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Interview with Raina Barrett

She tried to make a good wife for the football coach. She really tried. She went to all the games, even the out-of-town games, and she organized the girls into a cheering section.

The team was losing all its games and she thought that maybe that would cheer them up. The girls wore red blazers and sat together. But, somehow, it didn't seem to work. The athletic director told her husband that she should be less...evident. That she was too...

Too what? I said.

"Oh, too everything," said Raina Barrett. "They would never finish the sentence. They'd just say, 'Don't you, think you're too...'"

Maybe you were, I said.

"Of course I was," she said, "Ten years I spent in upstate New York trying to be a good wife. But I wasn't invisible enough to be a good upstate wife. I got into theater groups, and the last straw was when my husband said he liked me better when I just stayed at home and didn't do anything. Aargh!"

So you split, I said.

"You know what the headline on your interview ought to be?" she said. "It ought to say, How the wife of the football coach left home and wound up starring in 'Oh! Calcutta!'"

Part of the story of that odyssey will be told in her first book, she said. It will be titled "First Your Money, Then Your Clothes," and it will be published this winter.

"Isn't that a good title?" Raina said. "That's what Henry tells me when he's drunk. Henry is my boy friend. I think the title really describes New York, by the way. First your money, then your clothes. That really boils it down, Look at me. I gave up everything I had to become an actress, and then I went into 'Oh! Calcutta!' and they said I wasn't an actress because I took off my clothes."

Were you uptight about performing without clothes?

"I was terrified! We all were. I can still remember opening night. In the dressing room, you could hear this incredible noise from the traffic jam outside. And all the TV crews were there; everybody expected a bust. They had bail money in escrow for the whole cast. The scary thing was, if we got busted we could never work in nightclubs or cabaret again. You can't if you have a police record."

Raina was in Chicago to promote the film version of "Oh! Calcutta!" which plays a limited engagement Tuesday through Thursday at the Lake Shore, 400, Marina Cinema, Highland Park, Lamar and Tivoli Theaters.

It was quite a trip for her, she said. "This is the farthest west I've ever been. And this was the first time in my life I ever flew on an airplane. I was so terrified I never even saw the propellers."

It was probably a jet. I said.

"A jet?"

Which airline did you fly?


Yep, I said, I'll bet you a nickel it was a jet. They don't have propellers.

"Oh. Well, next time I'll know. What were we talking about?"

I think...your book.

"Right. It's dedicated to every woman who wanted to split and do something else with her life, and didn't. I tell of all my experiences. The men I've known, the orgies I've attended, how it feels to act without any clothes. And all about sexual freedom."

What's your advice there?

"The way I see it," Raina said, "sexual freedom is good for one thing only. It guarantees you a good choice. But you still have to choose. I've tried promiscuity and it doesn't work. You have to settle down, like I've settled down with Henry.

So I tell all about that in the book, and when I took it in to the publisher, they said I should add a chapter on grooming. Grooming! I told them this is a book about sex! About freedom! But they said every woman's book has to have a chapter in it somewhere about grooming. So a reader shouldn't accidentally turn up at an orgy incorrectly groomed, I guess."

She said the movie of "Oh! Calcutta!" is a lot better than the closed-circuit TV telecast that played in theaters a couple of years ago, "That was lousy," she said. "The picture looked so crummy it was like they bounced it off the moon. This is the real thing."

The real thing?

"That's the one question that always comes up in every interview," she said. "I've been in 'Oh! Calcutta!' since the first show, so I should know. People ask if there was really sexual intercourse on the stage. The official answer is that it was only simulated. But in the first couple weeks, this one couple was really making it because they told me so. The police got suspicious. The vice detective said it didn't look simulated enough for him. So they cut it out."

Her career is coming right along, Raina said. She has done a TWA commercial, and one for Gleem, and she plays the mother of three in a toy commercial. And she did the narration for "Selling It," a movie she said "tells about what it means to be a hooker. You want to know what it means? It means money and power."

Not long ago she was invited to be on the Merv Griffin Show, but she turned it down. Merv wanted her to undress onstage, with the camera only showing her from the neck up, and then capture the audience reaction.

"You gotta be nuts, I told him," Raina said. "Then, a couple of days later, I was contacted by the Johnny Carson program. They asked me what I would talk about with Johnny. I said I could tell Johnny this really weird story about Merv Griffin."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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