Claim: Pia Zadora's performance in the stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank was so bad that when Nazi soldiers came to the house in which her character was hidden, the audience stood up and yelled: "She's in the attic!"
In one of my films they had a young bit player who was very pretty, but a terrible actress. However, she was very ambitious and decided that if she got some experience in the theater, it would help her career. Fortunately, she had a wealthy boyfriend who backed a road company of The Diary of Anne Frank just so she could play the leading role — Anne Frank.
Before the opening in Cleveland, Ohio, they had three weeks of intensive rehearsals, and every day was more and more frustrating for the director. The actress was impossible. She couldn't remember her lines, her delivery was amateurish, and the more she rehearsed, the worse she got. The director was ready to quit the show, but she told him she was a poor rehearser. "Believe me," she assured him, "when I face that opening-night audience, it'll all come together."
She invited me to the opening night, but I was not all that anxious to see her perform, and I had even less desire to be in Cleveland in February. A friend of hers and mine did go, and later he told me what I'd missed.
When the curtain went up she blew her opening lines, and her performance went downhill from then on. By the intermission the audience was totally fed up with her. Then, in the first scene in the second act, when the Nazi soldiers broken into the home, overturning furniture and shouting, "Where is she? Where's Anne Frank?!" the whole audience yelled back, "She's in the attic!"
about every field of endeavor whose practioners are necessarily placed in the public eye (e.g., politics, entertainment, sports) has a common set of "denigration legends" — just pick the out-of-favor personality of the moment, slap his or her name into a familiar anecdote, and voilà... you have a ready-made, time-tested, believable "true story" guaranteed to make anyone sound like the one of the biggest boobs on the planet. That such anecdotes are usually fictitious (or at the very least don't involve the people to whom they are later ascribed) doesn't seem to detract from the fun.
In the acting world, the "She's in the attic!" tale quoted above has been applied to a number of female thespians perceived by the public as talentless hacks who landed starring roles only through their looks and/or their connections, not because of their (marginal) acting abilities. In recent years, Pia Zadora's name is the one that has been associated with this anecdote most persistently (although for a brief period it was also attached to Vanna White, the letter-turning hostess of television's Wheel of Fortune game show, who received scathing reviews when she tried her hand at acting by starring as Venus in the 1988 made-for-TV movie Goddess of Love).
Pia Zadora? Well, Ms. Zadora was a well-known actress of modest talents who achieved prominence through the efforts of a wealthy benefactor, her acting career consisting mainly of small, unimportant parts in Broadway productions until she married Meshulam Riklis, a mega-millionaire thirty-two years her senior. Through her well-to-do husband's influence, Pia landed a role in the 1981 film Butterfly, a performance that won her a Golden Globe award as 1981's "Best New Star of the Year." However, not only did rumors soon begin to circulate that Pia's husband had "bought" her Golden Globe award by funding lavish junkets to Las Vegas for members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but her performance also garnered Ms. Zadora two Golden Raspberry awards (commonly known as "Razzies") in 1982, for both "Worst Actress" and "Worst New Star." (Pia Zadora later achieved even more notoriety by winning the "Worst Actress" award again the next year, for her part in the truly execrable film version of Harold Robbins'The Lonely Lady; that pair of dubious performances led to Ms. Zadora's being named the Golden Raspberrys' "Worst New Star of the Decade" for 1980-1989.)
Whatever one might think of Pia Zadora's acting abilities, though, this tale doesn't ring true — about her or anyone else. The version cited at the head of this page appeared in a book written by comedian George Burns, but it's unlikely he ever made a movie with an actress who was taunted by the audience while playing in The Diary of Anne Frank, since he didn't appear in a theatrical film between 1939 (before Anne Frank even started keeping a diary) and 1975 (by which time this legend was already circulating). Pia Zadora herself never had a starring role in a stage version of The Diary of Anne Frank— on Broadway, off-Broadway, or anywhere else. Add to all that the fact that at no point in the play do Nazi soldier characters actually appear on stage (thus eliminating any chance for the legend's punchline to be delivered live), and you have one amusing, generic, but plainly fictitious "bad actress" story.
Sightings: In an episode of TV's The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur delivers this legend as a standard put-down of an actress she and her roommates are competing against for the lead in a community theatre production.
In the 1988 Jay McInerney's novel Story of My Life, Allison's acting teacher tells the urban legend of an unnamed actress who was being bankrolled by "a rich guy who wanted to make her a big star so he was basically buying her the starring roles in these plays."