(Editors Note: It is with a heavy heart but a firm belief in the potential for a positive future that I will continue to write celebrity interviews and entertainment reports under the banner of Beck/Smith Hollywood Exclusive. I believe it’s what my late beloved writing partner would have done. She was always a great believer in ‘getting back on the horse’ and carrying on in life and career – a view that served her well for five decades of covering show business. I’ll miss her fiercely, but remember her example and many wise words moving forward. All my best, Stacy Jenel Smith.)
This month — June 17, to be exact — marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Supremes’ first number one hit single: “Where Did Our Love Go.” But when it comes to celebrations of the group’s remarkable feats, the question might well be, where did our accolades go?
Asked whether there will be any Supremes celebrations like The Beatles’ special retrospectives this year, Mary Wilson says, “I wish there were. I don’t know. The Beatles, of course, have a huge company behind them. On my own I’ve done PR. In the polls we should be up at the top,” she adds, speaking of rankings of all-time greats in pop music. However, “We’ve slipped down, I think, because we’re girls, not guys.”
The Supremes — Mary and Diana Ross with the late Florence Ballard, and later, Cindy Birdsong — scored five consecutive number one hits over a two and a half year span back in their Motown glory days. “That’s more than the Beatles did at the time; I don’t think they ever had five consecutive number ones,” notes Mary. They had 12 number one singles in all on the Billboard Hot 100. At the same time, the trio smashed through racial and cultural barriers — and looked fabulous while doing it. Their story inspired the hit musicals “Dreamgirls” and “Sparkle.”
As fans are well aware, she and Diana Ross have had their dramas and traumas through the years. As for how much they are communicating these days, Mary answers, “Not a lot. We’re just living our lives. But we were together for the Motown Broadway musical. We had a wonderful time, really wonderful, being together.”
Mary has recently been focusing a spate of her own projects, including her “Life’s Been Good to Me” album collaboration with Supremes’ hit makers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Its title track and a tune called “Darling Mother” are already out, and Mary anticipates release of the album later this summer.
She’s been out on a string of dates with Doc Severinsen this spring — still fitting into dazzling strapless beaded gowns and looking great in them at age 70. She sounds good as well.
“Doc is amazing. He’s older than I am — 86 — and just what you see onstage. He doesn’t change,” she says of the trumpet master who directed the “Tonight Show” band throughout Johnny Carson’s 30-year tenure. Mary first met Doc, in fact, on the “Tonight Show.”
“We were on a couple of times. We were on when, unfortunately, when Martin Luther King was assassinated. We were working at the Copacabana at the time and so they called us over to do Johnny’s show. I remember it was so traumatic for us at the time. We sang ‘There’s a Place for Us’,” she recalls. “Then another time we were on the show and Johnny was asking us about our gowns, and Diane said, ‘Oh yeah, a lot of little old people went blind doing our gowns’ — with all the beads.”
Those famous gowns have gotten first class treatment, thanks to Mary. Her touring expo has been seen in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Presently, it’s being photographed for a coffee table book. “It will take a couple of years to do it the correct way,” she says.
“The one that everyone loves is the Queen Mother gown with all the pink beads. Each of them weighs about 35 pounds. We had them when we did the Royal Command Performance for the Queen of England. Another favorite is our Butterfly gowns we wore for our first television special. We were one of the first artists to have a telelvision special back in the day,” she adds. “The Butterfly gown had beaded material that looked like a butterfly and had a lot of wings.”
Mary considers herself The Supremes’ historian, and apparently rightfully so. “I keep these things going as much as I can. And I remember, too, they said that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t going to last. Remember those days?” She laughs. “That fooled a lot of people. It sure did.”
Next, if all goes as she is hoping it will, Mary, who lives with three of her grandchildren in Las Vegas, will take on a Vegas residency.
“After being on the road for 50-some odd years, I really would like to slow up a bit. I don’t want to stop,” she assures. “I’m not going to retire, but to work and be home and not have to fly every place — that would be wonderful. Flying is not as much fun as it used to be. We used to take all our wig boxes on the plane, you know, and all our cats and dogs. I remember traveling all over the world with my three children. You can’t do those things now.”
Her svelte shape is attributable to the hot yoga she’s been practicing regularly for years. “I do it because I don’t like to jump up and down. I can’t do aerobics at all,” claims the songstress. “I don’t have to run. For me, it works. It’s kept my body in good condition. I’m not stooped over or anything like that.”
Perhaps she could make a hot yoga video, for the baby boomer crowd. “That’s an idea,” she says with a laugh.
But first, she’d like to see her trailblazing trio get its due. “I performed in Turkey, England and Ireland this spring. Everyone still loves the music, still remembers the words to it,” she marvels. “Fifty years later, people in Turkey still know all the lyrics when they sing ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ and they put their hands out.”
Which is impressive enough, with or without an anniversary celebration.