HAVIN' MY SON
In the eternal twilight that is Las Vegas, the raised consciousness has not yet come to ruffle the desert sands. Deep in the scarlet innards of Caesars Palace, girls collecting keno bets prance through the coffee shop in pyramids of false blond hair and white bunny togas, their outrageous built-in bosoms jutting out like lumpy life preservers. Out in the casino, a 55-year-old Chicago grandmother in a pink ruffled blouse is talking baby talk to an uncooperative slot machine. And just up the stairs in his Roman gladiator suit, maitre d’ Jess Kirk stands guard at Caesar’s door.
“Why, if you weren’t waiting for someone I’d decorate my ringside with you,” declares Jess Kirk to a visiting lady journalist. “Women are so beautiful, so ornamental.”
It may not be entirely coincidental that Jess Kirk stands guard over a room that only an hour later will be referred to as Paul Anka’s second home.
Paul Anka. Once there was a time when his first home was Ottawa. The pushy kid, they called him there — always sneaking backstage to bug Tony Bennett about how to hit the big time, where to get his suits made. At 15 he was
Marci McDonald is an associate editor of Maclean's and show business observer..
already worried that time was passing him by, already chafing to get out. One Easter holiday, he just up and did it; took his 10 songs to New York and knocked on doors for four days till they made him a star.
Diana. Puppy Love. Put Your Head On My Shoulder. You Are My Destiny. The hits rolled out in his yearning adenoidal tenor through those dying days of the Fifties like sock-hop graffiti — and the money rolled in. At 16, teen idol. At 18, boy multimillionaire. At 21, Paul Anka woke up one morning engulfed by Beatlemania, washed up, a rock ’n’ roll has-been.
It has been a long way back to this night at Caesars Palace, a long road of singing lush 21-string ballads in supper clubs to the mink ’n’ pearls crowd, of churning out hits for Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones but never for himself, of chalking up a million dollars a year. Paul Anka has not exactly suffered. With all that money, an ex-model as a wife and four beautiful baby daughters, he had the air of the man who had everything. But Paul Anka looked around and saw that everything was not enough. He wanted more. At 32, he haunted the fringes of this neon desert with the old hit-parade hunger gnawing at him. balding, an insomniac who
paced nights around the piano, slept days, trusted no one completely, under his constant sombrero the hustler’s wary eyes revived.
But now on this night, he has come full circle. Just months after his thirtythird birthday, Paul Anka has a brand new sprig of freshly transplanted hair on the top of his head and the number one song on the continent. You ’re Havin ’ My Baby, his first gold record in 12 years.
It is a comeback not quite like any other, cresting on a controversy that has seen the song denounced as an insult to women, an incitement to premarital pregnancy and a boost for the population explosion. The National Organization For Women has lambasted him with a Keep-Her-In-Her-Place award, calling him a pro-natalist and an antiabortionist —which is a nice way of saying Male Chauvinist Pig — and thousands of women have called their local disc jockeys to agree. Still, two million others bought the record. And now in the hushed purple leatherette of Caesars Palace, as the stage lights dim to blue gossamer and the violins from Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song fall to a whispered tremulo, it is to their cause that Paul Anka rallies as he steps to the microphone in his tight three-piece white tux like a knight to the holy barricades.
After four daughters and a smash hit single, there’s only one wish left for Paul Anka, the man who needs everything
“This is a song I not only wrote for myself but for all the people who believe in the same things I do.” he says emotionally as applause washes over the opening words: “You’re havin’ my baby/What a lovely way of sayin’ how much you love me . . .” The room subsides to stillness, not an ice cube stirs the air. “The need inside you/1 see it showin’/The seed inside you/baby, do you feel it growin’ . . Heads silhouetted through the crowd are bobbing. Middle America nodding agreement in threequarter time. “You didn’t have to keep it/ Wouldn’t put you through it/Could have swept it from your life/But you wouldn’t do it ...”
In the wave of approval that surges over the stage as he takes hold of the glittering gold record, Paul Anka’s voice suddenly breaks, a tear wells in his eye and he has a second thought.
“Hey, wait a minute,” he quells the orchestra, “I want to share this moment with someone.” The spotlight hovers over the darkened cavern now and picks out the mauve half-moon of the VIP booth where a pale, frail willowy blond who hates crowds, show biz and the spotlight is swallowing back tears. “You know, to create you spend a lotta hours alone. You got a woman who puts up with it. Let ’em see you. honey.” Anne
Anka falters to her feet at the cramped table, eyes brimming and blows him a kiss. “Ladies and gentlemen,” says Paul Anka, “my wife . . . who is not having a baby . . .”
As a matter of fact at this particular moment no one seems to be having Paul Anka’s baby — which may be precisely the problem. Paul Anka has this thing about babies. It was, in fact, the first thing he found out about Anne De Zogheb the night they met in Puerto Rico after one of his shows. She was a top European teen model, the shy daughter of a Lebanese count exiled from Egypt, brought up in an English convent and only recently shepherded to America by the top model’s fairy godmother. Eileen Ford. “And the first thing he did was make sure I wasn’t interested in my career,” Anne remembers with a smile. “He kept saying, ‘Now you can have it, understand, but you don’t want it do you?’ Paul was looking for the glamour but at the same time for somebody who’d be wife and mother.” She was 20, he was 21 at the time.
Since then he nas presided at the natural childbirth of Alexandra, eight, Amanda, six, Alicia, three, and Anthea, one, and made no secret of the fact that he desperately wants a son. He devotes a
full five minutes to the subject of trying in his act. “Somebody said, ‘Do it with your boots on.’ ‘Eat the broccoli,’ ” he jokes. “At first you go for the tests. It’s the male thing, the ego thing — having a little son. But I got over that. All that matters is they’re healthy.”
“Paul wants a boy,” says Anne Anka at her table. “I don't want a boy.”
A tearful blond girl friend slides into the booth and reports that for the second time that day she has just heard the rumor that Anne Anka is having a baby. “It must be the song,” says the teary blond. “I keep telling people that you’re not pregnant now, but that it was written at a time when you were pregnant.”
“No,” says Anne Anka quietly. “It was written at a time when he was trying to hint.”
Backstage after the show, there is an air of celebration hanging electric, expectant. Out of the spotlight, showered and in his $100 cotton St. Tropez jean suit, Paul Anka is even smaller than he looks from a distance — his compact five-foot-five body trim and solid as a nickel slot machine — but there is something coiled and compelling about him that commands the entire room. When he makes the move to leave, 12 people, including the president of his record
“I get in heat to get out on the stage and work,” says Anka. “You’re out there all alone. You’re in total control”
company, rise as if on cue.
The vinyl moguls pile into his silver Mercedes with the PA-1 license plates, but he has to ride in Anne’s matching silver Mercedes because he has forgotten his tinted wrap-around specs without which he can barely see across a room. In more than 10 years of marriage it’s the first time he’s driven with her.
“Wow,” he says, collapsing into the back seat, “that was a thrill out there tonight. I got all choked up for a minute.
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve waited for that gold record for so long.” At home, a 10minute drive away, his paneled officeden, the control centre of the entire Anka organization, is layered with gold records, 18 BMI citations of achievement and the song sheets of a dozen discs that are already classics, including the theme song from the Tonight Show. “But the business has changed so much since I was a kid in it,” he says, his voice a coarse whisper after two shows. “Records were so small then, we were just freaks, nobodies. But now it’s like two billion dollars a year. The thing is, nobody I started out with has made the transition, except maybe Elvis. It became like a thing with me to make it again in the business today. Like an obsession. A hunger. Not for the money. For the success. The acceptance. I could almost taste it. I’d see others making it on my songs and I’d think, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ But I couldn’t seem to find the style I fit in.”
The minute he pounded out the first chords of You're Havin' My Baby alone in a snowed-in penthouse suite at Lake Tahoe, Anne and the kids back home, he knew it was the song that would do it.
“Mind you, I didn’t think it would be so controversial. I didn’t think the libbers would get on it like that. I mean, I meant our baby even if I didn’t come out and say it. But I wrote it from the man’s point of view, from that moment when, in his position as a man, he feels it’s my baby. You can’t go around handing out a pamphlet with every record you make. But let me tell you one thing — it didn’t hurt at all.”
Indeed it didn’t, a fact which United Artists Records must have known when, as publicity chief Allen Levy has confessed in an unguarded moment, they “serviced” the National Organization of Women. He is not using the language of the barnyard but of the record hype. “Yeah,” he says, “we sent the record to them as soon as it came out.”
It is difficult to believe that real people actually live in the land of all-
night roulette and the 24-hour wedding chapel (“A free Bible with every ceremony!”), but Paul Anka moved here from New York three years ago and liked it so well he’s building an elaborate new house on the edge of town. For now though, behind a wall that shields it from the highway and the flickering red neon glare of a Howard Johnson’s, home is a surprisingly modest ranchstyle in a row of others, a pool out back, jungle gym slide out front, a baby carriage on the porch and, waiting inside by the hall hat rack festooned with a dozen of Paul Anka’s millinery favorites, a tiny fuzzy dog who has just erred on the rug.
Anne deftly disappears as the hitmakers take possession of the den to pick Paul Anka’s next single. It is 3 a.m., well past her bedtime, and, although he has assured her that he’ll look after everything and has ordered in Chinese food, she has to ask him for the money when it arrives and dutifully stays up in the kitchen to dish it out. In the noise, Amanda wakes up and pads out, calling not for mommy but for daddy. He scoops her up like some Raggedy Ann in a bear hug and carries her off to bed.
“I’m a patsy for my girls,” he says. “My wife is very strict with them, but I’m a pushover. I mean, I really like the feeling they give me. Right now, it’s the most honest form of love I get.”
In the half-light of the den his voice plays over and over on the built-in tape deck. Denimed executives munch chop suey and listen for the familiar ring of gold, the deliberations as solemn as a high-stakes game of five-card stud. In the centre Paul Anka stands alone, not eating, hearing out the judgments, hedging his moves, waiting — echoes of the 16-year-old who learned to spend months cooped up in luxury penthouse suites, the girls screaming down on the street for him, unable to go out, locked
in listening to the grown moneymen advise, sealed off at the top of the world where he sat down and wrote Lonely Boy. Now he paces the Persian carpet, able to buy and sell each man in this room, still set apart, solitary, wary but wanting their approval too. In the end he gives them what they want. “It’s a crapshoot for me,” he says.
Then suddenly as the meeting breaks up, Paul Anka stands in the centre of the room alone and starts to sing. It is fourthirty in the morning, the record company president is not really listening, conferring with his lawyer, but Paul Anka pours himself into the unfinished song, his voice almost a croak, his face contorted with trying so hard. A look of vulnerability comes over him that you see only during the show.
“You’re up there really saying, ‘Like me,’ ” he will say later. “And if you work it right, it can happen. It’s a magic and I need it. I get in heat to get out there on that stage and work. That moment is the most beautiful time, right there — that is the moment when nobody touches you. You’re out there all alone. You’re in total control.”
Paul Anka likes to be in total control. It is four the next morning, the hour when he always prowls this silent sleeping house alone, but tonight he has a stranger with him. “Hey, there’s one thing you must hit in your story,” he says carrying in a tea tray from the kitchen and proceeding to dictate the interview. “There’s been a couple of editorials up there that I’m no longer a Canadian and I got very upset. I took my passport, photostated it and I mailed it to them. I mean, I’m proud of being a Canadian. My family are still there, I’ve invested heavily up there. I just want that clear.”
Indeed, Paul Anka’s relationship with his home country has long been a tense and tenuous one. “There was always that feeling of rejection,” he says. “I never felt I was recognized there.
“The first time I went back to Ottawa, just a kid with Diana, I was scared stiff. I stood up there on that stage and didn’t move — hell, I was too scared to move. And the first thing I know these guys I knew in the front row are throwing flashbulbs at me, then before long the whole place is throwin’ flashbulbs at me. I didn’t know what was happening. It took years till I found out they just wanted to get my attention. I thought they didn’t like me. So I just decided to stay away. And I did, oh yeah, I did purposely, for quite a while.”
When he finally came back to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre last summer
Anne Anka cried at the birth of their last baby because she knew Paul would be disappointed it wasn’t a boy
and in nine sellout days smashed all the records, it was a homecoming in more ways than one. complete with a press conference that read like an apology.
“I grew up, they grew up,” he says. “It was emotional to be accepted at home again like that after all the changes I’ve been through with Canada. There were a lot of memories. I went off by myself a lot, walked the city, saw the places that weren’t there anymore, the church I went to ... But there was a lot of sadness too. There was a feeling that you didn’t really belong anymore.”
But then in a way Paul Anka never really did belong. Brash, bigmouthed, even at nine he had no time for kids’ games, telling everybody how he was going to be a big star someday. His father, Andy, now a sometime Toronto talent agent, was a bit of a star himself then, a Syrian restaurateur who owned Ottawa’s first dining lounge license. He didn't pay much attention to the kid, only gave in to the New York caper to appease his late wife, Paul’s only ally, and even then with some resentment.
Later in the heady hit-parade days when a talent agent was to tell Andy to sell the restaurant and bank on his son, he protested that this was just a kid and the agent shot back, “This is no teen-
ager. He went from 16 to 45.”
But along the way Paul Anka nursed the wounds that are still very much a part of the animal. “I felt I was rejected all along the line.” he says. “I thought they were all laughing at me.” He turned down our interview at first, consented only if he could approve each of his quotes. His relationship with his father, who used to run his music company, is now affectionately distant, and he has had a falling-out with his sister Mariam who is no longer his secretary. Now his 48-year-old uncle, John Anka, one of only two people who work for him in Las Vegas, jumps just a second too fast when he commands. And once, in the glittering purple foil dressing room, when he does not jump fast enough, I watch the easy Anka charm slip into a sudden four-letter snarl. Between them, there is no pretense of sentimental ties. “I just don’t allow myself to be close to people,” Paul Anka says.
At the peak of his teen idol tenure, he found “people along for the ride. Even at that time I got ripped off.” And then, just as fast as it had swept in, he watched it all drift away. “Everything went at once,” he says. “My mother died. My career changed. My voice changed. There were some depressing times. For
a minute you say, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s gonna happen to us? Am I ever gonna have a hit record again?’ It was scary. Every time I went into a recording studio it was a roll of the dice. I didn’t know who Paul Anka was anymore.”
No answer came till six years later in the middle of one rainy New York night when he sat down alone at his piano and wrote the song which is as much about himself as about the man he knew he had to send it to, Frank Sinatra: My Way, he called it and he says, “I knew it was the turning point in my career.”
It was a small turning compared to his current Top 10 resuscitation, the recycling of his old hits by Donny Osmond and the re-release of his moldy oldies that he’d bought back years ago, when his voice changed, and kept locked in a vault until this year. But there were other turnings too.
The night he met Anne, he says, “We just looked at each other and it hit me. I’d dated girls who were the same type before — very delicate, very feminine, not ballsy. I don’t like overpowering women — I never have. But with Anne all the nice things about falling in love happened to me. She showed me the world out there. My world was me. Work was all I lived for. All of a sudden I started getting into things that I thought would never interest me — like walking around holding hands, like not working. All of a sudden you start to accept what a woman’s role is for you.”
One hardly needs to ask what a woman’s role is for Paul Anka. After all, he wrote She’s A Lady for Anne, and, though Tom Jones sang it. it makes You’re Havin’ My Baby look like chauvinist child’s play.
“She probably more than me has made the marriage work,” he says. “She quit modeling after our first child, had movie offers she turned down. But she gave it all up. I didn’t want her to work. I just didn’t believe in that in my case. I do believe women have got to have other interests though, like Anne does.” Such as? “Well, such as tennis,” he says.
For Anne Anka, there has never been any doubt about her role. She cried at the birth of their last baby because she thought he’d be so disappointed it wasn’t a boy. “I absolutely cater to him,” she says. “I don’t think in this business that there’s room for two egos.” She sees the point women’s lib is making, she says, although “I don’t really need it for myself.”
But for Paul Anka things are no longer that simple. For a guy who calls himself an “incredible romantic,” uses
such phrases as “it’s a man’s thing” a lot to explain himself, and walks itito his gold-record party loudly exhorting everybody to take off their clothes, for a self-confessed jock who fantasizes about owning a hockey team, dons a cut-down Montreal Canadiens sweater to work out on the ice with a pro team every chance he can and revels in the mystique of the locker room, for such a man to suddenly find himself in the midst of a swirling cause célèbre over motherhood, these are clearly puzzling times.
“1 mean, what do they really want?” he says finally, impatient with the discussion as the hours edge toward dawn. “I just don't understand some women and I never have. I keep a distance from them. But then, 1 keep a distance from most people.”
The next night at 11 p.m. in a scarlet Caesars Palace suite, Paul Anka is having a wedding. It is not your usual wedding, what with the bride already having had the groom’s baby well before the ceremony and the groom, who also happens to be the orchestra conductor, having to rush off again afterward to do the midnight show. But Paul Anka has risen to the occasion, ordered in Chinese food, champagne, a giant three-tiered white wedding cake, fortune cookies and a justice of the peace who delivers a bright pep-talky intro of himself before getting the wedding on the road. Things are, however, a little slow in starting due to the problem of getting the best man to the ceremony on time. Paul Anka breezes in late, leading Anne by the hand, his mind clearly on other things which promptly becomes apparent as the waiters pop the champagne corks to punctuate the pronouncement of man and wife. The room dissolves in kissing and hugging, but the self-confessed romantic of the moment is strangely unsentimental.
“Hey. you missed the big news of the day,” says Paul Anka, perching on the side of Ánne’s seat. “Telly Savalas was just downstairs and he wants to direct me in a Kojak as a killer pimp. It’s the kind of part I’ve wanted for so long. We talked about it two months ago and I got this picture of myself in bed. blew it up to six feet and sent it to him with the note, ‘I’m not getting out of bed till I get the part.’ Sent him two reminders too. Oh yeah, when I want something I go after it.”
Suddenly somebody interrupts to note that they thought he’d get more choked up at the wadding. Paul Anka moves to leave. He has. after all, another audience waiting. He takes Anne by the hand and leads her off.
“I don’t cry at weddings,” he says. “I cry at funerals.” C?