Reflecting on her more than four-decade friendship with Harry Dean Stanton, singer and actress Michelle Phillips says, "He always comes to my parties."
This spring, she thought it fell to her to make sure the West Irvine native got to his own party.
For three years, the Lexington Film League has presented the Harry Dean Stanton Fest in honor of the Kentucky-born actor featured in films such as Pretty in Pink (1986), Alien (1979) and Paris, Texas (1984). But, although he has worked and stayed in touch with festival organizers, Stanton has always sent his regrets.
When Phillips was invited to be the celebrity guest for a screening of Dillinger, the 1973 film she did with Stanton, she wasn't having any of her colleague's excuses.
"I called him up and said, 'What do you mean you're not going to your own film festival?'" Phillips said. Imitating her friend's drawl, she says he replied, "'Well, I don't like to fly.' I said, 'Well, you've been in a plane,' and he says, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Well, I think you ought to get your little butt down there.'
"So he says, 'You goin'?' and I said yes, and he said, 'OK. I'll put it on the front burner.'"
So, the fourth edition of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest will have Phillips, the only surviving member of the 1960s folk-pop quartet The Mamas and the Papas, who since has enjoyed a busy acting career.
And it will get the festival's namesake for a gala event Sunday at The Kentucky Theatre featuring a screening of the gangster flick Phillips describes as a romp across Oklahoma.
Phillips says it started with her lying to Dillinger director John Milius. She told him she was part Cherokee to help make her seem more suited to the role of Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie Frechette, who was part Native American.
"He gave me the part, and this merry band of actors went off to Oklahoma, and we spent six weeks in Enid, Ardmore and Oklahoma City," Phillips said. "We all stayed together as a group because the scenes consisted of the gangs, almost entirely.
"We were riding around in motor homes, and playing guitar and singing. It was the most fun shoot I have ever been on."
She and Stanton, now 87, were already friends through mutual pal Jack Nicholson. But still, she was thrilled to work with Stanton — "he was already a legend," she says.
Stanton, who was born in Estill County and attended Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky in Lexington, played Homer Van Meter, an associate of Dillinger. The title role was played by another Kentuckian, Warren Oates, a native of Muhlenberg County who died in 1982.
"It was a joy to work with him, and he made me so comfortable, knowing it was my first film," Phillips says.
One thing Phillips has in common with her Kentucky friends is a love of horses and racing. She has been to the Kentucky Derby a number of times and just celebrated her 70th birthday in a private suite at Santa Anita Park racetrack, outside Los Angeles.
"It was the best birthday I have ever had," Phillips says. "I frequent any track."
Coming to Central Kentucky for the first time, Phillips is intent on taking in some of the area's equine culture — though she's not making any demands.
"One thing I learned a long time ago is never mess with Southern hospitality," says Phillips, a native Californian. "You guys always have it all planned out so much better than I could ever ask for."
The trip is scheduled to end with a trip with Stanton back to Los Angeles, where they both live. There, Phillips is working on a film project that will take her back to the beginning of her career: a biopic of The Mamas and the Papas, the band that included Denny Doherty, "Mama" Cass Elliot and Phillips' husband of seven years, John Phillips.
She has teamed with Jersey Boys writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to write the screenplay. Brickman was in a band with Phillips before The Mamas and the Papas, and with Woody Allen, he won the Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1977 for Annie Hall.
"We're putting the finishing touches on a script that Marshall and Rick wrote, and we'll be out there finding a great director for it and then making a deal," she says.
Having seen Phillips' powers of persuasion in action, we ought to expect to see that movie soon.