When it comes to famous entertainers originally from Hoboken, Frank Sinatra is the first person nearly anyone will mention. But award-winning actress and pop star Pia Zadora is also a Hoboken native through birth. How exactly did Pia Zadora wind up in Hoboken of all places? “My mother was born and raised in Philly and was a Jersey girl by nature. I think she wanted to be closer to New York City.”
As a young child, Pia was encouraged to perform as a way to stay active and combat a congenital aortic valve problem. She was spotted in a local play, which led to a two-year stint in Fiddler On The Roof on Broadway. This and other theatrical work would lead to a role in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a later “favorite” of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. After a decade of work as a child actor, Pia chose to be — as she told me by phone — “retired at 17.” She stayed that way until her early 20s, when her then-husband Meshulam Riklis encouraged her to get back out there.
The 1980s were when Pia Zadora’s career really took off. Pia took the Golden Globe Award for “Best New Star of the Year” as a result of her work in 1982’s Butterfly. She had a U.S. Top 40 hit called “The Clapping Song” in 1983, a European #1 single with Jermaine Jackson in 1984 titled “When The Rain Begins To Fall,” and a Grammy nomination in 1985 for “Rock It Out.” But Pia changed career directions in the mid-1980s, recording Pia & Phil — an album of standards recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra — and doing some touring alongside the aforementioned Mr. Sinatra. Within our Q&A, she referred to that touring as her proudest professional accomplishment. When I asked if Hoboken ever came up in her conversations with The Chairman Of The Board, she said that it did. But when I asked if it was true that Frank was not a fan of the 07030 area, she explained that it somewhat had to do with him being a “big city person.”
Pia didn’t quit acting, however, appearing in John Waters’ Hairspray and 1994’s Naked Gun 33 1⁄3: The Final Insult. John Waters recently said of Pia in The Hollywood Reporter: “Anybody who says anything bad about her, go burn their house down.” She opted to lay low professionally for much of the 1990s and 2000s, focusing on her family. As a resident of Las Vegas, she returned to the spotlight in 2011 with a cabaret show titled Pia Zadora: Back Again, And Standing Tall. In the years since, she’s appeared on reality TV staples including Celebrity Wife Swap and Celebrity Ghost Stories. Currently, she performs on weekends in Vegas with talks of a proper residency coming soon.
Her last New York area appearance was a stretch of dates at The Metropolitan Room in 2013. A return trip to New York — or Hoboken, which she last visited “pre-retirement” when she was 16 years old — is not currently firmed up, but is a possibility for the near-future. Updates on that and future recordings can be found at www.piazadora.com, of course.
(In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out a SPIN interview from 1986 in which Joey Ramone interviewed Hoboken’s second most famous pop singer, as reposted here: http://www.stomptokyo.com/pia/articles/ramone.html.)