Kellerman: Hot Lips is Back!

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Sally Kellerman. Photo by C. Cunningham

Sally Kellerman shot to fame in her portrayal as Hot Lips in the 1970 movie MASH, and as she showed at a gala event in Ft. lauderdale, she has not lost her pizazz after a career spanning 56 years.

Many reviews of a star have the line "what she lacks in [blank] she more than makes up for in [something else]." There is no need for such prevarication when it comes to Kellerman, now 76. She is not lacking in anything.

The evening at Cinema Paradiso began with a retrospective of her career, starting with a clip from 1957. She achieved some level of fame with her TV appearances in the 1960s, especially on The Outer Limits and in the pilot of TV's greatest series, Star Trek where she played opposite William Shatner as Capt. Kirk.  After more than a decade of television, Kellerman was given her big break on the silver screen by director Robert Altman. "I put on some red lips to the audition of MASH," she recalled. Altman's response was unexpected. "I'll give you the best part in the picture- Hot Lips."

Kellerman said Altman "liked to tease me about my low self-esteem. If you worry about what you look like, he said, you're fired. All actors wanted to work with Bob, but he was an ornery son of a gun."

She relished the role, "but I didn't want to do the TV series. I'd been in television trying to get out. I was never sorry I didn't do the series until the 11th season. I realized I would have been a wealthly woman." Instead, the part went to Loretta Swit.

During a wide-ranging interview Kellerman reminisced about many of the great stars she has known. Sir Laurence Olivier ("he was so warm and effusive"), Julie Andrews ("she's all the things you think she would be, just lovely") and Marlon Brando ("I always worshipped him."). Brando features prominently in her new autobiography, Read My Lips, which she signed for her adoring fans. "I'm afraid to read it now, I was so candid."

Kellerman fondly remembered Jennifer Jones "who became my other mother. She was always in my corner when it came to promoting me."

This led to one of the strangest match-ups ever. "I was married for a year just to practice what not to do," she deadpanned, when Jennifer stepped into the breach and told me "Henry Kissinger wants you to be his date." Even though her mother was a Republican, Sally was a confirmed Democrat, very much opposed to the Vietnam War, but she agreed to go out with Kissinger, the close advisor to the Republican President Nixon. Kissinger had just returned from a historic visit to China.

When she met him, she boldly asked "How was China?"  "Why, did your mother send you an article?," he coyly shot back. From then on they got along well, and Kissinger even invited her to a diplomatic reception for the Russian ambassador.

Kellerman's amazing career can perhaps best be summed up in her own assessment of her part in MASH: "It was such a wonderful role."


For more about events at Cinema Paradiso, visit their website: The opening gala of the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival will be held in a mansion in Ft. Lauderdale on October 18, with the films screening at the Cinema until Nov. 11, 2013.





Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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