The Golden Playpen
The nine hour flight to Hong Kong in January, 1965 was, with a five year old and a two year old, exhausting. Our first taste of the climate we were about to experience came when we stopped over in Manila . It was around four in the morning and we were escorted across steaming hot tarmac. I had never known such humidity. We were already feeling like wrung out dishrags and now here we were with two tired, whining, little boys.
We finally touched down in Hong Kong . It is the most amazing landing, frightening if you are not expecting it. The sun was just up and at first we seemed to be landing in the ocean and then flying low enough to peer through apartment block windows before hitting the runway just before the ocean beckoned again. Kell was waiting. We had not seen him in two months. He had a car ready, and we crossed over to Victoria Island by car ferry, as there was no tunnel in those days. Our lives would never be the same after this move. Rhett, Michael and I, forever became gypsies.
Life in Hong Kong was a series of fascinating adventures. We started out at the Hong Kong Hilton where we had a suite with large bedrooms either side, one for Mother and Kell, the other for the boys and me. Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan, but even in those days the ratio of Asian to Caucasian was about 90 to 1. Michael and Rhett had Beatle haircuts and their hair was blonde, which I guess is hard to imagine as they both grew up to be luxuriantly dark. Rhett especially was very fair then. When I took them downstairs in the elevator, local people would touch their hair. This did not bother Michael too much, but Rhett would get agitated and brush the strangers' hands away complaining loudly. I would try to pacify him, explain that it was a compliment, but he was much too young to understand. That was just the way he was, very easily provoked whilst Michael would just frown and put up with it. Sometimes he liked the attention and by being agreeable, he commanded plenty.
In the very first week, there was a cocktail party in our honour. Mother took me out to purchase a suitable cocktail dress, then she sent me to have my hair professionally styled. I felt so sophisticated, but of course I was far from it. At the party I met a photographer who suggested to mother that she bring me around to his studio for some test shots. A photograph of Kell was published in the Hong Kong China Mail the next day with an announcement that he was taking over as Managing Director at Guthrie and Co. I still have that clipping and many more press stories on all of us from our years there. I did do the test shots and my modelling career started to slowly take off. I was not print material, but I was a skinny 5'6 and could do a mean catwalk down the runway. I didn't have many other career options because I did not speak Cantonese. One of the shots from that first photo-shoot was used in the morning English language newspaper, in an article written by Terry Burke, an Australian journalist and scriptwriter, who quickly became very influential in my mother's career as well as my own.
Terry would call and say, “O.K. meet me at 3pm outside of the Star Ferry. I will have a script, and a cab waiting. You can learn your lines in the cab. We're going to the studio to do a live promo for the Sunday China Mail ”. Upon stepping into the cab, I would be handed a script based on my real life. I still have an original one, which reads:
Tina: I really have to get up early to get the China Mail at my house.
Alana: Why is that?
Tina: Because once my two little brothers get a hold of it, you never know - aeroplanes, paper dolls....
I couldn't always be sure if the other person was even going to be speaking English, sometimes the crew would have to give me hand signals to indicate my cue when she had completed her line.
It was so much fun living in the Hilton. We did not have the means to prepare meals so Mother and I were off the hook. Room service was fun at first, then we tried all of the restaurants in the hotel. Eventually, we knew everything on the menus. Of course the boys thought that the whole twenty six story complex was our home. I had to be a light sleeper, because often when I opened my eyes in the morning, the door to our side of the suite could be wide open to the hallway, and I might hear Michael and Rhett running up and down as if it were merely an extension to our house. I was a teenager of the sixties, I wore curlers and baby doll pajamas to bed and did not relish going into a hotel hallway to retrieve my two little brothers. They also found the elevators fascinating. Mother and I would find ourselves frantically pushing buttons, trying all floors to catch the two little mischief-makers after they had got loose. Eventually we moved into our own apartment.
Sometimes I've wondered if those days gave Michael such a taste for the luxurious yet impersonal room-serviced existence of life in expensive hotels that he was driven to replicate them as a touring rock and roll superstar. But really I had no idea then just how those years in Hong Kong would impact all of our lives. Initially Mother and I were less than thrilled about moving to the Far East , after all, the place to be in the sixties, was London . Who ever heard of anybody moving to Hong Kong ? It became obvious to me later that this move from Australia , the land that was still being referred to as 'white Australia ' to these multi cultural surroundings compounded a nomadic existence that we have all experienced in one way or another. Due to the nature of Kell's business, my parents entertained constantly, and I found myself conversing with adults most of the time. Instead of jeans, I wore couture. Rather than beach dances with Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, I attended cocktail parties with Sergio Mendez and Brazil '66. Dinner parties resembled the United Nations; every guest was from a different country.
This new lifestyle and the glimpses of other worlds it presented would forever set us apart from our peers in Australia . Just as I could never be the same teenager, this would also be a very different childhood for Michael and Rhett. Michael attended a kindergarten where he was in a minority; he learned his nursery rhymes in Cantonese as well as English. He began to speak a variation of English accented by Cantonese phrases and just plain mime when he could not get his point across to the servants. Some of these skills may have contributed to his later powers as a lyricist and stage performer. Rhett was just a toddler and spent many hours playing with the cook's little boy who was about his age. They did not start out speaking the same language, but within a few months they were each proficient at the other's. Michael and Rhett seemed to accept their new environment more readily than the adults in the family.
Kell was very busy with his new responsibilities. Mother had become bored with the lunches and teas and had gone back to modelling and makeup. Michael and Rhett were being kept busy with pre-school and kindergarten. Rhett was now learning his nursery rhymes in Cantonese and becoming very proficient at it too. He was a very bright three-year old, copying everything his older brother did, and yet he was physically superior. He demonstrated this one day, while, the two were lying on the floor quietly watching Romper Room on television as they always did. The program never varied, it ended with the hostess on the show, picking up a mirror, and using popular names say, "I see Tommy, and I see Lisa, and I see Adam and I see you". She very often said the name Michael. On this day, Rhett jumped up and, without provocation, slugged Michael, who began to cry. When asked why he did this, he screamed through tears of frustration; "Because she always looks in her mirror and sees Michael, and never sees me" . How do you explain this to a three-year old?
Many years later Michael said he wished our parents had named him Rhett as it was such a great name, so different, a perfect stage name. Rhett was tough in every sense of the word and he was a natural leader, strong willed, determined, highly intelligent and with a remarkable memory. Throughout his childhood, Rhett remained this way. He breezed through his classes. The only problems he had in school were when he corrected his teachers. By contrast, Michael did not excel in school, and he had a slight lisp, which I suspect held him back from speaking up in class. He could charm himself out of many situations, but he always had to work harder to pass his grades. His report cards inevitably read, “Michael is a dreamer, he needs to get serious about his education”. As Rhett progressed from one grade to another, Michael envied his younger brothers' gift for reading an assignment once and understanding it. In adulthood, he would make up for it by being a ferocious reader. He read constantly on planes and while he was touring. It became important to him to be thought of as an intellectual and he looked for the same in his partners and he hated to imagine that people might dismiss him as just another rock-n-roller with a supermodel girlfriend. As he went through life meeting new people, he would grill them on every detail of their job, their hobbies, their lifestyle. In doing so Michael's eye contact with them did not flicker and he had the gift of making the other person feel that they really were the most interesting person in the room. Now maybe part of this came from sheer, effortless charm, which isn't always too profound. Nonetheless, it made people feel good. Other times I guess he was making up for his lapses at school. When describing a new love interest, he would always begin by briefing us on the girl's intellect. By the time he was in his early thirties, he seemed to have some knowledge of just about any subject that you could bring up. He was obviously well travelled, but he made sure that he was also well versed in the history and culture of most every country he visited, be it for business, pleasure, or an INXS tour.
Life in Hong Kong was very good for all of us, especially the children. We all made many friends some of whom we keep in touch with today. Kell was not travelling quite as much as before, which gave us a more stable home and at last I felt that we finally we had the potential to become a family.
It was easy to fit into the lifestyle there, as there was so much to do. When we settled into our apartment on Old Peak Road I arranged for Michael to attend Glenealy Primary School . This did not sit too well with Rhett as he also wanted to go to school with Michael so as soon as he was eligible an anxious and willing Rhett was enrolled into a kindergarten where he found his first girlfriend. She was a little Chinese girl by the name of Mai Ling. He was so sweet with her and insisted on holding her hand every time he saw her. She didn't seem to mind but Michael teased him all the time about this. When the boys were settled in their schools, they were kept extremely busy. Most of all, they loved to go to the Ladies Recreation Club swimming pool. There was an instructor there who was wonderful with the children, but would not accept them for classes until they were five years old. I booked Michael in for classes but this of course bothered Rhett who had to wait another two years. Michael took to the water immediately and would enter every race. I bought a swimming aid for Rhett to strap to his back so he could at least enjoy himself in the water. He began to see how long he could hold his breath, face down in the water. For this reason, when he began his first lesson he would only swim underwater and had to be taught to swim on the surface. They both became excellent swimmers and divers
We were always anxious about Michael's asthma fearing it might be a family blight as his aunt suffered with it. But actually Michael was a very healthy child, easily dealing with routine childhood illnesses, infections and the occasional bout of bronchitis. Certainly nothing affected his swimming or other sporting activities. It was only as he approached adulthood that the asthma sometimes troubled him - but never to the point of debilitating him.
Kell changed positions a number of times. He started off in the liquor business and then took a job with Mandarin Textiles, who made up couture for Lanvin and also had their own label, Dynasty, which was sold in their boutiques at the Hilton, Mandarin, and Peninsula Hotels. The line was very popular with tourists. As a result, I had the most incredible wardrobe, as I was lucky enough to be the sample size. We had to entertain a lot at home, which I loved, and our social life was really exciting. Music seemed to fill our house from morning until night. I loved soul singers like Aretha Franklin and Dakota Staton, Ray Charles, and I didn't mind the Beatles and Tom Jones. But I adored Sinatra. Michael said in an interview that his love of music came from me.
I read that an American film crew had arrived in Hong Kong to search for locations for a movie called ‘Strange Portrait', starring Jeffrey Hunter and Mai Tai Sing, directed by Jeffrey Stone. I figured work would be better than gossip and giggle, as I'd become bored with that and did not care for bridge, so I approached the production office to see if a makeup artist was required. I was hired onto the crew. The first assistant director was an Englishman by the name of Peter MacGregor Scott, who years later produced the Batman movies. In 1995 he asked Michael to record ‘The Passenger' for the ‘Batman Forever' soundtrack.
When we finished filming, the producer asked me to stay on for another movie, so after only one week break we started on the next production, which was titled ‘Sumuru'. It was to star Shirley Eaton (the Golden Girl in ‘Goldfinger'), Wilfred Hyde-White, Frankie Avalon, George Nader and Klaus Kinski and it featured a separate cast of dozens of girls from the American beach party movies. I asked Tina to join me as my assistant as she had been around me long enough on various productions; it was easy to teach her.
Klaus Kinski, the father of Nastassja, had bought his wife and daughter with him to Hong Kong and they were staying at the Hilton. When visiting the set, Michael and Rhett attempted to talk to the sweet young Nastassja, but she was very shy, and they had to coax her to play. During filming, Michael had his sixth birthday and I invited 5 year old Nastassja to his party. Many years later I read an article written by a friend of Paula's in an English magazine where it said 'Michael's mother entertained often and amongst those who partied hard with her was Nastassja Kinski and Michael Caine'. Now, I have never met, let alone worked with Mr Caine and quite how hard he would have wanted to party with a six-year-old remains a mystery. But Michael may have been the instigator on both of these stories which were repeated down the line in many interviews including some with Paula. He learned the art of a good yarn from Kell, and he learned it well.
Michael and Rhett enjoyed coming to the set and knew the rules. Any noise and you're out and you don't get another chance. They also liked to play with my special effects kit and many a time I found to my horror they had used my 'blood' to give authenticity to the wounds suffered in battle to their G.I. Joes! Apart from this they had what seemed to be a hundred little plastic soldiers. They were the most popular kids in the neighbourhood, because they would siphon 'movie blood' out of my makeup kit and use it on their little warriors. Rhett would have made an excellent makeup artist. His simulated bruises burns and cuts on his friends sent many a parent into shock. I continued working on film, as whenever there was a production crew in Hong Kong , I would be contacted. The opportunities were too good to pass up, especially when one is getting paid to travel, besides the boys were very busy with their school work, sport, and music lessons.
Michael's interest in girls began early, when he met a very pretty English girl in his swimming class and was quite besotted by her. He was about eight. One day he and a few friends were playing ball at a nearby park, and this same pretty little girl came by with her friends and joined the game. Michael suddenly decided to kiss her, then stepped back very embarrassed and tripped over a rockery landing on his arm which had twisted behind his back. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital , a public one where the majority of patients were Cantonese. He had broken his arm, and they kept him there for three days and fed him Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which he loved. He was pretty adept at the chopsticks by then. His arm had to be reset as it was slightly crooked. From then on he had problems swimming competitively so he had to give it up. Though he continued to enjoy swimming and water skiing for his own pleasure.
Eventually both boys joined cub scouts, learned Judo, kick boxing, chess, archery, and studied music. Michael studied violin, even though he was threatened daily by Rhett to stop the terrible noise or he would cut the strings. I had hoped that Rhett's many outside interests would tire him out and make him calmer, but his hyperactive tendencies did not abate. Michael would spend hours on a model plane, only to have Rhett smash his little masterpiece in a temper tantrum. There was a daily barrage of irate mothers at my door, standing there, with a crying child. I was forever apologizing for black eyes and bruises and hurt feelings. There was a stream of letters from Rhett's teachers, not about his grades, for he was an excellent scholar, but because they simply could not control his naughty behaviour. Amidst great disapproval from Kell, I took Rhett to one doctor after another while we lived in Hong Kong, as I had read of findings in the States might have helped him but and not one of them could make any difference. I wonder now if Rhett resented all these consultations and examinations.
In our apartment on Old Peak Road we had two amahs. Servants are customary in Hong Kong . Whatever their name is, you put ‘Ah' before it. This is the polite way to address a servant. They would in turn, address all males (Kell, Michael and Rhett) as 'Master' and Mother and I were called 'Missy', as in Master Michael and Missy Tina. We had a 'baby' amah, for Rhett and Michael; and a 'cook-general' amah to take care of the cleaning and meals. Kell took it upon himself to interview prospective amahs, and we went through quite a few in the beginning. He once employed a very pretty, young girl for the care of the boys, she said her name was Huh so naturally we referred to her as Ah Huh. She didn't last long, she kept going missing, until we found her downstairs with the chauffeurs wearing one of Mothers' favourite outfits. Mother did the hiring from then on.
We went through quite a few general amahs before settling on Ah Chang, who had left her family in Shanghai to find prosperity and freedom in Hong Kong . She wore her hair in a long braid down her back, secured with a black ribbon. Her uniform consisted of black pants and a traditional, crisp, white 'mao' jacket. You could always hear her coming, as she had a habit of shuffling, instead of picking her feet up. Her manner appeared to be stern but she had a heart of gold, and I loved to hear her laugh. She had to struggle to maintain a certain control as she was constantly being outwitted by Michael and Rhett.
Kell made a habit of calling at the last minute when he planned to bring people home for dinner. Mother would go to the kitchen and tell Ah Chang how many extra guests we would be entertaining that evening. Mother would say, "One Missy, and two Masters come home with Master; six o'clock , dinner. We have curry, okay?". Ah Chang almost always questioned Mother's orders: she wanted 'Master' to tell her what he wanted her to serve. Mother got so cross about this, she once dialed Kell's office, and had him tell Ah Chang himself. I always thought that Kell secretly enjoyed this inequality of the sexes. Before Hong Kong , he had spent a major portion of his adult life in the Far east , and it was obvious that he felt comfortable with local customs, his favourites being that men are more important than women, and that boy children were more valuable than girls. Ah Chang was with our family for eight years.
On his way home from school one day Michael found a scraggly little tortoiseshell cat, he named Tinkerbell. He entered her in a competition and she miraculously won first prize. The morning edition of the China Mail, featured a photograph of Michael hugging the scrawny feline. Tinkerbell was therefore spoilt by the family. She slept in Michael's bed and Ah Chang made sure that she was fed fresh fish only, from the local markets. On a trip to Sydney , I picked up some new kind of dry cat food and asked Ah Chang to give it to Tinkerbell. Of course Tinkerbell had been living the luxury life and turned her nose up at the dry food. Ah Chang maintained that it was because she was a Chinese cat. Australian cats must be different, she insisted.
Tinkerbell had a female kitten at around the time 'Bewitched' was a popular television show, so Michael named her Tabitha. She was just as feisty as her mother, and together they terrorized Ah Chang. The word for cat in Cantonese is 'mao'. A day never went by without Ah Chang screeching about the 'maos'. They made her life a misery, as she turned to admonish one cat, the other would leap up on the kitchen counter and make off with a portion of the family dinner. Tabitha hadn't been with us very long, when Rhett was given a pair of strawberry finches, exquisite tiny birds. Ah Chang hung their cage high so that the cats would be deterred from seeking out any snacks. It worked for a short time, until one night there was a gruesome commotion. By the time we had gathered on the porch, all that was left, was an empty cage, save for some beautiful red feathers and of course Ah Chang wielding a broom, as she chased a defiant Tabitha into a corner. Michael ran to defend her and as Tabitha cowered, red feathers hanging out of her mouth, Ah Chang screamed what we understood to be Cantonese obscenities.
My social life was really looking up. It was a very carefree time in my life. There was no need to baby-sit the boys anymore, as we had a baby amah for that. My brothers loved to play pranks especially when I had friends over to the house. My friends thought they were cute, but I was constantly embarrassed. They delighted in saying anything in front of anybody and all the while I was trying so hard to be sophisticated. One new craze was go-go dancing -in cute mini skirts, Shindig-style, nothing sexy. I had three girlfriends and one of them had an uncle who was a disc jockey. He hired us to 'go-go' at one dance, calling us the Telstar Dancers, after one of the first American spacecrafts. The China Mail put us on the front cover of the paper and offers began to come in. We landed a contract on a television show, which was the Chinese version of Shindig, so it was imperative that we come up with an endless variation on routines. Fortunately we had a large living room at my parents' house in which to choreograph and practice our dance routines at full volume. Michael was in charge of playing the same song, over and over, until we could get the routines down. He was very precise about it too.
Michael and Rhett would position themselves on the floor, and watch us, go through our routines, sometimes mimicking the moves. I thought Michael was going to be a drummer, the way he beat time with his chopsticks, moving his shoulders up and down, his head cocked to one side and mouthing the words to the songs. He was so serious, watching to see who was out of sync. Rhett made funny faces at us and complained that we were playing the same song, over and over and why couldn't we do it this way or that? During his career, Michael of course gave many interviews, drawing upon experiences in his lifetime, some real, some imagined, and some realities with a lot of imagination thrown in. On more than one occasion, he told an interviewer that while in Hong Kong , his sister had been a go-go-dancer - in a cage! I am happy to report that this story was imagined.
There was some wonderful music being generated by a number of British bands; the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Cream. One of the girls in our group arrived back from a vacation with a Rolling Stones single which took our breath away. It doesn't seem so shocking now, but 'Satisfaction' was the most irreverent piece of music I had ever heard - and I took great delight in playing it over and over, until Michael and Rhett knew the words by heart. My friends thought it just the most fun, to ask them to do a duet on this one. Rhett couldn't always remember all the words, so to make up for it, he would scream out louder when Michael got to the "satisfaction" part.
Our parents exposed us to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald so we all grew up with an appreciation of good music. I think Kell looked upon my move to this 'new' music, as rebellion. The conflict in Vietnam , actually allowed for some very interesting and enduring music to filter into the tiny, British Crown Colony of Hong Kong . Droves of American servicemen were coming to Hong Kong for rest and recreation and bringing with them some popular, new, American music. I wore out at least five recordings of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" during 1967, by playing it over and over until Kell threatened to smash the stereo if I didn't return to "Satisfaction".
Living on a relatively small peninsula did not preclude us from moving house. We went from the Hilton in the Central District of Victoria Island; to an apartment halfway up the peak; to a house in Stanley , which stood on a cliff and overlooked its own private beach and pool, and back to two different homes on Old Peak Road before heading to Kowloon on the mainland. All this in six years and it does not count three months spent back in Australia . Nomadic as we had become this didn't seem particularly disruptive at the time but perhaps it continued to encourage a sort of rootlessness in us all. Certainly I've never been frightened to move on or move away if I wasn't happy somewhere.
Where as life in Hong Kong was carefree for the rest of the family, it was a stressful time for Kell. Business is fast paced and someone is always waiting to step into your job. Kell's tolerance for prescription drugs escalated. On top of this, most business was conducted along with a social affair and drinking was more acceptable in the sixties. It was normal to have cocktails and follow up with wine. Sometimes it was impolite to refuse. Knowing what I now do about addictive personalities I sometimes wonder if Michael, with his penchant towards the end of his life, for certain drugs, inherited a gene from his father which predisposed him towards reckless excesses.
By the time I was eighteen I was also working with my mother. I had never been all that interested in makeup before this. When I realised that it was fun, that I could meet some really cool people and was being paid very well I decided that this was the career for me. I learned by fire. Mother handed me a makeup sponge and Panstick, and told me to match the actor's colour. I know I must have made mistakes in the beginning, but the actors were very patient. I did a lot of hair too, not that I was qualified, but it was the sixties with the hairpieces and such, if you knew your way around a teasing comb and kept a can of hair spray handy, how could you go wrong?
I liked the American actors. They would say things like “Hey, it ain't brain surgery, let's have some fun and get it in the can”. They were disciplined and mindful of time wasting techniques. The first thing you learn on a U.S. production is, that time is money -lots of money. English crews were very different from the American ones. Very civilized, but slow. They took tea breaks. The American actors would then say, “We're not filming an epic here, let's shoot this thing. If we wait any longer she won't need the old age makeup.”
Altogether I was having a wonderful time on the sets. I sometimes joined the actors for dinner and drinks in a nightclub called ‘The Den', which was in the basement of the Hong Kong Hilton. Since the whole cast and crew was staying at the Hilton, it was always crowded. One night we were sitting there when my parents came in with a large group of business associates. I'm not sure what was being said at their table, Kell was looking pleased with himself, but my mother was visibly miserable. I watched this for half an hour before seeing my mother rise from her seat, stop the waitress who was about to place drinks on another table and speak briefly with her. Then she took a drink from her tray and without saying a word she stood over Kell and poured it over his head. She turned on her heel and calmly walked out of the nightclub. I do not know what she was upset about, but I later asked her what she had said to the waitress. She replied that she was asking what the different drinks were; after all she wanted something sticky, and creamy. She said if you are going to do something like that, you may as well make it worth the trouble.
On a couple of nights when typhoon warnings prevented me from making it home, I shared a room with an actress named Patty. She was so bouncy and sweet, a typical blond, tanned, California girl. She missed her boyfriend back in Malibu . She said he was an actor too. He was on a television show called 'The Big Valley', with Barbara Stanwyck, and Linda Evans. Patty was so much in love. She said he would be a big name some day and talked endlessly about their home in Malibu and their hobbies. He called often, usually in the middle of the night as he could not get used to the time difference. I assumed they were getting married. Patty must have ended up with a broken heart, because after I moved to the U.S. I heard that he had married Farrah Fawcett - the actor was the ‘Six Million Dollar Man' -Lee Majors.
Marvin Westmore made quite an impact on my life. He is third generation in the Westmore makeup dynasty, his father Monty Westmore Sr, designed the makeup for 'Gone With The Wind' . His brother Michael is in charge of the Star Trek/Deep Space Nine makeup at Paramount . Marvin grew up on movie sets in Hollywood and is completely unaffected by this legacy. He was in Hong Kong on a movie starring Burgess Meredith and Jeff Bridges. Mother was helping him with the makeup as it required prosthetic pieces and extra hands. Although I was busy on another movie at the time, I stole away and managed to spend as many hours as possible on their set, hoping his talent would rub off on me. Mother became Marvin's guide to Chinese culture and he showed us some of the magic behind the Westmore makeup techniques. Marvin is also an excellent chef, and demonstrated his talent in our kitchen on weekends. Spending time with people like him made me want to live in the United States . I really enjoyed the casual, friendly attitude of the Americans and I began to save and make plans to move to California .
If Mother was working and I was free, it was my responsibility to collect Michael and Rhett from school. Kell needed the chauffeur, so I would get a taxi to the school and back again. One day I was getting out of the cab, paying the fare and trying to hold on to both Rhett and Michael, when Rhett suddenly broke free from my hold and took off across the road, toward the house. I could see another cab coming from the opposite direction. Michael and I froze with terror, and watched helplessly as Rhett ran smack into the side door of the moving cab and bounced off onto the middle of the road. The cab he had collided with came to a screeching halt. Fortunately there had been no other traffic on the road. I grabbed Michael's hand and ran to Rhett who was lying flat on his back. He was dazed, and the cab driver got out and began yelling at me in Cantonese. Michael screamed something back at him, also in Cantonese, defending his big sister. It cannot have been very flattering, because the man only became more enraged. I scooped Rhett up and carried him inside the house, with Michael running behind. We had Rhett checked out. Fortunately, he only had a slight concussion, which didn't surprise me a bit, hard headed as he is. Boy, was I in trouble that night when Mother and Kell came home. Rhett really milked it for about a month.
We were all used to Kell's business trips, to Australia for the beef he was now importing or to Europe for the liquor. Occasionally he would depart late at night and only be away two days and those times upon his return we would hear nothing of his whereabouts. These trips always seemed a little mysterious and when I inquired about them at the breakfast table he always changed the subject. It wasn't until much later, after leaving Hong Kong that Michael told me what Kell had been doing on these short disappearances. Apparently he got word that the American officers in Vietnam were interested in purchasing meat that still resembled something you might barbeque. They were willing to pay very well for it in fact. As a man always looking for 'the big one', he saw this as his opportunity. He arranged flights to Saigon , where, late at night, he switched to a barge with frozen beef leftover from supplying the hotel trade, and he would head up the Delta to a pre-arranged drop off destination. I was intrigued, after all it was all very cloak-and-dagger. One night his barge had a close call. It was caught in crossfire and it went down, which left him to swim to shore. He never went back again.
Then again, while I am quite sure that the basics of this wonderful story are true, Kell has always had a charming way with a yarn. It is never complete fairy-tale, but the truth is always embroidered. Kell could mesmerise us with his stories, telling them in such a way that even if you know he is embellishing , it would be difficult to put a stop to it. By the time Michael hit his mid teens, he too was known for his storytelling. It was not unusual for him to tell the one story on the same evening to two different groups of people, in two entirely different ways. Sometimes he would hear a good story from someone else, and make it his own. I have heard my own real life stories back, only more 'colourful' when relayed with Michael at the centre of them. This trait would cause much heartache in the aftermath of his death.
Sometime in 1967, the Chinese Revolution was beginning to have repercussions in Hong Kong . The mainland shut off our supply of water, so the government decided to split the city into four sections, and ration the supply. We were allotted four hours of water every fourth day. Think about it just four hours of running water every four days! We stored the water in huge tubs and used it sparingly. The trick was to get a friend in each section and do the rounds all week to be sure to get a bath each day. Rhett and Michael were intrigued with this set up, for bath time became a big production for their amah and they would get to stay up later to watch television. We also had curfew, as the revolutionaries were getting very aggressive, even leaving packages containing bombs all over the city. Between 7pm and 7am if you were found on the street, you could be arrested. So in order to continue a social life, we had to be sure to reach our destination by 7pm , and then the all night parties would begin. For a teenager it was a glorious, legitimate excuse for not coming home till morning.
Kell thought that it was getting dangerous just to be in the city. He stayed on, but sent us to Australia by sea. I left kicking and screaming, as I knew I would be miserable in Sydney after living in Hong Kong all that time. We had finally been in a city long enough for me to record telephone numbers in ink. I had made many friends and had initially refused to go, as I finally felt as if I belonged somewhere. We returned to our house in French's Forest , and Michael and Rhett were enrolled in a local school. Mother returned to the film industry and reluctantly, I took a job as a junior buyer in Sportsgirl, a women's clothing store. I moved out into my own apartment, and an English nanny, fresh from a vacation in Katmandu , was hired for the day to day care of Michael and Rhett. But a few months later Mother returned to Hong Kong with the boys.
My parents had decided that I would remain in Australia partly to shield me from tensions at home and partly mindful of the expense of my travel. This decision made a tremendous impact on my life, and not, might I say, for the better. Although Australia is a beautiful country, with wonderful qualities, I felt like a stranger in my homeland. The lifestyle was so alien to what I had become accustomed to and I no longer had friends there. For eighteen months I lived in Sydney while my parents and siblings continued to live in Hong Kong . It is interesting to me now, that Hong Kong , by now one of the great transit ports of the world, held a sense of belonging for me. Almost twenty and feeling like an alien who had been dropped on another planet, I tried to make friends, but most people I met were experimenting with hard drugs. Although I drank alcohol, I had not been exposed to drugs and it scared me to be out of control. I finally actually refused to make friends, deciding that I would be leaving Australia soon anyway. I lived to work and while most people around me loved Fridays, I dreaded going back to my apartment knowing that I would have to find some way to kill the pain until Monday morning. Scotch was my friend until I found that with my weight (approximately 110 lbs on a 5'6" frame), adding a sleeping pill could put me out for twenty hours. Eventually I found a doctor who prescribed Valium. I had found my drug of choice. Fortunately for me I do not have an addictive personality, and never became a Valium junkie.
I had letters from Michael and Rhett and my mother, but I cannot find a single one from Kell during this period. When I finally made my way back to Hong Kong I realized why my parents had been so distant: they had not told me that they were separated. I don't think the boys fully understood the situation, because while they continued to live at the family house in Kowloon, Mother spending her days taking them to their swimming practises, and other activities, joining them for dinner as a family, and even attending business functions with Kell; she returned to another apartment on Victoria Island at night when the boys had gone to bed. Kell had refused to move out of the house, so this was the only way she could handle the situation with minimum disruption to the boys' lives. Mother eventually moved back into the Kowloon home when she and Kell decided to try once more to keep the marriage together for the sake of the boys.
Obviously I can't help wondering how all this impacted on an eight-year-old boy. His mother was there for him, yet not there all the time. His grown-up sister was all but out of his life and the amahs were his only female constants. Maybe his pattern in later life – that of invariably getting involved with someone new without making a clean break from his existing relationship stemmed from a fear of abandonment and a need to keep something or someone in reserve if the new love let him down.
When he was eleven years old, Michael made his first recording. A director of Hong Kong 's advertising firm of Ling, McCann, Ericson, asked me if Michael could sing, as he was looking for an English boy to sing Christmas songs for a record. I took Michael to the studio, and a Chinese gentleman handed him a list of songs – ‘Silent Night', ‘Jingle Bells', etc. Michael sang loud and clear and with a bit of prompting with the words, he got the job. He was paid HK$300.00(U.S.$50.00). We eagerly awaited his big debut, having been told that it would be sold in a department store named Dodwells. The big day arrived and we hurried to the store. We searched everywhere, asked every sales person and finally we were told it was not in the music department but in the toy-shop. It had been made into a scratchy little orange disc, about four inches wide and it could only be played when pushed into a slit in the stomach of a twelve inch high, extra rotund, plastic Santa! But this was an exciting day for Michael, scratchy sound or not. Was this Michael's first significant career move? I have since lost my Santa and disc. But, if there is a toy collector out there with a fat, plastic Santa, a slit in its' belly and a tiny orange disc with a scratchy sound, I would love it.
When he was twelve Michael went on to King George V School in Hong Kong . He enjoyed drama, music, folk singing, choir, archery, and loved arts and crafts. As I write this, I am looking through my photo albums and magazine clippings, where I have come across an article written by Gerry Agar, a woman once hired by Paula Yates to 'boost her image'. Ms. Agar, who describes Paula as a caring mother, claims that at the age of eleven Michael was wandering the Bronx in New York , alone and lonely, while I was going through many affairs and husbands. A shame the magazine neglected to check the facts.
Tina saved and planned for a trip to California . She had been there four months when she called one day and announced she was getting married. Although we had not met Tina's fiance in person, we had had many phone conversations with him and felt comfortable with her choice –and after all she was an adult. If she had the courage to relocate to another continent on her own, we had to have faith in her decision.
At the time, Kell was the managing director for the Dynasty fashion house in Hong Kong . He commissioned his Spanish designer Miguel, to create something breathtaking for Tina. When I flew into California just two days before the wedding, Tina had not even seen, much less tried on her gown, head-dress, or shoes -they arrived with me. But everything fitted perfectly and she looked beautiful. It was a pity that she did not have the rest of her family with her, but over the years we have learned to accept this as part of our restless lifestyle. Twelve months later she gave birth to her beautiful son, Brent.
END CHAPTER TWO