By Arthur Swift

    John PleshetteVeteran character actor John Pleshette has played unpleasant characters his entire life. From President John Kennedy’s murderer in The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1977) to slimy movie boss Gary Blondo in Murder One (1995-97) to Larry David’s weirdo therapist in Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001), Pleshette has crawled into the creepy and annoying and found fascinating human beings there. On Knots Landing, Pleshette not only played unscrupulous lawyer Richard Avery from 1979-83, he built him from the ground up, inspiring stories and laying the bricks for one of the most successful series in television history. Pleshette sounds the way he did in those classic days and almost looks the same, too. With his wry sense of humor in full force, he speaks to us from his home in Los Angeles.

    Arthur Swift: It’s terrific to be talking to you. Thanks for sending your picture and bio.

    John Pleshette (proudly): You can add The Sopranos to that bio, too. I just shot an episode.

    AS: The Sopranos! That’s my favorite show!

    JP: Mine too. It’s going to be the fourth or fifth episode of the season but unfortunately it won’t be on until January I think. They really don’t want you to say too much about it. They tell you at the table reading, “Now please don’t tell your friends about this. It’ll be found out eventually but please keep the secret of what character you’re playing.”

    AS: Fair enough. I won’t pry then. Congratulations and welcome to Knots Landing Net. I’d like to make the theme of this interview anecdotes. Any stories, recollections, funny things that happened, please, jump in at any time and tell us.

    JP: I wonder how much you know then about how Knots got started.

    AS: Probably not as much as you.

    JP: My wife is a woman named Lynn Pleshette. She runs a small literary agency but it’s done very well. She’s sold The Truman Show and Memories of a Geisha, Cold Mountain, Shipping News. Well her ex-husband is David Jacobs. So in 1975 Lynn and I moved out here (L.A.) and David was in New York writing architecture book reviews for the New York Times and young adult things. When we came out he decided he missed his daughter Albyn and came out too. David wrote a story for the show Blue Knight, it was a cop show and then wrote some episodes of Family. Lynn became his agent and got him the job writing the pilot for Dallas.

    AS: So his ex-wife became his agent? You and Lynn were married at the time.

    JP: Yes she began representing David. Now most people don’t realize how Dallas originated. It came from Blood and Money, the Tommy Thompson book. It was a murder book, a very lurid book, a big Texas kind of thing. A huge, huge success and the network was looking for a big Texas story with these elements. So that’s where David’s story became very appealing to them.

    AS: Why not turn Blood and Money into a show?

    JP: Because I think somebody else owned the rights to that but the idea of a Texas story was so hot that they needed something. David wrote Dallas and then they were looking for something afterward. David had actually written Knots Landing before Dallas but Dallas was important to them originally. (After Dallas was on) the network then said, “Whatever happened to Knots Landing, that suburban thing?”

    Now I had been in a lot of movies at that time; I just had done Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, which was an intriguing movie, based on the premise if Oswald hadn’t been killed by Ruby – what would have happened? David Greene directed it; he did Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man and many others. I played Oswald. So when David approached me to do Knots I was doing pretty well and wasn’t interested in episodic television. Lynn always said that her ex-husband turned me into a schmuck. (Laughs)

    But this part was a lot of fun. The first year or so he wanted it to be like Family – issue oriented, self-contained episodes. (Knots) was loosely based on the movie No Down Payment with Joanne Woodward and Tony Randall. A 50s movie about married couples in Southern California.

    I started writing at the end of the first season. The episode when Ted Shackelford’s character had a drunken experience, it was a two-part episode (“Bottom of the Bottle”). After that I had carte blanche to do what I wanted and wound up writing nine episodes.

    AS: Why did they give you carte blanche?

    JP: They liked what I was writing and wanted me to do more. See, the problem with the show was how do we get these people to interact with each other? The brilliant thing with Dallas was that all these rich and powerful people were able to interact with each other by living together. It was absurd but no one questioned that they all lived in the same house. They should have had properties all over the world!

    I said, unless you get them into business with each other, how do you keep them talking to each other after a while? In a regular neighborhood a dog might misbehave or someone’s kid might break a window but other than that, nobody cares! That’s how I got the idea of putting them in the car dealership.

    AS: You were taking a very active role in the writing and even story creation early on then.

    JP: Yes, you can say that. So when did Don Murray leave?

    AS: After the second season.

    JP: Right. He wanted to leave. He sort of lost interest in it; I think he thought the show was going to be more about him. But there was all this discussion about how he could leave the show. I said, let’s kill him. And people said, oh you can’t do that. It just isn’t done. And I said, yes. If we really kill him, every time one of these characters is jeopardized the audience will feel like that character is going to be killed.

    So I wrote two season openers, I think I wrote the one when he died, and later in the season I wrote “Night.” It’s every actor’s dream to write his own nervous breakdown, you know. I wanted to direct but they wouldn’t let the actors direct in those days. That was why I left the show.

    AS: But then actors were allowed to direct later on. What precipitated the change?

    JP: It coincided with David and Michael leaving the show. David was in charge of writers and Michael approved directors, the look of the show, wardrobes, sets. I know they spill over into each other, but Michael felt strongly about actors not directing each other. But when Lynn (Latham) and Bernie (Lechowick) became writers David and Michael began easing out. A season after the Lechowicks came David became less and less involved and eventually they took over.

    AS: What did you think of the Lechowicks?

    JP: I can’t stand them. I think they’re awful people. They were about to move back to Texas because they had been struggling so long. They were in contact with Lynn (Pleshette) and asked her is there anything you can find for us? Lynn met with them and she talked to David and they went from having no career to running the show.

    Lynn was their agent and she got a big deal for them, but one day they said, “We need a bigger deal” and got someone else (to represent them). I had been writing for the show and they gave me a hard time every time I worked on it. That’s what happens when you have a husband and wife team or two people together, it becomes difficult. They were also kind of disliked by the people on the show; the writers they hired liked them but not many else.

    AS: What did you think of their creative style?

    JP: I think when the show started it tried to be about something. Don Murray had been accused of rape, Constance was actually raped, there were a lot of issues. By the time the Lechowicks took over it really had become a soap opera. Rich people in soap operas don’t deal with issues; the problems of real people aren’t sensationalistic and lurid. I think the Lechowicks had a certain playfulness but the show got more tawdry as it went on.

    AS: You worked with them in my favorite Knots episode, “Birds Do It, Bees Do It.”

    JP: Yes and that was the last one I ever did. Bernie told me with great glee that he had written it in two days. That’s not what you want to hear as a writer. (Laughs) For (Birds Do It) every one of the ideas I had to make it funnier was shot down. The only thing I got through was when we had Karen wearing a trenchcoat over sexy lingerie and in one scene I found a young woman who looked like Michele with the same height. So we had her walk past Michele in the hallway, both wearing trenchcoats. That was something I was able to slip through.

    Then in that show we had Michael, he went camping and he’s going to make it with this girl. The Lechowicks, they were totally PC people, they had to show that if he was going to have sex that he took out the contraceptives and was being responsible. So I showed Michael with a pack of like five rubbers. I wanted to show him take four out and put one back but they wouldn’t allow it.

    But there was a funny story with Michael in those scenes. Remember the part when all the kids he was with fantasized over their favorite stars? They were talking about Julia Roberts and the girls said Mel Gibson was whom they wanted to be with. Well it turned out that Mel Gibson was shooting on a neighboring stage. I was able to get in touch with him and asked him as a joke if he would come over and surprise the actors when we were shooting that scene. So we got Mel Gibson to come over to the set. We put him into a backpack and hiking gear so he would fit in with the scene. And the girls were totally unaware of this even though word had gotten out and we had 3 times as many crewmembers hanging around the shoot. When the time came there was a knock on the door and they just died when he walked on the set. They loved it; he even got a girl to sit on his lap. We shot all that. It was great.

    AS: Why didn’t it make it on the air?

    JP: Well legally we couldn’t do that. We would have had to pay him and it would have been a big deal. I think it might be on an actor’s reel somewhere. But that was my swan song.

    AS: Why did it end that way?

    JP: They were furious that I criticized the script. They were infuriated by attempts to make it funnier. I think that show could have been funnier.


    “I said, let’s kill him. And people said, oh you can’t do that. It just isn’t done.”

    AS: Let’s get to some questions from our Knots Landing forum members.

    Christine from Germany asks
    Were you satisfied with the way your character was written out or would you have preferred a different exit for Richard. After all we never knew what happened to him until he showed up again for Laura's funeral and that was 5 years later!

    JP: I thought the ending was fine. He either leaves or he dies; there wasn’t another way to do it. This left him open to returning.

    AS: And was it just because you wanted to direct?

    JP: I had had it. I wanted to do other things and directing was one of them. I really liked this cast. No tempers, no stress. I had a great time with Michele, with Donna. It was a nice community and I had a certain amount of control over the material. But there was only so much you could do with Richard Avery. The show became much more glamorous and I’m not glamorous. Richard was a jerk. If you’re not playing a villain, you might as well play a jerk.

    Shari from Clermont, Florida asks
    John, thank you for answering our questions! What was the best part of working with Constance McCashin? You both played off of each other very well. I really enjoyed Richard on the show, and in later episodes sure missed your famous BBQ's!! Take care, and thanks!!

    JP: We just had a very nice working relationship. It took a few years to develop though. Her husband is a very successful film director, Sam Weisman, but at the time he was an actor. And I think Constance wanted him to get the part that I played. So the first season Constance was kind of prickly. When I made a suggestion, she sort of bridled. After that though it was great. On a show like this you have a creative energy that builds and it was obvious with us I think. Back then they were against actors directing each other.

    AS: When you were a director were the casting decision yours? For the smaller parts I mean?

    JP: Most deferred to me in the casting. I was able to get a lot of my friends in. Not that they weren’t good actors (Laughs), but they were still my friends. In fact I was able to get Zane Lasky in there and who was the other guy?

    AS: Mark Haining.

    JP: Right, Zane Lasky and Mark Haining. Zane was in a play I was doing and Mark I believe came from an acting class, and they wound up there for a while. They became a running joke, those two characters, which was great. And people probably don’t realize that Bill Devane and I are actually very good friends. We wrote scripts together and Billy, Eugenie (Mrs. Devane), Lynn and I went out together many, many times. He’s a very funny guy and it’s funny that we wound up having the same wife on the show.

    KissTheCook from West Hollywood, CA asks
    Hello John, first off let me say that your portrayal of Richard Avery was just amazing and I would like to take the time to thank you for your hard work. I would like to know which storyline involving Richard was the most challenging for you as an actor and what were some of the things you drew on for inspiration?

    JP: Most challenging was the “Night” episode. I thought that since I wrote that script that it would be easier to act but it turned out to be harder for some reason. Maybe it’s the process of being a writer that makes it more difficult acting it. I did a lot of research, though. I contacted a police psychologist and tried to draw the story from what they do, what their approach is to real life hostage situations. Once someone like that (a hostage taker) reaches the point of despair how do they go on?

    Something else that I drew on for acting as Richard was cooking. Personally I’m a very good cook and I do all of the cooking at home. So the idea of a restaurant was mine and I thought it would be good to show that aspect of me. And you know, the name of the restaurant, “Daniel”, was from Constance’s child who she had on the show.

    AS: This is along the same lines, but lkc1 from Manchester UK asks
    What was your favourite Knots storyline and which storyline did you really dislike/would have liked to change?

    JP: Different episodes draw upon different aspects of you as an actor. Certainly the stuff with Donna was fun. That was a funny story too. We had this hot tub scene to do and I had to take the straps off her bathing suit. We had to get around Standards and Practices on that one. Well the day we were shooting the hot tub wasn’t filled with hot water, so when we got there the water was freezing. The guy who was supposed to fill it was a type who started drinking at 6 am and was fired after that. (Laughs) Anyway, they kept trying to throw hot water in there but it really wasn’t working. So I started drinking champagne and after three glasses I didn’t care about the temperature at all. But Donna was still freezing and every time I touched her she shivered. When the network watched it they thought she was h



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  • Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    An Interview with Betsy Palmer

    Betsy Palmer: Clifford! Okay, darling.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I wanted to talk to you about your television career. I'm a great fan of the TV show I've Got a Secret.

    Betsy Palmer: Yes. How young were you [when I've Got a Secret was on the air]?

    Kliph Nesteroff: Well, right now I'm thirty years old.

    Betsy Palmer: Oh! And right now I am eighty-four. How about that? I feel good and if I may say so myself - I don't look too bad.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I should say! I was trying to track you down for a while. I enlisted the help of a friend who then enlisted the help of another friend and it was an elaborate, involved process. Then that friend of the friend said, "Well... have you tried the phone book?"
    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) It's true! I've always been in the phone book! It's really true. I've never had an unlisted number.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Well, I was surprised. The phone book is the last thing I would think of.

    Betsy Palmer: I suppose that's why it works so well (laughs). You're on the West Coast? Vancouver is so beautiful.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, well I'm in the process of emigrating to Los Angeles.

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, well that's nice. Let's keep our fingers and everything else crossed for you. If it's meant to be yours it will. You have to make peace with that. That is what I have found. What's yours comes to you. Good, bad or indifferent. It always has something to do with personal growth. This is what I have considered as I have moved along. I have no complaints. I have had a wonderful, wonderful career and a wonderful life. A lovely life.
    Kliph Nesteroff: Well, the things in our lives that become the most fond or lasting memories are things we don't even realize are special at the time...

    Betsy Palmer: During that moment, yes, right. I always say that now stands for No Other Way - N.O.W.  - and that's all we really need to pay attention to. It all falls into the place that it is supposed to be.

    Kliph Nesteroff: And since the now is all there is to pay attention to - I want to talk to you today about your past.

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs)
    Kliph Nesteroff: So, you've been associated with New York for much of your life...

    Betsy Palmer: Well... not really. I was born in Indiana in a little town called East Chicago, Indiana. I've been a Midwest girl... well, I'm still a Midwest girl. You never quite lose that and all the conditioning from your family.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I read that actor Frank Sutton was responsible for luring you to Manhattan.

    Betsy Palmer: Frank was married to my roommate Sasha Igler's sister. How did you know Frank?

    Kliph Nesteroff: I didn't - I'm just familiar with him from his work on the sitcom Gomer Pyle.
    Betsy Palmer: Oh, that's right, he was on that series. I've never been a big television watcher so things come and go and I haven't seen them. He was a good actor and a nice guy. Very strong and had very strong opinions about things, but he was married to my roommates and they were great people. They showed me a lot about the way of actors in New York. I became part of the theatrical family and they embraced me.

    Kliph Nesteroff: When you say he had an opinion - he was a political guy?

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, yes. He was very intelligent and politically speaking he was always active. Frank had a hook with things of that nature as far as our union was considered - AFTRA and Equity. We've always had good unions, we performers. Are you a performer?

    Kliph Nesteroff: I used to be. I did stand-up for a long time, but I turned hermit and now I just write.

    Betsy Palmer: Ah. Well, yours was another adventure of being a performer. I don't know how comics are able to do it. It's ego crushing I would say.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Well, when it's good it's amazing and when it's bad...
    Betsy Palmer: Oh yes, oh yes. Why was it that you wanted to talk to me?

    Kliph Nesteroff: I adore you!

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) Ah, what a sweet thing to say. Thank you.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I've been in love with you since I first saw I've Got a Secret...

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) Reruns I suppose...

    Kliph Nesteroff: I watch an episode or two every single weekend on my computer. One of my all time comedy heroes is [I've Got a Secret panelist] Henry Morgan.

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, gosh, he was perfection with his wry, quirky way. He liked me. We got along very well together. He always referred to me as "the kid." "Hey, kid." He was a tough guy. He didn't mess around when he was zeroing in on... performing or whatever, I don't know. I don't know how to qualify that remark other than... he was very sincere. Always sincere about his work. He loved me. He was always very nice to me. He'd sort of pick at me - wouldn't let me get away with anything. But he also realized after a while that there was a certain naivete that I had, I guess  you  could call it. An openness.
    I would say things or do things that I did not know how deeply they would get me in shit (laughs). He finally saw that I was for real - not just some ingenue or trying to be an ingenue - then he really became a very, very dear man. And his ladies that he had - they used to come to the house of my husband and I and have dinner. Everybody always thought that if you were on a panel on a game show that everyone always pals around with everybody. But you don't. You say hi when you come in and when you leave you say bye. There was not much socializing. You socialized on the air. That's where the fun was - and the challenge.

    Kliph Nesteroff: The chemistry between the panelists on I've Got a Secret is remarkable. It worked so well.

    Betsy Palmer: Well, Goodson - Todman, the gentleman who produced the show - they had a nose for it. They really did. They knew what the combinations were. There was Faye Emerson, the first blonde on the show, she went to Italy or something. They brought me on as a one-shot thing while she was out of town. The client liked me. The client, as I recall, was the cigarette company Winston. "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."

    In fact, we used to smoke on the show. Sure. We had our packages of cigarettes there. I remember the man from the tobacco company said to me, "Why are you smoking those?" I was smoking Chesterfields. I said, "Well, I like the packaging." It was white and gold, y'know. He said, "Well, if we give you cigarettes each week, do you suppose you could bring those to the show and smoke ours instead?" I said, "Sure, if you give 'em to me for nothing I'll smoke 'em." Which I did.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I saw an episode of I've Got A Secret and, of course as you say, with the smoking. And Garry Moore...

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, he smoked like a chimney.

    Kliph Nesteroff: This episode - the secret had something to do with a baby. Garry Moore walks out holding a live baby - a cigarette burning away, dangling from Garry's mouth the whole time.

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) Sure! In those days everybody did it. Especially as a woman it was considered a very refined act of sophistication. I remember when I started - I was in my twenties. My father was all upset. He rolled his own.

    Kliph Nesteroff: We mentioned Henry Morgan. Bill Cullen never seems to get credit for being a quick wit, but he was.

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, he was. He was very, very good. Actually, there was an incident that happened on the show. They were always playing surprises on us. They would go into your home during the day when you weren't there. They'd go into your closet or the pantry and then they would show a clue. I remember there was this one show in which they had gone into our refrigerators and photographed them during the day.

    Then on the show they'd show a picture and we'd have to guess [which fridge belonged to whom]. There was one which was empty except for a cocktail glass (laughs). I remember I said... and I was always opening my mouth and saying things that were not meant to sound as bad as they did. I said, "Oh, well, that has got to be Henry's because he's an alcoholic!"

    Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs) Oh no.

    Betsy Palmer: Well, I didn't know that he did have an alcohol problem. He became so upset with me. I started tearing up on the show because he was so [mad]. So after that night they separated us. I used to sit next to him on the panel and then they moved me down to the other end where Bill...

    Kliph Nesteroff: Oh, really?

    Betsy Palmer: Henry did not speak to me for a long, long time.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Oh wow.

    Betsy Palmer: He really didn't. Anne and Bill Cullen had an anniversary party. They rented a little yacht that would go around the island [of Manhattan]. I remember I wasn't going to go the party. Anne said, "You must." I said, "Is Henry going to be there?" She said, "Billy says he is, but he is not going to bother you. I'll take care of him." I remember being on the boat and looking south. I was standing on the railing by myself and someone came up next to me and gave me a nudge. I looked and it was Henry. I said, "Oh. Hello, Henry." He said, "Can I... watch... the fireworks with you?" I said, "Yes."

    Kliph Nesteroff: Ah.

    Betsy Palmer: As we were watching I said to him, "I just saw a body fly up into the air!" He said, "No, no, you're imagining." I said, "I did, Henry!" And in the paper the next day it said there had been an explosion on this [other] boat and some man was blown off the boat!

    Kliph Nesteroff: Oh my God.

    Betsy Palmer: Yeah, oh my God is right! But that evening Henry and I made peace. He said, "I'm sorry, kid. I was heavy on you." But it went on for weeks. But we had those intricacies on the show and all of us had very defined personalities. When I came on I thought I would just be there until the other woman came back, but the client liked me because I wasn't political. Faye was very political.

    Kliph Nesteroff: That incident that happened between you and Henry Morgan - did that ever get written up in the press? Did anyone notice you two had been separated or say anything about it?

    Betsy Palmer: No, we behaved ourselves on air, but there was just a distance. Henry - when he got angry he could be very stalwart. We ended up being very dear friends. He was always very protective of me.

    Kliph Nesteroff: How about Bess Myerson? She's quite charming on the show. She was famous both before and after the show's run for different reasons...

    Betsy Palmer: You mean with her having been Miss America? She was a bright, intelligent woman. I got along with her fine. What were you seeking?

    Kliph Nesteroff: I'm just curious because in later years she was embroiled in political scandal - so I guess I'm wondering if she was truly as charming as she comes across or was she more of a Machiavellian in nature...

    Betsy Palmer: Well, she was a very strong woman and she wasn't miss goody two-shoes like I was. Or like everybody thought I was. I would say these things and they'd say, "She doesn't know what she's saying." I always knew what I was saying. I always knew. But we were different personalities - which was very good for the show. She was a more sophisticated woman than I. I don't ever consider myself as being sophisticated, although I guess I was at a certain time when I was younger. They knew how to cast the show - Goodson and Todman. They knew which personalities would work and each of us would play off of one another. Bill was, you know... people didn't realize how crippled Bill was. Bill walked with a very definitive limp. But when they put him on camera, he only had a couple of steps to where he was sitting. People didn't realize that he did have this limp. I think it was from childhood - like polio or something like that.

    Kliph Nesteroff: One of the creative forces behind the show was Allan Sherman. Was he around when you were there?

    Betsy Palmer: Alan was the one who brought me on the show for the first time. He was sort of producing it and I don't know why he thought of me or why I came to his mind. I don't remember if I was on The Today Show at that time. I could have been the gal on The Today Show and that's how they brought me in to do the game show the one time. And like I say, the client was just whoop-dee-doo about me (laughs). Thought I was so sweet and attractive and didn't know what I was saying or how funny I was. But I knew.

    Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned that they would often come into your house during the day to pull some kind of prank...

    Betsy Palmer: Mmm hmm.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Did they ask you to keep your homes unlocked? I don't understand how...

    Betsy Palmer: No, no, no. I would work during the daytime and we had a housekeeper, you know. I don't know about everybody's apartment, but it sort of worked. They did so many things. It was all, mostly, done spontaneously. We'd just come in a half hour before airtime and, of course, it was a live show.

    We'd just come in and play the game. The irony of it all is I have never been a good game player of any sort. I don't like to play games. I never have. I often thought it was because my brother was such a rotten loser. Whenever he lost there was always a lot of sourness and pouting and all of that. I never considered myself to be a game player.

    Kliph Nesteroff: But you did do some game shows prior to I've Got A Secret...

    Betsy Palmer: Boy, you are digging a long way back!

    Kliph Nesteroff: There was a show in 1952 called Wheel of Fortune.

    Betsy Palmer: Yes. I guess that was... Todd Russell was doing it. God, I haven't thought of that name in a long time. I would bring the contestant on and say, "Todd, this is Ms. so and so. She's here to spin the wheel of fortune!" I think that was over at CBS on 1st Avenue. We used to have a studio over there. The thing that was so great about that time as far as my aspect of it was...  I loved to improvise. I loved being scriptless... I was an actress. I wasn't just an announcer or something of that nature. That was another time. A naive time. We were like a bunch of kids.

    Kliph Nesteroff: There was another game show called I'll Buy That hosted by Mike Wallace...

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, I would never go on that show. No. Michael and I were friends. He tried to get me to come on that show. I said, "Are you kidding? The way you wipe up the floor with these people? You want me to come on this show with clear eyes and a clean mind when all you do is make people look awful?" And I never did his show. He and I were on other shows together on panels. There were interesting people. Who was that lovely writer? With glasses? We sat on a panel together.

    Kliph Nesteroff: George S. Kaufman?

    Betsy Palmer: Mmm hmm. Yes. We were a different breed. They tried to mix us up so there'd be a little bit for everyone viewing it. Of course, there was this wonderful spontaneity of it all being live - never film or tape. It was all very spontaneous. It was a very experimental time. A lot of things happened. Cameras would fall off pedestals and people would stand up after they were supposed to have been shot dead and lying on the floor and the camera wasn't off of them yet. There was that aspect of it all. It was very, very enjoyable and I loved it.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Another show - What's It For - with Ernie Kovacs...

    Betsy Palmer: Mmm hmm. Sure. I remember that. There were a lot of shows. It was strange they picked me for game shows. I was so uncomfortable in playing games. I was afraid of looking stupid and so I would try so hard - and that's what they loved about me, evidently. I was led down a path. I was their girl Betsy. "Look what they're doing to our Betsy." Yeah (laughs). It was a sweet time as far as television was concerned - and then I did all the live dramatic shows.

    Kliph Nesteroff: You were occasionally made fun of on I've Got a Secret for never guessing the secret.

    Betsy Palmer: Oh, yes. And I did try. I tried very hard. I did not want to look stupid - but I know that I did (laughs).

    Kliph Nesteroff: You mentioned the dramas - the live dramas...

    Besty Palmer: Yes, Studio One and...

    Kliph Nesteroff: You did two with James Dean.

    Betsy Palmer: Yes, Jimmy and I - we had a little bit of a romance for several months too...

    Kliph Nesteroff: Your love affair with James Dean came about from working together in these dramas...

    Besty Palmer: Yes. I was a single girl and he was a single guy (laughs) y'know? So we dated and had a thing (laughs). I'll let you figure out what the "thing" is (laughs). We had a romance! I vaguely remember him saying, "Talk dirty to me." And I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say - whether I should say "shit" or...

    Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

    Betsy Palmer: Or "fuck" or whatever (laughs).

    Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

    Betsy Palmer: I was naive at that time. Just a little girl from a small town in Indiana. I'm surprised you're even calling me to talk about this stuff!

    Kliph Nesteroff: One of these teleplays was titled Sentence of Death.

    Betsy Palmer: The name vaguely rings a bell. I guess it was the first show that we did together and we started dating after that.

    Kliph Nesteroff: You're quite good in it. The whole thing is quite good. You play a socialite that goes into a drugstore to kind of slum it - you witness a murder at the cash register.

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) Really? Well, I haven't a clue about that. Of course, they were all live and once you did them they were gone, y'know.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Why did you and James Dean break up?

    Betsy Palmer: Who knows, darling! Haven't a clue. I don't think we were all that deeply involved with one another. Well, we were for a while. But you know, when you're young and single... but it was a sweet time.

    Kliph Nesteroff: You were in the legendary television production of Marty with Rod Steiger as well.

    Betsy Palmer: Yes, the original. We did it live. Absolutely. I remember Rod cried his way through the whole show...

    Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

    Betsy Palmer: Through the whole show! He was crying in every scene! I was really rather disgusted. I'd come off the set and I'd say to one of the cameramen or someone, "Would you tell him to blow his nose at least?"

    Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

    Betsy Palmer: But I couldn't figure it out. I think he thought he was being dramatic. He was, but to just see the guy crying all the time... Marty was a very big success as a film.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Were there any elements of the Red Scare that you had to tip toe around? Perhaps not involving you personally but...

    Betsy Palmer: Yes, there was that. A lot of politics going on and a lot of performers that felt very strongly. I was never too political about anything. I never felt I was bright enough. That's where all that "She doesn't know what she's saying" came into play.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

    Betsy Palmer: I remember there was a time on I've Got a Secret when Garry had these two policemen standing behind his chair. I said at one point, "Well, does the secret have anything to do with the policeman's behind?" They were behind his chair, but don't you know the audience just went crazy when I said that.

    Kliph Nesteroff: I watched an episode that received a similar response. Dick Van Dyke was the guest and he was miming various scenarios that the panel had to guess - like charades. He did one that was an act-out of going to the doctor. After the secret had been guessed, you interjected and said, "If it was a trip to the doctor - I don't understand - what was that thing he did when he turned his head and coughed?" The place, again, went crazy.

    Betsy Palmer: (laughs) I don't remember that, but that was the kind of thing I was known for doing. Doing something that would prompt that kind of reaction. Like I say, and doing it... just walking on eggs enough and acting as if I was not that sophisticated.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Just on the point of the Red Scare - there was an actor you worked with on Miss Susan named Will Hare...

    Betsy Palmer: Sure. Sure, I remember Will. Miss Susan was my first job. Will was banned after that for a while. It was that time.

    Kliph Nesteroff: But I understand Will Hare was blacklisted because they confused him with another actor...


    Betsy Palmer: Yes! Will Gere! It was Will Gere who was a cardholding member of the Communist Party. Yeah. We were doing the Miss Susan show together, Will Hare and I. I had been in town only five days. My roommate and I went to this party in a very small apartment and there was this man sitting in a chair in the corner. The man looked at me when I came in and said loud enough for me to hear, "She would be perfect for the role!"

    So he motioned me over. I went over. He said, "Are you an actress?" Nobody had ever asked me that before and here I am in New York for not even a week yet. I said, "Well, yes I am." He said, "Well, on Monday I want you to go up to the such-and-such office and see this man and tell him I sent you." Which I did and I got a running part on the Miss Susan show with Susan Peters. A job on a soap opera - which was live, again, no filming or taping or anything like that. All the actors would go to Philadelphia on the train to the studio - WPPZ. God, I can't even believe I remember that. I had my first job. I had hardly taken a breath in New York City.

    Kliph Nesteroff: You ended up having some remarkable film roles. Mister Roberts with James Cagney, Henry Fonda, William Powell... being directed by John Ford...

    Betsy Palmer: Right. Well, you see Cagney and Powell I never met. We girls were shipped to Hawaii where they were shooting scenes on the ship. When they brought us in - they stopped shooting Cagney and all of them and they let them go. So I never met Cagney or William Powell. But whenever anybody talks about it, they talk about us all being together.

    Kliph Nesteroff: What was it like working with Joan Crawford in Queen Bee?

    Betsy Palmer: She and I stayed friends until the end of her life! She liked me. I liked her. She loved when we did scenes together. She knew that I was an actress and wasn't just some dilettante playing a panelist in front of the cameras. She was very, very professional. I will always remember when we had, at one point, been given a new wardrobe and had to have it tested before the camera.

    When I saw her - when she came and had that outfit on - and the way she walked - she made a big drama out of it all. I knew right then and there that she was as sincere about her approach to acting as I was - and we became friends. I liked her, but she was a tough cookie. There was no messing around when you were doing it, but she saw that I was the same way. It was your neck if you weren't. Oh, I liked Crawford. I really did. I used to call her "Joanne." She loved it.

    Kliph Nesteroff: Well, thank you so much, Betsy. I didn't think I would track you down.

    Betsy Palmer: And I'm so easy to track down! It has been most enjoyable. We will meet one day.


    2 commentaires
  • Reinvention & the art of being ribald:


    A conversation with Constance McCashin




    Constance McCashin played Laura Avery Sumner on the long running prime time drama KNOTS LANDING from 1979-1987, spanning nine seasons, two TV husbands and two TV (& real) children, she has become a firm fan favourite and the most requested guest.


    The actress has rarely given interviews since leaving the show. Now a successful psychotherapist, Constance graciously agreed to talk to me (Jason Yates) on the telephone for an hour of conversation.


    During the hour long chat, Constance spoke generously about her time on KNOTS LANDING and shared a range of memories with me, some touching, funny and wonderfully witty stories. It genuinely felt like a conversation with an old friend.


    Here is that conversation, transcribed.


    Phone rings…


    Constance: Hi


    Jason: This is Jason in London…


    Constance: This is Constance in West Newton, Massachusetts…


    Jason: Thank you so much for talking to me!


    Constance: Oh, it’s my pleasure, my dear. Do I have to behave myself? I really do don’t I? I have to be careful what I say (starts laughing)…


    Jason: No, no, no…you can say whatever you want!


    Constance: (laughing) I wouldn’t go that far… I can be very irreverent.


    (Jason laughs)


    I always thought Knots Landing was a comedy, I didn’t realise, you know, it was a drama so…


    (Both laugh)


    Jason: I need to tell you before we start that there have been messages coming in from all over the world, Australia, Spain, the UK. You are the most requested guest from all of the shows including Dynasty, Falcon Crest, The Colbys, so thanks a lot for talking to me.


    Constance: I’m going to lose this cache now, that’s a drag. I was the Greta Garbo of the soaps. I’m going to be totally exposed.


    Jason: We’ve been tweeting haven’t we?


    Constance: Yes, I have a whopping 700 followers; they’re not followers of me as an actress so much but as a professional therapist.


    Jason: And there’s, I think, there’s a funny crack you made about that when you were asked, a couple of years back, to do the reunion and you said, “I don’t want to do that because it might confuse my patients.”


    Constance: Well, you know, it’s funny, I worked at the University for 12 years, I recently resigned because my private practice has blossomed which is really wonderful, it’s one of the few professions that no matter how old you get there’s no stigma attached to it, you can basically just sit in the chair and say, “really?”


    (Jason starts laughing)


    And nobody is going to question you (chuckling). But I… when I was at the University I was not on Facebook intentionally because it seemed too much information to share with students, I taught acting at the same University, it’s called Brandeis , it’s just outside of Boston.


    Jason: I’ve been there; it’s absolutely gorgeous that part of Boston.


    Constance: Yes, well it’s Waltham, it’s got its moments.


    Jason: It’s very Peyton Place territory isn’t it?


    Constance: Well you know, Peyton Place is actually… the woman who wrote Peyton Place, Grace, I believe her last name was Metalious, is from Camden Maine, which is a very, very tiny town very much like Peyton Place was.


    Jason: Wow


    Constance: And I’ve been to Camden Maine and I can see how she was really inspired to write Peyton Place which was really a pre cursor of Dallas and Knots Landing, all those types of night time soap operas.


    Jason: Oh yes…


    Constance: I don’t tell my students, I didn’t tell my students, although many of them would Google me and find things out , I didn’t tell them I was an actress, nor do my private clients know that I used to be an actress and I didn’t tell them because, I don’t know, I think it’s .. That was then and this is now. On my website I mention it in passing because clients who are artists, not just actors, dancers, singers and entertainers, people who have that artistic component in their makeup would do better with a therapist who understood that part of them.


    Jason: Could you talk a little bit about your second career, what’s happening now?


    Constance: Well, I knew as I was getting older I realised that I wasn’t going to work as much as an actress when you hit… well I don’t know, it’s probably not even forty these days, that you’re not going to be as viable a commodity as you might have been and I started going back to graduate school. I did another series, which you’re probably not familiar with, it won the Golden Globe for best comedy and then it was cancelled a year and a half later it was called Brooklyn Bridge.


    Jason: Oh, yes, your husband Sam did he…?


    Constance: My husband Sam, he produced it. Ok I had to sleep with the producer, I know, I know!


    (Jason starts laughing)


    But anyway, I was on Brooklyn Bridge. And Jenny Lewis, who has now become an enormous musical phenomenon, played my daughter. It was created by Gary Goldberg, who created Family Ties, he and my husband did a lot of projects together and they did Brooklyn Bridge together. So, I was the little Irish girl’s mom who the little Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn falls in love with and while I was doing Brooklyn Bridge I went to graduate school and got a masters in Psychology, then after Brooklyn Bridge was cancelled, I was still working once in a while but nothing really substantive, we made this very radical decision to move east for various and sundry reasons, I pursued graduate school here and then I started working at Brandeis and having been an acting teacher there and I sort of segued into the counselling department there and the reason that I gravitated into my specialist subject, which is eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder, is because having been in the business as a performer and also having been a dancer many years before, not a very good one I might add, I really understood first-hand how damaging it can be to be scrutinised on a regular basis for your physical self.


    Jason: And boy, were you scrutinised, growing up, having children, blossoming in front of half of the world…


    Constance: But that’s true whether you’re male or female, I think that anybody who is in the public eye has a very hard time, although I suppose, there are certainly actors and actresses who have kept their private life private and done it successfully. It’s even worse now, at least when I was working there wasn’t the internet and you didn’t have to deal with people taking pictures of you with your Uggs on and your Pillsbury Doughboy face with no eye make up on…


    Jason: yeah haha


    Constance: Screaming at your kids!


    Jason: So listen, let’s take you back now, to the first, I suppose, the first encounter that you had with a producer, who I presume you didn’t have to sleep with, called David Jacobs when you did his very first show Married: The First Year.


    Constance: It really came about through a very circuitous route because my husband was an actor at the time doing a mini-series on the same lot as they were doing Married, and I guess he went over to the casting to sort of kill time and schmooze with the casting women there and they said to him, they said to him “You know we’re looking for a woman to play the younger second wife in a new series who’s kinda bitchy”, he said, “Well, you know, my fiancée would be perfect for the role”, so I ended up reading for David’s series Married: The First Year playing this kind of nouveau riche wife, maybe somewhat the comic relief, and ..ah… it was short lived but it was a lot of fun. And then, really thanks to David, he wrote the part for me on Knots Landing and he gave me the script, I don’t remember the sequence of events, but it was Christmas Day that we went over to his house, it really changed my life…I mean, I guess I could say, in hindsight, that my husband was the one who was instrumental in changing my life but then David ultimately gave me the part on Knots and….you know.


    Jason: Ah, that’s so nice…So, the pilot on Knots… can you talk a little about what that was like for you and shooting that first show, of doing that pilot on Knots..?


    Constance: Well, it was 1979, it’s a (breathy intonation) long time ago darling. Ironically, Karen Allen played Don Murray’s wayward daughter and I saw Karen a few years ago, she owns a very successful business up in the Berkshires, she’s teaching acting at a school up there and she performs, she’s actually doing a movie now I think, a small film, but I went into the store which is an amazing, amazing clothing store and I said “You probably don’t remember me but I met you on the pilot of Knots Landing 1979”..


    (Both laugh)


    … And she did!


    Jason: Of course she did!


    Constance: She was delightful and looked phenomenal. She went on to enormous success with the whole franchise of the thing with Harrison Ford and….and anyway, it was delightful seeing her, but the pilot was…you know, I was, I hadn’t worked as much as ..of the….really…. maybe except for Kim Lankford and Jim, all the other actors on the show had really worked significantly, some of them even on Broadway and.. I mean Michele, I had seen Michele on Broadway several times and Joanie…you know, they had a much….much more under their belt than I did so I was really working among people who, who were, you know, who I knew their work and I really respected their work…. The most, the most awe inspiring was when I was doing a scene with Don Murray, who, being the good Catholic girl that I was, I had probably seen a movie called The Hoodlum Priest 10 times not to mention Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe and I’m sitting in a car with him, with Mr Murray, who’s, how old would he be now? Gosh….Probably in his mid-eighties… and I was so star struck… I mean (laughing) I was just like ‘Oh my god, Oh my god, I can’t believe it’, but of course I wasn’t saying that.. But, I just, it was….it was amazing. I mean it was just amazing to have that opportunity to work with somebody like him and also other actors and actresses whose work I was familiar with.




    Jason: Well, you and Don open the show; you have the first scene together…


    Constance: Really?


    Jason: Yeah, he drives into the cul de sac, with a cold, and you have the very first line on Knots Landing….


    Constance: Wow, I have no memory of that at all….


    Jason: Which is…let me see if I can remember your first line on Knots Landing…Err…it’s “Hey Sid, what are you doing home so early?”


    Constance: Oh my god, is that how I delivered it Jason?


    (Jason bursts out laughing)


    I’m surprised I ever worked again!


    Jason: I’m a terrible actor.


    Constance: We used to see Don, we’d see Don and his wife when we used to go to Santa Barbara a lot during that time, and it was, he was, you know, he is, a really, very classy man, he runs very, very deep. It was, other than knowing him from his films, I felt very blessed to work with him.




    Jason: So, let’s talk about the first season because you have the most, possibly the most controversial episode, on that first season with The Lie, which is focused around Laura… and I re watched it recently and I was struck by how complicated that episode is and I wonder if that show could be made today with some of the sexual politics involved, I’m just not sure if a Network would run that show today… and I wonder if you have had a chance to watch it and what you think about it, I think it’s extraordinary television.


    Constance: Well, I haven’t seen it in a long time. I do, ironically, what I remember is that the wardrobe mistress at the time who was a very young woman, perhaps she was an assistant, had in fact been raped. She was so sensitive to the procedure and the process and so…umm… solicitous of me and protective of me….she was a very young woman, probably even…I was about 30 or something, she was probably younger than I was but she had had this experience that obviously aged her in many respects so she (trails off)….. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t thought of her in a long time… but she really stands out in my memory of that whole episode. But also, you know, especially working on the college campus the whole sexual assault thing, it’s taken far too long, has finally been brought out into the open, I mean 1 out of 4 women are raped, usually by someone they know and so on a college campus I encountered that a lot and a lot of my clients had been raped, not just….males and females…So, I… you know, it’s a subject that has been dealt with very differently, although her story when she went to the bars and was looking for love in all the wrong places, that’s a …I don’t know how you would categorise that situation.


    Jason: Well yes, that was what was so interesting about it, it looked as if, in that first season, Laura was going to become that Looking For Mr Goodbar type, but then they completely switched it around.. and I’m not sure, watching it, that Laura thinks that she’s been raped, because she’s, you know, gone out looking for adventure in bars, because she then is raped, the guilt of that, she almost doesn’t think she’s been raped, everyone else is screaming at the TV ‘you’ve been raped’ she almost doesn’t understand it and it’s really complicated and I think that’s a lot down to your performance because you play it ….you don’t play for sympathy, you play the reality of each moment…. And I think it’s one of the things that is so extraordinary about your performance throughout the whole of Knots…


    Constance: But I think today, just to stay on the rape question a little bit, there are still far too many women who just because it was alcohol fuelled, usually from both perspectives, blame themselves and don’t fully acknowledge that what happened to them was not consensual and maybe in the case of Laura’s character she probably didn’t project far enough into the future to realise that this whole dalliance that she was having, or else she was enormously naïve for a woman her age, to think that this man…that actor, unfortunately, is deceased now, it was sad because he was a wonderful, wonderful actor.. But, she… maybe, I guess, maybe she was really naïve enough to think that one thing wasn’t going to lead to another. It was a very different time and she was very unhappy…


    Jason: At this point, Constance, are you owning Laura? Are you feeling that you, on the journey of Knots, that you can stand up for the character? At what point did that happen for you, at what point did you really say this is mine?


    Constance: Well, when David first wrote the part she was very vague. The brief description I had was that she wore a lot of pastel colours which was, you know, not a lot to go on. It was nobody’s fault. I just think that some characters were more fleshed out than others. I really don’t know what his perspective was, in fact maybe that was a gift because I was able to do more with the character than was put on paper. But I didn’t, you know, I respected the writers and I, you know, in those early days I certainly didn’t have the confidence or, I don’t know if confidence is the word, but I didn’t have the, you know, I just went with whatever was on the page that’s what I went with.


    Jason: Oh, that’s interesting, because Kim Lankford, when I spoke to Kim, she said that in retrospect she feels she should have stood up for Ginger more, she felt that Michele, Joan and yourself were stronger in protecting the characters than perhaps she was with Ginger…


    Constance: I don’t know, every actor has their own mechanism, the writers words are sacrosanct, writers don’t want to sit, whether it’s David Mamet, whose house I’m sitting in now because we bought this house from David Mamet, whether it’s a lesser known writer on the series team, want their words to be changed if that’s avoidable because the writers word is the bible. They even call the projection of the season the bible. So, I don’t know, maybe like I said I was lucky that the character wasn’t that defined so that whatever I brought to it as an actor, whatever pieces of myself were appropriate, maybe they just used that as a jumping off place, I don’t know, I’m not a writer I just don’t know how that kind of muscle works. Do you write the character and find the right kind of actor to fit into it or do you find the actor you like and write that character around that actor? I guess it’s a little of both.


    Jason: Yeah, I think so. When we spoke to Mike Filerman he said that you were as close to Laura as Michele was to Karen and Joan was to Val and that as the show went on you were inseparable in terms of the closeness to the character and he said he watched that go on.


    Laura: Really, that’s interesting, no I wasn’t aware of that.


    Jason: I’m going to throw a couple of names at you…John Pleshette! Your sparring partner in crime, on the show


    (Constance laughs)


    Constance: I just saw John. I just had dinner with John and his wife two or three months ago because we were in LA for an extended period of time. John is an amazing gourmet cook but actually we went out to dinner that evening but actually we’ve had dinner at his home before and I think he even has a blog, yes he does. He has a food blog right now. And my husband directed John in a play in a wonderful, wonderful theatre at Cape Cod a few years ago, and in fact we brought Julie as a surprise to see John in the play, it’s a tiny theatre and she was sitting in the front row and John had no idea she was going to be there because Julie lived full time in the Cape, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Cape Jason, it’s a part of Massachusetts that extends out into the Atlantic …by the way , Chatham Massachusetts, where we have a house, is the closest place to England in the United States. A bit of trivia for you.


    Jason: I’m going to send you some smoke signals


    (Both laugh)


    Constance: So anyway, she came to the play and she has a very infectious laugh, and it was just so funny because when John came on stage she laughed and for a millisecond, just a millisecond cos John is a consummate pro, he got thrown. But, we were an odd couple needless to say and part of it might have been….Well, John was cast before I was, so you know we were sort of, not a couple you would put together predictably.


    Jason: You were so interesting together, because he was much smaller than you and you had this incredible energy together, watching those early scenes, the characters never arrive together at the same point, they keep missing each other, it’s uncomfortable viewing at times but because you have this Woody Allen Dianne Keaton thing going on. It’s mesmerising and wacky and funny as well as being heart-breaking.


    Constance: I guess, when you describe it like that it sounds like a lot of relationships doesn’t it? I think any two people, even in a long term relationship who are at the same place at the same time, that synchronicity is hard to find in any relationship or friendship.


    Jason: What was your working relationship like with John, how did that progress over the years?


    Constance: Well, John is very, very smart and I think his intelligence, and he’s a writer…so I think his intelligence and his writing ability made working with him, you know, kind of elevated it in some respects than it would under normal circumstances actor to actor working together.


    Jason: And then he left the show and I’m wondering what that’s like being on a show that is essentially about a couple and then he’s gone..?


    Constance: Well again, that was the writers choice and I suppose that is what life is like as well, and being a single female in a cul de sac of couples, I don’t know… it didn’t really, it was such a slow deterioration of the relationship that it really had nowhere to go except to be dissolved, in terms of that particular couple.


    Jason: And then the show became very glamorous, its fifth year, after John left with Kim and Jim Houghton, and Laura became one of the figureheads of that with Donna Mills, you two became incredibly glamorous, working at the Marina offices together, very powerful women together in business, do you remember all that?


    Constance: All I remember darling is a lot of big hair and big shoulder pads.


    Jason: Haha (laughing)


    Constance: That’s all I remember (laughs)…I guess the bigger the shoulder pads the more powerful the female.


    (Both laugh)


    Jason: Was that Barbara Kay Minister doing all that to you?


    Constance: Ah…You know, the hair , I mean it was a sign of the times, I don’t think it was hair and makeup it was a reflection of whatever was popular at the time, it’s just so funny to see those.. I mean, you know, the shoulder pads really got me because they were almost like weapons. So funny, I mean, what we were thinking, my god…


    Jason: Well, it’s funny cos when the show starts you’re all dressing for the weather in sun dresses and jeans and then season 5 you’re all suddenly in heavy clothing and things and you’re not sweating…


    Constance: Oh, honey, I never sweat. I never sweat. I have low blood pressure. It drives my husband crazy when we go to the gym. I don’t know about everybody else.


    Jason: You never sweat (chuckling)…


    Constance: Plus, you have someone standing round ready to pat you at any given moment so…


    Jason: Hey, tell me about this, cos you guys on Knots had an incredibly long shooting day, you went on 5 hours or so past the Dallas and Falcon Crest lot, why did it take so long to shoot?


    Constance: I don’t know. I don’t know what the scheduling was like on other series. I just know that the location where the cul de sac was, was pretty far away from where everybody lived and normally worked and then of course during the 84 Olympics they took us up to Oregon trying to avoid whatever congestion and whatever mess might have been caused by the Olympics and in fact it turned out not to be that bad so…That was a big move to take the entire show out of state like that. I don’t know, the thing about Knots even though it was a night time soap I never got the feeling that anybody ever phoned it in, not that other shows I’m just saying that the level was really, really, consummate and consistently good and that the actors perhaps, I don’t know perhaps the actors and directors dictated that the days become a little longer because we were trying to achieve something that was a level of excellence.


    Jason: You certainly did, and when Julie Harris came along, did that change the chemistry?


    Constance: I think Julie, who was the all-time top Tony winner at that time, I think that record has been broken recently, I think by Audra McDonald, but she was….it was like having Mother Teresa come on the set, well she actually loves Mother Teresa, she named her dog Teresa, but that’s beside the point, Julie had an aura about her and a light about her, which she had her entire career and when that came on the set everybody was enormously respectful of her and… Not that she wasn’t down to earth, she was very down to earth. Oh my god she was funny. She was funny. I was just thinking… When we shot the haunted house episode, there were these naked statues outside the house. I can’t remember where the house was Altadena, Pasadena …. And they were really, you know, I made some comment and she goes, “Oh, you’re so ribald!”


    (Inserted trivia, adjective referring to sexual matters in an amusingly rude or irreverent way)


    I don’t even think I knew what ribald meant, I had been an English major, she just was… She had a wicked sense of humor, a wicked sense of humor, and a delightful laugh, as John found out when she came to see him in that play, and she never did anything halfway, none of the actors did, everybody gave their all, I mean, I feel everybody gave 100 plus per cent. My husband directed Julie in an episode of Family Ties and he used to call her an acting machine. She was. She was an acting machine. Basically, you knew you were in good hands when Julie was working with you, you knew you didn’t have to worry, you knew you didn’t have to hold your breath, you knew that all you had to do was just kind of gently push her forward and everything was going to be Ok.


    Jason: Wow, tell me about… in the early days, something struck me rewatching it recently, you and Joan Van Ark had a lot of scenes together, and Laura and Val were best friends and then you come back to the second season and it’s Karen and Val and Karen and Laura and it’s almost as if the writers decided to have two separate sets of friends……can you talk a bit about Joan and Michele and your working relationship with them?


    Jason: Well I think they are two examples of actors who had done a significant body of work before I ever met them, so both of them knew their craft, know their craft, know their strong suit and you know, have a lot of ground to stand on with what they feel is right or wrong for their characters or the show. I just think their experience and their instincts served them very well. I mean, I saw Michele on Broadway in How To Succeed long, long before I ever met her…. I went with my family, I saw her in See Saw with Ken Howard. She was a Broadway star…. I hadn’t seen Joanie on Broadway, I know she had done Barefoot in The Park, I knew of her… so, you know, they had a lot of heft coming into the show , which I’m sure is.. I mean, Joanie had the connection to Dallas, but they brought that heft with them and even though I’m only a few years younger than them I felt light years younger in terms of my experience.


    Jason: Wow, well certainly on screen there’s no trace of that, I mean…. Laura as a character, the slight brittleness with a wise cracking thing and a slight defensiveness, she comes out fully formed, and I don’t think there’s any character like her on night time soap opera.


    Constance: Well, I credit my acting teacher Larry Moss. I don’t know if you know who Larry is?


    Jason: No, no talk about that a little…


    Constance: Larry has become an acting coach now, he coached Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry and for Million Dollar Baby, she thanked him at the Oscars, he coached Helen Hunt when she won her Oscar for As Good As It Gets, he coaches Leonardo, he did Great Gatsby, he did Wolf Of Wall Street… He was just beginning as an acting teacher when I started studying with him, I was in his first class… and he, in a different way than David Jacobs obviously, he changed my life because he gave me a craft. I had been a dancer, I had done commercials but I hadn’t really studied with an acting teacher and I’d majored in English at college which prepares you for nothing ….


    (Both laugh)


    …Pardon me… Pardon me (laughing) but it prepares you for nothing. And, Larry just gave me a craft, he gave me a skillset, and he was very hard on me.


    Jason: Oh, really? During Knots, when you were coaching with him?


    Constance: No, he was my acting teacher in New York long before I got Knots Landing, so he really helped me hone my skills and, you know, learn where my strengths were and my weaknesses. I was in his class for three or four years, it was an amazing transformation, (laughing) when I first came to his class he said I reminded him of a glazed ham.


    (Much laughter from both)


    Jason: Stop it, he didn’t say that! He really did?


    Constance: He really did, kind of like a glazed ham….. Which was funny because; the ham is slang for an actor and the glazed is the gelatinous glaze on the ham, which was my protectiveness. (Laughs) And I was very guarded. I was a very guarded person. He really changed…he just, he was amazing, he is still amazing, I still see Larry and talk to him and I’m still friends with people from that class and other people who have studied with him subsequently. Now he has this amazing, he has a great website…he’s worked with, he works with Leonardo DiCaprio a lot but he’s worked with some phenomenal actors, he was born to do what he’s doing, he is a great teacher and I’m sure that he is a great coach, I have never worked with him as a coach but I’m sure he’s.. and being a therapist now I see a lot of what he does, he’s not playing therapist, he would never presume to do that, that would be unethical but there are elements in his approach that are…..psychological in nature. He wrote a great book called The Intent To Live, it’s a great book, even if you’re not an actor it’s a great book. By the time I got to Knots Landing I knew that I had the chops.


    Jason: Ok…


    Constance: I just hadn’t had that much of an opportunity, I mean I had done TV movies, commercials, pilots but I knew that I had been well prepared by Larry. I was ready, I just hadn’t had the work experience, the credits, that some of my co-stars had.




    Jason: And then of course, Bill Devane arrives and Ava Gardner, you and I have tweeted about Ava, talk a little about that incredible era on the show for you…..


    Constance: Ironically, Bill had directed my husband in a musical of Harry Chapin, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Harry Chapin, he died in an accident about 30 years ago, he wrote a song called Cats In The Cradle which became an iconic anthem about our children getting older, he also wrote Taxi which at that point was the longest song ever written for radio.


    Jason: Oh wow


    Constance: And they did a review of his music at The Improv, in Hollywood, a comedy club, you know…..And Bill Devane directed it, my husband was in it, and this is before I knew my husband, this is before I ever met Bill and it’s so ironic that many, many years later Bill ends up as my spouse on Knots Landing having already worked with my husband in another capacity. And so, when we saw Bill a few weeks ago in LA it was so great because, I mean, he and my husband Sam have a longer history than Bill and I, so it was really nice, you know it was really nice on many counts. So when Bill came on, and again, there’s a good example of letting the actors dictate where our story is going to go, because nobody…. You know, some people you put them together and they have no chemistry at all, and some people you put them together, including two males like Butch Cassidy or something like that, where those two males have this amazing chemistry. But it turned out that Bill and I worked very well together and they wrote to that, and we were very lucky to have had that experience with one another and umm…. It certainly made working a lot more fun and a lot more interesting when there was that connection between the two of us.


    Jason: Yes, and David Jacobs, when we spoke to him, said that you two had the best written material on the whole show… because….I challenged him about the amount of screen time that you and Bill received and he said no, no, no, you guys had the best written material on the whole show and that you ration the best guns because it makes it more interesting.


    Constance: Yeah, I don’t know I’ve never heard that theory and I’m not a page counter so I don’t know quantitatively how it all adds up but I do know that I enjoyed working with Bill and I looked forward to it and I think the writers, based on what you’re saying, enjoyed writing for the two of us.


    Jason: Yes, they thought you were incredibly together, so incredible they gave you Ava Gardner.


    Constance: They gave me Ava Gardner…..Oh my god.


    Jason: They gave her to you…


    Constance: You know when Ava was going to come on the show I went…..and Netflix wasn’t around then… so I rented some of her movies like One Touch Of Venus… I’m trying to think what else Magambo….. And oh gosh, I feel like there was another one that I rented….. What’s the one with Bogart?


    Jason: Oh… it’s erm…


    Constance: It opens with her funeral….


    Jason: Yes ….Bogart…


    Constance: Shoot


    Jason: I haven’t got my laptop…


    Constance: Anyway, so I rented these movies and One Touch Of Venus, she was breath-taking, absolutely breath-taking and… she… I…Oh, my god, she was so gorgeous…… (laughing) so when we first met her..


    Jason: Yeah (laughing)….


    Constance: She was very, she had to play such a bitchy note with us on camera. But in real life she was extremely lovely, and very gracious, and I said “I rented all your movies” I said, “I rented One Touch Of Venus” I said “My God “and she goes “Yes darling and those were my tits


    (Jason laughs, a lot)


    Back in those days there wasn’t as much cosmetic surgery available as there is today so, I think she just wanted to reiterate that it was the real deal and she was pretty darn cute. Another thing she did, I’ll never forget and I’ve told this story ad nauseum; one morning my son who was only about four at the time, it was very early in the morning because I was on my way to work, and I don’t know what he had done it was probably nothing terribly innocuous but I had gotten so upset with him that, I…I’m embarrassed to say, that I slammed his bedroom door and it cracked!


    Jason: Oh! Oh!


    Constance: Oh my God! And I walked into the makeup trailer when I got into the studio and it was just Ava and I was crying cos I was just so upset that I had gotten that angry with him, it was really, really not….right. And I said “I’m so sorry that I got that upset with my son and Oh My God!” … And do you know that that night, the phone rings, the hard line no cell phones, my husband picks up the phone and.. he picks it up and hears.. (DEEP VOICE) “Hello Darling. It’s Ava, is Constance there?” And my husbands like pointing at the phone mouthing ‘It’s Ava Gardner, its Ava Gardner!’ So, I get the phone and she was calling, Jason, to see if I was Ok.


    Jason: Oh! Oh!


    Constance: I mean… it was so sweet. She was just calling to see if I was better and if everything was alright and I had been so upset that morning and, rightly so, because I had misbehaved… And anyway, it was just very dear and that’s… The fact that she was that way in real life and the fact that she played that very bitchy note on the show demonstrates what a (starts laughing) phenomenal actress she was.


    Jason: Those scenes between you were acerbic; I mean you could have cut that tension with a knife. I’m so glad you told that story because I think a lot of people, when they watch these glamorous soap operas that because women are being horrible and bitchy to each other on screen that that is the reality of their lives. And you know…


    Constance: It’s called acting baby!


    Jason: It’s called acting darling! And while we’re on bitchy, you and Donna Mills had some of the most bitchy scenes and presumably you were pals off screen and it wasn’t all you know….


    Constance:  Yes, I think everyone on the show was a good, skilled actor in the sense that whatever their best qualities that were appropriate for the characters they would bring that to the characters and leave the rest at home and I think that, you know, whatever notes she and I played, and I guess they were similar to Ava and I too, you know it worked for the plot, it worked for the characters or it worked for the storyline…


    Jason: Well, there was also a sense with Laura and Abby that perhaps, if only Abby hadn’t slept with Richard, they might have been friends…there’s a kind of sense there, I don’t know..


    Constance: Well, maybe in hindsight, she was doing me a favour, you know….


    (Slight pause then both burst out laughing simultaneously)


    Jason: Absolutely, that’s brilliant…Let’s talk about Mike Filerman, I spoke with him, rest his soul and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this that I imagine he was a force to be reckoned with..


    Constance: You know, I didn’t know, I mean I knew Michael, but not… I didn’t (socialise)…I know Michele knew him extremely well, because I think they went way, way back to when she worked in theatre at the beginning of her career, I didn’t know Michael super well, I didn’t socialise with Michael, I knew David a little bit better, they were a good team. I think they balanced each other out very well. You know, I knew Michael in the context of the show but I didn’t really…and he was funny and irreverent and, you know, had a wild sense of humor and ultimately went on to become an enormously successful Broadway producer and a real New Yorker, I think, in the long run. I know he wasn’t from New York originally but I always thought of him as a New Yorker more than an LA person, whatever that means, whatever that means , I guess you can have it mean whatever you want


    Jason: Hmmmm, mmmm


    Constance: And I didn’t really know him….. socially. I don’t really have a sense of who he was really, outside the show.


    Jason: Who were your favourite producers, cos you had Peter Dunne for a while and the Bernie and Lynne, who, I believe, you’ve seen them recently?


    Constance: Oh my god. This was so bizarre. We are in New Orleans, we are with this dear friend of ours, who used to publish The Times Picayune down there and lives there now full time and then we go to this little café- first we go to one café and it’s not open, then we go across the street to this- maybe it had ten tables in it- and there’s no one else in the café because it’s on the late side it’s about two o’clock, we walk in, it’s my husband and I and this dear friend of his who he’s known since school…


    Jason: Yeah


    Constance: And there’s this couple sitting there and I’m looking at them and I’m thinking… it can’t be….because our sons, our children actually went to school together too so I knew them outside of the show because their two boys and my son and my daughter all went to the same school. So, and my son and their son were friends, so I walk up and I said to them, “Do I look familiar to you?”


    (Both laugh and laugh)


    And they went, “Oh My God!!” They have retired to New Orleans; I think they had owned a home there when they were still working in LA, in the meantime they have retired there, they are not active in any way shape or form in the business and they seem terribly happy and I had not seen them since I moved from LA which is 17 years ago since our kids were all in school together. It was pretty wild because they had also tried to go to the restaurant across the street and they had not been in this restaurant in eight years, so the fact that they were there in this teeny little, you know, small plate Caribbean … Southern… (Jason laughs) … I don’t know what kinda food it was and that we happened to walk in and they knew a lot of the same people as our friend who was in journalism, which was kinda cool too… But, it was… I guess, you know Freud said there are no accidents, although someone told me the other day that God said that, so I don’t know if God said it or Freud said it but somebody said there are no accidents. So the fact that they were sitting there just seemed really wild…And I’d just seen Bill which I told them a few weeks earlier.


    Jason: Do you think that you’re having, sort of, sort of lots of Knots Landing moments and it’s sort of the right time now? Because it feels, like, there was a long time when you didn’t really connect with the show and there was lots going on and everybody was, you know, disappointed that you didn’t take part in some things and.. But you were getting on with your life?


    Constance: You know I had, unfortunately I was let go from the show, I was in the process- I’m trying to think if I had just had a baby or if I was about to- no, I guess..


    Jason: Meg had just been born on the show, so I think probably…


    Constance: But I think when I was told that I was going to be let go that I was (pause), or fired, to use the vernacular, I was probably still pregnant.


    Jason: Oh gosh. Ok.


    Constance: I think that, when you’re about to give birth and you’re told, symbolically, that you’re about to die, I think the juxtaposition of those two events really wreaked havoc on my inner psyche and I, I just, I was thrown I didn’t see this coming…..I guess you just can’t assume right? I mean, things happen and I just wasn’t prepared, I was really blindsided. I went on and did some other stuff, I did Brooklyn Bridge which was really an amazing experience, all kidding aside, not just because my husband was involved, working with Gary and.. it was different, it wasn’t better or worse, it was just different, and I did a bunch of other stuff, but you know I already realised that I should figure out how to reinvent myself because as a female actor I knew that I wasn’t going to work forever and I had to figure out something else that I could do so that I could be an effective person, you know, later on in my life.


    Jason: And those, you know, that final story for Laura must have been really tough to do. And yet the performance, again, it was pitched perfect. I suppose it was art meeting reality, sort of clashing…


    Constance: Well, I had just had her, so she was very, very young, my son was about four and a half, she was a new-born, she was born in February and I don’t know when we shot the final stuff but I was still consumed with the idea that if this were really happening to me and I had just had a child and I had to say goodbye to this child because I knew that I wasn’t going to be around for this child to see her grow up , I mean, you know that’s about all you need to go on and sort of take-off from there. I didn’t have to look too far for the personalisation of the moment.


    Jason: And as a viewer, I can tell you, Constance, at the time, and I’m sharing this with you because I know that a lot of people who have emailed in will want me to tell you this, that we all felt incredibly betrayed by the show and Laura was at the core of the show from the beginning and it really felt that the show was letting us down by writing you out, whatever the financial reasons behind it, and the show was never the same… never the same.. And everyone that we have spoken to Joan and Michele and… All say it was never the same. I’m sure you know that but I just wanted to put that on the record and tell you that.


    Constance: That’s very sweet of you, Jason. But you know, it’s called show business for a reason and obviously there’s a certain amount of commerce involved and I don’t know what really goes on in the heads of the people who have to make those decisions so….. I’m sure that at the time it seemed like a good idea. So…..


    Jason: Hey. Tell me about, I need to ask you about Lisa Hartman. You had a great run with her and some onscreen implied lesbian relationship onscreen with her and no one had ever done that on prime time before…


    Constance: Yes, now it’s become, you know, de rigueur.


    (Both chuckle)


    I think it was so funny because one time for the gag reel, John Pleshette came into the living room of our home, Lisa and I were sitting with our back to the door – I think I was nursing Daniel at the time so he must have been only a few months old- I don’t remember what the set up was but we did this intentionally for the gag reel, and we didn’t tell John, and John walks in and we both had moustaches on.


    And we… we said… (laughing a lot), we said.. “Oh honey, you’re home,” or something…… And it took a lot to get John, believe me, he just dissolved!


    Jason: Really…


    Constance: But I think the implied lesbian relationship between those two characters, whether it was implied or in fact the reality made a lot of sense.


    Jason: Well, which was it?


    Constance: (ribald, playfully) Well, I don’t know, Jason. I don’t know … (giggles)


    Jason: I tell you what I think, I’m going to lay my cards on the table.. I think something did happen. Even if we didn’t see it, or couldn’t see it or the characters wouldn’t ever talk about it, it’s just more interesting if something did happen…


    Constance: Maybe, I think….Lisa’s a lot younger than I am, maybe I felt maternal towards her, maybe I felt she needed someone looking out for her, she was a very appealing character and very vulnerable and very easily victimised and maybe I recognised that note that had, unfortunately, been played ad nauseam in me, resonated, that I could identify in my life to some degree at that time, I don’t remember what was going on with John and I at that time. Maybe I was just a few beats ahead of her. There are a lot of things that could have been going on and whether the writers were writing to that or not I don’t know but obviously something came across to the viewers.


    Jason: Oh, it was dynamite, and it was the end of the relationship with John Pleshette.


    Constance: Didn’t they think that he had killed or something?


    Jason: Yeah they did, well you and Michele Lee had some amazing scenes about that and in fact Karen and Laura didn’t speak for a whole year because of it and there’s a beautiful scene where you make up, it’s one of my favourite scenes on the whole show actually, I know I sent you some scenes but it wasn’t in there, I can’t find it, but it’s one of the best scenes. And yeah, you thought that Richard had done it….. and do you remember smashing up the restaurant?


    Constance: I do, that was a lot of fun. I had a great time doing that. The restaurant, by the way, that was named after my son, my real son. I mean they called him, it was brilliant casting, they cast my son as my son.


    (Jason laughs)


    Jason: Hey and how is Daniel and how is Meg?


    Constance: Dan’s great, Dan works for Jay Z’s company, RocNation, out in LA, he’s doing really, really well and he’s 6.4 about 250 he looks like a tight end, he’s a great young man. I’m glad he’s in LA, I don’t think he’ll ever move from LA after his brief sojourn here in Boston and then he went to Atlanta but you know, he’s a good man he’s a really, really, good man, he was named 30 Under 30 To Watch by BillBoard Magazine and I said, “Why do you think you’ve got so successful in this ridiculous business?” I mean the music business is worse than acting and, you know, that end of the business and he said ‘Because I always do what I say I’m going to do Mom,’ and I think that has held him in good stead, when he says he’s going to do something he does it and this is not always the case in life.


    And my daughter has just told us she’s getting married to a terrific young man that she has known for several years.


    Jason: Oh congratulations!


    Constance: That’s kinda cool and…she’s an assistant editor at Harper Collins.


    Jason: Oh wow.


    Constance: And she’s now known as Margaux, she’s not Meg, she changed her name in College, she became Margaux the minute she went to Connecticut, she said she never liked the name Meg.


    Jason: Ah


    Constance: Who knew?


    Jason: Who knew? That’s a European name, you can tell her..


    Constance: Her given name is Marguerite, so it kind of sorta works. She’s doing great. I’m really glad that my kids are terrific people that I would love to know even if they weren’t my kids.


    Jason: Good, so you’re all in a good place. How do you feel now, looking back on your time on Knots, with so much distance?


    Constance: You mean in terms of..?


    Jason: Are you at peace with the whole departure?


    Constance: It’s so many years ago now, my daughter just turned 28 and I have etched out a niche for myself here in Boston as a therapist, I’ve been brought in to speak at acting classes and colleges and the people that I see unless they are over 50 or 40 maybe tops, have no idea what my former life was. So….but so many people re-invent themselves now, so many people have two or three careers and are glad to do so because they have either outgrown what they were doing or it’s outgrown them or something has sent them in a different direction. I think as a therapist if you have been an actor your skills as an actor, your sense of empathy and your skills of observing other people, your skills in that area serve you extremely well as a psychotherapist. I have three really close friends in LA who are therapists who used to be in the entertainment business and I think it’s a good segue from one career to another. And I forget, you know, I forget that especially because Knots is on in the UK and plays all the time that I and my fellow actors are all kind of frozen in time because people are experiencing the show as if it’s now and obviously it isn’t… But out of respect for that…I guess, I guess… (pause) …I guess I never thought of that before, you know, I never thought that you sort of live on in people’s eyes as you were then .




    Jason: And the detail, the questions that people have asked me to ask you, I just couldn’t ask you because I know you just wouldn’t remember those kinds of storyline details, why Laura said this to Karen or why, you know, but for people watching it now or on DVD, it’s a real to them as something on HBO like The Wire or Treme….


    Constance: Well and I think that’s obviously a credit to the writers and the actors and the times and maybe, maybe people miss those stories with a beginning a middle and an end, television has changed so much since then and your choices are so numerous .Obviously, it struck a chord in people’s hearts and minds, it somehow resonated and even though it’s very old now in terms of how many years ago the pilot was in 79, and how long did the show run?


    Jason: 14 seasons


    Constance: It doesn’t feel, it’s dated obviously with those hairdo’s (laughs) and shoulder pads but maybe it doesn’t feel dated in terms of the human experience.


    Jason: The story, yeah, the stories. Constance what kind of shows do you enjoy?


    Constance: We watch, I watch Girls, even though I talk to the TV all the time when I watch it, Lena Dunham’s show. We watch The Americans. I think The Americans is phenomenal.


    Jason: Oh, I love that show


    Constance: And he’s, Matthew Rhys, is from England. I did watch The Wire, I saw Dominic West in the lobby when I was in LA at The Peninsula and I just about died and my two friends didn’t even know who he was!


    Jason: Ha, that’s so funny… Treme, did you ever watch it?


    Constance: Treme, it’s so funny I never watched Treme, I wish I had. Wendell Pierce, my husband gave Wendell his first job and has stayed in touch with him… I don’t know why we didn’t watch Treme, there’s no good reason.


    Jason: Oh, it’s great


    Constance: I’m trying to think what else we watch. Obviously DOWNTON ABBY…


    Jason: (surprised) Do you watch Downton Abby?


    Constance: Of course we watch Downton Abby, are you kidding me?!


    Constance: Oh my god, it’s so popular over here. I’m trying to think what else… There’s a new show that’s a spin off from BREAKING BAD over here, that’s good…


    Jason: Better Call Saul


    Constance: yes, there’s another show which is kind of the darker side of Girls, if there could be a darker side of Girls, called Broad City. It’s on one of the cable stations, but it’s a very niche show. But The Americans is phenomenal…


    Jason: it’s such a slow burn as well, you never quite know…I forget when I’m watching it, that they’re Russian agents and then they do Russian agent things and I go Oh my god they are Russian agents!


    Constance: It’s really good. I think it’s really good….


    Jason: And you love going to the theatre don’t you?


    Constance: We are going to see Wolf Hall 2 next weekend; we were in England last May, we were in England last October, May we went over just for a friend’s birthday party and we saw four plays in one weekend. In between going to the birthday party and seeing our friends.


    Jason: Constance, it’s been so thrilling to talk with you.


    Constance: Thank you, Jason, you’re so sweet.


    Jason: I’m going to leave the last word to you, do you have anything you’d like to say to the fans before we say goodbye?


    Constance: I think, I am very, very touched by how impactful the show has been to so many people and I am also enormously touched by the impact the character of Laura has had on people. I don’t think that actors and actresses, unless they are doing live theatre, have the luxury of knowing how this is reaching people and affecting them, so this has been a real …eye opener…in many respects and it’s been an affirmation of sorts and I appreciate it, I really appreciate the opportunity. We all want to be effective people, all of us do in some way shape or form, so the fact that I was able to be that effective at a time in my life when I didn’t even realise it, actually, and now I do is a real gift and I want to thank you, Jason, for making that possible.


    Jason: Constance McCashin, thank you for nine glorious seasons on Knots Landing and for talking to me today. Take care, Constance.


    Constance: You’re welcome my dear.


    Jason: Bye


    Constance: Bye bye.




    For more information on Constance McCashin, visit, http://constancemccashin.com/



    SOURCE: http://knotslanding.net/a-conversation-with-constance-mccashin-knots-landing/




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  • Reality Bites: Donna Mills Gets "A Little Pushy" (But Not Bitchy!) in Queens of Drama

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  • An Interview with Joan Van Ark

    An Interview with Joan Van Ark

    Written by Jim SuvaJoan's%20Autographed%20Photo



    I recently had the pleasure to talk with Joan Van Ark. Many of you will remember her as Valene Ewing from Dallas and Knots Landing.  Joan played Valene for 15 seasons on both TV series.  In fact, she appeared this past season as Valene in the Dallas reboot on TNT. She has recently been granting interviews, promoting the airing of Knots Landing in England. They will be rebroadcasting the entire 14 seasons of the show.

    Below is a transcript of our conversation.


    Where were you born and raised?

    I was born in New York City.  New York, New York.  I lived ‘til the age of seven in West Nyack, where our house was. Then, we moved to Boulder Colorado.  So I always say there are two sides to me.  I am a Gemini, so there are twin personalities. Gemini twins. There is a New York side of me and a Boulder, Colorado side of me. I think Valene, whom I played in Knots Landing and Dallas is the Boulder, Colorado in me. Growing up riding horseback and things like that. I am split between the Manhattan side of me and the Boulder, Colorado in me.


    How and when did you know you wanted to be in show business?

    Actually, I trace it back to an audition I did at age 14 in Boulder, Colorado. A guy, Russell James, the quarterback on the football team (‘cause that was my taste and still is actually), he didn’t ask me to prom. I had spring vacation, when I got back I found out he had asked Dee somebody to the prom. I was so bummed. Then I noticed an audition out at the Nomad Playhouse, which is a community playhouse, with very high quality productions. They were having auditions for Madwoman of Chaillot. My mother drove me out, and I read cold on stage before the producer, director and all of the people there. When I finished my little monologue (it was for Irma the flower girl), you could hear a pin drop. They were so complimentary, and everything was so kind of special.  I said, “Who needs quarterbacks? I am going to be an actress.”  I didn’t get the part of Irma because I was 14, and I’d never done a play. I was the flower girl, and I had only one line, two words, “Violets, sir.”  One line in the whole play, but it got my toe in the water. Then I went on to do Laura in The Glass Menagerie and Nellie Ewell in Summer In Smoke, both Tennessee Williams plays.


    What was your first big break?

    After attending the Yale Drama School at 18, I auditioned and got into the Guthrie Theater with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Douglas Campbell. My first big break was Barefoot In the Park. I think I was 19 or 20, and it was directed by Mike Nichols. Myrna Loy played my mother on the national tour with Dick Benjamin as my husband. Mike Nichols and Saint Subber, the producer, heard my audition, and they offered me the part right on the spot. That was my first big job, exposure and everything. I ended up going to London and doing the play there too. So on my bucket list, I want to go back to London to go full circle and do another piece of theater. I am very focused on accomplishing that.


    You have guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, M.A.S.H., Kojak, Canon, The Rockford Files, etc. In fact, you guest starred on 3 episodes of Rockford, "Find Me If You Can" as Barbara Kelbaker, "Resurrection In Black And White" as Susan Alexander, and "There's One In Every Port" as Christina Marks. Do you have a favorite episode/character from these three?

    I don’t remember specific episodes, but I remember a scene at a hot dog stand out in Malibu. I think one of the regular characters owned a hot dog stand or something. I remember being there with Jim Garner. I also remember a race track or something with a car or race car. ‘Cause Garner loved hot dogging or showing off doing wheelies, reverse turns and doing things while we were in the car between takes. He was driving and I was beside him in the passenger seat. I remember having chit chat’s with him. It was not heavy dialog, in fact there might not have been any dialog at all, but he loved showing off in this car! He had a lot of race track in his DNA!





    Was there a different feeling on the set of Rockford, as a guest star compared to the other shows you guest starred on?

    He [Jim Garner] was the host of the party. He was omnipresent, very strong, very much the host in a way like it was "his house." Like you are a guest in his house, in the best sense of the word. He was omnipresent in such a good way and such a power in a good way. That’s kind of a wonderful thing because when you’re a guest, and everything is kind of scattered, and you feel like an outsider, he did not let that happen. He is like Mark Harmon, another actor I worked with. The two of them stand out as the ultimate "hosts." They really welcomed you and assumed the responsibility of making you comfortable.  They are stand-outs in all of my work as an actress. He [Jim] was a total gentleman. Making sure the actress is totally comfortable. It doesn’t exist as much on the sets today because everything is at mach speed. It’s a great embrace, kind of like having a gentle hand in the center of your back. Psychologically that supports you while you are guesting on the show. 


    I did not know you are also a Director.

    I loved it. It started out on Knots Landing and then an ABC Afterschool Special, which won a Humanitas Award nomination for best directing of the year. I am very proud of that. I should return to it. But I am still seeking and continuing the acting, but when l the right thing hits me, I will be returning to directing.


    The Rockford Files is my favorite TV show. How did you get the job working on the show?

    I was at an opening night of a play at the Huntington Hartford Theater in Hollywood.   Juanita Bartlett was sitting behind me. She tapped me on the shoulder, and we were chatting.  I had never met her. (I was not even aware of who she was!) She sort of hinted like she had a part or something for me to do, or something like that. I thought it never happens that way. But sure enough, the next day, they called William Morris, my agent. Next thing I knew I was doing a Rockford Files! And it led to three episodes. That to me was so gorgeous.  I'm still grateful to her to this day!


    I have talked to fans from across the globe and everyone loves James Garner.

    And Rockford, too. It suited all his strengths, which are many.  It was so perfect for him.  I am sure there was collaboration with Juanita and with then Stephen Cannell to create the most complete character.  And that’s lightning in a bottle.  That’s why shows like NCIS with Mark Harmon stay number 1 forever.


    Do you have a James Garner story?

    In one of the episodes they wanted me to wear less eye makeup or something because my signature style is heavy eyes and a light mouth. That’s the Joan Van Ark show and maybe to a fault. I realize that it’s part of my brand in a way. The people from Rockford said to me to take off some of it. They did not want that much. Because Rockford was a very grounded, wholesome show. More the Colorado, less the New York sophisticated Joan Van Ark. Jim said to me, “Take off some of the eye makeup. You work a lot, but think about all the jobs you may have lost because of the eye makeup.” That has stuck with me ever since then. Ironically a year ago, I did a movie in which I didn’t wear a stitch of makeup, and they spray painted me white and put spots on me to play a terminal cancer patient.  It was an independent feature, called Watercolor Postcards.  Bailee Madison, who’s played everyone’s daughter, is 10 or 11 years old. She blew me off the screen. I played her mother, who is Texas trailer trash.  And I thought of Jim Garner then.  His words stayed with me.


    Stephen J. Cannell wrote or co-wrote two of the scripts on Rockford that you starred in as well as being the producer. Did you get a chance to talk to him? If so, what was he like?

    I did get a chance to talk with him. He was a class act, so confident, so special. He was another rock, kind of an echo of James Garner. They were like two peas in a pod. He was very talented. In fact, Stephen played one the writers in a traditional scene on Castle, a show I just adore. He was one of the poker playing buddies on Castle.


    My wife Julie and I love Castle.

    Stana Katic played my daughter in a play I did at the La Jolla Playhouse. Des McAnuff directed this show, Private Fittings. Stana is just amazing, and Nathan Fillion blows me away. He is so effortlessly wonderful. He makes choices as an actor and just makes it look so easy. What he does in front of a camera is mind boggling to me. I am a huge fan.


    What are your plans in the near future?

    I am going up to San Francisco. It's a benefit performance for Alec Baldwin's mother, for the Carol Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.  I will be doing Love Letters. Oddly enough, I am going to be doing [the play] with Kevin Dobson, who was a costar of mine from Knots Landing.  They asked Kevin because he had done it several times before. So they asked me.  I  just did Dallas a couple months ago, and I was a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I also got a best guest comedy appearance at the Indie Awards for a webisode called Pretty, which I am proud of.  It's comedy . . . And that’s what I hope will be my next chapter!

    ***Jun 10, 2013 5:46:38 PM

    Source:  http://jimsuva.typepad.com/blog/2013/06/an-interview-with-joan-van-ark.html



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