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Pia Zadora (born May 4, 1954) is an American actress and singer. After working as a child actress on Broadway, in regional theater, and in the film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), she came to national attention in 1981 when, following her starring role in the critically mauled Butterfly, she won a Golden Globe Award as New Star of the Year.
When her film career failed to take off, she became a singer of popular standards and made several successful albums backed by a symphonic orchestra; as a singer she earned the respect of critics who had previously written her off.
Zadora was born Pia Alfreda Schipani in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her mother, Saturnina "Nina" (née Zadorowski), was a theatrical wardrobe supervisor for Broadway productions, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Opera, and her father, Alphonse Schipani, a violinist. She is of Polish maternal and Italian paternal descent. She adapted part of her mother's maiden name as her stage name. Zadora appeared as a child actress with Tallulah Bankhead in Midgie Purvis. She attended elementary and middle school in Forest Hills, New York, at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, the same parochial school as Ray Romano and David Caruso. She played the youngest sister (Bialke) in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof (1964-1966).
Zadora's first film was in 1964's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, as Girmar, a young Martian girl (the movie became notorious years later on the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000). She also sang Hooray for Santy Claus in that movie. Her career made little headway until she met Meshulam Riklis, 30 years her senior, in 1972, while touring with a musical production. The couple married on 18 September 1977 (and divorced 29 March 1995). Not long after her marriage, she made her breakthrough as the Dubonnet Girl, appearing in print and television commercials for the apéritif. Her husband was a shareholder in Dubonnet's American distributor.
Zadora starred with Stacy Keach and Orson Welles in the 1982 film Butterfly, with a plot around father-daughter incest, and featuring Zadora singing "Its Wrong For Me To Love You". She won that year's Golden Globe Award as "Best New Star of the Year", amid charges that her husband had bought the award with a promotional campaign. Zadora's image filled billboards on Sunset Boulevard. Not all critics were enamored of her performance, however, she was also awarded "Razzies" as "Worst New Star" and "Worst Actress" in the 1982 Golden Raspberry Awards.
Zadora next starred in the 1982 film Fake-Out (aka Nevada Heat), a zany women in prison B-movie co-starring Telly Savalas, and in the 1983 film adaptation of a Harold Robbins novel, The Lonely Lady, playing an aspiring screenwriter who achieves success after surviving sexual assault. She was awarded another Razzie as Worst Actress of 1983. On the basis of her multiple awards, the Golden Raspberry Awards later named her Worst New Star of the Decade (1980-1989).
In 1985 Zadora starred as the object of an extraterrestrial's affections in the musical-comedy Voyage of the Rock Aliens. In addition to showing off her comedic side, the film showcased her musical talents and featured half of the songs from her 1984 album Let's Dance Tonight.
In 1988, she played a beatnik in John Waters' Hairspray.
She attained success in Europe as a singer, and had several hit singles throughout the world. In 1984, she received a nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the song "Rock It Out". Her cover of the Shirley Ellis hit "The Clapping Song", reached the U.S. Top 40 in 1983, and she had a hit duet with Jermaine Jackson titled "When the Rain Begins to Fall" in 1984 from the movie Voyage of the Rock Aliens. Though only a minor hit in the US, the song reached #1 in some European countries.
She released Pia & Phil, an album of standards with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985, she recorded a follow up entitled I Am What I Am shortly afterwards.
In 1988, she worked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on an album entitled When the Lights Go Out. The single "Dance Out of My Head" wasn't a hit despite the top producers and club remixes by Shep Pettibone and Ben Liebrand. The album was only released in Europe. In 1989 she recorded the album Pia Z with producer Narada Michael Walden; it wasn't a hit. The single "Heartbeat of Love" included club remixes by Civiles and Cole of the C&C Music Factory. A further album of standards entitled Pia Today! was recorded and received a limited promotional release.
Later in 1994, Zadora played a small role in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, in the final act in a comedy sketch as she sang at the Oscars. In this segment, Zadora performed the Steve Allen-penned "This Could Be the Start of Something" during a parody of an Academy Awards musical number.
A compilation, The Platinum Collection, was released around this time and sold via infomercials in the US. It included repackaged versions of Pia & Phil, I Am What I Am, and Pia Today!. A further CD of standards Only for Romantics was also recorded, but is very scarce and only promotional copies are available.
Zadora and Riklis bought the Beverly Hills mansion Pickfair in January 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss for nearly $7 million. They demolished most of the structure (keeping the guest houses), because termites and time had made repairs difficult. The mansion, former home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, was one of Beverly Hills' best known. To show his "love and affection", Riklis commissioned an oil portrait of Zadora nude. Visitors were greeted by the portrait. Zadora remained there until late 2005 or early 2006 when she sold the mansion to Korean businessman Corry Hong for $17,650,000.
Zadora's second husband was writer-director Jonathan Kaufer. They were married from August 27, 1995 to November 30, 2001. Zadora's three children are Kady, Kristofer Barzie, and Jordan Maxwell. Kady was named after Zadora's film character in Butterfly, which later inspired the call letters for station KADY-TV/Oxnard, California after Riklis acquired it in 1988.
Zadora is a contributor to both Republican and Democratic political candidates.
Awards and nominations
Golden Globe Awards
Golden Raspberry Awards
Golden Apple Award
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