When you’re famous, you have to deal with people trying to get to you all the time. We call them stalkers now, but back in the day they were mostly just fans. Security guards, walled-off mansions and the threat of police intervention keeps most of them at arm’s length from the subjects of their adoration, but one woman used nothing but her sexy voice to charm her way into the lives of some of the biggest stars of the 80s and 90s.
Miranda Grosvenor was a Tulane University co-ed, blonde and beautiful, who moonlighted as a model and took care of her wealthy, aging oil baron father who bankrolled her high society pursuits. While she was trotting the globe, she would call and have phone conversations with some of the biggest names in movies and music.
Billy Joel was particularly taken with Miranda, speaking to her on a nightly basis, previewing new songs to her on her answering machine, and at one point considering writing an entire musical about their odd relationship. The Piano Man wasn’t the only rock god enjoying her conversation, as she also gave good phone to Sting, Bono and Eric Clapton.
Miranda’s come-ons were varied – sometimes she’d claim to be a friend of a friend, and sometimes she’d just dial a celebrity and pretend she had the wrong number. Her voice was enough to set the hook, and her conversational mastery kept them on the line until she’d got them.
Some people in Hollywood actually did claim to have met Miranda, and she was just as beautiful as advertised. Actor Buck Henry, a frequent phone partner, was flabbergasted when Johnny Carson claimed to have met a beautiful young blonde who introduced herself as Miranda at high-end LA hotspot 21. But her frequent conversation partners never seemed to be able to hook up with her in person.
Record producer Richard Perry was one of Miranda’s most dedicated paramours. Perry, who masterminded gold records for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Ringo Starr, first started talking to Miranda in 1982. She called herself “Ariana” with him, and soon the pair were talking three or four times a day. He would wrap up work at the studio, rush home and chat with her all night on speakerphone. Perry, who had just ended a difficult relationship, found himself falling for his long-distance caller.
That is, until he ran into a colleague at a party who shared a disturbingly similar story. He referred Perry to Buck Henry, who had started keeping a dossier on Whitney and used a reverse phone directory to trace her number.
Miranda Grosvenor’s real name was Whitney Walton, a bored social worker in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Walton had lived in New York City in the 1960s, where she had an active social life, palling around with Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan. After she moved South, she prevailed on her old friends to set her up with some celebrity phone numbers, and the rest was history.
When Perry confronted her on the phone, she told him that it was almost a game for her. She called it “jacking” men, testing her ability to make complete strangers from the upper echelon of society fall in love with her using only her voice. And Perry, startlingly, wasn’t scared off by this admission. Unlike Buck Henry, who had basically cut off contact after discovering Miranda was a fraud, Perry was just drawn deeper into her web.
Eventually, he insisted on meeting her in person. Perry flew her out to New York and put her up in a hotel. She demanded he wear a blindfold. He compromised and allowed her to not turn the lights on in the room. When Perry walked in for his first meeting with a woman he had convinced himself he could love, he found a short, badly-dressed woman in her 30s with a notable mole on her right cheek. Very different from the blonde model she’d passed herself off as. They had an awkward dinner at the Plaza Hotel and parted forever. A few years later, Perry was startled to see Whitney in Los Angeles, having dinner with Quincy Jones.
The amazing thing about Miranda – or Whitney’s – telephone antics is that she never tried to use these intimate connections for personal gain. Her conversation partners were wealthy and Joel did send her a diamond-inlaid Rolex, but she could have twisted her verbal knife and raked in the dough. It wasn’t uncommon – a Los Angeles woman pulled a similar phone scam in the 70s and received tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts – but Miranda was just in it for the conversation.
Vitas Gerulaitis was another one of Miranda’s frequent callers, but the Lithuanian-born tennis pro might have had something a little more serious going with the woman on the phone. While visiting friends in Southhampton, Gerulaitis was accidentally asphyxiated with carbon monoxide from a malfunctioning space heater. Rumor has it that his lawyers, aware of their long-term relationship, took measures to ensure Miranda never spoke to the press about him.
When her cover was blown by a Vanity Fair article, she disconnected her phone and took a long vacation, eventually returning to Baton Rouge where she settled down into a boring, normal life.
Interest in Walton’s story was immediate, with HarperCollins signing her to a book deal that was worth almost a million dollars for her memoir, Miranda Rites: My Life As The Mysterious Hollywood Sweet Talker. She was also contracted to read the audiobook herself using that magical voice. Robert DeNiro, one of Miranda’s many conversation partners, picked up the movie rights. Unfortunately, the book was cancelled in 2007 for unknown reasons, and Whitney Walton disappeared into obscurity.
However, her legacy lives on in every bored kid who finds a celeb’s number on the Internet and dials them up, not knowing what’s going to happen. The telephone is the great equalizer, and we’re all just voices at the other end of the line.