An Interview with Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri
by Joe Vannicola Ï
In 1983, I interviewed actress/Playboy model Victoria Vetri for Bill George's book Eroticism in the Fantasy Cinema. It was the second interview I had ever done up to that point. The big deal for me was that I was actually speaking to a Playboy Playmate; the dream of every red-blooded American male who ever perused an issue of Playboy.
Tory, as she preferred to be called because she didn't like the name Vicki, was charming, engaging and generous with her time. My tape recorder had malfunctioned and she very kindly agreed to do the interview over again the next evening. During our second interview, Tory asked if she could change her answer to a question I had asked concerning Roman Polanski, who directed her in Rosemary's Baby. Her original answer was, "I'm just glad he's out of the country," in reference to the statutory rape case during which he fled the country to avoid a lengthy jail sentence. She changed her comment to, "I think he is a very creative director."
Prior to interviewing Tory, she told me an amusing story concerning the making of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. When it came time to do the scene where she comes out of the water with a fish in her mouth, the director, Val Guest, had Tory put an actual dead fish in her mouth. To add insult to injury, the director did a number of takes, as Tory emerged from the water with the dead fish clenched between her teeth. Ever the trouper, Tory did the retakes without complaining. As you can see, being an actress isn't all glitz, glamour and adulation.
I felt a sense of sadness as I read on the various news websites the details concerning Tory's trial (in 2011) for shooting her husband of 25 years, Bruce Rathgeb, because she felt he had been cheating on her. Luckily he survived, but Tory was sentenced to nine years in jail for attempted murder. The story received cursory attention but not much more than that. After all, 44 years has elapsed since her appearance in the magazine and Tory hasn't acted in films or on TV for almost the same amount of time. To the jaundiced public, it was a mildly interesting story concerning the downfall of a former Playboy Playmate to be read about and forgotten in a day or two. Such is the attention span of John and Joan Q Public.
JV: Was Rosemary's Baby your first feature film?
VV: Rosemary's Baby was my first feature. I got it because Mia Farrow refused to test with the actors. She didn't want to be bothered doing that menial stuff, so Roman Polanski said, "By the way, how do you look in dark hair and can you look Italian?" I said, "Well, I am Italian." He said, "I'd like you to play the part of Terry Fionoffrio, Angela." I said, "Okay," and I played the part under Angela Dorian, my fictitious name. On the set one day he said, "Angela, we cannot use the Anna-Maria Alberghetti name. Can you think of an Italian name?" I said, "How 'bout Victoria Vetri?" He said, "That's fantastic! What an imagination!" I said, "That's my real name." He said, "My God, why are you using that name of a sunken ship, The Andrea Doria? I think Victoria Vetri has more of a– ah, what the hell, it's Italian."
JV: Was Playboy magazine responsible for you getting the part in Rosemary's Baby?
VV: No. Playboy really had nothing to do with me being in the film one way or another. Because by the time Playboy came out, I had already done the part. Because they mention that in my credits. I had 26 TV shows, all lead parts, under my belt, plus Rosemary's Baby, plus movies for TV. But they somehow made it sound like they discovered me. Which upset me at the time.
JV: Do you think that Playboy in any way helped your career in a positive direction?
VV: I think at one point in my career, it hindered it. I could have been a serious actress and all of the sudden it was like I was a thing, I was a commodity, I was a Bunny, I was a Playmate, and I played nothing but hookers. The types of roles that I went up for were not serious parts. I mean, I'm not saying that you can't play a serious hooker. Look at what Jane Fonda did in Klute. It's changed a lot. I was one of the first actresses to do Playboy. Then Claudia Jennings did it after me. I was very close to her and felt great remorse when I lost her in a car accident. I had to entertain that night. I had to sing with a rock group and I couldn't go on stage when I found that out. We had to give people their money back. Claudia and I did a film together called Group Marriage. She was a superb actress who was coming into her own and she was a loyal friend. A very creative lady. And I think she was one of the best friends I ever had. The only person I got close to through Playboy and it was a big loss.
JV: From what you told before this interview, I guess you're one of the few people actually born and raised in California?
VV: Very few. I mean, when I used to bartend between acting jobs I say, "I'll give a free drink to any native Californian who can prove they're a native." And I was the only one in the bar.
JV: How did you get the part in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth?
VV: Hammer (Hammer Films, the English studio that produced a number of horror classics from the 1950s through the 1970s) located me through my agent. They had just done a film with Rachel Welch called One Million Years BC. They'd seen me in some film, some magazine, it wasn't Playboy, and they said, "Let's do a test on her." I was obligated to Warner Brothers at the time and Francis Ford Coppola did a test of me running through the backs of the lot with a tiger bikini on panting and grunting, flaring my nostrils. Then we did another thing with me singing in front of a sky background with my guitar. They sent the test to London and Aida Young, the executive producer said, "Send her over." It was shot in the Canary Islands and at Shepperton Studios. It was about six months work. It took a year and a half for the film to come out. By the time I got to the Bahamas to see the film they couldn't show it, because the colour matching was all wrong. So it took two years for the film to come out. It won an award for best special effects.
JV: Did you find it hard reacting to imaginary dinosaurs?
VV: Yes, but I got used to it. I have a great imagination. After a while, they gave me a focal point. They'd say, "Look up here," at this guy on a ladder and I would pretend like I saw this imaginary thing. I could see some rushes where they were putting in animation.
JV: In a book titled Hammer House of Horror, there are stills from When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth which show you in the nude. Where these stills from scenes that were deleted from the version shown here domestically?
VV: No. These were publicity shots. Because once Playboy found out they were in the Canary Islands doing a film and I was scantily clad, they sent a photographer over there. They said, "We'll pay you X amount of dollars to do stills because this would be good for our article 'Sex in the Cinema.'" I said, "Ok." Two weeks after we were there, the director (Val Guest) left his wife. He was sleeping with the script supervisor. It was like you could have made a movie within a movie. Everybody was screwing around. People were skinny dipping, drinking sangria instead of tea at four in the afternoon, getting drunk on their asses and it was like party time. Three or four in the morning they'd say, "You have to be up at six for a sunrise shoot? Let's stay up all night!" The sad part was when we came back to England and there the wives are, they've gotten letters from their husbands that have fallen in love on location saying, "It's over. It was getting old anyway." Here's the wife pouting and holding the child in hand as he gets off the airplane. The director, Val Guest, comes off the plane arm in arm with the script supervisor who he fell in love with and ended up marrying, by the way. So it was like a little mini soap opera. Because you throw these people together and the English are wild and crazy once you get them in a loose environment. But to watch them drop their façade of properness and say, "Ah, I'm free." Of course, having a California girl around didn't help because I was the first one to drop a loincloth. And all the girls between shots were getting a tan. After a while it didn't faze anybody. When you're all sitting around half naked it doesn't matter. That was quote "a family." I'm still getting letters from a lot of people I worked with on that movie. When the film came to an end they were crying, "Oh, I don't want you to go back to America. Stay in touch." That's the closest I've ever come to a family situation working with a film company.
JV: I was surprised when you told me that Invasion of the Bee Girls was made by Warner Brothers. I always thought it was the product of an independent company.
VV: I think an independent company got a hold of it. But Saul Weintraub, who worked for Warner, wanted me to fulfill my obligation since I couldn't do Enter the Dragon. Now, I'm thinking about this carefully because my agent who handled this is now retired. Warner and Hammer did When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth together. This was a Warner Brothers and independent production and I think they finally released it to the independent company. And from what you told me, someone else has bought it now and released it under another title. But my paycheque said Warners on it.
JV: For television and videotape the title Invasion of the Bee Girls is still used. But it was re-released as Graveyard Tramps.
VV: (laughs) Graveyard Tramps! Oh my God! I liked the shooting title The Honey Factor. It sounded more sci-fi.
JV: I didn't see Invasion of the Bee Girls when it was first released, but saw it at a drive-in under the new title and thought it was a fun film.
VV: I think it's kind of fun. I mean, it's so ridiculous it's funny. I had fun making it. Unless something really spectacular comes up in my career to make me do another horror movie, I have to be honest, I don't want to end up being a horror queen in films. I'd like to branch off. I'm trying to get a rock group together and get a video out, pursue my singing and maybe do some serious acting. I'm not saying that one cannot do serious acting in horror films. I saw a short today on cable. It was about Tobe Hooper who did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, now he's done Poltergeist. When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out, people thought that without even showing too much, it was the most terrifying film ever and then he got money behind Poltergeist. But I for one do not go out of my way to see horror movies. If Friday the 13th is on cable, I will turn it on. But I won't go pay $5.50 to see it at a theatre. The one I loved, I saw it three times, is Alien. Is that considered a horror movie? That I would've done in a minute. If they'd come to me and said, "Hey,you want to play any part? Do you want to play the alien?" I would've said, "Sure!" (imitates an alien screech) I'd come bursting out. (does another alien screech) That I would've enjoyed.
JV: When you did the recent "Playmates Forever" spread in Playboy, did you do it because, going back to one of my first questions, you'd be working again with the much touted Playboy family?
VV: No. What happened was, I was a waitress and bartender at the time and a lady came in and said, "Are you Victoria Vetri?" I said," Yes." She said, "We have been looking all over for you." She handed me her card from Playboy and said, "We're doing a reshoot of 'Playmates Forever.' Would you be interested?" I said, "First of all, how much?" She said, "Well, a thousand dollars for half a day's work." I said, "I'll think about it," playing real hard to get because at this point I had already established that I hated Playboy and everything it stood for. And then my agent said, "Well, it can't hurt." I said, "Okay, on one condition. I did Playboy BP – before pubic. I'm not going to show any frontal nudity. I want it as modest as I can have it and I refuse to pose as if I'm visiting my gynæcologist like those other girls." So they said, "Okay, fine." I got what I wanted. I really don't have the hostilities that I used to have about Playboy.
JV: What in your opinion qualifies as the most erotic moment in any movie that you've seen?
VV: Wifemistress with Marcello Mastroianni. I changed my mind from last night. Swept Away came off the top of my head. Wifemistress has everything in it: voyeurism, eroticism, emotional, sexy; it's done in good taste. It's Italian, of course, and I think you can relate to that.
JV: You did a hair oil commercial in which you sang a song with the line, "I like it long." Was this commercial banned from TV because it was considered too provocative?
VV: That was for Groom and Clean. It was a double entendre. They didn't take it off the air. It kind of wore its way off the air and I was the first girl on TV to wear hot pants and boots. At first, I got it for my voice over, because I sing. The song was something like: (sings) "Ooh, I love it long. Just as long as you spray on Groom and Clean. Yeah, I love it long." That's what the little jingle was. We did different variations of it, like, he was going to get a haircut and I walk in and say, "You cut off one lock of his hair and I'll melt your scissors." Then I go into this little song and dance. Then we did one where he's driving away in a XKE and I put my foot on the bumper and I say, "Cut off one lock of that hair and I'll strip your gears." I did about three of those commercials. They got good airplay and they were supposedly racy for TV commercials. They're very liberal now, but that was the start of TV commercials being liberal. If it was banned I never knew about it, because it was a long, long time ago.
JV: Do you feel that horror films exploit women in a negative fashion? I mean, relating to the ones you've been in?
VV: Well, let me think now. I mean, we're all victims. I think I've mentioned this before, but somebody has to play the role. It depends on the film really.
JV: For example, in Invasion of the Bee Girls didn't you think that the attempted rape scene was a bit gratuitous?
VV: Yes, I thought they could've done without that. But, they write the attempted rape scene and I do it. This is funny, I guess I don't feel exploited because it's just acting to me. I mean, I've seen a million dramas where women are being exploited and they aren't horror movies. Women have been in that role for years. Just because all of the sudden the Eighties come and women are going to start being independent doesn't mean they're going to change the rules. Because we are the weaker sex and there's nothing you can do about that, really. I don't care how much iron you can pump or how macho you are.
JV: Do you think the women's movement has a right to complain about these issues and say to the movie producers, "Hey, you shouldn't show this because it's not a very positive image?" A lot of them are also afraid that some strange guy is going to see this kind of film and get ideas.
VV: But, guys get ideas from everywhere, not from film. There's influences even in soap commercials for God's sake. The women's movement bugs me, I guess. Let 'em move. The big BM. I guess I'm just not on that side. Most of my friends are men. I get along better with men. I feel sorry for women. Now, I'm going to sound like a female chauvinist. I 'm not into the women's movement. They can complain about this, complain about that, but people are going to be influenced no matter what. To me, it's just an acting job. And if I really felt like I was endangering the female species by doing scenes that I do in films, then I would not do them. I mean, it's a fantasy, it's a trip. People take film so seriously, I can't believe it.
JV: After you did the Playboy spread and became Playmate of the Year, what was the reaction of your family and friends?
VV: My family wasn't too upset about it. My father being from Sicily and kind of old fashioned, was still an ass pincher. So he was kind of proud of it. He had different parts of the magazine that he framed and put in his restaurant. You know, head shots and all. He'd say, "Hey, that's my daughter. Say anything about it and I'll kill you." My mom did pinups when she was in Rome. She was quite a sexy dish and also an actress. She told me she did calendars in her day and that if I did it modestly, she explained to me that it's like the face is a diamond and the body's a setting and, "You've got a good setting so show it off, girl. Go for it." (laughter) So I did. My parents weren't upset about it or prudish, no.
JV: Do you find that Hollywood, located in the Los Angeles area, has a more lenient attitude towards this type of thing than if you lived somewhere else?
VV: Of course. The Midwest, let's face it, that could never happen there. I think it's the weather here. I really do. (laughs) The warm, hot climate hits the sun, makes us all crazed and then we have to drink beer and stuff to cool off. It's a very perverse place, Hollywood. But, I was born and raised here and I love it and it's my town. There's perversity all over, just more people hide it in the closet. They don't display it all. Here we let it all hang out.
JV: Knowing what you know now, after all of the things you've gone through, if you could go back, what would you change?
VV: Nothing. I would do it all again. The highs, the lows, the ups, the downs and believe me there's been a few lulls in my life, too. But right now I'm up and I wouldn't change a thing. I know that sounds very egotistical. I used to complain about Playboy. If you had asked me that a couple of years ago I would've said, "I wouldn't do Playboy. That's the one thing I wouldn't do again." But now I've changed my whole attitude about that. So now I've narrowed it down to nothing.
From Playmate to Inmate
by Nancy Tiscareno Ï
And just when I think I’ve seen it all, something or somebody always makes me re-evaluate myself. On October 17, 2010, I got a call from an attorney to visit a potential client at the Van Nuys jail. He told me that the person in custody was his friend of many years and wanted me to see if I could help her out. The attorney gave me her information and said that she’d allegedly shot her husband in the shoulder.
I arrived at the jail and asked the jailer for the bail information on Victoria Rathgeb (also known as Angela Dorian). I told the jailer that I also wanted to visit her.
The jailer was surprised and told me, “You know what she’s done, right?”
I said, “Yes, I know she ‘allegedly’ shot her husband.”
The jailer gave me the bail information and sent me to the visiting room. I waited there until Victoria was brought out to meet with me. I saw a 66-year-old woman coming into the visiting room; she had shoulder-length and wavy white hair. She looked very petite and fragile. I’m sure she didn’t weight more than 100 pounds. But… what grabbed my attention immediately was the fact that she was very beautiful! I’ve visited elderly people in custody before, so I wasn’t surprised about her age, but once she began to talk to me and the way she carried herself; I knew then that she definitely didn’t belong in custody.
I introduced myself and we began talking. She told me that she and her husband Bruce got into an altercation. She showed me her bruises and marks on her forearms and also a few cuts on her chest and neck area. She said that they both had been drinking alcohol the night before. Then her husband approached her to hit her again. She grabbed the gun they kept in their room and claimed she didn’t remember anything after that. It wasn’t until the LAPD Homicide detective Kevin Becker began to interview her that she realized what she had done. She told me that she had posed for Playboy when she was younger and had done a few movies. I honestly didn’t know who she was. I wasn’t even born when she was a Playboy Playmate in 1968. She actually wanted me to get in contact with Hugh Hefner to see if he could help her to bail out of jail. I finished talking to Victoria and then off I went to call the list of people she gave me.
Victoria Rathgeb was arraigned in court for attempted murder on October 21, 2010 and transferred to the Women’s County Jail (CRDF) in Lynwood, CA.
On November 7, 2010, I went to visit Victoria at the jail and needless to say, that place is so sad. The jail is located off the 105 freeway towards LAX. I exited the freeway and as soon as I did, I realized that I had entered a very dark and depressing neighborhood. I drove to the parking lot and finally went inside to visit Victoria. The building’s lights inside the visiting area were dim and the walls of the place are painted white but with the poor lighting they look grey. The floors were literally just cement. What? No tile flooring?!?! The visiting area was full of families with lots of small kids. I found the elevator and as soon as I entered, I was overcome by a foul smell. Gosh! I almost barfed! I couldn’t get off fast enough! I think I ran out of the elevator! I finally got to the interview room and waited for Victoria until they brought her out.
I’m a bail agent, but sometimes I become a counselor or an advisor. I listen to the inmate’s concerns, family issues, previous life experiences. After all of those roles, I have realized that we are all connected somehow… It still amazes me every time I go inside an interview room, pick up the phone and hear the other person’s perspective. At this point, I’m the only contact that they have with the outer world. On this particular day, I expected to find a depressed 66-year-old ex-Playboy Playmate, who after a life of fame, wealth, popularity, beauty, etc., was now in jail for attempted murder on her husband. Yeah, the media talks about that, but there are always two sides of the story! I saw with my own eyes the very first time I met with her, her injuries on her arms, the bruises and cuts she had. Don’t get me wrong, her husband almost died, but nobody else other that the two of them know what really happened in their home on that night. We’re shouldn’t try to judge.
Victoria was finally brought in, and when she saw me she smiled from ear to ear! She looked so healthy, relaxed, mentally well and joyful. I was like, “What? This must be a joke!” I was expecting someone depressed! We began talking and even though she hadn’t seen me in a while, she remembered me. She told me that since she’d been in jail her jail mates were very kind to her, that she was getting the right medications, she was attending therapy groups and she was getting clean and sober. Sometimes, we as people just need time to heal, to get stronger, and to take that opportunity to change our lives, or our behavior or both.
She also told me that they were so many wonderful people – complete strangers – who had put money on her books. She was visited by several movie producers and book editors because they were interested in her story. In fact she was writing a journal while in custody. At the same time she remained well aware that she was going to do some serious time for what she’d done. She looked so happy I couldn’t believe it. I guess in jail she’d finally got away from the person and the situations that were making her life spin out of control. She then sang to me in Italian!!! She showed me that at 66 she can stretch her leg as high as her head. That was really cool! I wish I could do that!!! I had such an awesome time conversing with her. She shared life experiences that I have also gone through myself. Once again, this is the part where we are all connected at some point. By the time we finished our conversation, my heart felt so happy. I had shared some laughs and jokes with someone that needed them… I’m still trying to decide whether it was her or me that needed that experience.
I walked away from the interview room and headed back to the elevator, dreading the thought of getting in it again!!!! Disgusting!!!
I got in my car and suddenly I felt a deep sadness. The location of this jail alone would bring anyone down. I’d been inside so many jails; I thought I was immune to this stuff already. But I was so shocked to see how much the life in this jail affected me. Homeless people sleeping under the freeway, the projects, the streets with pot holes, small kids at the waiting lobby, strollers, and babies crying… Gosh, I felt like crying too! I realized that I have opportunities to meet with others at different stages in their lives and try to make a difference. I took a moment to thank God for giving me the life I have and for putting these experiences in my path.
I did actually try to get in contact with Hugh Hefner last year. I was planning to camp out outside the mansion until he would let me speak to him. But Victoria’s best friend Francis had already contacted someone at Playboy Enterprises. Francis told me that Hugh Hefner was not interested in helping Victoria out. I’m pretty sure that if Victoria Rathgeb had been a 22-year-old blonde with double-D breast implants instead of a 66-year-old ex-Playmate, he would have helped her, right?
In the end, Victoria Rathgeb pled No Contest to attempted voluntary manslaughter in Los Angeles County Superior Court on September 7, 2011 almost a year after her initial arrest. On September 29, 2011 Victoria was transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California to serve a nine-year sentence. She never was able to make bail. At best, barring some serious medical development, she will not get out of prison until after her 70th birthday.
I just wish that everyone who is in an abusive relationship would have the courage and pack their bags and leave their abusive partners immediately! I can relate to Victoria’s story, since I was myself in a very abusive relationship for many years. Some ask why we stay in those bad relationships. Well, we are scared of the unknown, plain and simple! We think that with time we can fix the problem. Maybe Victoria got fed up with the verbal and physical abuse her husband was putting her through and took matters into her own hands and maybe that was wrong.
But notice that the media hasn’t mentioned anything about what Bruce Rathgeb had done to his wife Victoria? He is just a poor guy who got shot. I saw with my own eyes the bruises on Victoria’s arms and the cuts on her neck and chest area. Nowhere in the news was that mentioned. I’m very sad that Victoria didn’t leave her husband Bruce sooner. In my opinion, Victoria deserves to enjoy her retirement years in the comfort of her own home and not in the women’s state prison.
Trial ordered for ex-Playmate in husband's shooting
Former model, actress charged with attempted murder – January 21, 2011
LOS ANGELES – The 1968 Playboy Playmate of the Year was ordered Friday to stand trial on an attempted murder charge for allegedly shooting her husband down the hall from their Hollywood apartment last October.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael D. Abzug denied the defense's request to reduce the charge against 66-year-old Victoria Rathgeb – also known as Victoria Vetri and Angela Dorian – to assault with a deadly weapon.
Rathgeb's husband of 25 years testified that he left the couple's apartment last Oct. 16 after his wife accused him of being unfaithful, and that he was waiting for the building's elevator door to open when he saw his wife out of his peripheral vision about eight feet away.
"Quickly she just aimed and fired at me," Bruce Rathgeb said, telling the judge that he felt burning and stinging on the left side of his body and smelled gunpowder.
He said that his wife then put a small plastic bag in his mouth, which he spit out, and that she walked back to their apartment.
He testified that he passed out and later woke up in the hospital "in terrible pain."
"They tried to take the bullet out. I guess it was close to the heart so they left it in," he said, noting that he has a four-inch scar above his left pectoral muscle and cannot move his fingers on his left hand.
On cross-examination by defense attorney E. John Myers, the woman's husband maintained that he had not been unfaithful to his wife while the two were living separately for a few months before the shooting.
"Twenty-five years, I have never cheated on my wife," Bruce Rathgeb told the judge. "I wasn't going to listen to that all night… I have been true to her for 25 years and that's the truth."
He denied that the two had argued about drugs.
The couple's neighbour, Michael Place, testified that he saw the victim on the floor after hearing a loud noise, and noticed a bullet casing and a small plastic bag nearby.
"He said, 'My wife just shot me,'" Place told the judge. "He asked me to call 911."
The defendant was arrested the same day by the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division and has remained jailed since then on $1.53 million bail, which the judge refused to reduce.
Rathgeb appeared in more than 30 television series and films during the 1960s and 1970s, including the film Rosemary's Baby, and television's Hogan's Heroes, Star Trek, Perry Mason, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Courtship of Eddie's Father.
© 2010, CBS Local Media Ï, a division of CBS Radio Inc.