…And Then I Wrote

Kellie FlanaganMaybe it’s happenstance, but there’s something just a little delightful about where Kellie Flanagan lives and the career that she has chosen. In her most well-known role, Kellie played the young daughter of the eponymous Carolyn Muir in the television series, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Mrs. Muir (Hope Lange) moves with her two children, Candace “Candy” (Kellie) and Jonathan (Harlen Carraher), housekeeper Martha (Reta Shaw), and the family dog (Scruffy who played…well, Scruffy) to the seaside Gull Cottage. Her real estate agent (Charles Nelson Reilly) warns her against it, thinking of any excuse including its isolation (it is, of course, haunted). Mrs. Muir is, however, not fazed telling him, “That’s perfect, I’m a writer”. Today, Kellie is herself a writer and while not living in a seaside shack, she does live in the Sierra Nevada foothills with her husband and teenage daughter. No word on whether she’s encountered a ghost of the likes of Captain Gregg (Edward Mulhare), but she did encounter a “bobcat and her twin cubs emerged from their den to play tag” in her neighbourhood park. That neighbourhood park is Yosemite National Park.

Kellie once posted on her blog Willa Cather’s words: “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen”. In talking with Kellie, you find that she has many more stories to tell after 15; although by then she had started journaling her experiences. It was also by 15 that Kellie had lost both of her parents, and she had left show business a few years before. Kellie was “discovered” at three in Santa Monica and put into television commercials before a role in a classic episode of Star Trek called “Miri”. The episode dealt with a place where adults had been decimated by a disease they had started in a scientific attempt to prolong life; and one which the children would contract once they entered adolescence. Did I mention it causes you to go mad? It may be that entertainers are told to never work with children or animals, but you could understand if Kellie subscribed at that time to “Don’t trust anybody over 30”.

School Daze. Kellie, with Michael J. Pollard and John Megna, in Star Trek.

School Daze. Kellie, with Michael J. Pollard and John Megna, in Star Trek.

Miri (Kim Darby) plots with the children, as Kellie looks on.

Miri (Kim Darby) plots with the children, as Kellie looks on.

That being said, in one of her next roles, as Hal Holbrook’s daughter, Mary, in Wild in the Streets, Kellie faces off with a rock star named Max Frost (played by Christopher Jones) who sets out to make 30 the mandatory retirement age, and put anyone over 35 in rehabilitation camps, with his plan, “in groovy surroundings we’re gonna psych ‘em all out on LSD, babies”. Young Mary (Kellie was eight at the time, although she is likely playing younger) thinks that she may know a thing or two more than this 24-year old. Well, Max and his counterculture band (literally and figuratively) do have trouble focusing on the cause – they always seem to be coming down from something or, in the case of Diane Varsi’s character Sally LeRoy, tripping out while lying in the top of fountain.

Kellie as Mary Fergus in Wild in the Streets.

Kellie as Mary Fergus in Wild in the Streets.

Lucky for Kellie, there were some more benign senior forces at play when cast in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. In the first season of the show, Candy didn’t see the Captain. But with a switch from NBC to ABC, she did. In one episode in the second season, Candy is the star as she falls for a boy (played by Mark Lester of Oliver!) from London, England. It’s not all smooth sailing, with the nine-year old Candy worried that compared to her rival Penelope Hassenhammer (try saying that one as many times as the cast; she was played by Debi Storm), “I haven’t any sex appeal” and asking her mother for a training bra, “I need all the help I can get, look at me”. It’s a shining moment for Kellie.

And they call it puppy love.

And they call it puppy love.

Lucky for Australia (other countries await), both Seasons One and Two of GaMM recently received a DVD release from Madman Entertainment, and Kellie can be seen again in this and the other episodes. Being an Australian myself, it’s only fitting I guess that Kellie and I have been in contact. And what better way for a writer to communicate than with writing, which is how we conducted this interview. In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger refers to those rare authors who, after reading their work, “you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it”. I think you’ll find in Kellie that type of person.

 

Adam: You didn’t come from a “show business family”. How did it all start for you?
Kellie: While it’s true that I didn’t come from a show business family, my mother Geraldine was very stylish, as I recall, and loved fashion. My two older sisters, Jill and Wendy, who are 17 and 16 years my senior, did some local modeling in their teenage years.

The story goes that Geraldine was working part time for a small department store called Henshey’s in Santa Monica. I was about three years old at the time and precocious for having been raised by a bunch of adults and teenagers. I also have two older brothers; my birth was an afterthought, when my parents were almost 50. They called me “how-come-you-come”.

My mom also went by the name Jerry. She could really sew, and made me little linen masterpieces for holidays like Easter and Christmas. Her trademark was a seemingly endless trail of button, because she adored the buttonhole setting on her sewing machine. Often I would wear outfits that included a crinoline skirt, a dress, a little coat, hat and patent leather shoes. My mom got a big kick out of dressing me up, I think.

Geraldine organized a fashion show at Henshey’s Department Store, the story continues, and put me on the runway at the end of the program. Someone in the audience with some Hollywood connection called an agent and described me as “like a little Shirley Temple without all the curls”.

The very next day, I was sent out on an audition and I got the part. It was a toothpaste commercial starring June Lockhart, and I played her little girl. I remember there was a pool, a very blue and inviting swimming pool. The sun was hot. By the end of that job, I had a new agent in Dorothy Day Otis, who handled children exclusively. The career took off from there, with my mom and Dorothy at the helm.

Adam: The Trekkies won’t be happy with me (not that I have any reason to think that they read my blog, but I hope they do) if I don’t ask you for a couple of memories from the set of Star Trek. What struck me of that episode (“Miri”) was the intensity of the scene where Captain Kirk is pleading with the children. Was this your first television role?
Kellie: That was the first season of a show that wasn’t expected to be much of anything. The big excitement on the set, as far as I knew, was that Mr. Shatner was rather attractive and scandalously being divorced (I think he was Catholic, and we were Catholic, and I remember overhearing my mother complaining).

The episode was my first television show – prior to that I’d done print and television commercials, but never a series TV show. My agent, the fabulous Dorothy Day Otis, got me the job and the set was lots of fun because of all the kids and all the dust and disarray and wildness of the episode.

Kellie was credited as Blonde Girl, even with a little green.

Kellie was credited as Blonde Girl, even with a little green.

Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and the children await their fate.

Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and the children await their fate.

The Starship Enterprise lands on a planet that’s just like Earth except there are no adults, or what the remaining population of children call, “grups” (I still think of the word adult as grup in my head, today). When kids hit puberty, they get this horrible skin rotting condition, waaay beyond acne, then basically foam at the mouth, go mad and die.

So there’s the big scene where the kids are sort of revolting and Captain Kirk is talking with them, and I remember the director or someone put me on the table – physically lifted me up so I could be seen (wearing a green wig) and plopped me on the table, which felt quite special. There was lots of commotion between takes, and at one point Dorothy came up to me and whispered in my ear. She told me what to say when the scene started up, a very simple line any kid could remember. I was only about six or seven years old, and petite, so I looked younger. When the camera rolled and the scene started up, I hollered out what Dorothy had told me to, “Call the police!”

Kirk (William Shatner) appeals to the children's sensitivities.

Kirk (William Shatner) appeals to the children’s sensitivities.

It's not going so well (Kellie with Steven McEveety, Shatner, John Megna).

It’s not going so well (Kellie with Steven McEveety, Shatner, John Megna).

As I recall, it was a cut/print at the end of the scene – they wound up keeping the scene with the Dorothy-dialog in it, and that’s how I got my SAG card. Dorothy was the greatest.

Adam: There was some time between Star Trek and other television guest roles, but then you appeared in Family Affair and The Andy Griffith Show. Newspapers singled you out in the Andy Griffith episode, asking that viewers “Watch, too, for a blinding grin at the end by a blonde youngster named Kellie Flanagan, it’s worth the whole show” (The Bridgeport Telegram, March 18, 1968, p. 14). Was your routine and that of your family still “normal” or was there a momentum starting to build?
Kellie: The gap in my television work between Star Trek in 1966 and other shows later on was filled in with commercial television appearances and print work. My dad Cornelius (Neal) kept a very good scrap book and he had a hand-written list of all the commercials I worked on in film and print. If I recall correctly, there were over 100, many of them classic American companies that are still in business today.

My routine was still fairly normal throughout that time, or what was considered normal for me. I had a lot of little jobs and many auditions. I went to St. Monica’s Catholic School, was a Brownie with my mom as Troop Leader, and took dance lessons in Malibu from a French woman named Marjorie Jeanne. Sometimes I took riding lessons and diving lessons, I loved The Flintstones and Captain Kangaroo.

At St. Monica’s we wore plaid pleated skirts with suspenders, white pressed shirts, white socks and black and white saddle shoes. That was my school uniform. I also had an “interview uniform”, that was similar, so I could just change in the car as my mom drove from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills or where ever the interview was for that afternoon. Usually we were able to schedule afternoons rather than mornings so I didn’t miss much school.

I had friends from school and a best friend, named Stacy who did not go to school or church with us. Regarding interviews and working in the business, I remember that I always had the choice, up to a point. For instance, if my mom and I agreed that I would go on a particular interview, I had to go and couldn’t change my mind at the last minute.

After an interview, Jerry would ask me a series of questions, including “how did it feel?”, and we would talk about what would happen if I got the job. If I agreed to do the job, I had to carry through and again, couldn’t change my mind. I do not remember one instance where I had to do a job I did not want to do. To my recollection, I always had a say in things and was encouraged to use my instincts when it came to reading people (that is, the people who were interviewing me, usually casting or ad people or directors).

To summarize, I think at this point things were pretty normal for me, or as normal as they would be. The details of the business didn’t get in my way of having fun or being a kid at that time.

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir cast. Back row: Edward Mulhare, Hope Lange, Charles Nelson Reilly. Front row: Kellie, Harlen Carraher, Scruffy, Reta Shaw. (c) Twentieth Century Fox, provided by Madman Entertainment.

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir cast. Back row: Edward Mulhare, Hope Lange, Charles Nelson Reilly. Front row: Kellie, Harlen Carraher, Scruffy, Reta Shaw. (c) Twentieth Century Fox, provided by Madman Entertainment.

Adam: How would you describe the GaMM cast members: Hope Lange, Edward Mulhare, Reta Shaw, Charles Nelson Reilly, Harlen Carraher, and wire-haired fox terrier Scruffy? Do you still see Harlen, or did you keep in touch at some point?
Kellie: Hope Lange was beautiful and sophisticated, and always impeccably turned out. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, her skirts were pressed and her sweater sets matched with effortless grace. Well, of course! She was an actress and basically I only remember seeing her on set when we were working. At one time I believe she was getting a divorce. From that I recall a little whispering that we should behave and not bother her. I have never researched to see if that is true. [Adam’s note: This is, indeed, true. Hope and Alan Pakula separated in 1969, with the divorce finalized in 1971].

The Ghost and the Muirs.

The Ghost and the Muirs.

With Reta Shaw.

With Reta Shaw.

Edward Mulhare had to have his beard and mustache put on and removed every day, so he was in make-up a lot. In the first season, the character I played did not see the ghost. So we didn’t have scenes together, except when he was popping in and out, until the second year of the show. Reta Shaw was a lot like she was on the program, very hustle bustle and funny, lots of cracks and comments. Charles was wild and he and the other actors and the main producers, guest directors and guest stars, would have a great time at the every-Friday night wrap parties. Lots of food, cocktails, cigarettes and grownups talking, gossiping and laughing about the business and most of it was, quite literally, over our heads, as kids. It was a very happy set. Lots of fun, everyone was always very nice and accommodating to us, and there were no problems whatsoever that I recall.

Harlen, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Kellie.

Harlen, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Kellie.

Harlen, Kellie, Scruffy, and Algie the Seal as himself.

Harlen, Kellie, Scruffy, and Algie the Seal as himself.

Harlen and I did not keep in touch, that would have been something my mother would have done and so since she died in 1970 a lot of relationships fell by the wayside. I don’t know if Harlen continued in the business, though I have heard that as an adult, he’s an engineer for the City of Los Angeles. I’ve heard there’s a bar he likes to hang out at occasionally in Culver City or Hollywood or something, and always have heard he’s a “nice, regular guy”. It has never occurred to me to get in touch with him, and (as you now know) I am a terrible correspondent. In the last couple of years people have suggested that we get in touch so perhaps that will happen at some time.

Scruffy was named Scruffy in real life, and when I once asked my mom how much money I made she told me, “Scruffy makes more!” In my life at that time, we did not have a dog. I had a cat, a rat, miscellaneous reptiles, but no dog. At least once handlers put dog food on my cheek for Scruffy to lick off, a trick of training that I was not pleased with at all. Honestly, and I know people don’t want to hear it; I was not a big fan of Scruffy! Somehow I must have already known to avoid working with kids and animals.

Adam: Newspaper publicity pieces at the time had stories from the GaMM set at 20th Century-Fox on Pico Blvd., including you and Harlen being taught to ice-skate by Hope Lange and schooled in the Queen’s English by Edward Mulhare; as well as the two of you playing a particularly long game of tic-tac-toe when you weren’t teaching Scruffy to play ball. You’ve also written of being schooled on set with Harlen. Was it a happy set to be on?
Kellie: I don’t remember anything about ice-skating, and it sounds as though that may have been a photo opp. If it was anything genuine I think I would have remembered it, but I can’t deny it either. We were schooled in learning how to say “blast!” and “shipshape and Bristol fashion”, and a few other phrases but that’s all I remember. The tic-tac-toe game you refer to was definitely from a publicity shoot, as I have the Polaroid and stills. As I remember it, tic-tac-toe was just something to do while we were photographed, and that was one of those times when the dog food was put on my face. This all sounds like publicity, I don’t really remember anything specific.

Being schooled on set was great, and only took three hours a day, which I think is plenty for school. We had a bus – I think it was a school bus – parked right outside the main doors to the soundstage and that’s where we went to school with our teacher, Mrs. Bone. That was a very fun name for a teacher to have, and played in perfectly with the whole haunted house theme of the show. She had a funny way of sneezing, where she’d do a big wind up – ah, ah, AH… – and then a little tiny “choo”.

Kellie and Harlen in 1968. (Photographer: Ivan Nagy. Adam Gerace private collection).

Kellie and Harlen in 1968. (Photographer: Ivan Nagy. Adam Gerace private collection).

When we had days where we weren’t needed a lot, we were released to go across Pico Blvd. to Ranch Park, where they even had a swimming pool. Often our schooling would involve studying in my individual dressing room, which was a little hot aluminum box next to the school bus. It may have been a small trailer, with a bed, makeup table and lights, restroom, and little dinette area.

No air conditioning, and it sweltered so badly that once a snake given to me by another kid who worked on the lot (Darby Hinton, he was in Daniel Boone) was forgotten over a long weekend. We should have taken the pet home to cool Santa Monica, but instead we left it in the dressing room at Fox and came back after the break to a dead snake.

Adam: Early in the run of GaMM, you were Burl Ives’ co-star in the Thanksgiving TV-special, All Things Bright and Beautiful. What are your memories of that?
Kellie: Appearing in All Things Bright and Beautiful with Burl Ives and other stars including jazz great Lionel Hampton, was an absolute high point for me and my family. The show was directed by the same person who did Wild in the Streets – not sure which came first though I think it was Wild in the Streets before All Things Bright And Beautiful – both directed by Barry Shear.

Mr. Ives, as I called him, was a completely genuine person and when he spoke it was very special. The fact that he could play guitar and sing made him a huge hit with a kid like me. This show was shot on location, I don’t know where, but I think we were picked up in a car every day to get there, a sort of limo called a “stretch”.

The night the show was set to air, which I believe was on Thanksgiving in 1968, our family was gathered to watch it on TV together. The phone rang and it was Mr. Ives inviting us to come to the hotel where he was staying and watch it with him. He was in a suite at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. My mom, dad, me, my sister Wendy and her son Erik, we all traipsed over into Hollywood and got to the suite in time to watch the show. I have a Polaroid from that night with Erik, who was five, me and Mr. Ives all on our bellies posing with a snow white polar bear rug and the head of the polar bear like one of us in the photo.

Burl Ives, Kellie, and her nephew Erik.

Burl Ives, Kellie, and her nephew Erik.

I do not have a copy of this show, though I sure wish I did. What I do have is an audio recording and it’s just priceless to hear my little voice and the man we all know as the wayfaring stranger. I think that’s one of the things he was called! Just a great guy.

Adam: Your favorite GaMM episode, “Puppy Love”, comes from the second season. Candy falls for the dreamy Mark Helmore, played by Mark Lester. He was a hot commodity after Oliver! and Run Wild, Run Free. What was it like to play front and centre, and did you share Candy’s crush (not Candy Crush, mind you) on Mark?
Kellie: The GaMM episode “Puppy Love” was indeed my favorite of all episodes, I am not too shy to say it. One of the reasons that show was so much fun is that so many kids were cast to play Candy’s gang of friends, plus Penelope and Mark.

The scenes in “Puppy Love” are pretty funny to watch, and they were really fun to shoot. I completely preferred that the entire episode focused on my character, because I was a ham and considered myself underutilized on a regular basis – so it was great to have lots of lines to memorize and to be in just about every scene of the episode.

It’s also funny to watch, because you can really see what was becoming or would become or perhaps already had become my actual personality. It’s all just very… Kellie. Since I was raised before video cameras were everywhere, my childhood was documented in a way that not many kids my age would have been familiar with. So when I watch scenes from “Puppy Love”, like the dancing and singing, and Candy mooning over Mark, and the fighting and hurt feelings and I-don’t-care-attitude in the end, that’s all very much like me and for that reason is special to watch. I also think I was a pretty good little actress from what I can tell.

With Mark Lester (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

With Mark Lester (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

Mark Lester was nothing compared to having my own friend from real life on the show that week. Johnny Garacochea lived across the street and up three houses from where we lived on 18th Street in Santa Monica. His dad owned a Basque bakery, and his mother was young and pretty, very classic homemaker-type. My mom talked his mom into letting Johnny do some acting, and then I guess my mom talked the producers into letting Johnny be on the show – he was a nice kid and great looking kid from a very nice family – so that was more fun for me even than having a star like Mark Lester. I was not interested in boys at that age, so it wasn’t a factor really, though Mark Lester was and from what I can see still is, as Candy would say, adorable.

With Michael Barbera, Christopher Shea and Johnny Garacochea (credited as John Garrison).

With Michael Barbera, Christopher Shea and Johnny Garacochea (credited as John Garrison).

Adam: One more quote from a newspaper article that discussed your love of wildlife (you had two pet alligators?!): “One moment, Kellie will be playing with the multitude of dolls who “accompany” her to the studio each morning. The next minute, she may be conducting a serious conversation with an adult three or four times her age on a current national event” (The Abilene Reporter-News, September 28, 1969, p. 12-E). This paints a picture of an articulate young lady. Do you relate to it? Do you think that that was something you brought to the set, or a byproduct of working so young?
Kellie: The description you cite about me as a child having typical childhood pets and also perfectly adult conversations, is quite true and very much speaks to uniqueness in my upbringing. First, let’s address the alligators. My mom was an experienced mom with four kids before me, including two boys. We had all kinds of lizards, snakes, turtles and other animals including rats, mice, and cats. There was an instance of two alligators in the bathtub once, and I do recall seeing that, but I think it was a one-time thing and a self-limiting problem. In other words, my mom kyboshed it and out they went.

I did have a couple of Caimans, and we’d rig the Slip ‘N Slide over the backyard play slide and let the little critters off at the top until they slid into a bucket of water at the bottom. I don’t know if you could get them anymore and that’s probably exercising very poor judgment to drop a reptile down a waterslide, so I do not recommend or advocate that in any way ;)

Jerry and Neal’s youngest child (my brother Terry) was 14 when I was born. By the time I started acting really regularly, my brothers and sisters were out of the house. I was raised with adults and spoken to as an adult more or less from the time I was very little. My brothers and sisters made a great game of teaching me to say “bullshit” to anything a nun asked me. That caused confusion amongst the sisters at St. Monica’s, and was hilarious to my own brothers and sisters, to see a little kid thrown a crabby curse word out for any question asked.

My father had a tremendous sensibility for words, and was always working on word puzzles, jingles, poems and rhymes. He taught me big words from a little age, like “pusillanimous”. I tested well in school and on IQ charts, and I remember being pretty fearless. I believe that I brought a lot to the table in that regard when it came to acting. Also, I was petite and they like that in the business, because you are an older child who can play younger, which makes her easier to direct. She will have better memory and ability, and still look like a really little kid.

Then, once I began working that reinforced itself. As I was exposed to more of the creative adult world, that influenced me to the point where by the time I was 11 years old, I knew everything. At least I thought I did.

Adam: Child actors are surrounded by big names and, particularly in the case of GaMM, some veteran performers. Were you in awe of any particular person/people you got to work with, or has that come with time?
Kellie: The most impressed I remember being (besides Dom DeLuise who was just a riot) was when Harry Nilsson the songwriter was on the show. My sister had his records, or maybe we got them later, but I knew he was a rising star and as I recall he was very young and kind of awkward but extremely kind and generous with the music he played for us that week. I still adore his music and can sort of work my way through one of his songs on guitar, the charming “Puppy Song”, I think it’s called.

With Dom DeLuise as Elroy Applegate in "Today I Am a Ghost".

With Dom DeLuise as Elroy Applegate in “Today I Am a Ghost”.

Looking back, I am astonished and impressed by the caliber of the people with which I had the honor to share a sound stage, if only briefly. We spent a lot of time, as kids on the show, going to school and then going to bed, so except for a few episodes – and Jonathan’s interaction with the ghost – we weren’t in the show as much as kids on today’s shows (like Modern Family) or even other shows like The Courtship of Eddie’s Father or Family Affair, that really centered around the children.

Adam: American International Pictures went hippie (to paraphrase Salli Sachse, one of their long-term contractees from the Beach Party movies) with Wild in the Streets. You had a small but pivotal role as a bit of an antagonist to Christopher Jones. What do you remember of him?
Kellie: I get a huge kick out of Wild in the Streets and always have. Some of the scenes were really fun to shoot, like the political rally. Others were dramatic, like the scene where Hal Holbrook rips the posters off the walls in a drunken rage.

With Hal Holbrook.

With Hal Holbrook.

Millie Perkins puts an end to the Fergus children (Kellie, Michael Margotta, and Don Wyndham) listening to the new Max Frost.

Millie Perkins puts an end to the Fergus children (Kellie, Michael Margotta, and Don Wyndham) listening to the new Max Frost.

I spent an afternoon with Richard Pryor while filming that movie – we were on location near my house (which makes me wonder if my mom told the director about Douglas Park) – and we had a scene together that involved crawdads. Richard and I played with the crawdads, as I recall, and when the day was over, got to dump the bucket of crayfish into the water in the pond at Douglas Park near 25th in Santa Monica.

Shelley Winters was a big force back then – we were not supposed to be on stage when she was on – because of her salty language choices, we were told, but also because I had no scene with her in the movie. I loved her in The Poseidon Adventure.

The music in the movie was really fun, too, as were the costumes. When the movie premiered in Hollywood it was a big deal, as I remember. Something tells me that Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King appeared at the premiere – but I don’t know why she would be, it was just months after her husband’s death. So that makes no sense but I have that memory of not seeing her but being told she was there.

That movie has gotten Rotten Apple Awards among others. It was listed in the comedy and drama section of video stores at one time. I have no memory of working with Christopher Jones, really, but I do remember the sets in that movie, including the end set. Also those were my boots I wore at the end, they were always taking my shoes for things and just spray-painting them whatever colors the wardrobe department needed.

Once, when I was a teenager, that movie was playing at the local dive theater near my place in Venice, and I got a bunch of my friends in to see it for free, but when the lights came on only dedicated few remained. I love counter culture and the photos of me in the storm trooper outfit with the peace sign are some of my favorites. I really got to act in that movie, the tears were real.

Mary Fergus after her father's drunken rage.

Mary Fergus after her father’s drunken rage.

Kellie, Christopher Jones, and Salli Sachse.

Kellie, Christopher Jones, and Salli Sachse.

Adam: I conducted some research into PTSD a few years back. Something you wrote on your blog resonated with my thoughts:

“A new apocalypse is upon us: a generation of men and women are cut down or condemned to live without limbs, intestines, brain matter, sometimes even without souls. PTSD and TBI tear our young vets apart even after they’ve survived the roadside bombs. Soldiers return from tour these days as hometown heroes, and kill themselves with desperate resolve — overseas and stateside suicides are reported now in numbers unheard of in any war, ever before”.

You described Vietnam as “the war of my childhood”. I read that during GaMM you participated in events for the U.S. Marine Corps, including a ‘Toyathon’ (organized by Los Angeles children’s television personality Sally Baker, a.k.a. Hobo Kelly) and even collecting coffee cans for Marine wives and mothers to pack with homemade cookies. While many children of your age grew up with Vietnam, did you find yourself exposed to more of it as a result of working?
Kellie: I have a vague recollection of cans and fundraisers but I think the real reason I remember the war is because my family was involved. My oldest brother Shaun went to Vietnam very early on in the sixties, “before anything was happening”, he says now, though he was a paratrooper and Green Beret so that’s a little hard to imagine. He was away from home one Christmas and we kept the tree up until he returned later that year. He is 20 years older than me and was married and out of the house by the time I remember much.

Santa Monica was a pretty small town in those days, and I recall that we’d listen to the nightly news on the radio, and they’d read names of the war dead town by town. We had to wait all the way until they got to the “s” for Santa Monica. I don’t know how often this happened, or what station, but I remember being with my parents in the kitchen listening to the radio, very tense until we heard the names and didn’t know any of the dead.

I grew up in an Irish-German household where talk of politics was not verboten and both of my sisters were very active politically on a local level over the years. My sister Jill lived in the south for a while when the Civil Rights marches were going on.

The reason the suicides resonate with me is because I was involved in production on a series called the Civil War Journal for A&E, over 60 episodes and many that I wrote myself. It was a doc style series in the ‘90s hosted by Danny Glover. That gave me a little taste of war and so I caught wind of the suicides early and was really frustrated to note that our government wasn’t counting a lot of them as suicides and I could see right away the numbers were extremely alarming.

Adam: Your mother, Geraldine, passed away in 1970. How did life change after that?
Kellie: My life had already changed drastically when my mom Geraldine died in 1970, because she’d been sick for a long time before that, but when she did die just a few days before my 11th birthday, there was no going back to the way things had been.

When Jerry was diagnosed with cancer, there were exploratory surgeries and other surgeries to try and arrest the thing – she had a colostomy bag from the colon cancer and on the second year of GaMM she joked that she didn’t have to leave the soundstage to go to the bathroom. So I guess she had a pretty good attitude at least in front of me.

She got sicker and sicker, though, so I went to live with my sister Jill who was living with Davis Factor, Jr. at the time. He was the very kind and wealthy grandson of Max Factor of makeup fame. Davis was in the process of getting divorced when they met and moved in together. So it seemed at that time that Jill was in the most stable relationship but also Jill had always stayed close to me and taken care of me. I was very comfortable with her and with Davis, who had three children of his own.

At first, we lived in Marina del Rey, in an apartment with rented furniture, every piece of it, which was fun. Davis had two boats, a yacht and a speedboat. We’d take the speedboat to dinner at different restaurants in the Marina.

I learned to water-ski, eat clams and abalone, started going to a public school for 6th grade when we moved to the Peninsula where each street carries a nautical name: Anchorage, Buccaneer, Catamaran, Driftwood, Eastwind, Fleet, etc.

We lived on Fleet in a big black house with yellow trim and a turquoise door. We had a pet fox that we bought at a pet shop in Century City. When that fox ran away, we got another. My bedroom was downstairs in the two story house, and I was allowed to pick out everything for the remodel down there. It was two bedrooms with a master bath area in between, open style, with a fabulous claw-foot tub and loads of beautiful handmade Mexican tile, and an enclosed latrine. We had kittens, and lots of little trips and things were going about as well as you could expect.

The morning after my mom died, I knew she was gone because I told myself, I’d know. I didn’t want anyone to have to tell me, I thought that would be the saddest thing. I saw her one last time when some nuns smuggled me into the elevator and up to Intensive Care between their long habits. She was very sick and I remember a tear sliding slowly down her wrinkled cheek, it was heartbreaking.

Geraldine Flanagan (Kellie Flanagan private collection.

Geraldine Flanagan (Kellie Flanagan private collection.

So, what changed? Everything changed. My dad was an alcoholic so once Jerry died, Neal went off the rails. There had been no insurance, I think, and so finances were tapped, including any money to speak of, because in catastrophic situations – and this was an utter catastrophe to lose my mom – a child actor’s money can be used, and I had already been head of household financially for many years.

My dad sold our house in a very desirable area of Santa Monica, sold all our things I guess, except for a few pieces. He moved to Inglewood – not desirable. I still saw him – when we all lived at home he was a great daddy to me and I loved him tremendously – but as his disease progressed it became more clear that he was not fit to handle a child my age. He left me in the car once while he was in a bar and I got mad and started honking the horn and he got mad and then one of my brothers or sisters came to get me and they all got mad. Once he drove drunk with me in the car down a very windy road and it was terrifying. He flashed his gun at the grocery store for no good reason. So pretty soon, I didn’t see dad anymore. He died on the hospital when I was 15 from liver disease due to alcoholism. The last time I remember seeing him was at my 9th grade graduation.

Adam: After leaving show business, you attended high school and UCLA. You’ve written of that time that you still have your “private journals from Venice High School in the late-1970s, where Mrs. Schneider impressed the value of a strong essay, and Mr. Batcho tortured students with seemingly endless notes in crisp red pen”. I have fond memories of my teachers and how they shaped what I wanted to do. Can you tell me a little about how you got into writing?
Kellie: By the time I was 15 I kept a journal – a very torrid, dramatic and crazed journal just as you’d expect a teenage girl to keep. So by my teenage years, writing was already an important part of what I identified as me. When I was in 11th grade I entered a random contest to write an essay about trees with a chance to win a one-week stay with a forest family in Fort Bragg, California. The essay contest was sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, a big logging and paper concern.

By this time, I was living with my sister Wendy, her son Erik (five years younger than me) and Wendy’s new husband, Bill. Wendy was the English Department Chair and teacher at Venice High, and her husband Bill was known as “Coach” because he coached football and other sports. Probably it was Wendy who found out about this essay and encouraged me to give it a shot.

Kellie in 1973, Marina del Rey (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

Kellie in 1973, Marina del Rey (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

I have no recollection whatsoever what I wrote, maybe something about my love of nature, but it did the trick, because I won the essay contest and pretty soon was on a flight up north to Fort Bragg, where I was set to move in with this logging family – the dad was one of the bosses in the forest – and stay for a week to learn more about trees and logging and basically a big publicity stunt for Georgia-Pacific.

It would have been great, except, a tragedy had occurred. The logging family’s older daughter’s fiancé had been killed in a logging accident just a week or so before. This I found out on the flight to Fort Bragg. To my shock, when I arrived, they put me in her room and put her with her little sister to sleep. I could not believe this, and thought she needed her own space, but they wouldn’t hear of it. I couldn’t even believe they were having me there, it was so fresh.

The trip itself and the overall experience were wonderful, and I saw many sides of the forest that week. But I learned something really powerful about myself that had nothing to do with trees. One night, the grieving girl came into her room where I was getting ready for bed. She was very young, not much older than me, but I was the one with the wisdom on this particular subject of utter despair. We began to talk. She cried and told me about her dead fiancé and we talked for a couple of hours, and in that time I began to see that some of the painful experiences I’d had – losing both parents – had given me a gift of compassion and understanding that would be a wellspring I’d draw on forever. I mean, it didn’t all come out so succinctly in my head like that, but I realized I had helped her through a tough night – one of many, I’m sure – and in doing so, had healed myself a little. So that was pretty big for a kid.

At the end of that trip, I got to basically hitchhike home via little airports. I had a school dance to get to – spring formal – and the regular connecting flights weren’t working right to get me back home on time. The people in Fort Bragg set me up with the pilot of a little plane who flew me as far south as he could, then radioed ahead to see who else was going further south that way. None of this could happen today! After a few flights I got home, in time for the dance.

Well, that’s a long way to go to talk about writing – but I guess it’s the storytelling and the understanding that goes along with it that I am drawn to. I dropped out of UCLA by the way. If there wasn’t a parking space I flipped my car around and went back home to the beach. I didn’t even have enough sense to properly drop the classes, just didn’t go. So I got my education doing TV documentaries – I have a specialty in Civil War and post-Civil War westward expansion and art of those same periods. During my television career, coming up through the ranks as a production secretary and production-assistant all the way to producer and director – I was always saying, “I can write that, do you want me to write that?” So I just whittled away at it and eventually got to do a lot of writing for television and then freelance writing and now I’m writing you!

I have always been a bad correspondent, though, and am notoriously forgetful with letters.

Adam: When you’re not writing yourself, who/what do you like to read?
Kellie: I read a lot of memoirs because I have been dabbling in memoir for years. My favorite is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. For fiction, one of my favorites is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I also like Things Fall Apart, The Good Earth, and I have a lot of reference books I love, many for writing. We also read Outside Magazine and I pay attention to lots of sources online. I watch a lot of TV!

Adam: A few years ago you relocated with your family to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You wrote of that time:

“Most of my identity went missing as we moved. Even after 18,000 pounds of belongings trucked its successful way from Culver City, lugged over the Grapevine and climbed into these foothills, I still struggled to find where I belonged”.

How did you find your place?
Kellie: We left Los Angeles for the Sierra Nevada Foothills eight years ago. One of my favorite movies is Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. If you don’t laugh too hard, I’ll tell you that this move from the city to the mountains is a little like my Africa – or how Africa was for Meryl’s character the writer Karen von Blixen who went by the pen name Isak Dinesen. OK I know it’s not that dramatic but that’s what goes on in my head. We had always intended to leave the city; we thought when our daughter went into middle school. Instead, my best friend had a nearly-deadly stroke that left her in the ICU at UCLA all summer in 2006. She recovered pretty well, amazing recovery, Lazarus-like. It made us realize we wanted to get while the getting was good, so we migrated to almost five acres about half an hour outside the entrance to Yosemite National Park, in the beautiful and currently drought afflicted foothills. We stayed as close to Los Angeles as we could afford to and still be in the mountains.

To a certain degree I’ve found my place. I don’t know that I’ll live here forever. I feel really blessed to have found work that I love most days – something I can do that’s in my field and to be able to work from home, all that is a big joy and a big surprise. Our daughter is delightful and is super busy in her junior year of high school now. She wants to be a forensic scientist not an actor so that was worth the move! My husband Dave and I have been married for almost 19 years, he is a landscape architect and has a great job in the city. I have a dog I adore, and a flock of chickens, and beauty surrounds me. There’s also a hell of a lot of fires, lately, but that’s part of the adventure – and something I never dreamed I’d be writing about, in terms of being a reporter, certainly. So I love the turns my life has taken, and consider myself very fortunate to have made it this far.

At Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

At Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park (Kellie Flanagan private collection).

Adam: What’s next?
Kellie: I have been a stay-home Mom for almost 17 years and have had a bunch of part time jobs, mostly in the areas of entertainment, but not all. For a brief few weeks, I was a waitress in a tea shop my sister-in-law owned here in the mountains. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but only lasted three weeks. That’s twice I haven’t made it as a waitress, so that means I wouldn’t be a very good actress, right?

Inside my head I am constantly writing. For a long time before this, I was a writer who didn’t write. I have a half-finished memoir about the time from around 1966-1976 so it covers the television years and also, what I think are more interesting, transitional years of teen angst and coming of age.

A little more than two years ago, I started working for Sierra News Online, and it has been an amazing experience. I had no clue about journalism, had never tried it or studied it.

Since I began working for SNO I’ve probably written many hundreds if not a thousand little stories. Some are very tiny and others hold some weight. Mostly I enjoy writing the human interest pieces and people respond very well to those. So we are trying to structure things so I can do more of that. The website is a very interesting place to be, it has grown exponentially since I began and it’s fascinating in terms of the business end of things.

It’s my goal to publish at least one book, though I have a few in me, and I am working ever-modestly toward that goal. Send help!

 

The Ghost & Mrs. Muir can be purchased through Madman Entertainment’s website, as well as online and in-store at several DVD outlets. Kellie is on Facebook and I’m sure she would love it for you to drop past there. She also has her blog where she writes about life, past and present, as well as posting photos of her passions (such as repurposed furniture), and her menagerie of cats and dogs and chickens and things (I’ve been inspired in my phrasing of that from The Muppets Take Manhattan, I’m sure of it). Besides stories of her own life, Kellie writes on the blog and Facebook page of her experiences of telling the stories of others. As she mentioned in the interview, Kellie worked on the series Civil War Journal. It was there that she produced or scripted programs on Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, the unsung heroes of that battle, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the “boy generals” of the Civil War, the prison camps, and many other subjects. Her work in production, producing, writing and directing has also involved documentary treatments of Mata Hari and John Wilkes Booth, and even country music stars. Oh yes, she did tell his heart, his achy breaky… Perhaps what I like most about Kellie’s Internet presence is her insights on being a writer, sometimes sharing the insights of others. I love this quote of Mignon McLaughlin that Kellie posted: “There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write”. Now where’s my Evian (who am I kidding, it’s tap). You can also find Kellie at Sierra News Online.

Top photo of Kellie by Roxy Kobashi.

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

SpringI don’t tend to take a computer with me when travelling for business. My most pressing task when I’m out of the office – unless working to a tight deadline for a project – is keeping on top of emails. This can usually be accomplished on an iPhone. However, the main reason I don’t travel with a computer or even an iPad (most of the time) is one to which a lot of people can probably relate. The idea of going through airport security with both a carry-on and a computer bag, and having to remove the computer to be x-rayed while fumbling around with getting things out of my pockets fills me with dread.

As a result of this concern, my bag from a recent trip to Melbourne is stuffed with complementary Sofitel writing pads. On these pages are notes and not fully-formed essays so it may take a while for the ideas to see the light of day here. In high school, I would always draft an assignment with paper and pen. The computer was essentially nothing more than a word processor. That’s if it was used at all. This was at a time during the transition from writing an essay with paper and pen to typing it (and probably writing the whole thing) on the computer. As with most things I do, there was a modicum of method to this madness. Often by the time I got to the third paragraph of an Ancient History essay, I had run out of things to say. With pen and paper, you could be creative with spacing and make it look a bit more robust than it actually was. These days my process for writing is different. While I can write notes or parts of paragraphs on paper, I really need a computer for the wonderful switching around and editing of paragraphs. It’s a bit sad, really; if I were to write someone a letter by hand for the personal touch, I’d probably have to type it before I wrote it out.

My travel worry is not all bad. Anxiety can be a motivator, and I think that I’m a very good passenger. My phone and wallet are out of my pockets before I even reach security and everything is neatly contained in a moderately-sized bag. When a group of friends and I travelled the U.S., shoes, belts and jackets were off with lightning speed. If you took us all out for a night on the town with the only thing on your mind to get us out of our clothes, we’d be a very cheap date. I’m reminded of how a sleep-deprived Jimmy Wayne, the country singer and all-round good guy, misunderstood a security-officer’s instructions once and ended up handcuffed in his boxer shorts. I’m sure that even my preference for an aisle seat began because I wanted to be close enough to the overhead baggage locker when the plane landed. That’s if I wanted to live on the edge and not use the much safer option of under the seat in front of me.

My friend Paul probably wouldn’t understand why I’d avoid taking an iPad on board stocked with the latest shows, particularly for long flights. But I’m usually content with a book and the in-flight entertainment. On a flight back from Singapore, I watched back-to-back episodes of the then-new Dallas. Putting fingers to keyboard today, I was originally going to write that I watched them on my way to Dallas, Texas. But I realized that I’m just fusing my memories of going through the airport in Dallas and seeing many men with the “ten-gallon” cowboy hats with watching the wonderful Larry Hagman on TV. I’d imagine he would tell me that “that’s an understandable cognitive error, darlin’.”

This update is also an attempt for me to make sure that I continue to post regularly. Conducting and writing up interviews is very much an ebb and flow business. Sometimes, I’ve got back-to-back interviews and am deep in research for more with little actual output to put here. My friend Mark would admonish me for not posting more regularly in the last couple of months. When I started the blog almost a year ago, he advised that to get people to come back, there’d have to be regular content. Admonish is probably too strong a word and I can’t imagine he’d admonish me. If I did suggest to him that he was being hard on me, he’d ask me over our regular Negroni (it’s Negronis this season), “Are you projecting?” I hate when he’s right. I’m being hard on myself. That being said, I’m happy to say in the next few days there will be an interview here with Kellie Flanagan, an actress on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir when she was a child and now a writer. But do be sure to stop by regularly here; in fact, you can subscribe so you never miss a post. Brendan O’Brien has a web page for his late father, Edmond, and I love a quote on that site: “Love is many visits”. I will be more direct: Y’all come back now, y’hear?

The title of this update post doesn’t really reflect what I’m writing about, but serves two purposes. The first is that the other day I was walking around the garden. To my astonishment, flowers were all of a sudden blooming, there were blossoms on the trees, and the grapevine was covered with green leaves. Mercifully there were not yet grapes to step on. After thinking winter would never end, it finally has. The second reason is when I look over the ‘Updates’ I’ve posted during the last year, there is a lot of weather talk. I’m just trying to be consistent. But you would prefer me making small talk about the weather, rather than that local sporting team. Right?

Attica! Attica!

Europe 043

Athens has been on my mind. Recently I came into possession of a large number of Penguin Classics. Sometimes walking down the halls at a university you’ll find a table piled high with old books. A retiring academic is usually the culprit. Most of the time stopping to look isn’t worth your while. Old copies of textbooks that have long been revised sit alongside proceedings from obscure conferences. But every now and then you hit the mother lode.

My new books are mostly the works of ancient Greeks and Romans: Herodotus’ The Histories; the Old Comedy of Aristophanes; Plato’s Republic (the sole book that was not a Penguin Classic, but a Wordsworth) and two dialogues, Protagoras and Meno; and, for the more sage of you, Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. As an aside, there were also Dickens’ Bleak House, D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. A reader of film novelizations this person was not.

With the exception of Herodotus, I hadn’t read many of these works. The Histories was the first classic text we studied in Year 12 (senior year) Ancient History. My friend Luke turned his copy into a flip book by drawing a little cartoon on the corner of each page. If memory serves, in his cartoon a football player marks the ball and then takes a run up to kick it for goal; but ends up falling over. Someone may have punched the football player. There was a lot going on. After all, The Histories is more than 600 pages.

Herodotus and I at the Met, NYC in 2011. Only one of us ate a cupcake on the entrance steps to the museum afterward.

Herodotus and I at the Met, NYC in 2011. Only one of us ate a cupcake on the entrance steps to the museum afterward.

When I started re-reading parts of The Histories (our teacher told us it wasn’t the kind of thing you read chronologically), some of it came back fairly immediately. It is a fantastic read. I remembered the Persian invasion of Greece led by Xerxes and, in particular, the Battle of Thermopylae. This is where Leonidas the Spartan, leading the forces of the city-states against the invasion, “fell, having fought most gallantly”. Herodotus claims to have learnt the names of 300 Spartans who perished with him. Our teacher did tell us that Herodotus could be prone to exaggeration. Other parts of The Histories that I came across were, frankly, Greek. It’s sad how much you forget from high school. That last year, in particular, is when you (or at least I) lived and breathed the studied works.

"Oh, my girls … They function as a Greek chorus. These girls don't know shit about Euripides, but they know plenty about Trojans." (Photo: Bette Midler "Divine Madness" promotional photo. Adam Gerace private collection)

“Oh, my girls … They function as a Greek chorus. These girls don’t know shit about Euripides, but they know plenty about Trojans.” (Photo: Bette Midler “Divine Madness” promotional photo. Adam Gerace private collection)

Plutarch, one of my favourite historians, wasn’t amongst the newly-acquired books. Plutarch originally presented his essays on notable Greeks and Romans in pairs: he’d pair a Greek and Roman life, write separate biographies for each, and then compare the two. These days the Greek and Roman lives are usually studied separately and in different volumes. Having a box of works written by Greek historians without Plutarch would be like the time all but one of the original Brady kids appeared in A Very Brady Christmas. In order to make sure I didn’t spend another family Christmas wondering where Cindy was – and why on earth Marcia ended up with Wally Logan – I decided to go buy The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, a translation by Ian Scott-Kilvert that I used in high school. All these years later, the book is sold with the same cover.

I had to photograph Plutarch's work next to something ancient looking. The best available thing I could find at such short notice.

I had to photograph Plutarch’s work next to something ancient looking. The best available thing I could find at such short notice.

Plutarch always held sway with me. This historian’s focus on what his subjects achieved or the ignominy of their time in power struck a chord when I was very interested in the ways that notable people made their mark on the world; for better and for worse. My preoccupation was probably the result of a combination of factors. The first was being in that transitional time at the end of high school when issues of who you want to become as an adult are particularly pertinent. Few things made me think about that as much as literature. Other seminal events of senior year, such as the moment when the Phys Ed teacher shows you how to put on a condom on a banana, didn’t have much of an impact on me. In any event, my English teacher was given that task. I’m just glad he had a banana and not a copy of, say, The Great Gatsby. The second was, through no coincidence of course, the works teachers chose for class texts that dealt with these very issues. In English we started the year with Death of a Salesman. I really liked…actually I’m going to level with you. I know it’s a classic. I know it’s amazing. But fuck, it’s depressing.

I was rummaging a couple of months back through some boxes and found an old story that I had written for a competition from final year high school. I came in second place; first was a poet. It’s interesting how many friends I have this in common with. We’re like the Buzz Aldrin of the spaced-out set. In the piece, I contrast people who seem destined “to ride the pageants or sit at the head of the triumphs through life”, “others [who] act to give meaning to their lives, whether statesman, politician, martyr, civil or religious rights activist” and, finally, “those who stay at the party too long, get too inebriated from it all, and stain a reputation – whether Plutrach’s ‘butchers’ or those whose volts open wide after generations, revealing filed and forgotten atrocities”.

Man, was I laying it on a bit thick. That might make me sound like a very serious young man, probably with a pair of sensible glasses. But truth be told, at that time I still had perfect vision and my expectations for living a moral or impactful life were much more modest. I wanted a Calvin Klein Jeans t-shirt and to find a café where I could make friends with the staff and a core group of regulars. I wanted the regulars to have names like Corrine. I did find such a place and started to get to know the staff. However, that coffee shop didn’t last the turn of the millennium. It’s now a Wok-in-a-Box.

A few days after buying The Rise of Fall of Athens I had the urge to start looking over past holiday photos. I made it to Athens a few years after high school. Greece was my first trip outside of Australia, and Athens the first city I ever visited (at least initially) on my own. I guess it’s my first love. I had been to Sydney, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast before Athens and, by that reasoning, one of those should take that spot. But that was only interstate travel. Not true love. Kind of like kissing a cousin, I’d imagine.

Europe 001

Was Athens so appealing because I had studied it those few years before? Perhaps, but without the Romans Plutarch wouldn’t have had his Parallel Lives. In school, we did a semester each of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. I loved them both. I have fond memories of reading Roman texts like Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars and Tacitus’ The Annals of Imperial Rome. Yes, it’s true; I’m admitting that I like Annals. I think that I’ve just regressed to the kind of things we’d say to each other in high school. Indeed, while Athens and Rome were my fist two stops on my European adventure, I hardly could have wanted for historical (and just generally great) cities during that entire trip: Venice, Naples (which kind of scared the shit out of us), Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Paris, and London.

Well, why Athens then? It’s not really hard to pinpoint it when I remember opening my hotel window and seeing clear to the Acropolis. Athens was exactly what I needed at the time. I had experienced some losses shortly before leaving for Greece. The sun did me good, I could talk with my friend Claire into the late hours (not that early, all the walking made me tired), and being in an ancient city gave me a different perspective. The whole time I had Gustave Flaubert in my head, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”.

I'm used to staying in hotels with a view of a brick wall.

I’m used to staying in hotels with a view of a brick wall.

My time in Athens was also much longer than those subsequent cities on the itinerary. I’m usually at my best traveling when I’ve got time to get used to a place. I like the feeling when you return to your hotel room in the afternoon and it feels a little like home. The whole reason I was in Europe in the first place was an international psychology conference in Athens. They even put me up in the Hilton Athens. I realized within the first couple of days that time at a conference is often incidental to the world travel of its delegates. My main memories of the conference sessions are when the person who chaired a session decided he’d be the best person to answer any questions from the audience, even if they were directed at the speakers. I also saw Charles D. Spielberger – the creator of perhaps the most-utilized anger scales in psychology – in an elevator at the Divani Caravel Hotel. I didn’t stop to introduce myself because I’d heard they were serving drinks on the rooftop bar; a wasted opportunity of my youth. Luckily, it was the best (and only) Chios Mastiha I’d ever tasted.

A friend in the National Gardens of Athens.

A friend in the National Gardens of Athens.

The schedule of the conference did leave me with time to explore the city with Claire, who is the daughter of two of my (now former) work colleagues and who tagged along with her parents. The days involved lots of walking in the hot July summer of Athens. The pace, however, was leisurely. One morning we visited the Athens War Museum, sat in the National Gardens of Athens and watched the goats and quails, and then ogled the guards outside the Greek Parliament. I should mention that these are all on the same avenue: Vasilissis Sofias.

National Gardens. The pigeons were less "swoopy" than what was to come in Venice.

National Gardens of Athens. The pigeons were less “swoopy” than what was to come in Venice.

A pond to sit by in the National Gardens.

A pond to sit by in the National Gardens.

An afternoon was spent walking the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The Acropolis must have been a day all to itself. Usually when I see a relic, tall building, or even a Columbine lolly wrapper on the floor while traveling I just assume that it must be important. In Greece, that relic was Hadrian’s Arch, the tall building Athens Towers, and that Columbine wrapper because you’re an uncouth tourist with a hole in his pocket. Athens really is that city that has the right to say, “I’m kind of a big deal”.

Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Temple of Olympian Zeus.

View of the Acropolis from Temple of Olympian Zeus.

View of the Acropolis from Temple of Olympian Zeus.

I do love legitimate theatre.

I do love legitimate theatre.

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Acropolis.

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Acropolis.

Walks back to the hotel usually involved stopping for a soft drink at one of the many newspaper stands that lined the streets. Dinners were in the open-air restaurants of the Plaka or restaurants lining a public park where children played soccer and street hawkers placed religious icons on your table, leaving them there for a minute to see if you’d touch and, therefore, buy them.

Claire and I at a restaurant (not from the classical period) after a day of sightseeing.

Claire and I at a restaurant (not from the classical period) after a day of sightseeing.

Maybe my love of Athens also had something to do with the fact that sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. I was pretty naïve. I’d sit at a café almost every morning called Gush with my phone and wallet sitting in full view on the table while I read a paper and had a frappé and a sandwich with potato chips on the side. Nothing happened to me, so maybe my complete nonchalance deterred pickpockets and subway grinders. Or maybe I had a guardian angel in a gruff, smoking doorman named Baslikike. One night I asked him how I could get to the nightclubs in Piraeus that I’d heard about. He told me to go to a restaurant, get myself an ouzo, and then to go back to my room.

After my time in Athens, arriving in Rome was a bit of a rude awakening. No sooner had Carlo (my travel buddy for the rest of the trip) and I disembarked from a flight where I was sure we’d have to stick our jumpers out of the windows to help the plane land, a rather strapping Spanish man approached us. He told us the train to the city was not running and we’d have to take a taxi. Mr. Spanish Man sounded legit and, being a social psychologist, I subscribed to the heuristic, “what is beautiful is good”. Somewhere along the way to his big black van we realized that this wasn’t a good idea, and I wrestled my Samsonite (let’s just take some poetic licence here) from his bronzed hand. On our first day of sightseeing, Carlo and I lost each other in Termini Station. Looking around for my friend, I tripped over my feet and fell to floor exclaiming at the top of my lungs, “Faaaark!” Not that I didn’t love Rome. Rome just brings out the expressive Italian in me.

Now I am determined to reacquaint myself with Plutarch and (at least initially) his nine lives. I remember Themistocles, Pericles, and Lysander well. Other Athenians, like Nicias and Alchibiades, ring a bell. And then there are some like poor Cimon (pronounced Ki-Mon), whom I mostly remember because of a class exercise where we had to give a speech as an Athenian. A classmate named Simon got up in front of the class and said, “Hello, I’m Si-Mon”. We all laughed. I had better start with Cimon’s life to make up for being an uncouth Columbine-eating tourist who remembers humorous wordplay instead of important Athenian strategoi.

Being particularly perplexed by Plutarch on a Sunday afternoon.

Being particularly perplexed by Plutarch on a Sunday afternoon.

One day I would like to return to Athens. I was there in 2006. Since then the city has been hit hard by the debt crisis. I imagine Athens is quite different to what I remember even from only those few years ago. In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (Richard Crawley translation) a speech Pericles gave to his countrymen in the first year of the War is recounted: “In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian”. I hope for her return.

I’m also determined to get my Italian up to scratch. This was something else I studied in high school. I was a fluent speaker after final exams and would proudly call a great uncle in Calabria to have conversations. So good that words were dropped into the conversation that had nothing to do with what we were discussing, like “meraviglia” (wonder) and “barbocino” (poodle). My friend Andrew was much smarter about maintaining the momentum of his studies and would speak in Italian to almost everyone when we all went away for Schoolies Week (holidays following final exams for my non-Australian readers). He did this even if the other person had never uttered a word of it before. At least I think he was speaking Italian. We all did drink a lot. I have decided to remedy that and bought a copy of Schaum’s Italian Grammar, a book I used in high school. Right now I’m on the imperfect subjunctive tense. One of the examples is Cercavo una segretaria che parlasse Italiano. That means I was looking for a secretary who spoke Italian. After high school, I guess I could have easily related my needs to a recruitment agency in Rome.

The World at Large

Adz HunterThe first day of a new job can be hard for anyone. Employee ID photo, stationery orders, and finding just the right parking space. Now imagine being hired as a hit man and you’re about to carry out your first job. Two men sitting in a car late at night; the one in the driver’s seat fidgets nervously as the other sips from an oversized takeaway cup. Sensing the gravitas of what’s about to happen and the driver’s mounting dread, the man in the passenger seat throws the cup into the back seat and says to his pal, “Do you want a cuddle?” As the driver breaks down in his friend’s arms, he lets it all out. “I’ve never even held a gun before. I use to be a vegetarian”. The other reassuringly nods, “I know, I know – you still can be”.

Adz Hunter wrote the new short film 2 Birds and a Wrench, and co-stars with his friend and frequent collaborator, Roger Woods. Adz (I’m glad he goes by “Adz” now – Adam & Adam just wouldn’t work well in an interview scenario) is perhaps best known in Australia for playing twins Cameron (the good one) and Robert (the not so good one) Robinson on TV series Neighbours from 2006-07. He then headed over to the UK where projects included the offbeat stage play The Pork Crunch, which he wrote, as well at A Wedding Most Strange where one man faces the prospect of having too many potential suitors. While based in L.A., he developed a web series, Fresh Off the Plane about expats sharing an apartment. His character Caleb, a novelist, can’t read you anything he’s written, though; he hasn’t “got that far yet”.

Adz also travels a lot and writes about it. Recent adventures he’s put to paper (or Internet – what’s that, the Cloud?) included a night in Koh Kong on the Thailand/Cambodia border. It rained for most of the time he was there, but it doesn’t bother the locals, “If this was London there would be fights at the bus stop, babies would be crying and you would probably get a walking stick in the ribs at some point”. I remember the feeling when I was in Singapore and they’d be the afternoon downpour. Okay, I wasn’t roughing it around Asia like Adz, but I did have to get to Uniqlo before it closed. He’s equally at home taking a weekend away in the West Midlands of England, trying the brews at the All Nations Inn, “The Dabley Ale made me weak. At the knees. Then in the head after I had two”. Listening to Adz gives me wanderlust. I think it’ll do the same for you.

 

Adam: How did you get into acting?
Adz: I wanted to perform quite early from probably 10 or 11 years old when I was attending primary school and was interested as to why movie actors were so convincing when they didn’t even have qualifications in real life to be a doctor or a lawyer etc. It stemmed from a love of storytelling that I got from reading comic books as a kid (I’m still a big Batman fan), and wanting to truly be someone else.

Adam: I really liked one of your early short films that was made in Queensland; the sweet-natured Brace Yourself. It makes you realise that anyone can get past having to get braces as a young adult so long as they have an accordion, a fedora (or similar) and some choice dance moves.
Adz: Brace Yourself was my first paid gig out of acting school. The braces were made from a mould exactly as if I was fitted to have them. I was lucky enough to never have braces growing up but now know what a mouth full of metal is like. I remember in the kissing scene they became a little problematic; which to the credit of the writer it was what they were looking for. We shot half of it at an apartment block on the Gold Coast and the rest in a Salsa club on Caxton St in Brisbane. Our accommodation was an expensive hotel so I was under the impression that this was the high life of an actor, and much more of it was to come! If only I knew…

Adam: I had a lot of friends who moved to Melbourne or Sydney after high school or (as you did to Melbourne at 21) university. Friends of mine found those cities to be a bit more welcoming than others since so many people who settle there are from somewhere else. Did you find that?
Adz: I think if you spend 21 years in the same city or state, then a move somewhere new is a normal progression. Brisbane was a cool place to grow up, but I grew out of it quite quickly. You want to find your feet as an adult. I did most of my ‘growing up’ in Melbourne and I’ll always look back fondly on those years. Besides, Melbourne’s cooler climate and thriving arts scene at the time was really inviting for me.

Adam: Twins or similar-looking relatives have a long history on television, particularly where one of them has more nefarious motives than the other! How did you approach playing Rob and Cam Robinson in Neighbours, and avoid making them caricatured dichotomies of each other?
Adz: On a soap it’s quite difficult to create two different personas when you have limited time and fairly simple storylines. The Neighbours guys are the pros at fast turnaround TV, because it takes some skill to produce television that quick! Despite creating two invariably different characters, at the end of the day they are still twins. Cameron was killed off fairly quickly, so I didn’t get a lot of time for any proper in-depth character motivations. Most of the screen time went to Robert who I played as sinister and as unsavoury as possible. Like a really bad wine you expected to be fantastic, Robert leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths.

Cam tries to prove he's innocent.

Cam tries to prove he’s innocent in Neighbours.

Adam: Did having a role in one of their most popular imported series help you get other work when you moved to the UK in 2009?
Adz: In a way it did, but by the time I had made the move to the UK it was over-ripe. I had been off air for three years and although I still got recognised, work didn’t come knocking. I had to go to it.

Adam: Tell me about writing The Pork Crunch. When did you start doing this? Was writing something that you always thought you would do?
Adz: I had been writing in my own time years before The Pork Crunch was finished.  I started it as a scene for a showcase night for agents with an actor I’d barely met named Roger Woods. He kindly accepted to perform a script that involved a drugs heist and clubbing a toddler to death on stage. Most found it disturbing, but we thought it was hilarious. Dark, un-pc jokes an old flatmate and I used to ping around the living room and a passion for drum and bass music filled in the rest. Like most writers I was too scared to show anyone my work for fear of being critiqued. Thankfully The Pork Crunch was a project that came quite naturally as I couldn’t write it quick enough and it had a rehearsed reading in 2010 before being staged at the Pleasance Theatre in 2011.

Adam: When I wrote my first journal articles, I was terrified of putting them out into the world for scrutiny. Did you feel this with The Pork Crunch as the production started to take shape?
Adz: Of course. It made no difference how it was received; it was the fact that every word on that page is yours. I even had trouble learning my own lines because it was a very new way of working. Once the show was up, I was ready for anything and I knew any scrutiny was a blessing. Luckily for us, we were well received thanks to Simon Greiff’s ship steering and Roger Woods’ balls. If it wasn’t for those two (or three) we wouldn’t have had a show.

Adam: While in the UK you appeared in a wonderfully-inventive advertisement for Ford Fiesta. Where did you travel to film this?
Adz: That advertisement was a global campaign for Ford, and more of a luxurious couple of months shooting on location in Iceland, Spain, South Africa and Italy than anything. It was weird. Lots of fast-paced montages, like a video clip, and no talking required. It’s the penultimate commercial actors dream. You are paid very handsomely to turn up to set every day, get dressed and drive a car through mountains and rainforests. Then you get to go out to dinner every night. Unfortunately those gigs only come along once in a lifetime. So I’ve done mine. Tick!

Adam: One of the projects I wanted you to tell me a little about was the very unusual (in the good sense of that word) film, A Wedding Most Strange.
Adz: AWMS came from a meeting set up by my British agent with director Trevor Garlick while I was having meetings with agents in Los Angeles. Trevor said he had a script he wanted me to look at, the role of a gay guy who’d been in love with his best friend for many years who returns as a guest at his wedding. At first I declined to do it. I didn’t really get into the script, and there was a chance I’d be parodying any lead character’s gay best friend in every movie ever made. What changed my mind was that if I did something like this now, enjoy it, and continue to diversify the roles I play, I’d be happy. AWMS ended up being a hell load of fun to shoot (despite the freezing Devon weather) and I still have good friends from that shoot today.

Adam: Some of what you write could be described as awkward-based humour, like Fresh Off the Plane, a web series inspired by your experiences of moving to Los Angeles. You also co-starred as Caleb, an aspiring novelist who describes his genre as “technically romance”. What was shooting this like?
Adz: Shooting Fresh was interesting, though I wrote a screenplay that was used as a content base for actors to play with, a majority of what you see as an end product was improvised. A web series is a medium for the YouTube generation to get instant feedback and views in a short period of time. I mixed my observations of cultural differences I would see daily, and the hugely popular genre of awkward humour and decided I could write a series of short episodes that audiences could tune into every week.

Adam: You got some small parts on some big projects while living in L.A.: a Shakespearean actor in Liz & Dick, the dark comedy Wolfpack of Reseda, and a role in ABC- TV’s Mistresses. What was it like living and working in L.A.?
Adz: I get this question a lot, and my answer never changes. L.A. is a tough, tough city to live in. Even for those actors doing well, it’s taken them all many years to get anywhere. I could count on one hand how many actors I know personally who have landed in L.A., walked off the tarmac and straight onto a set. The rest you’ll find in a cue at Sunset Gower Studios at 5pm on a Thursday taking a cheque for $50 for being a part of the audience for The Price Is Right. I was fortunate to get those roles and others out of sheer luck and personal belief – not talent. If you are talented it helps. If you know A LOT of people and have relentless energy/determination 7 days a week for 52 weeks a year, the gods may be good to you.

Adam: Ultimately, you decided to “take a momentary step back from the tinsel and the lights because after a while I was beginning to think I had bi-polar”. You now split your time between the UK and L.A. When I was visiting L.A., I got the impression that living and working there could also breed a bit of paranoia.
Adz: Paranoia is a light term. It was like everything and everyone was on show. Constantly. It’s exhausting. I got back to England and all I did was dig up the garden for two weeks. I found the underbelly of America quite quickly. I like to see genuine and honest people. Los Angeles hit its peak in the 1960s due to a plethora of studios and movies making a lot of money and has been the world’s English movie making capital ever since. But every dog has its day, and I think Los Angeles is going through a huge period of change now. There is a lot less being made there than what there used to be as it’s too expensive. Some would say it’s an overhyped and sensationalised atmosphere that has a reputation for ruining careers. Not making them. So I plan to go back some day. Ha!

Adam: You also write articles and a blog. In one of your blog posts you discussed three things that you think a young actor (18-30) must do: travel, fall in love, and break up with a person you fall deeply in love with. I’ll ask you about the travel. Besides living in several places, when did you start to travel?
Adz: I guess acting and the biz is always where the heart is for me, so I’ll tie anything into that that is of equal passion – which is travel. Travel teaches you a lot about yourself. What you are like in a high pressured situation out of your comfort zone for example. I’m a sucker for punishment and I’ll always have to be taught something three times before I’ll learn. But I have a thirst for what is new and different, so my curiosity is fed by travelling to incredible and untouched places. I never get enough of what the world has to offer. I didn’t even leave Australia for the first until I was 25. I was a late bloomer compared to my friends but once it started, the bug got a hold of me.

Adam: Travel writer (and actor) Andrew McCarthy said travel for him was not vacation or for work, but to “go off into the world and you make yourself vulnerable into the world”. Andrew found that when he did this “the world meets you”. What does travel mean to you?
Adz: Andrew’s right. Travel is true freedom. Travel should be exciting, dangerous and euphoric at the same time. We are lucky we live in a world where most people can’t get to every corner of it before they die. There is always something new to explore and someone new to meet. I just got back from my first time in the Pacific, to the island nation of Samoa, and I’m constantly reminded of how vast this earth really is. Samoa was my 36th international stop. Then I met someone who had more uppity than me to go places, and any future planning now ceases to involve painting the house but more like an hour on Skyscanner and a credit card.

Adz Hunter

Adam: In another blog post you wrote about how an actor should go with (at least initially) the particular type that they might be given, such as playing repeated “baddies”. You wrote, “Actors struggle being told exactly what they look like at times because they have an idea in their head of the types of roles that they want to play” I wonder if ironically, given how a career in front of the camera makes it all about ‘you’, that some performers also lack self-awareness. That is, self-focus or even rumination doesn’t mean insight?
Adz: Actors need to have an acute sense of themselves and the way they are perceived. We study ourselves in order to become other people. No point in trying to figure out somebody else if you don’t understand yourself first. Actors also do a lot of hiding. They’re masters at it. A lack of self-awareness can only come about if a person believes in their own hype. Play the game. Not the hype. The entertainment industry is a narcissistic business and a way of dealing with it is to continue telling the stories that compelled an audience to listen to you in the first place.

Adam: You must have the face of a “baddie”, because you’re starring in two short-films where you play someone on the wrong side of the law, The Olive Branch Job and your own 2 Birds and a Wrench.
Adz: I get typecast in a way, which isn’t so bad. The darker roles are more interesting and when you have eyebrows like Jack Nicholson and cheekbones that would kick most meth addicts off the street you tend to run with it. Hence the blog I wrote that outlines rolling with what god gave you – it could make you a lot of money. Plus I like playing a bastard. Bastards are complex, they’re troubled, flawed. Iago was a bastard. So was Richard III.

Adam: Tell me about your latest writing effort, the short-film 2 Birds and a Wrench, which you co-produced and co-star with Roger Woods.
Adz: 2 Birds and a Wrench is the second creative venture with Roger Woods. I wrote something that we both wanted to make that fulfilled a desire we both love – dark comedy. I wasn’t interested in writing a film with a message, but something that appealed to us and our audience. I have a wicked, at times sadistic sense of humour that Roger feeds off. We thought about making a movie where two first time hit men signed up for the wrong job and bludgeon their way through the ordeal and come out unlikely winners. We threw many different ideas around but still kept coming back to this one. We fundraised, held auditions, got an incredible director and a stellar cast, and shot a movie we are very proud of. When we were accepted in Portsmouth International Film Festival with three nominations, at least we didn’t feel like a bunch of losers throwing our money down the toilet. Film-making is an ultra-sensitive beast and red flags two very important things that we are constantly reminded of – money and patience. It was no doubt going to be difficult and shooting the entire movie at night proved a challenge but upon completion there was a wonderful sense of achievement.

With Roger Woods.

With Roger Woods.

2 Birds and a Wrench is currently doing the festival circuit, so visit its Twitter page to see where you can catch it. And do keep up with Mr. Hunter (that’s a term of endearment, he didn’t make me call him that), himself, on his Twitter page. Stop on by Adz’ blog. Fresh Off the Plane is available on YouTube.

Top photo: Andy McColl.

Back to the Island

Back in May, I published an article here asking some good people the following question: What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Since that post, two more responses came from some hard-working people and I’d like to share them. The answers prove that no man or woman is an island.

Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)

Yvette Freeman (Photo: APB Speakers International)

Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)

Dylan Neal (Photo: IMDb)

Yvette Freeman is currently appearing on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. She plays Irma, one of the “Golden Girls”, an inmate who hasn’t seen life outside a prison – much less an island – in a long time. Yvette said that, “Besides things to support living, I would love books by Maya Angelou, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and someone to love”.

For Dylan Neal, being on an island would be somewhat familiar. He is currently playing Jack Griffith, editor of a newspaper in the coastal town portrayed in Hallmark’s Cedar Cove. Dylan thought that “If family can’t join – survival guide, hand crank radio, and a knife”.

I’ve been thinking about what I would want. Like Mark Deklin, who said in the previous post that he’d like “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza”, I would probably go with a never-ending bottle of a base spirit. I love wine, but I don’t like drinking it out in the sun. Plus, I figure the island would have lots of fruit trees from which to make cocktails. Then I’d like some ancient history to read. Perhaps Herodotus’ The Histories or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The first piece of writing I won an award for drew on the notion of a Pyrrhic victory, something I learnt about in Ancient History class. Wow, 17 and I thought I knew everything. Finally, there’d have to be someone to share it with. Gilligan had The Skipper, Brooke Shields had Christopher Atkins, and Auntie Mame had Vera Charles. The last two weren’t on an island, but they did know how to turn water into Gin Rickeys.

Jimmy Wayne: He’s Been There

jimmywaynehighres3If I could be you and you could be me for just one hour

If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind

If you could see me through your eyes instead of your ego

I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’d been blind.

Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes

And before you abuse, criticize and accuse

Walk a mile in my shoes.

I began the first chapter of my PhD thesis with those lyrics from Joe South’s Walk a Mile in My Shoes. In the thesis, I sought to investigate whether having had a past experience similar to another person made it easier to take their point-of-view. Taking someone’s point-of-view is perspective taking, a component of the broader term empathy. In short, it did and I’m still writing about that. One thing that emerged was that it wasn’t just about having had a similar experience to the other person. Instead, the extent to which someone reflected on and tried to get insight into their experiences was a critical determinant of how comfortable they felt (mentally) walking a mile in the other’s shoes. Empathy or sympathy can often have a motivational component: in the words of Lauren Wispé in 1986, it also involves “the heightened awareness of the suffering of another person as something to be alleviated”.

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Wayne fits the bill for that kind of motivation. He is an advocate for a group that he once walked amongst. It was 1 January, 2010 when Jimmy started his walk from Nashville, TN to Phoenix, AZ. Now, I couldn’t really imagine walking anywhere after New Year’s besides McDonald’s. Did I mention that the distance is approximately 1700 miles? For those who use the metric system and haven’t already gasped, that’s about 2735 kilometers. Have you gasped (while your mind wanders back to New Year’s Eve with Planter’s Punch and vegetarian spring rolls) yet? His purpose was to bring attention to children in the foster care system who “age out” when they turn 18. This is a group that already has significant (often unmet) need and they then face homelessness, incarceration and mental health issues. Since then it’s rare when you see Jimmy posting on Twitter and Facebook, or when you chat to him, that he isn’t about to or has performed and spoke somewhere to raise awareness. Project Meet Me Halfway came about as a result of his walk. Jimmy is also proud of his role as a national spokesperson for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

jw_photo_barlowe_4-0367bdd

Growing up, Jimmy was in and out of foster care, group homes, and out on the streets. He was also in 12 different schools in two years and his mother, who went to prison twice, struggled with substance use and always had “a sadness about her”. As he put it once, “Mom in prison, no dad, cheatin’ girlfriend—perfect country songs”. At 16, “… my life changed. The Costners gave me a home”. The Costners were Bea and Russell, a couple in their seventies who took Jimmy in. He finished high school, attended college and started to perform. They only things they wanted were for him to cut his hair and attend church with them. Perfectly reasonable – he does have a good hair of hair, though.

Jimmy was spotted at a talent contest. He didn’t win, but no matter (it’s funny how many people I hear talk about how they didn’t win such a contest, but it was still influential; my friend Donna Loren tells a similar story). With country legend Harlan Howard’s adage “three cords and the truth” in his head (Jimmy also has a story about that) his first single, “Stay Gone” went to #3 on the country charts, and eventually he went #1 with “Do You Believe Me Now”.  I remember buying his debut album at a shopping centre (the Marion Shopping Centre in Adelaide to be exact) after seeing a movie with friends. I don’t remember what the film was. However, back then my friend Luke kept the stubs of the tickets in his wallet until he had a “quite a wedge”. I may be able to track the film down that way.

In October, Jimmy’s story will be out there for an even wider audience, when his book Walk to Beautiful is released by Thomas Nelson publishers. He co-wrote it with Ken Abraham over about a year. With a New York Times bestselling co-author and Dolly Parton reading it (take a look at that here – that woman makes lemonade and wine sound even more appealing) it’s going to make an impact. Jimmy deserves it. Someone who hasn’t been a homeless youth can’t understand what it is like to walk in those shoes. I also know Jimmy is humble enough not to make blanket statements that he knows exactly what other foster kids would feel based on his experience. Everyone’s experiences are different. However, the power of Jimmy’s message is in getting his story out there. Sometimes the best way to help a person understand what is foreign to them is to tell them about it. Of course, they have to listen, but I think Jimmy’s way of engaging with others has that covered. That’s a start to help people identify something, however small, in another’s story to which they can relate. Often from that comes a motivation to connect or help. That’s really the height of empathy, isn’t it?

Walk to Beautiful

But enough about shoes. I kicked mine off earlier and don’t know where they are. Walk to Beautiful is available for pre-order at Amazon, Book Depository, and in the usual places that you find books. You can also find Jimmy on Twitter and Facebook. He’s a very funny man. And his dogs Ruby and Tate are about the cutest things ever.

Photos of Jimmy courtesy of his website.

Milady de Cold Front

I hope that you’re enjoying the blog six months on. I’ve been busy with many new interviews that will appear here shortly. Some of them are with people who haven’t participated in an interview in a long time and I’ve really enjoyed their perspective.

It’s hard to find the inspiration to leave the house in the middle of winter. Adelaide has seemed colder than usual. My usual explanation for these unexpected swift changes in weather (as I wrap around a warm scarf bought from a store in Haight-Ashbury a few doors down from Piedmont Boutique) is climate change. I felt the same earlier this year. In my defence, Adelaide was the hottest city on earth when the temperature reached 44.2C (111.56F) on 16 January. Maybe I’m catastrophizing. It could just be that the weather right now is due to “a deep low pressure which gathered over the Bass Strait” (The Guardian, 23 June). That’s if the Bureau of Meteorology is to be believed.

Legs 11? The Piedmont Botique

Legs 11? The Piedmont Boutique

We did head out recently on a cold, wet night to see the latest X-Men. I’m learning more and more that choosing good cinema seats is both art and science. Our friend Paul usually picks them, but he was away. Left to our own devices we ended up in the fourth row from the screen on the far right-hand corner. It reminded me of Bette Midler admonishing those sitting in the front row of her Diva Las Vegas concert. Nonetheless, it was a good film and I was happy to see a pre-adolescent from a family that got split over rows sit in the aisle at one point to share some popcorn with his mum. Fire risk, yes; heartwarming – absolutely. Between Mad Men and this latest adventure set mostly during the ‘70s, I am experiencing a rather severe case of lamp envy.

Did I mention we had a Cronut after the film?

"The American Express Gold Card ticket holders .... Paid all that money so that they could watch the show like this: 'Wow she's tall'."

“The American Express Gold Card ticket holders … Paid all that money so that they could watch the show like this: ‘Wow, she’s tall’.”

Holding the Mirror Up to Wendy

Wendy StrehlowYou could forgive Wendy Strehlow for being hard to tie down for an interview. When I first contacted her, she was in the last week of rehearsals for the Australian staging of the Pulitzer prize-winning Clybourne Park. Her dual roles were Bev and Kathy, two women separated by 50 years but bound together by “race, real estate and the volatile values of each” (Playbill). The play sold out before it even opened at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney. Wendy, however, was very accommodating.

Wendy, of course, occupies a unique position of affection with the Australian public. As Sister Judy Loveday in TV’s A Country Practice, it is not an exaggeration to say that Australia took Wendy and her cast mates into their homes and hearts. I don’t know that I, or many people my age, ever really got over ACP. Of course, since leaving the series, for which Wendy took home the 1985 Logie for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, she has moved between television and theatre at a brisk pace. So much so that, here, I should only discuss some recent performances and save the rest for Wendy. Those recent characters on stage have included Mistress Quickly in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s retelling (if you think Shakespeare couldn’t include a set involving a shipping container and milk crates, think again) of Henry IV, Part 1 and 2 in the form of Henry 4; her Sydney Theatre award-nominated Jac in I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard, which wasn’t written by Stoppard, and Nadya in Travesties, which was; the upwardly mobile Jane in The Greening of Grace; and the matriarch of The Memory of Water. She was an actor and facilitator in Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, developed by Ian Meadows and Adam Booth in collaboration with the Southern Sudanese community in Sydney. Wendy and I have also called Adelaide, South Australia home and Flinders University our alma mater (well, for her – for me, I’m not sure what fixed-term contract is in Latin) and so I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say about the City of Churches.

 

Adam: Tell me about growing up in Queensland. What did your parents do and how did you get into acting?
Wendy: I grew up in the outback outside Rockhampton, my family were farmers and we owned a bakery! So lots of diversity there. It was a childhood of wide open spaces and lots of freedom. I have a large extended family so we were always busy doing something together. I started ballet when I was four. Apparently I pestered my mother to take me to classes. I had the great good fortune to then at 11 be introduced to acting by the wonderful Jenny Simpson who ran the youth section of Rockhampton Little Theatre. It was a revelation! I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that really started the love for me. What an inspiring introduction. Shakespeare is still my favourite!

Adam: You attended the then-recently formed Drama Centre at Flinders University in South Australia. You and I both have experiences with Flinders University. What was Flinders like as a student studying drama in the ‘70s, and for one who was living away from home in Adelaide?
Wendy: I went straight from the outback to Adelaide. I was in heaven. I loved the markets, the theatre and just the feel of what I believed was a “big” city. Flinders was a very “out there” Uni. Wal Cherry was an inspiration; Noel Purdon was showing us Pasolini films illegally! I was introduced to film noir, and Gus Worby was generally just being subversive. Michael Morley introduced me to Brecht and Zora Semberova was my absolute inspiration as she encouraged me to continue with dance but move into contemporary dance. For me, it was the most extraordinary introduction to the world of theatre and film.

Adam: When I speak to actors about their education, some have vivid memories of a particularly insightful acting technique or task that they completed in class? Did you have a similar experience(s) at NIDA?
Wendy: Yes. My year had the great good fortune to work with Geoffrey Rush and Aubrey Mellor and George Ogilvie in 3rd year. We did our Chekov with Aubrey, a self-devised piece called Mirth of a Nation, which was a history of Australian vaudeville with Geoffrey, which was my personal favourite. He had just come back from Lecoq school in Paris and we had an absolute blast putting that show together. We did Love’s Labour’s Lost with George Ogilvie and also John Galsworthy’s Strife with George. It was such a wonderful and exciting year and so inspirational.

Adam: What do you remember of one of your first TV roles, Robyn in ABC’s A Step in the Right Direction 
Wendy: Di Drew had just worked with us on our TV exercise at NIDA and she cast Noel Hodda and me straight out of NIDA so I was really excited and it was a great experience. Di is such a fantastic director and teacher.

Adam: You started playing Sister Judy Loveday in A Country Practice from the first episode of the series, but then the character didn’t appear for a while. Why was this?
Wendy: I did the pilot and then while they were waiting to see if the series would go ahead, I was offered a year of work with the South Australian Theatre Company and a role in For the Term of His Natural Life, so it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Luckily they asked me back at the end of that year!

Wendy as Judy Loveday

Wendy as Judy Loveday

Adam: There were a number of storylines on A Country Practice that became Australian television iconic moments or, at the very least, are well-remembered all these years later. One Judy moment that has stuck with me is when she and Matron Sloan (Joan Sydney) were brutally attacked by a patient (played by Max Phipps). For you, what were your most memorable storylines and who did you enjoy working with the most?
Wendy: I loved anything I did with Joan because she was so creative and inspiring and soooo funny! She is one of the cheekiest actors I have ever worked with and she taught me so much.

Adam: Has Judy been an easy character to live with?
Wendy: Judy was a gift and I am very proud of what the writers and producers and myself created. I received some fabulous fan mail and feedback about her and she was such fun to create.

Adam: You went pretty much straight from ACP to the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the Phillip Street Theatre in Sydney. What was it like to take on this role?
Wendy: I was really nervous about performing Shaw, but I think as a performer you owe it to yourself to keep pushing your boundaries. I was working with a terrific director, Mark Gaal and we collaborated really well.

Adam: You’ve always worked across TV and theatre. Do you find this to be a happy marriage?
Wendy: Yes. The challenges are so different but ultimately what you are doing is telling the story and the truth for that character. Ian McKellen calls the camera “the smallest audience”. I can really relate to that analogy and I love the differences.

Adam: Who have been some of your favourite characters to play on the stage?
Wendy: Ariel, The Tempest; Mistress Quickly, Henry 4; Rosalie in Jonathan Gavin’s BANG; Nadezhda Krupskaya in Travesties; Jac in Toby Schmitz’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard; and most recently, Bev and Kathy in Bruce Norris’s Clyborne Park.

Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Wendy, Briallen Clarke, Cleave Williams, Paula Arundell and Nathan Lovejoy in Clybourne Park (Photo: Clare Hawley, used with permission of Ensemble Theatre)

Adam: You’ve performed in several period pieces, including the World War I-themed Travesties by Tom Stoppard; Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass set at the time of Kristallnacht; Bill W. and Dr. Bob set in the thirties; the civil-rights era Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris; as well as Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal. What is it about these roles that draws you tell them?
Wendy: Well, firstly being asked to do the roles is a massive plus. There are so many great actors in this country who are not working as much as they should. Then, once you have been asked to create these characters, telling their story and finding their truth and communicating that to your audience is paramount.

Adam: Of course, you’ve also performed in several Shakespeare works, including an all-female The Taming of the Shrew; and several comedies including last year’s I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard. You seem to have a fulfilling range of roles?    
Wendy: I am very lucky. I reckon also if you get this opportunity give it all you’ve got. I am very grateful for these opportunities.

Adam: Can you tell me about your involvement in the very special Four Deaths in the Life of Ronaldo Abok, by playwright Ian Meadows?
Wendy: Ian’s co-director Adam Booth asked me to get involved. Ian and Adam were both working with the Sudanese community. It was a completely rewarding and eye-opening experience. I knew almost nothing about Sudan and the cast had never acted before but I became very close to them and they welcomed me so warmly. Considering what had happened in their lives, they were so open and curious. I have such respect for what they are achieving here.

Adam: For many years, you have been vocal on the rights of artists and the need for arts to be on the Australian national policy agenda. What do you see as the issues facing the arts today?
Wendy: We need a certain amount of funding to survive but I don’t think we can rely on it. We need to seek support and sponsorship through the private sector. I am passionate about the vital role the arts play in society. “Holding the mirror up to nature”, so to speak. Without a healthy and thriving arts culture we are spiritually bereft. I sincerely hope that working with the corporate sector we can help our cultural uniqueness to thrive which can only be beneficial for all of us. I don’t personally believe that Government should be wholly responsible for providing those fund but recent proposals to cut arts funding are very short sighted and quite frankly unfathomable.

Adam: Your daughter, Sophie Hensser, is currently co-starring in Love Child. Does the whirlwind that is this new TV hit remind you of your time on ACP?
Wendy: Yes! But she is so much better equipped to deal with it than I was. Also she is an actor for all the right reasons. She loves the craft and is always willing to learn and grow.

 

Wendy can be found on Twitter here.

Steven H. Scheuer 1926-2014

Steven H Scheuer

Alida Brill contacted me late Sunday to let me know that her husband, television and film critic Steven Harry Scheuer, had died the previous evening.

He cast a long shadow on my life.

I knew him, at least initially, from his Movies on TV and Videocassette (originally TV Movie Almanac & Ratings, and then Movies on TV). My copy of the final edition has been sticky-taped so many times from use, but still has pride of place on my shelf. Today I picked it up again. The smell of the paper always takes me back to reading it for the first time. In high school, I’d write out by hand reviews of his that had been omitted from more recent editions (there were 17 and I think the school library had the 1986-1987 book). At university, I referred to his work in essays for the film and TV courses I took. I still use this and his other books. There may have been other critics, but for me Mr. Scheuer was the best.

My well-worn copy

My well-worn copy

The description of Mr. Scheuer as a television and film historian and critic doesn’t seem to do him justice. As The New York Times’ James Barron wrote in a 2002 article regarding Mr. Scheuer’s eight-part series, Television in America: An Autobiography:

Under Steven H. Scheuer’s name on the screen are the words “television historian.” That will have to do. A more telling description, like “witness to half a century of television history,” wouldn’t fit.

Mr. Scheuer wasn’t so much only a witness as someone who shaped that industry and its need to look inward. In Mr. Scheuer’s obituary in the New York Times, William Yardley described him as “one of the medium’s innovators”. Mr. Scheuer was an associate director at CBS during the ‘50s. Television being largely live in those days meant that viewers who weren’t aware of a program before it went to air missed their chance to see it. The Times article quoted Mr. Scheuer from a 1992 interview:

In the middle of the night I woke up, and it was absolutely clear to me that the whole approach to TV criticism was backward. It was being covered the same way as books and plays and movies. You were told on Thursday by a newspaper critic that there had been an interesting program on Tuesday. It was live. So you couldn’t see it if you missed it.

Soon began his syndicated newspaper column TV Key in 1953, with Mr. Scheuer using his contacts to gain access to program rehearsals and scripts. He hosted the television program All About TV from 1969-1990. New York Times critic Jack Gould, himself an innovator of television criticism, described the show in its second year “on ultra-high-frequency Channel 31” as “an absolutely first-class program”. John O’Connor, in another article also in the Times, drew attention to the series’ unique “attempts to discuss various aspects of the medium itself, to conduct a self-examination on a wide range of topics”. In that article, it was television coverage (or lack thereof) of the Vietnam War, and the program that night included a short film, Vietnam and Beyond. The filmmaker, David Schoenbrun, had said that the film had been seen by eight million people in private showings, but “no American television station has been willing to show it”.

Mr. Scheuer was regarded by his peers as a master of the interview. I hope that in the next few days he gets the recognition he richly deserves, and that other parts of his life are also focused on. These include being a nationally-ranked squash player and avid sportsmen. Mr. Scheuer saw the need to preserve the history of television and film – and, indeed, his home, New York. His family’s foundation also supported the English publication of the book French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial by Serge Klarsfeld, described by historian John Felstiner in a 1997 Los Angeles Times review as a work that “more vividly than any other source I know in any language, presents the human personhood of the catastrophe”.

Did I mention he liked scarves? I wonder if he had a scarf drawer like I do.

I am grateful that last year I was able to let Mr. Scheuer know how I felt about his work.

Memorial donations can be made to his alma mater, Yale University, and a memorial will follow in the fall.

With gratitude to Alida Brill and Christopher T. Cory, Scheuer family friend. Photo courtesy of Alida Brill.

All We Need is an Island

What three items would you want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island?

Variations of this question are often used as an icebreaker or team-building exercise. I remember completing one during the first tutorial of a second-year psychology class, which required the group to rank items most useful after an emergency lunar landing. If there’s one thing psychology students have an aversion to, it’s group work. However, psychologists have been known to throw their students or research participants in the deep end. In 1954, as part of the Intergroup Relations Project at the University of Oklahoma, Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues took two groups of boys to Robbers Cave in Oklahoma. The boys were split into two groups – the Rattlers and Eagles – and intergroup conflict was generated through competitive tasks like baseball and cabin inspections (that would bring out the competitive streak in anyone) by staff members. Prizes included four-bladed knives, and were highly coveted. As reported in the book Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment (1954/1961), “The trophy was so valued by the winners that they kissed it after they took possession and hid it for safety in a different cabin against a possible seizure by the losers”. The experiment was a success in generating conflict. Of course, the experimenters wanted to show that you may reduce conflict by introducing goals that are only obtainable if both groups worked together. But I digress. In short, while many of you would find these Moon/Island hypothetical group tasks only mildly discomforting, as a psychology student they were true practice runs for our survival if we had an errant lecturer needing research subjects.

"It's never a three-hour tour!" (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

“It’s never a three-hour tour!” (Photo: Dawn Wells Facebook page)

Another thing that comes to mind when I think “island” is Gilligan’s Island. I’ve always felt that the criticism of the show as being unrealistic because of how many outfits Ginger wore on the island was unfair. Surely, these armchair (or Panton chair if you grew up with the show during its original run) critics opine, the passengers on a three-hour tour would have never packed at least 98 changes of clothes (the number of episodes). I have a couple of remarks for this. Firstly, you don’t know how this is not only possible, but indeed probable, until you’ve travelled with my friends and I for a weekend away. Second, if you are looking for holes in the fabric a Sherwood Schwartz-created show, is this really the worst of them? I’m more concerned about where Alice the housekeeper slept in the Brady house.

With these two (flights of) ideas in my mind, I decided I’d ask some friends and/or generally nice people the question of what three items they would like to have with them if they went the way of the Swiss Family Robinson or, more recently, the characters of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Their answers didn’t have to strictly adhere to logic. For example, if they were to mention a favourite album, a record or CD player didn’t have to be one of the other items. Also, they could bring/be with their loved ones – the answers needn’t be only items as specified in the question. The answers were enlightening, entertaining, heart warming, and didn’t once mention a volleyball. Good for them.

Mikey Wax (Photo: Justin Steele)

Mikey Wax
(Photo: Justin Steele)

Matthew Jordan (Photo: Facebook page)

Matthew Jordan
(Photo: Facebook page)

Mikey Wax has a new single, “You Lift Me Up”, and an upcoming album in June. It’s understandable, then, that he might just want a whole orchestra with him. Failing that, Mikey explained his first choice: “An acoustic guitar – I can’t live without a musical instrument, and I would need something to write about how lonely I was on the island. I would ask for a keyboard but that would require a power outlet. A baby grand piano on a deserted island would be pretty cool but getting one there just doesn’t seem possible”. His second choice would be, “Chips and guacamole – I hope this doesn’t count as two separate things. I believe I could live entirely off this one dish and be satisfied. It will provide necessary energy to build a boat out of tree branches and escape off the island”. For number three, “Scotch or wine – you can’t be on a deserted island without some sort of alcohol. Having a good bottle of scotch like a Macallan or a nice bottle of red wine would be necessary”. Singer-songwriter Matthew Jordan has been busy lately releasing singles, including his cover of “I See Fire”. His requirements are also musical: “My Beatles records, a baby grand piano, and maybe my Kindle if I didn’t have to worry about charging it. I think as long as I had all my Beatles music to listen to and a baby grand to play, I’d be happy for a long time Actually, listening to Rubber Soul while relaxing on a desert island sounds pretty awesome to me. It’d be like a vacation!”

Mark Deklin (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

Mark Deklin
(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

Ben Lawson (Photo: IMDb)

Ben Lawson
(Photo: IMDb)

Mark Deklin plays the man with a past, Nicholas Deering, on Lifetime’s Devious Maids. Mark, himself, is a man of many pasts, with a background in English literature and history and having worked as a book dealer and jazz pianist. His choices reflect some of this. First there would be, “An iPod fully loaded with music – particularly classical (especially Baroque and Renaissance) and jazz (especially by the likes of Coltrane, Tatum, Davis, Mingus, etc.)”. Then he’d like “a Nook or Kindle fully loaded with books – an even distribution of fiction, science, history, philosophy, and humor, please”. Finally, it’s important to stay nourished with “a bottomless jar of peanut butter and/or box of pizza… No explanation needed”. Mark does concede, “And I guess water would be good, too”. Ben Lawson, Michael in the upcoming ABC pilot Damaged Goods and recently seen in 2 Broke Girls and Australia’s Love Child, found that the island would bring out some chords and a couple of clubs or spades, “I’d want goggles first of all. Then maybe a guitar. I don’t really play guitar but I’d presumably have a fair bit of time to get good at it. And then a deck of cards; I’d just hope that somewhere on the island there were some natives that I could teach to play 500”.

Holland Taylor (Photo: Linda Matlow)

Holland Taylor
(Photo: Linda Matlow)

Eric Hutchinson (Photo: Facebook page)

Eric Hutchinson
(Photo: Facebook page)

Comfort food, and comfort in other forms, is important. Holland Taylor’s character Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men would attest to that. For Holland, she would need on her island, “An encyclopedia, a mattress, and a chef who had his knives and pots and pans and olive oil and butter and a gun and a fishing pole. Young chef”. If Eric Hutchinson ever needed inspiration for a new album after his recent release, Pure Fiction, a lazy afternoon on the island would do it with, “A chair, an umbrella and a very large bottle of tequila”.

Sheila Kelley (Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)

Sheila Kelley
(Photo: Sheila Kelley S Factor)

Jesse Bradford (Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Jesse Bradford
(Photo: Brian To/WENN)

Sheila Kelley, actress and founder of lifestyle and fitness movement Sheila Kelley S Factor (seen on Oprah and The Ellen DeGeneres Show) may want to build a pole and ambient space for her pole dancing sequence of movements. She requires, “A solar powered iPod. A machete. A flint”. Jesse Bradford is used to playing characters in situations of high-stakes such as Rene Gagnon in Flags of Our Fathers, intern Ryan Pierce in The West Wing, and Dom in the recent The Power of Few. So it is understandable that an island stranding requires a low-key approach, “Two guitars and a ChapStick”. For Shane Withington, who has played characters in rural (A Country Practice) and seaside settings (currently on Home and Away), it’s also a “Guitar”, as well as “good red wine, and Cate Blanchett”.

Shane Withington (Photo: Home and Away official site)

Shane Withington
(Photo: Home and Away official site)

Fabian (Photo: Official site)

Fabian
(Photo: Official site)

No man or woman is an island, of course. Fabian’s Golden Boys tour with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell would have to go on hiatus if he were stranded, but he said, “I would want to have my wife, my children and my grandchildren with me”.

Chad Lowe (Photo: ABC Family)

Chad Lowe
(Photo: ABC Family)

Donna Loren (Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Donna Loren
(Photo: Mark Arbeit)

Chad Lowe grew up in the Midwest before moving closer to water in Malibu. For Chad, whose character Byron Montgomery on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is used to moving (to Iceland, no less) or trying to move others (to Vermont or New Orleans), the choice was clear, “My daughter Mabel, my daughter Fiona, and my wife Kim. I realize they’re not ‘items’, but they’re the only thing/people I care about. Plus I know that if we were all together everything would be fine”. Donna Loren is no stranger to the question or the island. She spent 15 years living on the Big Island and Oahu in the ‘90s and co-starred in the Beach Party films. Donna also recalled an episode of The Newlywed Game in the ‘60s where “a husband was asked, ‘If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you like to be with?’ And the answer was ‘Donna Loren’!” (I think that couple made their second TV appearance on Divorce Court.) But Donna’s choices are also three people. She explained it this way: “The heart of my husband, Jered; the dancing legs of his father, Harry; and the great compassion of my first husband’s father, Si”.

Matt Long (Photo: Twitter page)

Matt Long
(Photo: Twitter page)

Rick Lenz (Photo: Offical site)

Rick Lenz
(Photo: Offical site)

Matt Long played the empathic Dr. James Peterson on Private Practice, as well as a freelance artist who crossed swords with Joan in Mad Men, working on the Samsonite account amongst others. Now that would be a sturdy island suitcase. Matt would want “my wife, our six-month-old daughter, and a fishing pole”. Rick Lenz experienced life on the plains in The Shootist and more cramped quarters in Cactus Flower. Rick tells me, “1: My wife—for my soul. 2: My paints etc.—for my soul. And 3: books and paper—for my soul. The rest, God will provide”.

Francine York (Photo: Official site)

Francine York
(Photo: Official site)

Dick Gautier (Photo: Official site)

Dick Gautier
(Photo: Official site)

Francine York probably doesn’t need books on the island. She played the Bookworm’s moll on Batman. Francine would while away the hours with “Liam Neeson, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Selleck”. And for Dick Gautier, Get Smart’s logical robot Hymie, some long-time island dwellers are the best option, “I’d like to take Tina Louise, Bob Denver and Jim Backus”.

Don Rickles (Photo: Twitter page)

Don Rickles
(Photo: Twitter page)

Lana Wood (Photo: Facebook page)

Lana Wood
(Photo: Facebook page)

Some felt in spite of the fish caught, painting, dancing and companionship, they’d want to perhaps get off the island. “Mr. Warmth” (or, as any child will gleefully exclaim, “Mr. Potato Head!”) Don Rickles was aware he may be there for a while. He guest starred on Gilligan’s Island, after all. In addition to “a satellite phone so I can call a rescue team” Don would need “a portable toilet” and “a great chef”. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever met James Bond at a card table, but didn’t want to gamble and spend a moment longer than she needed to either: “To quote John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful…a plane, a runway a pilot!” I wonder if John were marooned with her, could he put down his baritone guitar for a while and work on that runway? Some would stay and try to make it work. Erin Murphy sometimes got things done with a twitch of her nose as Tabitha on Bewitched. She’d want, “My husband, for love and companionship; a large pan, to boil water and cook food; and a boat, so I can leave the island when I’m ready for my next adventure”. Josephine Mitchell, star of A Country Practice, is much more use to a drier setting of that show’s Wandin Valley. However, she has a plan to ensure there will always be leftover sustenance, “I would take a Kindle with unlimited downloads, lots of sunscreen and a grape vine so I can make my own red wine”.

Erin Murphy (Photo: Official site)

Erin Murphy
(Photo: Official site)

Josephine Mitchell (Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Josephine Mitchell
(Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

So, not one of my castaways mentioned food concentrate or 50 feet of nylon rope. But why would you, really? I actually sent an email through to Buzz Aldrin’s team asking him the island question. Team Buzz (they sign their emails that way) very politely passed on the request but wished me the best of luck. I like a Team that gets back to you after a request, even if it’s not an affirmative. If I ever am stuck in one of those team-building exercises again and the Moon question comes up, you know who I’ll call.

Whose choices would make you want to join them on their island? What would you take with you? I’d love to read your choices in the Comments section.