Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pia Zadora -- Back Again and Standing Tall

Be true to yourself as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Be who you are. You only live once. It’s all about honesty and the world you live in. Honesty is important even when it hurts someone else’s feelings.

The above sums of the philosophy of Pia Zadora and how she is now living her life.
She has had more careers in her lifetime than most. She made her Broadway debut when she was seven years old in a play with Tallulah Bankhead! She won a Golden Globe in her twenties. She made a few “wrong turns” in her career and then, thanks to Frank Sinatra, she began singing with symphony orchestras. She performed from Carnegie Hall to The London Palladium and was beginning to be taken very seriously in this business. Then Life happened. She left the business for fifteen years to raise a family. She recently returned to performing AND New York tin a new cabaret show. This February, 2013, was her first appearance in New York since appearing in Crazy for You in 1995.
I am a fan of Pia’s. My mom was in New York this weekend for my birthday, her FIRST TIME EVER IN NEW YORK! We celebrated at Pia’s show Saturday night. We are both excited that we saw her. She is at the top of her game and not to be missed. I was also very excited to sit down and talk with her earlier this past week.
She returned to the New York stage for an exclusive five-show engagement at The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, ending a 15-year hiatus from the New York stage. Her new show, “Pia Zadora -- Back Again and Standing Tall,” which the native New Yorker premiered on the West Coast in 2011, recently played the prestigious Smith Center in Las Vegas this summer. 
Pia made her Broadway debut in Midgie Purvis starring Tallulah Bankhead

I posted on Facebook on Monday that I was going to be interviewing Pia later that afternoon.

I have to be honest. All of the questions but one was not acceptable…at least to me. Why people are interested in salacious gossip and/or innuendo is beyond me.
I am interested in what makes a person tick, what their life experiences have been that have brought them to THIS point in their lives.  
I call it celebrating a person’s body of WORTH!
I’m excited to be celebrating the one and only Pia Zadora!

Born in New York, Zadora was first a child actress on Broadway -- appearing with Tallulah Bankhead, and later with Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof -- and in film, appearing in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in 1964.  

For her breakout film, Butterfly (1981), she won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year appearing with Orson Wells. In 1984 she was nominated for a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy Award.
Also in 1984 she had a hit duet with Jermaine Jackson that reached #1 in several European countries.
 Pia’s first experience in this business was with Tallulah Bankhead! What a way to start! The show was called Midgie Purvis. Pia’s recollections are that Tallulah was an extremely charismatic, iconic, and very passionate. Burgess Meredith directed it. The premise is that a childish 50-year-old woman leaves her dismissive family, disguises herself as an 80-year-old woman, and becomes a babysitter.
She ends up corrupting the children she is baby sitting.
She teaches them to smoke and smoke. Pia was seven years old at the time.
That carried off stage as well! She was wild. Pia would go in her dressing room and Tallulah would say, “Here, Darling, take a sip of this. It will help you. You’ll feel good.” On stage, the smoking consisted of some sort of powder puff device. Off stage, Tallulah tried to show her how it was really done so that people would believe her!   
Then there was Divine and John Waters who Pia worked with in the original Hairspray. All of these iconic people left an imprint on Pia in terms of helping to model and shape her life. She likes to walk straight ahead and be brave.
All of these icons share that quality. They were her biggest role models.
One of Pia’s fondest memories goes back to when she was in Fiddler on Broadway. Also in the cast was Bette Midler; she played Tzeitel. They used to hang out together and had a lot of fun. The girl who played the middle sister was Liza Minnelli’s best friend. 
Although Pia was ten, they included her with them. They would go dancing and dinners and partying.
When Pia went to see Liza six months prior to this at the Hilton in Vegas, it was like two school girls seeing each other again. They were yelling and screaming together backstage. It was as if they both were reconnecting with their past. They were eleven and twenty one again. That is a wonderful fond memory.

Another great memory for Pia was having her daughter. Pia married businessman Meshulam Riklis in 1977, when she was 23 and he 54. He used to joke about the age difference. When she got pregnant, he said, “Thank God! Now, you’ll have someone your own age to play with.”

What makes Pia unhappy? Seeing people who are suffering and in pain or sick or dealing with real challenges and dealing with life struggles and what they have to endure. This is why she does what she does. She wants to alleviate their challenges…even for a short while through her music. She desires to make people feel better and understand that we all suffer throughout life to varying degrees.
We talked about LIVE entertainment and why it is still so important.
Pia is right when she says you cannot replace the experience of a one on one LIVE performance. This is one reason why she loves cabaret and intimate settings like The Metropolitan Room in New York and The Razz Room in San Francisco.
It is a form of performance art in which you can share with your audiences the story of your life and look in their eyes and impart your feelings and your lessons and your stories, no matter how you desire to phrase it and make an impact on them one on one.
Has she ever lost her concentration on stage? It is inevitable! When she was ten, she was in Fiddler on The Roof with the legendary Zero Mostel!

One night the curtain went up at the wrong time and Mostel dropped a candlestick and it rolled across the stage. They went with it. When you are in a play, you become the character and improvise and go with whatever happens. You must pretend that it didn’t distract you while remaining in character. Once, Pia was appearing in a supper club about fifteen years ago. At the time, Pia’s daughter had a Pomeranian named Baldie because of a bald spot on his head. 
One night the audience was reacting to something going on on stage behind her.
She turned around to see Baldie. He had followed her onto the stage. Because of the physical resemblance of Pia and her daughter, he used to mistake the two.
They also walked the same way. Pia refers to this as a “truck driver kind of a walk.” Upon seeing Baldie, Pia quipped, “Oh my God! My old wig has followed me out on stage.” It cracked the audience up.
Frank Sinatra with Pia Zadora
Then there was the time she was opening for Frank Sinatra. She had these quick changes between gorgeous Bob Mackie gowns.
They were throwing shoes and etc at her. Within 45 seconds she was trying to make a graceful entrance back on to the stage. As she made her entrance, she heard a gasp. She looked down to see that she was pulling on to the stage practically a whole roll of toilet tissue on her heel! She didn’t have much a comeback for that one except that there was no time for her to go to the bathroom between costume changes! She told the audience someone must have stuck that on her heel.
The biggest change that Pia has seen since first starting out is social media.
There was NO internet when she began in this business.
Now she can see practically everything she ever did on the internet and You Tube. Technologically, everything has gone beyond its original scope. Along with that, the entertainment industry has lost part of its personal touch.
I asked Pia about her creative process and he she prepares for a new project. She tells me she has ADD.
While we were talking on Monday, she was spiraling because of the list of things she had to do that day prior to flying to New York for this engagement.
While we were talking, she chipped a nail. So add a trip to the manicurist to her already full list of things to do. She says the only way she can contain and/or confine herself to the task at hand is to meditate which she tries to do when she is in one of her ADD clusters. When all else fails, she gets a massage. It takes her a while to calm down but eventually she gets to that place where she can start thinking about what lies ahead and what needs to be done. These thoughts are ever present when she first wakes up in the morning. She tries to go for long walks to sort it all out.
What she wants to do or say or what she wants to sing all starts to form. With this particular show, she has a great team surrounding her. This is her “come back” show. She took a fifteen year hiatus to “torture myself.” She had two young young kids traveling with her when she got pregnant with her third. They had no frame of reference and needed to settle down and go to school. She needed to give them a normal life. She couldn’t keep doing what she was doing. As a child, she didn’t have a normal life. She was always traveling and working. At the point that she decided to take a break, she was a single mother. She ended up settling down herself to give them a normal upbringing and fifteen years quickly came and went. She got married a couple of times during that period. Her NOW husband is her FOREVER husband. He is a policeman.
They moved to Vegas where he was on the force. They still live in Vegas. Her youngest is now fifteen and basically independent. They started seeing shows. A friend asked Pia to come onstage and do a number and she realized how much she had missed this.
Singing full blast while driving her son in carpools was fun but being on stage was much more fun. She started pointing together this new show, a show in which Zadora slips into a number of jazz, Broadway and popular standards from “Great American Songbook,” the Grammy-nominated Golden Globe winner updates us on her colorful life, her career and her growth as an artist. 
The show is created by the Emmy-winning director and choreographer Walter Painter; the Emmy-nominated Academy Awards writer Jon Macks, and the Tony and Peabody Award winner Larry Grossman.
The music direction is by legendary Sinatra pianist Vinnie Falcone, who leads a five-piece all-star band, that includes Jay Leonhart on bass, Ronnie Zito on drums, Joe Lano on guitar, and Ned Ginsberg on keyboards. Bob Mackie has designed the gowns. It’s going to be a fun run.  To reach this audience, she has done many print and radio interviews. I was lucky that she fit my interview in as well. She did The Huffington Post last week. 
She is going to be on The Joy Behar Show. No one reads newspapers anymore!  
In the list of icons above that made an impact on Pia, one name is conspicuously missing. He stands in a class alone. Frank Sinatra.
They spent a lot of time together. They traveled together. They did a cross country tour, Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, and Pia. Prior to that, she was appearing in Florida with Jackie Mason. Sinatra was a friend of Mason’s and came to see the show. The next day she received a dozen white roses. The card read, “You knocked them dead, kid from the guy with blue eyes.” Two hours later, his people called her and asked if she would like to open the show for Mr. Sinatra. 

It came after a time in which she had been doing a lot of pop music in Europe. She had a number one song in France in which she had a duet with Jermaine Jackson. She also had a Grammy nomination in ‘85 for Best Rock Vocal Performance Female, for "Rock It Out." Sinatra changed Pia’s musical direction.  She then did the Pia and Phil album. She sang classic standards with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and she did it well. 
These are standards that Sinatra recommended when she was with him. That album started her on her Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, London Palladium and Pyramids in Egypt tour. That led to symphonies all around the country. The tide turned musically for Pia because of Sinatra. He had a major impact on her.  

The things that Pia has enjoyed the most came later on in her career. That would include Hairspray with John Waters, Naked Gun: 33 and a Third. In the beginning, it was really an experimental process. The later part of her career has been about choosing things that she has fun with. She also loves singing the standards.
This is also where she has had the most success.  
One of my platforms is arts in education.
Pia also feels that it is very important. It is important to have a strong background in music. Pia comes from a musical family. Her father was a Broadway and concert violinist. He did both Broadway and classical.
He worked in the pit on La Cage Aux Folles, Porgy and Bess, and many others.
He was constantly practicing and had a very strong work ethic. He had studied in Europe. His mother was an opera singer. She started Pia vocalizing when she was three. Pia later on went to Julliard. A lawyer goes to law school. Why shouldn’t someone in music have the same type of education? Everyone needs to study their craft.
What would she tell her 25 year old self? Youth is wasted on the young! The one thing that she tells her kids which they don’t realize yet is that they will not be young forever. It really does go quickly as corny as that may sound. You turn around at 25 and then you’re 50! They have to see this! Jump on that horse and ride it. It is so fleeting.   

What she is doing now is what Pia really loves doing. She desires to keep doing it.
The greatest change facing Pia in today’s industry is keeping herself fresh and in the NOW and real and being true to what she desires to do despite all the other influences around her.
Technology is so different from where it was twenty five years ago. There are so many different things happening that are distractions. They can be alluring but once must stay simple and true to what you are doing and not suffocate the art. Pia has been mostly out of the public eye for the past fifteen years. It is now all about re-establishing herself. Many have a preconceived idea of who and what she is all about because of who she was in the past. She has to enlighten them because it really is not who she was and certainly who she is not now. She is also connecting with an audience who don’t know who the heck she is. There is a whole new audience out there and listening to the kind of music Pia desires to sing.
This music is timeless. A lot of pop stars are now doing the standards. The old and the new are merging and Pia is re-introducing herself.
We talked about Carol Channing receiving the 2013 Kennedy Center Honor.
We are both in agreement that Carol is the consummate and ultimate musical comedy entertainer. Pia’s father was a violinist for Hello, Dolly for its entire run. He passed away about fifteen years ago. Pia knew Carol when she was a small child. Pia last saw Carol six months ago when she appeared with a symphony in Palm Springs. Carol Channing is the one and only. She has no competition. She stands alone.  
There is more of grounding within Pia since leaving the business fifteen years ago. She understands herself more now.
She understands what she desires to do and wants to do better as opposed to the many random choices that were made by both her and those she surrounded herself with. 
When she was younger, she had such a hard time with all the controversy surrounding her. That comes with being young and “crazy.” That has all changed in a good way.  
The business has also grown and evolved. She considers it more of branching out than changing.

When it comes to these gorgeous Bob Mackie gowns, she considers them a second skin. She says she sleeps in them! 
Pia has held on to these dresses even after she stopped working. She couldn’t let them go. So when it came time for her to start working again, there were a couple of gowns that he made for her when she was pregnant. She has taken them in and going through these gowns, she has been reconnecting with the memories of her concert career and all of the places that she traveled to.
They have become a part of her. After she has “whatever”, she hopes that will live on somewhere.

This next question comes from Myles Savage of The Platters. Has Pia shared any love today?  (This was asked around 12 Noon EST on Monday. She was in Vegas) 

She had just woken up. The night before, she had accidently kicked her little Papillion in her sleep. She yelped and immediately Pia grabbed her to comfort her. 

She ended up petting her for about an hour and a half. THAT was the love she had shared prior to my call.

“Pia Zadora -- Back Again and Standing Tall” performed five times on four consecutive evenings. For upcoming schecule of other entertainers, please visit

I can’t wait to welcome Pia back to New York again and cheer her on!

Thank you Pia Zadora for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
This book will be a celebration of this great American classic.
 If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

Do you have any pics to share?

If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
My next blog will be...My interview with Frank Anzelone: A Director's Take on Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper                     
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!


  1. WOW! THIS PIECE IS AWESOME! Skipper is the bomb. Aaaah he can put his worth aaah words in my mouth anyday! You go skipper !!! Love PIA xoxo

  2. Great article. Looking forward to your book! Best, Lani

  3. Great piece Richard! Love that you add a touching and heartfelt message to the article and it isn't just celeb gossip. Thank you!

  4. Fascinating interview! Pia Zadora has lived a wonderful life and I hope she has great success with her new show!