It was almost exactly ten years ago when I was asked by Razor magazine to tap out a profile piece on Mulholland Drive costar Laura Harring. Yeah, I know…”who“? But she was kind of happening back then. Razor wanted one of those Esquire-style “Women We Love” pieces, but editor Craig Vasiloff forgot to convey that in advance. He asked for a soft rewrite after I turned my first draft in, and then killed it altogether because it wasn’t soft enough. I got a lousy $150 kill fee, or 10% of the original $1500 fee. Vasiloff caved in part over pressure from Harring’s manager. Harring felt that my including info about her past boyfriends was too invasive.
I’m mentioning this because I happened to re-read the article last night and I think it reads pretty well so here it is again. I’ve also included an account of the writing and killing of the pice by Luke Ford, which he posted in early December 2003. Here‘s the piece that never saw print except when I posted it on Movie Poop Shoot:
Almost dying has to have a big effect on how you live your life. It has to shake you up and teach you to not be content with drifting along, but to live it, senorita…really live it.
When she was 12, Laura Harring was shot in the head. Grazed, actually, by a bullet that hit the top-right portion of her skull but missed her brain by a millimeter or two.
“My family and I were in our car in a parking lot in San Antonio, and I heard a very loud sound …very low, very loud in my head,” she recalls. “It felt like a slingshot, like someone had hit me with a rock. It hit me on the right top of my head. And then after the last sound, my mother put my sweater over my head and on top of that sound, I could hear like a fountain — ploopa, ploopa…it was the blood, a fountain of blood pumping out.”
She had three other near-death experiences when she was younger, she says, due to fainting from low blood sugar or something. “I felt at one time I was in a tunnel, flying towards the light…I saw that one,” Harring recalls. “Another time all I could see or feel was blackness with a voice saying, ‘Do you wanna live or do you wanna die?’
“When I was born my mother was five days in labor with me, and I think my soul somehow had not been convinced that I want to be here…for a long time I had, like, one foot out?”
No longer. There are people who seem half there, or 75% awake to the world, but Laura Harring is not among them. “I don’t like to do anything halfway,” she says. “If I’m going to play, I want to play 100%. What the Buddhists call ‘in the now.'”
I’ve got this notion that every male on the planet over the age of 25 with a smidgen of taste wanted to “know” Harring after that that nude lesbian love scene between her and Naomi Watts in David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive. The moment when Harring dropped her robe and her breasts popped out and said “hello!”…good God.
She’s Rita Hayworth in some ways. Beautiful, for one thing. Like the initially-named Margarita Cansino, Harring is a Latina (born in Mexico), is reddish haired (okay, dyed for her part in The Punisher, but it looks so great next to her light olive skin I wish she’d keep it that way). And she dances the tango like a champ, like Hayworth was famed for in her 1930s pre-Hollywood youth, before her non-Latin dance sequences in You’ll Never Get Rich, Cover Girl and Salome.
Both have been reported in their respective time frames to have stood about 5′ 6″ tall, and both were briefly married to royalty — Rita to Prince Aly Khan and Laura to a guy named Count Carl von Bismarck.
And their performing abilities are/were assumed to be in the same range. Hayworth was never thought to be Dame Edith Evans, and Harring would be the last one in the world to claim she’s Meryl Streep. As her Punisher director, Jonathan Hensleigh, remarks, ‘Laura has a great deal of self knowledge…she’s not fooling herself and is not trying to fool anyone else.”
But the camera loves their bone structures and curves, and they both broadcast a certain ripeness, and that’s all that matters to the fans.
It’s not all that mattered to Hayworth. Being loved and treasured by men seemed to be an important thing for her, but her hook-ups never quite happened in the right way. Sadly, inwardly, her sense of satisfaction and self-worth seemed to pivot off her mostly unhappy relationships with certain rich and powerful conquistadors who bedded and married her (Khan, Orson Welles, et. al.).
Harring, it should be noted, is almost completely unlike Hayworth in this respect. Guys are not a major pillar in her current support system. Earlier in her life perhaps, but not now. She’s been working steadily in films and TV since the late ’80s, and her post-Mulholland Drive asking price has gone up to the mid six-figure range.
Her beauty, arguably, has brought her to the precipice she’s standing upon today, but this is not, for her, a source of great satisfaction.
She’s independent minded, deeply spiritual, and into salsa and tango dancing. And working her career, of course, and keeping fit and healthy, and hanging with a private circle of friends. But she’s not, to hear it from her in conversation, into hooking up with this or that guy, be they rich, attractive, soul-mate material…whatever.
“When you’re not looking for it is when it happens,” she told me during a conversation we had at a coffee joint in West Los Angeles in early December. “There’s an old saying, ‘When the student is ready, the master appears.’
She stays under the radar. You never see photos of her going to premieres or clubs with anyone, famous or otherwise. Her biggest recent relationship with a Hollywood executive type (formerly with MGM, currently president of Dick Clark Prods.) in his mid 50s named Jules Haimovitz, whom she calls “a dear, beautiful, beautiful friend…one of the smartest men in Hollywood.”
So life is short, life is a banquet, Harring is young and beautiful, and she goes out with guys because they’re sweet and smart?
“Well, I never felt that Jules wanted anything from me,” she replied, “and I think that’s a very good sign for a woman like me. Guys always want sex…of course. And if you start feeling that, you just shut down because…you know, the same-old same-old.
“I’m not married,” she says. “That’s what I’m saying…I’m not married. I was definitely very hurt by my divorce [from von Bismarck, after three or four years of marriage], and I’m very private. I do find a lot of men in Europe that I like, and Latin men…I just haven’t had the good grace, here, in this city, to find a guy who comes through on all those levels.”
“There are a lot of wonderful men out there,” Harring says. “I just have to open myself up to want that in my life…and to not be afraid of showing, in reality, that I’m just a simple girl.
“But other than that, I’m just focusing on my career, and this satisfies you…when you’re really involved in something creative, it’s very fulfilling. I think that a balance is good in life. It’s necessary, and I’m just trying to find that, like everyone else.
“And I’m working on my dancing skills…there’s a whole different Laura out there on the dance floor…that keeps me happy.”
She regularly goes out to salsa clubs in Los Angeles with dance partners. She’s got two right now — one for salsa, another for the tango. Laura had a partner a while back who was sublime at dancing salsa as well as the tango, but she had to send him packing because he wanted to “expand the boundaries,” so to speak.
While working on The Punisher in the Tampa area last spring, Harring occasionally went salsa dancing with a 42 year-old married Cuban guy named Eduardo Yanez (who has a bit part in the film). The source also says that The Punisher‘s line producer, John Starks, had, at the very least, a crush on Harring during her four-week stint on the film (she having been “very playful” with him, reportedly).
This on-set witness also says that Harring “went off on this mysterious jaunt to Miami… I don’t know what that was about, but she was seen in this hotel in Tampa and being spirited off to Miami by this guy who looked like Karl Lagerfeld, and there was a lot of tongue-wagging about that.
“Tampa has one really good hotel, the Marriott Waterside…and Laura came through the lobby with a whole bunch of bags…the only other person I’ve seen make entrances and exits like Laura is Sharon Stone.”
Okay, then — a diva, a pistol. She turned some heads when she wore a pair of million-dollar shoes to the Oscar ceremonies in March 2002. (“There were five carats on each shoe, and the rest were all diamonds,” says Harring, “and the shoes came with four bodyguards.”) She didn’t pay for the damn things, of course, but the wearing of diamond-studded pumps is… well, some kind of statement.
So how does Harring get herself back into the cool, hip and existentially cultivated realm that she found herself in after Mulholland Drive — a TV mini-series that was re-cut and released as a feature film in the fall of ’01, and was hailed worldwide by critics and cult film fans?
Post-Mulholland, costar Naomi Watts snagged a strong dramatic role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 21 Grams and then Peter Jackson‘s King Kong. But Harring has turned up in a mostly second-tier stuff — a so-so Denzel Washington flick named John Q, a rat movie called Willard, a thriller called Derailed.
She recently made a “very artsy tragic love story,” says Harring, called The Poet (costarring Dougray Scott), and she also shot an experimental short film for Lynch in ’02 called Rabbits.
When and from where will the big bounce materialize? The Punisher becoming a hit would help, but what Harring really needs to dance in a good musical, like Rita. Perhaps the musical that Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, Bad Education) is supposedly planning on making before too long? “Laura is an incredible dancer,” says Hensleigh. “I mean, she’s really good at it.”
Of all the TV movies you’ve done, I asked her, what should I try and see that you feel you feel you did really good work in? “I don’t like to look at the past,” she answers. “I’ve seen myself evolve, and TV itself is nothing like what it was three or four years ago.”
She plays a kind of Lucretia Borgia figure in The Punisher — the wife of a bad guy played by John Travolta who demands the extermination of the family of Tom Jane‘s Frank Castle character. “I play evil [in this film] ….hah-hah-hah,” she chuckles. ” Chillingly evil.”
At times Harring’s voice has a hint of anguish, like it’s breaking slightly. For some reason it reminded me of Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio‘s voice in Scarface when she’s arguing with Al Pacino and going, “Hah, Tony…is this what you wahhnt?”
Harring spent the first ten years of her life in Mexico, before her family moved lock, stock and barrel to San Antonio, Texas. At age 16 she convinced her family to let her study at a boarding school in Switzerland. She stayed in Europe for a while, and during one summer when she was 18 did social work in India, whatever that actually included or amounted to.
An acquaintance who’s spent some time with Harring but asked for anonymity says, “I don’t buy that stuff she tells everyone about her period in Europe and India. I think in her youth she had a whole bunch of very interesting relationships with very wealthy men, and that this was part of it, at the very least.” (One of her friends during this period, he claims, was the late Fiat CEO Gianni Agnelli.)
It was during her European travels she met and married Count Carl von Bismarck, which earned her the title of Countess (which she still holds). “I was madly in love,” she says. “17 and madly in love.”
Did von Bismarck meet those tough criteria that we’ve been speaking about? I asked.
“Hah-hah-hah-hah,” she laughs, tilting her head back slightly with those sparkling dark eyes. “I didn’t go into my criteria, sweetie! I haven’t even started! But when I was 17 years old, he met my criteria. I was enchanted with this beautiful God…this Apollo.”
I didn’t ask her why it ended, but 98% of marriages hit the rocks over money (i.e., a lack of) or infidelity. And money is never a problem with Counts.
I showed her my typed-out research notes at a later point in the interview, and while looking them over Harring said playfully (but not entirely), “What would happen if I took this?” I said, “Well, I have it on my computer.” She hah-hah-ed again and said, “That’s why you’re so relaxed.”
“I am extremely pleased with the way Laura shows up in The Punisher,” says Hensleigh. “I want ed her to look beautiful…and a large part of this part was sex. Her performance is that of a Cuban woman who grew up in the barrio but she’s trying to ditch it…she’s a social climber.
“It’s actually a very demanding role that very few actresses can pull off. Somebody like Laura Linney, for instance…she wouldn’t have been nearly as good in this role as Laura, because the part required a diva, and you can’t fake being a diva. Either you have that quality or you don’t. And that’s exactly what David Lynch wanted from her in Mulholland Drive.
“The only thing I feel about Laura is positive,” Hensleigh proclaims. “She was a wonderful professional and was always hugely prepared. She’s a trooper, and that’s the best thing you can say about anybody in this town. She also has this kind of hippie-chick thing going on. She’s not an alien the way a lot of young actresses are.”
You never know, but that bullet in her head may have been a blessing in disguise. It might have opened a kind of window that might otherwise have stayed shut.
Before going to bed each night, Harring says, she reads from a portion of a seven-volume tome called “In Woods of God-Realization,” by Swami Rama Tirtha, which she calls “mind-boggling.” She says she’s also into “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” (which she first got into when she was 18 during her visit to India) as well as hermetic philosophy and “the mystery of being.”
And to think — she might otherwise be spending her time with someone like Justin Timberlake or Ashton Kutcher and going in the back door of the latest Hollywood ass-bite after-hours club so as to avoid the paparrazzi but, you know, also join their friends inside, which really matters in the great scheme of things. A blessing indeed.
Actress Laura Harring vs Jeffrey Wells vs Razor Magazine
“Actress Laura Harring (Miss World 1985) got journalist Jeff Wells bounced from writing a profile of her in Craig Vasiloff’s Razor Magazine.
“Wells has written three pieces in Razor — one on Stanley Kubrick, one on the Wachowski brothers (who directed the Matrix movies) and one on Tara Reid.
“Editor Craig Vasiloff assigned the piece to Jeffrey through his assistant, managing editor Allison Young.
“Razor‘s editorial operation is out of Toronto while its head office is in Scottsdale, Arizona, the home of the money behind the magazine, Richard Botto.
“I worked for Craig from January 1999 to March 2000 and we’ve had cordial relations since. I used to chat on the phone with Allison and I met her in Las Vegas in January 2000. We all stayed at the Bellagio.
“For years, Craig had an idea for a men’s magazine like Razor and once he met Richard Botto, he finally got to make it a reality.
“I had a run-in with the Bottos in late 2000.
“Jeff Wells met with Laura at a Coffee Bean (Santa Monica Blvd. and Beverly Glen) on Friday, December 5.
“Wells ran into Chris McGurk of MGM at a breakfast Wednesday. Chris said she was a hot tamale. She’s a pistol. Call up Jules Haimowitz, president of Dick Clark Productions. He used to date Laura on-and-off for 18 months though they never slept together.
“Jeff calls Haimowitz. This is standard for any movie star profile. You call people who know your subject to round out the profile.
“Wells interviewed director Jonathan Hensleigh of 2004’s The Punisher, in which Laura appears.
“Jeff showed her his notes from his interviews.
“Laura dances beautifully (salsa and tango).
“She tried to use her little actress tricks. She claimed her birthday was in 1967 when IMDB has it as 1964.
“Wells turned in a piece typical of his moviepoopshoot.com column with an extra emphasis on frat boy randiness as Razor is a frat boy magazine. Razor wanted something drier and more complimentary, like Esquire‘s ‘women we love’ pieces but at 1500 words.
“Razor told Wells to take out all judgment, all colloquialisms, all frat boy attitude. Just make it a nice polite complimentary piece, which Jeff believes he did.
“Jeff didn’t write the nasty truth about her — that her career is not going to go anywhere. She had that one flare-up with Mulholland Drive and the cool lesbian scene.
“Laura got her manager Evans to call up Razor and get Wells booted from the piece with only a $150 kill fee (for a $1500 piece). Wells spent four days on the piece and thinks a fairer kill fee would be 50% of the original fee of $1500.
“Wells told Evans, the manager, that this is par for the course for a manager to manipulate the editorial direction of a piece. We all know publicists and managers choose writers, veto writers…
“Jeff feels that Razor should’ve told him that the fix was in on this piece and all they wanted was a sweetheart piece. Wells doesn’t need a Razor magazine piece on Laura Harring as a vehicle for personal expression.
Jeff sent Evans the piece.
“Razor has never even edited me before and now they suddenly say I can’t write,” says Jeff.
“Harring was alarmed that Jeff called her purported boyfriend Jules Haimowitz. Well, it was this boyfriend who planted the idea that Harring was a reincarnation of Rita Hayworth.”