The Svengali and the Starlet: Legendary Pop Producer Phil Spector and Slain B-Movie Queen Lana Clarkson Were Two L.A.-Noir Exiles

By Ali, Lorraine | Newsweek, February 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Svengali and the Starlet: Legendary Pop Producer Phil Spector and Slain B-Movie Queen Lana Clarkson Were Two L.A.-Noir Exiles


Ali, Lorraine, Newsweek


Byline: Lorraine Ali

An eccentric, rich has-been tycoon. A buxom, blond B-movie actress. A call to the cops by the chauffeur. A shooting death in a hilltop mansion. It's a 1940s L.A. noir movie--about all it needs is the shadow of Venetian blinds--but it happened last week. The legendary producer Phil Spector and the struggling ex-starlet Lana Clarkson crossed paths at the House of Blues, on Sunset Strip, in the early hours of last Monday morning; shortly after 5 a.m. police found the six-foot-tall actress lying in a pool of blood in the foyer of Spector's 33-room mansion, the Pyrenees Castle. She'd reportedly been shot in the head. And they found Spector standing there. According to police, he struggled, was restrained and led away, disheveled and sweaty, in handcuffs; he was booked on suspicion of murder, and released on a $1 mil-lion bond. After a search of the mansion, Capt. Frank Merriman, head of the L.A. County sheriff's homicide unit, told NEWSWEEK, "We recovered a gun that we believe was the weapon involved."

If this is indeed a case of murder, it may even top the arrest of Robert Blake in terms of sheer L.A. weirdness. Clarkson, 40, was an exceptionally beautiful woman; the news photo of Spector, 62, slouching in the back of the police van makes him look like Gollum. They may have hooked up in the House of Blues's VIP lounge, an upstairs space with Buddhist artifacts, Indian tapestries and music-industry types in graying ponytails. Even the crowd there is slightly younger than that at Dan Tana's, a celebrity steakhouse where Spector was seen just hours before Clarkson's death, with a date--a different woman, said to be a waitress. He requested his usual spot away from the door, table No. 4, and dropped a $500 tip on a $55 bill. This is "a little higher than usual," according to Mike Miljkovic, Dan Tana's general manager. "Normal is about $400."

He showed up at the House of Blues around last call, probably about the time that Clarkson--newly employed as a hostess at the club--was getting off work. The two left together about 2:30 a.m., and drove east to Spector's mansion atop a hill in the unglamorous suburb of Alhambra. Clarkson must have thought the 30-minute ride, past ranch houses and minimalls, was unremarkable. Spector's driver waited out in the black Mercedes while the two were in the house. Eventually the driver called 911 to report the sound of a gunshot.

Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson had more in common than they were likely to have discovered in what's assumed to be their three-hour acquaintance. Each was an exile from L.A.'s elusive center of glamour and power. Spector had been there; Clarkson would never get there. Spector was one of pop music's pioneering geniuses: while still in his 20s, he was the Svengali behind such '60s hits as the Crystals' "He's a Rebel," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." His "wall of sound" productions layered instrument over instrument behind the singers, making each song a densely textured mini-opera. He was a touchy perfectionist; after the commercial failure of Ike and Tina Turner's critically admired "River Deep--Mountain High" in 1969, he closed his record label and began to retreat from the music scene.

He worked on the Beatles' "Let It Be" and John Lennon's "Imagine," but his reputation for bizarre behavior--especially drinking and brandishing guns at people--seemed to outlast his will to create. …

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