In the fourteen years since Winter Kills (1979), her cinematic swan song, Candice Rialson’s trail had grown pretty damn cold. After a five-year career which established her as one of the great “drive-in divas” of the ’70s, Rialson seemingly dropped off the planet.
Few personal facts were known about Rialson. She was born in Santa Monica and grew up in Tustin, near Santa Ana, in Orange County, California. While still in high school, she got a fake ID and danced at a nightclub on the Sunset Strip called Gazzarri’s. “They used to take local high school girls and make them featured dancers,” explained director Allan Arkush. She studied veterinary sciences (for about a month) at UC Davis and, in the early 1970s, moved into an apartment off Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood. By 1975, she was one of the most steadily working young actresses in Tinseltown. By 1978, she had retired.
Lately, Rialson’s subsequent fate had been the subject of disquieting speculation. “About two years ago, I heard a rumor that she died,” director Joe Dante told me. Her former agent, Bernie Carneol, had heard the same. But gossip is common currency in Hollywood. The time had come to get to the bottom of it all.
I: THE QUEST FOR CANDY
I consulted Rialson’s past co-workers for background research. Gus Trikonis, director of Moonshine County Express (1977), remembered absolutely nothing about Rialson’s small role in the film. Ed Carlin, the movie’s producer who had also hired Rialson for Mama’s Dirty Girls (1974), offered nothing more enlightening than “She was a nice girl.”
I was much luckier with Joe Dante, who co-directed Rialson in Hollywood Boulevard (1976). As film apprentices, Dante and Allan Arkush edited trailers at New World and initially saw Rialson when they cut together the trailer for Candy Stripe Nurses (1974) Dante recalled they were “thrilled to get her for Hollywood Boulevard. She had previously done quite a few of those kinds of pictures, the ones we were making for Roger (Corman), and they always involved nudity, which she seemed very comfortable with.
“She was the star, with first billing, of many exploitation pictures. After our movie, she did the picture Chatterbox! (1977), which wasn’t the greatest thing she could do for her career, because the last time I remember seeing her on screen she was squeezing John Huston’s crotch in Winter Kills (1979)”
I heard that Rialson was “sought out” for a role in Hollywood Boulevard II (1990), a sequel to her cult classic. The film’s director, Steve Barnett, confirmed this “rumor” was quite valid. Producer Tom Merchant, who had spoken with the actress, said Rialson turned down the offer: “She didn’t want anything further to do with the film industry.”
After following numerous leads and dead-ends, I finally located Rialson’s uncle, who furnished me with his niece’s address and phone number.
II: CANDICE RIALSON: “I’M ALIVE!”
The former New World bombshell seemed flattered, and very amused, by my efforts to locate her. Rialson discussed her genesis as an actress: “I was Miss Gazzarri’s 1968, when I was 17 and a junior in high school. I would go in there with a micro-mini like you can’t believe! There was this big picture of me, about ten-by-five foot, at the place. It was there for years.
“Then I was Miss Hermosa Beach, and that’s one of the things that got me started around here. Every- body else wore high heels out on the pier they all had these elaborate bathing suits and I just had on a little bikini and was in my bare feet. I was too naive to know to wear high heels. Dino, Desi and Billy presented me with the award. After that, I got a bit part in The Gay Deceivers (1969), though I didn’t have any lines. I met a guy, Jim Byron, who worked across the street from Gazzarri’s and was Yvette Mimieux’s manager. He started to make me think that I might be interested in acting.
“I was really fortunate to have had the opportunities I had. I was on the beach at Malibu, and a guy said that I would be perfect for this low-budget movie they were doing called “Pets”. I didn’t even have an agent at the time. He was the assistant cameraman, and he said to bring some pictures. I didn’t have any professional pictures, so I brought some pictures of me in my backyard with my dog. They gave me the part that day.”
Pets (1973), a very kinky variation of The Collector (1965), was produced in 1973 and released the following year. Starring “Candy” Rialson, the film encompassed S&M, fetishism, and female bonding. Rialson delivers the movie’s classic line as a lesbian painter’s model. Eventually attracted to a male suitor, Rialson ignites the rage of her “girlfriend.” “You hate him because he can give me the one thing you can’t,” sniffs Rialson’s character.
Pets (1973) Naive, but brash and sultry teenage runaway Bonnie finds herself lost and adrift in America. The lovely young lass runs afoul of a colorful array of evil oddballs who all treat her like an object: violent criminal Pat makes Bonnie help her kidnap the middle-aged Dan Daubrey; domineering lesbian painter Geraldine Mills wants Bonnie to be her kept girl and uses her as a model; and wicked misogynistic rich sicko Vincent Stackman desires poor Bonnie as the ultimate prized possession in his menagerie of caged female animals he keeps locked up in the basement of his swanky remote mansion.
“They kind of told me what it was about, but I didn’t have a whole script to look at,” recounted Rialson. “I knew I’d have to do some nudity for it, but I had no problem with that at all I’m really European in the way I look at that kind of stuff. I had to join SAG for Pets (1973), and I had to get an agent. Soon, I started getting sent on tons of interviews and callbacks, and I’d end up getting about 70 to 75 percent of what I went out on.”
Rialson caught the eye of Julie Corman, New World Pictures producer, and was cast as Sandy in Candy Stripe Nurses (1974). “Candice just stood out,” recalled Corman. “It wasn’t like we were down to the wire and needed someone at the last minute. We really wanted her from the beginning.”
Candy Stripe Nurses (1974) Three high school girls work as volunteer candy stripe nurses at Oakwood Hospital. Free-loving Sandy (Candice Rialson) meets a famous rock star, Owen Boles (Kendrew Lascelles), and tries to cure him of his sexual problems. Uptight Dianne (Robin Mattson), who wants to be a doctor, has an affair with Cliff (Rod Haase), a star college basketball player who is being given speed by one of the hospital’s doctors, and tries to expose the malpractice. Juvenile delinquent Marisa (Maria Rojo) has an affair with Carlos (Roger Cruz), who is falsely accused of taking part in a gas station hold up, and tries to prove his innocence.
Alan Holleb, whose prizewinning student film HEAVENLY STAR impressed Corman enough to hire him as screenwriter and director, recalled his New World debut: “I found out they had taken a poll at a local high school. They sent someone out with a list of 30 or so titles, and Candy Stripe Nurses got the most votes. That’s how they decided to make the picture. Then we had to come up with the storyline. They wanted a little social consciousness, a little romance, a little comedy and a little sex. Another requirement was they wanted a sex clinic. I don’t know why!”
A hospital in Burbank was chosen as the central location. “Julie had prepared an expurgated copy of the script under the title ANGELS OF MERCY, so that the hospital administration would give us approval to shoot there,” Holleb explained. “The hospital had about 95% occupancy, and we were in the few empty rooms shooting late. The patients were all saying ‘Shut up,’ and the sound man would say, ‘You shut up, we’re trying to shoot.’ I remember one of Candice’s scenes was in a linen closet, with the young intern. It was, in fact, the real hospital linen closet. While we were shooting her topless scene, the guy from the linen service came by. The guy says, ‘I have to get in there. I’ve got a route to make!’
“Candice was a sweet girl,” said former agent Bernie Cameol. “If she worked at it, she could have gotten to the level of Sharon Stone.
“Then somebody made the mistake of leaving the unexpurgated copy of the script around, and it made its way to the administration. Between that and the linen closet, we were forced to move to another location, a beat-up former clinic. It didn’t match the hospital at all, and I remember asking the art director to put up a sign for the rest of the scenes saying, ‘This Way to the New Wing’ to justify the total change in look.”
Rialson’s fellow “candy stripers” were played by Maria Rojo and future soap opera star Robin Mattson. The New World ensemble added support, including Tara Strohmeier and the omnipresent Dick Miller. Look fast for Sally Kirkland, “a friend of Julie Corman, who also worked on casting,” as a sex clinic client.
Candy Stripe Nurses was released in May, 1974. It proved to be New World’s fifth and final installment in the “nurse” series, which had been initiated with 1970’s THE STUDENT NURSES. (“I like to think I killed the genre,” joked Holleb.) By all accounts, Corman and Co. were enthusiastic over the top-billed Rialson. Ed Carlin of Premiere International was equally impressed with the New World starlet.
Producers Carlin and Gil Lasky developed Mama’s Dirty Girls (1974) as a vehicle for Gloria Grahame. Though her performance in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) earned her an Oscar, Grahame’s career had declined; nevertheless, at age 50, she still looked pretty good. Rialson won the role as one of Grahame’s daughters. Sondra Currie, fresh from her starring debut in Policewomen (1974), was cast as Rialson’s older sister. Currie summed up the plot in one sentence: “The daughters would knock off their mother’s husbands for the insurance money.” The movie, double-billed with The Manhandlers (1974), came and went in December, 1974. “If you haven’t seen it,” admits Ed Carlin, “you didn’t miss much.”
Mama’s Dirty Girls (1974) Mama loves men, but she loves money even more. She’s trained her three teenage daughters to meet, marry and murder men for their money. But soon they meet Harold and he’s got other plans.
When Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions began casting for The Eiger Sanction (1975), Rialson was called for a reading. She landed the role of a student who tips-off professor/government assassin Jonathan Hemlock (Eastwood) that she’ll do anything for a good grade. It was the kind of scene that guarantees attention for a fledgling actress. Clint Eastwood wrote a really nice letter to Universal about me,” recalls Rialson. “He was really, really nice to work for, and everybody loved him.”
Back at New World, Barbara Peeters was preparing to direct one of her own screenplays, Summer School Teachers (1974), a follow-up to Jonathan Kaplan’s The Student Teachers (1973). Julie Corman was producing again; Rialson, Pat Anderson and Rhonda Leigh Hopkins were cast as the title characters (Anderson and Hopkins had just completed Cover Girl Models (1975) for New World). Naturally, Dick Miller was on hand again. “Candice was a rare combination,” Julie Corman raved. “She was a good actress and a beautiful girl. She had a real flair for comedy. She also helped keep a good mood on the set, which was very important.” Summer School Teachers, released in August 1975, cemented Rialson’s reputation as New World’s resident B-Queen.
Summer School Teachers (1974) Three friends from Iowa go to California for the summer, rent an apartment together and teach at the same high school. PE teacher Conklin (Candice Rialson) coaches an all-girl football team despite the opposition of the resident coach (Dick Miller), and romances one of the male teachers. Sally (Pat Anderson) teaches photography and despite being engaged to a man back home, has affairs with an eccentric rock star with a food fetish, and with a male chauvinist teacher who talks her into posing nude for some photos. Chemistry teacher Denise (Rhonda Leigh Hopkins) becomes involved with one of her students, a juvenile delinquent, who is falsely accused of participating in car stealing. Conklin uncovers that funds for sport are being misspent by the school coach (Dick Miller). Both she and Sally are suspended but all ends happily with the girl football team triumphant.
Around this time, Teri Schwartz offered Rialson another New World assignment. “She asked me if I wanted to be in a roller skating movie, like ROLLER DERBY MAMAS or something, down in Venice,” explained Rialson. “I had just come off one of those serial three-girl movies, and I wasn’t interested.” She did accept a role in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie (1976). “I had the only speaking part. I was the nurse that slapped Marty Feldman. It was just a bit part.” Her scene was cut from the film, and re-shot with another actress (who didn’t get a line).
III: HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
Producer Jon Davison made a wager with Roger Corman, one which Corman couldn’t turn down. Davison bet he could shoot a movie in ten days for around fifty grand. “When Joe Dante and I were working for Corman,” recalled Allan Arkush, “we would think of ideas for movies which we would to try to sell to Roger. Gradually, I think Roger got the message that we wanted to do a movie. He went out to lunch with Jon Davison, and Jon basically begged Roger to let us all do a picture.” Corman approved Davison as producer of Hollywood Boulevard (1976), along with Dante and Arkush as co-directors. One prerequisite was attached to the deal: the film would have to be loaded with action. “That’s when the idea came up of using footage from other movies,” revealed Arkush.
Hollywood Boulevard (1976) In a prologue, pompous film director Eric Von Leppe (Paul Bartel) is shooting a skydiving sequence for low-budget Miracle Pictures in which an actress is killed. Candy Wednesday (Candice Rialson) arrives in Los Angeles to make it as an actor. She gets an agent, Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), but struggles to find work until she inadvertently gets involved in a bank robbery as a getaway driver. This gets her a job for Miracle Pictures as a stunt driver. She meets Eric Von Leppe, temperamental starlet Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov), sleazy producer PG (Roger Doran) and friendly scriptwriter, Pat (Jeffrey Kramer). Candy and Pat fall in love and she starts to get work as an actor, becoming friends with fellow starlets Bobbi (Rita George) and Jill (Tara Strohmeier).
Everyone goes to the Philippines to make a movie, Machete Maidens of Mora Tau, starring Candy, Mary, Bobbi and Jill. Candy has to play a character who is raped, which upsets her. Later on during the shoot, Jill, Bobbi and PG have a threesome. During the filming of a battle sequence, Jill is shot dead by an unseen attacker.
Back in the US, Candy, Walter and Pat all go to see Machete Maidens at a local drive in, where the projectionist tries to rape Candy but she is rescued by Walter. While shooting a chase scene in a science fiction film, Mary, Candy and Bobbi are almost killed in a car accident. Bobbi is called back to the studio late at night and is stabbed to death.
Candy begins to suspect Patrick is the killer. But it turns out the real culprit is Mary. She tries to kill Candy at the Hollywood Sign but it falls on her and crushes her to death. Candy is reunited with Pat and becomes a film star.
The budget was trimmed by integrating “expensive looking” footage, from various New World films, into the story. “When we started looking through all the stock footage, we realized that there wasn’t much that tied it together,” recalled Arkush. “So we can up with the ‘murders on a movie set’ idea, but as a satire (of exploitation films). We knew we couldn’t do a serious picture for that kind of money.” The filmmakers, opting for a spoof involving a serial killer who stalks movie starlets, shot Hollywood Boulevard during October 1975. Completed in only 10 days, the movie was produced for less than $60,000.
Rialson was wonderful as Candy Wednesday, an innocent ingenue who checks-in to “Miracle Pictures” (their logo: “If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle!”). The profusion of in-jokes were specifically tailored for film buffs, while the obligatory t&a count appealed to mainstream audiences. Rialson was supported by Dick Miller, playing an agent named Walter Paisley (in- joke #1), along with Tara Strohmeier, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel. Debuting near the end of April 1976 to generally very good reviews, Hollywood Boulevard launched the careers of Dante and Arkush.
During the same year, Tom De Simone came up with Chatterbox! (1977), an inversion of the phenomenally successful Deep Throat (1972). “In the original idea, it was going to be an X-rated film,” explained De Simone. “Not hardcore, but just X-rated because it was at the time that EMMANUELLE, and pictures like that, were doing well. So the producer Bruce Curtis and I began shopping it around and we found investors. But they said, ‘No, it’ll have to be R- rated or we won’t put the money up.’ So, the script got considerably more white-washed or toned down than it originally was.”
The principal character, Penelope, realizes she has an unusual “woman’s problem”; her vagina, which answers to the name of Virginia, is a literal conversation piece (vocally complaining about the sexual performance of Penelope’s lover). Upon learning about her talent, greedy entrepreneurs exploit Penelope as a sideshow attraction.
Chatterbox! (1977) Penelope, a young hairdresser, discovers her vagina can talk when it criticizes a lover’s performance, who leaves in a huff. At the salon where she works, her talking vagina insults a lesbian client, which leads to her being fired. Penelope goes to a psychiatrist, Dr. Pearl, where she reveals her “problem”. In the psychiatrist’s office, her vagina reveals a new talent, singing. It has a propensity for singing show tunes. Dr. Pearl reveals her secret to friends of his in show business. At a meeting of the American Medical Association, Penelope and her talking vagina, now called “Virginia”, are revealed to the public for the first time. Virginia regales the assembled physician with show tunes. Dr. Pearl becomes her agent, and over Penelope’s objections, launches Penelope and Virginia on an entertainment career. At a show hosted by Professor Irwin Corey, Virginia sings in public for the first time, becoming a star after crooning a disco tune. Virginia increasingly becomes the tail that wags the dog, with Penelope becoming increasingly unhappy as “they” become a successful act on a cross-country tour. Despite her new success, Penelope decides to kill herself until she sees the lover from the start of the movie and discovers that he has a talking penis.
De Simone, suspecting that casting would prove difficult, devised a plan: “We had open auditions but we didn’t tell anyone what the film was about. When the actors came in to read, they were just given sides and they had no idea what it was about. Someone had seen Candice in Candy Stripe Nurses, and then we called her in. We liked her very much. So when we all decided she was the girl, we had to bring her in and tell her what she was going to be doing. At first she was a bit shocked. We assured her it was all going to be a spoof and in the best of taste, and there would be no full frontal nudity on her nothing from the waist down.” Rialson laughs at the memory: “I didn’t know what it was about when I auditioned, but I got the picture real quick.”
“Candice was always fine on the set,” nodded De Simone, “she was always prepared. Probably the most difficult scene was the scene where she’s presented to the AMA. She had to be (nude), laying on that table in front of a huge audience. Up until then, we did the nude scenes on a closed set. But this particular day, she had to appear in front of that audience of people, and I re- member we only had her in that position on that table for one long shot where they were all giving her a standing ovation.”
Co-star Perry Bullington, now a Hollywood casting agent, described Rialson’s approach to the nude scenes: “She had a great sense of humor about it all. At first she was a little nervous, and then she said, ‘Hey, I’m acting as if no one’s ever seen a set of headlights before.’ ”
“I remember Candice was very professional and cooperative, even after the picture,” said De Simone. “She showed up at previews and stuff like that.” Rialson recalled her promotion of the film: “That one took me to Australia and Fiji, and all over the place. What was funny was I traveled first class, but I used to trade in my ticket for tourist class and get that extra money. They didn’t have anything (in tourist class) when I went to Australia, so I was sitting by myself and they had me on the VIP list: American actress, Candice Rialson.
“So the stewardess comes up with her English tea set and asks if I’d like to come up and see the pilot. I went in, and they start telling me that I am their favorite American actress and that I’m big over there. And I’m thinking, ‘Gee, from the Roger Corman B-movies?’ Then I thought, ‘Well, it could be.’ My head’s getting bigger and bigger, and I start thinking that when I arrive it’s going to be just like the Beatles or something. Then they tell me that their favorite movie of mine is Soldier Blue (1970)! So, all this time they’re thinking they have Candice Bergen in the cockpit with them. So I signed my name Candice Bergen’ for them.”
Upon completion of Chatterbox!, Bruce Curtis wanted Rialson for a three-picture contract. “But one of my agents was dragging his heels for so long,” explained Rialson, “and I wasn’t aggressive enough to say, ‘OK, let’s get this deal drawn up,’ so it never came through.” During the remainder of her career, she was never again locked into a leading role.
Moonshine County Express (1977) When a hillbilly moonshiner is murdered by a powerful sleazy competitor, his three armed to the teeth daughters take over the family business and swear vengeance.
Rialson got another crack at an A-picture in Logan’s Run (1976), though she played only a bit part: “You know, I was going on interviews the same time as Suzanne Somers, Farrah Fawcett, and Loni Anderson who was a brunette at the time. It was always that same old gang during that period.” Rialson had a small supporting role (four scenes), as William Conrad’s teenage girlfriend in Moonshine County Express (1977). The cast included another B- queen, the late Claudia Jennings, along with John Saxon and Susan Howard. Released in June 1977, Moonshine concluded Rialson’s association with New World. She subsequently appeared in Stunts (1977), a thriller starring Robert Forster and Joanna Cassidy, as the film-within-a-film’s leading lady.
Rialson’s last film experience may have further contributed to her premature retirement. William Richert’s stylized, big budget ($6.5 million) Winter Kills (1979) involved the assassination of an American president, who’s murder is investigated by his younger brother. Adapted from the 1974 novel by Richard Condon, the sterling cast included Jeff Bridges, Anthony Perkins, Toshiro Mifune and Elizabeth Taylor.
As “Second Blonde Girl,” Rialson does indeed rub John Huston’s crotch. Her one line: “I’m always hot.” “It was shot at the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley,” she recalled.
Production was shut down three times, delaying its release until 1979. “I don’t think I ever saw that movie,” said Rialson. Few people did. Winter Kills was a huge flop at the box-office. Many assumed that the Kennedy family has pressured the studio to pull it from release; however, it’s more likely audiences resisted the indiscriminate mixture of drama and black humor.
Frequently cast in television roles, Rialson appeared on SHAFT, THE MAGICIAN. and ADAM’S RIB in a single year (1973). “I did so many,” smiled Rialson. “I did a lot of MAUDEs. I also did a bunch of commercials. I did one for Soft and Dry antiperspirant with just me and this big lion, face to face, with two big manes of hair.”
She also had a small role in a 1974 TV movie called The Girl on the Late, Late Show (1974). Ironically, Don Murray was cast as a detective trying to locate a former movie queen (played by Rialson’s Mama’s Dirty Girls co-star, Gloria Grahame). Rialson can also be seen with George Peppard in Guilty or Innocent: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case, a lauded 1975 TV drama. “It’s my usual Candice Rialson role, I flirted with him and got on the back of his Harley, and said a few short, sweet things.”
IV: THE ETERNAL STARLET
“I never took any of it too seriously,” recounted Rialson. “Some of the girls were so serious about their careers. You know, I lived with Cathy Bach for years and she couldn’t get arrested. We rented David Soul’s house when he was in New York. She would be taking all these acting lessons, and I hadn’t invested a dime. She eventually wound up playing Daisy Duke on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.”
I had explained to Rialson my difficulty in trying to trace her whereabouts through her fellow actors. As an example, Susan Howard’s recollection was limited to seeing Rialson around the MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS set. Tara Strohmeier (CANDY STRIPE NURSES, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD) could only recall, “We had a professional relationship.” According to Rialson, “I always felt more a part of the crew. I never really intermingled with many of the actors. I’m really a tomboy, and that’s why I always got along with everybody on the set all the grips, all the best boys. I was never interested in vain men, or really good-looking lead actors. I was always the one who was interested in the dolly grip or something. The funkier guy (laughs).”
Her parakeet chirps loudly. No scent of starlets lubricated in suntan lotion. No sign of Dick Miller. “Everything came easily for me, ” remembered Rialson, “while there were just as talented and knock-down- gorgeous actresses out there who couldn’t even get agents. I was getting scripts delivered to my house in Nicholls Canyon. I got past that point where you have to go out on auditions. My agent would be calling me and I’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to my grandma’s funeral, I can’t make that meeting,’ and he’d say, ‘Candice, this is the third grandma this month.’ I was really busy and couldn’t appreciate that at the time.”
One day, Rialson decided to quit. “I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to get married and have a family. I was just not interested in that kind of lifestyle, or bringing up a child in it. I got married in 1980, and I moved to Studio City for a few years.” Today, Rialson lives north of Los Angeles with her husband and 10-year-old son. She regards her blissful existence as her “most rewarding role.”
Reflecting on her cinema legacy, Rialson’s lusty libertine may be interpreted as a precursor to Sharon Stone’s femme fatale. But Stone’s celebrity is by-product of shock; her promiscuous characters clash with an era of sexual discipline. Rialson’s lusty appeal was so incontestable that it didn’t fade into a decade indulgent in sexual freedom and the advent of XXX-movies. Candice Rialson’s screen persona, in fact, may be commemorated as the “swinging ’70s” incarnate.
The actress, whom Joe Dante aptly described as “the eternal starlet,” beat the system. She cut-out before passing into Hollywood’s “involuntary retirement” age (over 30 for female “sex symbols”). She knew the first rule of show business is “Leave them wanting.”
Rialson passed away from liver disease on March 31, 2006, at the age of 54, in Palmdale, California, where she still lived in retirement with her husband. Her death was kept secret and only released until recently.
Femme Fatales v02 n02
NEW WORLD’S LEGENDARY B-MOVIE GODDESS STEAMED-UP WINDSHIELDS By Ari Bass