By Chris Barry
Blink and you miss her.
Candice Rialson (Picture: 1 - 2
) rides up on a golf cart alongside leather-faced oldster John Huston. After about 30 seconds of film time, she disappears. Not just in the movie, but for good.
The film is Winter Kills
(1979) and Candice plays one half of a pair of flaxen vixens - she's even credited as "Second Blonde Girl" - who diddle blustery coot Huston under a fur blanket.
Her only line is: "I'm always hot."
Pay attention and you may detect a twinge of irony in Candice's delivery, a self-reflective sense that the claim is, in fact, a lie. But who, exactly, was
hot back in 1979?
Bo Derek, Farrah Fawcett, Jessica Lange, Susan Anton, Margot Kidder…even Marilyn Chambers boasted more clout than Candice Rialson by the drive-in decade's end.
Accordingly, from Hollywood's perspective, Rialson was most definitely not A-list. She was B-list trapped and then condemned to Z-list when Winter Kills
died at the box office.
Never mind that Rialson commanded the lead in a half-dozen still-beloved cult classics from 1974 to 1977. Never mind that she was a bona fide box office draw. Never mind that she embodied the golden California surfer-chick mystique like no one else before or since.
In the end, Candice Rialson was still considered B-material.
But not everywhere.
In their 2003 grindhouse meditation Sleazoid Express
, authors Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford spell it out thusly: "Candice Rialson is the blonde pricktease princess in halter top, bell-bottoms and platform shoes. She made only a few films, but that made her more special and dreamy."
Filmmaker Joe Dante, who directed Candice in Hollywood Boulevard
(1976) before he moved on to blockbuster material such as Gremlins
(1984), dubbed his one-time muse "the eternal starlet."
And, Hollywood be damned, it is devotees such as these who have been proven correct.
TAKING CANDY FROM A BABY
Candice Rialson initially emerged in her birthday suit in Santa Monica, California, in 1952.
Seventeen years later, she garnered the Miss Hermosa Beach crown, which led to an uncredited appearance in the flower-power farce The Gay Deceivers
(1969).And then Candice stayed out of the public eye for five years, seemingly saving up her star power for an ephemeral, incandescent run through exploitation history that remains unequaled in its ongoing allure.After a quick appearance in a TV flick titled The Girl on the Late, Late Show
, Candice exploded all over 1974 in fun, Roger-Corman-produced fluff such as Candy Strip Nurses
(Picture: 1 - 2 - 3
) and Summer School Teachers
, along with the harder-edged Mama's Dirty Girls
, which opens with Rialson in front of a mirror, sliding into a white bikini as she preps herself to commit murder. That same enchanted year also thrust our heroine into darker, kinkier fare. Pets
(Picture: 1 - 2
) provided Candice with first starring role and led to her attaining both Screen Actors Guild membership and an agent. But this genuine oddity is better remembered as a landmark sadomasochistic blowout wrapped in colorful sexploitation clothing.
' masterful ad campaign (all puns intended) depicts Candice on her knees, a dog collar gripping her throat and a hand tugging the leash to which she is attached. Even so, the image hardly conveys the rough-and-tumble mind-banging of the final product, where the ultimate SoCal honey is "collected" successively by a black hooker with a heart of rage, a groovy lesbian artist and a wiggy sadist who keeps an exotic menagerie in the basement of his mansion. Guess who ends up in a cage.
"YOU CALL THAT A FUCK?"
My first exposure to Candice Rialson came via a 1977 screening of Chatterbox
at the Skylark Drive-in Theater in Aurora, Ilinois.
It's hard to believe that Chatterbox
(Picture: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
), directed by veteran gay porn helmer Tom DeSimone, has any intention of sexually arousing its audience. The film's focus is more on broad comedy (again, pun intended), the impact of which is largely governed by one's own patience for knuckleheaded slapstick and rapid-fire corniness. That Rip Taylor commands the screen here as an infernal hairdresser speaks volumes.
What has always struck me about Chatterbox
, however, is its undeniable sweetness. Hands down, this is the most heartfelt film ever made about a woman with a talking vagina.
And, no, it is not the only
such film ever made. The French hardcore import Pussy Talk
(1975) takes a decidedly different approach to the identical scenario, with the leading lady's loquacious loin urging her ever-further down into a sexual sewer of degradation.
Some journalists claim that DeSimone's film is actually based on Pussy Talk
, but I don't think so. Whereas Pussy Talk
is a "roughie", Chatterbox
is a "cutie."
Consider the plot itself. Candice's Chatterbox
character, "Penelope," discovers her fluent flue one night after an unsatisfying love-making session with her boyfriend.
"You call that a fuck?" whines the vagina-named-Virginia.
As the film moves forward, Virginia gets bolder, pushing her owner toward wilder, more sexually provocative situations. Finally, Penelope goes to a psychiatrist, whose therapy involves turning Penelope/Virginia into a touring song-and-dance act.
Candice is almost Chaplinesque in her comically physical role. She moves her body from carnally-charged to wracked with nerves and she's utterly convincing all the way through. It's an intensely erotic performance due not only to Rialson's physical beauty, but because of how endearingly she commits to every nuance.
proved so successful at my local drive-in that it played a couple of first and second-bill rounds every summer from 1977 to 1982. It was later a staple of early home video, but has long since been out of print. Old VHS copies of the movie occasionally turn up on the auction site ebay.com, with typical bidding kicking off at $45.
is worth every penny.
YOU COULD ALMOST TASTE HER
As ignited by Chatterbox
, my affection for Candice naturally led to my attempting to learn more about her. Alas, this has supplied me with years of frustration.
When she dropped out of show business, she really dropped out.
On the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Candice's biography states merely: "According to Quentin Tarantino, Rialson was the inspiration for Bridget Fonda's character in Jackie Brown
Yahoo! Movies' "full biography" simply declares: "Lead actress, onscreen from the '70s."
There are zero fan web sites devoted to Candice Rialson. But that may be partly my fault. In a desperate effort to smoke her out in 2000, I purchased the web domain www.candicerialson.com. I never built the corresponding site because I was hoping that somebody in her "camp" (Candice herself?) might seek to purchase the URL. Then they'd have to find me first. It didn't happen. I let the domain lapse.
Subsequently, I placed numerous requests for comment at Roger Corman's production company New Concorde to no avail. I also attempted to get in touch with Chatterbox
director DeSimone, but he wasn't talking.
Reaching out to Hollywood Boulevard
co-directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush proved similarly fruitless. The best I could come up with was listening closely to their commentary track on the Hollywood Boulevard
DVD. Strangely, Dante and Arkush rarely mention Rialson at all, although both concur that, "Candice had such long [finger] nails" and they reminisce about how they would purposely shoot Candice from behind because she has such a "great butt."
Dante does mention that Rialson "was the reigning sexpot at the time. She had done a lot of exploitation pictures and had had a hit with Summer School Teachers
. Plus she did nudity, which was always good because it was a little difficult to get these girls to take off their clothes."
Though Rialson worked non-stop from 1974 to 1979, she couldn't penetrate that Hollywood wall to mainstream stardom. When bigger movies did beckon, her roles were as quick as in Winter Kills
. There's a snippet of her in Logan's Run
(1976) and a tiny morsel in Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction
(1975), where Rialson is known only as "Art Student." Nonetheless, Candice does make an impression on the imposing Eastwood: while leaving a classroom she smiles and tells him she'll do "anything" for a good grade.
From the perspective of any Pabst-Blue-Ribbon-swilling '70s teen, Rialson splashed across highway screens as the ultimate but - to borrow a line from the arthouses of the era - obscure object of desire.
WE ALL WANT CANDY
These days, rumors occasionally surface that Rialson died after Winter Kills
- that she had succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood, that drugs and a decadent lifestyle did her in.
But in 1993, journalist Ari Bass, writing for Femmes Fatales
magazine, tracked Candice down through her uncle. Ironically, nobody in the business knew what happened to her - nor did they seem to care.
Candice Rialson didn't dead-end in the proverbial (or literal) gutter after all. She wasn't in rehab or jail or worse. She simply chucked it, got married and had kids.It's a happy ending for any fan of the luminously talented, impossibly gorgeous Ms. Rialson -- even if whoever it was she did marry turned out not to be you.