Fawning over Tawny

Tawny Kitaen’s 1976 Yearbook photos are available to purchase on eBay where the seller’s description states: “I found her twice in the yearbook with her 9th grade class photo, and she’s in the voted most attractive photo as well. The book has student signatures.”

In a French article that was intended to advertise the release of Bachelor Party, the origin story of how she got into acting is more detailed than her Wikipedia page suggests. She was interested in acting at an earlier age. As a child, she got involved with plays so as to cure herself of dyslexia. As a teenager, she decided to devote herself to the stage. She entered as an assistant in a small local troupe. An ABC recruiter noticed her and took her under contract. In a 1985 issue (April/May) of Prevue, it was specified that she had been acting in theatre since the age of 6 when she debuted at La Mesa’s Manno Theatre. After studying gymnastics and tap dancing, she was one of ten fledgling actors who ABC signed to house contracts in late 1982. Through studio-funded training, she became a talent used in various TV shows and films. This brought her to the attention of the producers of Gwendoline, which she auditioned for in early 1983 when a worldwide search came stateside. The French casting agency, having filled all supporting parts with European artists, wanted Americans for the leads in order to attract a wider audience.

Toward the end of the article, there is a sense of irony that will you find either amusing or touching depending on how cynical or sympathetic that you are. Either way, it makes me think she did herself a disservice by being known as Tawny Kitaen instead of Julie Kitaen. Even in the April 17, 1987 issue of a newspaper called Schenectady Gazette, she admitted that her name sounds like it belongs to a San Francisco stripper. Back to the Prevue article, she said: “Too many actresses use sex and beauty to create popular appeal, but true beauty is in one’s manner, not appearance. B!tches can be ugly even if they’re ravishing; a first-glance knockout only continues to be beautiful if she maintains it from within. Yet, beauty is an asset, because there aren’t enough good parts to go around. Girls aren’t usually portrayed as having brains, and when they are, Dustin Hoffman gets the part!”

When it was released in the U.S. as The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak, the movie made less money than the similarly themed Flash Gordon. Despite a partially Chinese cast and Brent Huff’s fight scenes choreographed by a French martial artist named Roger Paschy, the movie wasn’t adventurous enough. Perhaps if the producers were savvy enough to hire a Hong Kong choreographer, artistic and commercial results would have been heightened. Coincidentally enough, Roger already had the experience of working with John Liu. The movie that they did together was a 1982 production called Dragon Blood. John speaks French and had even made a 1981 movie called Zen Kwan Do Strikes Paris. John was something of a fixture when it came to the French publishing world of martial arts magazines. In the Prevue article, Tawny let it be known that she had it within herself to be an action movie star of the H.K. mould. She said: “I take an I can do it approach; I’m athletic, limber and I don’t mind a good brawl now and then. Even if the audience doesn’t recognize my stunt double, I know it, and I don’t like it. I trust myself, and have pride in my work.”

Despite the protests of the producers, she insisted on doing the stuntwork herself. These days, the negotiation tactic would be vice-versa. As for Tawny, she had the makings of a female Jackie Chan. Most of the battle sequences were lensed without mishap because she had undergone extensive training and specific rehearsals. When a chariot lurched into motion, she executed a leap that didn’t land perfectly but she was none the worse for wear no matter how scraped or shaken that she was. When she saw that he had to do battle with an Amazon brandishing a real spear, Tawny saw consolation in the fact that she could heal quickly. She definitely had the H.K. mentality of wanting to do a 24 hour shift if need be. She claimed that doing that gets the adrenaline pumping as opposed to the eight hour days from noon to 8 p.m. during the shooting in Paris. She was certainly willing to do a sequel: “If there’s a sequel to Gwendoline, I’ll probably do it – but only if she gets to live in New York and wear nice clothes!”

In the aforementioned 1987 newspaper article, Tawny was adverting her latest movie – Witchboard. She said: “I hate pictures like Witchboard. It’s not that I hate working in them, I’m afraid to see them. They scare me to death. This picture is a very scary horror film that I would never go to see. It isn’t a slasher movie. There isn’t a lot of bloodshed, but I can’t even watch parts of it because the occult and Satanism scares the hell out of me. I gasped with shock about 15 times when I saw the finished picture. I’d love to play a role like Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. It would be great to be a passionate, erotic girl for a change. Instead I play sweet young virgins. My character is usually a rich girl who falls for a guy from the other side of the tracks. In Witchboard, I play another sweet girl involved with two men who love her. And in the HBO miniseries Glory Years, which goes on the air in June, I play the same sort of part again. I guess virtue is its own reward. In five of my pictures, I’ve ended up marrying the leading man.”

In the aforementioned S.G. article, two of her other films were referred to by their working titles. Happy Hour was known as Sour Grapes whereas Instant Justice was known as Marine Issue. These alternate titles are more thought-provoking and may have helped lent a more artistic air to the perception of Tawny Kitaen’s choices. However, the article was mainly about Witchboard. The article mentioned that, in October 1986, she dropped out of a daytime soap opera called Capitol in order to do Witchboard but this had to have been reshoots seeing as how the movie was filmed in the summer of 1985 and eventually released on New Year’s Eve of 1986. It’s pitiful that she couldn’t do the first sequel to Witchboard. The sequel, whose subtitle was The Return, was the only movie in the franchise to not have nudity. Tawny was already game for nudity as can be also seen in Crystal Heart (1986). After the release of White Hot in 1988, it would be five years before people saw her in another film again. In between 1988 and 1993, she scored a list of notches on her TV belt.

In 1989, she acted in 47 episodes of a soap opera called Santa Barbara whereas she acted in 44 episodes of a sitcom called The New WKRP in Cincinnati from 1991 to 1993. Her love life could probably account for this since acting in local TV allows you to see your lover and family whereas acting in films usually takes you to far reaches of the globe or further reaches of the country that you’re living in. From August 15 1988 to February 1 1990 (special thanks to the Concert Archives site), Tawny had more time to hang out with David Coverdale. The Whitesnake frontman wasn’t completely resting because he was working on the final Whitesnake album of the eighties and the last one in a long time until 1997’s Restless Heart. Whitesnake’s Slip of the Tongue (released in 1989) represented how a lot of hard rock and metal bands gave in to the pop metal trend. The final tour date was on September 26 1990 where, after the concert, Coverdale told his bandmates that he would undertake an indefinite hiatus.

Even though he was exhausted, he needed to be romantically fulfilled. His marriage to Tawny Kitaen had lasted from February 17 1989 to April 1991. According to a 2002 People article by Stephen M. Silverman, she claimed in a lawsuit that Chuck Finley proposed to her on Valentine’s Day 1991 by giving her a Cartier diamond engagement ring and a key to his home as well as unlimited access to his personal bank account. That does make her look bad but Deepa Bharath’s 2002 article for the Los Angeles Times mentioned that they were regulars at the annual HomeAid fund-raiser in Newport Beach that raises money for construction and renovation of homeless shelters. The fund-raising manager, Gina Economakos, said: “They’ve been our celebrity honorary chairs for the event since 1998. They’ve given their name and support to our organization.”

As for what went wrong with David Coverdale, it could be traced back to O.J. Simpson. This notorious athlete/actor was the man who filled the gap between Ratt’s Robbin Crosby in 1984 and David Coverdale in 1986. On page 97 in the August 1994 issue of Esquire (Volume 122), there was an article about O.J. which revealed that Tawny was the reason why he had fallen out with his wife – Nicole Brown. No argumentation between the spouses had entered the public record until the famous New Year’s Eve brawl of 1989. On that night, the couple came home from a party both drunk and argumentative. Nicole, who had learned of his affair with Tawny only a few months before, repeatedly tried to extract a new year’s resolution from him (“never to see that b!tch again”) then what ensued was something that O.J. described as a “wrestling-type altercation” which resulted in Nicole calling the police. When they arrived, she ran from a clump of bushes which she had been hiding in and collapsed into the arms of one officer.

Yes, Tawny Kitaen does look like Sandra Bullock in the top right photo above. She also looks like Jennifer Jason Leigh in the photo where she’s holding a cigarette. According to an old Instagram post of hers, this photo came from a 1993 issue of Rolling Stone. As for the black text, it’s interesting to note that she adopted Sylvester Stallone’s approach except he only wanted to star in Rocky; he didn’t want to direct it. The Yin-Yang text is confusing. While she may have written a few things or a slew of things, she has no writing credits on any filmography page. The same goes for directing. Her name most likely went against her being taken seriously in those regards as well. The white text is more confusing than the black text – there were no early `90s European movies of hers that are listed on any filmography page…or at least one in the English language.

By the way, the above page and the below four pages came from the May 1992 issue of a magazine called Orange Coast. In a 1989 issue of Celebrity Sleuth (Volume 3, Issue 1), Tawny made a confession. Though she modelled and did commercials (such as Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport), she was too short to be a model on a full-time basis, so she had to lie to score the gigs that she did get. She referred to herself as “only like 5-foot-7” but the writer of that article pointed out that even this was a lie. Her actual height was recorded as 5’5 and a half. She also mentioned that her parents were already planning to call her Tawny when she was born but: “…my grandmother thought it sounded like a boy’s name, so they named me Julie. But when they told the story when I was in sixth grade, I thought Wow, Tawny, what a great name! And that’s what I’ve had everyone call me ever since. Nobody can say it right. In the U.S. they think it’s kitten. Like I’m Tawny Kitten. It’s NOT kitten. It’s Tawny Kit-TAine. Americans think it’s French, and the French can’t even pronounce it!”

David Coverdale is British (English to be exact), so he had no problem in pronouncing her surname. In the October 27 1987 issue of Rolling Stone, he told the reporter that he was smitten when he met Tawny in the spring of 1986. He was having dinner at an L.A. restaurant called Le Dome in L.A. while she was with a female friend. He walked over and told her that he would like for her to join him for a drink. Years later, he proposed to her while riding a tour bus from Iowa to Minnesota. She told the R.S. reporter that David asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and she said him. He got on his knees, and asked her to marry him. Back to the `89 issue of Celebrity Sleuth, it was actually insightful for what amounts to be a tabloid publication. She marvelled at her newfound recognition as a music video star because of her appearance in Whitesnake’s videos. She said: “It’s amazing. The medium of television is so powerful you really can become an overnight success.”

Despite an `80s interview where, as a term of endearment, he referred to Tawny Kitaen as his whore and inspiration, David made it patently clear later on that he must have been experiencing some kind of fever dream. In an AOL group chat session in 1994, someone asked him what happened between himself and her. David responded by saying that he woke up from the nightmare. In that same session, he revealed that the Whitesnake woman for the music videos was originally going to be Claudia Schiffer when she was the Guess Jeans girl. However, a chance meeting with director Marty Callner had promoted Tawny into that particular position. In later years, it’s been implied that there was a problem with Claudia which led to the chance meeting but the January/February 2003 issue of FHM has Tawny telling a different story. The night before the shoot, she went over to Marty’s house, he took one look at her and said: “Call up the agency and fire the girl.”

In the realm of romance, Tawny was also fickle. She has been with many men but it seems like the true love of her life was Ratt’s main guitarist, Robbin Crosby. It’s never been convincingly explained why they split up, but she clearly remembers him more fondly than the other men that she’s been with. After him, she hooked up with Pete Angelus, Tommy Lee, O.J. Simpson, David Coverdale, Jerry Seinfeld and Chuck Finley in a ridiculously tight period of time. Seriously, the window of time was so small that any one of these guys was committing voyeurism by peeking through the window. She has even two-timed on the men who she has been with. She committed infidelity on Seinfeld by hooking up with Finley, who was her ex-boyfriend at the time. It would be different if these men weren’t into monogamy. Tawny is clearly not the monogamous type. Even back in that 1987 newspaper that I quoted, she said: “I date quite a lot, but I haven’t found the right guy. And so far, there haven’t been any really serious relationships.”

In a 2011 book titled I Want My MTV, Pete Angelus indirectly exposed her as a user of men. According to him, they began dating when she was in her late teens. He invited her to L.A. where they lived together. Pete photographed her and sent her to the Elite modelling agency, which he considers to be her entrée into the entertainment business. Tawny unwittingly exposed herself as a manipulative social climber. Her dream was to be an actress and to be married to a lead singer. She mentioned that she dated Pete for three years but broke up with him after landing her first movie. She then began dating Tommy Lee before he dated Heather Locklear. Nikki Sixx (Tommy’s Mötley Crüe bandmate) was Robbin’s best friend, and wasn’t happy about Tommy dating Tawny. When talking about her marriage to David Coverdale, she admitted that absolute power corrupted her. She claimed that she was spending 75,000 dollars a month whereas he claimed that he had receipts which proved that she was actually spending 35k a day. David didn’t know how to contain Kitaen. When they broke up, she got their house in Beverly Hills whereas he owned the one in Tahoe.

Although O.J. Simpson threatened Robbin Crosby when O.J. was already seeing Nicole Brown, we don’t hear any stories of O.J. threatening Pete Angelus or Tommy Lee. In the early noughties, there was an interview with David Coverdale on the Whitesnake site where he relayed a disturbing anecdote. When Tawny Kitaen and himself were together, they woke up one morning with O.J. standing over the bed. Coverdale said they actually had a good chat over tea, but it was tense for a minute. On a Deep Purple forum, a fan recalled a 1994 Whitesnake show where David talked about walking in on O.J. having sex with Tawny. You know what they say about black guys – once you go black, you don’t go back. On his site, Boudewijn Geels (a Dutch journalist) interviewed Whitesnake guitarist Adrian Vanderberg, who said that it was not David’s fault that their marriage ended. David was very strait-laced whereas Tawny was constantly screwed up in part because of her dope addiction. This partially explains why David Lee Roth referred to her as a “cornball hose bag” in his 1997 memoir – Crazy From The Heat. The other part is that she worked her magic on the whole Van Halen entourage from the soundman to the lighting director.

It would appear that the last time that Tawny was photographed with O.J. Simpson was in late January of 1992. It was only by looking at a large version of the above photo that I could make out the time-frame (“January 20 to 24”) and the location displayed on her star pass. A French site called Pure People confirms that the photo was taken on January 20. The acronym, NATPE, stands for National Association of Television Program Executives. They are based in Miami, which O.J. later relocated to in 2000. When Tawny was in Pittsburgh to promote a TV series (The New WKRP in Cincinnati) in May of 1992, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I think rap has really done great things for country music – it’s all I really listen to. I think rap has really helped push country into this mainstream. Rap is not my cup of tea but I know it’s a whole lot of people’s cup of tea. People like myself who can’t get Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and all that stuff that used to be AOR, we had to go somewhere. And I think a lot of us went to Garth and a lot of us went to George Strait.”

The most noticeable thing about Tawny Kitaen in the nineties was that she was no longer a member of the heavy metal community. It seems like that world was merely a stepping stone for her meeting other kinds of celebrities. Also, grunge made metal less cool. You have to question why O.J. never became Tawny’s boyfriend. You could make the assumption that maybe his taste in music was rap, but Roger Catlin’s 2001 article (The Rap on O.J.) for The Hartford Courant reported that O.J. only developed a taste for rap music at the turn of the century because of his children’s influence. O.J. said that while he is not exactly an expert on hip-hop, he has always like L.L. Cool J’s songs. Back to the May 1992 newspaper article about Tawny, there was a confusing origin story about her stage-name. Taking the readers back to more innocent times, she said: “I told my parents when I was 6 or 7 years old that I was going to go by Tawny, which is my middle name.”

There is something else about that article which confuses me. Tawny is clearly a social creature of habit. She is so sociable that calling her a social butterfly makes all the more sense when you consider the significance of the butterfly motif in Gwendoline, yet Tawny came off as a bit too coy for her own good given her dalliances. When you consider that friendships, relationships and liaisons often begin with befriending strangers, it’s strange that she humbly declared herself as the worst person to invite to a dinner party with people that she doesn’t know. She supposedly curls up and doesn’t talk. The very nature of film-making involves working with people who you don’t know and dining with them at the catering table. According to the cast and crew members who were interviewed for the Witchboard DVD, Tawny had no problem with O.J. visiting the set. He was given a codename and was even subjected to a prank. Despite both stars being thespians, they never acted with each other.

To understand how Tawny got involved with O.J. in the first place, one must learn that his golf friend is producer Craig Baumgarten, whose wife managed Tawny. Unlike some of her contemporaries, Tawny’s career in the `90s was nowhere near as trail-blazingly hot as the `80s. The best example that I can think of is an online Q&A session that Robert Tapert had done with the fan community of Xena: Warrior Princess. Someone asked him how he goes about picking talent whether it be actors, directors or writers. Rob mentioned that each field is picked differently. Ideally, actors read the material for an audition. However, sometimes there is a “type” in mind then you may ask the person to come in. In 1993, Tawny came in to read for the part that Renee O’Connor played in Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996). Upon seeing her, he envisioned her as the wife of Hercules, so Rob asked her if she would go to New Zealand. Tawny then appeared in three episodes of the Hercules series and three spin-off TV movies. In the `90s, Tawny was beginning to look more and more like Geena Davis, so someone should have cast them as sisters in a movie or TV show.

The below image is something that I had screenshot from Google-Books when I was searching for newspapers and magazines referencing Tawny. The image came from a page in the April 1994 issue of Vibe – a couple of months before the murder of Nicole Simpson. At the murder trial, O.J. testified that he had a year-long affair with Tawny. Her name appeared on the witness list in 1995, but she was not called to the stand nor was she called during the wrongful death lawsuit filed against him two years later. In late November 1994, Tawny came on Howard Stern’s radio show. For legal reasons, she wanted to avoid talking about her relationship with O.J. but that didn’t stop Howard from recounting his experience meeting them at Donald Trump’s wedding in December 1993. The story goes that Howard was talking to Tawny when O.J. came up to them. Howard introduced O.J. to Tawny and they immediately began to make out in front of Howard (I wonder if her nickname was Tawdry Tawny). Afterwards, they told him that they were old friends from high school (that’s not true).

A few minutes into the interview, Gorilla (i.e. Steve Grillo) came into the studio wearing an O.J. mask for a “touching” reunion with Tawny. We then find out that she hosted America’s Funniest People from 1992 to 1994, and that her contract at the time stipulated that she could not do any interviews with Howard. After O.J. filed for divorce in February 1992, she was placed under more scrutiny. Throughout the interview, Howard told Tawny how he’d make love to her, including tying her up to the bed for an hour, and on top of his own wife’s coffin at her funeral. His wife, Alison Berns, called in to chat with Tawny while Howard negotiated to make a little physical contact with Tawny. Speaking of making contact with Tawny, the 2003 FHM interview had a quote where she claimed that she only attacked Chuck Finley because he attacked her. She claimed that one of the things which he said to her was that being a baseballer meant that he could get into a fight and not be thrown in jail.

It’s funny because the interviewer, Andrew Vontz, asked Tawny if she could take down Tonya Harding, but Tawny didn’t know who that is. Anyway, Tawny detailed another act of violence – the keying of a woman’s car: “She wasn’t this sweet, innocent woman who got her car keyed. This woman took up two parking spaces. Total bullshit. Very politely, I rolled down my window and asked Excuse me, can you park in the other parking space? She flipped me off and walked into the store. I had to park a mile away. I came out and keyed her door. After that, she tried to extort $90,000 out of me. I ended up having to pay her $25,000 – and there were no charges filed. It was like taking your car, backing it up and slamming into another car to make your point, and then handing someone your credit card and saying Go buy yourself a new car, sweetheart.

Back to how O.J. met Tawny, Craig Baumgarten’s wife was Melissa Prophet. She was also an actress and model in the `80s (she was once Miss California). She had won 14 first place trophies in various contests and even modelled for Playboy. Melissa was a friend of an arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi, who financed a movie that she produced called The Cotton Club (1984). Director Iván Nagy claimed that she was a “house girl” for Adnan i.e. procuring women for him while living in his home. This statement was echoed by Cathy St. George (fellow Playboy model) and Paul Rosenfeld (film executive). Melissa at one time managed a gangster actor named Frank Dileo. Even her husband’s past was shady. He was fired by Columbia after they found out that he produced and appeared in a porno called Sometimes Sweet Susan (1974). In a book called High Concept, it was mentioned that Melissa had snorted with producer Don Simpson (one of Craig’s friends). How could Tawny not already be involved in the drug scene?

In the above issue of FHM, Tawny also discussed her drug use. She claimed that she did not indulge in drugs until she started getting migraines. That’s hard to imagine when you consider that she was with Tommy Lee for three weeks, as she puts it. When talking about Whitesnake, she claimed that there were no groupies backstage, no late night partying and no booze. She denied being a groupie because groupies are girls who can’t get guys. As of 2003, her big plan was to be an advocate for abused women and children from homes of domestic violence. Let’s go back to that `89 issue of Celebrity Sleuth. Despite her vanity (as evidenced by her middle-aged need for perfection in the form of plastic surgery), Tawny was genuinely surprised that she landed the lead role in Gwendoline despite not having enough screen acting experience to justify such a victory. She said: “I couldn’t believe somebody wanted to use me in a film. I love being in front of cameras.”

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