Helen Mirren: from monarch to madam for the sake of her husband?


Yes, I know it’s a semi-tabloid

headline, but I had to do something to make myself feel better about

Dame Helen Mirren’s latest project.

Mirren has signed on to star in Love Ranch, directed

by her husband Taylor Hackford. The film is the story of Joe

and Sally Conforte, who opened Nevada’s first legal bordello in 1971.

The state’s licensure of Mustang Ranch led to the state’s legalization

of brothel prostitution in 17 counties. Joe Pesci is coming out

of semi-retirement to costar. That’s right; Dame Helen and Joe are playing

husband and wife. To which I say, WTF?

OK. Let me step back and try

to look beyond the odd couple surface. The story of Mustang Ranch is the stuff of legend, to be sure.

Joe Conforte
and Sally Burgess both owned brothels in the 1950s. They eventually went into business

together and then got married. Joe did time for extortion and tax evasion

(separate incidents) before he and Sally took over Mustang Ranch in

1967. Here’s the happy couple. Sally looks particularly non-Mirrenish.

During the ’70s, Joe was

investigated for inappropriately influencing local officials but was

not indicted. Then in 1976, boxer Oscar Bonavena, who was managed

by Sally Conforte and rumored to be having an affair with her, was shot and killed outside of Mustang Ranch by one of

Joe’s bodyguards. Oscar looks a little like Patrick Swayze. Sally

looks a little like Ebby Halliday, a Dallas Realtor who also doesn’t

call to mind Helen Mirren.

In 1977, both Confortes were

convicted of income-tax evasion. Sally received a suspended sentence,

and Joe fled the country rather than spend more time in prison. Sally

stayed and managed Mustang Ranch.

It’s a good story — and Pesci

seems born to play the part of Joe Conforte. But Mirren as Sally? Sally

Conforte became a madam when she was 17. New West described her as overweight and in poor health,

with a heavy limp. She could be “mean as a snake,” “swear

like a real lady and rattle windows with her laugh.”

I mean no disrespect to Dame

Helen’s acting prowess, but seriously, why did she take this part? I

know her husband is directing, but seriously. (I’m so flummoxed, I’m

starting to sound like Shonda Rimes.) I won’t go into Mirren’s

choice to make National Treasure: Book of Secrets, since Dorothy

Snarker already addressed the issue much more delicately than my feelings

would allow. But is this the next step in the “I won an Oscar and

lost my mind” syndrome that afflicts so many Best Actress winners?

Perhaps now that her memoirs have been

, she wants

to do only projects unworthy of a second volume. Or maybe Mirren is

feeling pressure to compete with her friend Dame Judi Dench for

best scandalous Dame Commander of the OBE. If so, I respectfully suggest

she forget Sally Conforte and ask her husband to make a movie based

on this Vanity Fair photo.

Am I overreacting? Can you

see Helen Mirren as Sally Conforte? Perhaps we can come up with a better

option to pass along to Mr. Mirren Hackford.

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