Saturday, September 23, 2006

Exclusive Celebrity Interview: Petunia Pig

Petunia Pig turned 96 years old this week and we're lucky to have her with us for this exclusive Bloggy-Blog interview. I caught up with Petunia after spotting her in upper Manhattan shopping at Keihl's with friend, and likewise ancient veteran of the stage and screen, Kitty Carlisle. I tripped Ms. Pig on the escalator exit and pinned her to the floor where the following interview took place.

smouldering glamour: circa 1938

Bloggy-Blog: You started out in cartoons in 1937 in "Porky's Romance". Can you describe how this role came about?

Pig: I met Frank Tashlin, the director, at Schwab's Pharmacy on Sunset. They had a counter there with a soda fountain.

Bloggy-Blog: A soda fountain at a pharmacy?

Pig: Oh yes, but with a twist. In those days cocaine was very open and available. Schwab's had a guy there, the soda jerk, and he'd sprinkle cocaine into your root beer float or on your fudge sundae, whatever. It was a gimmick to keep the customers loyal. Consequently, Schwab's was a wildly popular scene. Very chic. The equivalent of Woody Harrelson's Oxygen Bar.

Bloggy-Blog: I believe Mr. Harrelson sold that a while ago.

Pig: Oh, did he? Anyway, Hollywood was full of stories of stars being discovered at Schwabs Pharmacy. People like Tallulah Bankhead, Alfalfa Schweitzer, Lassie, and lord knows... They were all plucked from Schwabs. So one day I'm in there when this oversized lug in a pinstripe suit sits next to me at the counter talking his head off. I thought maybe he was hawking insurance.

Bloggy-Blog: Tashlin?

Pig: Yeah. Or "Tish-Tash", as he was also known. He tells me he's a big-shot cartoon director at the Schlesinger studio and the whole nine yards. Meanwhile, he's sucking up this banana-whip cocaine cocktail and he gets this idea, see?... He says something like, "Hey doll-puss, what'ya say you come down to the Termite Terrace [the studio's nickname] for an audition? We need to cast a dame, a girlfriend part, to work with Porky in his new motion picture... and you're da' spittin' image. A real pip!" And so I went down to the casting office that afternoon.

Bloggy-Blog: So, just like that?

Pig: I was so naive. But sometimes you need a little of that to get places... fortunes have been made by way of blind naivete, ya know what I mean?

screen test excerpt

Bloggy-Blog: What kind of work had you doing before then?

Pig: A little of everything. I filled in various chorus girl jobs here and there. I was in a couple of Busby Berkley things, way, way in the background. At night I worked clubs like the Macambo where Jack Benny was a regular with his own booth. On odd days I'd waitress this little place down on the east end of Hollywood called "Laughing' Jack's Canteen". Lots of sailors and mugs there. 'Seemed like every night the boozing led to fist fights and stabbings. I was a Cigarette girl, hat check girl, coat check... random things to make rent.

Bloggy-Blog: I see. So now you successfully passed the audition. Then, the next day, you're supporting Porky Pig in "Porky's Romance", in 1937. People talked about you as an overnight sensation and, in fact, you were the real deal. What was it like going from a meager lifestyle to working with a big star like Porky Pig?

Pig: Well, it was exhilarating. You bet. I mean, they're all bastards in Hollywood but I was very excited to be there and smitten with Porky in the very early days. I had to demure from my crush and keep my composure as a professional. Particularly In "Porky's Romance", I played a woman who was more attentive to her Pekinese dog than to the romantic offerings and boxes of chocolates showered on her by Porky's character. ...a stark reversal of our so-called "real-lives" around the lot. Along those lines, I would later see what a real swine Porky could be.

Bloggy-Blog: That Pekinese dog was played by--

Pig: A fellow from the San Fernando valley, a bit player named Xavier Pierce . A year later, he was run over by a Red Car while crossing Selma. In his pockets, they found a collection of various silk panties, fishnet stockings and the like. Something was going on with "X" that they never quite figured out. It's always the quiet ones.

Bloggy-Blog: Speaking of gender ambiguities, wasn't it Hedda Hopper who wrote, "Petunia looks like Porky's double, only in a woman's dress, heels and 'come-hither' lashes"?

"oh Poooorky?"

Pig: Yes. But I didn't care. Let me tell you about the "dreaded" Hedda Hopper. She was a hack with a deadline and a column to fill --a parasitical, battle-axe with a sick talent for proffering reams of yellow journalism. The problem was that she did wield a heavy-handed influence around town. Jack Warner, in particular was scared to death of her. Of course, Jack carried himself with his blustery exterior but he'd completely buckle to whatever was brought to bear by Hopper, the Catholics and the Hayes Commission and all that. Actually though, there was nothing hugely offensive in her review of "Porky's Romance".

Bloggy-Blog: You don't think her statement was - -

Pig: Sure, I was a large burley woman with a 5 o'clock shadow. But I was voluptuous like Mae West. As a dancer I knew how to carry myself gracefully, while dressing complimentary with the Art Decco sensibilities of the day. Hollywood Stars weren't so much the pretty runway models, like you have now, you understand? We were larger-than-life characters. Consider Cagney, Eddie Robinson, Petey Lorre, Popeye and those type of guys. All short, stocky and, one could say "ugly" but with top billing!

Bloggy-Blog: It seems that even Porky would never stand a chance in today's world of fashion over talent.

Pig: Exactly. But remember, it was good to have a gimmick back then too. There's always been a great deal of showmanship in this business, talent or not. I used heavy Max Factor rouge in perfectly delineated circles, which was my own trademark. I was lucky to be blessed with a natural skin radiance that lit up on the silver screen. So I wasn't threatened by catty remarks coming from Hollywood gossip rags. I was happy during that period. I'd hitched my wagon to this anthropomorphic stuttering pig juggernaut. Cartoons were a staple in movie houses all across the country! And, of course, I was finally making some pretty decent bread. I don't mind admitting that I bought plenty of hats and chewing gum. It was good.

Bloggy-Blog: And yet, from there the trajectory of your career was rather rocky. What happened?

[to be continued]


simple said...

This is the good stuff. I remember the PP interview in Vanity Fair in the 90's-pure fluff. Some promo piece for an Altman film, I think. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for pt. 2. Thanks for this.

Cocovan said...

PORK! The "Other" White Meat.....

Brought to you by the California Pork Authority........

Joey Polanski said...

What I remembr is how COMPLETLY Ms Pig was outshone in them days by th incomprable Betty Boop.

Them tiny, tiny ankles ... that massive, MASSIVE head!

Ahhh, but th hydrocephalick sex-symbol has gone th way o th dinosaur.

I blame Hefner!

Anonymous said...

Hey, are you Simple too? What the hells going on here?

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel