"Its sheer capacity for repelling the viewer is almost immeasurable": How Alice Cooper, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Mae West found themselves in one of the worst movies ever made

Screengrabs of Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Alive Cooper and Mae West in Sextette
(Image credit: Paramount Studios)

As far as flimsy plots go, the plot of Daniel Briggs' 1978 farce Sextette might just be the flimsiest. Based on a play written by Hollywood legend Mae West in the 1920s, it starred the then-octogenarian actress as a world-famous movie star whose attempts to consummate her sixth marriage are thwarted by numerous "hilarious" interruptions. Citizen Kane, it is not.

Joining the 87-year-old West in the cast are future James Bond actor Timothy Dalton (then just 32 years old) alongside film icons Tony Curtis and George Hamilton, while several members of the infamous celebrity drinking club The Hollywood Vampires are cast in supporting roles. Club founder Alice Cooper appears as a singing waiter, The Who's Keith Moon is a fashion designer, and Beatles legend Ringo Starr features as Lazlo Karolny, a fictitious European film director.   

It was a disaster. The film's budget climbed towards the $8 million mark, but it made just $50,000 at the box office after the producers struggled to find anyone crazy enough to distribute what was very clearly a prime turkey. The acting was wooden, the dialogue risible, the plot preposterous. Rumours on the set suggested that West was actually senile, her lines fed through an earpiece.

The critics hated it. The New York Times called Sextette "a disorienting freak show." Variety described it as "cruel, unnecessary and mostly unfunny." The AV Club thought it was a "slow-motion trainwreck." Writing in the New York News, critic Rex Reid called the film, "a total, unbearable bomb, more like a training film for retired French whores than anything else."

"Its sheer capacity for repelling the viewer is almost immeasurable," wrote film website Jabootu, in an eviscerating review that stretched to nearly 11,000 words. "Even the layman will quickly perceive how having the octogenarian Mae West toss out sexually oriented japes affronts everything that human civilisation stands for."

If there was an up side, it was that the musicians enjoyed the experience. Alice Cooper recorded the piano ballad No Time for Tears for his scene, but it was rejected by West, who insisted her character would never cry over a man. Instead, he performed the frisky rock-disco song Next, Next at the piano, as a disorientated-looking West wandered in and out of frame and dancers whirled in something approaching unison. He's clearly having fun. 

"Of course, it was just horrible," Cooper told Classic Rock. "But it didn’t matter, I did a song with Mae West."

Cooper was also propositioned by the star, who had become famous decades earlier for her sexual independence.

"Did she come on to me? You bet she did," Cooper told us. "But then I found out she came on to everybody, you know? We ended one of our scenes, and Mae whispered to me: 'Why don’t you come on back to my trailer?' I said: 'Because you’re 86 years old and I’m not sure if you’re a woman or not!' But if I hadn’t have been married I would’ve gone. Definitely. Just for the experience."

Ringo Starr had a similar story to tell.

"Mae was a terrible flirt," he told World Entertainment News Network."She tried it on me twice. I didn't mind really. She said she was 85, her maid said she was 87, and George Raft, who appeared with us in the film, said she was more likely to be 94. I'd like to know what she was on because I tell you she looked bloody fantastic."

The soundtrack has never been released. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.