There is something about the very title "Vicki" that tells us the story will be one of those Hollywood stories. The something is this: The girl, our heroine, Vicki, has no last name. Right from the start, we're on a first name basis. "This is Vicki," the title says to us. "She'll keep you company." We get the picture. We know what kind of party the book will be. We know the story will start off innocently enough and end up very badly--at least for Vicki. We may know, too, that the Vicki--"Oh, that Vicki") was Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress. That's right. The one who sued him for palimony. That Vicki. Who?
Vicki Morgan was the kind of party girl who dreamed of being an actress; perhaps most party girls are that kind. She was tall and pretty and unassertive but not without ambition. Her first ambition was to marry the father of her child: a high school sweetheart who had other plans. After delivering the baby into her mother's care, Vicki set her sights on a modeling career. She embarked on it with her mother's blessing. "It was obvious to both mother and daughter that there was not much future for Vicki in Montclair, where she could end up waitressing or get involved with another boy not much better able to support her than the last."
And so, Vicki Morgan moved from Montclair, California, to Hollywood, California. What the trip lacked in physical distance, it made up for in ethical distance. The Naugahyde waiting rooms of the photographers she went to visit were light years removed from her mother's Episcopalian living room. "While good jobs were scarce, there was no shortage of men eager to rescue her from a life of penury."
As Joyce Milton and Ann Louise Bardach tell her story, Vicki was the kind of girl who was always meeting men who were going to do great things for her." As they shrewdly note, "She didn't spoil their nymphet fantasies by talking too much and reminding them that there was a teenage mind inside that teenage body."
If Vicki's story is familiar--it should be since we know it, too, as Marilyn's and Dorothy Stratten's and others'--it is also something more than merely familiar: It is archetypal. The girl with a price tag is a quintessentially Los Angeles story. The girl is consumed by her life because Los Angeles is a city of consumers. Vicki's story takes off just like a nameless boutique that suddenly becomes a celebrity hot spot.
When Alfred Bloomingdale found Vicki Morgan to be worth his time and his money, he established a price for her in the great market place that is Hollywood. "Flesh peddlers" movie people have been called and the name stings because there is some truth to it. Vicki Morgan peddled her flesh to a man who could pay top dollar. Once he had done so, she became a valuable commodity, a somebody as well as a something. A handbag on Rodeo Drive is worth $2,000 if that's what somebody is willing to pay for it. Vicki Morgan became something more than just another pretty face when she became an expensive one.
The rule of thumb in Hollywood is that your last deal sets your price. The deal that Vicki Morgan set with Alfred Bloomingdale was a very expensive price indeed--and he was not the only one paying it. To their great credit, Milton and Bardach do not urge us to conclude that Hollywood or Bloomingdale or even her eventual murderer, Marvin Pancoast, killed Vicki Morgan. They make it quite clear that a day at a time, a pill at a time, a choice at a time, Vicki Morgan killed herself. Suicide by murder would have been an accurate coroner's summation. True, the slide into the grave was oiled by Bain de Soleil on many a drugged-out party weekend in the Springs, but no one really meant to kill Vicki Morgan; they just handled her with the same care she handled herself. They knew her price, Vicki's many "friends." They paid her price . . . and Vicki paid the piper. The city of consumers consumed her. That's the way these stories end. If they ended differently, we might remember the name.