This year marks the 30th anniversary of the debut of Head Of The Class. My next interview subject was one of the only cast members to stick with the show for its’ entire run. Khrystyne Haje played Simone Foster, a poet in the advanced class of Mr. Moore (Howard Hesseman) from seasons 1 through 4, and later Mr. MacGregor (Billy Connolly) for the fifth and final season. Ms. Haje has bought the good heart and smarts of her character into her everyday life as an environmental activist. Along the way, she’s been a model, won a Daytime Emmy, did a USO tour with Bob Hope, and is currently in talks for a reboot of Head Of The Class. I spoke to her about all of this and more on May 10th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
It’s time to Flashback. Say hello to Khrystyne Haje!
Johnny: Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview.
Khrystyne: My pleasure.
Johnny: I always start off my interviews with these two questions. First, what were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Khrystyne: My favorite pop-cultural likes growing up? Oh, boy. It’s funny, because I read that interview you did with EG Daily. You mentioned that Valley Girl movie. Of all things, I was just a girl in junior high, and I was a Valley Girl. A show called Real People had the Ultimate Valley Girl Contest, so I competed in that and got down to the end. They did it at the Galleria at the time. I loved the Galleria. Fast Times At Ridgemont High was a very big deal in our school at the time. They were the older kids. It was aspirational, if you will. It was the whole Galleria thing, the lemonade at Hot Dog On A Stick, and that pizza place, so growing up in the San Fernando Valley, the whole Valley Girl stuff was a big thing for me. I loved Foreigner and Pat Benatar. (Laughing) That’s really going to date me, but we didn’t have the Disney Channel at the time. You listened to adult music, so that was the music you jumped on the bed with at your friend’s house or played at your birthday party. The boys in 6th grade were listening to Led Zeppelin. No one was Disney Channeling it at the time. It was a very different type of pop culture. I feel like kids today love Frozen, and me? I guess the only sort of thing that was youth-oriented was The Mickey Mouse Club, but that’s when I was super little. Everything else was stuff for grown-ups and you found your way to liking it. I loved Happy Days and even the spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi. I watched a lot of stuff in reruns. I don’t even know if that was its’ first run. For me, as a really little kid, 5 or 6 years old, I watched all the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road shows. They were in black-and-white, and they would air on the local television in the morning or afternoon. I thought they were the greatest, and ultimately how I ended up working with Bob Hope. It was because, as a five-year-old, I just thought he was dreamy, and later, I got to go to the Persian Gulf with him. It was those Road shows. I never understood why the girls always fell for Bing. (Laughing) I thought, “Go for Bob. He’s the funny one!”.
Johnny: As you were a model as a teenager, what were your high school days like?
Khrystyne: I started modeling when I was 14, and I actually went to Paris during the school year. I did school via correspondence. My Mom and I were in Paris and Milan, initially, and I had to do certain school projects. It was actually really amazing, because those assignments made the city come alive for me. Particularly my English teacher and my history teacher. My history teacher at the time had me read the book Is Paris Burning?, which was about the Nazi invasion, and I was able to go to the bridge that the Nazis almost blew up. I was able to stand in front of monuments that wouldn’t even have existed if things came out differently. It also might’ve been my English teacher who asked me to read a book about Michelangelo, and so my Mom and I went to Florence and retraced his steps, as well as Milan and Rome. It really made everything so alive for me, and so interesting, that I loved being there and I loved learning about the history of where I was. I loved learning who the big players were, if you will, that made it what it was. Then I would go back to school for a couple of months, and then I would go back to Europe. When I went back to school, I would have to leave to do auditions. I was an emancipated minor, so I could write my own notes to miss class. I took the proficiency test so that I had legally graduated, but I never gave it to the school. I continued to go to the regular public school I was in. I used the proficiency test and the emancipation papers when I did film or television work, so that I could work as an adult. I didn’t get tutoring and all that stuff, like a lot of younger actors do.
Johnny: During your time as a model, who were your favorite designers to work for?
Khrystyne: You know, I don’t really know. Isn’t that funny? I’ve never been a designer person. I love them. It’s just not my thing. Even now, I don’t wear designer clothes. Again, I’m all for designers. Some women love certain designers. I loved the photographers For me, it was what photographer I had the opportunity to work with. It was never what we were shooting. It was always who I was shooting with. Pamela Hanson was a photographer I got to shoot with in Paris, and that was just amazing. Oliviero Toscani was a photographer I got to shoot with in Italy, and that was also a spectacular experience. He ultimately originated the ads for Benetton. Both were real artists. And an honor to work with.
Johnny: I can imagine it would be. You made your acting debut in a TV movie called Crime Of Innocence. What led you to make the transition for modeling to acting?
Khrystyne: I got a commercial. As a model, I had been hired for some commercials. At the time, this was the 80s, when most commercials were quick vignettes. I had booked a Doritos commercial. I was sitting on the bleachers, watching a game. I took a bite of the Dorito and my hat blew off. It then cut to someone else doing something, and they took a bite and they got blown into the pool, and then someone did whatever it was. It was a quick cut. You would typically work a day on a commercial. The commercial that changed things booked me for 7 days! It was amazing! It was for Kodak film, and they needed me to act. This time, I was all of the vignettes. I had to cry in one vignette. I had to weep in one vignette, look in love in another, giggle and dance in another. I felt like “Whoa, this is fantastic!”. It really gave me the experience of being on set for an extended time, and the director was fantastic. I just loved that experience. I said, “I want to be an actress”. I went to my modeling agency and I said, “I want to be an actress. What do I do?”. That’s how I made the transition. They started sending me out for acting roles, but I found that they weren’t really right for me. I was 15, and I was very much a 15-year-old culturally and maturity-wise. Because they were a modeling agency, they were getting auditions for the sexy girl or for 19-year-old girls or for love interest girls. I didn’t have any kind of savvy, so I switched agents and got an agency that represented character actors. I thought, “That’s great, because I always wanted to play a great character”. I then started getting roles that were at least for teenagers, and a bit more innocent as well, and then I really started to work at that time.
Johnny: Okay. Your second acting gig, according to the IMDB, was playing Alex Shuman in an ABC Afterschool Special entitled Can A Guy Say No? As ABC would be the network that aired Head Of The Class, was that special considered an audition for the show?
Khrystyne: No, that didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t think the networks really worked that way at the time. The Afterschool Special I did was so fun and such a great experience, and I got to work with Tommy Schlamme, who is an incredible director. The audition process for Head Of The Class was on its’ own and very extensive.
Johnny: As you landed the role of Simone Foster on Head Of The Class and played it for the entire series, what was the most rewarding part of working on that show?
Khrystyne: Well, the first thing that comes to mind when you ask me that question is the family, the camraderie with the other actors and our crew, our whole team just working together. That can’t be matched. I mean, obviously, you get other experiences of that closeness, joy and teamwork, but that was really the greatest experience for me. I used to say I go to real school in the morning and fantasy school in the afternoon, because I got to work with some of the funniest people in the business. We just had a great time. Our job was to make people laugh.
Johnny: You certainly did that.
Johnny: A recurring theme on Head Of The Class was that all the students were intelligent when it came to academics, but they seemed to be lacking in some other aspects of interacting with the world. With all the discussion of autism in the past 30 years, and as what TV Tropes would call a Wild Mass Guess, is it possible that Simone, and by extension all the students in Mr. Moore, and later Mr. MacGregor’s class, might have been on the autistic spectrum, i.e, Asperger’s Syndrome or disorders like that?
Khrystyne: I don’t know enough about the spectrum to speak intelligently about it. I feel like that is such an important question, and I just don’t have enough information. I feel like I could say the wrong thing and it would be heartbreaking or misleading. I don’t know enough to give you a real answer.
Johnny: Fair enough. In the episode “Back To The Future”, obviously not to be confused with the classic movie of the same name, Mr. Moore’s class pretends what their 20th anniversary reunion will be like. What do you suppose actually happened to Simone 20 years after she graduated?
Khrystyne: Well, we’re actually working on a Head Of The Class reboot. It’s been talked about a lot, what happened to Simone (Laughing). At the moment we have Simone, back at Fillmore High, teaching a new class of geniuses. She’s had to come back after winning awards and actually being a teacher at Amherst. Her mom fell ill and she comes back to New York to be with her mom, and then decides to go to her alma mater, and takes over the IHP class there.
Johnny: I see. I won’t ask any more about the reboot, since it’s still in discussions, so we’ll just keep that as a hint for now. Going back to the original, probably the most memorable episodes of Head Of The Class were the ones that were filmed in Russia. What was it like to be filming there when the Cold War was still going on?
Khrystyne: It was really amazing to be in Moscow at that time. It was mind-boggling. It was not what we expected, and we didn’t know what to expect, so it was a was a complete, unique, overwhelming surprise. It was very stark, which we didn’t expect. We were closely guarded, which we had been told that we would be, but we didn’t believe. As far as we could tell, our rooms were tapped and we had people shadowing us. It really felt like a Cold War experience, and yet, things were changing. It was at the beginning of Perestroika, and so Moscow was in transition. We made wonderful friends. We had incredible experiences. The Russian actors there really took us under their wing. They embraced us. They bought us to hot spots, if you will (laughing), or invited us into their homes and cooked for us. It was heartwarming, and also shocking.
Johnny: Yeah. It seems that ABC was doing a lot to help promote peace between America and Russia. I mean, there were the Head Of The Class episodes that were filmed there. There was also Marlo Thomas’ Free To Be A Family special, which aired on ABC in, like, 1988. It seemed like ABC was doing a lot to promote peace.
Khrystyne: All I know is that ABC was the first episodic to ever go to Russia, to Moscow, to the USSR. Films had shot there, but no television show had actually ever gone to film there. I don’t know if the Marlo Thomas special was actually filmed there, or if they filmed in Poland or somewhere else that doubled for Russia. I don’t know, but the big publicity push was that we were the first episodic to ever shoot there. To stand in front of Red Square is really amazing. To be there with your cast is incredible, and I bought my family with me, so it was a full experience.
Johnny: Cool. Coming back to America, I liked the episode “Ode To Simone”. I feel it was an excellent example of your acting on the show, as Simone had a wide array of emotions towards Lasker’s feelings about her work. Have you, in real life, ever had to deal with a talent you admire saying negative things about your work, whether in terms of acting or activism?
Khrystyne: Probably, but not in a way that has scarred me. I don’t remember. I’m sure that I have had, but nothing that left a lasting mark, so not that I remember.
Johnny: Okay. I apologize for not asking more questions about Head Of The Class, but unfortunately it has never been released to DVD, and I’m going by the episodes that YouTube users have uploaded. I’ve inquired on Warner Archive Collection’s Facebook page about it, and they say that the show has significant clearance issues. As you were there for the entire run, can you offer clarification on what Warner Brothers means by clearance issues?
Khrystyne: I wish I knew. I get asked every day why Head Of The Class is not out on DVD…Why it was never released. A lot of people ask on my fan page as well. A lot of cast members wonder. We have no idea. I asked the original creator of the show and he doesn’t know. We don’t know what all of the issues are. Someone has suggested that because we had different leads, Howard Hesseman and, later, Billy Connolly, that maybe it has something to do with that, but no one with any authority made that suggestion. It’s not like somebody at Warner Brothers suggested that to me. I really have no idea, but I do know that I posted an episode on my fan page. It got, like, 100 views and then, immediately, Warner Brothers took it down. When they saw within an hour or two that it was being watched, they took it off.
Johnny: Sorry to hear that.
Khrystyne: I know. It was a bummer. Everybody was really enjoying it. It was the “First Date” episode of Simone and Eric.
Johnny: I’ve actually heard rumors that the musical episodes you did, as there was a school musical every year, might have had something to do with it. Music rights issues tend to be a major hold-up, which explains, for example, why we haven’t seen anything from Saturday Night Live in terms of DVD releases after Season 5.
Khrystyne: I really just don’t know. I don’t have the info, but you think they could just release it without the musical episodes maybe. I don’t know all the legal ins-and-outs.
Johnny: Okay. During your time on Head Of The Class, you were also a panelist on the 1990 run of To Tell The Truth, a program which, during its’ brief run, went through five different hosts and ended up cancelled after only a season or so. As the production was so trouble, what do you recall the most about being a panelist, and do you think it could have been saved?
Khrystyne: You know, it was just a lot of fun to shoot. We would shoot all the week’s episodes in one or two days. I remember working with Ron Masak, who was just fun and funny. I worked with two different hosts. Lynn Swann was the host for a while, and Gordon Elliott was the other host. I loved being able to meet Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. They had older icons, and for me at the time, being a young girl, they were like iconic actors. It was really baffling to figure out whoever the real person was. I was recently helping a friend with her two small children. The girls wanted to watch something on YouTube, and they asked if they could watch something of mine. We found an episode of To Tell The Truth, and the girls LOVED it. They absolutely loved it, and they were betting on who the real person was. I think they should bring it back, especially if they did a version for tweens. It would be really popular.
Johnny: I think so. Earlier you had mentioned watching Bob Hope growing up and going on a USO tour with him. What was it like to go on a tour like that?
Khrystyne: That really hit my heart. That was for the Persian Gulf War that President George H.W Bush was in charge of in 1990 and 1991. Saddam Hussein was alive and threatening chemical warfare, and we were really terrified. When they asked me if I wanted to, they said, “We can’t guarantee your safety. We’ll do everything we can to protect you, but there’s no guarantees”. I just thought, All of those men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way. We’re entertainers. The least we can do is show up at Christmas time and try to bring them something back from home”. To show up in the Middle East and see what the Armed Forces had done was incredible. I mean it was really, really a confidence booster, in feeling safe, to see what our military is capable of. Each one of us had our own Marine guard, and we each had a sort of Hazmat contamination suit that the Marines carried for us at all times, one for us, one for them. I got to be with The Pointer Sisters and Marie Osmond and Johnny Bench and, more than that, Bob Hope! I wrote down everything he said to me. At one point, he said I reminded him of a young Lucille Ball, and I thought that I was going to just float up to Heaven. It was such a huge compliment to me. I don’t really have good words to describe it, but it was just a dream come true. It was really one of the highlights of my life, from working with him to meeting all the men and women. This was before the Internet. Soldiers, Army, Navy, Marine, they would all say, “Please, when you get back to the states, tell my mother this or call that. Would you call my grandmother?”. I had so many phone numbers, so many notes from the men and women that were there defending us, that it made my heart grow to 10 times its’ size from the emotion of meeting those people.
Johnny: Definitely. You’ve been very active in environmental matters over the course of the past few decades, and one of the ways you showed that was with the Disney Channel special Spaceship Earth, which won you a Daytime Emmy. What was your favorite part of working on that special?
Khrystyne: Well, I learned some things that I hadn’t known, and I got to interview some people I had long admired. I think it felt like we were doing a good thing, and for me, the people we got to interview were awe-inspiring.
Johnny: As Disney has continued to be active in matters relating to the environment and other things, and as they’ve been very dominant in the field of children’s television, have you been asked by the company to come back and appear in an environmentally-themed episode of, say, Live And Maddie, or maybe Sofia The First for the Disney Junior set?
Khrystyne: I haven’t. I was not aware that that’s happening, but I would love to be a part of it. I’ll check it out. I will watch those shows and see what you’re talking about.
Johnny: As previously mentioned, throughout your life, you’ve been active in environmental matters. What led you to become so passionate about that?
Khrystyne: I was lucky to be raised in an environmentally aware family. My amazing Mom taught me the importance of protecting our planet. We recycled, ate organic, grew what we could in our backyard, reused jars and bags and tried to fix things (instead of buying new). We even boycotted tuna when I was 5 yrs old. I asked why we couldn’t have tuna fish sandwiches anymore, and she told me it was because they were killing dolphins with the way they caught tuna. She was ahead of her time! I’m a better person for it!
Johnny: Alright. One of your first big-screen roles was taking over for Angelina Jolie as Cash in Cyborg 3: The Recycler. Had you seen the first two Cyborg movies before coming on board for this one?
Khrystyne: Well, they told me they were replacing Angelina Jolie, which I could not possibly understand. I watched that one. I don’t know if I saw the original with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but I definitely watched the one with Angelina Jolie because I was picking up the same character, and I had to know what we were about.
Johnny: Like several of my previous interview subjects, you appeared on an episode of Murder, She Wrote when you played Andrea Beaumont in the episode Murder In High C. This wasn’t your only singing role, as you also sang in the musical episodes of Head Of The Class. In all those projects, did you do your own singing, or did someone else dub you?
Khrystyne: Oh, no. We always had to do our own singing. I sang with Bob Hope also for the Persian Gulf special that he did. Again, going back to highlights of my career, singing on stage with him in front of 10,000 soldiers was spectacular. It was such an adrenaline rush, I can’t tell you, but I only sing when I’m acting. I’m not a singer otherwise, but every role is different. I’ve done plays since then where I sing, and you’ve got to do your own singing.
Johnny: Okay. In 2002, you played Vanessa in Man Of The Year, one of John Ritter’s last films, and a movie that was entirely improvised and shot in digital format. As the bulk of your previous work, as well as your work afterwards, had been done with a script, did you feel nervous about making a character and her dialogue practically up from scratch, with only an outline as your guide?
Khrystyne: No. It was so fun, and to know that I was working with John Ritter? I’m always inspired by other actors. I can’t remember if there was “pressure”. Of course I wanted to be good. I wanted to be funny. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to get the emotions across. I didn’t want to talk too much. You just want to say the right thing. I feel like I had faith that, in the moment, the two of us, whether it was John and I or any other actor with whom I was interacting, we could create something real and right for the moment.
Johnny: It was an interesting movie. Your most recent credit, according to the IMDB, was playing Jade in a reality show spoof called God Loves ME Best. As that was a spoof of reality television, what are your own feelings about the genre?
Khrystyne: I think that reality television has changed a lot from when we were first introduced to it. You know, home shopping shows are reality television. There’s a lot of self-help shows that are reality television. I think there’s some good stuff in reality television. As an actress, I like to take on a role that’s completely different, and is a whole new creation. My first love is scripted work, but the the business has also changed to where you can be seen as yourself and still play a role. It used to be there was no cross-over. You were a serious actor or you were a television host, but you could never be both. That has changed, and I’m so grateful for that. I feel like we are more savvy. We can see someone in their own light, and then still believe them as a completely different character in a film, so I think there’s a lot of value in reality shows. Like anything, it just depends on what you’re watching.
Johnny: Right. Actually, I did have one question about that Head Of The Class revival. Would it be more likely to air on Disney Channel, a sister to now-Disney-owned ABC, or Nickelodeon, where your co-star Dan Schneider has his production company?
Khrystyne: You know, there’s a few good homes for the show, and that’s what’s being negotiated at the moment, the best place to land. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say where it’s more likely to end up or not. I hope it goes to the best home. It would also be a good companion for Fuller House on Netflix.
Johnny: Oh, yeah. I keep on forgetting about that.
Khrystyne: Yeah, streaming is a great way to get television now.
Johnny: Two more questions: First, I think you looked great in the 80s, and you still do so now, but a lot of people look back at 80s fashions and hairstyles with a sense of mockery and shame. Why do you think that is?
Khrystyne: (Laughing) I think that even I will look back at something and wonder “Why was I wearing what? What was I thinking?”. Our tastes and our styles keep evolving, as it should, and I think we’re always second-guessing ourselves all the time. Why did we do that last week or last year, let alone 20 years ago? You can’t remember all of the losers at the moment. I know there’s no going back. I can’t undo the big bows and the baggy jackets, but a lot of that stuff was in fashion at one point or another. I’m sure that 20 years from now, we’ll look back at what we’re wearing, and how we’re wearing our hair, and wonder what the heck were we thinking?
Johnny: Maybe. Now we come to the question I end every interview with, and it’s this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Khrystyne: Well, I’d like to think that I would. I don’t know if I’m actually capable of doing anything differently, but I wish I had focused on work more. I really just wanted to enjoy my family, and travel with them as much as possible when I wasn’t filming. That was great and wonderful, but I wish I had been more studious, and maybe shortened some of the trips so I could’ve been available for more work. I wish I’d studied the business a bit more, but it’s hard to have regrets because you don’t know what you would’ve missed out on. I have so many fantastic family memories, so I wish I had struck a little better balance. My family never really cared about me working, so they didn’t put any focus on the work. I was always the one who wanted to work. I just wish, even when I was in town, that I had just written more or studied other aspects of the business. In fact, that’s what I would add in. Keep the same amount of family time and the same amount of filming time, but in my regular downtime, study other aspects of film-making. The craft of writing? That would’ve been great.
Johnny: I see. Well, it’s never too late, and I look forward to whatever future work will come from you.
Khrystyne: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate your time, Johnny. If we get to do a Head Of The Class reboot, I’ll be sure to give you a behind-the-scenes interview.
Johnny: Okay. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule as well.
Khrystyne: Just so you know, some of the closest friends in my life are the kids from the show. We’re not kids anymore, but when we’re together, you wouldn’t know it. Tony O’Dell and Kimberly Russell are two of my closest friends, and I see Dan Frischman and Daniel Schneider. These people are a building block of my life.
Johnny: I have to admit, for a while, I got Dan Frischman and Dan Schneider mixed up because they were both named Dan. Like I said, I thank you for taking the time to speak to me, and I’ll be in touch soon.
Khrystyne: Okay, great. Thank you, Johnny. Take care.
Johnny: You, too. Bye.
For more about Khrystyne Haje’s life and career, you can visit her official Facebook page. If you’re interested in learning more about Khrystyne’s environmental work, visit the Facebook page Khrystyne On The Green Scene. Khrystyne is also on Twitter and Instagram.
Thanks as always for reading this, and stay tuned for future installments of the Flashback Interview.