As we enter the final weeks of 2018, I find myself reflecting on the milestones I hit in 2018 with Pop Geeks. I reached my 100th article for the site with my Pleasant Gehman interview, which was also the 100th unique interview I’ve done. I also made a dream come true this year by interviewing Sherri Stoner, my biggest influence as a writer. Coming up soon will be interviews with Loretta Swit and Aki Aleong. As I hit these milestones, though, I thought of the talents I never had the chance to interview. There’s so many, but these 10 Talents I Never Got The Chance To Interview really stood out for me.
Why did I never have the chance to interview these 10 talents? There’s a variety of reasons. In at least three cases, it’s because they died years before I started doing interviews. In another case, I had their contact info, but had a lot on my plate and couldn’t reach out until it was too late. In still other cases, it was because I could never find contact info for them. In one tragic case, they’re still alive, but dealing with dementia. Each one of these talents would have had some great stories to share. In Altogether, these are talents whose work inspired me, and whom I would’ve loved to have spoken to. I’ve chosen 5 men and 5 women, and the list will be in alphabetical order by last name.
I begin my list with Laura Branigan. My first exposure to Laura Branigan’s music came when I acquired a compilation of 80s dance music in 1998 called Only Dance: 1980-1984. The Laura Branigan song on there was “Self Control”, and listening to it gave me a sense of maturity. I was only 15 years old at the time, but as I listened to Laura singing of her descent into the mysteries of the city, I found myself wanting to go on the adventure with her in spite of my country mouse nature.
Over the next few years, I would go on a cassette-buying spree that would be supplemented by a lot of file-sharing, and I came to expand my horizons with Laura’s music, whether it was a ballad like “Ti Amo” or an adrenalized dance song like “The Lucky One”. When Laura Branigan died in 2004, I was saddened. I started doing interviews about two years after her passing, and I’m saddened that I never had the chance to reach out to Laura.
If I had interviewed her, I would love to have discussed how she bought Eurodance and Eurodisco to American audiences, as well as her appearance on Saturday Night Live, her frequent appearances on Solid Gold, her acting work on shows like CHiPS and Automan, and her starring role in the Australian film Backstage.
Next on my list of talents I never got the chance to interview is actress and model Darlanne Fluegel. My first exposure to Darlanne came in 2000, when I acquired two movies she filmed in 1986 on VHS. The two movies were Running Scared and Tough Guys. In Running Scared, she played Anna Costanzo, the estranged wife of cowboy cop Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal…Don’t laugh. Although it’s a comedy, he showed a talent for cracking bones as well as jokes), while in Tough Guys, she played Skye, the aerobics instructor love interest of recently freed train robber Archie Long (Kirk Douglas).
In both of those movies, she played the role of a loving and supportive woman to good men who were dealing with hard times. Later in the decade, I would see her in the movies Once Upon A Time In America, where she played Eve, the troubled girlfriend of Noodles (Robert De Niro), a reprehensible gangster, and To Live And Die In L.A, where she played Ruth Lanier, the parolee that corrupt federal agent Richard Chance (William Petersen) uses for sex and tips. It’s a testament to the late Ms. Fluegel’s acting abilities that she could go from loving to loathing within the same role and get you to believe that genesis could happen.
Darlanne Fluegel died last year as a result of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and that disease can wipe a lot out of you, so as I only started doing phone interviews in 2012, perhaps I should have considered contacting her in either 2009 or 2010 for an e-mail interview. I would’ve loved to ask not only about all these movies, but also her modeling days, her work as a producer and her teaching.
Next on my list is another Running Scared star, Gregory Hines. My first exposure to the genius of his dancing actually came when I saw him on Sesame Street in the early 90s, tap-dancing alongside Savion Glover as they demonstrated opposites like up and down and in and out. Sesame Street was an early exposure to many talents I would later admire, and Gregory Hines was no exception.
Hines was able to work dancing into both his comedic and dramatic works, and I think the best comedic example of his dancing came when he appeared on a Steve Martin special in 1981, around the time that Steve had starred in Pennies From Heaven. The two of them sang a duet of the standard “Fit As A Fiddle”, and then danced some amazing, high-flying steps. Hines was also great at dramatic acting, and I particularly loved his role as MP Albaby Perkins in the Vietnam War drama Off Limits. He bought a great intensity to that work. Another movie where Gregory was able to display not only his dramatic chops, but his dance talent as well, was The Cotton Club. That movie turns 35 next year, and I hope we’ll get to see Francis Ford Coppola’s recut on Blu-Ray and DVD next year.
Gregory Hines’ life ended in 2003, and I wish it hadn’t. Had he survived that scare, there’s so much I would have loved to ask him about, from performing as a child in the 50s and 60s to his work in preserving tap dancing’s legacy to appearing in movies like Running Scared and Off Limits and whether the physicality of dancing helped with the action.
Another man on my list of talents I never had the chance to interview is Rick James. My first exposure to him came via being sampled by MC Hammer for his song “U Can’t Touch This”. 8 years after I first heard Hammer’s sampling, I heard James’ song “Super Freak” on the same album where I heard Branigan’s “Self Control”. and wondered how I could ever have enjoyed Hammer’s song. There was a great sense of adult theming to Rick James’ work, and he represented a sensibility that I thought was fun in an adult way.
Unfortunately, his life was anything but fun, and he turned out to be a very volatile and abusive person. He did express regret for that behavior, though, and I can only wonder if a person like Chris Brown will ever express a sincere sense of remorse for their behavior like Rick James did.
For many of my generation, Rick James became a punchline to a classic Chappelle’s Show sketch, one that James himself played along with, but if he were still around, I would love to have asked him about not only his musical efforts, but what his views on life were and what the wildest stories from his partying days were. Granted, I’d have to read his autobiography beforehand, but I would’ve loved to try and find new angles for questions to ask Rick James.
Next on the list of talents I never got to interview is Joanie Laurer, better known to the wrestling world as Chyna, former WWE wrestler (back when it was called the WWF). I met Joanie at Chiller Theatre in October of 2015, as I wrote about in a 2016 article about the impact of celebrity deaths and as shown in this article’s cover photo. Meeting Ms. Laurer was a tremendous honor, and I told her of how the work she did as part of the Attitude Era helped me through some bad times.
My high school years were not good ones, but as they coincided with the Attitude Era, I watched Raw Is War, and later Smackdown, and the rebelliousness of the wrestlers of that era spoke to me. I would have loved to do to bullies and authority figures what these stars did. Chyna was one of my favorite female Superstars of that era, and I told her as much.
I had her representative’s contact info, but was never able to set something up, and roughly about six months later, Ms. Laurer was gone. There was a lot I could’ve asked her about, not just related to wrestling, but also to things like acting and singing.
Moving on, Herschell Gordon Lewis was also at the October 2015 Chiller Theatre, and I met him as well. In that article on the impact of celebrity deaths, I wrote of how he still had a quick wit about him and had some very fascinating answers to my questions. It’s always interesting to hear where the talents who made these entertainments were coming from when they came up with their ideas.
The Godfather Of Gore was Herschell’s nickname, and looking at his movies, the gallons of blood spilled in them paved the way for the horror movie boom of the 70s and 80s. So much of what’s celebrated at genre conventions was created or codified by Mr. Lewis’ work.
Not interviewing Herschell before his passing is something I really kicked my own ass over. I had his wife’s e-mail address and was going to reach out to him, but a lot of things came up writing-wise, and I wasn’t able to speak to him before his passing. Now when I go to Chiller, I always bring my cards with me, and I try to reach out about interviews with the talents as soon as possible. October to December is pretty busy so I’m not able to set up as many interviews in that time period as I do at other parts of the year, but I’ll always try to make an effort to ensure that I don’t miss another talent like Mr. Lewis or Ms. Laurer.
Continuing my list of talents I never got the chance to interview, I now come to Dorothy Malone, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Written On The Wind whose exclusion from this year’s Oscars In Memoriam inspired me to write an article about that injustice the day after the ceremony.
I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to interview quite a few Oscar winners for Pop Geeks over the course of the past few years, and I would have loved to add Dorothy Malone to that list. She was really a great beauty, and she brought a great passion to every acting role she took. The mad mambo she did in Written On The Wind remains imprinted on me.
I would’ve loved to have asked Dorothy about not only Written On The Wind, but also about things like being a contract player for RKO and Warner Brothers, her time on the soap opera Peyton Place, and her later work in genre fare like the horror movie The Being and the classic 90s thriller Basic Instinct. The diversity of Dorothy’s career was very fascinating, and that diversity would’ve led to some very fascinating stories.
Jumping back into wrestling, I regret that I never had the chance to interview Roddy Piper. The Hot Rod often spoke of his health issues, but in spite of that, he always seemed to have a great energy about him. When he died in 2015, I was rather shocked. I know that she spoke rather softly in his later interviews, but he could still turn on the heat when needed.
About a decade or so ago, I found on YouTube a promo that Roddy Piper had cut during his NWA days to promote a match he and Rick Martel would be having against The Sheepherders, later to become The Bushwhackers in the WWE. To express how passionate Piper and Martel were about wanting to defeat The Sheepherders, Piper smashed a beer bottle against his face and cut his promo as his face was covered in blood. I saw that, and I thought it was both dangerous and awesome.
There was so much I would’ve loved to interview Roddy about, whether it was wrestling, acting or his music career. Roddy did a lot of amazing things, and while he did have his issues, he generally was more honorable than, say, Hulk Hogan is. As he had lost his Legends contract shortly before his passing as a result of talking badly about Steve Austin, I feel he was done rather dirty by the WWE, and I would have loved to get more about that story out of him.
Speaking of people who were done dirty by powerful authority figures, I’ve often written of how my favorite era of Saturday Night Live was the era when people other than Lorne Michaels were producing the show, even though many people, including cast members of that era, like to pretend that the era, besides Eddie Murphy and Season 10, never happened. I saw a few episodes of the infamous Season 6 on Comedy Central in the 90s, and I laughed at them. I had no idea they had gotten such a poor reception, or that Charles Rocket, another talent I never got the chance to interview, was so disdained.
Charles Rocket was infamous for saying the word “fuck” on the Charlene Tilton-hosted episode in Season 6, and was fired shortly thereafter. I found it puzzling that he caught heat for dropping the F bomb when talents on Lorne Michaels’ SNL who did so, like Paul Shaffer or Norm MacDonald, were viewed in a higher regard. It puzzled me, and still does.
Charles Rocket did a lot more than drop an F bomb on SNL, though. He was also a real reporter before joining SNL, a musician who played on a Talking Heads song, and a talented actor in both dramas like Dances With Wolves and comedies like Earth Girls Are Easy. I loved him in Earth Girls Are Easy and thought he had great comedic timing. His suicide was shocking, and I wish he were still around so I could ask him about his diverse career,
The last person on my list of talents I never got the chance to interview is Julie Strain, the famous model and cult movie actress. My first exposure to Julie Strain came when I saw her in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, playing a whip-wielding dominatrix at a fertility clinic being investigated by Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen). Even though she was only on screen for a few seconds and didn’t have any dialogue, she was still incredibly funny.
Julie Strain was active in the 1990s and 2000s as a model, actress and writer, and it seemed as though she were an unstoppable force. She had heavy firepower, great charisma and incredible sexuality in her roles, and it seemed as though nothing could stop her. Unfortunately, Julie Strain is currently dealing with dementia, which is horrible for anybody to deal with. My own mother dealt with dementia in the final weeks of her life, and it was unnerving to see. That’s why I feel sorry for Julie.
If I had the chance to interview Julie Strain, there’s so much we could’ve covered. Acting, modeling, writing…Julie was wonderful at all of those things, and had an incredible sense of humor about her work. Julie Strain was really quite a talent, and for dementia to impact her is a great injustice.
In summation, there’s a lot of talents I wish I had the chance to interview, but these 10 stand out. Their work, whether singing, acting, dancing or wrestling, inspired me and got me through some of the darkest times of my life. Whenever I do an interview, I always thank the talents I speak to for taking the time to speak to me. I view my interviews as a way of documenting entertainment history, making sure the stories entertainers share live on and can be passed down to future generations.
Pop culture is something I have a great love and admiration for. Movies, music, TV…They all served as education for me, giving me lessons to apply to my life that I couldn’t get from parents or schoolteachers. I will never hesitate to thank the stars I speak to for how they helped me, and even though I’ll never be able to interview the talents discussed in this article, I thank them all as well for having helped me through dark times.