On January 3, 2011, Cabaret's original Sally Bowles, Jill Haworth passed away at age 65 of what was reported to be natural causes. In celebration of her life, Michael Gregg Michaud composed the following tribute to the late star. Michaud was a good friend of the actress and author of the biography of Sal Mineo, who was Haworth's lover for many years.
Michaud's work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including the Los Angeles Times. He is also a playwright, editor, artist, and award-winning photographer. An animal-rights defender, he is a founding director of the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles. More on Mauchaud's biography of Sal Mineo can be found here.
Jill Haworth, a "Perfectly Marvelous Girl"
By Michael Gregg Michaud
I met Jill Haworth on the telephone five years ago. I was researching my biography of actor Sal Mineo, and their long-time, mutual friend, actor Michael Anderson Jr. called her on my behalf. Jill had never spoken publicly about her love and life with Sal. He told her I had gained his trust, and urged her to set the record straight "before it's too late". At first, Jill was suspicious and not forthcoming, but over time, she opened up to me and spoke freely about her life with Sal, and the other aspects of her personal and professional life as well. She was coy, funny, sassy, shocking, vulnerable, and, like Sal Mineo, I fell in love with her, albeit over the telephone. We spoke about Sal for dozens of hours through the years. In fact, we never stopped talking about him. She gave me notes, letters, photographs and gifts Sal had given to her, including a book about their favorite artist, Salvador Dali. In the book, he wrote, "For Jill, Hello ‘Dali', goodbye ‘Teens'. Happy Birthday Pussycat! I love you, Sal. 1964."
Valerie Jill Haworth was born in Sussex, England on August 15, 1945. She was an only child and was privately schooled. Like her mother, she took dance lessons as a youngster and performed at Sadlers' Wells. In 1960, at the age of 14, she won the role of Karen in Otto Preminger's production of Exodus. Sal, then 20 and considered by Jill as "the old man", played the part of Dov Landau, her love interest in the film. They met on the flight to Israel where filming commenced in May. Though himself young, Sal was very experienced in film-making and took Jill under his wing. It didn't take long for the two to fall in love. Jill and her parents moved to New York in late 1960. After a few months, Jill's father decided to return to England. "He was an alcoholic and very distant," Jill explained. "He said goodbye one day, and I never saw him again." In 1965, Jill and her mother rented an apartment on East 51st Street in Manhattan where she lived the rest of her life.
For a few years in the early 1960's, Jill and Sal lived together in Los Angeles between film assignments. Following Exodus, Sal's film career faltered, but Jill became a bona-fide movie star on two continents. Otto Preminger was so impressed with Jill's acting skills, he signed her to a personal contract. Following Exodus, she made three films in France; Ton Ombre est la Mienne (Your Shadow is Mine), Les Mysteres de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris), and A cause, a cause d'une Femme (Because, Because of a Woman). "I didn't speak French at first, I just spoke phonetically," she explained. "Mr, Preminger did not approve of my relationship with Sal, which we tried to keep quiet, and he shipped me off to France to separate us."
Though Jill's love affair with Sal ended in 1964, they remained close and loving friends until his shocking murder in 1976. Sal usually stayed at Jill's apartment when he was in Manhattan. Through the years, she was romantically linked to Christopher Plummer, and for a short time to Paul McCartney, but her heart remained with her first love, Sal. She never married.
Jill appeared in two more films for Preminger, The Cardinal (1963) and In Harm's Way (1965). In 1966, at the age of 21, Jill auditioned for Harold Prince for the role of Sally Bowles in the original Broadway production of Cabaret. She was shocked when she won the role. Though her reviews were unkind, the show was a colossal hit. She starred in the production for the next two years, and playing Sally Bowles became the highlight of her career. Prince felt the critics greatly underestimated her performance. "Sally Bowles was not supposed to be a professional singer," he said. "She wasn't supposed to be so slick that you forgot she was an English girl somewhat off the rails in the Weimar ear. When Jill came in and auditioned, she nailed it right away, walked that line. That's what we wanted, and that's what she delivered." Her co-star Joel Grey added, "[Jill] had a wild abandon about herself and her life. She was so Sally Bowles."
Numerous television appearances followed Cabaret, and she starred in a string of minor horror films in England, including the cult-favorite, It (1967), with Roddy McDowell. She often appeared on stage in touring productions of Abelared and Heloise, Butterflies are Free, and There's a Girl in my Soup. Though she never appeared on Broadway again, in 1979 she starred in two plays at off-Broadway's American Place Theatre; Sam Shepard's Seduced and Jonathan Reynold's Tunnel Fever, or the Sheep is Out. One of her last theatrical jobs was in Alan Ayckbourne's play, Bedroom Farce, in 1980 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. In the 1980's she reinvented herself as a successful voice-over artist. Her sexy, gravely voice, the result of a lifetime of smoking, was a favorite of advertisers. Her final role was that of an aging hippie mother to two grown children in the series, Mergers & Acquisitions, in 2001.
Jill then reclaimed her private life, and retired to devote time to her ailing mother, and her two beloved cats. When we became acquainted, she hadn't worked in several years. She became a champion of my project to write about Sal Mineo's life. We laughed and cried together on the telephone as she regaled me with her wonderful stories about the only man she loved. I talked with her every day, some days numerous times. She read draft after draft, offering advice, corrections and additions. She was more than generous with her time, and gracious and brave to revisit a time in her life that was such a private joy and heartache. She was painfully honest and often said, "Gawd, this is hard!" Thankfully, she was thrilled with the finished book and talked back to every review I read to her. She gleefully hated critics. She was kept apprised of the movie option negotiations for the book, as well, and offered savvy, level-headed advice.
Our birthdays were days apart, and last year, after apologizing for being unable to send a gift, she sang a verse of "Cabaret" to me. It was the greatest birthday gift I ever got from anyone. We watched all the entertainment award shows "together", ringing each other during every commercial break to laugh about the goings- on, and dish the fashions. She had not been feeling well for a short time. I urged her to see a doctor. She assured me that she did, though I suspect she didn't. She was afraid of all things medical. I sent her the annual two-pound box of See's chocolates for Christmas, which she told me she ate in two days. I spoke with her on the phone the day before she died. We wished each other Happy New Year. She said to me, "Oh, my Michael, I love you very, very much." I told her I loved her, too, and that I'd talk with her the following day. I'm still waiting for her call.