"This Is My Happening And It Freaks Me Out!!!"
The Dolly Martin Interview: First British Playboy Playmate and Star of Beyond The Valley of the Dolls
by Lee Sobel (10/14/20)
Dolly Martin (née Read) was born in Bristol, England (where Cary Grant was from), became a pinup model, then Playboy Playmate of the month in May, 1966 and then star of Russ Meyer's cult movie Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970) which was the only produced script written by movie critic Roger Ebert. Playing rock 'n roll singer/guitarist Kelly MacNamara in a band called The Kelly Affair (later changed to The Carrie Nations), Dolly found herself in her first starring role in a 20th Century Fox picture that was a sequel in name only to Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. The year after the movie was released, Dolly married comedian Dick Martin of Laugh-In fame, and while she did not star again in another movie, she appeared quite a bit on television in the 1970s as a guest star on such shows as Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island and Vega$. She also appeared on numerous TV game shows with her husband and the Martins were good friends with pretty much every celebrity in town. Now 76, Dolly is a spirited, energetic story teller with a great laugh.
Dolly Martin: Hi Lee, it's Dolly Martin.
Lee Sobel: Well, you've already answered my first question. I was going to ask if you prefer to go by Dolly Read, Dolly Martin or Dolly Read Martin?
Dolly Martin: (laughs) The older I'm getting, the more I'm cutting down on everything.
Lee Sobel: That's a good idea. I've just started reading a biography of Cary Grant who, like yourself, was from Bristol, England.
Dolly Martin: You know I met him. While I was married to Dick Martin, we went to a cocktail party at Peggy Lee's house. It was really crowded. Cary Grant was there with the columnist James Bacon. Cary walked over to Dick and introduced himself and said, "Hi Dick, Cary Grant." I went, "Oh my God!!!" Dick said "Oh, this is my wife, Dolly." Cary was very charming
and then he started to walk away and I blurted out, "I'm from Bristol!" He stopped and he did that famous Cary Grant turn. We started talking about Bristol for about twenty minutes and he said his mother lived in Bristol. I told him my parents still live there. He said he was going to Bristol to see his mother in about four weeks and he asked for my mother's phone number and he said he would call her to say hello. I said, "You're going to call my mother?" And he said "Yes!" I said to Dick, "Okay were leaving now." He said, "No we just got here." I said, "We have to go home now because after meeting Cary Grant I've got to call my mother." We went to have dinner with Ginny and Bob Newhart, who were dear friends of ours and we stopped at their house and I asked Ginny if I could use her phone. So I called my mother and I said, "Mom, if Cary Grant calls you, it really is Cary Grant, so don't hang up." Then his mom died two weeks later, but we remained friends and we went to the Hollywood Race Track a couple of times as his guest. I told him once, "You know, Cary, every time I see you I become a blithering idiot." And he said, "I don't make you a blithering idiot. You make yourself that way." And I thought about it and he was right and I told him I'll never do that again.
Lee Sobel: When did you start modeling?
Dolly Martin: I did television and I was in the movie Kiss of the Vampire when I was in England, and I saw an ad in the newspaper for six girls to come to America to train as Playboy Bunnies to open the London Playboy Club. I always wanted to come to America, because I thought of America as cowboys and Indians and gangsters because that's what we saw on the television over there. I went for the interview with Victor Lownes, who was the Vice President of Playboy at the time. He said to me, "You're my kind of Bunny but you're not Hefner's kind of Bunny." Apparently Hefner liked much skinnier women. Victor Lownes asked me to be his date at a dinner at the Dorchester Hotel for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Victor's honor. It was a big dinner with a roasted lamb and a servant behind everyone's seat and I was telling the Crown Prince, "I know all about Arabia, you cut off people's heads and you go through the desert on your camels," and he got the biggest kick out of it. Victor said, "What
do you think America is?" And I started telling him my version of America. He said, "Well I'm going to America on Monday. Do you want to come with me?" I said, "Yes, I'll go, but I don't have a visa." He said, "Be at my house at 9am on Monday morning and we'll go." So I show up at Victor Lownes' house Monday morning and he's got secretaries running all over the place and he's sitting in bed and he had a big hairy chest and I said, "Oh my gosh, you look like an ape." It wasn't very nice to say, but it shocked me. I was sitting in the corner with my little suitcase and I
was thinking, "No...he's not going to take me to America. This was all a joke." Well, sure enough, he told the American Embassy that I was his fiancée and that he was going to introduce me to his son in America. I got the visa right there and we were on the plane at 1pm in the afternoon. We stayed at Hugh Hefner's house in Chicago, which was where the Playboy Mansion was at that point. Hefner said, "What do you mean she's not my type of Bunny? Of course she is!" And that's how I ended up getting tested with photographs and they chose me as the first English Playboy Playmate.
Lee Sobel: How did you get from there to Los Angeles and eventually auditioning for Beyond The Valley of the Dolls?
Dolly Martin: I was working in London as a door Bunny, which I hated. Victor Lownes called me up and said Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia needs a date to accompany him to a casino tonight and I said no I can't because my mother is in town visiting me and I wouldn't go alone with him anyway. Victor said, "So bring your mother!" So my mother and I went to this casino with Prince Fahd and the Prince showed me how to play Roulette which he was very good at and I won $6,000 that night. I moved to America and lived on that money for two years. I struggled to get a green card and eventually got it. I went to live in
New York for a while and got pneumonia and broke my foot while I was there and something was telling me to leave there. I went out to L.A. and when I landed I saw palm trees and blue skies and people smiling and saying hello and different colored houses -- everything in England was gray gray gray. I thought I had landed in utopia. I was living in L.A. for about six months before I got the lead in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls and by then I was really broke. I went to the International House of Pancakes and the woman there wouldn't even give me a chance. She said, "Oh no, this is very hard work." I said, "But I've been a Bunny in three and a half inch heels. I'm really good at being a waitress." She said no, so for about twenty years I refused to go into the International House of Pancakes because I couldn't believe they would kick me when I was down.
Lee Sobel: What was the audition like for Beyond The Valley of the Dolls?
Dolly Martin: I was in my push button Dodge Dart on my last pennies, chugging up the hill to 20th Century Fox and they had just released the movie Hello, Dolly! As I came chugging up the hill I saw this giant billboard and it said Hello, Dolly! and I knew I was going to get the part.
Lee Sobel: You were in L.A. during the Manson murders.
Dolly Martin: I hadn't yet met Dick Martin when that happened but he was apparently friends with a number of the victims. Did you know that in the big party scene in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, I wore Sharon Tate's dress from Valley of the Dolls. I know it's weird, but I was thrilled that it fit.
Lee Sobel: Had you seen the movie Valley of the Dolls?
Dolly Martin: No and Russ wouldn't let us see it. He said, this is not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls.
Lee Sobel: Had you seen any of Russ Meyer's movies prior to being cast in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls?
Dolly Martin: No, I hadn't. In fact when I went in to audition it was for the role that Cynthia Meyers was cast in. I did two interviews and then I did a screen test. Cynthia originally auditioned for the role I got so they just switched us into our parts. When I went in it was a room full of people and Russ Meyer was there and Roger
Ebert. When I was cast in the movie, we got $500 a week and in those days that was a lot for me. It beat the hell out of pennies in my purse.
Lee Sobel: Having been photographed topless for Playboy and being expected to do so again in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, I assume you were comfortable with doing nudity?
Dolly Martin: I've never been comfortable with my body. I know that sounds weird, having been in Playboy. I've never thought I had a good body. I had a flat stomach back then, which was great. I did have incredible boobs, but the rest of me I didn't care for, and never have. I'm still getting a lot of fan mail from people who are twenty, twenty-one, saying how they've just discovered the movie. I have never had a bad letter from anybody and people say the most complimentary things. Other people seem to have been comfortable with my body, but I haven't been. I was kind of naive back then. When I did the shoot for Playboy, Pompeo Posar was the photographer and he told me to make my nipples hard. I said, "Why?" He said, "It makes them stand out." I said, "What good is that?" He said, "It's very sexy that way." So I learned things that I had no idea about.
Lee Sobel: I heard that Russ Meyer would not allow actors to blink in close-ups and also that you went to the dailies once and then weren't allowed back to see dailies after that. What else do you remember about director Russ Meyer?
Dolly Martin: He was a great salesman and could convince you to do almost anything. There were two sides to him. When my parents came over to England to see me, he took them under his wing. He knew I didn't have any place to put them up so he brought a sleeper couch to my apartment and said it was for my parents to sleep on when they stayed with me. He was just a lovely guy, so adorable. But on the set, oh my God, he was the law! There was a lot
of Otto Preminger in him, let's put it that way. He would say things like, "We're gonna do this and we're gonna do that and we can replace you, you know." But then he would also kid around.
Lee Sobel: Did anything unusual happen during the shooting of the movie?
Dolly Martin: There was a scene where I'm supposed to be teaching Porter Hall to smoke marijuana. I had never really smoked marijuana, except for a couple hits off a joint when I was dating Tommy Smothers. He showed me how to smoke grass. On the set they gave me pipe tobacco and I didn't smoke and pipe tobacco is very strong. It took seventeen takes because every time I took a hit on the pipe I turned
Lee Sobel: Your singing was dubbed by Lynn Carey -- at any point were you considered to do you own singing?
Dolly Martin: Lee, I wish I could sing. My fantasy in life was to be a rock singer so when I did the movie it pressed a lot of good buttons for me. The music in the movie was outstanding. But I couldn't sing. Dick said to me, you know you changed keys in the middle of one of your songs, but of course it was Lynn's voice singing, not mine. Once when Dick Martin went on The Mike Douglas Show I went on it
red in the face. They finally had to do a take where I turned away from the camera because there was no way I could do it.
Lee Sobel: Did you get along with all of the cast in the movie?
Dolly Martin: I loved them. In fact, I speak to Marcia McBroom all the time. She and her husband Louis stay with me whenever they come out to the west coast. I'm so sorry that Cynthia Myers passed away (in 2011). I see Harrison Page a lot; he lives right near me.
with him. He turned to Mike Douglas and said, "My wife loves to sing." So he put me on the spot and asked me to sing "Wouldn't It Be Lovely" from My Fair Lady. I thought I could either beg off or I could go for it so I decided, what the hell, and I went for it. Dick was on the floor, laughing. He said, "That's the first time she's been on key as long as I've known her!"
Lee Sobel: Was there a premiere for the movie?
Dolly Martin: There was a small one but I was in New York at the time so I couldn't attend but when the movie was released, Russ Meyer was really upset because the studio really didn't get behind the movie at all. Roger Ebert was furious about this. They downplayed it so much and the movie got panned. But it survived and had a life of its own.
Lee Sobel: What are your memories of Roger Ebert, who wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?
Dolly Martin: He and his wife Chaz were super nice. A couple of years ago, after Roger passed away (in 2013), Chaz held a screening of the movie at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills on Roger's birthday. Every seat in the house was filled. They had the Strawberry Alarm Clock performing. People were obviously so much older but everyone was dancing in the aisles. It was such a happening, you wouldn't believe it. Everyone there knew every line from the movie. It was the most amazing evening.
Lee Sobel: After you starred in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, you must have been offered other movies.
Dolly Martin: By that point I was so in love with Dick Martin (co-host of hit TV comedy show Laugh-In) and he didn't want to be married to an actress, and when I didn't go in for an audition that my agent wanted to send me out on, my agent then dropped me as a client. So I chose a romance over a career. I'm very good friends with Angie Dickinson and she just had her 89th birthday and she still looks sexy and I play poker with her. She was going with Frank Sinatra at one time and he wanted her to stop acting because he didn't want to be with an actress and she chose acting over him. Well, I chose Dick. But I did a lot of television after that. I did a
couple of Fantasy Islands, three Charlie's Angels, and a lot of game shows and we had the best time doing game shows. So that fed my love of show biz and I would work now and again, but it wasn't the main thing in my life.
Lee Sobel: Laugh-In was certainly an iconic 60's TV show. How did you meet Dick Martin?
Dolly Martin: We met in a restaurant. He was having dinner with the comedian Jack Carter who was dating a friend of mine. I was in the restaurant and got up to use the bathroom and I passed their table and Dick and I saw each other and it was like one of those comics where stars are coming out of people's eyes. That's what happened when Dick and I looked at each other and we just connected. The
next day Jack called me and said, "Dick was crazy about you and would like to go out with you. Is it okay if I give him your phone number." I said, "Yes" and then I never heard from him. I told Jack, "Forget about it, I don't want him calling me." So one day, eight weeks later, he called me up and said "Hello, Dolly, this is Dick Martin and I think I love you." And I started laughing and I didn't stop laughing until he died (in 2008). We were married in 1971 and then after two years, I said, "Can we start the adoption?" And he said, "What adoption?" and I said, "You said we could adopt a child." He said, "I lied." I said, "That's a very big lie." He already had two boys from his previous marriage and he didn't want to have anymore kids. I
was turning 30 years old and was feeling like I wanted to have kids, so we divorced but it ended up being only for six months. We were still in love. I didn't want to get divorced but my shrink talked me into it and I got an attorney and he made Dick give me alimony for four years. Dick and I were living together and I was giving money back to him and after four years, to the day, we got married again. Dick said, "Well the divorce didn't work out."
Lee Sobel: What are your memories of Dick's TV show Laugh-In?
Dolly Martin: Well, I used to go to the set and I loved the show. Joanne Worley and I are both Virgos so we still send each other cards
every year. She's so sweet and I see her at parties. Ruth Buzzy is the best too. I was very good friends with Henry Gibson before he passed away. They were all such lovely people.
Lee Sobel: The 70's was a big party time in Hollywood with a lot of people doing drugs. What can you tell me about that time?
Dolly Martin: Well the first time I went to Dick's house, as I was going in, Bill Bixby was coming out. He lived near Dick and Bill was a lovely man who used to follow Dick around like a puppy dog. They had bought a brick of hash, but they were scared they would get caught with it so these two rocket scientists wrapped it in tin foil and buried it under the house. Six months later they went to get it and rats had eaten it.
Lee Sobel: You knew Frank Sinatra,
Dolly Martin: Yes, Frank once said to me, "I want you at my funeral." I asked him why and he said, "You'll lighten the place up with your laugh." He lived ten doors away from me when I lived in Malibu and he had a parrot named Rocky that would say "Fuck!" so loud you could hear it down the beach. Neighbors would complain about it. I would play cards with his wife Barbara and he would walk around in what he called his beach look without his toupé. One time he threw popcorn at us and threatened to call the cops because he said we were playing an illegal game. I loved him.
Lee Sobel: Match Game was a game show you appeared on repeatedly. That show looked like a party. What are some of your craziest memories of that show?
Dolly Martin: It was so much with Gene Rayburn, the host. We did five shows a day and sometimes six if there was a nighttime version. After the first show they'd give you a little wine. By the end of the taping we were feeling no pain and we had such laughs. The best was the game show Tattletales where there would be couples like Dick and me, Bob and Ginny Newhart and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé and we would get so raunchy. The women would be backstage and the men would have to figure out what their wives thought they would say to questions and we were all great friends so it was so much fun. But after the show Ginny would be upset with Bob Newhart and say, "I thought I knew everything about you but I don't anything about you!" They had four children together. Bob Newhart would say, "That's the last time we do that show because we always have a fight after it every time we're on it!"