Pia Zadora: Back Again, and Standing Tall
Whatever happened to Pia Zadora?
That has been a question pondered by many for the past 15 or so years. The actress/singer whose career has followed the path of a yo-yo over the years is back with a new stage show, singing and dancing her way back into headlines and our hearts. We gays can sure relate to those who have been beat down and left for dead. Since the early 80s, Pia Zadora has starred in a string of what we will call bad choice films with "Butterfly" (even though it won her a Golden Globe), "Fake-Out" (aka "’Nevada Heat"), and "The Lonely Lady." It wasn’t until John Waters gave her a cameo in "Hairspray" (19880 as a beatnik ironing her hair did the string end.
But what proved to be Zadora’s saving grace was her singing. Her recording in 1985 of "Pia and Phil" with the London Philharmonic Orchestra silenced her critics and put her on tour with the late and great Frank Sinatra. But as you look over her career in show business, starting as a child performer in the early 60s, it has always been her singing that has made Pia stand out -- from her early days on Broadway, to touring with Sinatra and the singing the standards, and finding some success in the genres of rock and pop. Destiny’s Child may have sung about it, but Pia Zadora is a true survivor.
Now she has resurrected her career with an upcoming appearance at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room with her one-woman show. I had a chance to catch up with Pia and reminisce a bit over her showbiz history, and chat about the itch that brought back to the stage for another round of songs and dance.
BeBe: It’s been a long time since I have seen your name in the news or in the spotlight. As I was looking back, it has been 30 years this year since you won the Golden Globe for Best Female Newcomer (1982 - "Butterfly"). The 80s were a big thing for Pia. I remember a lot going for you going on during that decade. You were adored by your fans, even though the critics were not so kind. Was it difficult to juggle everything with such a dichotomous atmosphere?
Pia: Well, I am a survivor and I love a good fight. And the movies I did, except for "Hairspray," were pretty susceptible to criticism (laughs). I basically opened my legs and it happened. It’s just the nature of my choices which I really didn’t, and I’m not copping out at all, make my own choices during that period. I was very young, and I was very easily influenced. I was given opportunities and didn’t think twice about whether they would back fire or not. That was the bottom line. So, I went full force ahead, and then had to a lot of damage control which involved my singing. When I started to sing again is when I really started taking people aback. It was like, oh my God, she can really sing.
BeBe: Your talent just shown through your song and dance for sure.
Pia: It was something I’d done since I was... I mean people didn’t know I had it in my back pocket. It was my secret weapon. I starred on Broadway when I was 6 years old (1961, "Midgie Purvis" with Tallulah Bankhead). I come from a family of opera singers. I was the youngest daughter (Bielke) in "Fiddler on The Roof" (1964-66) and was in "The Sound of Music" and "Applause." That’s where I started singing on Broadway.
BeBe: And of course, as you matured you did quite a wide range of material. You did some dance stuff, pop, and even the standards. What did you enjoy the most, or feel the most comfortable doing?
Pia: Right now, it’s the standards because I think I’m at that part of my life where I can relate to them. And 15-20 years ago, I sang with (Frank) Sinatra, and I was exposed to that kind of music. I sang with Tony Bennett. He came on stage with me at the Supper Club and sang with me. I toured with Sinatra and heard that music every night. It just became a part of me. Although my mother claims she was listening to Frank Sinatra when I was conceived (laughs). And I said, ’he was in the room?’ My mother was the biggest Polack ever. And must I remind you that I was a nominated for a Grammy back in 1984 for Best Female Rock Performance (song "Rock It Out"), which I loved doing at the time. The time I was doing the standards back then, I was thinking these were all corny songs because I didn’t know any better. And now I am like I love these songs. So I guess I must be old and corny (laughs).
Pia: I must be old and corny even though I have a John Waters’ card staring at me on my board here.
Story continues on following page:
Watch this interview with Pia Zadora from 2000: