“I’d sell my soul for total control...”
Gina Healey molded her body into an S to The Motels’ new wave dirge “Total Control.” She was “scat dancing,” relying on her instincts, and not one bit of her — neither head nor toe nor in between — stood still. On that Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1980, her face a mask of Kabuki white, Healey felt beautiful, and she was. Her black curls shifted en masse as she slipped off her jacket and dropped it to the floor, the camera riveted.
The 20-year-old danced for Myron Zabol in his photography studio as the rest of the crew whirled around them — an assistant, a props master, a hairdresser, a makeup artist, a costume designer. Myron’s future wife, Shirley, the shoot stylist, floated near three other models, two of whom were exotic dancers like Healey: Maureen Marder, resplendent in a red Holt Renfrew dress, and the quiet one Healey remembers only as Trish, who wasn’t sure she should even be there. “Look, it’s going to be OK,” Healey told her. “This could be your chance out of here.”
After weeks of planning, Myron and Shirley had decided to take the dancers out of Gimlets, the bar where they stripped, and into the studio. They needed what Myron now refers to as “a raw-edge feel” for this new kind of dancing Healey was doing — hence the white makeup, to make her stand out.
Conspicuously absent from the shoot was Tom Hedley, the man for whom this was all going down. In his stead, he had left a scribbled note about a woman with a blue-collar day job (Myron remembers her working in a steel mill, Shirley doesn’t) who dances at night. Earlier that April, The Globe and Mail had reported that Tom Hedley had sold the movie idea for development to Los Angeles production company Casablanca for $300,000 and 5% of the net.
Myron edited the photo session down to approximately 400 images and slipped the originals into slide sheets. He stored the outtakes in his archives and sent the rest to Casablanca. The Zabols (Myron and Shirley wed in 1984) and Gina Healey understood that the photos were to serve as a sort of mood board to help Hedley sell his script to a studio. He vowed to compensate them after Casablanca made the sale. Hedley and Myron shook on it. Shirley watched. Then Tom Hedley disappeared.
By 1981, the script, which Casablanca producer Lynda Obst helped Hedley hone over several months, had been sold to Paramount. Initially known as Depot Bar and Grill, it now had a new name: Flashdance. “The moment that fashion, music, and dance collided into a single image,” Hedley explains. “In a second, in a flash.”
The film was released in April 1983 and pirouettes around a young Pittsburgh welder, Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals), who works in a steel mill by day, strips by night, and pines for a spot at the local ballet school. At home she sports artfully torn off-the-shoulder tops and thigh-high leg warmers, but onstage she morphs into stripper Cinderella. Alex and her fellow dancers don elaborate costumes and perform complex choreography full of flips and hips to loud lights and louder music.
Before Flashdance, musicals were dead. “Then suddenly everywhere I went everyone was wearing one-shoulder sweatshirts,” producer Lynda Obst says. Flashdance, a thinly disguised life-support system for a music video, appealed to the nascent MTV generation, while the film’s blue-collar heroine embodied second-wave feminism's workplace gender politics.
Paramount’s sleeper hit went on to earn approximately $150 million worldwide and defined the look, style, and sound of the '80s. The title song, "Flashdance... What a Feeling," won an Oscar and wore out the radio waves, while the soundtrack, which also included "Maniac" and "Lady, Lady, Lady,” garnered a Grammy. Based on the terms of his deal with Casablanca, Hedley came out $8 million richer. The Zabols, however, received neither credit nor payment nor were their slides ever returned. Meanwhile, Gina Healey and Maureen Marder were paid $2,300 each for signing away their life stories to Paramount and agreeing never to talk about their involvement.
In the three decades since, neither Healey nor Marder nor the Zabols have been entirely able to move on. The dancers, who were legally bound to secrecy, feel they deserved more. The Zabols, who were not, agree. “How many millions of girls has [Gina] influenced worldwide? Millions and millions,” photographer Myron Zabol says. “If I would’ve gotten credit for what I had done, how would that have changed my career?”
It’s a question familiar to Hollywood. In the past five years alone, the filmmakers behind lucrative features like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Hurt Locker, The Hangover II, Honey, and Sister Act have all been sued by their alleged sources. Flashdance, though, captured not only the box office, but the zeitgeist, while the people who purportedly inspired it have been caught up asking “What if?” for 31 years.
“There was a lot of who did this and who did that, which is just complete nonsense, it doesn’t matter, it's irrelevant,” Hedley tells me. “You’ve got people here who had some peripheral involvement at the beginning and have taken some kind of identity out of this. It isn’t accurate. This is a piece of fiction.”
In 2008, Hedley, 71, revived his most lucrative piece of fiction in the form of a stage musical, which kicks off its second national tour in the fall. And this time, Gina Healey, Maureen Marder, and the Zabols are refusing to keep quiet about its backstory, despite the risk of litigation.
“I want it out there,” Healey says. “If they want to come and stomp on my face then so be it."
Now I hear the music / Close my eyes, I am rhythm / In a flash, it takes hold of my heart—“Flashdance... What a Feeling,” Irene Cara
Gina Healey lives by the water in Kingston, Ontario, a city of 123,000 that was once the capital of Canada. She is 54 but her voice is much younger. It’s bright and cheery and wide-eyed like Healey, who believes we were predestined to meet. She describes herself as a “faith-driven” person but she’s more mystical than that — “I walk from my soul,” she tells me. Healey shakes my hand hello, but hugs me good-bye. “Live with no excuses, love with no regrets,” reads a plaque in her apartment.
On this warm June day, Healey dresses all in black — black boots, black leggings, black vest, black jacket, black beret; a white button-down shirt breaks the monotony, as do her pale skin and fuchsia lips. The vitiligo on her hands explains her summer over-garb. She developed the autoimmune condition in 2006, before her marriage fell apart. Her recovery took a hit two years later, post-divorce, when she suffered a stroke — she is still undergoing rehab — while working nights as a cleaner at Loblaws, a Canadian supermarket chain.
Healey’s one-bedroom apartment, like her, is part rock ‘n’ roll, part vestal. A silver jaguar sits on a glass coffee table with white legs, while we sit on a leather couch, equally white. It’s a dualism shared by Healey, who once struggled to maintain a sense of modesty while stripping for strangers. She laughed when Tom Hedley once told her Madonna claimed to be the first real flashdancer. “Madonna could never be Flashdance because she likes to take her clothes off,” she says. “There has to be a fight to be pure.”
Healey usually won the fight on stage. “I think there was a purity I felt inside when I was involved in the music that would keep me from feeling it was seedy,” she says. As someone who continued to read her Bible nightly, she used the music to justify her job. Still, Healey didn’t tell her mom about her stripping career and, to this day, she “has no idea about Flashdance.” As far as she knows, her dad doesn’t, either.
Healey’s father was an orchestra leader who left when she was 6. Two years later his daughter was mimicking The Monkees' Davy Jones, though she didn’t consider dancing seriously until she visited Canada’s National Ballet School on a class trip. “My heart wanted to do that, but I knew the expense was not something I could get,” Healey recalls. Clubs were affordable. In her teens, she snuck out so often to gigs with her boyfriend that her mom eventually kicked her out and she became a ward of the state.
“I didn’t wake up one day and decide taking my clothes off and dancing was the first thing I wanted to do. Neither do any of these girls,” Healey says. “Usually something’s happened.” For her, it happened when she was around 4, at the hands of a female babysitter. Though she grew up in a pious household that branded nudity a sin, the abuse removed what she believed to be the indignity of removing her clothes.
Gimlets was a refuge for women like Healey. The three-story red brick establishment at 73 Victoria St. — the address has since been incorporated into number 75, which houses the sterile Beer Academy brew pub — was more burlesque than strip. On a full night, Gimlets could hold about 50 patrons, which meant you were never that far from the roped-off, 8-foot stage. It was a safe spot for dancers to try out new acts for suits during the day and artists at night. Owner Nick Georgas, a Greek ex-pat, encouraged experimentation and treated the strippers well — no catcalling, no bad behavior, no money on stage. Men brought their wives and girlfriends.
By the time she started working at Gimlets in 1978, Healey hadn’t yet confronted her abuse. She expressed her anger as alter ego Gina La Machina — a friend’s stage name for her that stuck. “My ferocity onstage was, 'Nobody’s touching me and I’m not sexual to you,'" she says. “I lost myself in that world with the music.”
Gimlets was one of the rare Toronto clubs where strippers could deny their sexuality. It was a throwback to the original strip scene, rooted in performance art, partly because the dancers moved into the bars from the theater and partly because the era of Deep Throat and Emmanuelle was more permissive. Then, in 1977, a 12-year-old shoeshine boy named Emanuel Jaques was raped and killed on Yonge Street, igniting a metropolitan moral panic. Within a few years, Toronto had started issuing licenses to sex workers and strippers alike, and the latter, offended by the comparison, cleared out. In their place arrived table dancers, cheaper acts who pranced atop boxes for tips, denuding striptease of its art.
“The understanding of the tease also moved from the gradual revelation of the nude woman beneath her layers of costume, sometimes associated with a narrative, to a sexual erotics onstage, mimicking seductive poses in pornographic films and magazines,” wrote Deborah Clipperton, a Toronto-area stripper for 15 years, in Selling Sex, a collection of essays on the Canadian sex industry.
Flashdance caught the strippers before the tables turned. This was such an integral part of the original story that, according to Flashdance the Musical writer Robert Cary, Hedley briefed Cary's musical team on the end of Toronto striptease’s golden age. “We used to laugh and say, ‘My god, that girl spread her legs so wide you could see what she had for breakfast!’” says Ann Stirling, who had originally considered stripping a way for women to empower themselves. “We lost our power when things changed so much.”
Gina La Machina gave it back to them. Gina Healey towered above not only the table dancers but Gimlets’ traditional burlesque performers who would bump and grind in gloves and garters. “She was the most inspiring,” says Tom Hedley. She writhed to unlikely songs like Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and wore equally unlikely outfits. Gimlets' owner tried to put her in a G-string, but she sported swimsuit bottoms instead. She paired them with one of her many Salvation Army shirts and jeans and resisted taking anything off until the last beat. “I thought maybe I could make the music more important than my body,” she says.
In between sets she convinced limo drivers — she made around $400 a week and traveled only by limousine (Stirling says many dancers at the time, including herself, “wasted” their money) — and artist reps to bring musicians down to see her. She rocked out to “Need Your Love” for Cheap Trick, who gave her a standing ovation in return, and, as a present to Andy Summers from the Police — with whom she claims she had an affair — she performed to “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” (Summers did not respond to requests for comment, but Healey does pop up nude several times in his 1983 photo book Throb.) Healey even danced behind a scrim for Toto when they performed at Massey Hall. “I was trying to be in music videos,” she says. She landed two album covers instead — a 1978 self-titled record by the unfortunately named punk band Battered Wives and the 1979 self-titled debut by an all-girl disco trio called Touché.
These days Healey writes more often than she dances. She is working on an autobiography, I Flashdance, and is actively seeking an editor and a publisher. At the same time, she has been watching Tom Hedley promote his musical in the Canadian press. More than once she has heard him say that the women on whom Flashdance was based were never able to cash in on their dreams.
“Are you kidding me?” she says. “You took my dreams.”
Dancing behind masks, just sort of pantomime/But images reveal whatever lonely hearts can hide —“Lady, Lady, Lady,” Joe Esposito
Tom Hedley is primarily known as a magazine editor. Yes, he was credited with conceiving and co-writing Flashdance, Hollywood’s third-biggest release of 1983 — behind Return of the Jedi and Terms of Endearment. Otherwise his screenwriting career, which spanned six scripts over four years, has not been particularly noteworthy (apologies to the 1984 Rick Springfield vehicle Hard to Hold). In The Toronto Star in 2010, Hedley said his subsequent ideas were “too original and difficult to sell.” His editing career was more fruitful.
After becoming the youngest editor in Esquire history in the ‘60s, he returned home to Toronto and eventually took over the monthly magazine Toronto Life from 1977 to 1978. There he met Myron Zabol, who occasionally worked for the publication as an editorial photographer. At the time, Myron’s girlfriend Shirley had quit nursing to help style his shoots. The couple knew a number of exotic dancers around the city since they lived and worked at 241 Yonge St., steps from a strip club called Les Girls. “He and Shirley had a commiserating humanity toward the girls,” Gina Healey says. “They saw them as artists.”
Hedley did too, but he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He hired the Zabols to help him figure it out. “I wanted to go out and look at the girls and see if we could create a style and take it to Paramount,” he says. Myron and Shirley became regulars at Gimlets, internalizing what they saw. And what they saw was Gina La Machina. “It was like this whole new dance,” Myron says. “How do you show it in photography?” He started envisioning an art-house feature like Nicolas Roeg's 1970 cult classic Performance, which he thought perfectly captured Toronto’s zeitgeist. “It was about getting out there and just really doing something,” he says, “whether you were a photographer, artist, or whatever.”
“Whatever” encompassed exotic dancers like Gina Healey, who met Tom Hedley at Gimlets at the beginning of 1980. At first he just knew her as Gina La Machina and then he knew her as a friend. At that point, Hedley told her he was working on a film called Depot Bar and Grill. “Tom asked me if I’d mind him using my character here and there, with the understanding that I was to benefit from any involvement,” she wrote in a letter/affidavit to the Zabols years later. “I gave my consent.”
Fellow Gimlets dancer Ann Stirling saw them talk but also noticed Hedley engaged in “quite a few discussions” with Maureen Marder. According to Stirling, Marder was “a very fragile girl,” whose various ailments often kept her out of Gimlets — Healey recalls seeing her dance only every couple of months — but she always seemed to have time for Hedley. Curious, Stirling joined the two of them at their table one day while they discussed Marder’s life and work. “I think he was fascinated that she had her day gig,” she says.
Marder was a construction worker. According to Stirling and a number of other Gimlets regulars I spoke to, that was an anomaly — the dancers at Gimlets usually just danced. Sometimes they were also mothers or students, but none of them seemed to have blue-collar jobs. “It was kind of unique to see her with her clothes off one day and the next day she’s got overalls on, picking up bags of cement,” says Dana Mundell, who watched Marder collect material from his lumber yard when she worked construction for a local contractor in Erin, Ontario. “There weren’t a lot of good-looking strippers lugging bags of cement around in those days.”
As a seasoned editor, Tom Hedley knew a good story when he saw one. At some point in 1980, he traveled to Los Angeles and crossed paths with Lynda Obst, a young producer in her first year at Casablanca, working under co-founder Peter Guber. She and Hedley had a lot in common — both were new to the city and both were intellectual ex-magazine editors from New York — and he shared with her his idea for a film about exotic dancers. They all had rough jobs, Obst recalls, “but then they had these delicate dreams and that was the essence of it. That’s what he fell in love with.”
By the first week of April 1980, Casablanca had bought the idea for Hedley and Obst to develop and ultimately pitch to Paramount. Around that time, both Maureen Marder and Gina Healey were invited by Myron and Shirley to take part in a photo shoot. The Zabols say Hedley assigned it; he says Casablanca did. Hedley claims he attended the meeting in which Casablanca’s producers first saw the images. “They sort of shrugged and that was the end of it,” he tells me. “They said, 'This is not where we want to go with this.'” Obst cannot confirm or deny whether Myron took the photos or whether, as Shirley remembers, her office phoned Gimlets to negotiate the dancers’ contracts with Shirley. “I don’t know the answers to any of these questions,” Obst said via email, adding, “don’t know any of these names.”
She does, however, recall the script she and Hedley wrote. Their version revolved around a central character named Raven. It was an ensemble piece inspired by A Chorus Line with supporting characters who each had their own dreams and associated dance numbers. Obst knows that Hedley worked with specific women in Toronto to come up with the story lines, but she cannot be 100% sure who they were.
Yet it appears as though Gina Healey and Maureen Marder — or their images, anyway — helped Hedley sell his script. Melinda Jason, his former agent at the Gersh Agency, says the first thing Hedley showed her when they met at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 1980 was the Zabol photos of the Gimlets dancers.
“He was completely besotted,” she recalls. “I think he was fascinated by the whole Pygmalion thing.” According to Jason, the late Paramount producer Dawn Steel paid for Flashdance based on those photos together with Hedley’s idea. “There was no finished spec script,” she says. Michael Singer, vice president of marketing & publicity at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Television, confirmed via email per Bruckheimer — the lead producer on Flashdance — that the film was ultimately sold to Paramount on the basis of Hedley’s story idea and the Zabols’ photographs.
“Back then I was not naive enough to believe the photography we did would [be] a major influence in terms of the direction of their movie,” Myron Zabol says, later adding, “It came out of our minds, not Tom’s.”
What came out of Hedley’s mind can be found in the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University in Toronto. There resides a treatment for Depot Bar and Grill, dated Jan. 18, 1980. Hedley wrote it for Canadian producer Bill Marshall before taking the idea to Hollywood (according to Marshall, Telefilm Canada passed on Depot because it was “disrespectful to women”). I bought a digital copy “for private study/research purposes” for $5.40 but can share its contents only if the person who owns the copyright gives me permission. That person is Tom Hedley.
“I don’t see the point,” he replies.
In 1982, Gina Healey had a new act. The manager of Gimlets had found a shoddily manufactured T-shirt that tore with the slightest movement and suggested Healey use it on stage. So she did. To the cymbal smash on Goddo’s “Tough Times,” Healey ripped the top apart, revealing glittering skin beneath it and Hollywood took note. Sitting in the crowd were legendary blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose partnership with Don Simpson was just entering the peak of its powers; rising erotic drama impresario Adrian Lyne (later of 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction); and notorious journalist-turned-screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who would further explore this milieu with Showgirls.
“We knew they were big shots,” says Ann Stirling, a Gimlets dancer from 1980 to 1982. She and her co-workers were a little starstruck, but Paramount was footing the bill so everyone joined the party. “There was a feeling of something special,” Stirling recalls.
But Gina Healey did not feel very festive. It was two years since she had heard from Tom Hedley so she expected little from La La Land. Bruckheimer offered to let her read Hedley’s script, but she declined. He asked her if she would take lessons from renowned choreographer Bob Fosse, but she declined that too. “I mean, there’s constructed choreography — 1, 2, 3, 4 — and that was not for me,” she tells me. “My body and that count just did not work together.”
Still, she showed Eszterhas, who had been hired to punch up Hedley’s script, around some of the dancers’ lofts and spoke to him for an hour on the back patio of a private party (“It was life, the way I think, what I like to do, where I want to go, where’d I come from,” she recalls). Eszterhas said via his rep that he can’t remember details from that far back, but in his 2004 memoir Hollywood Animal, he wrote that he spoke to a number of dancers in Toronto.
On Paramount’s last night in town, Healey says she got close to Adrian Lyne, the shaggy-haired British filmmaker who would go on to direct Flashdance. (His rep, Fred Specktor, had no comment on their relationship except to qualify it as “trash talk.”) The morning after, Lyne told Healey the studio was casting back in the U.S. and that she should come. But she couldn’t — she had no passport and no money — and the role of Flashdance heroine Alex Owens eventually went to little-known Chicago model Jennifer Beals (the actress’s rep said via email that she was unavailable for comment).
Gene Mascardelli, who worked as Myron Zabol’s personal manager in the late ‘80s, thinks Flashdance's protagonist is a hybrid of “Maureen’s backstory as a welder and Gina’s unique and original Flashdance style.” Ex-dancer Ann Stirling concurs. “I think they kind of got the feel of what Gina did and who Maureen was,” she says. “There were definitely some things from Gina’s show that were part of Jennifer Beals’ dance." She cites Flashdance’s famous warm-up scene in particular, in which Alex (Beals), shower fresh, dives into a very wet workout to Michael Sembello’s “Maniac”: “The twirls, head movements, and also the running on the spot.”
But Hedley denies Flashdance is based on Healey or Marder or anyone else from Gimlets. “There’s no part of their stories that’s in the film,” he tells me. Though he admits to having spoken to Healey on the phone, he can’t remember discussing the film with her. “She was around at the very early stages and she was a real inspiration for me as I built the idea, but none of their stuff ended up in the film,” he says, referring to the Gimlets dancers as a collective. Hedley regularly parses like this while discussing the movie. He uses words like “inspiration” and “influence” and “composite,” but, when it comes to the Flashdance script, he never assigns unequivocal credit to anyone but himself.
Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night / Looking for the fight of her life / In the real-time world, no one sees her at all / They all say she’s crazy —“Maniac,” Michael Sembello
In 1980, Maureen Marder took on a couple of new roles. First she became a researcher on Striptease, a documentary short (now archived at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center) on the demise of Toronto burlesque. Director Kay Armatage, now a cinema studies and gender professor at the University of Toronto, praises Marder’s knowledge of the strip scene, but describes her as “a very tightly wound person” who didn’t come across well on film. So instead of using her as a talking head, she let her dance. “She was interested in showing me the traditional skills,” Armatage says. Over the course of Striptease’s 24 minutes, Marder sheds her entire pink satin costume — beret, feather boa, and elbow-length gloves included.
At the end of the year, Marder tried on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for size. Though she was the first exotic dancer to walk into Executive Director Monte Hummel’s office, she ended up working with him for six or seven months. “The hassle over the script was on her mind,” he recalls (Flashdance had likely been sold to Paramount by this time). “There was something going on that she was very unhappy about. That somebody had stolen some story.”
After Marder left the WWF, Hummel would hear from her every five years or so. “Every time she came through there seemed to be something dramatically new in her life and only a couple of times was it something dramatically positive,” he says, adding of Paramount, “I know she thought she was up against titans here, but that seems to have been the story of Maureen’s life.”
Marder’s name turns up online in The Record, the daily newspaper for Ontario’s Waterloo Region. Spanning from 1995 to 1997, the articles in which she appears reveal a handful of details about her life after Gimlets. Around 1990, Marder left an abusive husband while pregnant. In 1994 she moved to Kitchener — part of the Waterloo Region, it is located about 62 miles west of Toronto and is 10 times less populated — after the construction firm that employed her closed down. A year later she was a 41-year-old single mother living on welfare, delivering flyers to make up for a cut in her benefits. “My life’s ambition was not to become a welfare mom,” she told The Record in 1995. “Through some very bad luck and unplanned, unforeseen circumstances, I arrived in this position.”
By November 1997, the same newspaper reported that Marder was working toward a business administration diploma. But six years later, she faced the original titan in her life: Paramount.
Marder claimed she had co-written the film in a 2003 lawsuit against Jennifer Lopez, whom she accused of copyright infringement after the singer liberally borrowed from Flashdance for her “I’m Glad” music video. Marder’s lawyer, Robert Helfing of the Los Angeles law firm Sedgwick, says, “She sued Jennifer Lopez for violating her copyright as part owner of the copyright of the motion picture.”
This was not the kind of case Helfing usually took on, but he believed Maureen Marder. “You can look at this thing as, ‘Oh yeah, this is some exotic dancer trying to make a quick buck just because she lucked out and someone decided to make a movie about her life,’” he says. “That’s not Maureen at all.” He only ever talked to her on the phone but she had evidence, including a notebook and clippings that appeared to show she was involved in conceiving Flashdance. More importantly, she had the general release she signed with Paramount on Dec. 6, 1982.
For a sum of $2,300, Maureen Marder had officially agreed to let Paramount use her life story and to release it from any claim she might make in relation to “all arrangements (including but not limited to research, interviews, costumes, photographic sessions, assistance, services and technical advice of any kind) in connection with the preparation of screenplay material and the production, filming and exploitation of the motion picture tentatively entitled ‘FLASHDANCE,’ and any version thereof in any media.” The release stipulated that she was not to discuss the release itself nor her involvement with Tom Hedley.
That had a familiar ring to it. In 1984, Marine Jahan, a French dancer who acted as Jennifer Beals’ uncredited dance double in Flashdance, revealed in People magazine that Paramount had told her to keep her role entre nous. Excited by two months of work, she had signed a contract with the studio without asking for credit. Then there was Katherine Reback, who was hired by Dawn Steel to write the production draft of Flashdance. She imbued the film with “that girlfriend feeling,” says Obst, but “never got the credit that was due for bringing it back to the female voice.” Still, Reback didn’t hold a grudge, according to Melinda Jason, who worked with her six months before she died of cancer in May 2010. “I know that it was a cause of pain for her,” she says, “but I don’t think it was any great obsession.”
The same cannot be said for Maureen Marder. Though she lost the Jennifer Lopez suit, she appealed. But the ruling was upheld in 2006 with the court stating that, “in hindsight the agreement appears to be unfair to Marder — she only received $2,300 in exchange for a release of all claims relating to a movie that grossed over $150 million — there is simply no evidence that her consent was obtained by fraud, deception, misrepresentation, duress, or undue influence.” The court also noted that in 1982 Marder had been represented by a lawyer, Enid Hildebrand, who did not appear to be incompetent in any way.
But Hildebrand worked primarily in family law, according to Ken Field, who was the president and CEO of real estate company Bramalea when she was appointed its director in 1976. He was unaware of her involvement in Flashdance and says she only occasionally accepted entertainment cases like Marder’s. "It's surprising that she would take something like that on," Field says. He believes Hildebrand probably agreed to look over Marder’s general release — ensuring it was legal and that Paramount paid up — since she had done the same for other low-income clients in the past.
Hildebrand died of cancer about 20 years ago, according to Field, taking with her various details surrounding the Flashdance release. But Helfing, who still represents Marder, thinks his client may have signed the document based on its ambiguity. Paramount’s general release indicated Marder was being compensated for her help with research, costumes, and photography. “She was a consultant; that’s what she was giving up for the $2,300. It doesn’t say anything about her giving up the copyright or her interest in the writing,” Helfing says. “Maureen was not a screenwriter. I don’t think she was sophisticated enough to require that it be made clear.”
Her contemporaries agree that she was naive. “I don’t think she understood that it was going to be a big Hollywood production,” says Ann Stirling, whom Marder called eight years ago to check over information for the Jennifer Lopez suit. Adds Jay Ould, a former exotic dancer who dated Gimlets dancer Janet Lee and worked with Marder, “At that time, $2,300, she probably just thought that was a great deal. We were all, like, in our twenties.” Stirling adds that Marder “can be quite guarded,” which may have prevented her from seeking advice.
Whatever her reasons for taking money from Paramount, Marder ultimately felt shortchanged. “She was very, very bitter the way the film was such a huge hit and she got paid $2,300,” Striptease director Kay Armatage says. Adds Gimlets pal Ann Stirling, “Anyone who knew that story felt she was really ripped off.” And anyone who doesn’t, Marder is quick to inform.
In 2003, she called out journalism student Renee DeFloria for being “unnecessarily harsh” for branding Marder “bitter” on her blog about the Lopez case. “‘Bamboozled by bullshit and consequently uncooperative’ might be more appropriate,” the ex-dancer commented. Three years later Marder added to the same post that she was working on an “autobiographical account.” Last year, under the username “originalflashdancer,” she commented on a Time magazine piece about Flashdance that Paramount had tried once again to secure the rights to her life story for a sequel. Four months later, this time under the name Alex Owens, she commented on a Chicago Now review of Flashdance the Musical about her lack of credit on the film.
That year Marder also got back in touch with her old WWF boss Monte Hummel. It was bad news again — she had been diagnosed with cancer. “Well, Jesus, if that isn’t the final blow,” Hummel thought.
Marder and I exchanged more than 100 emails over April and May, each of hers stamped with a confidentiality agreement at the bottom. Toward the end of our correspondence she decided to talk on the record, despite her 1982 agreement with Paramount. But after two canceled interviews, I still had no phone number or address. I expressed my concern, and in May, without warning, she called me. I followed up our conversation with an email to remind her that anything she said about Flashdance violated her release. A day later she ceased contact, but not before confirming I would not publish any information she had shared.
A week later, Marder invited the crew of CBC’s The National into her apartment in Hamilton — the steel capital of Canada — for a two-minute segment titled “Flashdance: The Canadian Connection.” “I definitely am Alex Owens,” she said, nodding at the camera. “No question.” She even suggested a reason for signing that Paramount release. “I said, ‘OK, you can borrow from my story,’” she told the CBC, “but I thought it was just about the dancing.”
Gina Healey also appeared on camera, but she remains the only one of the two dancers Tom Hedley has ever voluntarily discussed. The first time we spoke, he said he had no idea who Maureen Marder was. The second time we spoke, our conversation went as follows:
Hedley: Maureen Marder, maybe she was at Gimlets and she talked to me but I talked to a... I’m so angry with the things that she said because they’re completely preposterous. There’s something truly delusional about her. She’s got an unhealthy attachment to the thing and that makes no sense and the only person who really knows is Gina. And Gina said, well, she wasn’t in the mix.
Me: But she did seem to be the only person who had a construction job as well as dancing.
Hedley: No, there’s no construction job, she’s making all that up! She’s completely delusional. She’s making all that up. It’s not a construction job; it’s a steel worker’s. It’s got nothing to do with construction jobs.
I steered the conversation back to Marder’s general release from 1982, which was quoted online in her Jennifer Lopez lawsuit. "Why do you pay attention to this girl?" Hedley asked. "She makes everything up and she has a very unhealthy connection and attachment to this piece." He claims Paramount never discussed her contract with him.
Hedley: Maureen had absolutely nothing to do with the film and absolutely nothing to do with me. Nothing! She’s making it all up. There’s something wrong here.
Me: Yeah, yeah...
Hedley: Really, I’m serious... If she got some money out of Paramount, who knows why. They might have a system of operating with nuisance cases like that where they just pay someone off and tell them to go away. I don’t know how they operate.
Hedley had his own way of operating. The day after our conversation, I received an email from the publicist for Flashdance the Musical asking me to “respectfully” refrain from contacting him.
"When you give up your dream, you die." —Flashdance
In April 1983, Gina Healey felt sick to her stomach as she sat in The Northstar Cinemas in Winnipeg, Manitoba, watching Flashdance for the first time. After Paramount’s Toronto visit, she had moved out west, packing up any plans she had for the future (“I had worked so hard and this to me was the moment and it was gone,” she says). Now her past was unreeling before her, right down to the Kabuki makeup Alex wears while dancing to Laura Branigan's "Imagination." She spent the night with hot sweats and cold chills.
“I think my heart cracked,” she says. “My body just couldn’t handle that kind of violation — that they had really stolen my dream like that.” She was particularly angry at Paramount’s “all persons fictitious” disclaimer. “I was incensed by the misuse of that line because I was that person,” she says. But it didn’t end there.
Soon after she saw Flashdance, Healey got a phone call from Marder asking her to come down to Toronto to sign a document with Paramount. Healey thinks Marder, with whom she shared history, was tasked with the call to ease the transaction. “If it was more official, it might have gotten my radar up,” Healey says. “Maybe I would’ve gone hunting for a lawyer and then all of a sudden maybe [the signing] wouldn’t have happened as easily.” On June 28, she sat with Marder outside Toronto lawyer Enid Hildebrand’s office, waiting to be let in. Healey recalls Marder repeatedly saying, “You gotta sign it.”
Once Hildebrand admitted them, Healey doesn’t recall being informed that Marder had signed a release with Paramount seven months prior. Nor does she remember being told that their releases were virtually identical. “There was a sense of expectation in that room that if I didn’t [sign], Maureen wasn’t going to get anything,” Healey says. “It wasn’t like it was just about me.”
The general releases were not straightforward for anyone. "I just know there was a long discussion prior to those signatures," says Daniel O'Rourke, executive director of legal affairs administration at Paramount Pictures. "So those were in the works probably for a few months around the wrapping of the film [to decide] what it was actually based on." It seems as though Healey's move from Toronto to Winnipeg, which occurred sometime at the end of 1982, further complicated matters. "Their own attorney lost contact with one of them,” O’Rourke says, “so that may be the discrepancy in the several months on the second signature.”
Healey’s release states that Hildebrand represented her, but without having hired her, Healey didn’t feel comfortable asking her anything. And it didn’t seem like the release was open to debate anyway — Healey doesn’t recall being told she could opt out. She does, however, remember Hildebrand and Marder stepping out of the room to leave her alone for about 15 minutes to decide what she felt had already been decided.
“My understanding was this was one shot, and if you didn’t sign it there was no way you could ever come back,” she says. “So, I’m looking at this thing and I don’t have anybody. I went, ‘OK.’ Boom.”
Hildebrand handed her a check for $2,300 and that was that. No copy of the release, nothing. Upon her return to Winnipeg, Healey felt deflated: “If I hadn’t signed it, everything would’ve still been open.”
But that didn’t help the Zabols. Myron Zabol, who now works primarily as a fine art photographer in Toronto, signed nothing after helping Tom Hedley. Nonetheless, he claims he was still shut out by "Mr. Hedley." Mr. Hedley left for Hollywood after making a three-handshake deal with Myron, agreeing to pay for his contribution — research, development, and photography that added up to around $40,000 — to the script sale and to discuss profit sharing once he sold it. But Mr. Hedley spoke to the photographer only once after that, right before Paramount offered Myron a contract. “Don’t sign a thing, Myron, I’ll take care of you,” Mr. Hedley told him, but he never did. Nor did he return any calls from Myron, who showed me a letter from Dec. 8, 2006 — he claims Shirley hand delivered it to Hedley’s New York office — which outlined their unfinished business.
“I didn’t know they hadn’t been compensated,” Hedley says. “I’m surprised by that because they were assigned by Casablanca to take these photographs.” He has no idea where the Zabol photos are now. Casablanca producers Obst and Guber don’t know either, nor did Paramount find them in its archives. Hedley’s rep said via email that Hedley “absolutely denies any allegations implicated in the questions” relating to the alleged Zabol contract or the 2006 letter.
“I could’ve taken this to court but I never felt I had the funds,” Myron says. “But I would very much like to, one, get my film back, and two, I’d very much like to get credit for my involvement in the original story.”
Gina Healey is not asking for credit, she's taking it. She started writing her side of the story, which she titled I Flashdance, in 2009 after getting over her stroke. That spring, Toronto journalist Bill Reynolds published a Tom Hedley profile in the Literary Journalism Studies journal and helped Healey reconnect with Hedley 29 years after the Flashdance scribe had disappeared from her life.
"What I wanted out of him was confirmation that I was his muse," Healey tells me. She says Hedley was "a little cagey at first," but that they subsequently chatted cordially on the phone. She told him about her book and asked when he would admit that Flashdance was her story. "It wasn't just about you, Gina," he said. But as he started doing press for Flashdance the Musical, Tom Hedley began regularly naming "Gina Gina the Sex Machina" as his inspiration. He and Healey even attended the Toronto opening together in May. Hedley’s inspiration found the musical “somewhat flat.”
The night I attended the show, the largely female audience members in Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theater — entered, fittingly, on Yonge Street, home to many of the city’s strip clubs in the ‘70s — looked as though they had been in their teens when Flashdance was first released. The theater sparkled with frosting — frosted hair, frosted lips, frosted nails. Everyone was so excited I felt sheepish not clapping along. But then, midway through the first act, my date leaned over and said, “I didn’t know it was possible to be less subtle than the film.” It was. There was so much water at the climax I thought the actress might drown.
After the premiere, Gina Healey returned to Kingston, her home since leaving Winnipeg last year. There she works long hours at Hudson’s Bay (Canada’s Macy’s) but feels better than she has in a long time. “I’ve gotten stronger being here,” she says. It was in Kingston that she realized how influential Flashdance had been. “I had only seen this as a lightweight movie,” she tells me. “There was a part of me that wasn’t ready to say, ‘Hey, guess what, I took my clothes off and I was part of this movie,’ because I didn’t understand it actually inspired women.”
Now she knows and she plans to cash in (though Healey intends to give no less than 10% of her book’s proceeds to women’s groups). She recently rummaged through a box of “a thousand pictures” while researching her autobiography. “I was praying to God I didn’t lose them,” she tells me as she crouches in the corner of her apartment beneath a forensic web of information — photos, emails, notes, maps — covering virtually her entire living room wall (she is using it to write her book). She emerges with three small slides and places them in front of me.
I hold one up to the glass balcony door, which allows the last dregs of daylight through. The film lights up, revealing a half-dressed figure, her white face a startle in a sea of black. She appears frozen in action, her legs akimbo, her hand partly clasped as she drops a jacket to the floor. She wears only a black bandeau and a pair of sheer tights. A single lamp stands by her side like an alien bodyguard. I hold up the other two slides one after the other and, as the light catches each of them, I watch as a 20-year-old Gina Healey dances in Myron Zabol’s studio in the spring of 1980, her dreams still intact.
“These are gold,” she says now. “My golden ticket."