All Is Vanity
To understand the meaning of Swedish starlet Britt Ekland, picture the entertainment world as Mount Everest and all its male sex symbols as slalom poles. Well, Britt holds the Olympic record for the Giant Slalom of Love. Since her early marriage to Peter Sellers, she has swirled through a dizzying series of affairs with some of the most celebrated ladykillers around—Warren Beatty, Ryan O’Neal, movie-record tycoon Lou Adler. Then came her tumultuous three years as the blonde on blond Rod Stewart’s arm, and that was the finish line.
Even Britt came to realize that she was on a strictly downhill course and that, at 37, she was getting pretty old to still be a starlet. In the last couple of years she has tried to make her own name in showbiz. Despite 25 movie credits (the most distinguished: The Night They Raided Minsky’s), the best she could land lately was CBS’ upcoming disaster epic, The Hostage Tower. On series TV, her rudder so far seems stuck on Fantasy Island and Love Boat. In December 1978 she tried the London legitimate stage in a work called Mate! which lasted only three weeks on the West End. Now she has released her first record in Europe, an unsubtle disco single, Do It to Me, which may never go gold but is already blue: It’s a picture-disc with her nude image pressed into both sides.
But anyone who thought Britt had played her last trump hasn’t been paying attention to the surest-fire showbiz marketplace these days: memoirs. Enter British literary agent and ghostwriter Don Short. Britt, who is not the vacuous victim she is sometimes depicted, just happened to have been keeping a diary since she was 14. So with that to bring back her memento amorum, she sat down with Short for her often painful confessionals from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. for two months. “Britt would get weepy and upset and disappear to compose herself,” says Short. “That was usually when she was talking about Sellers.” Adds Ekland: “It was like being in therapy.” Only this time the patient got rich.
The book itself, titled True Britt, will not be published until this summer in London, but serialized excerpts of the juiciest parts of the 40 audio cassettes and 1,000-page transcript have created a sensation in Europe. Agent Short estimates world serialization rights at $500,000 and the auction for U.S. publishers is now beginning—no bid under $100,000 accepted.
The males who found themselves publicly short-sheeted remained silent including, in addition to the Hollywood names, Britain’s Lord Lichfield, a cousin of the Queen. There was one exception. Sellers asked London courts to block publication of Britt’s marital indiscretions—but then withdrew. “She’s a professional girlfriend and an amateur actress,” Sellers now snaps. Does Ekland have any second thoughts? “I have nothing to hide anymore,” she says. Notes co-author Short: “She was very concerned about hurting people’s feelings. She also hasn’t avoided embarrassing people who need to be embarrassed.”
Among those apparently taking it like a brick were Britt’s own parents back in Stockholm. As she recounts in her autobiography, Britt grew up the only daughter in a genteel family of four. Her mother, Maj Britt, was once a secretary. Her father, Sven Axel Eklund (Britt anglicized the name), ran the family’s elegant clothing store, later became captain of the Swedish national curling team and is now president of the International Curling Association. Britt remembers growing up “very heavy. God, I was brutal-looking. I always tried to be funny to make up for the fact that I was fat and ugly.” But by the time she left private school to tour with a theater company, she was a Nordic beauty. A 20th Century-Fox talent scout spotted her in Italy and sent her to London for a film.
There she met Sellers. He was 38, she was 21, and they were married within 11 days. Even in the first honeymoon months, according to Britt, the moody Sellers set spies to watch her while he was away on movie location. Later, she alleges, he demanded during a quarrel that she abort their child. She wouldn’t. One night Britt was late returning from Elstree Studios and found the next morning that Sellers had smashed her gold Cartier watch and tried to flush it down the toilet. (Interestingly, in their 1967 film collaboration, The Bobo, Britt was cast as a scheming gold digger.)
Ekland also debunks the widely reported romantic legend that Peter’s near-fatal 1964 heart attack occurred while they were making love. Instead, Britt now says, “We were drinking champagne in bed watching television, and we spilled the champagne. I was changing the bed, and as he was bending over, he suddenly went, ‘Ah.’ I got him an aspirin and a glass of cognac. The next day in hospital he had seven consecutive attacks.”
“Men have basically never been monsters to me except Sellers,” Britt goes on. She refers to him only by his last name and hasn’t seen or spoken to him in five or six years. “The only reason I dislike Sellers is for what he’s not done for his daughter,” says Britt of Victoria, now 15 and a student at a Palm Springs private school. “He has sporadically paid child support, but for the last nine months, nothing,” she claims. “I’ll bring her up, but she adores her father, and she needs him desperately.”
Britt and Peter were divorced in 1968, and one of the next men in her life was Warren Beatty. “I fell madly in love with him, which was totally futile since he was going out with someone else [Julie Christie]. It was such a short affair anyway, just six weeks, but then I was in love with him for months and months,” admits Britt. “He was so handsome, intelligent, witty, kind and flirtatious. He was an incredible lover.” (She’s also been quoted in a caveat stating: “But I haven’t slept with him since 1970, so he may have fallen off since then.”)
It was different with Ryan O’Neal, whom she and Sellers double-dated with back when Ryan was married to Leigh Taylor-Young. “We slept together only three or four times and he never came to my home,” Britt writes in her manuscript. “I always went to his hotel. At the time he was in love with Bianca Jagger and they were having a torrid romance while Mick was abroad.” Now Britt just sighs of Ryan, “He was very nice.”
She speaks less warmly of her dissolution from Stewart. “I was real bad hurt when I broke up with Rod,” says Britt of the man who dumped her for model Liz Treadwell, before marrying Alana Hamilton, George Hamilton’s ex. “I put all my apples in one basket, and I was left out…He’s mean,” she claims. “He knows he’s mean. Everybody knows he’s mean, it’s no secret.” There was a time, though, when her breathily prurient lyrics dubbed on his Tonight’s the Night hit applied to all their evenings. Britt’s other revealed intimacies include details about groupies, coke-snorting and the fact that Rod wore her cotton panties during performances (because they wouldn’t show a seam in his sexy skintight pants).
She now regrets the $12.5 million palimony suit she filed against Stewart. “People are guessing that I’m getting royalties, houses, money, and none of it is true. I can assure you the settlement’s not half a million dollars. We signed an agreement never to discuss it.” She last saw Rod in December when he and Alana breezed into a party for her at Paris’ Lido 78 disco and sat at the honoree’s table. “He didn’t even say hello,” recalls a surprised Britt. “No one could believe it. I think it was because of her. I’ve heard he’s really hen-pecked and scared.”
One ex-man who draws Britt’s unqualified admiration is Adler, producer ‘ of groups like the Mamas and the Papas and such movies as Monterey Pop and Up in Smoke. He is the father of her son, Nicholai, 6, and though their four-year relationship ended in 1975, Britt now calls him “my best friend in the world. I can tell him anything. He’s beautiful, wonderful and loving, and really helps me and cares about his son and Victoria. He’s a real human father, not a movie star father.” The boy’s time is split between his parents, and Nicholai is now in Vancouver, where Lou is back on location. Adler, in fact, owns the four-bedroom Bel Air home where Britt lives with her two children and a Norwegian elkhound, Zasu.
“We live together as one somewhat happy family,” says Britt, though she concedes that Victoria has had “problems from time to time. This is not the place to bring up children. They’ll think the whole world lives in Bel Air houses with movie star mothers. You should grow up in a proper household—breakfast, dinner, mother and dad, outings and picnics and movies and zoos.” Ekland, who has always retained her Swedish citizenship, is still close to her now divorced parents and they exchange frequent visits.
Despite her domestic side, Britt hasn’t exactly curbed her roaming ways. After Stewart, she found brief consolation with Bubba Hettig, a 22-year-old circus aerialist she met while shooting NBC’s The Great Wallendas. Lately she’s become a regular at L.A.’s New Wave rock concerts and been linked with younger-than-Rod rockers like John Waite of the Babies. (Her one-week fling with Foghat drummer Roger Earl happened two years ago.) “It’s a coincidence that some of the people I know have been young,” she says. “I don’t feel there’s anything wrong about it.”
Two months ago she discovered rollerskating and now wheels through Flippers, L.A.’s slickest skate palace, four nights a week. She attends Gilda’s Century City exercise class daily and also works out at a Nautilus gym. “I like being in tune,” says Britt, who has given up her once heavy champagne habit and hasn’t smoked in eight months or eaten red meat since 1975. “My body has to last me another couple of years because I have no other source of income,” she says, but she clarifies hastily, “I never lived with anyone for money. I’ve fulfilled most of my fantasies,” Britt adds. “Now only my dreams remain.”