Monday, January 19, 2009

Hollywood Suicide #1: Laurie Bird

Her career began auspiciously enough. Based on her skinny, hippy vagabond good looks, and her power to convey that vibe, she won parts in Monte Hellman's two best films: Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Cockfighter (1974), acting alongside such greats as Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. In Blacktop she plays, well, a skinny, hippy vagabond named simply "the Girl." She enters the story as a hitchhiker, picked up by the Driver (James Taylor) and his Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in the early stages of their cross-country race against G.T.O. (Warren Oates).

Before long the Girl realizes that her partners, a couple of rat-roddin', boiled egg-eatin', silent types, are more interested in nuts and rods than fooling around with her, so she switches sides to ride shotgun with G.T.O.

This youtube clip, from some joker's "condensed" version of Blacktop, captures the Girl's feeling of neglect at the hands of these gear-heads, as well as Bird's best line in the film.

From there Hellman seemed to establish a sort of swapped woman typecast for Bird. Next she plays Dodie White in Hellman's adaptation of the Charles Willeford novel Cockfighter (also released as Born to Kill). Dodie's another character who's subject to tight-lipped men who won't pay her any mind. In one early scene, former chicken-fighting champion Frank Mansfield (Oates), on another losing streak, bequeaths Dodie, along with his trailer, to gloating Jack Burke (Stanton) as payment for a lost bet.

After Cockfighter things seemed to go downhill for Laurie Bird. By '75 she was no longer shacked with Monte Hellman. She hooked up with Art Garfunkel. (Another 70's pitfall? Besides the threat of getting caught wearing earth shoes, a young hippy vagabond could end up hanging with yacht-poppers.) They left L.A. together and returned to New York to live in his Manhattan penthouse. Also a photographer, Bird shot the jacket photos for Garf's 1978 Watermark LP (she also shot stills for Cockfighter). She took a minor role in Annie Hall, playing Paul Simon's girlfriend. Still wonder why she killed herself? She went from Two Lane Blacktop & Cockfighter to being sandwiched between Simon and Garfunkel. In 1979, at age 25, while Garf was away shooting the Nicolas Roeg film Bad Timing, Bird offed herself in his apartment by overdosing on valium, citing depression in her suicide note. At her funeral, Bird's father revealed that her mother had also committed suicide.

A couple of quotes regarding Bird's tragic demise:

Charles Willeford: "(Bird) leaped out of a window and killed herself in New York. She was with a famous pop singer when she defenestrated herself, and he was quite upset by her suicide."

Monte Hellman: "Although the overdose of valium was not accidental, Laurie expected Art Garfunkel to arrive momentarily and save her, and therefore didn't intend to die."


trey said...

didn't know cockfighter was made into a movie; read the book though.

Bob Pomeroy said...

The movie's great. Lots of slow-motion rooster action, gratuitous sex scenes from outta nowhere, and W.O.'s voice-over narration. And of course, Laurie Bird. Blacktop's worth the rental fee just to hear W.O. sing along to "Maybelline".

The RedBoy said...

'Blacktop' is a great flick! Right up there w/ 'Dirty Mary' and 'Vanishing Point'.

Gotta love W.O. in 'Race w/ the Devil'!