If the Supremes Fan Club ever wants to establish an official museum, they need look no further than Mary Wilson's home in Studio City. The house, where the former Supreme lives with her mother and three children, is loaded with Supremes memorabilia, including gold and platinum records, concert ads, and photos of the trio that exploded out of Detroit to score a dozen No. 1 hits in the '60s.
But that doesn't mean that Wilson has fond memories only of her years with the Supremes, which also included Diana Ross and the late Florence Ballard. She suggests that she was financially exploited while in the group, and admits that her relationships with Ross and Motown Records, which signed the act, are less than ideal.
Wilson, who will perform at the Roxy on Sunday and Monday in a showcase designed to attract record label interest, has been thinking a lot about the Supremes lately. She's putting the finishing touches on an autobiography, "Dreamgirl . . . My Life as a Supreme," which is due in September.
Seated in the living room of her home, Wilson said she has interviewed hundreds of associates for the book, from TV host Dick Clark to members of the Temptations and the Miracles. But at least one central figure was uncooperative.
Said Wilson: "I went to Las Vegas about a month ago to see Diane (as she calls Ross) at Caesars Palace. I saw the show and then went backstage and told her that I wanted to interview her for the book. But she said that she would not have the time to do it. That's OK. Maybe she wants to write her own book."
That wasn't the first indignity Wilson has suffered. She said that Motown, which released her from her contract after one unsuccessful solo album in 1980, has issued an injunction against her to prevent her from billing her act as "the Supremes show featuring Mary Wilson." It must now be billed "Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes."
Wilson has worked steadily (mostly in Europe, the Far East and the Middle East) since the breakup of the Supremes in 1977--the years of hit making hardly left her set for life. "We made millions of dollars and sold millions of records, and we'd get our little allowance. But when the Supremes disbanded, I only had about $100,000 in the bank tax-free," she said.
Wilson, 42, is used to being lost in the shuffle. She was the middle-of-the-roader in the Supremes, overshadowed by the stardom-bound Ross and the tragic Ballard, who was squeezed out of the group in 1967 and died in poverty nine years later. Wilson said she will deal with that issue in the book.
"In fact, I think a lot of people believed I would never write the book because Mary Wilson has always been the sort of sweet girl in the Supremes who went along with everything. Diane made all the decisions and then the problems were with Florence. Mary just sort of floated along with it. My image is like a shadow."
Wilson admitted that her polite, obliging image concerned her editor at St. Martin's Press. "He wasn't sure if I was going to dig in deep and tell the real story. Because let's face it: Everybody wants to know about Diane, and then the other thing is the mystery surrounding Flo. But I feel that in the context of the book I can tell the true story, but without putting my two friends down.
"It's not necessary for me to protect Diane or Flo, but it's also not necessary for me to tear them down, which I'm not going to do. I'm just going to say what happened."
In addition to writing the book, Wilson has been searching for a record deal--and it hasn't been easy. "One record company we approached said, 'Well, can she sing ?' I understand that, because in the Supremes they never really heard my voice. I was in the background singing 'oohs' and 'baby babys.' "
That incident prompted Wilson to finance a four-song demo tape that she shopped to record companies earlier this year. But there was still no interest.
"I think they need to see me," Wilson said. "And the only way I can get record people to see me is to come right to them. That's the plan behind the Roxy shows. I guarantee that when I leave there, I'll have a record deal. That's the only way to look at it. I refuse to lay down and die."