Playboy, January 1981
once thought too European, too sophisticated for "charlie's angels," this native new yorker went primative to co-starr with ringi. hail "caveman's" lady -
pictorial essay by BRUCE WILLIAMSON
WHEN Caveman comes to the large screen sometime this spring, art will not be imitating life. In the movie, "a knock-out prehistoric comedy," if we're to believe what publicists write, gorgeous Barbara Bach fails to get her man. he's a small, smart caveman named Atouk, played by former Beatle Ringo Starr. he understands things, Barbara explains: "Like the wheel, food, even relationships . . . love, and walking upright. Atouk only has eyes for Lana, the part I play. But I'm the bitch. At the end, the girl from the cave next door wins out. I get thrown into the dinosaur dung."
It's a total spoof. Atouk nya zug-zug Lana in the Caveman vocabulary (from a glossary of just 15 words) means that Atouk ultimately doesn't get it on with Lana. Offscreen, as the entire civilized world must know by now, Barbara and Ringo wrote their own happy ending, which should be culminating in a marriage about the time you read this.
I'd have never believes it when I went to interview Barbara last spring at the Caveman location in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Ringo was temporarily down and out with food poisoning, being nursed back to health by his then-current girlfriend, a likeable photographer named Nancy. Barbara was working her shapely tail off oncamera every day, under a blazing sun, and was expecting a vist from cinematographer Roberto Quezada, whom she had met when he worked on one of her earlier pictures, a thriller titled The Unseen.
To see Barbara through a close-up lens must invite substantial risk of love at first sight. To see her in person, even at arms length, guarantees, at a minimum, instant infatuation. Hazel-eyed and tawny, she's a wonder to behold, easygoing, with sheer beauty as the only indication she's a movie star. Every man, woman and child connected with Caveman was part of an unofficial Bach fan club long before I arrived on the scene.
"She's a real pro; she's been very helpful to me" was the testimony of John Matuszak of the Oakland Raiders, who moonlights as Barbara's Neanderthal steady in the film.
"We just call her Senorita Casabas," cracked comedian Avery Schreiber, paying mock tribute to the scanty cave-woman costume in which Barbara's breats were squeezed together like twin melons.
The first day of shooting in Puerto Vallarta was a fishing sequence, to be filmed on a shallow river filled with spectacular rock formations, downstream from a hilltop restaurant called Chico's Paradise. Barbara, wearing a floppy straw hat and a faded army shirt to keep the sun off, sat on a stack of film boxes under a make-shift umbrella while director Carl Gottlieb rehearsed the action. All the male cave people were using their womenfolk as fish poles, gripping their ankles and forcing them underwater, headfirst, until the ladies came up gasping for breath, with or without realistic rubber fish. They were saving Barbara for the actual takes. "God," she said dryly, half to herself, while her stand-in went down for the fifth time, "men were always terrible."
Despite that touch of cynacism, Barbara was up for the game. When her turn came, with the cameras rolling, she was plunged into the river by Matuszak for take after take. Later for a sequence in which Lana flounders helplessly until Atouk jumps in to save her, she watched a stunt woman slide off a rock and slip into a steep, rushing rapids. Afterward Barbara, a dogged perfectionist, repeated the action so sportingly that her double might as well have taken the afternoon off.
Gottlieb - who rewrote Jaws and co-authored The Jerk prior to his Caveman assignment - explained the Ringo-Barbara screen relationship to me in words that subsequently sounded prophetic: "Lana is meant to be the first sex object, Atouk is the first man to evolve with any sense and Matuszak as Tonda is primal man - you can't get much more primal than John. As a cast, our principals look wonderful. The first time we saw them all together, our hearts leaped. When you need a suave, funny, awkward, unpreposessing leading man, there aren't a whole lot of those to choose from - Dustin Hoffman, Dudley Moore, Robin Williams. And who else is there who's also a star? There's Ringo."
Barbara nodded. "He's so interesting, a very nice guy. I think Richard's going to be marvelous in this picture."
Later that night, during dinner with Quezada, Barbara rambled from subject to subject with nary a mention of Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo Starr. As an actress, she was determined to play more comedy and had already shot Mad Magazine Presnts Up The AcademyThe Spy Who Loved Me and Force 10 from Navarone, her career had been mostly a series of grade-B pot-boilers made in Italy and sundry faraway places, epics with such titles as The ISland of the Fish Men and The Humanoid.
One of Barbara's major professional disappointments, of course, occured during the torrential spring of 1979, when she almost won the Charlie's Angels role they eventually gave to Shelley Hack, then to Tanya Roberts.
"The producers thought I was too European, too sophisticated," says Barbara, born and bred in New York. "I'm afraid I didn't take them seriously enough when they asked questions like, 'What sports do you play?' and 'What brought you to Hollywood?' Now, that was a good question. I'd often wondered myself. Somehow, in the end, I sensed that the problem was not whether I could act but whether I could bouce and be fluffy enough."
When she talked with me about marriage early in 1980, Barbara was pretty well set against it. An unfluffy Long Island beauty who had become a successful model, she had married a businessman from Italy and discovered that all roads led to Rome. After producing two children and making films abroad, she decided that her career had worked out appreciably better than her marriage.
"I can't imagine why I would ever get married again. I made that commitment once and was unable to fulfil it. The way I am now, if I want to be with someone, I'll be with that person, but I see no reason to carry his name as well. I'm still me, and I've worked hard to achieve that much. For someone who has already been married and has two wonderful children, marriage would make no sense."
Cut. Fade out and flash forward to late Summer 1980. With Caveman in the can, a thousand headlines have already spread the word about Barbara and Ringo from beverly Hills to Bangladesh when we meet again. Obviously, there's a new Barbara Bach at large, brighter of eye and with a lilt of excitement in her manner, yet too much like the original to make me suspect she's still another stunt double.
"You remember everything I said before?" Barbara begins. "That went out the window. Richard and I are living together, and we'll get married as soon as my divorce is final.
"A lot of garbage has been wrotten about us, none of it interesting. The truth is, we weren't together until the very end of Caveman. Working, we got along fine, but we each had other people, our respective friends. Then, all of a sudden, within a week - the last week of shooting - it just happened. We changed from friendly love to being in love. And we both had the same philosophy, neither one ever wanting to marry again. Richard already has three children, aged ten to thirteen. Quite honestly, I never thought I'd be so lucky, to fall so much in love that I'd want to do the whole thing over. My family was shocked."
While they don't exclude the possibility of other children, Barbara and Richard (never Ringo to her) intend to establish a home somewhere for the five they have between them. Ringo's children spent August with the happy couple in their rented house above Sunset Strip, then Barbara's 12-year-old, Francesca, and eight-year-old, Johnny, came from Italy to explore Beatlemania firsthand.
"Richard's wonderful with kids; they love him. For them, it's like a wonderland here, with drums and guitars in the music room."
Barbara herslef came late to Beatle appreciation. "In the sixties, when they were at their peak, I was in Italy. I once took my little sister to Shea Stadium to see them, because she was a Beatles freak. I wasn't. I don't think I could have named five of their songs a year ago. I was never really into music, though I am now - up to my ears. I'm surrounded by it, because Richard is making another album." Suddenly, Barbara finds she can speak with authority about cutting tracks. She has met Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Steve Sills, all of whom are producing songs for Ringo's new LP, due to be released early in 1981; it's working title is Private Property, after one of the tracks produced by McCartney.
"There's also a song on it Richard wrote just for me," Barbara notes with pleasure, "called Can't Stop Lightning. That's what struck us, I guess, though I won't give away the words. Paul produced Lightning, too, and let Francesca and me play on it as part of the percussion group. Really thrilling. Much better, right now, than any film I could possibly be doing in Sri Lanka or Sardinia. Though I'm grateful for such movies and had a good time making them, this whole music world is magic to me."
Whatever magic they're making together must have been at a high pitch one rainy day last spring, when Ringo's Mercedes 350SL was menaced by a skidding truck just outside London. To avoid a worse collison, Ringo himself whipped into a skid that took out three lampposts. The car flipped over twice, throwing him clear, while Barbara huddled on the front seat in shock, the roof collapsed over her. They both walked away from the accident, only slightly the worse for wear.
"Terrifying as it was," says Barbara, "we were checked out at a hospital - and a half hour later, we got into a cab and went back to the Dorchester. From the pictures in the paper, you'd have sworn anyone inside that car had to be mangled, if not dead. That particular Mercedes must be the safest automobile in the world, and Richard bought exactly the same car again. The wrecked one he's having crushed into a box, which we're going to keep in the house as a work of art." In memorium or in gratitude, she adds, Ringo has ordered two star-shaped gold pins for Barbara and himself. "Each one has a little piece of the broken windshield set in it's center. Richard felt that if we survived that together, we'll manage to get through a whole lot more."
Where do they go from here? From L.A. to London or Paris or Rome, or perhaps Monte Carlo, where Ringo has established legal residence. New York's nomadic, romantic Barbara may be on the move again soon. but she's in no doubt that anyplace she hangs her hat with Ringo will be home.
"The unexpected is what makes life wonderful, isn't it? I'm incredibly happy now. I had always secretly believed in Prince Charming, if he ever came riding up on his charger. And Richard came. We'll get married, and that's it . . . happily ever after, all the rest. So now I'm into fairy tales."
Spoken with a joyous ring of conviction that suggests our own B.B. may be stepping out into the choicest role of her career.
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