Weekly Q&A

Sinatra and handcuffs: Pia Zadora talks to the Weekly

Photo: Christopher DeVargas

The Details

Pia Zadora
July 27, 8 p.m., July 28, 7 p.m., $33-$40
Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, 749-2000

Pia Zadora is preparing for a photo shoot in the living room of her Las Vegas home when Merle, her 1-year-old Papillon, hops onto the chair to get in on the shot.

“Oh, but we need to put a scarf on her,” says Zadora, who disappears into the bedroom, then briskly returns with a blue scarf and joins Merle in front of the camera, taking to it like an old friend.

It’s a sweltering morning, but the air inside is chilly, the fireplace is on and the curtains are drawn. A Warhol portrait of Zadora hangs above the nearby built-in bar, and Rat Pack-era standards are piped through speakers in the wall. It’s not exactly the Beverly Hills mansion that Zadora and then-husband Meshulam Riklis built after razing the legendary Pickfair home, but it’s lovely and, it turns out, so is Zadora, who seems not to have aged in the last 20 or so years.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the former child actress, who grew up on Broadway and dabbled in a movie career that resulted in unfortunate late-night talk show jokes, to which she responded with astounding vocal pipes that placed her onstage (and on tour) with Sinatra and others.

After taking a 15-year hiatus to raise her three children, Zadora, who’s now married to Metro police officer Michael Jeffries, is readying for her performance at Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz this weekend. She broke from rehearsing to chat with us.

How does it feel to be in Las Vegas? It feels great. It feels like I landed where I was supposed to land. I walk into a casino and I feel like I’m home. It takes me back to those days. I want to hear Frank singing in the background, drink a glass of chardonnay and hear slots. It feels safe, like I’m in a cocoon; I’m back in the womb. I can have fun. You can have the best of both worlds; you can have privacy in the mountains. And I can sing if I want to.

What do you do for fun? I go to Mundo for really spicy Latin cuisine. I go dancing at the Artisan. That’s my favorite place. I go to Sinatra’s. I drive down the Strip. I have a 15-year-old; he drags me around. He likes to go to the pool at Golden Nugget. I go to Red Rock bowling, the San Gennaro Festival, Mastrioni’s, all that great local stuff. At Salvatore’s, I can sit at the piano. My son is a fanatic when it comes to baseball. We go to all the 51s games, the Running Rebels. I get involved in charities.

Carlos Santana is your neighbor. Do you get together and jam? I drink his tequila (laughs). We’ve got to invite him over for some shots. Maybe we’ll go trick-or-treating for Halloween, and I’ll go as Pia Zadora.

How’d you meet your husband? I met him nine years ago when I came here for vacation. I had a stalker, someone who’d been involved with me. He was the detective who handled the case. He was very calming. There was a connection. We spoke on the phone and decided to meet. It was almost like a blind date. When we first met, he really blew me away. He’s this hunky Alec Baldwin type. We got engaged two weeks after we met, but I was living in LA and couldn’t move here because of my kids, so he commuted—three days a week for two years. Then we got married and he moved to LA.

He retired, but then you moved here so he could rejoin the force. What’s that like? He’s been working the night shift, so if I get lonely, I just dial 911. When I act up at home he puts me under house arrest, handcuffs and all.

And you’re working again. Yes. It’s great. I fell back into it. I never thought I’d be singing again. Fifteen years ago I knew I had to settle into being a mom and give them a normal life, which I never had. I was always traveling. I had tours. I wanted my kids to settle down, and we kind of did it together.

How was that? It was a bumpy transition. There was no director telling me what to do. No script, but I really enjoyed it. I even became president of the PTA. Doing the laundry was a meditative experience. Now, when I start to get nervous and stressed, I go in and start to fold towels.

What will you tap into for Cabaret Jazz? I will be doing the standards, the Great American Songbook. “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I Am What I Am,” “Where or When.” Torchy stuff. The Ellingtons. The Gershwins. All the stuff I did with Sinatra. This music is recycling now, so it has a whole new fan base.

Does it feel different singing them now? These are songs you grow into. When I was singing with Frank, he guided me, helped me. But then I didn’t understand the full magnitude of the songs. You really have to live to understand the songs in full depth of the magnitude, go through the heartaches. Now the songs have a different connection with me.

Any plans to return to movies? Oh, I don’t know. I’m just enjoying singing.

Home for the holidays

An Andy Warhol artwork of Pia Zadora as seen in her home July 19, 2012.

Surprisingly, Zadora’s Las Vegas home that she shares with husband Michael Jeffries and son Jordan isn’t filled floor to ceiling with mementos of her famous past, which you sometimes find with celebrities who’ve lived colorful lives. Rather, the stylish and contemporary home (with walls painted a smoky blue, creating a sense of warmth and intimacy) has only bits and pieces here and there.

Her Golden Globe for Butterfly is on a desk in the office, nearly indistinguishable from the family knickknacks and photos. A framed photo of Zadora, Sinatra and Don Rickles onstage hangs below a Dubonnet ad Zadora posed for and next to a bulletin board tacked with a Christmas card from John Waters, recipes, shopping receipts and school forms.

The rest of the home features artwork collected by former husband (and now good friend) Meshulam Riklis, as well as art created by Zadora’s children, including fairly recent sculptures from Color Me Mine, a “paint your own” pottery store. Dotting the home that’s filled with comfy, organic-only furniture are a handful of Christmas decorations, some of which stay out year round. It’s Zadora’s favorite holiday. With a laugh, she points to the canned eggnog in the cupboard and explains that Christmas songs begin playing through the home in July.

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