New York Magazine
Virginia Perl, That Girl in the Photo
By Janet Kraimer
September 12, 2018
Having been retained by the editorial staff at the New Yorker, I thought it would be a cinch to get an interview with best-selling author, Virginia Perl. Her first book, That Girl in the Photo, a memoir, is in its tenth month on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Is it any wonder that it was difficult to book an interview?
“I’ve been in more cities this month than there are fleas on a stray dog,” she told me on the phone. “But, I love it,” she was quick to add.
My interview with Virginia Perl was held in the library of her penthouse with glorious views of downtown Minneapolis. Her personal assistant greeted me at the door. Virginia stood up from her hand-carved mahogany writing desk and came to greet me as I was shown into her inner sanctum. I kid you not; her eyes actually twinkled behind Blue Bulgary eyeglasses when she smiled.
Floor to ceiling book cases were filled with leather hand-bound books in blues, reds, yellows, and greens. I sat in a silk, over-stuffed sofa after watching her slide into a leather wing back arm chair.
She toyed with a large arrangement of anemones which sat on the coffee table between us. Her hair was silver – a pale silver – pulled back on one side by a diamond clasp. She wore a Caprician Blue peasant blouse over black leggings and studded black patent flats. She poured our tea and we got to work.
Hi, Virginia Perl, we finally meet. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Wow! Ten months on the best seller list, and no signs of slowing down. That Girl in the Photo is your first book. What made you decide to write? Have you always wanted to write?
I first thought about writing a book back in the seventies, but there was so much going on then, you know with all of the servants, the international jet set, travel to my home in Rome for a few months, then to our home in New York, then to Mexico for the winter holidays. There was simply not enough time to write, taking the kids in and out of schools, hiring tutors to travel with us, and besides, writing was a very private longing that I had stifled.
I am a big fan of your work. I can’t help thinking how many books the world has missed by your waiting forty years to write. Who inspired you? Who are your heroes?
Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, Leon Uris, Dani Shapiro, Stephen King, Maya Angelou, and the list goes on.
Why do you write?
It’s creative. It’s my greatest elixir. And besides, who wouldn’t want to spend an hour or so going back into your memories, then describe on paper exactly what it felt like to kiss Tony Bennett.
Yes, you do have a lot of contact with celebrity in the book, which makes it a delicious read. Let’s go back to your earlier days. 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and your relationship with one of the Everly Brothers, Phil, right? That seemed to be your escape from the drudgery of the chicken farm, but once you came upon hard times alone in New York, how did you justify some of the decisions you made to stay afloat?
I’m not sure if justify is a good choice of words here. But, yes, those were difficult times. Phil Everly was my first love. I was only seventeen when I left the farm. I knew I would see him more in New York than on a Minnesota chicken farm. His record label was in New York. I guess he was the spark, that created the dream pulling me towards my future. I had no choice but to follow. I also became addicted to the glamour, the celebrity, and the glitz of the big city, and all of its possibilities. I think I had an almost obscene determination to never go back to the farm. I wanted significance at all costs. I had tenacity that didn’t quit, along with a mild case of a Pollyanna mentality.
But you finally became a success doing TV commercials before meeting your husband, and then the wealth and power really took off. I know a lot of people would love to know how you could go from upwards of $100,000,000 in the seventies, to nothing.
I had no control over our money. I had no idea what Max was investing in on a day to day basis. It wasn’t until I left Switzerland in 1992 as a pauper, and moved back to Minnesota, the land of my roots, that I swore I’d never allow anyone to decide my financial fate again. I had no money, and what I thought at the time, no marketable skills. When I started college at 52, I thought I was too stupid to learn. I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of fine arts, a coup for any woman who’s ever known verbal abuse. It was in the Creative Writing department that I built the skills to write That Girl in the Photo. So with a story that went from a chicken farm, to the backstage life of rock ‘n’ roll to a struggle to survive in the streets of the big city to success as a TV model to a husband who showered me with emeralds, diamonds, and six live-in servants, then back to Minnesota and cleaning other people’s toilets to pay my way through school. Yes, this story needed to be told.
Well with the great success of That Girl in the Photo, and with another book on the way, I doubt you will ever experience poverty again.
Certainly not if I stay away from negative thinking. My entire world has done an abrupt about-face since I joined the Master Key Master Mind Alliance, or MKMMA if you will.
How do you spend your time away from writing, speaking, and signing?
I started the Organic Rescue Society, a foundation that benefits children. We’ve grown enormously since its beginning only a few months ago. Our purpose is to create world awareness of the damages of GMOs, pesticides, and other toxins in our food supply, and to fight for children’s rights to organic school lunches. We need to feed children nutritious whole foods so their brains will wake up from the sluggish effects of the unhealthy foods they’ve been eating. It’s my passion. We’ve partnered with the people of MKMMA to make this fight a success.
Virginia stood up. Clearly the interview was over. She smiled and told me I was the forty-third reporter to get her to sit down for an interview since her interview on CBS This Morning in January.
“Between all of the travel for the book, and sitting down with reporters, and visits to NPR, it feels really good to be home for a short rest before I’m off again,” she said as we said our goodbyes.