THE MUSE OF MILLIGAN'S MISSING FILM
By Keith J. Crocker
Natalie Rogers contacted me in Spring of 2014. She had read my article on Andy Milligan and enjoyed it. Natalie acted in two films for Andy Milligan, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1968) and Tricks of the Trade (1970). Both films are considered lost, and have not shown up in any way, shape or form since I initially wrote the Milligan article in the very early 2000's. Natalie was hoping that perhaps I had a copy of the films or might know where they are. I informed her that more than likely William Mishkin's mutant son Lew melted down the film prints for their silver content. Once this was established Natalie and myself decided that a full blown interview was in order. So within a week of our initial contact Natalie and I hooked up at a cafe outside her apartment in mid Manhattan. It was a very cold, rainy damp afternoon, but we ended up having a great time, chatting for the whole afternoon, talking about Milligan, the off off Broadway play scene of the 70's, and of course about Natalie herself. This woman has had a fantastic career that included singing, Tango dancing, acting and running the Dove Theater, an off off Broadway theater. Later in life Natalie would do a 180 turnabout and returned to school to become a psychotherapist specializing in working with people who have a really hard time speaking in public. She has a workshop called Panic Clinic for Public Speaking. She also works very successfully with stutterers. Here workshop is called Talk Power and has been tremendously successful. Her book is called Talk Power; A Mind Body Way To Speak Without Fear. So, without further ado, here is Natalie Rogers and her memories of Andy Milligan...
CF: How did you meet Andy?
NR: Well, let me give you a little background. Through many different situations,, I evolved into a singer. I was on the road and traveling, going to South America and Aruba. I was out of the states for about a year, I came back to my apartment, I had no phone calls, all my friends were gone, and I realized this was all to isolating, and I decided to be an actress (I was very young). And I appeared in off off Broadway plays, where I met a playwrite, his name was Donald Kavares. He had a weird imagination and wrote some crazy plays, yet he was a huge influence on my life. He wrote a strange play called Pizza, for another play called Strangulation he had me in a coffin,and they closed me in. One day he came to me and said "Natalie, there's a filmmaker named Andy Milligan, and he's looking for an actress for a film, would you like to meet him?" I was very excited, my God, a film, I had very little experience but I was a natural actress. So I met with Andy (I can actually picture his face as I'm telling you this story). Andy must have been between 25 or 30, he was very energetic, he kept calling me "darlin', darlin', darlin'"...was he Southern?
CF: He was actually from Minnesota, but he often referenced Southern imagery, in fact he has an unfinished film called House of the Seven Belles (1979), which takes place in the South. Furthermore, he had a reoccurring motif in his films that if someone was being debased they were often spat upon, which is considered an invitation to fight in the South.
NR: Oh really, I didn't know that...the way he would say "darlin'", it was that one word, said with a Southern accent. He explained the story to me (of the film), and at the time "I Am Curious Yellow" had just been released. And William Mishkin wanted a legit place in the film market, with a film he could bring to the Cannes film festival. Hence he hired Andy, who hired me and was to pay me $500 for being in the film. That was a decent amount of money at the time (considering my apartment was only $33 dollars a month). He asked me about my own wardrobe, of which I didn't have a large wardrobe at the time. Anyhow, I showed up at the location, and it was tenement apartment, everything was in bad condition. Milligan himself was loaded with energy, he was always hustling about, but he was focused, very focused. He knew what he wanted. Throughout the filming, he worked with a hand held camera that he mounted on his shoulder. He'd jump up on top of furniture or whatever else was handy to get his shots. The film, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1968) an idea by Mishkin written by playwright Joe Bush, was a story about a blonde woman (I had to wear a blond wig) who is married to this truck driver. He was burly, uneducated. He would kind of toss me around and I'd cry. They had a child ( I was stunned, Andy had convinced this couple to use their child in the film, so they'd bring the child to the set, and the baby would cry, etc...) I realized that Andy didn't talk to me a lot on the set. I was coming from the school of method acting, and I'd often ask what my motivation was, and Andy would simply scream back "Just do it!" Andy wasn't rough with me, but he was tough . He'd yell commands, "OK, walk there, turn that way, start crying", really, that was his direction. Oddly enough, Andy had a kind of sweetness to him, it wasn't like he was a hard hat kind of monster. He had a lot of heart. But here he was, standing on a bed, that camera over his shoulder, and kept plowing on...
CF: Do you remember how long the shoot went?
NR: It took about a month, it was a feature film and it may very well have been shot over a month. I also believe it was being written as it was being shot. He would give me sides daily.
CF: I'm sure it was, you can see the spontaneousness in his work, which in turns makes the product a hell of a lot more interesting. I always believed that he allowed natural events to happen, and you certainly do not get that in "shot in studio" Hollywood product. So I think the fact that he had that freedom going on is what gives his film their texture. Do you at all recall the fact that his camera was a newsreel sound on film camera, in other words the sound was being recorded directly onto the film via a magnetic sound stripe...
NR: Now that you say that, yes, you're right. I don't ever recall seeing anyone recording sound, or even a boom mic. I remember one scene was shot in a grave yard (we shot that in Staten Island, he did lots of shooting on Staten Island, and in fact he later bought a house there where I attended a birthday party for him). I remember in that scene, we were burying someone, but I can't remember which character had died. One thing about Andy, and I know I already said this, but he didn't talk to me much. I was much more like a "thing" on the set. Or a prop.
CF: I think he was like that in general. I don't believe he wanted to bond with people in a professional manner.
NR: I don't recall him having a boyfriend. He was private. He never wore his heart on his sleeve. And so closeted was he that in fact I had a crush on him. I was often batting my eyes at him on set, but I was getting no response and of course gradually I found out why.
CF: Would you say he was masculine?
NR: Oh yes, very masculine...
CF: Did you know he was in the service?
NR: No, I didn't know that...
CF: He was in the Navy. But he didn't see action...he was in the service between WWII and Korea.
NR: He was totally masculine, nothing feminine about him at all.
CF: It's interesting, but in many of his films he tends to ridicule effeminate males.
NR: There were no gay people in the film I was in. The story was about a heterosexual man and woman. No gays. But then later he asked me to participate in a gay film, there was a bathtub, all these naked men were around.
CF: Could that film have been Tricks of the Trade (1970)?
NR: I guess so, but I can't recall Tricks of the Trade. Oh wait, yes, this is ringing a bell. During the making of that I was also working as a waitress, and one customer used to come by the restaurant to see me all the time. He was a married insurance salesman who lived on Long Island. I remember telling him he could be in the film as well, and he jumped on it. The next year, when the film was released, people from his community saw him in the film, and he wasn't pleased about that. In fact they gave him a part in the room with the naked guys (LOL). He was very embarrased.
CF: Tell me about this tenement you shot in for Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me! Was it in Manhattan?
NR: Yes, it was on the lower east side. There were many tenements in that area, I lived in a tenement, I knew what they were like. He always found these places, paint peeling off the ceiling, He liked grittiness. Add to that his hand held camera, which jiggled around, making everything look even more wobbly. Andy used to wear a very long navy blue fitted coat, almost like a costume coat, with huge lapels and gold buttons. It looked like something a French officer would ware, it was ornate. After a while I gave up pursuing my crush, I wasn't getting any reciprocation. I remember one time he yelled at me, actually made me cry. . And then he yelled "Stop crying and get to work!". I remember we also shot on a beach in Staten Island, it was very cold and I was freezing. He really liked Staten Island.
CF: Staten Island is a dumping ground, first exemplified by Willowbrook Psychiatric Hospital, people dumping their unwanted mentally ill relatives there. Then of course there was the mob dropping dead bodies there. Milligan was a masochist, he liked to deal it out as well as receive. I honestly believe the sordid history of Staten Island had a nurturing effect on Milligan, it sort of fueled his creative juices. Did you know Milligan had a beard marriage? He married one of his actresses, Candy Hammond. It didn't last long. Anyhow, tell me about the birthday party you went to for Milligan?
NR: It was later in the game, I was with my husband Harold Herbsman, though we weren't married yet. Andy had just bought the house in Staten Island. He used to hang out with this friend Don. Don was very devoted to Milligan, sort of like his bodyguard. I don't believe they ever had a relationship, but they were close. I would see Don over the years, watched him get older. I would have liked to have known Andy so much better, but Andy didn't want to know me. And he never asked asked me to be in any of his other films. I wasn't like him, I wasn't into the trashy stuff, perhaps he sensed that. That stuff wasn't my genre.
CF: Regarding that birthday party, you said it was a big bash, was it perhaps a important birthday like a 40th...
NR: Yes, it might have been, it could have been a good ten years after Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me! It was very noisy, he had about three floors in that house, and there were lots of gay young men running around. I remember he had a dog, that was a new acquisition. And Andy was very dry, he didn't drink, he was very disciplined, never gained weight, he wasn't an eater. How old was he when he died?
CF: I believe he was 62...He died from AIDS.
NR: Anyhow, Kiss ME, Kiss Me Kiss Me! was actually a very big deal. They ran huge ads in the Newspapers, I honestly wish I had held on to those.
CF: It's a lost film now, any memorabilia connected to it would have some degree of worth.
NR: I have the pressbook, and a few clippings, but I wish that I held on to more. It premiered at a major theater on Broadway, it was there for 18 months! The only negative part was that my poor father, who was angry with me because of my life style, went to see the film. It's not so much that the film was particularly naughty, but the short they played before the film was, a hard-core, nasty porno, trying to pass it off as art. I heard that Mishkin made more than a million dollars from that movie, which was quite a lot of money then, especially for an indie. I went to see it once or twice. Because I was in the blond wig, it is sometimes hard for me to believe it was really me. It was nice to see my name in lights.
CF: Did you ever end up straightening things out with your dad?
NR: Ultimately, yes. I married Harold Herbsman, who was Jewish, all was forgiven. In fact I was actually in Yiddish theater, I could speak Yiddish. And played with Pasash Burstein and Lilly Lux. We did a show called "It's hard to be a Jew", my father was there, he was holding my first born daughter Colette, and he had tears in his eyes he was so proud. I gave them lots of problems when I was younger, I was living in Greenwich Village and my father said with tears in his eyes "he almost lost me", but here it all was coming together. My husband Harold was a very brilliant theater director and artist. He had a inovating way of approaching a play. In 1968 We opened the Dove theater company In St. Peters Church in Chelsea.
CF: Why was it that you kept in touch with Andy even though you didn't work with him after Tricks of the Trade?
NR: Well, Donald Kavares was always in touch with Andy, and, now that I think about it, I acted in an off off Broadway show at the Dove Theater Company with Andy. Yes, that's why I was still in touch with him...This was one of the very first things I did at the Dove. The theater had a collapsible stage that we had built, hence it could be closed up when the church had services. Harold wanted to have an 'anti-war' theater, at that time the Vietnam war was raging. There were huge protests and we went to Washington to march. Donald Kavares had written a play called Couch Mates. I had seen the play years before at the Round About Theater, and it was very boring. It was a one act play about a woman who goes to see a psychiatrist, and she's talking to the psychiatrist...no, wait, it's the other way around, the woman is the psychiatrist and she becomes enamored of the patient and start pursuing him. I told Donald that I could do that play far better than it had been done. So later, Donald came back to me and said "why don't you do the play with Andy Milligan!?" And I remember we did it, Donald directed it and the first time we did it at Playwrights Horizon, another small off off Broadway theater. It was packed because of Andy's entourage, they all came to see Andy. When we came out on stage, I said the first few words of dialog, and the place exploded into laughter, it was a hysterical comedy. Ultimately, I start the show with my hair up in a bun, and my glasses on, and gradually I'd drop my hair and glasses and go after Andy. His character was trying to get away from me. Anyhow, even then, off stage we didn't have very much to do with one another, even in the rehearsals he didn't have much to do with me. I just don't understand why he was so unpersonable to me, I really don't. But in the play we were grabbing and chasing each other, etc. Anyhow, we ended up bringing the play to the Dove Theater at the church . I really need to look and see if I have a flyer from that show.
CF: Let me ask you about a couple of titles you are credited with, perhaps you can fill me about these films
NR: Oh, this is very exiting, I'm in the archives (LOL).
CF: OK, 1965, a film called The Very Naked Canvas. Do you recall this film at all?
NR: No, I don't remember that one. It might have been a one day gig. Some of these jobs didn't pay, you did them for exposure.
CF: But Milligan did pay you, correct?
NR: Yes, the $500 I did receive for Kiss Me, Kiss Me Kiss Me! I did get that, but I remember thinking back then that I might not get it.
CF: Is that because William Mishkin had a reputation of being a cheap bastard. I remember speaking with other exploitation film makers and they all referred to him as a "thief"
NR: That could have been why I felt that way...
CF: You're also credited with a film called A Woman in Love from 1970?
NR: 1970, let me see...at that time I was already married. We still had our theater. My daughter was born in 1974. No, I think that might be a mistake...
CF: I guess it could be, but you're also credited with another film called Guess What We Learned in School Today also from 1970.
NR: Honestly, I do not recall being in these films from 1970. Could there be another Natalie Rogers? (Editors note: Upon further conversation Natalie did recall being in this film and working with director John J. Alvidsen)
CF: I guess it's possible, we can certainly find out about Guess What I Learned in School Today as that is readily available. Do you remember anything about your co-stars in the Milligan films...?
NR: I remember the actor who played my husband and the couple who had the baby...I remembering him having some young guys on the set who helped out...it's almost like a different world that I live in now...I'd love to find a copy of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me! are you sure that has never showed up...
CF: And it never will show up. The Mishkin's were notorious for melting film prints down for their silver content, plenty of different organizations have been seeking out lost Andy Milligan material and have yet to come up with it, more than likely what we got is all we are going to get, I'm confident the un-found films are destroyed.
NR: You know, I've never had any luck that way. I remember my husband and I did a three act play written by Janine O' Rielly (since deceased) that was very, very funny. I remember somebody filmed the play for us, but shortly there after the playwright hired an agent, the agent made us destroy the video, if I had been the camera man I'd have never destroyed it, I might have said "I destroyed it" but I'd never have really done it.
CF: What did he shoot it on and what year was this...
NR: around 1973, and it had to be video...Is there anything else I can tell you?
CF: Why don't you take a look at my Tricks of the Trade press book and see if it stirs any memories
NR: (looking through press book) I was very young, I think this girl is me (pointing to picture), this looks like my eyebrows (LOL) It's funny, the press book says I play a Doctor character in this film and I played a psychiatrist with Andy in Couch Mates. I get the feeling my role is minor in this, my character isn't very important. But that's me in the picture.
CF: I bet you did both films back to back for Milligan
NR: That makes sense
CF: Would you say your experiences were pleasant on these films
NR: Yes, by all means, it was a highlight in my life. I always liked Andy, I have no anger toward him at all. I always wanted to please him.
CF: Did you ever meet Bill Mishkin?
NR: Yes, I think once. He was a slight man, never made an impression on me, he came off like a nebbish. I'd never suspect he was as big a rip off artist as he was. Mishkin wanted Kiss Me to be a big hit, he entered it in the Cannes film festival.