“. . . . their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum . . . a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.”
– ‘Hamlet’ II, ii
It is four in the morning at the Sahara Hotel, a Las Vegas nitery so . . . clearly Hy-Tone. Sonny Bono, wearing jeans and a knit shirt, steps from a dark lounge with a few friends, turns into the gambling corridor, smack into a bevy of buxom yahoos. He pauses to sign a few autographs and the ladies giggle and press. Others gather into the fold. Sonny gets uneasy. A handful of pudgy fingers entwine around his gold neckchain. “Isn’t this the most darling thing,” she breathes.
Bono, desperate, rushes a last few John Hancocks and reaches through the bulging spray of organdy sleeves and puckapoo lips for a recognizable arm, anyone, even you, you hostile scribe. . . .
One hauls Sonny Bono clear, out and around a crap table, free at last, but his eyes are glazed with fear. The crap shooters glance up, do not give a damn, and grimly resurvey their board like it was an unauthorized autopsy of God.
Bono pulls himself together, walking along, heading for his room and his family, dazed with half a smile, because, after all, this is Paradise Regained for him, he rules this Anything-Goes Town, which is a hell of a note for Salvatore Bono – just call him “Sal,” what they called him when he pushed a broom in an Italian grocery store so long ago, before Vegas, before he ascended Mount Video, before the nose job, before he became a Nixonoid, before the daughter and the fortune and the fall and the fights. All before the kookiness and kickiness.
* * *
There she stood in studio B of CBS Television City, the high-heeled hippodrome, Cher Bono surrounded by her fleet of lackeys – one seamstress kneeling, two cosmeticians performing relief work, a hairstylist under a pink wig. A grip walked through the empty seats, lamenting, “We’ll have to do something. We’ll have to fix that neckline. You can’t have ten o’clock tits on an eight o’clock show.”
Cher was going to sing “Song For You,” so starchly beplumed in her trademark white feathered headdress, to be shot through a Vaseline-smeared lens . . . soft-focus . . . like an ostrich dusted in hoarfrost.
She looks grim. Like Duke Snider. She is a tough dame and smiles with the edge of her mouth, and maybe a naughty little pucker and then the big Ha-Ha, all flashes of eyeteeth and throat and trunkular proboscis. Sometimes a spleenful hoyden.
When the number is over, she blushingly acknowledges from side-to-side the invisible applause that will be added later. Right now only the cameramen applaud, which is the way it’s been going through all the skits . . . the propmen help the timing by laughing uproariously at lines they’ve heard a dozen times over. The unsung laughers.
Later, in her dressing room, she sits stone-faced in a pink monogrammed bathrobe, picking through melon slices on a paper plate. The wig-tender combs her hair; the baby, Chastity, plays on the floor. A grip asks Cher how she feels.
“Tense,” she says, “I feel like rat-shit, and I’ve got this lousy sore throat too.”
The man is concerned. “Are you taking any vitamin C?”
“Christ! I’ve been taking vitamin C up the ass lately.”
“No baby,” he reassures. “It’s the throat.”
A brief smile flashes, but her endearing pout . . . The Pout . . . returns and she fixes her withering gaze on the scribe. “You try touring for 40 days straight sometime,” she mumbles, “and just . . . watch the world crumble before your eyes. Like this morning, I had to get my nails done and so I got up at 8:30 . . . y’know, god, every hour of every day . . . I just don’t know. . . .”
She gives the melon slices a stiff look, her head lifting as the attendant’s comb passes through her hair, and my-oh-my but she has a classy chassis, and legs as smooth as Sixth Avenue cheesecake and she is asking just why this opinionated journal wants to write about them anyway, but the gentleman’s eyes are transfixed by her hands. Those hands have never touched a dish all year, pal, those nails are like blood-tipped trowels.
* * *
Sonny and Cher have been working their asses off for a year. They had a lot of debts to pay off. During their 1967-71 decline, Sonny had bummed a lot of money, plus he stacked up $190,000 in back taxes, just now getting paid.
Today they live it up in the former Tony Curtis mansion, a houseful of antiques, televisions, Ferrari and Mercedae. Sonny has 37 pairs of shoes in his closet. Cher spends $10,000 a week on her rags and bijouterie. She’s as close to a fashion queen as reigns today.
It’s not like the old days. Hell, she got married in white bell-bottoms and only Sonny can tell you if she was wearing her Fruit of the Looms that night. Nowadays she covers the annual Christmas Vogue and will work only with Avedon. Vogue discovered her as a fashion plate and she loves them. They love her. An associate says this: “They think of her as the epitome of the American woman. They are wild over her. She’s brought back the halter, the strapless, the turban, the helmet. Possibly next spring she and Avedon will go to Paris and model the collections.”
In gaining the covers of TV Guide, Redbook and Good Housekeeping, they kept up an absurd pace of TV shows, suburb houses, Miami and Borscht Belt, until that August night in Las Vegas when they had that spat . . . it happened during rehearsals . . . Sonny was laboring and Cher was flirting with the band and Sonny got his Italian up and the shit hit the fan. Reasonable enough. For 24 hours a day they live in each other’s armpits. Anyway, the scandal jockeys all thought it was an “amorous trombone player” and the whole business propelled them into the torture tabloids and Screen Creams.