Who knew that the actor Ryan O'Neal once sent a gossip columnist a live tarantula in the post?

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Who knew that the actor Ryan O'Neal, one of the baddest boys in Hollywood history, once sent a gossip columnist a live tarantula in the post? Rona Barrett, a later version of Hedda Hopper known to Frank Sinatra as "Rona Rat" (a compliment, presumably, from the leader of the Rat Pack), recalls receiving a curious package in 1969, shortly after Peyton Place finished on television and the year before Love Story.

"It seemed weird that it had no return address," the 76-year-old fondly remembers. The mystery was solved a few weeks later when a friend of hers met O'Neal at a party, and reported him "talking about this tarantula in a tennis-ball can. He says he hasn't seen you on TV, and he thinks he killed you!"

Exactly what Rona revealed to displease him is lost in the mists of time, though given the former boxer's spectacular record as brawler, seducer and drunk there was never a shortage of deadly spider-inducing material.

Since his daughter Tatum was six at the time, her offending report might have concerned how Ursula Andress, such a stickler for bedroom etiquette, complained: "I don't want to sleep with you while your daughter is in the bed."

However, the postal tarantula came early enough in his life to rule out the inciting incident having been O'Neal being discovered in bed with a young actress by Farah Fawcett, his common-law wife of 30 years, on Valentine's Day; firing what he described as a "warning shot" at his druggy son Griffin, in what he claimed was self defence; and, perhaps most impressive of all in a fiercely crowded field, hitting on the grown-up Tatum at the funeral of Fawcett, who had the miserable timing to die from cancer in 2009, a few hours before Michael Jackson left this world.

"I had just put the casket in the hearse," explains O'Neal, recently diagnosed with prostate cancer himself, "and I was watching it drive away when a beautiful blonde woman comes up and embraces me. I said to her, 'You have a drink on you? You have a car?' She said, 'Daddy, it's me. Tatum!' I was just trying to be funny with a strange Swedish woman, and it's my daughter. It's so sick."

He is much too hard on himself. It's the kind of comic misunderstanding that could happen to anyone. Besides, love is never having to say you're sorry for trying to pull your first-born at your missus's interment.

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