Joey Heatherton's Life As a Bombshell

by Robert Kerwin

Chicago Tribune

July 3, 1977

They tell me to caress a mattressand I caress a mattress.

Fairly early in her career, Joey Heatherton was tagged as a sex symbol and marketed accordingly. But she knew all along how she was being packaged, she says, and everything worked out 0. K. Well, almost everything.

By Robert Kerwin

"Sex? Who, me? That's a laugh. But that s what happens in this business: They catch you early, package you, and if it works, you go with it. So here I am, Joey Heatherton, a sexy nightclub per- former, a girl who lounged around on Serta mattresses on TV."

We're in the coffee shop of Las Vegas' Sahara Hotel - where Heatherton is headlining the Congo Room - and whether she believes she is or not, she looks pretty sexy. Young, too. She must be 30 but looks 17. She's dressed in showy white, her hair is bleached a straw color and cut in a pixie, her blue-black eyes are beautiful smudges, and her creamy body doesn't quit.

She seems scared and suspicious and won t look you in the eye. Some of the press hit pretty hard a few years ago, and she didn't forget. In 1969 she mar- ried the Dallas Cowboys' Lance Rent- zel, and it was all pretty storybook until Rentzel got picked up and convicted on a morals charge, indecent exposure, involving a 10-year-old girl. In 1971 Rentzel got a five-year sentence with probation. That same year he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, and his marriage to Heatherton came to an end.

Joey, who was baptized Davenie Johanna, broke into the business at 13, playing opposite Mary Martin in "The Sound of Music," followed that with Broadway shows such as "Harold" and "Step on a Crack," then went on the road with companies of "Bye Bye Birdie," "Take Me Along," and "Can- Can." When she was 16, she went on television as a regular with the Perry Como show. She had her own TV show, "Joey & Dad," and eventually did some films: "Where Love Has Gone," with Bette Davis, and "Twilight of Honor," with Richard Chamberlain.

Most recently she has been doing con- certs and clubs, working in tandem-with

Robert Kerwin Is a West Coast - L lance writer.

Tony Bennett; dancing and singing on her own at Vegas, Westbury, Mill Run, and around the hinterlands; guesting occasionally on TV variety shows; and making records.

"I just finished 'The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington,' Heatherton says not too excitedly. "I'm Xaviera Hollan- der, and Jack Carter is a senator, and it s all about sex scandals on Capitol Hill, That's about it. No big deal. I get scripts to read, but good women s roles are hard to find. You can t find those old Doris Day-type roles nowadays."

She sits on the very front of her chair, apprehensive, staring at the ground as she answers questions. Sometimes she looks for help to her conductor, man- ager, and father-confessor Jerry Fisher, who sits in a chair opposite, monitoring everything and breaking in now and again with addenda and - cations. Fisher travels with Heatherton everywhere she goes.

"Being packaged as a sex symbol doesn't bother me," says Heatherton, whose salesmanship in the old Serta commercials many viewers still haven't forgotten. "I know what they re doing, and I play it. They tell me to caress a mattress, and I caress a mat- tress. Just so you know what they re making out of you. Some of these young girls you see on television - they don't know what s being done to them as they re being packaged, and I'd like to shout into the TV: 'Watch it, gal."'

Heatherton's parents were in show business - her mother a dancer, her father a big-band leader from the 1930s -and she has a brother with one of the networks in New York. As a girl she lived in Rockville Center, LI., and her parents still live there.

"It was a crazy upbringing," she says. "A crazy house to live in, but fun. I wouldn't have had it any other way. We were always singing and -acting, putting on little shows, my brother us- ing the cardboard tubes from old toilet paper rolls for microphones. One of the best things about me, I think, a-real attribute, is having been raised the way I was. I had this really wonderful grandmother who was always there. She'd let me cook with her. I'd stir the stuff in the different pots and pans she was using" - Heatherton's voice rises here to that of a 5-year-old - "and she d let me help her with the sewing, all kinds of things like that. -And she made dresses for me with big hoop skirts, and I'll never forget the wonder- ful dress she made me for my first communion. She made it herself. I'll never forget my granny. Or my mother and father, either.

"I always knew what I wanted to do - be on the stage performing. A lady we called 'Drummie' lived next door to us; I guess her real name was Mrs. Drumm or something, but I only knew her as Drummie. She was confined to a wheelchair, and I'd see her all the time sitting alone on her front porch. I was only a tiny girl then, and I'd go over there to Drummie's porch wearing these hoop skirts, these crinoline things my grandmother had made for me, and I'd dance and dance for Drummie. I'd spin and spin, and my skirt would flare and twirl, and I'd watch and see how much Drummie was enjoying it. That's how I got started; from then on, I was hooked.

"My parents absolutely hated the idea of me going into the business. When I was 12, I was on a telethon, and Richard Rodgers saw me and wanted me for 'The Sound of Music.' He called the house, and my parents said no. He called again and again. I'll tell you, it took a lot of meetings with Rodgers before my parents said yes. All that time I was praying that they would. So when I was 13. I was on Broadway with Mary Martin in the original 'The Sound of Music.' I played the ingenue nun and did the song 'I Am 16, Going on 17.' Of course, that wasn't my first acquaint- ance with nuns; up until then I'd been going to school with the Dominican sis- ters at St. Agnes convent."

On the Congo Room stage later, Heatherton comes out like a tropical storm, all full of sex in a glittering Vegas costume with a sparkling halter and a sparkling skirt slit up to here.

They're playing Joey Bishop's signa- ture tune, "Joey." Heatherton comes to a halt, looks sexily at the dinner audi- ence - pretty much a polyester, tour- bus crowd - and says: "Hi. I'm Joey. . I'm a girl."

She makes patter to the audience, the boys in Vegas on junkets, their wives not with them, and ain't it a shame? She dances, sings hots and blues and

In "Where Love Has Gone"(1964), Heatherton played opposite Bette Davis and Michael Connors.

Joey and her father, Ray Heatherton: "My parents absolutely hated the idea of me going into the business."

cools and slows, a little Garland here, a little Marilyn Monroe there. She brings a guy in a raspberry-colored suit and pink tie onstage. He's from Albuquer- que, and Heatherton cuddles him, gets him all hot and bothered. Oh, what fun they could have if he weren't married, if he were only available, right, folks? You handsome devil, did your wife come with you or are you out here on your own?

That's the funny routine, and the au- dience gobbles it up. The not-so-funny mood stuff follows: Lights out, a tiny spot bathes Joey's little face, and in a whispery voice with violin backing she says: "If you have love, hang on to it. If you ve lost love, you have company." Then she drifts into "The Wee Small Hours."

Heatherton is a little girl again, and scared, as we meet in her dressing room after the show. She's in a re- served white outfit this trip and looks like a doll, like everybody s beautiful daughter.

How do you keep looking so young? "I really don't know," she says, health and youth reaching out of those liquid eyes. "I've always looked like this. And people treat me young. That doesn't bother me the way it bothers other girls who look younger than they are. I mean, I was reading about Sally Field, and it bothers her to look like a little girl when this mature woman is inside her trying desperately to get out. Well, I don't think I'm like that. There's no conflict with me. I guess my work has something to do with keeping me in shape, my dancing. And I'm happier now than I've been in some time, I'm getting myself together.... She looks with caution toward Fisher. Scared. Scared somebody is going to bring up marriage and Rentzel and get some- thing started along those lines. Accord- ing to some sources, the Rentzel thing put Heatherton on the couch for four years.

Fisher takes it: "Joey is one of the most disciplined people I know, either in show business or outside. Look at all the singing she does - every night two shows. Well, you got to give that voice a rest or it won t work for you. So this lady rests her voice 12 hours a day."

"Well," says Heatherton, "I don't stop talking completely. I just cut down. I work hard at whatever I'm supposed to do. I always have.

"I was in a valley for a long time there," she says, "and only in the last two years have I come out of it. I went with destructive people, people who were wrong for me personally and for my career," She looks with caution to- ward Fisher. "That's over now. I'm free. Now I want to dance and sing and advance my career. I'd like to do a Broadway show, a brand new one, something created just for me.

"I'm tired of traveling. I've traveled so much lately that I gave up my place in New York. I have nowhere to live right now. Hotels. All I ever do is pack suitcases. I'd like to sit down once in a while and be comfortable, relax.

"But in another way, I like moving around and not settling down in one place. Vegas I always like. They knock the town, but I think it s pretty good. Hollywood I lived in on and off, and they re into different things than I am. 'What's your sign, and who s your psy- ?' is all you ever get from people there. What's your sign? That's conversation? I always give a phony. I say Gemini - even though I'm not Gemini - and I get this: 'Uh-huh, I knew it. I knew you were Gemini, the split personality, the whole thing. I knew. I could tell.'"

Is Heatherton making a decent living at this sex-symbol business?

"I'm making enough money," she answers, "but that s a hassle, too. My biggest hobby nowadays is looking for tax shelters. I'm considering a pretty big offer now from an automobile com- pany to do an ad, but really what I like best is performing onstage. I love to get up there in front of people and sing and dance. I really like the idea of getting outside of myself, being another person. That's why films appeal to me. What I'd like to do most is a show like Gwen Verdon's 'Redhead.' That was the best thing I've ever seen, the ultimate: Gwen Verdon doing 'Redhead' on Broadway. That's where I want to be." Where does she want to be in her personal life?

"Oh, I'm happy enough the way things are going now. Keeping myself together for my work is happiness enough for me. I've got goals, and I'm trying to reach them. What do I enjoy most? I don't know. I guess" - she reaches for one - "I guess to go to Melchior's. Melchior is a friend of mine who has a place on the ocean with his own lighthouse. Isn't that neat? I love to go there and swim in the ocean and then climb up into the lighthouse and stay there and look out to sea, then go for a swim in Melehior's pool, then go to dinner someplace and out dancing, then come back to Melchior's and the ocean and the lighthouse. That's the kind of day I enjoy more than anything. That's when I'm really me."

Heatherton gets a call to get ready for the midnight show, so we all get up and shake hands, and then - like some married couple showing out the last guest from a late party - she and Fisher see me to the door. We say goodbye, and as they close the door, I glance back from the hall and see her face peering out - not the confident, bon-vivant face of the sex-symbol Heatherton but a scared and curious face looking out toward a world of hurt- ful strangeness. Be gentle, her sad eyes seem to be saying.

Gentle and kind.

Joey Heatherton:
 "Let Me Entertain You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me"
from The White House May 24, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
"Light My Fire"
from The Hollywood Palace. Air Date October 5, 1968
Joey Heatherton:
"The Road I Took You To (Pieces)"
from the Orange Bowl Parade Air date: December 11, 1977
Joey Heatherton:
 "Gitchy Goomy" and "Let Me Entertain You"
from the German TV Show Klimbim. Air Date July 24, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
"A Shine on Your Shoes" 
from the German TV Show Klimbim. Air Date July 24, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
 "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"
from The Hollywood Palace. Air Date January 31, 1970
Joey Heatherton:
 "I Love a Parade"
 from The Hollywood Palace. Air date: September 5, 1967
Joey Heatherton:
"By Myself"
from The Hollywood Palace. Air date October 8, 1966
Joey Heatherton:
Doug Hennings World of Magic. Air date: December 23, 1976
Joey Heatherton:
\Joey Heatherton and Bob Hope:
 "Love is a Simple Thing"
from The Bob Hope Special. Air date: November 13, 1973
 Joey Heatherton:
 "You Came a Long Way from St. Louis"
from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: January 25, 1968
Joey Heatherton:
"You Can Have Him"
 from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: January 25, 1968
Joey Heatherton and Gene Kelly:
"Shine On Harvest Moon"
 from The Hollywood Palace. Air Date: February 2, 1964
Joey Heatherton:
"Hey, Look Me Over"
 from The Jerry Lewis Show. Air Date: October 17, 1967
Joey Heatherton:
"Look to the Rainbow" and "Look What They've Done to My Song"
from Jack Benny's First Farewell Special. Air Date: January 18, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
 "I've Got Your Number"
from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: September 16, 1965
Joey Heatherton:
 "Getting to Know You" and "Gimmie a Little Kiss"
 from The Bob Hope Special.  Air date: January 19, 1966
Joey Heatherton and Bob Hope:
 "It's a Lovely Day "
 from The Bob Hope Special. Air Date: January 18, 1967
Joey Heatherton:
 "The Road I Took You To (Pieces)"
from Old Faithful. Air Date: March 12, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
 "Someone to Watch Over Me"
from Old Faithful. Air Date: March 12, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
 "Nice n' Easy" 
from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: October 16, 1969
Joey Heatherton and Dean Martin:
Children's Songs Medley
from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: October 16, 1969
 Joey Heatherton:
"A Man and a Woman"
from The Andy Williams Show. Air date: November 20, 1966
Joey Heatherton and Andy Williams:
"Goin' Out of My Head"
from The Andy Williams Show. Air date: September 25, 1966
Joey Heatherton:
 "I Love You, I Honestly Love You"
 from The Mike Douglas Show. Air date: February 13, 1975
Joey Heatherton:
 "I'm All Smiles"
from The Hollywood Palace. Air date: December 4, 1965
Joey Heatherton:
from The Bob Hope Special. Air Date: April 19, 1973
Joey Heatherton:
 Serta Perfect Sleeper 
Joey Heatherton:
"Frankie and Johnny"
from The Dean Martin Show. Air Date: October 27, 1966
Joey Heatherton:
 "If" and "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone"
 from the 1976 Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton:
"You Made Me Love You"
 from the 1977 Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton:
 "I've Got the World on a String"
 from the 1979 Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton:
 "I Go to Rio"
 from the 1979 Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton
 "Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goodbye)" and "New York, New York"
from the 1980 Labor Day Weekend Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton:
The Tonight Show. Air date: April 28, 1977
Joey Heatherton:
from Monsanto Presents Tony Bennett Air date: March 11, 1973
from The Sonny and Cher Show Air date: December 26, 1976
"Too Marvelous For Words"
from Dean Martin Presents The Golddiggers
Air date: June 27, 1968
Joey Heatherton:
"Jumpin Jive"
from Dean Martin Presents The Golddigers
Air date: August 22, 1968
Joey Heatherton:
"Baby Face"
"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"
from The Dean Martin Show
Air date; March 9, 1967

Joey Heatherton 101
Joey Heatherton The Dean Martin Show
Joey Heatherton The Jerry Lewis Telethon
Joey Heatherton Jack Benny's First  Farewell Special
Joey Heatherton The Mike Douglas Show
Joey Heatherton The Jerry Lewis Show
Joey Heatherton Doug Henning's World of Magic Special
Joey Heatherton POW Homecoming  Dinner  at the White House
Joey Heatherton The Bob Hope Special
Joey Heatherton The Andy Williams Show
Joey Heatherton Klimbim
Joey Heatherton Serta Perfect Sleeper
Joey Heatherton The Orange Bowl Parade
Joey Heatherton The Tonight Show
Joey Heatherton Old Faithful TV Special
Joey Heatherton The Hollywood Palace
Joey Heatherton Support Our Troops  Donate to the USO
Joey Heatherton Reviews and Photos
Joey Heatherton Reviews and Photos II
Joey Heatherton Reviews and Photos III
Joey Heatherton The Sonny and Cher Show
Joey Heatherton Monsanto Presents Tony Bennett
Joey Heatherton iMDB
Joey Heatherton YouTube Channel
Joey Heatherton - Some Facebook Comments
Joey Heatherton - Joey and Dad
Joey Heatherton - Dean Martin Presents The Golddiggers

Joey Heatherton | A Tribute To Joey Heatherton