Screen Queen

The director who gave the world Nude on the Moon and Bad Girls Go to Hell enjoys a critical revival

Another big fan of hers, actress/ author/ sexual-enigma-about-town Sandra Bernhardt, has been begging Wishman to fly out to Los Angeles to appear on her show Reel Wild Cinema, a melange of clips from exploitation films and interviews with Bernhardt that appears at 4:00 a.m. Sunday on the USA network. Ironically, the cosponsors of Reel Wild Cinema are Jimmy Maslon and Mike Vraney.

Yet with few exceptions Wishman balks at these opportunities to promote herself. "I don't care about publicity," Wishman says dismissively. "I don't think any of these interviews help me."

Wishman's backers disagree. "The only thing I was ever angry with her about was that she would not take advantage of the small amount of fame she'd acquired," says Tom Smith (who is not only a fan, he's a member of the cast of Desperate Desires). "She's not an obscure footnote any more. Now a large segment of the population that is educated about film knows about Doris. I said, 'You really should go out and talk to Bernhardt.' Yeah, she might try to make an ass out of her, but Jesus, maybe someone would see that and decide to give her some bucks."

"Doris has it in her head that she should be getting paid for these interviews, and that other people are making money off her old films," says Joanne Butcher-Zbornik, executive director of the Alliance. "I can't particularly fault her logic, but on the other hand, even if you aren't getting paid, fly out and do the show! I can't tell whether she's just kind of sticking to principles or if she's just afraid or if she just doesn't understand the concept of publicity or exactly what."

"I can see why she would be suspicious, now that she's been through the wringer a couple of times," Smith says. "And she can be cranky and hard to work with, and we've had many fights. But she's such an endearing person, even when she's being surly. You always get complete honesty with Doris."

Scant minutes after Wishman has chased Klainbaum out of the Alliance's editing facilities, he and Butcher-Zbornik are in the office of the Alliance Cinema across Lincoln Road. Klainbaum allows that a typical editing session with Wishman, while contentious to the point of shouting, "is usually not that bad." Butcher-Zbornik concurs, then ruminates on Wishman's persistent aversion to publicity -- and how it is, to a point, justified by the tough luck she has had throughout her career.

"I think it's a shame that these people who say they love Doris's films so much are making money and she gets nothing," Butcher-Zbornik says, referring to the folks who now own her films. "They could have handled it differently."

Wishman appears in the doorway to the cramped office. Eyeing the reporter, she delivers a well-rehearsed line. "I just want to tell you that if you put in there that Abel said he was working on my film for 30 years, I'm going to sue the paper," she proclaims. "What for? For lying!"

"I was just kidding, Doris," Klainbaum says contritely.
"People won't know that it's a joke!" she snaps. "It's not true! Why would you put that in if it's not true? I'm just being honest. If that appears, I'm going to sue the paper."

A cacophony erupts, with Wishman pointing, hectoring, and grimacing. Through the din, Klainbaum begins to issue quiet apologies for his statement.

"Doris, let's go get a bagel," Klainbaum says, taking her by the elbow and tugging her gently toward the entrance of the theater. Wishman responds with a little scowl and a couple of stiff jabs to Klainbaum's shoulder, but begins to relent. With a final declaration of her litigious intentions, Wishman walks with Klainbaum down the shady passageway from the cinema toward the cafe in Books & Books.

Later Klainbaum relates that they spent about 30 minutes sitting and talking, made up, and went on to edit Dildo ... er, Desperate Desires, for about two hours. He says he expects the thing to be finished within a month at the outside. And though further verbal sparring will likely be a part of the experience as the project comes to a close, he doesn't mind.

"She's the world's kindest, sweetest dictator," Klainbaum says tenderly. "She's one of those auteurs; she likes to have absolute control. But she's very honest and very fair; everything's always on the table with Doris. That's why we get along.

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