- By TOM WEAVER
The drama of Clintongate gripped the nation for months,
and one of its central characters -- Whitewater figure
Susan McDougal, fresh from a stint in the pokey -- is
currently on trial AGAIN, accused of stealing hundreds
of thousands of dollars from world-famous conductor
Zubin Mehta when she worked for him and his wife from
1989 to 1992. The defense counters that Mehta's wife
Nancy was jealously obsessed with McDougal, claims that
Nancy has fabricated the charges, and addresses jurors
about this "crime of passion -- Nancy Mehta's passion
and her passion for Susan."
We leave these sticky issues to that august court,
preferring to cross- examine Nancy Mehta -- a.k.a. Nancy
Kovack -- on her B-movie past. A native of Flint, Michigan,
Kovack was a student at the University of Michigan at
15, a radio deejay at 16, a college grad at 19 and the
holder of eight beauty titles by 20. Her professional
acting career began on New York TV and included stints
on The Jackie Gleason Show, The Today Show and
Beat the Clock; a stage role later opened Hollywood
doors for Kovack, who signed with Columbia and played
in such films as Strangers When We Meet, Cry for
Happy and The Great Sioux Massacre. Her best-remembered
role came early in her career, as the alluring high
priestess Medea in Columbia's Jason and the Argonauts.
In addition to sharing the screen with Jason's
stop-motion monsters, Kovack has also married an astronaut
(in Marooned), been awed by an Ape Man (in Tarzan
and the Valley of Gold) and pawed by Vincent Price
(in the period horror thriller Diary of a Madman.)
Do you recall how you became involved with Jason
and the Argonauts?
Nancy Kovack: Being a Columbia contractee, we
just did what we were told. But I was very happy to
go abroad at that time -- I was very young. Jason
and the Argonauts was shot at the exact place in
Italy where the legend was set. For instance, when our
Argonauts sailed around a certain cape, the real one
had in fact sailed around that very same cape.
Did you enjoy working in Italy?
Nancy: Oh, I loved it. We were there a long
time, as I recall, longer than we were expected to be,
and I've had a very warm place in my heart for that
part of Italy. It's like a second home. We were there
for something like four months.
you remember meeting the producers, Charles Schneer
and Ray Harryhausen?
Nancy: Charles Schneer, yes, I knew him well
and I thought he was wonderful. I enjoyed his wife --
she was there -- and I think his children were there,
too. It was a very family-like situation. And Ray Harryhausen
was on the set constantly. A very dignified, noble,
quiet, "still" man -- I appreciated that,
and had a great respect for hm. A very gentle man as
well. And the special effects which he added to the
film were phenomenal -- I don't even have to say that.
For that period, they were unique, were they not?
How did you prepare for your dance scene in Jason?
Nancy: Charles Schneer sent me to Rome a week
ahead of time to learn this so-called dance. But it
wasn't structured very well; in other words, I wasn't
given much instruction in it, and I thought it was a
little weak. And I also thought, at the time and in
retrospect, that it was meant to be suggestive and erotic
etc., and [disapprovingly] I find that's a great form
of titillation in films. And that's all I have to say
about that ... !
other Jason anecdotes?
Nancy: It used to be very cold in the morning,
and we'd have to get up at four a.m. sometimes in order
to be ready for a six a.m. sunrise. We were in the village
of Palinuto, in the shin of Italy. It was freezing,
and I had a purple sweater that was very warm. And I
was told that I couldn't wear the sweater because the
color purple was offensive to the people of the village!
Purple meant death, and I was asked not to wear it.
I said "but I love this sweater!" It was all
I had, and we had no access to other clothing, etc.
I also remember staying long times on that ship, because
the shooting was very difficult. I can't say why particularly,
but shooting took a long time. But in general I just
remember a great deal of warmth from everyone involved
and from the Palinuto people.
Any recollections of Todd Armstrong [Jason}?
Nancy: He was a nice boy, the son of someone
who was a friend of someone at Columbia -- as I understand
it, that's how he was given the part. He found it phenomenal
that I learned a little Italian before I went there.
He was always frustrated and seemed sometimes disturbed,
I don't know why. He was reactionary. And subsequent
to that I understand he left the business.
What did you think of the picture?
Nancy: I think it's a fine record for the legend,
and I think that is important. I also feel that it's
important for young people to see these things as opposed
to other things that we may be seeing today. I do feel
that society is deteriorating because of many of the
effects of films.
You next appeared in a Vincent Price picture, Diary
of a Madman, for United Artists.
Nancy: I must have been loaned out for that,
because I couldn't do anything other than what Columbia
agreed to. I enjoyed working with Vincent Price on Diary
of a Madman; he was very respectful, and I found
that unusual. I knew that I wasn't known, and yet he
was very respectful of me and kindly -- he didn't have
to be. He was professional, and I appreciated that.
I remember that just before the scene where he kills
me with the knife, Vincent was tickling me and I was
laughing, and I couldn't stop laughing after that!
Did you pose for the painting, sketches and bust of
you that are seen in the film?
Nancy: No, I think they took a photograph and
used that to do the painting and the bust; I think the
busts were broken in the picture.
You had a director from the old school in Reginald LeBorg.
Nancy: I had great empathy for him and sympathy
for him. He was a good director, a fine director, and
I respected him highly. Subsequent to that he didn't
do much in the way of films and he wanted to, and I
felt very badly about that.
Q: Diary of a Madman
really wasn't much of a picture.
Nancy: I think these are all kind of "light"
pictures, and they don't get heavier with time. I was
very happy to be working. I don't know if you know the
debilitating feeling of being under contract and not
working. You're not permitted to work anywhere else,
and you're really their puppet. And if you're not working,
it's so debilitating, mentally and emotionally. So I
was just very grateful to work.
Do you spend much time looking at your own movies?
Nancy: No. I never see them, never. I'm a little
embarrassed -- in fact a lot embarrassed. And sometimes
I can't bear to see them!
You turned up in the borderline sci fi film Marooned.
Nancy: What I remember about Marooned
is that I had severely damaged my leg and could hardly
stand, and [producer] Mike Frankovich saying, "If
you weren't an actress, you'd be in a hospital!"
It was a very small part. Marooned was my last
film. I met Zubin Mehta and we were married.
decision was it that you curtail your acting career?
Nancy: My husband's. I do sometimes miss the
camaraderie of show business, but I am so busy that
there seems not to be any space. I love my marriage.
I just try to be a good wife and do the best that I
can in my marriage. That's all.
Throughout the 10 years you were an actress, you kept
busy and worked opposite a number of top stars. Are
you happy with your career?
Nancy: Oh, no -- absolutely not! I feel it was very
shallow, and that I never was able to play a real person.
I was perceived as a girl with combed hair and lipstick,
and no matter what I would do they would not give me the
role of a real woman. I wanted that and I could have done
that -- easily and well. But I don't think there's one film
that I can point to that really represents what I might
have done. And consequently there's not one film or role
that I look at of which I'm proud, not one which I would
recommend to anyone to see. It's a very sad statement, isn't
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and
Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie
Makers and many others available from McFarland