......celebrated Hollywood author, painter, jewellry designer, coffee maker and co-author of the upcoming Fike: An Uncommon Journey...
talks to EIN
Scheduled to be published late in 2008........Fike: An Uncommon Journey
Introduction: Mark Bego is a name many fans may not be familiar with. In 1996 Mark wrote Raised On Rock:The Autobiography of Elvis Presley's Step Brother with David Stanley, and in late 2008 his book with Lamar Fike, Fike: An Uncommon Journey, will be published.
Beyond his Elvis involvement, Mark is recognized as the best selling biographer in the rock and pop music field. With 50 books published and more than 10 million books in print he has written biographies about artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, The Marx Brothers, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Madonna, Matt Damon, Bette Midler, The Monkees, Julia Roberts and Rock Hudson.
Mark's biography of country music legend Patsy Cline, I Fall To Pieces: The Music of Patsy Cline, is widely regarded as one of the best ever music biographies.
Other sides to the Mark Bego story are his talent as an accomplished jewelry designer and his own line of coffee.
Mark recently took time out to talk with EIN about his fascinating life and the upcoming book, Fike: An Uncommon Journey.
EIN: Mark, some Elvis fans may not be aware of you and your fascinating, multi faceted life. Who is Mark Bego?
MB: I am someone who always has to be creating something, whether it is a new book, a painting, or a piece of jewelry. With my books, I am always on the lookout for the next big thing. With Lamar, I want to tell his story in a totally unique way. Sure, he's done other books, but we are determined to make this a totally new take on his story.
EIN: Where do you call home?
MB: Well, like everything in my life, that has a multi-faceted answer. I own and live in a house in Tucson, Arizona, but I also spend several months every year in New York City, and Los Angeles. Often I describe myself as “a New Yorker who owns a house in Tucson.” Tucson is also a very artsy and creative town, so it works well for me. You might call it my fortress of solitide.
EIN: What is it about musicians and actors as biographical subjects that interests you?
MB: I have always admired the lives of creative people, especially the non-conformist ones. I grew up fascinated with Edgar Allen Poe, and Vincent Van Gogh. After seeing a Van Gogh exhibit at the age of ten I became obsessed with the idea of becoming an artist of some sort. When I was 14 I bought my first canvas and set of paints and brushes. I would sit in my room and paint pictures, and listen to my stereo. It would make me want to read about the lives of the of the people who were making the music. The first ten albums that I bought were by The Supremes, The Beatles, Sonny & Cher, The Monkees, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Mamas & The Papas, and Three Dog Night. In the past three decades, I have written books on all of these subjects—in one way or another.
EIN: How do you handle the writing process and do you find it, at times, difficult?
MB: People ask me if I ever get “writer’s block?” The answer is: “never.” I am always able to formulate an opinion about the subject at hand, and I am always able to articulate my thoughts and put them down on paper. When I have the opportunity to sit and talk with a subject, the results are always terrific. This process with Lamar has been amazing. He was there. He knows the facts and though some may want to dispute ... in reality they cannot.
EIN: Of your 50 books published what are your favorites and why?
MB: My favorite mass market paperback is Michael!, the first book I did on Michael Jackson in 1984. The timing was perfect, I had written a book about the hottest entertainment star in the world, at the absolute peak of his fame. It also put me on The New York Times best-seller list for six weeks. It was a major thrill for me.
My first hardcover book on a music star was Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul, and it will always be one of my favorites. I loved the subject matter, and I got so many key people in her life to talk to me, including Aretha herself. Originally, I got Aretha to submit to an interview for WestWood One Radio. Then, after I sold the book I interviewed her first husband—Ted White; her producers Jerry Wexler, and Clyde Otis, and the president of her record label—Clive Davis.
My favorite rock star collaborations were with Martha Reeves, Micky Dolenz, and Jimmy Greenspoon. These books were the embodiment of what I always wanted to do: hang out with singing stars, and help them tell their life stories.
Some of Mark Bego's vast library of published books:
EIN: What have been your most successful books?
MB: My most successful books I have to define in terms of sales, and in terms of what the critics liked the best. In terms of sales they would be Michael! (1984) which sold over 6 million copies in seven languages, On the Road with Michael! (1984)—one million copies, Madonna! (1985)—one million copies, Rock Hudson: Public & Private (1986)—half a million copies, Vanilla Ice (1990)—half a million copies, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva with Martha Reeves (1994)—a Chicago Tribune best-seller, and Leonardo Di Caprio: Romantic Hero (1997)—a New York Times best seller.
Critically, my book Madonna: Blonde Ambition received the most glowing reviews of my career. In fact, in Camille Paglia’s best-selling book Vamps & Tramps, she devoted an entire chapter to saying glowing things about me and my book. Then there was my book I Fall to Pieces: The Music and the Life of Patsy Cline. E! Entertainment television declared that book one of the Top Ten best music star biographies of all times. What an honor that was!
EIN: Who are some of the more unusual celebrities you have written about?
MB: Well, I wrote two books about Michael Jackson at a time that it was cool to say, “Michael Jackson likes children” and it seemed socially acceptable. His personal life self-destruction took place years later. If I had to list subjects who were strange at the time I wrote the book, it would include Vanilla Ice would definitely be one of the oddest ones. When I was originally hired to write the book Ice, Ice, Ice: The Extraordinary Vanilla Ice, it was supposed to be an authorized autobiography written WITH me. However, after I did all of the interviews with Ice, his manager decided that it wasn’t going to be authorized. So, while Ice wrote his own book, I rewrote my book to be “unauthorized,” and proceeded to sell half a million copies of it. Fortunately, the book came out quickly, right before Vanilla Ice had an instant career meltdown.
EIN: The cult, and pressures of, celebrity. Why do some stars handle the situation with class while others go into personality breakdown?
MB: If someone enters the world of show business with unresolved issues, substance abuses, or uncontrollable sadness, fame will only make it worse. Some people are strong enough to handle the microscope that show business or celebrity status presents, others are not. It has always been this way. For instance, someone who knew what she wanted, was willing to do anything for it, and totally enjoys it, is Madonna. You are never going to see her self-destruct.
Then, on the other side of the coin is Whitney Houston. She is a total disaster who is completely self-destructing before our eyes. Furthermore, she is not a nice person. Her talent as a singer and an actress made her a star. Her insecure personal life has helped to destroy her.
Personal confidence comes from within. Madonna has it, Whitney does not. If Whitney Houston makes a career comeback at this point, it will be a miracle.
EIN: Do you enjoy Hollywood?
MB: I love it. I have a great time there. I lived there for three years recently (1999-2002) and I enjoyed it.
In December of 2007, my friend Randy Jones and I spent four days together in Hollywood in preparation for a forthcoming book, MACHO MAN. he is the original “Cowboy” for The Village People and the book will be a look at his career and an overview of the gay-movement of the past 20 years. It is going to be released in October of 2008 ( Greenwood).
EIN: Mark, many fans will be interested in your books about Michael Jackson. What involvement did you have with Michael during the writing of your books?
MB: I originally met Michael Jackson at a party at Studio 54 in 1978. He was in New York City filming The Wiz. He couldn’t have cared less about meeting me, and I remember being completely disappointed with the experience.
However, I knew that he was incredibly talented. When my book about his life became a huge hit for me, my publishing company sent me out on the road for three months to write a sequel to my multi-million-selling Michael!
Opposite: Michael Jackson & Britney Spears at 2002 MTV Video Music Awards
While I was writing On the Road With Michael!, I again met him briefly. At the time, I was with his sister, LaToya Jackson, who is always friendly and nice to me. When Michael suddenly came into LaToya’s hotel room, again I found him to be very bizarre, distant, and not at all warm.
However, in both of these incidents, I looked beyond these strange meetings with him, and wrote very successful books about his talent as a musician.
EIN: And what is your view on Michael as a person, and as an artist?
MB: Michael Jackson is totally bizarre, self-absorbed, and on the verge of totally losing what is left of his grip on reality. When I was on the road with him during the Victory tour in 1984, he was constantly appearing in public with children, whom he claimed to “love.” I was the first journalist who recognized the fact that all of the children he was seen with and photographed with—were little boys. It was never little girls. This bizarre obsession of his has since destroyed his career. I discuss this at great length in my forthcoming memoir, Paperback Writer.
EIN: Please sum up the following celebrities you have written about in a few words:
Cher: Incredibly talented, with a strong sense of who she is, and what her audience loves about her. She is brilliant, and the zenith of the term “pop diva.”
Patsy Cline: The most incredible female country singing stars ever! There wasn’t a song she couldn’t sing, and make all of her own. The feeling that she puts in songs like “She’s Got You,” are heart-wrenching. And, no one could be bawdy better than she could on the song “Walking After Midnight.” What a tragedy it is that she died so early.
Matt Damon: An incredible actor who has a great track record, and a long and eventful career to look forward to having.
The Monkees: Love them! I always did, years before I became friends with Micky Dolenz. The joy and energy of their first four albums together still hold up as some of the best pop music ever recorded.
Opposite: A pre-Monkees Micky Dolenz (aka Mickey Braddock... as Corky in the fondly remembered 1950s TV show, Circus Boy)
Aretha Franklin: What a wonderful and talented singer. I just wish she would “step away from the fried chicken” before she has a heart attack. She is every inch a star, and there are A LOT of inches.
Rock Hudson: He was the ultimate Hollywood leading man. Everyone loved him in Hollywood, and there wasn’t a role he couldn’t play. He was a heroic gentleman, right up to his tragic and sudden end.
Madonna: Giving her bad publicity is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. She is a force of nature. She can be one hard-as-nails bitch when she wants to be, but I totally admire her business sense, and her drive.
Barry Manilow: One of the nicest guys in show business. Musically, he is peerless. Whether he sings his own songs, show tunes, big band numbers, or jazz, he always gives it his all. I have always liked him.
Bette Midler: She is a dynamite performer. She gives 150% to everything she tackles. I have never seen a live performer put on a show like Bette, and she has boundless energy. She can sing a devastatingly effective sad ballad one minute, and a hysterically funny and bawdy bit of “trash with flash” the next.
Bonnie Raitt: Soooo talented. I love Bonnie, and I loved her music 15 years before she became a huge hit. She is someone who puts her heart in whatever she does, and I have nothing but admiration for her. She plays one mean slide guitar too.
Will Smith: What a great actor, and a genuinely nice person. While other actors and actresses are in Hollywood acting like drunken crazy people, Will is a real straight shooter. He has a great work ethic, a solid self-confidence, and he is a great guy. What’s not to like?
Tina Turner: She is a survivor, and a brilliant entity. Tina is so talented as a performer, and so strong and centered as a person. After she found Buddhism and tapped into the inner-strength to leave nasty and abusive Ike Turner, she truly soared. She is an inspiration, and an incredible talent.
EIN: Which other celebrities can we expect Mark Bego to write about in the future?
MB: I am dying to do a book with Ringo Starr. He is the only Beatle to have never done an autobiography. I have been chasing after him for years, to try to get him to do it. He was the star golfer at a celebrity tournament here in Tucson a couple of years ago. I staked myself out at the eighth hole of the golf course—as a journalist and photographer of course—and popped up as he arrived at the hole in his golf cart. I chatted with him for a few minutes, and he posed for a photo for me, but I have yet to talk him into doing a book. I've spoken to his lawyer Brcue Grakal about it, maybe you can put a good word in for me!
I would like to do a book with or about Elton John. Elton is the perfect follow up to my recent book Billy Joel: The Biography.
I was once the editor-in-chief of Modern Screen fan magazine, back in the 1980s. While there I became fascinated with 1930s actress Jean Harlow. I have an incredible batch of photos to illustrate the book, and I even interviewed her original make-up man in Hollywood, years ago. I want to book on her tragic and short life. It is a classic show business story.
A book that I wrote recently is called Paperback Writer. It is a memoir of my experiences in the celebrity universe and book-writing business. Its thrust isn’t me per se, it’s my experiences with people like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Katherine Hepburn, The Supremes, Village People, and dozens of others. These people seem to come in and out of my life all the time, and I have had some wild adventures that I have written about in Paperback Writer. I have yet to place that book with a publisher, but I am currently shopping it around.
EIN: Given the books you have written, you are obviously a music buff. To relax, what music do you listen to?
MB: When I want to relax, there are about a dozen albums which have a mellow, jazzy mood that I come back to again and again. They would include Billy Holiday: First Issue—(love it, can’t listen to it enough), Sade: Diamond Life, Miles Davis: Kinda Blue, Steely Dan: Gaucho, Chet Baker: Chet Baker Sings, the all-star Color and Light: Jazz Sketches on Sondheim (Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, Grover Washington Jr., Peabo Bryson), Laura Nyro and Labelle: Gonna Take a Miracle, The Supremes: Right On, Dionne Warwick: Make Way for Dionne Warwick, Patsy Cline: Gold, John Mayer: Room for Squares, and two by Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark and Hejira.
EIN: One of your biographies was One Is The Loneliest Number with Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night. Have you heard Australian John Farnham 's version of the titular song?
MB: Actually, I have not heard that song. I will have to check it out. However, I love the recent Tom Jones version of “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” And, for the purpose of this interview: Elvis Presley recorded a great version Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain,” in the 1970s.
|Lamar with Mark Bego
EIN: Your upcoming book with Lamar Fike, Fike: An Uncommon Journey is eagerly anticipated by many fans. Lamar is well respected for his strong and often unique view on things Elvis. What can we expect in the book?
MB: You can expect several stories that have never been in print before, I can promise you that. For me, listening to Lamar dig deep into his memories, has been a fascinating experience for me.
EIN: How will the book differ from other memoirs from members of the Memphis Mafia?
MB: There is an ancient Aesop’s fable called The Blind Men and The Elephant. In it, each of the blind men speak of their first encounter with an elephant. One blind man touches the animal’s ear, and feels that the elephant is slim like a fan. Another man feels the animal’s trunk, and thinks that an elephant is like a snake. The story continues with each man encountering a different part of the elephant. The essence of the story is that each man is correct in his impressions, yet each man has a different conclusion and a different perspective. This book is Lamar’s story, and his impressions of Elvis, so it will be totally unique to everyone elses.
Furthermore, Lamar actually lived with Elvis, both in Hollywood in 1957, and at Graceland, as well as living with him in Germany. Lamar has stories that no one else has, not only about Elvis, but about the Presley family as well. Lamar was with Elvis during Gladys Presley’s downward health spiral and her death in 1958. He was also with Elvis when he was filming Jailhouse Rock, and during his experiences in the military. These stories are so alive, and so vibrant, that now David Stanley and I are working on a screenplay about Elvis in the 1950s, which is going to feature material that the general public has never experienced.
Fike: An Uncommon Journey is going to be a totally unique experience as a book and I am so happy to have a hand in creating it. It is shaping up to be one of the most exciting books of my career.
EIN: Are you able to reveal or hint at any stories in Fike: An Uncommon Journey?
MB: Some of my favorite events in the book include Lamar meeting Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood, Rock Hudson making “a move” on Elvis at a Hollywood party, the wild partying in Germany, and the heartbreaking story of Gladys Presley’s death. How is that for a teaser?
EIN: How are the Colonel and Priscilla portrayed in the book?
MB: Both Colonel Parker and Priscilla had specific goals in mind when they came into the world of Elvis Presley. And, both of them were calculating, and ultimately successful. Both Parker and Priscilla used Elvis in different ways. Each of them craved power and position in the Presley circle, and they both got what they wanted. But, did that make either of them happy? We try and answer this question, and several others. That should give you an idea of the book’s perspective.
EIN: Has a publication date been set for the book?
MB: These things notoriously change and shift, but we are anticipating a late 2008 release date.
EIN: When the book is published what will be the best way(s) for fans to buy it?
MB: We anticipate that it will be in all of your local bookshops, as well as being available on the internet through Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.
EIN: EIN has interviewed David Stanley several times. What are your recollections of working on David 's autobiography?
MB: We had a wonderful time working on his book Raised on Rock. David Stanley and I became great friends when we first met 15 years ago. Whenever we get together we have a lot of fun, and we play off of each other as well. In addition to working together, we both love great music and great food, so we always have fun hanging out together, whether it is in Dallas, Tucson, or New York City.
EIN: What sort of person did you find David to be?
MB: He is an incredibly creative guy, and an amazing salesman. No one can sell a book or a film like he can. If he believes in you as a friend, he is 100% behind you. If he believes in a project, he is able to put all of his energy into it. He is a real dynamo at whatever he does, and he is a wonderful friend.
EIN: Have you seen David’s film Protecting the King, and if yes, what did you think of it?
MB: I loved it. David has been wanting to make this film for years, and I am so proud of him for having done so. This is really a great movie, and I am so happy for his success.
EIN: David and Lamar have been long time friends. EIN suspects they are very different personalities. Having worked with both how would you characterize them?
MB: They are both very similar in many ways, and yet very different in many ways. Both David and Lamar are unique individuals. They each have their own way of doing things, and they are both very driven and goal oriented. Lamar is more conservative in his choices, and David is more of a free spirit.
EIN: Having been involved in two Elvis related autobiographies, what is your view on Elvis' self destruction?
MB: It is still a bittersweet story to have a hand in telling. I look upon the premature death of Elvis as being so tragic and so unnecessary. Elvis did have a long run in show business, with several peaks, and some incredible accomplishments. However, I feel that he became buried under the weight of his own fame. Somehow he found it to be an over-powering entity. It seems a shame that he could not seem to separate himself from his fame, and somehow conquer his dependence on prescription drugs. I realize that in the case of substance abuse, the abuser has to want to become free from their addictions, before recovery can occur.
Jimmy Greenspoon explained this to me in great detail when we wrote his book. He escaped from a ten-year heroin addiction. But, he had something happen to him that suddenly made him realize that he had a problem and that it was killing him. Apparently, Elvis never had that cathartic moment.
EIN: Mark, apart from your distinguished career as an author you are also an accomplished designer of jewelry. Please tell us about that?
MB: I started designing and making jewelry in high school, and then I took classes in it at Central Michigan University. Then, three decades later, I found myself in Tucson, Arizona, where there is the world’s largest Gem and Mineral Show the beginning of each year. So, I started attending it. The next thing I knew, I had amassed a sparkling collection of great gem stones. Finally, I had to start doing something creative with them. So, I started designing jewelry pieces, and wearing them to high profile events. Now I am making and selling my custom made pieces on my website (www.MarkBego.com), and I have plans underway to develop and sell my own line of jewelry.
EIN: And as if writing and designing jewelry aren 't enough, you also have your own line of coffee. How did that come about?
MB: Actually, the coffee venture is on “hold” at the moment. How that came about is quite interesting. I received a phone call from Peter Schekeryk one day in 1998. He is the husband and record producer of folk singer Melanie (“Brand New Key” and “Candles in the Rain.”) Anyway, Peter asked what I was up to, and I told him that I just had a huge hit book called Leonardo DiCaprio: Romantic Hero. Peter explained to me that he was working with Melita Coffee, and developing a line of celebrity coffees. The next thing I knew, I was the mastermind behind Mark Bego Romantic Hero blend coffee. It lasted for about a year or so, and I even designed coffee mugs to promote the coffee. I still have a case of those here at my house, which make great gifts.
EIN: If you could only write or design jewelry which one would you choose and why?
MB: I can’t just be one thing. That is too confining for a Libra like me. I am someone who likes to work in several mediums, which is why I am able to tap into the same creative energy no matter what I am doing. That is why it makes it easy for me to write books, do paintings, design jewelry, write screenplays, and appear on television promoting myself. I like all of these projects, and I intend to have a very long career. There will always be some creative project for me to want to work on.
EIN: What’s next for Mark Bego?
MB: Well, would you believe that I am now dabbling with the idea of a reality series. I was recently in Los Angeles pitching new TV show ideas, so all I can say is: “Stay tuned for some new and exciting projects from me!” And, there are several more books in the works.
EIN: Is there anything else you would like to say?
MB: Thank you so much for this great opportunity to answer your questions. I am very excited about Fike: An Uncommon Journey, and the screenplay that is being created out of it, so I am happy to have the opportunity to talk about them. Also, thank you for your interest in my jewelry designing as well.
EIN: Mark, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to EIN. We wish you all the best for your future endeavors including Fike: An Uncommon Journey.
Visit the Mark Bego website: www.MARKBEGO.com
Lamar Fike talks to EIN
(while you are waiting read EIN’s 2005 interview with the irrepressible Lamar)
Comment on this interview