Families and friends took The Partridge Family into their homes for five years from 1970 to 1975. This popular television show is still in syndication. Shirley Jones portrayed the matriarch of this musical clan of teenagers and children.
For any movie buff, Shirley holds court anytime you enjoy films like Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Carousel on television. Her musicals are some of the best made. Whoever thought the loving “Mrs. Partridge” is the same person who had won an Academy Award in 1961 as best supporting actress. She did it playing a prostitute in the extraordinary film Elmer Gantry with Burt Lancaster. It was a great privilege to spend some real time talking with Shirley Jones about her whole career.
Showbiss: You had an exclusive contract with Rodgers and Hammerstein?
Shirley Jones: They discovered me at an audition in New York. I was on my way to college. I went to my very first audition and sang. Rodgers called Hammerstein to come and hear me at that audition …I never got to college and went into my first Broadway show called South Pacific. Unbeknownst to me, they were thinking of me for the role of Laury in their own independent film of Oklahoma.
Showbiss: Gordon MacRae’s voice is one of a kind.
SJ: Absolutely it is.
Showbiss: What do you remember about starring with him in both Oklahoma and Carousel?
SJ: There’s been nobody before or since that sings like Gordon. He was the all-American guy and that’s really what he was. He was a great Curly. Billy Bigalow wasn’t really quite right for him (Gordon’s lead part in Carousel). Frank Sinatra was supposed to play that role.
SJ: We got to location in Maine and Frank came on the set. We were doing the film in two processes, Cinemascope and Cinemascope 55. Frank, who is known for doing only one take said, “Listen, what are the two cameras for?” The director said, “We may have to shoot a couple of the scenes twice because of the two different processes.”
Frank said, “I signed to one movie, not two…” He got back in the car, back to the airport, and we lost our leading man. Gordon got the part.
Showbiss: When did you realize that you were a star?
SJ: It happened so fast. I never had a moment to say, “Hey, I’m a movie star.” It’s a lot of hard work. That was before the unions came in and said, “You can’t work actors like this.” On location in Oklahoma, we worked fifteen- or seventeen-hour days, seven days a week. You don’t really get it, until after it’s over. Then you say, “Hey, yeah…I did star in this movie.” (laughter).
Showbiss: You have an incredible voice. Your spirited vocals will lead young people everywhere as a positive role model forever.
SJ: How nice…thank you.
Showbiss: Could you pick your favorite song that you loved performing the most?
SJ: Yes, “If I Loved You” from Carousel. It’s my favorite score.
Showbiss: How did your part in Elmer Gantry come about?
SJ: They stopped making musicals. They were too expensive. My career was virtually over at that point. They said, “she sings, she doesn’t act.” So, I started doing other things. Fortunately for me, it was the time when they were doing powerful live television shows. If I was going to have to prove myself as an actress, I was going to have to do it that way. I did a Playhouse 90 with Red Skelton called “The Big Slide.” I played an alcoholic Sunshine Girl during the Mack Sennett comedies of the 1920’s. Both of us were nominated for an Emmy.
Burt Lancaster happened to see that show. He called and said, “We’re going to do this movie called Elmer Gantry and could you come in to meet Richard Brooks, the writer and director. I have a feeling that you would be wonderful in this part.” I didn’t know anything about the film. I couldn’t believe that they were thinking of me to play the prostitute.
I read the part and I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Wow, I’ll do it for nothing.” After seeing the first day’s rushes, Brooks said, “Not only are you going to be great in this film, but you are going to win an Academy Award.”
Showbiss: Amazing. You also have a great dramatic ability with a lyric. A lot of people don’t like sopranos. I do.
SJ: You’re right about that. My own musical director doesn’t like sopranos. (laughter).
Showbiss: Do you have a favorite leading man out of your films?
SJ: Oh gosh, it’s awfully hard. I fell in love with Richard Widmark. He was the one leading man that I did fall in love with. The film was Two RodeTogether directed by John Ford.
Showbiss: I was nine when The Partridge Family debuted on TV. I used to rock out to the first Partridge Family album. I don’t remember much about the episodes, except the manager and the red-headed kid.
SJ: Of course, Danny Bonidouchi.
Showbiss: Do you have a favorite episode of that show?
SJ: I loved doing the show for five years. It was wonderful fun. I love the skunk episode when the skunk got on the bus. I love that one. We had a lot of wonderful people on the show. Jodie Foster premiered on the show playing Danny’s girlfriend. We did a show with Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr. about doing our show in a firehouse. That was one of my most favorite episodes.
“You smile the song begins, you speak and I hear violins… It’s magic.” Such will always be the case regarding Doris Day. A remarkable woman whose voice, smile, humor and beauty transcends time. What exactly did Day do? Not only was she one of the most-loved singers of the 20th Century, she had a definitive skill in acting to fill the motion picture and television screens with sunshine or sadness. Let’s just say, “She was a natural.”
With her death on May 13 of 2019, all of us lost a beacon of light, a dog’s best friend and her ultimate triumph as Founder of The Doris Day Animal Foundation. It must be noted that Doris Day was a strong person who triumphed over many personal and financial tragedies.
So to discover that Julien’s Auctions (juliensauctions.com) was having a “virtual” auction by the President/ CEO Darren Julien through Julien’s Auctions was a “DAY” dream for anyone who loved her. Darren Julien sent me a hardbound catalog that weighs more than five pounds. Much heftier than the weight was the memories and her personal property over the course of over 721 glossy and full-color pages of items. Doris Day died the month after her 97th birthday (April 3rd) and this extraordinary auction was held over the course of what-would-have been her 98th birthday weekend on April 4 and April 5.
Originally planned by Julien’s Auctions as a three-day celebration and auction in Beverly Hills, because of COVID-19… all plans changed to an online auction. Julien’s finely carried this out over the course of that weekend. Being stuck at home on a rainy April weekend, it was a great treat to watch. The resulting sales of over 1,100 items was a tremendous success. A figuratively field of daisies (Day’s favorite flower) and raised with the purchases overwhelmingly almost $3,000,000.00 dollars. All the money is going directly to The Doris Day Animal Foundation. Can I get a happy wag of a tail on that! Truly feel Day would have just loved that outpouring of love, care and “Happy Soap” for her four-legged critters.
As you can see and read on showbiss.net; I have a strong regard for new and classic performers who inspire the heart with their talents. Doris Day was one of those and I’ve been an admirer of her since I was old enough to tune-in and turn-on her recordings and films. Now, let me tell ya… I sure did want one item up for auction and that was Lot 467. Captioned “Doris Day Funny Dog Sculpture,” it was a piece made of bronze depicting a small scruffy terrier mix raising his back leg to do his business. It sold for $1,920.00 dollars. Oh well, I have a real dog who does that… but I think the piece and Doris Day are just priceless. “Que Sera Sera.” Oh and hurry, the hardbound catalog is still available though it’s a top seller. (juliensauctions.com) Bye now.
This book hit hard, it was a book that makes a person think
twice and it was so well-written and fact-checked by Sam Wasson… It’s worth
remembering on showbiss.net. Here’s my review.
An actor, a director, a producer and screenwriter meet up in
a restaurant. The waiter says, “What would you like to order?” Well, the actor
says, “We’ll all have the Chinatown special.” The reality of the scenario in
this case: the actor is Jack Nicholson, the director is Roman Polanski, the
screenwriter is Robert Towne and the producer at Paramount is Robert Evans.
What is cooking is the now classic creation of the 1974 motion picture
In Sam Wasson’s excellent, thorough and telling book, he winds through the hills of Mulholland Drive, weaves through the complicated streets leading to Sunset Blvd. and presents an absorbing character portrait of the men and women involved. He presents an intrinsic and factual story of the transformation of big business in tinsel town and the personal stories of the four key players and their lives. Wasson’s attention to detail and nuance makes The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood a fascinating expose of Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Robert Towne and Robert Evans and everyone on the scene involved in friendships, power struggles, creativity and egos and for some, ultimate tragedy. Yes… Faye Dunaway is also recollected and the cast, creative team and even her friend and co-star Jack Nicholson had given her the nickname “Dread.” What the hell, Sam Wasson took the time to bring the facts and the history into the making of Chinatown and the corresponding years before and after the film was released into a stunning bird’s eye view presenting a behind-the-scenes look at all the windy roads into making this film and how the movie industry changed during and after this time.
As of now; only former Head of Production at Paramount Studios, Robert Evans has passed away but the memories and accomplishments of all of these men in both filmmaking, writing, acting and knowing how to create a lasting legacy are remarkable. The book is a fitting testament to the people, the industry and as a worthwhile read for those who want to discover more about the elusive reality of the creation of the film Chinatown and the Hollywood story that is told by Sam Wasson. It was a time of turmoil and joy that in its heart, details the scene of deals, personalities, talent and discovery in Los Angeles. For those who want to know more about what some consider one of the greatest crime films of intrigue and a classic presentation of film noir… look no further than The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood.
John Bell on his book Elaine Stritch: The End of Pretend
Sondheim brought them together. Think of Elaine Stritch forever. When John Bell came along to talk about songs. Now stop as John and Stritch became friends, a friendship that didn’t end until the end of pretend. Admiration kept them together… and what a pleasure. Everybody rise as John Bell shares his story as a “Sondhead” and how one interview led to a growing relationship of camaraderie, closeness and truth with the one and only Elaine Stritch in his book.
Bell, a Division Head of Performing Arts and Producing Artistic Director at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania shares some of his rich experience knowing Elaine Stritch. His book is due for publication in September of 2019.
Showbiss: After knowing Elaine for the last six years of her life, what do you think was her most marked characteristic in the time you spent together?
John Bell: For me, what I found most interesting was watching her vacillate between her brash, “always onstage” person and the more vulnerable and gentle person she could be but rarely allowed people to see. Both made Elaine whole. As she faced her mortality, it was fascinating watching how her bossy and demanding self-represented her fight to hold on the reality she had shaped but then when her physical vulnerabilities began to overwhelm her and the fight began to wane. It was so revealing about how she built her life and survived in the business.
Showbiss: Please describe what “the end of pretend” meant to her as this expression is mentioned twice in your book on Stritch.
JB: Well it’s a phrase Elaine used a couple of times and it stuck with me. She used it to talk about the art of acting, how the act of pretending to be another was a driving force for her – creating the illusion for a couple of hours and the escape it provided. She also used it to talk about moving into the phase of her life where her career was ending and she was forced into facing the vagaries of aging and eventually dying.
Showbiss: When admirers of her talent look at her career, the song “Ladies Who Lunch” is most often than not thought of. Yet, “I Never Know When to Say When” from Goldilocks in 1958 is one that I love the most because as well as being brassy, cynical and smart… she could sing a ballad so well. Your thoughts on this?
JB: As an interpreter of song, Elaine was masterful. As I watched and studied her work, what I realized was that she was expert at digging into a lyric and conjuring subtext that was deeply personal. Therefore, when she delivered the lyric, it possessed the clear and full force of her intended meaning. I always felt as if the clarity of her intention is what drew me – and any listener – into her performance, resulting in a deep connection between artist and audience. I think Barbara Cook also did this very well in her work.
Showbiss: Let’s go back to when she lived at The Carlyle Hotel. How long did Elaine live there and didn’t that suit her just fine at that time?
JB: Elaine lived at the Carlyle for a number of years. The actual date has been reported with inconsistency, so I can’t say for certain. But you are right that it suited her just fine. She loved living in a fine hotel. It started when she spent nearly a decade in London and lived with her husband John in the Savoy Hotel. Then she eventually made her way to the Carlyle. Hotel living meant she had daily maid service, a front desk to field phone calls and take messages, bellmen to deliver the newspaper, room service, etc. In essence, hotel living mean she was paying for the staffing she needed and enjoyed.
Showbiss: The video footage of Elaine Stritch singing “Ladies Who Lunch” for the Broadway soundtrack of Company is quite a trip. Late night first with no notes and looking tired. Next day she’s got her hair done and nails it out of the park with her delivery. She was simply remarkable. Share some memories of talking with her about this.
JB: Well, we had a very frank conversation about what she learned during that experience. She had requested that she record the song last because he didn’t want everyone standing around watching her record it. As a result, she had sung multiple takes of the group number in full voice all day. By the time they got to “The Ladies Who Lunch” her voice was shot. Of course, any singer knows that when the voice is not able to operate to its potential, it’s extremely distracting, fighting the actor’s attempt at the storytelling. And that’s what was captured in the documentary – sheer self-induced frustration. The next day, after some rest, she was able to deliver both the vocal and interpretive forces as she had developed them for the stage production. She said it was the first time she really experienced the limitations of her voice and learned that one actually had to take care of the instrument.
Showbiss: For those who haven’t read your book yet, will you tell them why you wrote it and how this friendship came to be because of your admiration for Stephen Sondheim?
JB: Well, I wrote the book because I had experienced what I think was a rare relationship with Elaine and felt that people who knew of her might find it interesting. As far as the Sondheim connection, I have been a big “Sondhead” since my college days. In fact, I really only learned who Elaine was because of her role in COMPANY and her singing of “Anyone Can Whistle” from his ANYONE CAN WHISTLE on the Dick Cavett Show. I used my appreciation for Sondheim and my frequent contributions to THE SONDHEIM REVIEW to land my first interview with her. That was really that starting point of our relationship.
Showbiss: My favorite is still Elaine’s STRITCH album on Dolphin Records. Do you have it? I just ordered it on CD as my LP skips now. If you have heard of this… isn’t this the first recording she made of her own and what do you think of it?
JB: I do know this recording. The selections are fun, unexpected even for the time. But what I really enjoy is hearing her young singing voice. People who only know of her work from COMPANY onward would be surprised by the tone quality and vocal overtone she was able to produce. And her interpretations hint at the quirky freedom that would blossom in her cabaret shows at the Carlyle.
Showbiss: For me, her voice comes across so well in your book. From the swear words to the flirtatious nature she had… she didn’t suffer fools wisely if that’s a way to put it. Your thoughts on that?
John Bell: For me, it’s the crowning achievement of the memoir. Everyone who has read it who had any sense of Elaine mention that they can hear Elaine’s voice jumping off the page. That pleases me. I tried so hard to capture her words, rhythms, and cadences. When I read it, I hear Elaine so it’s my way of memorializing her.
The Little Book of
Marilyn is big on inspiration. Michelle Morgan has created a veritable
treasure trove of all things “Monroe.” The book encompasses the ideals that are
purely Marilyn’s. Running from style, beauty and what she continued to strive
for with her own life skills. The photos included are phenomenal and as
refreshing as Michelle Morgan’s passionate and informative writing. As Monroe
said in The S even Year Itch standing
over the subway grate…”Oh! Do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?”
Well, The Little Book of Marilyn surely
Showbiss: Congratulations as The Little Book of Marilyn is out!
What inspired you to write your latest book on Monroe?
Michelle Morgan: Running Press was in the process of
publishing a book called The Little Book
of Bettie Page, and looking to expand the Little Book series. It was my editor’s idea to do a Marilyn version
and she asked if I had any ideas for what I might put into it. Did I?!! I could
have filled an encyclopedia with ideas! I put together a little proposal for her
and we brainstormed back and forth and then the project was eventually
commissioned. I was ecstatic to be able to write the book because it is very
different to anything I’ve written about Marilyn before. My other books have
all been serious insights into Marilyn’s life and career, whereas this book
enabled me to be creative and do things I’d never done before – like think
about what Marilyn-related items we could create, for instance!
Showbiss: I was taken aback by the amount of photos in your
“little book.” They sure pack a wallop. Running Press did a beautiful job. Did
you have a photo editor there who matched what you were creating when you wrote
this book? Or how did this work?
MM: I was incredibly pleased with the amount of photos that
Running Press wanted to put into the book! I chose all of them myself, from
three sources that were provided to me by the publisher. I tried my hardest to
include some that were rarely seen and of course some fantastic, colorful
classics! In addition to the Marilyn photos, we also have fan pictures and then
photos to accompany the tutorials, too. I organized the shoots for the
tutorials and then fans sent me photos of their collections etc. It was a huge
amount of paperwork to keep everything organized and moving forward, but it was
so much fun, too. The designer did a fabulous job, I must say. I love
everything she did – from the background colors to the fonts, layouts and
Showbiss: The back of the book is geared towards, as it
says, “today’s woman.” Regardless of sex or identity I think Marilyn fans
across the board can enjoy it. What are your thoughts on this?
MM: Oh I completely agree! I’ve heard from several gentlemen
who say they have been very much inspired by the book – especially the life skills
section – and I’m terribly excited about that. I do believe there is something
for everyone in this book… For instance, my teenage daughter never reads my
books, but she read every word of the make-up and hair tutorial!
Showbiss: The “Life Skills” chapter is one I keep going back
to. Please share the process of writing this chapter. I think it’s some of your
most thoughtful and informative writing on her.
MM: Thank you so much! I really do appreciate your kind
words and I’m thrilled that you think so. When I first wrote that chapter, it
was much smaller because I had a word limit for the project and I needed to
think about distributing it all evenly. However, when my editor read the first
draft, she suggested we make much more of this particular chapter and add
different skills to the mix. I completely agreed and once I had permission to
add the extra words, I was happy to expand it. I took inspiration from
Marilyn’s life and also the things that people had told me about her. For
instance, in the Be Kind to Animals and Children section, I wrote that Marilyn
used to throw stranded fish back into the water and then about her determination
to scare a hawk away from a family of swallows. Both of those incidents were
told to me by people who witnessed them and I think it showed just how caring
and sympathetic she was to the lives of other living beings. I hope that the
Life Skills chapter can inspire others to care more about the world around them
and to take strength from Marilyn’s perspective on life.
Showbiss: Another aspect of your book is the Marilyn
Remembered Facebook Group who are mentioned. Was this a part of your plan for
the book initially?
MM: Oh yes, definitely. I wanted to show just how much
Marilyn is loved all around the world, by people just like me. I have known
Greg Schreiner since the early 1990s, when we used to exchange letters
occasionally. I was always so thrilled to hear from Greg – he’s a superstar in
the Marilyn community – so to be able to feature his words and photos in the
book was just wonderful. I loved being able to talk to people who have been
inspired by Marilyn either as a fan, a tribute artist or both. When I was 15
years old, it felt as though I was the only Marilyn fan in the world. Now of
course the Internet has brought people closer, but I wanted to highlight
specific fans so that maybe those young teenage fans who don’t have access to
Facebook yet, can see that they’re not alone and that there is actually a whole
world of people who feel the same way about Marilyn as they do. It was also
lovely to include the fans’ stories, thoughts and photos because I knew it
would mean a lot to them to be able to express themselves in print, just as it
means a lot to me as well.
Showbiss: Finally, please share your favorite Marilyn Monroe
quote. I know there are many but just pick one.
MM: Oh that’s a great question!! I do have a lot of favorite
quotes, but I’ll choose this one: “I’d like to be known as a real actress and
human being.” I think this expresses Marilyn perfectly and it is something that
is still relevant today, since some people still don’t see her as either a real
actress or a human being! I hope that by writing about Marilyn and continuing
to educate people, that attitude will change. If my books change the mind of
even one person, then I’m doing my job.
Showbiss: Congrats again Michelle. A really enjoyable read.
Michelle Morgan: Thanks so much Bill! I loved answering the questions!
Burt Ward starred in the wildly popular 1960’s television
show Batman. Alongside Adam West as
the title character, Ward was his superhero sidekick “Robin.” Running a span of
three years with 120 episodes, they captured the public’s imagination with the
action and the humor of it all and their heroics. This “pow, wham, bang” of a
show was even made into the very first Batman film. It’s a legacy that still
creates magic on the silver screen.
Just as important is Burt and Tracy Ward’s Gentle Giant
organization. It’s a labor of love for large dogs in need. Indeed Boy Wonder!
It’s a fact that Ward went from a caped crusader to a canine crusader. Now, for
over 25 years, his crusade for Gentle Giants is truly phenomenal. Jump into the
bat mobile and jump for joy for all the hard work they’ve done for all our
four-legged friends. Here’s my interview with Burt Ward.
was produced by William Dozier. I’m an old Hollywood buff; so I know he was
married to Joan Fontaine and then married Ann Rutherford until his death.
Burt Ward: Wow! You know your stuff. I’m impressed.
Showbiss: What was this like having Dozier produce the
Burt Ward: Well, he was a very commanding person. You know
what I mean? In other words, in his presence, you could spend hours. But, he
was polite, firm and to the point and even from the interviews I’ve seen that
he’s done on the internet… he had a good sense of humor. That actually was the
style of the humor that came across in Batman.
I think that he had a great feel for things.
Showbiss: Considering this original TV show; it was a
high-end production. You were 20-years old when you started the show and you
did your own stunts.
Burt Ward: I wanted to, believe me. The problem was they
hired a stunt man for me but he didn’t look like me. He had a rather large nose
like Cyrano de Bergerac. So they used me. They wanted close shots as well as
long shots. I got to be right in the middle of that, and I got to be good
friends with the doctor at the emergency hospital where I visited quite often.
Showbiss: What do you remember about the most dangerous
stunt you did?
Burt Ward: Oh, every episode. How about the first show? Even
on the first show, four of the first six days I went to the emergency hospital
with second-degree burns, broken nose and things like that. You go to the
hospital enough and you get to be a little gun-shy. One time I was filming
five-feet away from a magnesium explosion. “How do you know it’s not going to
hit me in the face?” “Oh, no, no. We have it aimed straight down.” Just before
the charge went off… it’s one of those things where you feel you need to take
some protection. I felt I was in real danger and I closed my eyes and good
thing I did. I would be blind today if I hadn’t. That’s bad.
Showbiss: What lot was the show filmed on?
Burt Ward: Two actually. Desilu Studios and Fox. At the time
they both had a lot of shows and some were filmed on the 20th
Century Fox lot. Every once in a while when we would do a big street thing it
would be shot at 20th Century Fox. There was also a park across from
Fox where we shot the “King Tut” (Victor Buono) stuff.
Showbiss: What’s your favorite memory of working with and
knowing Adam West?
Burt Ward: Ah, just imagine having a best friend that you
saw all the time and every day you had fun working with him. It wasn’t even
work it was more like grown-up play. There’s thousands of memories. We did 120
episodes together. Practically, just about every scene that he was in, I was
Showbiss: I have albums from Neal Hefti, Nelson Riddle and
Billy May… (Who all composed music for the Batman
television show) and here we go with Frank Zappa who wrote and produced “Boy
Wonder I Love You.”
Burt Ward: Here I was young, all-American and apple pie and
here you’ve got Frank plus the Mothers of Invention. They come out and they
looked like they were out of the movie Deliverance.
Oh my god, they’d play their music and then they would tear up their
Showbiss: It’s such a trip. Then, you have the classic old
guard like Hefti (theme song), Riddle and May doing incidental music.
Burt Ward: I’m telling you. Very, very wonderful, fantastic
Showbiss: The amount of talented actors and actresses who
guest starred as villains… I’d like to drop that name and hear what comes to
your mind. I’ll start with Cesar Romero (the Joker).
Burt Ward: He was the ultimate professional. He was
incredibly nice and with a lot of stature as a great actor. You’re awed in his
presence. He was an awesome, awesome guy. Amazing.
Showbiss: How about Burgess Meredith (the Penguin)?
Burt Ward: He was a funny character. Nice guy and very
smart. He was in those Rocky films; a
classic actor and just a pro. Every one of these people were tremendous but he
was quite a guy and he played the Penguin with great character.
Showbiss: Okay, here we go, you and Julie Newmar (Catwoman).
Burt Ward: Julie! What a character. Very unpredictable. You
never know what she’s going to say and as a result it always made for a little
bit of excitement. When you can do something that seems wild and crazy.
Showbiss: When Catwoman called you “Boy Blunder” when you
ruined the kiss between her and Batman in that one episode. (Laughter)
Burt Ward: She didn’t like that, no. But she is quite a
person. When we would go out and make appearances together… she’s quite a
character, you know. And in a very nice way but she is definitely
Showbiss: How would you describe the pop culture phenomenon
of Batman and the show’s lasting
impression as a cult favorite?
Burt Ward: If you think about it… what we did with Batman had a profound effect on the
entertainment industry. I think what made our show so incredibly successful in
addition to the color and the great comedy, the double meanings and all of
those kind of things; is that we really reached through the television to grab
our audience and went directly at our audience. So, people who were watching
our show, instead of being like a third party where you’re just watching other
people do stuff, they got directly involved with us. They were jumping off
their couches as we were jumping off buildings. They mimicked our stuff. We use
to say we put on our tights to put on the world.
What really was the most dramatic effect I think of our
show; if you look today at all these major movies, most of these major movies
are superhero oriented like the latest Avengers, right? These are the ones that seem to make the most
money. If you look at the relationships of the characters in these major films
is that the thing that Adam and I did is that we could be right in the middle
of something serious and have some very simple dialogue between us… if you look
at all these movies, they have that. In Thor
if you remember, right in the middle of some really dangerous stuff, the
characters have a discussion and some comic interplay. These were things that
came out of Batman. They were never
done before. If you had a police show it was serious. They were trying to catch
someone who had done something wrong; they’re trying to save a life. There was
never any breakup of the sole direction of going from the beginning to the end.
With Batman, we introduced that kind
Showbiss: I can’t recall any other show at that time that
was broadcast two nights in a row for the first season.
Burt Ward: Oh, right, the cliffhangers. That was another
great thing. The fight scenes and the colors, oh my gosh.
Part Two: Burt Ward and his wife Tracy’s passion for their
charity Gentle Giants and their Gentle Giants Dog Food.
Showbiss: Gentle Giants is an amazing charity organization
for 25 years now. How long has your brand of dog food been a part of this?
Burt Ward: 15 years. Here’s the thing. What do dogs and dog
food have to do with “Robin?” I say, “Everything.” I like to say I was the
caped crusader; now I am the “canine crusader.” If you think about it, what did
Batman and Robin do? They saved lives, they protected people from bad things.
My wife and I operate the largest giant breed dog rescue in the world called
Gentle Giants. In 25 years we have rescued over 15,500 dogs. Every one of those
dogs would have been put to death if we hadn’t saved them. For each dog we
provide shelter, complete medical care, operations if necessary and then found
each and every one of them a safe, loving home.
What makes it particularly unique is that all of the dogs
have lived in our house with us! Not in some other building or some other yard
or somebody else’s house… they all live in our house. So, at any given time we
have 50 or more dogs living in our house with us, for the last 25 years.
Showbiss: You made me think about this. It’s almost like the
Playboy mansion except for dogs.(Laughter)
Burt Ward: Exactly. Just imagine living like that 24-hours a
day for 25 years.
Showbiss: I believe Doris Day would have been an ally.
Burt Ward: Yes, you’re right and Tippi Hedren. There are a
lot of people who really have appreciated what we’ve done. That’s why in
January of 2019, I was invited and appeared on Ellen’s talk show. She asked me
to be on her show. She feeds her dogs our Gentle Giants Dog Food (gentlegiantsdogfood.com) for the last
three and a half years. She’s very into charity and an incredibly charitable
person. She knows by promoting what we do it helps the animals.
Bill, if you go to all the trouble to save an animal’s life,
you obviously want them to live as long as possible, right? The giant dogs have
traditionally the shortest life span. We have breeds here like the Irish
Wolfhounds that only live three to six years. When we would lose one of these
great dogs such as a Great Dane in seven to nine years, it would just devastate
my wife Tracy and I. We vowed that if there was a way to get them to live
longer we would do it; so we spent the last 25 years on a special food that is
different from any other dog food and this care program. We have dogs living a
lot longer because of our dog food and they’re healthy! This is our charity. We
don’t take any salary. We sell this food for basically what it costs us. It’s
all because we love animals and this has become our life’s work and our life’s
Showbiss: Mr. Ward, Thank you.
Burt Ward: My pleasure. Thank you Bill… “To the Bat mobile!”
It was very interesting to discover that in Olivia
Newton-John’s autobiography Don’t Stop Believin’… she is an admirer of Doris
Day. Olivia tried to portray Day in a film adaptation of the star’s life.
Hence, it was a matter of “Que Sera Sera” and wasn’t meant to be.
Yet, the similarities between these two women are striking.
Both are both extremely positive thinkers with a strong sense of strength, a
remarkable talent for singing and a sensitivity and concern for animals. These
two women are courageous in both their careers and personal lives.
In ONJ’s autobiography, Olivia keeps her grace and gratitude
intact. Her thoroughly enjoyable sense of humor and her honesty as a cancer-thriver
(her expression) at age 70 is a vivid look at her life so far. Her life story
is one that speaks from the heart and she presented exactly “the right moment”
to share it.
Showbiss: I really enjoyed your autobiography.
Olivia Newton-John: Oh, thank you!
Showbiss: Such life-affirming messages and a heck of a lot
of fun and humor. So thank you for sharing it.
ONJ: Sure. (laughter)
Showbiss: No doubt. I couldn’t put it down. When did you
start work on this? Not why but when?
ONJ: Oh gosh… let’s see, about a year and a half ago. I’m
not good with time; in the last year or so.
Showbiss: At the beginning of your book, it’s about you and
your singing partner and friend Pat Carroll. You use an expression… and I
wanted to ask you how you would describe it? “A jolly dolly bird?”
ONJ: A jolly dolly bird. Yes.
Showbiss: What does that mean?
ONJ: Jolly is happy, right? A dolly bird in England at that
time was with mini-skirts and boots and they were kind of glamourous. Kind of
like the glamourous girls now. They were called “dolly birds.” That was just an
English expression. So, “jolly dolly bird” was a happy, young person in cute
clothing, I guess. (Laughter)
Showbiss: One of the other aspects in your book that gave me
humor was when you were doing your animal awareness television show in Russia…
and it was cold! Everywhere you went people were drinking vodka. That made me
ONJ: Yes. That was really true and I wasn’t much of a
drinker. I was going through a divorce at that time. So vodka was a good idea. (Laughs)
Showbiss: Now when you talk about making Grease; there is
Sandy #1 and Sandy #2.
Showbiss: The way you analyze that… I have to ask you how
you came upon this revelation. I think I know because of the difference but it
amazed me in your writing that you didn’t think you were pretty or sexy or
ONJ: Yeah, I was concerned that I could pull it off. I don’t
think I had a healthy lack of self-esteem. (Laughs) Which is probably a good
thing. It was really fun when I got dressed and went out of the trailer and got
that reaction. I was like “Whoa.” That’s interesting.
Showbiss: Yeah, what a trip! Yeah, really. I wanted to go
back to my first compliments on the book. There are several sentences which
gave me pause to stop reading and think about how positive your energy is in
some of the statements you make.
ONJ: Oh, thank you. This is great. This is my first book
that I’ve written about myself so these comments are the first; it’s only come
out a couple of days and I’ve only done a few interviews so it makes my heart
feel good to hear these things. Thank you.
Showbiss: You’re welcome. I want to go into a little bit
about your sister Rona. I lost my friend and roommate of six years, George to
brain cancer last August. I just wanted to ask you after losing her to brain
cancer, what’s the most joyful thing you can say about her being in your life?
ONJ: Oh, she was hilariously funny and very irreverent! And,
she had no filter. I always used to tease her and say, “We need to tack you an
edit button on your wrist that I can just tap when I need you to stop.” (Laughter)
She was a lot of fun and she was very straight-forward. She was a great person
to travel with… she was my chaperone for many years. Not much of a chaperone
because she probably got into more trouble than me!
Showbiss: I found the utmost pleasure in knowing you are so
blessed with your husband John. You married him in 2008. I married my husband
in October of 2008… we’ve been together 25 years and have been married for ten
years. It’s like “thank goodness.”
ONJ: Yeaah. We’re lucky, huh? Everybody is looking for love
and you have relationships and they don’t work. We’ve got to be grateful as
even if you had love for a short time; it proves you have spent it. Now I
really find, I really know I have the love of my life that is a “forever” one,
you know. So, that is such a blessing.
Showbiss: Yes, I agree. I’m enthused to know that you are so
healthy. I mean honestly with all the herbs and all your exercise. That 23-day
walk in China walking the Great Wall! Come on now.
ONJ: That was then. I couldn’t do it now. None the less,
that was an amazing experience that I treasure because I can’t even believe I
did it now. An amazing experience.
Showbiss: Just once again, thank you for all your positivity
and the ONJ Cancer and Wellness Center. That’s your pride and that’s your baby.
That’s your vision and a dream come true. You going in there “undercover!”
ONJ: (Laughs) An
Showbiss: There’s a song on your album Soul Kiss called “The
ONJ: Oh, yes. What a gorgeous song, huh?
Showbiss: Yes. For some reason in my mind, it corresponded
with the releasing of your autobiography.
ONJ: Yeah! You’re right. That’s a beautiful thought. That’s
a beautiful song… really a beautiful song. It really was incredible. As my 70th
birthday was coming up, I was really trying to figure out how I was going to
celebrate. The universe decided for me. Okay, this is where you are and now you
can really see and reap the benefits of all the hard work and see what you’ve
created. It was a big lesson in letting go and “Let go, let God.”
Showbiss: Thank God you’ve thrived.
ONJ: Yes, I know. I’m so very grateful for all the care I
had and from the treatments there and the wonderful staff. Also, my husband who
was there every step of the way and giving me herbs and cannabis and helping me
Showbiss: Yes. Well, I don’t know. I think you can still
play table tennis. I wasn’t so bad in the day.
ONJ: (Much laughter!) I actually played it. We had the table
tennis set up. I actually played it, holding my walker. I’m not on the walker
now but I have actually played it. It was great fun.
Showbiss: In my dreams, I’ll let you win at table tennis.
May you forever groove on. – Linda Clifford. As one of the revered female singers in the classic era of disco, Linda Clifford rode a tidal wave of success from 1977 to 1980. Her beautiful voice held the beat while her rhythm and blues brought her strength and emotion out. “If My Friends Could See Me Now” blasted out on the dance floors of the country and most notably was a solid anthem at the most renowned night club on the planet during this time period. Yes… Studio 54 in New York. As every succeeding hit continued to move the crowds in a disco fever.
With the recent remastered releases of four of her albums on CD by Blixa Sounds… it was a distinct pleasure to learn more about Linda Clifford, her talent, her beginnings and her moxy. She’s quite a lady.
Showbiss: Congratulations on the remasters of your albums, all four of them!
Linda Clifford: Oh, thank you.
Showbiss: I was in high school during those years but my husband of ten years and partner for 24…
Linda Clifford: Wow.
Showbiss: He was dancing in a disco to you back in Boston.
Linda Clifford: Ha! That’s great. That is so wonderful. My husband and I have been married for forty years.
Showbiss: I know that back in the late 1970’s, disco was so prevalent but your R&B recordings on these albums are wonderful. Your voice is beautiful and spiritual.
Linda Clifford: Thank you. Thank you so much. I had been doing jazz and R&B before I started doing the pop/disco stuff. I liked to do a little bit of R&B on some of these albums.
Showbiss: I want to take a time machine back to 1969 and you being in the Fosse film musical Sweet Charity. Please share some of your memories of working on this film.
Linda Clifford: Okay. Let me try to remember because it has been a long time, obviously. The “I’m a Brass Band” big scene… I was in there. Then I was in the scene where they went for their marriage certificate. I was in there with a guy. I remember the guy’s name was Rudy. That’s all I know (laughter). And the two of us were supposed to be getting married… what else? I can’t remember. I was in it and it was fun. Because I love music so much, just being in that was tremendous.
Showbiss: There’s a song you perform called “I Want to Get Away With You” off your album I’m Yours produced by Isaac Hayes. I thought that had such an essence of Isaac Hayes; you’re almost expecting him to jump in on the vocals with you.
Linda Clifford: I know. I wish he would of. We had so much fun working together in the studio. He was such a pleasure to work with as well as having a lot of fun and doing a lot of laughing, we got some beautiful songs recorded. He was truly an amazing producer. He was old-school of what you really consider a producer. Not what we have today; people are like “Okay, here is the song, go in and sing it” and they expect you to come up with the medley, to come up with the lyrics and they give you a couple of beats… I’m thinking “Hey. Wait a second. I’m writing and producing myself then.” So, it’s very different.
Showbiss: One of my favorites off your album Let Me Be Your Woman is the song “Don’t Give It Up.” After hearing it for the first time… I continued to play it over at least six times!
Linda Clifford: Get out of here!
Showbiss: The combination of sass, class and smarts really works on this and I wanted to know the back story on this song.
Linda Clifford: You know, we were working to write a song that would be a follow-up to “Runaway Love.” With kind of that same feel but with a different storyline. I just started thinking about it and thinking about it. I thought, you know; we’ve got to educate the younger generation and all these beauties who come up behind us so that they know they don’t have to go half-naked down the street; they don’t have to do all these things or just jump in a car just because somebody says they’re going to do something for them. To learn to respect yourself and those are the ideas of where that came from. “Don’t you get in that car! Don’t do it.” (Laughter)
Showbiss: Don’t you think it’s even more prevalent in 2018?
Linda Clifford: (Laughter) Honestly, sometimes I have to stop and go “Oh my god. Did your mother see what you were wearing? Because, it’s kind of getting crazy now a little bit. I know I’m older and people are gonna say “Oh, you’re old. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” But, old has experience. You know I’ve been through that phase. I’ve been through that with my daughter. She was young and wanted to do that kind of thing too, so experience counts for something I think.
Showbiss: Of course, it’s like that old expression “Respect your elders.”
Linda Clifford: Exactly. The key is to get them to listen. Slow down enough to listen. Everything is moving so fast now with the internet. Back then, when this song was written, you didn’t walk around with an iPhone or checking your email every minute… that kind of thing. It’s just so different.
Showbiss: How did the deal with the label Blixa Sounds come about to release your four albums?
Linda Clifford: They approached me because there is a big turn-around in the music industry now and a lot of the original masters are being reverted back to the original artists. So, when they realized that I own the masters to the songs of my recordings, they wanted to remaster these recordings and get it out. I thought, “Really?” Of course, I had the option to do it myself but I thought I’m too old to be doing that! Let them do all that work and they will pay me some money which is lovely. They put these out and they do a beautiful, beautiful job with the acts that they have. I saw some of their work and I thought this is a company to be reckoned with and I don’t mind being on this label.
Linda Clifford: Yes, I’m very excited about it.
Showbiss: Will you take me back to Studio 54 because I’m so looking forward to hearing your memories of performing there?
Linda Clifford: Oh my gosh, okay. Studio 54…well, everything that you’ve ever heard about it is true. Let’s start there. Everybody went there. Everybody who was anybody used to go to Studio 54. I think the first time that I went, I wasn’t on the main floor. They took me up through a back way and I ended up in the DJ booth because I had not seen how people reacted to my music. They said, “We want you to see something.” They took me up to the DJ booth and people were just going crazy, they were dancing and nobody knew I was there. Then he put on “If My Friends Could See Me Now.
” He said, “Watch this.” I had never in my entire life seen such craziness. This place went wild. He said, “Do you believe that? That’s for you.” Then he introduced me on the microphone and told the crowd who I was in the booth, etc. They were like “Oh my god!” They started screaming and
dancing and I was crying. I had no idea. It was a joyful cry, trust me. I was just thrilled to death.
That was one incident there. After that when I went there to perform, I was above the crowd on like a walkway and it moved, so you were going forward or backward or whatever the deal was. I worked there quite a few times with Phyllis Hyman. They would have both of us in there at the same time and the crowd would always go crazy. Then of course, I worked there alone. With each new single that I released, they always had me back and it was just amazing.
Showbiss: I’ve read about Studio 54 numerous times. Liza Minnelli, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor…
Linda Clifford: They were all there, all the time. That was the place to go.
Showbiss: Lastly, will you tell me how you were signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label at the start of your reign as a disco recording star?
Linda Clifford: Oh sure. That’s a funny story because I really am quite shy. I can be open and fun and all that but I’m basically a shy person. I was living in Chicago; a single mom at that point. I was raising my 14-year-old sister as my mom had passed away. So, I had my sister, I had a 14-year-old foster child and I had a 1-year-old son. I thought I have to make a way to make things right for these kids, so that they can go to school. I couldn’t sing in clubs for the rest of my life, that’s it. I’m going to get myself a recording contract.
I just got dressed up and showed up at the record company and had no appointment. The secretary I guess she thought well… she looks like somebody. I mean who would be so bold as to just walk through the front door and go “Hey! I’m here.” Which is pretty much what I did. So, she escorted me up to the office and I’m like “Oh my god. I can’t believe this is happening.” So I explained to him and introduced myself to him and said I am a singer and I’m appearing at The Playboy Club downtown. I would like to work for your label and if you would come and see me, I think you would like what you hear. He said, “Thank you very much. That’s very nice of you.”
He was very friendly and I left and I thought, well… if they show up, fine. If not, at least I tried. So the first few nights go by and nothing. Then all of a sudden one night I noticed this movement in the audience… tables being moved etc. and it was Curtis Mayfield, his partner and about twelve other people. They all sat right in front in the middle of the room at The Playboy Club. I just gave them everything. I gave them Aretha, I gave them Barbra Streisand… I gave them everything that I had and left it for them to decide what they wanted. And two weeks later, I had a contract.
Showbiss: That’s cool.
Linda Clifford: It was pretty bold actually. I don’t know if that’s cool I would say. (Laughter)
Showbiss: It was a joy to speak with you. Take care of yourself.
Linda Clifford: Thank you so much, Bill. You take care of yourself too.
Now and for some time, Shannah Laumeister has been Mrs. Bert Stern. In 2013, I interviewed her for a very special reason. Laumeister had just released a documentary film and a brilliant one at that… on Bert Stern. Stern was a remarkable photographer of the first caliber and her partner in life at this time. You wouldn’t imagine how many famous people he’s had the pleasure of photographing… but to drop just one name; is Marilyn Monroe. Her documentary is titled Bert Stern: Original Madman. There are many incredible photos to discover through his skills and many indelible moments to discover from a realistic and loving portrait of Stern from Laumeister. (Bert Stern died a few months after this interview). Her love for him lives on.
The film not only captured and showcased his photographic brilliance but goes into the darkroom of Stern’s life. Laumeister creates an accurate exposure on a phenomenal life story, one that Bert Stern was proud of.
Showbiss: After watching ten minutes of your film, I wrote down this thought, “It’s easy to note that what was a simple idea to Stern was considered ingenious to others.”
Shannah Laumeister: Yeah…that’s a good line. I think that it’s accurate.
Showbiss: What ultimately led to him agreeing to do this documentary?
SL: Well. (Laughter). He didn’t want to do it at first. At first it was a progression and it started because we were so used to having a relationship through the camera because he did really creative shoots when he took pictures of me. So, when I showed up with a camera, he thought it was a joke (laughter). Then I think he completely realized it was real, when I was constantly showing up with a camera. He thought it was ridiculous.
Then, he started to see my views and he would turn it around and say, “I am gonna make a movie about you!” But, I kept going and he realized “I’m really serious” and he didn’t want to do it. But at some point, he seemed to really start to enjoy it. It was a bit of a transition and it was causing us to have a continuation of a relationship through a camera even though it was in reverse. I was really getting in to him and his life and all the things about him. It was a way to get to know each other even better than we already had. We’re forced to… you can know somebody really well, right?
SL: If you make a film about them, you really have to not just be an expert about that person and know everything but you have to embody them almost. You have to emotionally and psychologically understand them. You’re conceptualizing the story of their life, which obviously has all kinds of elements. But, there is one story that is always dominating in somebody’s life. There’s one thing that is always dominating that has to do a lot with their drive or their demise or their destruction. Whatever it is… wherever they end up, I really had to understand him so there is a way for us to get connected back.
Showbiss: It was definitely an amazing journey then for both of you.
SL: Now, that the film is coming out in theatres and has been to festivals all over the country and the world and so on… it was shocking to him. (Laughter) It was very shocking. I don’t think he ever thought that that would happen. I would say it was a slow progression from very much a non-reality for him into a way to take our relationship and connection to a whole other level. I was also obsessed and very, very driven and the realization that it’s a story worth telling and is now on the screen. It’s a progression.
Showbiss: Bert Stern so deserves this… warts and all. He’s deserving of this just for posterity and history alone.
SL: Yeah, that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it because I believed that. He didn’t think that. Even though, somewhere inside, he knows that. He didn’t think that he was worthy of history and interest in that way. Clearly, he is and maybe he does know deep inside.
Also, he is a lot of things because he has the “history” part and he also has this amazing life story. Everybody has a story but it’s not true. I’ve listened to a lot of stories and yeah, they’re great and you can’t believe it… but very few people have a story worthy of telling. He really does and he has all these really incredible iconic images that are so unique; that stand out and stand apart. There are a lot of elements to this and also a very good reason to do a movie about him.
Showbiss: The timeline for your documentary footage is quite extensive. It goes back to 2009, I think.
SL: It goes back to 2007, believe it or not (laughter). It’s now archival footage.
Showbiss: There is a moment at the beginning of Bert Stern: Original Madman, where he is at a gallery showing and he autographs Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting, and the woman says about his book, “Isn’t there any writing in this? Or is this it?” I found that so wrong, as the photographs he took totally speak for themselves.
Showbiss: In interviewing Stern’s former wife, Allegra, and one of his previous loves, Dorothy, was there any precarious situation in regards to presenting their side of the relationship? There are so many candid observations from them.
SL: Right. So, when you say precarious, you mean?
Showbiss: Like, did she say that about me? Or did he say that? That’s when you were filming the documentary.
SL: Oh, you mean like when Bert watched the film?
Showbiss: Did he know you were going to go there?
SL: Bert never saw the film until it premiered at The Telluride Film Festival. So, he didn’t know what they said. And, they didn’t know what he said. When he did see it, he loved it! Bert is a guy who has been around beautiful women his whole life. He was in love with Dorothy, he was madly, madly in love with Allegra. He doesn’t know the difference between a woman who is crazy and a woman who isn’t (laughter) He just loved all these beautiful women. So, he can’t see that they’re saying all these things about him that could be conceived as flaws. All he could see was their gutsiness or their edge or whatever. He never even mentioned it.
I was worried about what he would think. With Allegra, he said all these things about her… but his comment was, “Isn’t she great.” But, it’s funny. There was a scene with Laurence Schiller where he said some things about him that isn’t nice. He noticed that! That he noticed.
Showbiss: Wow, Allegra didn’t pull any punches and was extremely candid, I thought.
SL: (Laughter) But he wouldn’t notice Dorothy and Allegra, you know. I was worried when I went and shot Allegra that I would deal with some precarious stuff possibly. I was there alone. A lot of this I ended up shooting alone. It was just me and her in the apartment. I don’t know what she felt really but she did a very candid interview with me. I had a lot of questions and she just… I don’t know, I feel lucky I guess. They would tell me when I was going to be shooting Allegra to watch out and all these things.
Showbiss: Oh, no.
SL: There’s more drama between all the women and Bert doesn’t notice and he doesn’t badmouth them. He’ll say things but it comes from love. He won’t talk bad about anybody ever.
Showbiss: That is so commendable. You also cover his groundbreaking independent documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day. That’s just another incredible aspect of his talent, directing this film. Having Judith Crist talking about the film is an awesome touch. Then for Bert to say, “I don’t think about it. I just do it.”
SL: She wrote a review for Jazz on a Summer’s Day. It’s just a love letter… truly a love letter and she really believed that and loved that movie.
For Bert Stern and his “I don’t think about it. I just do it” mantra. It’s really true. He told me this story from the 1960s about the George Eastman house, which by the way, he loved. He has a lot of respect for The George Eastman House Museum. They asked him to do a speech in front of all these students. There were thousands of students there and he basically got up and said, “You’re all learning wrong. You’re all going to school to learn to be a photographer. You’re learning to be bad photographers. Just get the camera and do it. Just get out there and start shooting.”(Laughter)
Apparently, it was a big hit by the kids… by the students. It was very controversial to say that. He honestly believed it. He believed that it’s an instinct. He’s also very visual and terrific. He was just trained in his own way.
Showbiss: So the film is in theaters on April 5?
SL: Yes, knock on wood… we just got in to four more theatres today. It’s an amazing accomplishment. Initially, we had no distributors that were interested, then we had eight distributors that were interested and then we had a couple. Now, we are in thirteen or fourteen theaters. We’re in Boston, Washington, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Diego and L.A so far… it’s always nice to know that you’ve exceeded expectations. I fought very, very hard to keep this movie the way it is. Initially, every distributor who saw it wanted to change it.
Showbiss: Oh really.
SL: Every single one. They told me to change it in a way that would have ruined it. I couldn’t for the life of me
figure out how these people could tell me to make a movie that was never gonna work and that it would be a better movie. Because I was a first-time director, I should listen to them. Okay, this seems impossible… but I actually know more than you. How? I don’t know.
Showbiss: Such bullshit.
Shannah Laumeister: If I would have made those changes, we wouldn’t be where we are now. I confidently know that. If anything, let that be an inspiration for people out there who are up to things… film, art, whatever they do. It’s really, really true. There was a point I was The Lone Ranger, I stood alone fighting every single person in my camp for my vision. For me, it’s just moving to me because I got to the point where I was like I could be wrong but I just have to stick to my guns. If I make your movie and I fail, I can’t live with myself. I could never forgive myself. But, if I make my movie and fail, then I could. I’m incredibly moved I got my film made. I’m humbled and at this point, whatever happens, happens. I was the biggest believer in this vision I made. It totally exceeded everybody else’s expectations. I think there’s a good story in that… that’s a good story.
Showbiss: The film is beautifully done and fascinating and you do realize, why didn’t someone do this earlier? Then, you find out in the film and in his life course and his relationship with you. It’s quite magical. Like you said, it’s your vision. I didn’t find one thing wrong with it.
Shannah Laumeister: Ahhh, thank you. That’s so cool. Thank you.
When you discover a singer/songwriter such as Tami Neilson… the sparks fly with her intuitive talent that jumps genres as easily as a kid on the playground. Whether she captures the spirit of classic country or fires her voice up to R&B or soul, Neilson has a distinct style to be reckoned with. She truly is a chameleon of epic proportions in delivery, tone and creativity. It was a pleasure to learn more about her work, songwriting and her lovable personality. The sounds of Sassafrass! ring in with her true talent.
Showbiss: The CD is phenomenal. Listening to it is retro fun with a big band and soul spin with a couple of country songs that tear your heart out.
Tami Neilson: (laughs) You just covered everything!
Showbiss: The arrangements are amazing and you’re like “who is this woman?” The first song I want to talk with you about is “Diamond Ring.” You definitely have a 1960’s vibration to that. How did this song come to your mind?
TN: Wow. Musically, it’s funny because I had written the music and melody and lyrics. We tracked it in the studio and it was not working at all; the way that we had it. It was one of those when you’re in a hurry and under pressure… I’m like “Let’s just move on. I think this might hit the cutting room floor.” My bass player just keep saying, “Nah. I think it’s a great song. You need to tweak it. I don’t think you should throw it in the pile yet.” I told him we don’t have time but let’s get everything else done and it just kind of lingered in the back of my head.
Then, one night we were having a dinner break. The poor guys (laughs) and I’m like I know we’re supposed to be relaxing but we have twenty minutes to get back to the studio. Let’s fix this song. So, I changed the feel. Changing the feel or the rhythm can bring the song to life suddenly. I really wanted more of a Ray Charles meets Tina Turner in a jazz club and they just start jamming. That kind of a groove. It’s almost like, “Tell Me What I Say” but slowed right down. I really wanted more of that type of feel to it.
Showbiss: It’s almost lyrically saying, “I can do it on my own.”
TN: Totally. It’s a very self-reliant song. So, lyrically it’s actually about my mom. We lost my dad three years ago. My mom is like this gorgeous woman. She’s turning 70 this year but 70 is the new “50” you know. She’s still really vital, beautiful and stylish. And when I ask her, “Do you think…? She’s like “No way. I can’t even imagine starting over again with someone else. I’m really happy in my life and I’m free to do what I what when I want.”
Showbiss: As an artist, how would you describe the music scene today?
TN: From a creative point of view, I think we’re in a really beautiful place. As artists, we don’t need the middle man anymore. We don’t have this corporate music hierarchy that is dictating how we will dress, how we will look and the songs that we will sing. Predominantly female artists lived under that thumb; especially from the eras that I really love.
Now, you can create whatever the hell you want and release it, find your fans and find the people who connect with your music. It’s a great place to be in, especially as a female artist. I’m lucky that I have that kind of audience.
Showbiss: I read the small print on your CD back cover on the “slang” of your title “Sassafras.” How was this word chosen for your new album?
TN: I guess for me, I love that word. I love the way it sounds. Even if you have not heard the word, you immediately associate it with “sass.” The minute you hear the word, sassafras, you know it’s going to have something to do with being sassy and also someone who speaks their mind. I think that word captured the content of what the album is about. In Latin, it means “I break rock.” I just love that it’s this beautiful, fragrant and useful plant but it’s strong and can break through rocks.
Showbiss: There is such a flavor of a Hawaiian love song with “One Thought of You.” It’s excellent and there is definitely a chameleon in your voice as you are able to sing in so many different styles. How did that song come to you?
Tami Neilson: That is a song that my dad wrote many, many years ago. It was one that he never ever recorded. It was over a decade ago. I remember him saying to me, “Tam, would you mind having a look at this? I’m not happy with the lyrics, if you want to tweak some of them and work on it with me.” I worked on some of the lyrics and gave it back to him. I hadn’t heard it since. My last album was songs all about my dad and songs either by him or for him. That was after the wake of losing him. I said at the time that I promise none of your songs will go to waste. I will be your voice.
Then came this album, it felt like the light at the end of the tunnel. It was coming out of that grieving and ready to celebrate all the things that come with your perspective changing after losing a parent. Realizing life is short and you have to hustle while you’re here and say what you want to say. All of those things were coming out in the album. The morning I was going to start recording, I started singing this song as I was getting ready. Not even really thinking about it. As I was singing it, I felt that I was singing this old standard that I didn’t quite remember. When I stopped and realized what was coming out of my mouth, I immediately started to sob. It felt like my dad had whispered it in my ear, “Now you’re going to record an album, remember that promise?” My dad had written the song for my mom initially. Dad had put down just the music and the guitar track. It was like, here’s the stuff you need and you can do the rest. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Showbiss: Every song on Sassafrass! knocked me out. Thank you Tami.