Her husband Vittorio Gassman, she claims, once gave her a black eye when she confessed she preferred Olivier’s Hamlet to his. William Holden passed out after making love to her, but they got together five Christmas Eves after that for clandestine romance. Her two-year affair with a married Burt Lancaster was “back-street agony,” she says, but that didn’t stop either of them. A stark-naked Marlon Brando once carried 15 framed photos of Lancaster down the hall to the incinerator of her apartment building—and then, after Burt appeared unexpectedly at 5 a.m., escaped to the roof.
Given such breathless revelations, it was no wonder that when Shelley Winters, 58, invited the many loves of her life to a party celebrating her tell-all No. 1 best-seller, Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, there were more cold feet than iced shrimp. But the new author didn’t mind that few famous men showed up. “I’m excited about the literary aspects of my career,” she bubbled. “My concentration is there now.”
Shelley (née Shirley Schrift) contends “I’ve had it all,” and who will dispute her? But her St. Louis childhood was not so glamorous. The daughter of a clothing salesman, she remembers spending Depression summers gobbling jelly doughnuts and cold lemonade beside her sister, Blanche, on the family’s steamy porch. Her book is dedicated to Blanche (who attended the Beverly Hills party) because, Shelley notes, “She always told me I could succeed.” Leaving for Hollywood at age 20, Shelley faced “the cattle calls, the sex goddess roles, the fear.” She appeared in 99 films, won Oscars for best supporting actress in The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, became Marilyn Monroe’s roommate, Errol Flynn’s lover and a friend to the Kennedys. Along the way she collected stories that are gems. At her book party in the posh private club Orlando & Orsini, Shelley pointed to a diamond brooch on her shoulder and explained that her third (and last) husband, Tony Franciosa, offered it as a peace offering during his affair with an Italian actress. “I got a lot of jewelry that way,” Shelley cracked. “I always say, ‘You’ve got to be standing in the right place at the right time.’ ”
Actors Farley Granger, Ronald Colman and John Ireland are among those Winters names as her paramours. Most of the men so fingered haven’t objected. (Some are dead.) In fact, Shelley says, Granger is “enraged” because he thinks she overemphasized the importance of second husband Gassman (No. 1 was a textile salesman). “I told Farley,” Shelley says, ” ‘Look, he is the father of my child.’ ” (Their daughter, Vittoria, 27, is a Harvard graduate and now a medical student at Columbia University.) In Denver rehearsing a play at the time of the party, a mellower Granger declared: “It’s a terrific book—she wrote it just the way she talks.” Gassman, who lives in Rome, hasn’t read the ms. but endorses her effort too: “I’m sure it’s good. Shelley is a very intelligent woman, and she has had a rich life full of experiences.” Even Holden, who has always been publicly formal with his Christmas bundle, doesn’t seem upset at having his cover blown. “When we started our latest picture, S.O.B., I walked on the set and said, ‘Hello, Mr. Holden,’ ” Shelley recalls. “He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Shelley, after your book I think you had better call me Bill.’ ”
Two ex-boyfriends showed up at the party, but they were relatively recent ones and will be chronicled in her next memoir. Richard Tate, who played Norman, an android on Star Trek, confessed, “We were lovers for eight years, and then I got married and we drifted apart.” Don Stroud, who met Shelley in 1965 and was cast as her son in Bloody Mama, called her “a mama bear,” and allowed, “She taught me a few tricks.” Tommy Smothers left the party quickly, perhaps intimidated. “I’m the only person here who hasn’t had an affair with Shelley,” he proclaimed. There is, of course, still time. As Shelley made her way around the room, cooing at yet-uncommemorated loves, she promised that someday they too would have their place in the sun.