I was first introduced to Audrey Landers’ work via the 1985 film version of A Chorus Line, where she played Val and memorably performed the song “Dance Ten, Looks Three”. As I’m always learning more about the pop culture of the past, especially the 1980s, I came to discover more about Audrey, and I was impressed. She acts, she sings, she composes songs and she’s logged more miles of travel than most of her contemporaries. I spoke to her on May 2nd, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know this versatile talent.
Say hello to Audrey Landers!
Johnny: Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Audrey: It’s my pleasure.
Johnny: Alright. I would like to start off with this question. Your earliest work was as a soap opera actress, and when I say that, I’m referring to daytime soaps. Of the following threee, Search For Tomorrow, The Secret Storm and Somerset, which was your favorite to work on?
Audrey: Oh, my goodness. You know, it was a long time ago. Obviously, it was a lot of fun just getting my foot in the door at a young age, doing The Secret Storm. Somerset was awesome because I worked with so many incredible actors who, later on, went on to do even greater things, like Ted Danson and Sigourney Weaver and JoBeth Williams. We had such an incredible cast on Somerset, so it was an exciting time.
Johnny: Alright. How did your soap opera work prepare you for what came next in your acting career?
Audrey: Soap operas are amazing because they require such discipline, especially in those days when they were practically live. We didn’t do retakes. It was like putting on a live show every single day, so there was a lot of memorization. As an actor, it really prepares you because you have to be able to keep it fresh all the time. Quite often, on a show that you see daily, there’s a lot of recapping, and I think that making the dialogue more interesting, more realistic, more believable, is sometimes a challenge. It’s just wonderful preparation. Additionally, you get to really delve into a character because you’ve lived that character for so long, as I did for years on each of those shows. It’s really a great opportunity as an actor.
Johnny: Alright. You were the first actress to play Betty in a live-action adaptation of the Archie comics, having done so in two different pilots. How did you land that role?
Audrey: They auditioned lots of girls, and I guess I had the look. We actually sang in one of those specials. My singing background has always come through for me through all the roles that I’ve played. I think that had a lot to do with it as well, that I am a good singer.
Johnny: Alright. Have you been asked to appear on the current series Riverdale as a legacy cameo, or do you think that program is too serious for an in-joke like that?
Audrey: No. I really would love to have been part of that series. I think it’s interesting in that it’s changing with the way the times are changing. Of course, we all have our memories of the wholesome Archie gang, but I think there’s a whole new generation that could relate better to the darker Archie series than to the original concepts.
Johnny: Alright. In 1979, you played a USO Girl in the Steven Spielberg comedy 1941. What was it like to work on that movie?
Audrey: I can’t say I have great memories of that one, and actually, I’ve never seen the movie because of that (laughing). It was a very difficult time because, in the midst of their very long shooting schedule, I got cast as a lead in an NBC short-lived series called Highcliffe Manor. It was a big juggling match trying to show up and waiting around on a film set, as opposed to working regularly on a TV series, so it was not an easy time for me (laughing).
Johnny: Yeah. I read an interview with Steven Spielberg where he said, when they were months into shooting, that he didn’t feel like he was directing the movie, but the movie was directing him.
Audrey: Yes. I wasn’t that involved in the film. My part was rather small, and I think that there was so much improvisation that I never knew what was going on in that movie (laughing). I just showed up and they’d send me on set and I would dance. Like I said, it was a little bit of a strained time because I’d just been cast in a TV series as well, so it was hard to juggle both.
Johnny: Alright. One of your most memorable 80s roles came via your work as Afton Cooper on Dallas. What drew you to that show?
Audrey: Well, it was already a hit. I think it had been on for a year, so the show was already deemed to be a hit, which was incredible. I had spent my whole life doing soap operas and for me, this was the pinnacle of soap operas. Originally, I was only asked to do two episodes, but they liked my character. As the fates would have it, the producers loved my work, thank goodness, and wrote me in as a regular character. It was really a great, great opportunity, and it was the perfect fit for me because I had the opportunity to sing. All the songs that Afton sang were songs I wrote. It gave me just a wonderful opportunity to work with great writing, great producers, other actors I loved working with, and then a chance to sing? There wasn’t much more I could’ve asked for at that time in the way of a role.
Johnny: Alright. Dallas has retained tremendous staying power, still being talked about decades after it went off the air, and even garnering a revival several years ago that you appeared on. What do you think has given Dallas that staying power?
Audrey: I think that people really enjoyed the idea of these larger-than-life characters that you came to know through the years, as opposed to a show that had beginning, middle and end once a week. This drew you in week after week as a soap opera does, because the story continued and the characters grew and changed. Certainly Afton went through many changes and evolved in the years that I was on the show, from the little conniving gold-digger to an upstanding, loving person. I think that the audience was drawn in by the characters and they really felt they knew them. That’s why I think it has such staying power.
Johnny: Alright. In 1985, you played Val Clarke in Richard Attenborough’s adaptation of A Chorus Line. Had you auditioned for the initial Broadway show before taking this part on?
Audrey: (Giggling). No. As a matter of fact, I was probably one of the few people in the New York area who had never seen the Broadway production of A Chorus Line. The story of how I got the audition? I was already on Dallas, and I had lots of hit records in Europe. My mom, who is my manager, and I were returning from a tour in Europe and a big gold record presentation in France. We landed in New York, and I was headed back to L.A where I was living. We got the call that Richard Attenborough would like to see me audition for A Chorus Line: The Movie. As I said, I had never seen it before, so we went to a kiosk at the airport, picked up the audio cassette so I could listen to the song I was to audition with in a few hours, and that’s basically how I had the audition. They had not wanted to see me because the concept was that everyone was an unknown, but upon my arrival at the rehearsal studio, the entire cast was there, except for Val. They had already been in rehearsals for a couple of months, but they had not found Val, so that was my good fortune that they hadn’t found someone that they liked. I auditioned, and then Richard Attenborough said to me, “well, now you have to go to the dance audition. These are the finest dancers in the United States”. I said, “you know what? I am so honored that I had the opportunity to meet you and sing for you, but I am not a dancer of that caliber, so I’m going to say goodbye and thank you”. He said, “just go and try”, and I went there and was sure that I had made a total fool of myself. I left as quickly as I could and I went back to the airport because I was on a connection to Los Angeles, and I had a message waiting for me not to get on the plane because I had won the role, so that was an exciting time for me.
Johnny: Alright. You filmed several projects in Germany in the 80s, including the thriller Deadly Twins and the biographical picture Johann Strauss: The King Without A Crown. As Germany was one of the fronts of the Cold War during that time, were you nervous about filming there?
Audrey: I had already done a few concerts and things in East Germany, so when the government would bring me in to do a concert, it was under very different circumstances. I wasn’t afraid. I was more empathetic towards the situation that the people were living in, and I was always happy to go and do a free concert. If I were in West Germany, I would just be escorted across the border with my group to do the concert. I had been there before. It was fascinating, not in a positive way, but from a very interesting historical perspective, to see what life was like when the Wall was up and during Communism. I wasn’t afraid because, as I said, I was bought in under different circumstances than just tourists would’ve been, but it was very stressful at times.
Johnny: Alright. When it came to the Strauss biopic, did you sing any of Strauss’ works in that movie, and if not, have you performed them in concert?
Audrey: I had never done them before, but I think I did a little waltz-type thing that they had put words to, so I did sing something. I remember a very cute flirtation type of number that they choreographed on a piano. That was a fabulous experience in that the people we worked with were so warm and so wonderful and so talented…The costumers, the lighting, the whole conglomeration of people from so many different countries and cultures all banding together in the name of art. It was a really special experience.
Johnny: Alright. In 1989, you and your sister Judy collaborated on the movie Ghost Writer, where you played a journalist who had to help a spirit played by your sister. If ghosts exist in real life, how would you react to seeing one?
Audrey: (Giggling) I would greet the ghost and say, “hey, what are you doing here and how can I help you get to where you need to go?” (giggling).
Johnny: Alright. I hope this question doesn’t make you uncomfortable. In 1991, you played Cookie Bennett in the Cosby Show episode “Cliff And Jake”. Since Bill Cosby has been revealed to have been such a creep and a bully, to put it mildly, did you have any hesitation about appearing on the show?
Audrey: Honestly, in those days, I hadn’t heard anything about him except regarding his talents as a performer and writer/producer. I certainly had no bad feelings about it whatsoever. I mean, the show was a well-written, well-respected TV series. However, I can’t say that it was a lot of fun to do. It was very stressful because it was actually a pilot for a spinoff, so there was a lot of last-minute rewriting and more pressure than the normal 5-day sitcom schedule. But no, I never had any bad experiences with Bill Cosby.
Johnny: Alright. You appeared on two episodes of Murder, She Wrote, the first appearance in the second season and the second appearance in the 12th season. What are your favorite memories of working on that show?
Audrey: Well, Angela Lansbury is legendary, and so working with her was just a dream. She is kind and she’s so professional and such a wonderful actress and a leader, certainly, in her show. She was just amazing to work with.
Johnny: Alright. Another collaboration between you and your sister Judy was the 90s PBS series The Huggabug Club. What was the most rewarding part of working on that show?
Audrey: First of all, the show itself definitely was a labor of love because we wanted to create something that would enrich the lives of children. I just want to add one thing. When you talk about the collaboration, the main force behind all of these collaborations, from Ghost Writer to The Huggabug Club to any of the films we’ve done, is actually my mom, Ruth Landers. She is the executive producer on these. She is the co-creator. She’s the dynamic person that is totally responsible for getting these projects made. Judy and I were on camera, of course, and I did co-write 250 original songs for Huggabug (laughing) and co-produced them. It really was a great labor of love for us. We really wanted to, as I said, enrich the lives of children and get it out to as many children as we could. To that end, my mom, Ruth, donated the entire series to public television so that they would broadcast it without restrictions. She donated it to them for five years.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of PBS, what do you think of the frequent discussion that’s made to cut funding to PBS?
Audrey: You know, that would be very, very unfortunate. PBS traditionally is able to broadcast and produce shows that are unbiased, and also shows that may not get picked up by a network because it’s always about economics. I think that it would be a very sad thing if we lost any of that funding. Our government should try to make it up in another way.
Johnny: Yeah. You appeared on several Bob Hope specials in the 80s. I’ve heard a lot of conflicting reports about him, with some people saying that he was a charitable spirit and a nice man, while others said he was a jerk and very overbearing. Which Bob did you experience when you worked with him?
Audrey: (Giggling) I think, quite often, successful people get a bad reputation. He was extremely professional, never late by a minute, and full of energy. I worked with him not just on the specials, but I also did some touring with him, sang with him as an opening act, and acted with him onstage. I have very fond memories of that because I would take my mom (my manager), and we would take our little bichon and he would take his little poodle. We would take a private jet somewhere, zip in, do a show, and fly back to L.A. We had some great times together. He was a legend.
Johnny: I’ve seen several of his specials, which I’ve acquired via the fan-to-fan trade in the DVD market, and it’s been interesting to look at them. His specials were something of the last of their kind. They don’t really do variety television like that nowadays. Do you think that there could ever be a revival of that, or do you think it’s all too fragmented now?
Audrey: Well, I think the thing that’s taken its’ place is obviously all these singing shows, and also, we have endless amounts of awards shows. There’s the Billboards, the Grammys, the Country Music Awards, the American Music Awards…I think we have those types of big shows, but we don’t have the same sketch-type comedy shows anymore. On the other hand, I travel a great deal, and have over the past couple of decades, to Europe where I still have a successful singing career. I just returned from Berlin two weeks ago, where I performed in a spectacular variety show, so Europe still does that kind of a production in a big way.
Johnny: Alright. I’d like to ask about some of your songs, starting with “Ballerina”. A fine piece of Euro-pop, where did the inspiration for that song come from?
Audrey: Was that the one about the music box?
Johnny: I think.
Audrey: Many of my European songs had interesting origins. When I had my first big hit, which was “Manuel Goodbye”, I had a producer who was very well-known at the time. He was producing Laura Branigan, and he had seen me singing on Dallas. He said, “can this girl really sing? Wow, we should record her”. We made my first records then. As a writer, I’ve written, oh, my goodness, 1000 songs. My producer would say, “look. We are recording for the whole European market, and you’re going to be singing in English, so let’s find words and titles and syllables that are phonetically pleasing and easy for foreigners to sing along with, at least in part”. We would come up with names like “Manuel Goodbye” or “Ballerina”, and then I would go and write my imaginary story to go with the title. That was how I really began writing all my European hits. I had some that I thought were really funny, like “Honeymoon In Trinidad”. I always laugh when I sing a song like that that’s become a hit, but it really was. With “Ballerina”, I didn’t want to do a typical little girl growing up to be a ballerina. I wanted to do something a little more exotic and interesting, and so the ballerina in my song was a ballerina in a music box and how she came to life.
Johnny: Very fascinating. You’re well-known for covering “The Yellow Rose Of Texas”. I read that pretty much all of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be performed to that song. Have you ever tried that?
Audrey: (Laughing) I have never tried that. I have never heard that before, but now I will (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to your song “Gone With The Wind”, have you ever seen someone set the song to clips from the movie of the same name?
Audrey: No, I haven’t. Did somebody do that?
Johnny: Not that I’ve seen yet, but I do know this. It’s not as popular as it used to be due to copyright restrictions, but for years on YouTube, people would take songs and make music videos for them, set to their favorite movies, because they found lyrical associations in the characters or the lyrics.
Audrey: Yes. That would be a good one.
(Author’s note: I looked on YouTube, and someone did make a video setting footage from the movie Gone With The Wind to the song of the same name. That went up in 2009. I legitimately didn’t know someone actually created that).
Johnny: Okay. What 5 musicians would you most like to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Audrey: Well, it would be fun to do another duet with Tom Jones, whom I worked with many years ago as a singer. Also I’d like to get back to my Country roots as a singer and songwriter. It would be awesome to do a country duet. Hmmm. This is a hard one. I’d have to think about this a little bit.
Johnny: While you’re thinking about it, I’ll go to my next question. You’ve attended conventions like Chiller Theatre and The Hollywood Show. What’s been the most rewarding part of attending conventions like that?
Audrey: You know, I haven’t done a whole lot of them, but the fun part about it is you get to connect with fans one-to-one, whereas when you’re on TV, you’re pretty much removed. It’s an interesting way to kind of find out what projects your fans related to the most and which photos they like the best, and just to have a chance to actually communicate. That’s the most fun part about it.
Johnny: Alright. We kind of spoke about this in regards to the question about variety television, but framed in a bigger context, what would you say has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between the 1970s and 2017?
Audrey: Two things. First, we have a zillion TV channels. There are so many more possibilities for films and TV shows to be created. I think one of the negative things is the popularity of reality television because it kind of takes away from the artistry and the acting technique and the actual need for a person to be talented. It doesn’t take the same kind of talent, I should say, to be a reality personality, so I think that’s one of the biggest changes.
Johnny: Alright. I now come to my final question. I end a lot of my interviews with it, and it’s this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Audrey: Let’s see. Would I do anything differently? You mean in my career. Probably one thing I would’ve done differently…I have no regrets. I love what I’ve done in my career. There may have been roles that I wish I had not turned down. One opportunity that stands out is that, when I had just had my big hits in Europe, my European producer had the opportunity for me to work with Mike Curb of Curb Records. For some reason, my producer was not able to conclude the deal, even though they had wanted to do that, and I kind of wish I had followed the more American path with my music, so that it would’ve not just stayed in Europe. I could’ve migrated over to the U.S.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that about does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I am an admirer of your talents, and it was an honor to speak to you about your career.
Audrey: Well, thank you. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what I’m doing now. As I said, I just got back from Berlin, doing a big special there. I’m doing another one in a couple of months. They’re big variety specials. I sing in many languages and I still release lots of records. My son Daniel…Are you familiar with him?
Johnny: I have seen him mentioned on your Facebook fan page.
Audrey: Yes. I basically spend a lot of my time mentoring and managing him, and we are working on writing a theatrical pop musical together. We work together frequently, and he just had a big concert in New York at Webster Hall last week with Aaron Carter.
Johnny: Fascinating. Just quickly: Can you relate any details of that musical, or are you playing it close to the vest for now?
Audrey: I can tell you that it’s a musical that is based on a pop culture myth. Daniel is a prolific songwriter as I was, and still am, but he’s pretty spectacular as a writer. We are using many songs that we’re both writing.
Johnny: Fantastic to hear. Again, I thank you for taking the time to speak to me, and I hope you have a good day.
Audrey: Thanks. You, too. Bye bye.
For more about Audrey Landers’ work, you can visit her official Facebook fan page.
Thanks as always for flashing back with me. More interviews to come…