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Almost Famous

Celebrity interviewer Skip E. Lowe basks in the low-wattage glow of Hollywood--public access style.


A lot of Angelenos can speak with some authority on Hollywood luminaries, if not with actual knowledge then certainly with distinct opinions. Take Skip E. Lowe. Mention Judy Garland, Steve McQueen, or even Madonna, and Lowe will have a thing or three to say. But unlike most, the 71-year-old Lowe has had a ringside seat to Hollywood's happenings for more than six decades.

He's been an entertainer since escaping a rough childhood, first as a child actor and later a vaudevillian, and for the past 23 years has hosted "Skip E. Lowe Looks at Hollywood," an oddly popular public-access talk show in which he interviews the famous, once famous and almost famous.

Here is Lowe's take on James Dean: "Well, darling, he loved life. Men, women, the 42nd Street scene, the night life, the whores, the food, the movies. Everything!"

On Montgomery Clift: "Tragic. Lonely. Sweet. Monty was in the closet, but when he got drunk he let himself out. Almost every night he'd get blasted and stagger around Manhattan trying to find his way back to his apartment."

And Shelley Winters: "Listen, honey, she's bold, courageous, and caring. This is a very strong lady who's filled with compassion for everyone in the world. Comparable, really, to Eleanor Roosevelt--only Shelley can act."

After a life on the fringes of show business, Lowe's phone book of celebrity friends and acquaintances all but bulges. His own recognition, however, only began to build with the popularity of his cable show. "When I walk up Sunset Boulevard, people are honking horns and screaming, 'Skip E., we love you!' I don't have a billboard, but I feel like I'm Angelyne," Lowe gushes in a pitched voice that is immediately recognizable to late-night public access viewers in Los Angeles, where his show is carried by Adelphia and AT&T cable providers, as well as in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The show has earned a cult following of viewers of all ages.

It's the kind of recognition Lowe seems to have been courting all his life. His journey toward celebrity can be read in his new autobiography, "The Boy With the Betty Grable Legs," publishing this month from Carillon Press. "I spent years showcasing other people," Lowe says, leading the way to his chaotic living room, which doubles as his office. "Now it's time to let them know the real me."

The 200-page memoir is chock-full of show-biz stories and photos with a cast of characters that includes strippers, mobsters, mega-stars and fringe players. Lowe spent nine years writing it because "every time I thought it was finished, there was something else to add." It's a campy and sometimes poignant book that's not afraid to dish.

Lowe's survivor status is apparent in his West Hollywood apartment, which has the feel of a small, cluttered museum. He coaxes his guest to take a seat next to a lamp once owned by Rudolph Valentino. He points out an ashtray given to him by Lana Turner, a painting by Cornel Wilde and a map of Paris that, he says, once hung in James Dean's New York apartment.

That done, he turns his attention to the dozens of framed photographs of dear friends. "There's the singer Dick Roman, who thought up my name. Here's me at some event with Rip Taylor. And there's Frank Sinatra. See the picture of me and Sylvester Stallone? One day his mother, Jacqueline, took me to his house for Thanksgiving dinner, and guess what? There was no turkey left. Sly made us sandwiches for Thanksgiving dinner!"

Lowe is short, rubbery and jaunty. He has bright eyes, craggy pink skin and a shock of white hair that he has touched up to platinum. Still, there is an elfin quality about him. He could be 9, he could be 100. His energy is boundless. When he is speaking, which seems to be every waking moment, his voice alternates between a dainty whine and a brusque scream, as if he's trying to catch the attention of someone across the room, rather than the person next to him. It's easy to see why comics like Martin Short have taken to parodying Lowe.

"Robert Morse told me he borrowed some of my mannerisms while working on the character of Truman Capote for Broadway," Lowe chirps. Whatever Lowe says he says with enormous zeal, as if everything in his life has been an amazing, madcap adventure. Helping a young Christian Brando find a job, his trip to the 7-Eleven this afternoon to buy lottery tickets, and being tied to the bedpost and robbed in Tunisia are all relayed with the same gushing enthusiasm.

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