Britt Ekland Took a Stray Cat into Her House and Magically Transformed Him into a Husband
Jim McDonnell was determined to get into Britt Ekland’s pants. Now before you get the wrong idea, perhaps an explanation is in order. McDonnell, the drummer for rock’s Stray Cats, ran into Ekland, she of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart fame, at L.A.’s On the Rox club one hot August night in 1982. Eventually they repaired to Britt’s place in Bel Air. When McDonnell awoke the next morning, he remembered he was supposed to do a promotion at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, and, well, you know how it is—he just didn’t have a thing to wear. Fortunately Slim Jim and beauteous Britt have identical builds, so he simply borrowed a pair of Ekland’s size five pants.
Nearly three years later the relationship between the Stray Cat and the Swedish sex kitten is purring along nicely, thank you. After spending that night at Ekland’s home on Stone Canyon Road, McDonnell has stayed for good. His presence has brought about some fairly remarkable changes in the Ekland household. A full-size pool table now sits where the dining-room table used to be. A giant fish tank fills an entire wall. And since March 21 of last year, a gold band with 12 diamonds has adorned Britt’s ring finger. They chose that day because it’s Jim’s birthday. That way, says Britt, “he’ll never forget our anniversary.”
Even by Hollywood standards this is an unusual union of two people who couldn’t have come from more disparate worlds. McDonnell, the son of a retired Long Island fireman, was tearing around playing rock ‘n’ roll in sleazy New York bars until Stray Cats made it big in 1981. Ekland had long been part of the jet set. The golden girl in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun, she lived with Stewart and then with record producer Lou Adler after her four-year marriage to Sellers.
These are creatures of exotic plumage—she in her clashing animal prints, he with the red and blue tattoos on his arms “because it’s no fun being all the same color.” For Ekland, 42, and McDonnell, 24, it’s no fun being the same age either. “I’ve tried being married to a man 17 years older [Sellers],” Britt reports, “and now to one 18 years younger. Younger is much better.”
Younger is also more malleable, and McDonnell is the first to admit he’s a changed man. “After I met Britt,” he says, “I found I was suddenly taking vitamins and eating food that someone actually cooked for me. I don’t think I’d done that since I was 12. I would never do laundry. I just bought new clothes. I was out getting drunk every night and ending up with whomever just happened to be there. I was happy just being a rock star before I met Britt. I don’t know how I managed to live with myself. I was really an ass.”
Fortunately his wife doesn’t hold it against him. “The truth is we really love each other,” says Ekland. “Jim and I trust each other, and we’re honest with each other. I don’t like lying, and I don’t lie. I would rather Jim said, ‘I didn’t come home last night because I hung out with the guys’…if that’s the truth.”
McDonnell and Ekland first met in London several months before they took up housekeeping. Britt was living on her own in her Chelsea home. Jim was in town recording an album, but in spite of his band’s success, he was down on his luck. “Stray Cats sold two million records,” he recalls, “and I didn’t have a penny to show for it. I was living in the Portobello Hotel and wondering how I was going to pay the astronomical bill I was running up.” A mutual friend introduced the two over drinks at the hotel bar. “It wasn’t love at first sight,” Ekland says now, “but there was an attraction.”
After 20 months of living together, Ekland and McDonnell decided to get married. The ceremony, which took place in the garden of Ekland’s home, had to be postponed an hour because construction down the road was so loud nobody could hear a thing. When the big moment came the groom was a wreck. “My legs were shaking,” confesses McDonnell. “There was an air of fun, but there was also an air of…thank God it’s over.” The next day the newlyweds left for two weeks in Rio de Janeiro. “It was the most incredible honeymoon you could think of,” says Britt. “The first time I was married [to Peter Sellers], my husband had a heart attack, so we never had a real honeymoon. But Jim and I partied endlessly.”
When they first lived together, McDonnell spent most of his time touring, so Ekland lent a much-needed hand with the packing. “Jim put everything in the middle of the suitcase,” she relates, “and then couldn’t understand why it couldn’t close. Now I send him on the road with everything neatly packed in little plastic bags.” This puts McDonnell in a bind. “I’m too scared to touch the suitcase,” he admits. “I’m terrified of messing everything up, so I wear the same clothes.”
Traveling is less of an issue these days, considering the fact that the Stray Cats broke up over “creative differences” last fall. “At first I was devastated,” says Jim. “It was incredible to be with the Stray Cats. Now I know,” he adds with more than a touch of hyperbole, “what it must’ve been like to be with the Beatles.” McDonnell is now part of Phantom, Rocker and Slick, a new band whose debut album is expected next month.
The son of Irish immigrants, McDonnell has far surpassed the dreams he entertained as an out-of-step youngster living in Massapequa, N.Y., which he describes as “a small conservative town 30 minutes from Manhattan, but so out of touch it might as well have been Alaska.” After years of playing small clubs in the metropolitan area, the Stray Cats went on to record one gold and one platinum album, and Jim returned to Massapequa a star, though he says it took his parents a while to accept his rock ‘n’ roll success. “I still say things to my father like, ‘Dad, I sold two million records,’ and he’ll say ‘Yeah, but you dropped that ball in the play-off game.’ ”
McDonnell didn’t drop the ball when it came to Ekland, the daughter of the Swedish national team curling captain. Britt felt she was “fat and ugly” as a teenager, but by the time she left private school, she was striking enough to be spotted by a 20th Century-Fox talent scout. She was 21 when she married Sellers and not much older when she went on to well-publicized relationships with Stewart, Adler and Warren Beatty. She has two children: Victoria Sellers, 20, who has her own apartment in L.A. and, from her liaison with Lou Adler, Nicholai, 11, who lives with Britt and Jim. Now, after 14 months of marriage, they are considering having children of their own.
McDonnell knows that Ekland mothers him as well as Nicholai, and he doesn’t seem to mind. Jim jokes that Britt tells him “what to eat, to take my vitamins and sit up straight,” but he still clings to one of his favorite vices: premium whiskey. Ekland bought some generic stuff, but McDonnell caught her before she could slip it into the decanter. “I asked her if she’d gone crazy,” says Jim, as he gets up to switch off The Flintstones.
Ekland is quite handy around the house, a good thing considering she is married to someone who, “with all due respect,” says Britt, “can’t change a light bulb.” So it falls to Ekland to keep the books, run her homes in London and Sweden from her Bel Air base and do the housework. “I’ll be playing records at 3 a.m.,” says Jim, “and she’ll be polishing the silver or vacuuming. It’s hard to convince people that Britt isn’t a Hollywood wife. Sure, she’ll have a manicure and pedicure, but only after the house is spotless.”
Three years after borrowing Ekland’s trousers, McDonnell has learned that he’s not the only one who wears pants in the family. Yet the transformation from Stray Cat into house cat isn’t total. “I have learned to do things right away,” he says, “because there is no way you can argue with Britt. It’s easier just to do it…or say you’ve done it.”