Sally Kirkland Opens Up and Tells All: An Exclusive Interview with Ron Russell

Sally Kirkland

Sally Kirkland.

Ron Russell here. And today, I have one of the best actresses that we've ever had in our country. She's an Oscar nominee, a Golden Globe winner, an Independent Spirit award winner, of which I will ask her what that means. She's a veteran of over 200 films. She's a very hard-working girl, who still works today. Now, I'd like you to meet Miss Sally Kirkland.

Ron Russell: Hi, Sally.

Sally Kirkland: Hi, Ron. Thanks for having me.

Ron Russell: Oh, my pleasure, Sweetheart. I've always been an admirer of yours ever since our Silver Spoon days with Shelley Winters back in West Hollywood when I first met you many years ago. I'm happy to interview you for Stars and Celebs. Sally, you were raised in Manhattan, a New York City girl. You lived on 86th Street, which is known to us as German Town. Tell--

Sally Kirkland
Sally Kirkland in full glam

Sally Kirkland: Actually, I lived on 89th.

Ron Russell: Oh, 89th. Okay. Well, 86th was German Town, and so was-- Dutch Town, I think. But tell me a little bit about your upbringing, your youth, who you were as a girl, what your dreams were.

Sally Kirkland: Well, I was the daughter of Sally Kirkland Sr., I guess. And she was fashion editor of Vogue in the 40s and LIFE magazine in the 50s and 60s. So I grew up around a lot of models, a lot of photographers, and always felt fat because all these beautiful models were so skinny around me. And I liked to draw. I did art from the age of 10 on, and my mother liked that. She always encouraged me to be an artist.

Ron Russell: Okay. So what was Mom like? I mean, was she a cook, a cleaner? No. She was a businesswoman. So you must have had--

Sally Kirkland: We had someone.

Ron Russell: You had a lady that kept the house, correct? An assistant?

Sally Kirkland: Yeah. Louise. I was just going to say she would let me come to Time Incorporated to help her pick the covers of LIFE magazine. That was exciting.

Shelley Winters would talk about her lovers every Thursday at lunch at The Silver Spoon. And she was-- I asked her, I said, "Who was the best guy you ever had sex with?" She said, "Well, let me tell you: Burt Lancaster used to knock my head through the wall. He was rough as hell. But Sean Connery? She said he was the finest and the best lover any girl could ask for.

Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster, Hollywood's most iconic Leading Man. And apparently a head banger.


Sean Connery as a young man. Practice makes Perfect.

Ron Russell: Well, then, did you ever meet Grace Kelly?

Sally Kirkland: I didn't. But my mother went to Monaco every year to be with Grace, and they both won the Neiman Marcus award together.

Ron Russell: Grace Kelly was probably my most famous lover girl of my life. I think Grace Kelly was the most beautiful creature in the world. Tragic ending to a beautiful woman, but what a nice thing that your mom knew Grace Kelly. I would have loved that. Have you ever met Cary Grant?

Sally Kirkland: I met him once, very briefly, back in the 60s. And I don't remember the circumstances, but he was very nice to me.

Shelley Winters was roommates with Marilyn Monroe and they used to go out with any men they could just for dinner and then call it steak and rape because the guys would give them steak and have sex with them.

Ron Russell: Everyone says that about him. Now, you decide that you're going to be an actress, so you do some off-Broadway. And then, of course, you go to the best acting school there is in New York City. Tell us about that.

Sally Kirkland: Well, first, I have to say that I had an obsession with Marilyn Monroe. And she was in class with Lee Strasberg on Thursdays, and I was in class on Tuesdays. I never met her, but I always wanted to be her.

And so one thing led to another, and I was the first nude actress in American theater in history with a play called Sweet Eros in 1968 by Terrence McNally.

So that was before Hair and before Oh! Calcutta!. And the New York Times called me and said, "Why are you doing this?" And I said, "I'm opposed to the Vietnam War, and you can't carry a gun on a naked body." And then from there, I did 10 years of off-Broadway. And then they called me for The Sting and The Way We Were, and I went to Los Angeles in '72 and stayed [laughter]. I stayed in Los Angeles.

Ron Russell: That was going to be my next question. How could you leave our beloved New York?

Sally Kirkland: Because I found my spiritual path and that was in Los Angeles. And I had been pronounced dead in 1966. And so I was searching for some kind of spiritual path that would keep me completely centered and grounded. And I found it in the late '60s, early '70s. And that led me to California, to Los Angeles. It's called the Move--

Ron Russell: So you moved?

Sally Kirkland: It's called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, and I've been involved 40 years.

Ron Russell: Well, that's encouraging. So explain to me what does one have to do to win the Independent Spirit Award?

Sally Kirkland: Well, the Independent Spirit Awards gives an award for best film, best actor, best actress from all the independent films, nothing to do with studios. So when I did "Anna" which you mentioned in your introduction that I was the second person in history to win that award. I think Geraldine Page had won the year before. And I was particularly proud because we made our film for $350,000 and got all the way to the Oscars.

Ron Russell: "Anna" only cost $350,000?

Sally Kirkland: Up front and another $350,000 post-production so $700,000 in all.

Ron Russell: My God. Today you can't even shoot a minute of film for that.

Sally Kirkland: I know. So we were very lucky, weren't we? And I always remembered Ernest Borgnine and Marty. And I thought, "Well, I'll be the new Ernest Borgnine."

Ron Russell: Well, I think you're better than Ernest Borgnine [laughter]. You're a hell of a lot prettier to look at. That's for sure. You know my great love for Shelley Winters. I didn't see you actually at her 85th birthday party. How come you weren't there?

Sally Kirkland: I was filming a movie.

Ron Russell: Okay. Because I figured you'd be there. Everybody was there.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, I was at every other one.

Shelley Winters

Ron Russell: We had a great one with Shelley. I brought Jane Russell, she was my date, never knowing that Shelley Winters did not like Jane Russell.

Sally Kirkland: Funny.

Ron Russell: They had a big fight, had a very big fight years ago. So Shelley said, "Why did you bring her here?" I said, "I didn't know. I thought you might have known her." She said, "I know her. She called me a tramp and said I slept with everybody to get movie parts."

Sally Kirkland: So I met Shelley in the early '60s at the Actors Studio and she adopted me. And I became her assistant. I taught her all of her lines for all of those great movies you saw her in. And she taught me everything I know about staying in the industry even if you're not dependent on a man. She brought me to all of the unions, Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA Television, Equity Theater. So at the age of 18, I was a union member of all three unions. And she taught me to read the newspapers every day because you had to be politically aware. That was very important to her. I remember when she had dinner with Martin Luther King.

Ron Russell: Oh, wow.

Sally Kirkland: I was saying that she invited me to dinner with herself and Martin Luther King and his wife, Corrinne, and that was sort of symptomatic and symbolic of my life with Shelley, that I kind of met everybody in Hollywood through her and all I had to do was to be her trusty assistant. And somewhere in the 70s, we decided that I was her goddaughter and she was my godmother and I'm happy to say that--

Ron Russell: That is so sweet.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah. In her later years, I became her caretaker, right up until she died. And I produced her memorial.

Shelley Winters in her younger years

Ron Russell: I went to the hospice to see her, actually, the day before she died. And she was very frail and I was upset because Ladd-- what's her name?s

Sally Kirkland: Diane Ladd.

Ron Russell: Diane Ladd sent her a Christmas tree. And every Christmas ball had on it one of Shelley's movies.

Sally Kirkland: Aww.

Ron Russell: Well, when Diane walked in, she said, "We're Jewish. Get that out of here." And they took the Christmas tree out. Shelley was very upset. Shelley told me she never wanted to be buried, she wanted to be cremated, and her daughter went ahead and buried her. So nothing that Shelley wanted, her daughter did. Now, when we were having our grieving period for Shelley, the daughter didn't want any of us to attend. No one from Hollywood was allowed. So I just wanted to put that in about her daughter. She's not nice.

Sally Kirkland: :Yeah. But we had an amazing service-- and I'm an ordained minister in the movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness,, if any of you are curious, and I've produced this memorial at Paramount and we had many, many, many pictures and we had all of her illustrious friends get up and speak. I remember being asleep one morning and I picked up the phone and it was-- oh, James Bond, Sean Connery.

RR:Sean Connery, oh yeah. She loved-- ohhh [laughter]!

Sally Kirkland: And he was telling me he couldn't make the memorial but he wanted to talk about Shelley. And I was blown away, being woken by Sean Connery's voice on the phone. And he loved her.

RR:Oh, yeah, he certainly did. Shelley Winters would talk about her lovers every Thursday at lunch at The Silver Spoon. And she was-- I asked her, I said, "Who was the best guy you ever had sex with?" She said, "Well, let me tell you: Burt Lancaster used to knock my head through the wall. He was rough as hell. But Sean Connery? She said he was the finest and the best lover any girl could ask for. So, there you go, Sean Connery!

Sally Kirkland: I just got chills when you said that.

Ron Russell: Yeah, well, she didn't think anything of telling all the gay guys how hung they were and how sexy they were. She loved men. Now, her ex-husband, I knew. And he was a sweetie pie. But--

Sally Kirkland Tony Franciosa?

Ron Russell: Yeah, Tony. But he didn't have anything bad to say about her, but he didn't have anything good to say about her. So he was a nice fellow. I liked him a lot. Did you know him well?

Sally Kirkland Yeah, sure, we did a movie together called Double Threat and he and Rita, his wife and myself, we socialized a lot. I never met Victorio her first husband.

Ron Russell: Neither did I.

Sally Kirkland: But she had this boyfriend Jerry and right before she died she wanted me to marry the two of them. So I did in the hospital room and--

Ron Russell: Actually, he really wasn't her boyfriend. He was a good friend.

Sally Kirkland Well, she would describe him that way.

Ron Russell: Yeah, but he was really just her friend, her really good friend. She died and left him $60,000 and the car, which was nice. She could have left him more but he's a sweetheart. I loved her that way.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, Shelley was my everything. She was my mentor. She taught me everything and mostly-- I'm going on my 58th year of acting and she taught me how to do that, how to endure and, like I said, be independent.

Shelley Winters: A tough broad from Brooklyn

Ron Russell: Oh, she was quite a broad from Brooklyn. I'm from Brooklyn. So the two of us were tough.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah.

Sally Kirkland: Okay. Shelley Winters gave me Marilyn Monroe's fuck me shoes which were open toe, open back, green silk oriental shoes which I wore until they turn into dust.

Ron Russell: Shelley and I would curse each other out. We had little love fights. I would tell her she's crazy, she'd tell me to shut up. Stuff like that which never upset me. You know Shelley how she was. I loved her much. I really did love Shelley Winters. Tough woman. Not easy. So how did you find working for her?

Sally Kirkland: Well, I got balled out a lot but that came with the territory. She got me into the actor's studio when I was very young. I brought Robert Deniro to meet her and then he-- and then she got him in the film Bloody Mama which was his first Hollywood film. And he and I dated for a while and we'd hang out with Shelley and it was a great time in theatrical history, the 60's and the Actor's Studio and Al Pacino was there and Deniro and Dustin Hoffman. And of the women, Brenda Vaccaro was there and Jill Clayburg and myself.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell

Ron Russell: Marilyn Monroe.

Sally Kirkland: Well, Marilyn Monroe was a little earlier than me at the studio. I mean, she died in, what, 80--

Ron Russell: 62.

Sally Kirkland 60, I'm sorry.

Ron Russell: It was 62.

Sally Kirkland: 62, and I only got into the studio around 62 or 63. So I didn't-- I missed her.

Ron Russell: She was around Marlon- She was around in the Marlon Brando days.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah. And my mother being with Life and the senior editor put her on the cover of Life a lot and put her on the pages of Life and then Shelley being her roommate told me many stories and gave me her-- I don't know if I'm allowed to swear in this interview.

Ron Russell: Yes, you can.

Sally Kirkland: Okay. Shelley Winters gave me Marilyn Monroe's fuck me shoes which were open toe, open back, green silk oriental shoes which I wore until they turn into dust.

Ron Russell: I love the best story of Marilyn Monroe is Shelley Winters running Hollywood Boulevard chasing a turkey. Did you ever hear that story?

Sally Kirkland: No, tell me.

Ron Russell: Yeah, well, it's a long one so I can't but everybody--

Sally Kirkland: Oh, okay.

Ron Russell: I think she put it in her book. I'm not sure.

Sally Kirkland: Right, sounds familiar.

Ron Russell: But Shelley Winters was roommates with Marilyn Monroe and they used to go out with any men they could just for dinner and then call it steak and rape because the guys would give them steak and have sex with them. Marilyn and Shelley were great friends, she did say Marilyn was a slob, clothes all over the place but Shelley was no better. They had a lot of fun together and Shelly really liked Marilyn.

Ron Russell: I was best friends with Jane Russell, have you ever met her?

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, she was great to me. I really liked her.

Ron Russell: She's a broad. She's no bullshit, no "Let's do lunch, darling", she hated phoneys, she was a weirdo, she was not normal sometimes, but wonderful. I loved her to pieces. She's the sweetest thing in the world to me. That's nice that you met her, that makes me feel good. I'm sure she liked you. Now, you went away. Tell me where you went and what you did.

Sally Kirkland: When I went away? When I went to Los Angeles?

Ron Russell: No, you just got back from India or something or am I--?

Sally Kirkland: Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, I was just in Bangkok, Thailand doing the female lead in a film called Invincible. It's an action film with a romantic story, and it was extraordinary. The Thai people, they bow down to each other and smile. I've never seen such friendly people.

Ron Russell: So was it nice filming there, easy filming or different from Hollywood?

Sally Kirkland: It was different from Hollywood for sure. It was an all-Thai crew. The director, Daniels, he really liked me and he kept writing new scenes for me, it was great. I had a blast. It was challenging being in a plane for 19 hours or rather 12 hours, then 2 hours in Tokyo, and then 6 hours from Tokyo to Bangkok.

Ron Russell: I read that and I felt sorry for you. I do LA - New York and I'm ready to have a nervous breakdown.

Sally Kirkland: Right. No, it was great. I had a blast.

Ron Russell: I was flying once across country many years ago with Rita Hayworth and I was bitching then. We were all standing up gabbing and Rita Hayworth, of course, was knocking them back, so she was a bit loaded. And I said, "I cannot stand this flight. It's like five and a half hours of torture." So Rita Hayworth sat up and she said, "How about if you were in a covered wagon with fucking Indians after you? What do you think that was, a joy ride?" And everybody on the plane went hysterical laughing. She had quite a great sense of humor, Rita Hayworth. This was when she was an older woman, of course. Have you ever met Rita Hayworth?

Sally Kirkland: No, but I worshipped her in the film Salome. I just fell in love with her as Salome, the movie.

Ron Russell: But you've never met her?

Sally Kirkland: No, I don't think so.

Sally Kirkland: I remember being on Howard Stern at one point and taking my top off when he agreed to take his clothes off. And he did. No one believed me because it was the radio. But he did take his clothes off. So I thought that was a stellar moment.

Ron Russell: She lived across the street. I lived on 306 South Spalding Drive and she lived in the penthouse floor in the building across from me. And I remember the night when the paramedics came and took her away.

Sally Kirkland: Aww.

Ron Russell: It was a sad thing. Yeah, I was very sad.

Sally Kirkland: Did she live alone?

Ron Russell: Did she live alone? Yeah, she lived alone. I think maybe her daughter was coming in and out. I just found out-- now, I love and adore my Stella Stevens. I mean, Stella is one of the sweetest, nicest, most humane people I've ever met in my life. And now you said to me she's in assisted living. Is that here in Palm Springs?

Sally Kirkland: No, it's here in Los Angeles. I can't remember the name of it.

Ron Russell: When you can, message it to me. I must go see her.

Sally Kirkland: Okay, I will.

Ron Russell: I love Stella. Do you know Stella well?

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, we did a couple of movies together. And her son, Andrew Stevens, starred with me in the film-- what was it called? Oh well, that film.

He said, "Grace Kelly was every bit a lady," he said, "but yet she'd go to bed with the gas station attendant if he was sexy

Ron Russell: Are you with everybody? Every time I read you on Facebook, it's another celebrity that you're friends with. You really and truly know Hollywood better than most people do.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, I've been very blessed. And before Hollywood, in New York, my mother introduced me to everybody. She would introduce me to Christian Dior, and Coco Chanel, and Helena Rubinstein And Audrey Hepburn.

Ron Russell: Oh, I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. You met Audrey Hepburn? That is incredible Sally.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah.

Ron Russell: Oh, my God. I adore her. What was she like?

Sally Kirkland: She was so humble and sweet, very humble. You'd never know she was a big movie star. She was just so humble.

Ron Russell: Right. Mr. Blackwell, who was my best and dearest friend in the world-- Richard and I hung out. He did her clothes and he knew Audrey well. And I said, "Richard, what was Audrey Hepburn like?" He said, "The way you saw her in movies is exactly what she was in person." Charming, beautiful, gentle, a dove. He loved Audrey Hepburn. He also dressed Grace Kelly and--

Sally Kirkland: Really?

Ron Russell: He said about Grace. Yeah. He said, "Grace Kelly was every bit a lady," he said, "but yet she'd go to bed with the gas station attendant if he was sexy [laughter]." Well, Blackwell, he had that bitchy column, Ten Worst Dressed List.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, I remember Mr. Blackwell. We were friends.

Ron Russell: Yeah. You know Richard wasn't mean in person. Not at all. He was very sweet.

Sally Kirkland: Very sweet.

Sally Kirkland in a movie still from Cold Feet

Ron Russell: So listen now. Nudity. I believe in nudity but I also believe in male nudity. I don't like just female nudity because it makes the woman to be used and the man is not. The man puts a sheet over his penis and the woman is exposed. That's not equality. I feel like if a woman is naked in a scene, the man should be naked in a scene. How do you feel about that?

Sally Kirkland: I remember being on Howard Stern at one point and taking my top off when he agreed to take his clothes off. And he did. No one believed me because it was the radio. But he did take his clothes off. So I thought that was a stellar moment.

Ron Russell: Would he have done it on television, I wonder?

Sally Kirkland: I wonder. I'm a painter and I painted nudes for years and years. I just have always been okay with nudity. I feel that people should be proud of their bodies no matter what they look like and--

Ron Russell: That is great.

Sally Kirkland: Be peaceful with nudity. I have a movie called Cuck, C-U-C-K that's in post-production now where me, at my age, had a nude scene in the bathtub. We'll see how it turns out [laughter].

Ron Russell: Well, listen. Don't say, "At your age," because you're still a beautiful woman. You're just not 21.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Actress Sally Kirkland attends the 19th Annual Hollywood Film Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 1, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Sally Kirkland: Thank you. Thank you.

Ron Russell: No, wait a second. I modeled, my darling, in an almost G-string bathing suit two years ago for New York Fashion Week. They were doing all these young models in gorgeous underwear and bathing suits, and they wanted an old bag. So they said, "Get Ron Russell. He still looks good. He still has a nice body." I wasn't bothered. I walked that runway, they were screaming, banging, yelling. You had to see it. Outrageous with my wild white hair in this G-string that was one size too small. They did it deliberately so I'd look like Godzilla like I was hung with like a mule [laughter]. And they were going crazy. Today, my darling, if you read back on-- it's like I want everybody to believe--

Sally Kirkland: Yeah, I'm about to do a movie called The Talking--

Ron Russell: Wait, wait, wait. Hang on. Sally Kirkland was born in 1941. She's a year younger than I. Everyone out there because you're in your early 70s, don't think it's over. Please don't. Pull yourselves together. Get out there and be like Sally Kirkland. Yeah, you go with it, honey. You run with it.

Sally Kirkland: Yeah. I have a movie I'm doing in November in Sacramento called The Talking Tree and I'm doing pre-production for that now. And I just go from one to the other. I did, I think, six films this past year.

Ron Russell: At 77 years old, bless you, my darling.

Sally Kirkland, you are an interesting woman. You are a brilliant actress that we all know. You are stunningly beautiful even now. For your age, you still have a lovely figure. I can't say anything bad about you. I think you're wonderful. And everyone is going to love this interview because you've been very generous.

Sally Kirkland: Thank you. Thank you, Ron.

Ron Russell: Thank you so much, my sweetie. You are the best.

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