There I was, staring out at the world as though from the beginning of time. The cultural critic Camille Paglia later described it as "the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature. She was a lioness: fierce, passionate and dangerously physical." Anyway, the doeskin bikini struck a chord. I became every male's fantasy.
In the photograph, I look so convincing, so formidable standing there astride the rocky landscape in that partially shredded animal skin. I seem alert and slightly defiant, as though ready to defend myself against anyone who might attempt to tear the mini-toga off me. Or like a mama bear, ready to protect her cubs.
In one way the image was very apt, because I knew I was going to have to fight to stay afloat in the most treacherous of identities: the role of sex symbol. There I was, stranded and easy prey in that desolate realm of overnight success. But I was nobody's pushover. Would I be just a flash in the pan, as some predicted? It was me against the world. Or should I say us, if you count my two children. When that famous photo was snapped on location, my little ones were miles away, playing by the hotel pool with their nanny at the bottom of a mountain, while Mom was atop a smoking volcano . . . and it was snowing!
In fact, it was soooo cold that the entire crew was bundled up in nice cozy parkas. Even the cameras froze. So they hung pots of hot coals underneath the camera boxes, to keep the motors warm. But nobody seemed to care about my motor. Why didn't I have a parka? "Cave girls don't have parkas," I was told. Not surprisingly, I came down with a severe case of tonsillitis.
It was so not how I had pictured it. On the first day of shooting, I went straight up to the director, Don Chaffey, and said quite seriously, "Listen Don, I've been studying the script, and I was thinking . . ." He turned to me in amazement and said, "You were thinking? Don't." Then he said, "You see that rock over there?" I was all ears. "That's Rock A. When I call action, you start running all the way over to Rock B, which is over there. When you get about midway between the two, pretend you see a giant turtle coming over that hill. You scream . . . and we break for lunch. Got it?"
I got it all right. He was just the first in a long line of producers and directors who didn't give a rat's ass what I thought. For years I felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of sex symbols. I got no respect.