Interview | TODD GOLD
SHE WAS A VALLEY GIRL WITH A PENCHANT for purple hair and all-night partying. He was a stripe-tied Reaganite and a scion of Hollywood royalty (actor James Mason and his wife Pamela).
She became the lead singer in a girlie pop group and an overnight star with a nasty drug problem. He became, at 21, heir to a $200 million-a-year company and lived like a baron in the English countryside.
“He was definitely from the wrong side of the tracks,” Belinda Carlisle, the former Go-Go turned soloist, says of husband Morgan Mason. “There was nothing to make me think we had a chance of getting along.”
“Who would’ve thought?” says Morgan. “It was destiny.”
Or maybe dumb luck. After five years of marriage, the couple are expecting their first child in June and seem as content as ever. “I did my little pregnancy test and then phoned with the news,” says Carlisle, 33, who at the time was in Europe promoting her fourth solo album, Live Your Life, Be Free. “We were sort of not trying, but then, I guess, something happened.”
“Yeah,” cracks Mason, 36. “We decided to have sex.”
That, of course, is a private joke.
When they first met in 1984, at the opening of a Chinese restaurant, neither sensed much attraction. But Carlisle’s friend, screenwriter Diane Duarte, saw some potential and, pretending to be the singer, phoned up Mason later and invited him to a Hall and Oates concert. The two-way trickery worked. After the show, “we went to Trader Vic’s,” Mason recalls, “and a couple of scorpions later we were thinking, ‘Hey, you look pretty good.’ ” No kidding. The very next day, Carlisle moved her belongings into Mason’s Century City condo. “I tried convincing everyone around me that I knew what I was doing,” she says. “They didn’t buy it. I just knew, though, and he knew too.”
Three years ago, the couple moved into a funky, three-bedroom hillside Hollywood cottage built in 1937 by actress Carole Lombard. Lombard’s foot and handprints are still molded in the kitchen floor, but Carlisle has filled the place with doodads and swap-meet detritus like ceramic vases and plastic blow-up furniture.
Despite their impending parenthood, the couple’s pairing remains a mystery to many. “I can’t believe that he found a girl as extraordinarily beautiful as Belinda who is a homebody,” says Mason’s mother, Pamela. “They seem to agree on everything.” Marvels matchmaker Duarte: “They both still talk baby talk to each other. It’s kind of sickening.”
The fact is, of course, Carlisle and Mason actually have a lot in common. “Republican, Democrat—we don’t care about that stuff,” he says. “We care about issues that are personal to us, like animal rights and abortion (they’re pro-choice) and the few other things that we think are worth fighting for.” Not to mention a few that probably aren’t: a passion for take-out food (vegetarian, Italian and Indian), lightweight TV (Hard Copy, The Simpsons), fine music (she likes Sinatra, he prefers Van Halen—”the early stuff”), and pets (five dogs, two turtles and a parrot—named Humbert Humbert after father James Mason’s role in Lolita).
“It sounds so boring,” says Mason.
“S-o-o-o normal,” adds Carlisle.
And so different from Carlisle’s San Fernando Valley upbringing. The eldest of seven children born to Walt Carlisle, a contractor, and Joanne, a housewife, she gravitated to L.A.’s new-wave scene in the ’80s and met up with Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock and Kathy Valentine. “On a lark,” she says, they formed the Go-Go’s. Their first album, Beauty and the Beat, sold more than two million records, and “suddenly we were stars,” says Carlisle. “I’d never been in a band or really done any singing. It turned into something much bigger than any of us ever dreamed.”
The dream, though, eventually turned bad, and the Go-Go’s bubbly spirit was soon drained by drugs, pressure and perpetual conflict. Carlisle contended with a very public weight problem and a failed romance with L.A. Dodger Mike Marshall. Most of her bandmates scorned her because of her higher profile, and in 1985 the Go-Go’s broke up.
Mason’s own life had gone into fast-forward early. He made his acting debut at 3 (in the TV movie Panic), was 9 when his parents divorced and 16 when he dropped out of school. When his maternal grandfather, Isadore Ostrer, died in 1975, Morgan inherited a seat on the board of the family-owned Illingworth, Morris Company, a wool manufacturer based in England. After three years abroad, he sold the firm, moved back to L.A. and into a four-year romance with actress Louise Fletcher, 20 years his senior.
In 1979, Mason wrote to Ronald Reagan, offering “to do anything” for his presidential campaign. After starting out organizing fund-raisers, he was in the White House within a year, first as a deputy chief of protocol and later as a special assistant to the President acting as a conduit between the Administration and state legislators.
Quitting politics after Reagan’s first term, he turned to movie producing (scoring his first big success with 1990’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape). Carlisle recorded her first solo LP, dropped 20 pounds and, after joining Alcoholics Anonymous, ended her dependencies. “Morgan had a real settling influence on me,” she says. “I tired of the partying, of always being messed up.” After a mock marriage in front of Notre Dame in Paris (“surrounded by all these tourists and in front of a puppet show,” notes Carlisle), the two eloped to Lake Tahoe.
Mason, “ready in life for a step-up in pace,” joined William Morris earlier, where he now works as an agent. Carlisle, pals again with her old bandmates, briefly reunited with the group last year for a greatest hits album, but a future with the Go-Go’s, she says, is a no-go. “I don’t want to be a pathetic revival band trying to re-create something that can’t be.”
Now, with motherhood looming, the singer has forsaken touring, her personal trainer and her daily five-mile runs. Does she care? “What the hell,” she answers happily. “I’m letting it all go. I’m eating a lot and getting used to being a fat pig. And I’m enjoying it.”
J. D. PODOLSKY
TODD GOLD in Los Angeles
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