies. Now, there are. I mean, I'm 43 years old, and I love movies and I like TV shows, but I find many ‘now’ movies to be tedious and not as exciting as the slower paced ones from out of the Golden Age.
Ron Russell: Well, when I interviewed Richard Anderson from the Bionic Woman and the Million Dollar Man. He played Oscar. Also, he was a character actor for many years in lots of Warner Brothers films, and Richard said to me, ‘Ron, in our day we had a beginning and a middle and an end to a film today, they make no sense.' The flashbacks, the forwards, however, they're doing, I don't know. It's exploding, killing, shooting, blood, heads roll off, violence, teaching young people today that shooting is an exciting thing. ‘Look, get a gun. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!’ And that's all they do.
We saw Mission Impossible last night and I tell you, there had to be 7,000,000 gunshots in that film. I mean, I've never seen a film with so many, ‘da! da! da! da! da! da! da! da!’ Killing, shooting, killing everybody. And that's not the signal to send out. In my day, if a person got shot, you didn't even see blood. They fell on the floor without blood, because it was against the code, and we had a code of ethics, then, and people who watched to make sure that women weren't exploiting themselves and men weren't being in an— any way off-color. Was a whole different time, my dear.
Ron Russell talks about his beginnings
Michelle Tompkins: So let's start a little bit more about you, let's go back to the beginning. Now, where are you originally from?
Ron Russell: I'm original— I was born in Brooklyn; Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. Of course, you can hear it in my accent that I love and I'm never getting rid of. I can speak theater but I choose not to.
Then, we moved to Astoria, Queens, that used to be country back in the early '40s. I played with goats and there was a lake across the street and it was lovely. Now, it's, of course, industrial, factories and not so pretty. I had a very simple life, my mother was Jenny Gabriel, the silent movie actress, and my father was the set designer for the Lower east Triborough in New York. He built sets and designed sets for theater. Because in those days, they'd show a movie and also have live entertainment. Sort of Vaudeville, but not really, but whatever.
Then, Walt Disney contacted my dad and he wanted him to do something with him.
So we moved to California in 1950. I was 10 years old and that was my first exposure to palm trees and warm weather and we lived here. We lived right up the road from the Hermosa Cafe in Hollywood, the famous Chinese restaurant where all the movie stars ate.
I grew up a little bit, just with Hollywood. My sister married Evan J. Anton, the documentary movie producer. And she worked for Cinerama. So, I mean, to me, film and theater in Hollywood were normal. My friends thought I was abnormal because I would talk about things that they had no idea. They would talk about baseball and I'd talk about Talulah Bankhead. [laughter] It really wasn't a pleasant growing-up for me because I lived in a different world than most of my friends and they used to say to me, ‘You're a dreamer.’
When I was in my 20s and I was out working and becoming very famous as a stand-up comic, as Jane Russell, I impersonated her in drag. My friends thought to say, ‘Wow, you're really going to do something with it.’ Now, the few that are alive are so proud of me, they said, ‘You really went ahead and got out of the Italian neighborhood, Jewish-Italian neighborhood and you made something of yourself.’ So, I'm proud of that.
Michelle Tompkins: When did you know that you wanted to be an actor or be involved in Hollywood?
Ron Russell: Oh, God. I don't remember when not. I was always an actor. In school, I got all the parts in all the productions. I produced, I ran, I danced, I sang, I even had the gall to go down and apply, audition for West Side Story when I had never had a training and dancing at all. And I did, I went up there on the stage like an idiot. I was about 16, maybe. And I applied. They said, ‘You're too tall, you're too ethnic.’ I said, ‘But isn't— aren't these people Puerto Rican?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I think maybe they that I was too gay? I don't know what. But anyway, I didn't get the part. I was very depressed. I thought, ‘Why aren't they hiring people, West Side Story?’ But of course, it was the stupidity.
Then when I was 19, my brother-in-law was very good friends with one of the people on the production of That Kind Of Woman with Sophia Loren and Tab Hunter. He got me in off-union as an extra. And that's the first time I met Tab Hunter who became a lifelong friend of mine.
Michelle Tompkins: I'm sorry about the loss of your friend.
Ron Russell: Oh, I'm devastated. Are you serious? Jimmy and I had just seen him a few weeks before he passed. He was healthy as a horse. He's a wonderful guy, a great guy, a terrific human being, caring person, tender, sweet, and charming. Tab will always be missed by so many people, so many people. But anyway, I got to meet Sophia Loren and she didn't speak much English. I speak Italian fluently so we kind of made a friend of each other. I was in three of her scenes and I was in three of Tab's scenes also. I shot in Long Beach, Long Island then Grand Central Station and then, Central Park. I played a soldier.
Michelle Tompkins: Which languages do you speak? You just said you speak fluent Italian. What other languages do you speak?
Ron Russell: Brooklyn [laughter]. Brooklynese, honey. That's another language.
Michelle Tompkins: Oh, that's great.
Ron Russell: Forget about it. Forget about it. But anyway, it was wonderful being on the production. From then on, wanted more, and more, and more, and more.
Then I went into television. I had bit parts, played a cowboy. Played a cop on a Charlie's Angels episode; McMillan and Wife with the late Rock Hudson. I did a little dabbling here, and there.
But what I really found I wanted to do was the stage. I didn't care for film because you're always sitting waiting for a setup, lighting. Something goes wrong, two hours of getting permission from the upper heads which just is long. I wanted live. So I went on the stage as a stand-up comic.
Michelle Tompkins: What were your favorite topics to joke about?
Ron Russell: When I was doing stand-up? Well, don't forget now, I looked like Jane Russell and I was dressed as a woman. I did woman's jokes, but always about myself. My one joke that got the biggest laughs were, ‘I admit my breasts have sagged. This morning I was shaving my ankles and I cut my nipple. [laughter]’
Michelle Tompkins: That reminds me of a Joan Rivers joke. She said that no one ever tells you that your vagina drops. And one day she woke up and said, ‘Where did this gray bunny slipper come from? [laughter]’
Ron Russell: So stuff like that. Then I talked about my husband. My husband's in bed and he wants to make love to me last night, and I'm lying in bed and he says, ‘Come on, honey. Let's do it. Let's do it.’ So I have to put down my book, take off my glasses, and put my sandwich down. And I just lay there. And then he says, ‘How does it feel? How does it feel?’ I said, ‘I don't know. When you're in, I'll let you know.’
And things like that. Those were very, very risqué jokes for the early 1960s. That was shocking. I mean, Jackie Mason was vulgar. I was never allowed to be vulgar because of the Jane Russell character. I never wanted to cheapen her or make her trashy, or trampy. I always wanted to respect her because I loved her from age 16 when I saw her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe. I fell in love with her and I wanted to be her best friend. That was my aim in life.
I named myself Russell after her. 40 years later, I meet her, and we become the dearest and the best of friends. That was the highlight of my life. Then losing Jane was devastating to me. It still is because Jimmy had never met her, and I wished so that he could...
Ron on his lifelong friendship with Jane Russell
Michelle Tompkins: How did you meet her?
Ron Russell: How did I meet Jane? Oh, it's a very long story, but I'll make it really quick. My partner of 46 years died from pancreatic cancer. I was devasted.
Michelle Tompkins: Oh, I'm sorry.
Ron Russell: My daughter had given me a book called The Winthrop Woman. I was upstairs in bed trying to sleep. I couldn't. I went down to the library, and I pulled The Winthrop Woman out of the bookcases, and the book next to it fell down on the floor, open. I picked it up, and it was Jane Russell's autobiography and at the page it was when she lost her second husband, what she did and how she felt. I thought it was kind of a message to read it because I love Jane so. I began to read the book all over again.
I contacted my daughter, and I said, ‘Leslie, we're going to find Jane Russell tomorrow.’ She said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘It's time that I meet her.’ We knew that she lived up near Santa Barbara. Well, we went up, and her house was for sale. And the salesman was there, and he said that she had moved to Santa Maria because she was recuperating from alcoholism and near died from being allergic to alcohol and that her children had moved her up to Santa Maria.
So Leslie and I went up to Santa Maria to find her. We went into a 7-Eleven kind of store and asked around, and they knew where she lived, and they told us. But the girl said, ‘Here's the flyer. She sings Friday nights in a Mexican restaurant with all her Christian friends.’ So I thought, ‘Wow. This is Thursday. We'll return tomorrow, and we'll meet Jane Russell.’
The next day, we went there, she had just finished singing, I walked up to her, and I held both her hands, and I said, ‘Jane, I was supposed to meet you 40 years ago, but I didn't because I was afraid to meet you. I may not like you. And I impersonate you, so there was no way I was going to impersonate kindly someone I didn't like.’ And she said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I showed her all my publicity and pictures of me as she. And she said, ‘Oh, wow. You look good.’ I said, ‘No, this one I don't care for.’ ‘I wish I looked like that,’ she said. And I thought, ‘Wow, Jane Russell wishes she looked like me? Holy smoke.’
Anyway, I told her the story. Being a Christian, she said it was a sign from the Lord Jesus, and she wanted to see me. So she said, ‘Here's my number. Call me. Come up to the house, and let's talk more about this.’
Well, I did, and she tried to teach me about the Lord and to become a Christian, but it's not my thing. First of all, my father was part Jewish, and I'm not even a Catholic. I'm not religious at all. That part we pushed aside, but the friendship came through. We just enjoyed each other's company because she was witty and funny and wild. And I was wild. I mean, I drove a roadster convertible. We put the top down and would fly through the mountains of northern California to get a scene, like teenagers. Jane was like a 20-year-old girl. She was not 89 years old. She was gorgeous at 89. Beautiful legs. She used to swim in my pool in a bathing suit. Wow, what a body.
Michelle Tompkins: This is an optional question. I hope it doesn't make you uncomfortable. But you were actually married and have kids?
Ron Russell: Yeah, I was married for 16 years, and I have two daughters. I have one daughter, Leslie, and another daughter, Dierdre. Dierdre's an actress. Leslie is an antique, connoisseur, dealer sort of thing. My daughters are beautiful people. And they're heterosexual women. They're not gay and they were raised by gay men. So there you go.
Michelle Tompkins: Oh, so your spouse was not a woman. Was he a guy?
Ron Russell: No, well, if the man had a baby, I'd be very rich [laughter]. I would have liked that.
Michelle Tompkins: I thought you may have adopted. Okay. So this is interesting.
Ron Russell: No, no, no. Listen, because you're gay doesn't mean you don't like women. We have that misnomer. There are men that if you mention, ‘Ah, a woman?’ and they vomit. But not all men, especially Italian men. Italian men are very, very sexual, romantic men. I still find certain women very attractive, and very beautiful, and very sexy. But I'm with Jimmy, and I don't cheat. So you don't do it no matter what.
I went to a shrink years ago, and he said there's a scale from 1 to 10 of homosexuality he said. I came out where I was the least amount of gay that you could be. There are some guys that think they're women. I never thought I was a woman. I impersonated a woman because it was art and theater. But when I went in to shower to wash off everything, I'd look down at the boys and say, ‘Nice to see you, fellas [laughter].’ I was happy being a guy. I still am. I do not live in drag. I do not dress in drag anymore. Course, I look now like an old Italian lady or a Jewish lady going to a wedding or a bar mitzvah in Brooklyn, so I don't do drag anymore. But it was a persona— one of the characters— I played a cop. I just did a movie not long ago playing a Brooklyn sheriff. I mean, when you're an actor, you play. Never did I want to be woman or thought of having a sex change or any of that nonsense. No. Never. Never.
Michelle Tompkins: No. Between gender and sexuality and there is a continuum. I love that you are expounded on that.
Ron Russell: Well. when Jane Russell was working the convention center here in Palm Springs signing photographs and taking pictures, guess who's seated right next to me, shoulder to shoulder? Tony Curtis. Everybody all my life has told me I look like him. So when I first met him I said, ‘Tony. People say we look alike.’ He said, ‘No we don't. I'm better looking.’ So I knew I had to love him right there. We spent three days shoulder to shoulder and he was notorious, outrageous, dirty mouthed, funny, oversexed, crazy guy. Loved him. Adored him. Couldn't get enough of him and I said to him, I said, ‘Tony, are you gay or what? Because in your book...' He said, ‘No. I'm not gay.’ He said, ‘I'm not gay.’ He said, ‘I just like sex with everybody.’ [laughter]
Michelle Tompkins: So the snail and oyster scene in Spartacus was not a stretch for him?
Ron Russell: No. I don't think, you know what it is. Now listen, take people like Tom Cruise. I assume they don't want to live a gay life. They like a heterosexual life but they have homosexual feelings. What they do is they marry women who may be understanding and they say, listen, I won't cheat on you. But cheating is cheating whether you cheat with a guy or a girl. It doesn't matter. If you're married to a woman and you say I'm not going to cheat on you with men, fine. That's okay because you can do it because cheating stinks. So what is the difference? I can't tell you who they are because— well, I can't.
One is a very famous actor. Extreme, my God he's number one box office dreamboat, gorgeous thing and he's married and he has a child but he's gay. But he doesn't want to be in a gay world. He doesn't want a gay lifestyle. He doesn't act gay, look gay or have anything to do with gay. I think maybe once in a while he has a boyfriend that he runs off with for a day or two and he's fine and the wife doesn't mind because he's extremely wealthy. They have magnificent homes all over the world and she lives a damn good life.
Michelle Tompkins: And you never know what kind of details, deals people have in their private life. So if they have a deal and it's not cheating, it's not cheating. The grown people can say what they want out of a marriage.
Ron Russell: How many girlfriends do you have that married well and that know their husbands cheat and say, better he goes with a whore, let her do it not me? Well, I know a few that married a straight man who cheats and they know he cheats but they don't care because they live well and they don't have to work and they've got chauffeurs and maids and shit like that and they overlook everything. People can understand and overlook.
If a man is a good man and he's a wonderful husband, which most gay men are because the gay men that I know that are married, the women said I would never marry a straight man. All the straight man wants to do is bang you. One, two, three. Go to sleep and that's it. A gay man you can go shopping with, you can go to the hairdressers with, you can talk fashion, you can design your home with him. Women have a ton of things in common with gay men and gay men mostly are gorgeous. They're young looking. They're tall. They're thin. They do physical things where straight men get short and fat and ugly. You know how they look sometimes.
I'm all for gay people. Even the thing is I know three gay women who had lovers for years and one in particular, she has two children and is married to a straight man. So sexuality you cannot put in a box and say this is what it is. People's sexuality comes in a million, million, trillion different flavors, a million flavors.
Michelle Tompkins: What do you love the most about Jimmy?
Ron Russell: Oh my God, what a question. You don't have long enough honey, you don't have a long enough interview. What do I love about Jimmy? Oh my God. Jimmy is the sweetest, the kindest, the most gentlest, the most giving, the most romantic, the most loving, the most interesting, the most intelligent, the most successful man I have met in years. Jimmy is someone to not only love but to respect and look up to.
We kill each other, yes we do, we fight like cats and dogs only when it comes to the business. Yes, there is a little bit of jealousy between the two of us, there is a little bit if I get more notoriety than he does he puts a puss on, but then I confront him with it and he tells me I'm crazy so then we fight. But if it wasn't for show business we'd get along perfect with a perfect marriage. You know legally married. We got married in New York six years ago. Jimmy is just probably one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. Not only my opinion, the opinion of everybody that knows him, even you I'm sure. Jimmy's just a sweetheart of a guy. And a talented PR person. He's brilliant. You ought to see the people that want to come on board now, he's going to have to start hiring people. He can't handle them all. It's amazing what talent and kindness does in this business. So that's my answer about my Jimmy.
Ron Russell on working with his husband Jimmy Star
Michelle Tompkins: Well what's the best thing about working with Jimmy who's your spouse and then the worst thing about working with your spouse?
Ron Russell: Oh God working with him is a nightmare. Oh please, please, you don't know what it's like. No. No. No. No. Working, no. No. No.
When I met Jimmy I had a TV show on Time Warner, Jimmy had a radio show, and we hooked up and he said I want you to come on my radio show and I went on it but I had never done radio. And in interviewing I looked at the person's mouth when they're about to stop so I speak so you don't run over them. Well on radio I kept running over everybody and I said, ‘Jimmy I really can't do this. I think we should go to Skype and become a TV show and I can handle it.’ ‘No. No. No. My show is a radio show. It's successful. No. No. No.’
Well, we were in a car, I said, ‘Stop the fucking car now.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I'm getting out and tomorrow you will never see me again. It's over. You are a fucking nut.’ And he said, ‘Oh come on, come on, stay in the car, talk it out.’ I said, ‘No. You don't know what you're doing. You have no—’ I'm Italian, wild, he's the WASP. WASPs, you know those Protestants never yell, they just look at you like you're crazy and torture you the more by being silent.
He finally gave in and now we're the number one show in the world. We have almost five million viewers and we're in all the countries, Australia, Germany, you know that, we're all over the place because we went television. He doesn't say anything, still to date he has never said to me, ‘Ron it's because of you and your humor, and because you made us do Skype that we're a success.’ No way. But I don't push it. I don't care, I'm not going to get nuts over it. That's the worst thing about working together though.
The nicest thing about working together is sitting next to him when things are going well on our show, and he's not in a mean mood because something went wrong with Skype or a guest didn't show up on time.
I like the other things that we share together. I'm going back to work now as an actor, and I intend to do a few movies and some things because I'm bored to death in Palm Springs, sitting by the pool having cocktails with zillionaires who don't have to work. Boring. So he's supporting me. That's how they made that. ‘Yes, you can do it. Go back to work.’ I'm a silver fox, and Stan Zimmerman is trying to get on television a sitcom about four gay men who live in Palm Springs who cannot get into a nursing home because they're gay, so they live together. And Stan Zimmerman wrote for the Golden Girls, as well as for the Gilmore Girls, and so many other things. I would be thrilled and honored if I could possibly ever be on his show, walk on or one of the silver foxes, anything. I don't care. I love the show so much, and I believe in what it stands for.
Michelle Tompkins: I said I hope you get to be a part of it. It sounds like a great idea.
Ron Russell: Well, I promo it. I work it. I push for it. I think Stan's going to give me a walk-on at some point just so I get my puss on it because I believe so much inequality and diversity but not the diversity of today, which is selective diversity. I don't care for selective diversity. If we're going to be equal, we all have to be equal, every one of us. Not just the most popular people that jump a fence or because they're African American they become whatever. It has to be for gay people as well. For everyone. All equal people. Because we've all been hurt by an ignorant, prejudiced society.
Ron Russell on his hit TV show and some of his favorite Hollywood legends
Michelle Tompkins: How did Set the Record Straight come about?
Ron Russell: I did stand up. And in my stand up, sometimes people felt friendly, and they talked to me from the seats. I used to do 350 people at a supper club. I never did gay bars because gay people don't like drag. They're bored with it. I took it all over the eastern seaboard, up and down from New York to Florida in all straight clubs, straight dining rooms, with straight people. They would ask me crazy questions as if I were really a woman. I would interview them from my stage. And sometimes it was hilariously funny.
I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I'm getting a little old for this, and I'm tired of putting on high heels and that goddamn waist cincher. I think I'm going to start to go to work as a guy each time.’ So I sat home thinking, ‘Maybe I'll go back to acting. I could do a couple of movies, but that's boring. I'm going to interview people.’
Then I had known Jane Russell. If it wasn't for Jane, Time Warner never would have taken my show. The interview with Jane Russell you could see on YouTube. It was a wonderful, wonderful interview. That started it, and Set the Record Straight was a hit. I did that for five years— or four years or five years. And then I got tired, and I wanted to retire, so I moved to Florida. I was living in Boca, and one day, I was walking into Boca mall, and Jimmy picked me up. He tried to pick me up, anyway. From there, we became friends, and then eventually partners and then we fell in love. So that's the whole thing. Simple but difficult [laughter].
Michelle Tompkins: Which of the Golden Age stars impressed you the most?
Ron Russell: Oh, what a loaded question [laughter]. Who? Who? There's only one in the world, Cary Grant. I wanted to be Cary Grant growing up. I thought he was the most gorgeous, elegant, sophisticated, funny, sweet, great actor. We live in Palm Springs and they just sold Cary's house for 3.5 million. I said to Jimmy, ‘Gee, when we get really rich one day, hope, hope, hope, we're going to buy Cary's house.’ It's not far from where we live. And it's a beautiful home. I thought what a way to go out, croak and die and go, would be in Cary Grant's house. What an end to my life, a great end to my life dying in Cary Grant's house. Anyway, Cary Grant.
Bette Davis, who I knew, she was a friend of mine. Bette was an incredible drinker, smoker, curser. Every other word was fuck. She was tough. She was nothing like she was in Now Voyager when she played that elegant, sophisticated Bostonian woman. She was a great actress, a funny lady. We had some pretty good times together. I would say Cary Grant, Better Davis and of course, Jane Russell too later on in years. I have so many friends in Hollywood, big stars because of my interviews. I mean, to name them all, I don't want to leave anybody out but I gave you the highlights.
Michelle Tompkins: Who was your worst interview?
Ron Russell: The worst interview I ever did was Cliff Robertson. I admired him so as an actor. Well, he sat there and I was talking to him and he's, ‘Yep. Nope. No. Yep. Nope. Yep.’ So I had to shock him out of his whatever. I said, ‘Cliff, is it true your wife was a real bitch?’ So he said, ‘No. She wasn't.’ I said, ‘Well, she always played bitches.’ He said, ‘Well, it's called acting.’ I got him to talk. Sometimes you got to shock it out of them. You've got to get them stimulated because he got angry with me that I called her, Dina Merrill, I called her a bitch because she always played a snobby, cold bitch. So I thought maybe she was in person. Then he told me a Joan Crawford story about how Joan Crawford tried to seduce him sexually. So that was exciting, I got something out of him.
Ron on Marilyn Monroe and the kindness Jane Russell showed to her
Michelle Tompkins: Okay. Now since you were friends were Tony Curtis I have a question for you that's a little strange. Is that I heard that because of Some Like It Hot no one really did a Cary Grant impression anymore, they actually did Tony Curtis playing Cary Grant when people were doing Cary Grant impressions.
Ron Russell: Probably right. Because Tony also loved Cary Grant. Tony loved Cary Grant since he was little too. He always respected and admired Cary Grant. Tony said to me the first movie he made with Cary Grant he fell in love with him. He was so enamored with Cary Grant he couldn't even work properly. He was really in crush with Cary Grant. I said to him, ‘Well, if I work with Cary Grant I would have been in the news, in jail. It would have been Ron Russell rapes Cary Grant on the set of movie.’ So [laughter] Tony laughed and said, ‘Well, that came into mind a few times.’ Yeah.
Anyway, he did a great impersonation in Some Like It Hot of Cary Grant. Cary Grant was so easy to impersonate because he was so different from all the other stars in Hollywood. He had a definite signature just like Marilyn Monroe, who I've never met. But Jane told me a lot about Marilyn off-camera stuff that I won't repeat because it was private stuff. But Marilyn was beyond belief. I mean, no one knows the depth of her, I'm going to say insanity. She was a very troubled, troubled girl. Jane did everything she could, even taking her to Christian meetings to maybe find the Lord so the Lord Jesus could help her. Marilyn said, ‘That's not for me.’She just used her body as a calling card. She just banged anybody and everybody. I mean, Tony Curtis said Marilyn was always on her knees. And he had sex with Marilyn many times. Marilyn Monroe was just a woman who had no respect for her body and she used it for whatever reasons. It didn't matter. I don't think she ever felt anything to be quite truthful. I don't think when she had intercourse she had any feeling because she was so mentally abused sexually.
It's a pity, pity for that poor girl. Jane Russell did say that the Kennedy's killed the CIA did, so. Marilyn did not OD.
Michelle Tompkins: The Kennedys or the Kennedys with the CIA?
Ron Russell: Well, with the CIA because she was very upset that they dumped her. She was having the both of them, three-ways. I mean, whatever they were doing. They dumped Marilyn and she said the next day she was going to blab it all out about Cuba and Castro and the Bay of Pigs and all that stuff. They said, ‘This broad is a loose cannon and we're going to shut her up.’ Well, the CIA has killed many people. I mean, now they're saying that that guy, what's his name, the food guy.
Michelle Tompkins: Anthony Bourdain?
Ron Russell: Yeah, that he was killed also by the CIA for his reasons. We don't know, who knows. But Marilyn was a pathetic human being who never found happiness in being loved by millions of people in our business. Never, never found love. Never understood it. Neither did Jane. I said to Jane, ‘Don't you get it, Jane?’ She said, ‘No, I don't get why people pay me 35 bucks for a picture signed by me.’ She says, ‘I don't get it.’ I said, ‘Well, be happy [laughter]. Get it.’
Michelle Tompkins: Well, my dad's a psychologist and one of the things that we've actually talked about a lot is how money only— Johnny Carson, I think, said this, ‘Money only solves money problems.’ But when you are successful in something as hard as Hollywood, and you have everything that you think you possibly want, the gaps are even bigger when you realize that they don't make you happy. You don't have the relationships, you don't have the stuff that makes a human human.
Ron Russell: No, you don't? Jane said that Marilyn did not trust men. Marilyn had had affairs with women. I believe Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe had a thing going for a very brief time. Marilyn, I think, was comfortable with women because she could almost trust them a little bit. But Marilyn had no trust in men. She just thought that men wanted to use her to relieve themselves of sexual whatever and that's it. So her feelings were, ‘Well if you want to screw me, I want a part in a movie but I'll screw you back.’ And that's all it was. So that's a tough thing to do, to be a sex symbol and not be sexy with yourself.
Michelle Tompkins: Is there any celebrity that you spoke with and wished that you hadn't because you liked them before you met them and didn't like them after?
Ron Russell: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I don't know if I should.
Michelle Tompkins: You don't' have to if you don't want to.
Ron Russell: Rhonda Fleming. Well, I never liked Rhonda Fleming before. But Rhonda Fleming was no big deal. But she was a friend of Arlene Dahl's and Jane's and Jane said, ‘Don't you want to interview Rhonda Fleming?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, why not. She's interesting. Yeah, she made three movies.’ So I contacted her and she was like, ‘Well, who are you? I don't know you.’ Don't you interview me, bitch. You want to be on my show. Look at my list. Look at Lauren Bacall, excuse me. Jane Russell, Cliff Robertson, Tab Hunter. I mean, look at the list of Hollywood '50s greatest actors, most incredibly famous women and men. And you're going to interview me? No, I don't think so. And she wasn't really nice. So I dismissed her.
Esther Williams, a dreamboat, a love. She was going to come and do my show and then Esther got very ill, mentally. Mentally. Because her very dear friend passed away, the actress and I can't remember her name, and I spoke with Esther's husband and he said that Esther was terrified of dying because all of her friends were dying. Jane Russell was one of her best friends. That's how I met Esther. I spoke with Esther Williams's husband when Jane died. He called me. He said, ‘Ron, whatever you do, do not tell Esther that Jane died. She will flip out.’ So I said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ I said, ‘Well, how long are you going to keep this from her?’ He said, ‘As long as we can.’ Then, shortly after, Esther passed away. But I loved Esther Williams. She was just the sweetest girl in the world. So pretty, down to earth, regular. I mean, she got up, she made you a drink, she sat down with you like a regular person. She was a superstar, Esther Williams.
Oh, I also, speaking of Esther Williams, I also knew Van Johnson. I knew Van from New York City, he and his lover, because Van was gay,
I met him later on in life when he was losing his vision. He had had a terrible auto accident in the '40s where his skull was broken open and he had a steel plate in his head. Whatever was going on I think it affected his seeing. But he was a lovely, lovely man. I hugged him a lot because Van was a kind, nice man and it was so nice to hug him hello and goodbye because you could feel that he really was a warm person. I think we lost them, also. They're all dying. It's a shame, but that's life.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, well, here's someone who's still around now. I think you're friends with Lainie Kazan.
Ron Russell: Lainie. Oh, my God. How did you know about my Lanie? I love her. Lainie's my—
Michelle Tompkins: I miss her singing. I want her to sing more. She hasn't sung in her last few movies and she's great.
Ron Russell: She sings like a girl. Jimmy and I - you know I know Lainie well - we had dinner with her not long ago. Lainie was singing in New Hope at a nightclub, and Jimmy and I went to see her. My God, the show was fabulous. She can sing better than Barbra Streisand. She's just wonderful. No, Lainie, her songs are not today. She only has a select audience of older people, but the young people are not interested in listening to her beautiful song, like Body and Soul, that Lainie does better than anybody in the business. So she's a film actress now. And you know, she had an accident in her home. She tripped over her cat and broke her leg in three places, and she had to be on a crutch and she couldn't walk. So she's lost a tremendous amount of weight, and she's looking fabulous. A matter of fact, we're going to see her in the fall/winter months because she won't come to Palm Springs in the heat [laughter].
No, she won't. She hates the heat. We're going to invite her to the house in the fall. But Lainie Kazan is a wonderful person, I love her, too. Good people. Nice Jewish broad from Brooklyn. We're exactly the same age/ I'm two months older than her, and we were both born in Brooklyn. Her father was a bookie. She loved on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Lovely broad, wonderful personality, down-to-Earth, terrific, and still beautiful. She's got the largest boobs in the world [laughter]. No, it's true. We interviewed a bunch of [inaudible] what's his name. Please, edit out all the what's his names. I have to think of— Sorvino, what's his first name?
Michelle Tompkins: Paul?
Ron Russell: Paul, we interviewed Paul Sorvino, and Lainie's name came up, and he said, ‘The greatest boobs in the world.’ He said, ‘I loved her boobs. They were the best,’ because he dated her. So Lainie, a couple of weeks later— I said, ‘You know what Paul said about you on my show?’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘He said you have the best tits in the world.’ ‘Oh, no. He didn't. No, he didn't.’ I said, ‘Yes, he did. Yes, he did.’ She said, ‘Now I'm going to kill that bastard when I see him [laughter].’ That's the fun we have in crazy Hollywood with my people in my day. We're all a bunch of old bags, but we think young and we feel young.
Michelle Tompkins: I have another kind of a weird question for you, then. It's a little different. It's all human with an anti-hero. John Wayne said he would have been a much bigger star if he played heroes. What do you think of method acting and do you think that John Wayne might have been right?
Ron Russell: John Wayne. I was never a fan of John Wayne. I never was a fan of his politics or he was a very strict Republican, anti-gay, anti-Jewish. He was anti-Semite. He was a lot of anti things. I knew his daughter who was a lovely girl. Patrick, his son, I knew years ago. I met once in a while, and he was absolutely handsome, far better-looking than his father. They didn't have great things to say about their dad. Patrick thought his father was too strict, and the daughter just smiled a lot.
They didn’t have good things to say about them. What do I know about Paul Newman? I met Joanne Woodward years ago at the ballet in New York City. It was a party after ballet for whoever it was who was dancing. And she was absolutely the most reserved, proper, distinguished, beautiful woman. I mean, totally classic, perfect. Her husband, on the other hand, was totally different. He's supposed to be Jewish. Now, I don't know if that's true or not, but the public, they kept it from the public because Jewish men were not too popular as love interests. Like Robert Young was Jewish. Quite a few of the leading men in Hollywood were Jewish and their names were changed because people were very anti-Semitic in those days. If a guy was a Jew, they didn't think he was sexy or they weren't allowed to like him. Just like Lena Horne. This was told to me by one of the two brothers, the dancers. One was a friend of mine. Fayard. What the hell was the last name? Two black guys that danced in all the Warner Brothers movies in the 20s.
That Lena Horne, if you notice, when she's in a movie singing she does not look into the camera. She looks up at the ceiling or to the side. That's what they told her to do. Because when the movie went to the south, white men would be sitting there looking at her singing a love song looking at them. The men maybe didn't mind, but the women didn't like a black woman singing to my husband's eyes. Can you believe that, what stupidity we had in those days? That kind of garbage went down? So there's was a lot— Newman goes, ‘Nah.’ He was a superstar and made a fortune of money, was a very generous man with his line of food that he donates all the money to cancer and stuff. I think Paul Newman is great. Let's leave him alone. Fuck John Wayne.
Michelle Tompkins: What do you think is the biggest problem in Hollywood today?
Ron Russell: Ageism. Totally ageism. 40 years old, get out of Hollywood, bitch. You're no good anymore. You're an actress? Who cares? We need an actress that's sexy. We need sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. That's a horrible thing because I know so many great actresses are not working.. I mean, look at wonderful—Stefanie Powers.
Stefanie Powers who I love. Stefanie and I were together at Shelley Winters 85th birthday party. And Stefanie was on a roll. She was talking about all her life in Africa with William Holden, all that shit. And just the most delightful enchanting woman. She doesn't work. Now, you tell me why Stefanie Powers, Hart To Hart, and a million great movies, doesn't work. Why? Because she doesn't look young. She's not sexy anymore and maybe her personality is a little too young for her body type. [laughter] Hollywood. I mean, Cher has to get with the life. Cher, with that wig? In Mama Mia, I mean, what is Cher doing? I mean, look like Cher, don't look like an old lady in a nursing home with a bad perm. They have to all realize that it's not what it was and they have to grow old, beautifully and act older parts and a lot of these stars refuse to play grandmothers or mothers. They ruin their own careers. Men don't care, see, the men work always but they'll play grandfathers, they'll play anything. But women are so vain. I mean, Raquel Welch, beauties like that, women that were magnificent when they were young that are no longer beautiful. Some of them are grotesque-looking. I mean, what's her name, Faye Dunnaway? She doesn't even look like Faye Dunnaway, what the hell did she do to her face?
Michelle Tompkins: I think the aging face has its own beauty, so when too much work is done, people don’t always look better, it just usually tightens it them up.
Ron Russell: No. No they all look like dolls. Remember the rubber dolls, from when you were a kid, with the big cheeks? That's what they all have now, that big, fat, rubber doll-cheek face. They can't move their faces, it's full of botox and fillers, and I know all of them that have it. I mean, here in Palm Springs, there are three broads, they look like sisters and they're not. [laughter] But they all went to the same doctor who shot them up the same. So they all look like chipmunks. [laughter]
Michelle Tompkins: Now, for something little bit serious that's going on in life right now, is the #MeToo Movement, but everyone's getting a charge of some things and some things are 20, 30 years ago. I think some might be going too far. What are your thoughts on this going on in Hollywood right now?
Ron Russell: Too much violence. Too many gunshots. Too much blood. Kids see this. Young minds don't know how to understand it. They think it's a thrill. ‘Wow! If I had a gun, I'd pull the trigger. Blood's going to come out of kid's head in school.’ Things like that, it's got to stop. We have to be moral. We have to have some kind of morality when it comes to killing people. In movies, killing is nothing.
Yesterday, as I said, Mission Impossible, there were— he was shooting people like it was no big deal. Killed one guy, threw him off a roof, another one got run over by a truck, I mean, okay. They're all dead, they're laying all over. ‘It's just dead people.’ He kept running on like he was just taking off a shirt. Stupid, that this is what we have to show the world to make money in our business, we should be shot.
Why can't we show people that dressing well, having your hair nicely styled, looking like a James Bond or looking like a Cary Grant or looking like a Rock Hudson or all the other handsome men, or being as beautiful and sophisticated as Audrey Hepburn, to have the class of Grace Kelly? To have the elegance of the great stars, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford. All that was such a beautiful time in Holywood and the beautiful time in my life because everybody looked good and everybody wanted to look good and everybody looked different.
Today, young girls look like hookers. When they open their mouths, the language that comes out, confirms they're hookers. I mean, young girls, ‘Fuck you!’ They think nothing of saying that out loud while they're smoking one of those hideous mechanical clouds of smoke. No, I'm not— I'm sounding like an old man getting all ready to leave the planet, but, no I don't approve or care for what's going on in the world, today. When we lost the elegance and we lost the sophistication, we lost Hollywood. Period.
Stay tuned for part two of the mesmerizing stories of Ron Russell.
Ron Russell can be found on The Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell on W4CY.com on Wednesdays from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. Pacific time and 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. Go to W4CY.com and hit the iTV button to watch it live.