I was first introduced to my newest interview subject, Cathy Silvers, when I saw Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, and I heard her voicing the character of Marie Dodo. As I grew older, I would come to know more about Cathy’s work as both an actress and an activist, and I would befriend her on Facebook a few years ago. Late in 2020, I reached out to Cathy about an interview, and we talked in January about her work as both an entertainer and a healthy living advocate. I hope you all enjoy this interview.
Say hello to Cathy Silvers!
Johnny: First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this.
Cathy: You’re very welcome. Thank you for asking.
Johnny: Alright. I’ll start off with this question: As with quite a few of my previous interview subjects, you’re a BoomXer, which is the micro-generation born from 1957 to 1963 that, as can be inferred from the title, bridges the Baby Boomers and Generation X. How has being a BoomXer impacted your outlook on life?
Cathy: Oh, wow (laughing). Gosh, I’m so happy to be one because as healthy as people can be today, and as beautiful as life is today, and the joy that I got from being on Happy Days when I was a kid, I couldn’t be happier. There’s so much health and innovation in technology. The fact that people can live as long as they do now? I’m very grateful to be a Baby Boomer. It’s amazing to me the age we can live to be. I was just out mountain biking and trail running this morning. I love being a Baby Boomer.
Johnny: Alright. In your book Happy Days, Healthy Living, you discussed your success in Public Speaking competitions, mentioning a particular success with a serious monologue from the autobiography of the late Frances Farmer. Do you recall any of the lighter-hearted passages you had success with in these competitions?
Cathy: Yes, I did do humorous and dramatic interp. I don’t know, though. Playing Frances was incredible and won me several first places, and I was quite surprised, getting pegged as Jenny Picallo, that I wasn’t given the opportunity to read for drama. I was what was known as typecast, which was really too bad, but I really enjoyed doing comedy.
My comedy writer friend Shawn Schepps, who went on to write Encino Man and Son-In-Law for Disney, and is still a writer to this day, and I did plenty of light-hearted comedy pieces. I can’t remember the names of them at the moment, but we sure had fun doing the comedy pieces as well, which prepared me for Jenny.
Johnny: Alright, so that does lead me to your role as Jenny Picallo on Happy Days. Of all the episodes you appeared on, which were your favorites to act in?
Cathy: My favorite was the first one, where I came bursting through the Cunningham kitchen door, and Erin said to me, “Jenny, what’s up? Why are we going to a basketball game? I didn’t know you liked basketball”. I said, “I don’t. I like men in shorts”. As I was chasing my trail-running boyfriend this morning wearing his shorts, it just seems like nothing’s changed. I’m pushing 60 and sadly have been through two divorces now, but I’m very happily dating a wonderful man who’s a trail runner. I have a wonderful life, and I have five beautiful children.
That first episode was my favorite episode, and continues to be my favorite. The second one was the one my dad was in, when Erin and I stole the statue. I blame Erin, and then Mr. Cunningham has to call my dad to say “you better come talk to your daughter because this is not okay”, and then my dad shows up. It was very unique and wonderful, and exciting and amazing, to work with my father, so that was my second favorite episode.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of Erin Moran, I know you were devastated by her passing several years back. What are your favorite memories of her?
Cathy: Wow. Yeah, that’s still hard to talk about. She was my best friend since the age of 17, when I met her. What the press did to that poor woman is just unacceptable. I think that I’ve not spent enough time trying to undo that. This was a kind, loving, sweet, caring woman. There were some interviews I did when the press would frown upon her so much that I had to say, “No, we don’t stay in touch”. I was so upset with the press that I wouldn’t even acknowledge I was in touch with her because I was so afraid they would come after me to harm her, but now that she’s gone, I guess I’m a little bit more brave.
It’s very safe to say this was a loving, kind, hysterically funny, great human being. To answer your question, my favorite times with her were, for sure, working with her. We had so much fun it was ridiculous. We just really enjoyed each other’s company. At my first audition, I was as in awe of being in a room with her as anyone would be at that time. I watched her on television for seven years prior to meeting her, and there she was. I couldn’t even speak in her presence, but I guess it was meant to be because we just hit it off.
I met Robin Williams before, and I said, “Robin, what did you do to get Mork for Garry? I’m going to be in the room tomorrow with Erin. What should I do?”. This is in my book, and he said, “Well, I jumped on my head on the couch, so don’t do that (Cathy laughs) because I already did it”. What I did when I met Erin was I just jumped on my feet on the couch because I wanted to take his advice, and it worked. Erin thought it was just funny.
He said, “Don’t walk in there and just read. You’re going to be boring just like everyone else. They’re obviously looking for someone who still stand out from everyone else”. I took his really good advice, and I did jump on the couch, and I ran around the room, and I stared at each and every one of them, especially Erin. Chemistry between people is something you can’t buy or try to work out in an acting class. We just had it. We were best friends from the second I walked through that door.
I go, “Hi, E”. I just called her E, and then I called her E on the show. I still call her E. That’s her nickname. We just hit it off. That was my favorite time with her. It was actually the audition, and she told me later, when we did an interview, that I was Jenny from that moment. She had a really big say in it. I was up against Heather Thomas, Heather Locklear, Demi Moore…It was quite the cast of characters going up for Jenny, and Erin decided. She really was the one who decided it was going to be me, so that was that.
Johnny: How lucky you were to have such a good friendship, and how lovely that you honor her memory in that way.
Cathy: Yes. I wish the rest of the world could know her for who she truly was. Maybe your interview will go viral so the world can hear from one who would know that she was just a lovely, loving, kind, wonderful woman.
Johnny: Definitely. On a lighter note, my first exposure to your work came via the movie Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, where you voiced the character of Marie Dodo. What do you recall the most about working on that movie?
Cathy: Oh, my gosh. That was so much fun. Thank you for bringing it up. I was sitting in my condo on West Mill in West Hollywood, which is right off Melrose, so I could get down to Paramount. The woman across the hall came over and knocked on my door. I’m embarassed that I don’t recall her name, but she was a casting director and she said, “I can’t seem to cast Marie. I know you’re on Happy Days. Sorry I’m disturbing you, but do you have time to go to Canada this weekend with Laraine Newman, Joe Piscopo, Chevy Chase…”.
I’m like, “Stop right there”. These were all stars of Saturday Night Live, which was my favorite show on TV, and I said, “Yes”. She said, “You may not know Eddie Deezen, but he’s a big voice-over artist and he’ll be playing your brother Donny Dodo”. I said, “Absolutely I’ll go”. I think I was on hiatus. “I have the time”. We all took off for LAX, a limo picked me up, and we all laughed so hard for the whole time we were there. I mean, imagine traveling with Laraine Newman. I couldn’t believe I was there.
I grew up in the world of Hollywood, but I’m forever in awe of being around any actor or actress I love and admire. I’m just a fan like anyone else. I couldn’t believe that I was with these people, and there we were, off to Canada to shoot this wonderful show. It was a lot of fun, then we headed back.
Johnny: It’s definitely a favorite of mine, and as I mentioned to you when we met at the Chiller Theatre convention, which I’ll be asking more about later, the lesson I learned from Follow That Bird is that family isn’t necessarily people who are related to you. It’s the people who love you who are your family. Would you say that’s true?
Cathy: That’s interesting because Happy Days truly was like a family to me. I’m very close with my family, so they’re wonderful, but yeah, I think you are right. There’s a lot to be said for what you just said, absolutely. I agree.
Johnny: Yeah. That movie definitely made an impact on me. As I recall, it was the very first movie of any kind that I can recall watching, and I still love it to this day, and your work in it is a big part of why it was so enjoyable.
Cathy: (Laughing) Oh, thank you very much.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. To jump back a little earlier in the 80s, you’re credited as having appeared on a special produced by the Free Arts Clinic called Sunday Night Live, where you worked alongside many diverse talents, ranging from your father to Melissa Manchester, a recent interview subject of mine. What can you tell me about that project?
Cathy: Yeah, that was wonderful. I was so young. That was actually where I met Robin Williams, at that event. I was just honored to be working for any charity. It’s always an honor. Going on stage, I was very nervous as I was very young. I just remember being at The Roxy on Sunset in Hollywood with all these stars. It was a very big night, and it was a big part of raising money for that charity as well, speaking of family. It was wonderful to be there.
Johnny: I hope it resurfaces on YouTube someday. I’d definitely be interested in seeing it.
Cathy: I would love to see that again, too.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question: If a newer writer wrote a role, whether in a movie or a TV show, with you in mind, would you take them up on the offer?
Cathy: (Laughing) Wow! I haven’t worked in so many years. I think the ultimate role would be to play Jenny again as an adult. We were pretty close to doing it. Because of my love for healthy living, I really do live my book: Happy Days, Healthy Living. I am terminally happy all the time. I have this wonderful boyfriend. He’s just this happy nice, guy, and I have my wonderful children.
I’d like to see Happy Days come back, and we were pretty close. CBS did not proceed. I had gotten with business affairs as my sisters and I own a third of Gilligan’s Island and my dad owned it in its’ entirety, so I know what it is to be an IP rights holder, and now CBS holds the rights to Happy Days.
I was really disappointed because we got as far as business affairs to discuss a script, which I actually wrote. It’s all about Jenny purchasing Arnold’s from Arnold’s son, who runs it. Steven Wishnoff, the co-writer, was going to play Arnold, and hopefully still. He, of course, wants to sell hamburgers and soda and all the things that are causing so much illness and mental illness. I really do believe in my work and my book that we are what we eat. I didn’t make any of that up.
Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine. Let your medicine be your food”. I truly believe in that. My friend in Costa Rica that I recently traveled to see, but unfortunately couldn’t due to COVID, is the father of the raw foods movement in our country, such an important human being. I wanted to have Jenny try to bring a kind of healthy living bar to Arnold’s.
The bar that I opened in Virginia is called The Bar. I’m 21 years sober, and I don’t like the fact that when children or anyone says “Meet you at the bar”, there’s a connotation of alcohol. I would like to have a bar be a connotation of feeding the world the food that Hippocrates espoused. Well, my bar did that in Virginia. It was a juice bar and a health food bar, it gave new meaning to the word “bar”, and it was simply called The Bar. That’s what I’d like to see Arnold’s become.
I do hope your interview goes viral here, and I do hope CBS would really take a second look at my script which, of course, is multi-ethnicity and diverse. That’s as important as Happy Days was. We took on so many important topics of the day, and we would just parlay that into today. I actually wanted to honor every single script (we had 201), but just change it to the theme of today, honoring Garry and the actors and the writers but, of course, bringing on new, younger actors to play the roles of our children for those who did end up staying in Milwaukee.
I also suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, which causes me to stutter. I made sure to have a peaceful day today, so I could do this interview. Most of the time when I talk, I stutter because I do have this condition, but I am learning to live with it through my healthy living, exercise and diet. I also have lyme disease, and in order to survive, as there is no known cure, I didn’t get the antibiotic at the time. You have to exercise or your organs shut down, so I do.
Certainly now, with what’s sadly going on in the world, I don’t think you could have a more timely piece, so would I go back to work? If it were Happy Days, yeah. The last thing I’ll say is the opening scene starts with me. I’m 59 years old, and I am ripped, and I feel beautiful. I just do. I do believe that the way I live my life is an indication of healthy living. I’m at Arnold’s, kicking those doors open, singing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walkin'”, and opening Arnold’s with Jenny coming back, healthy and trying to run The Bar. That’s that.
Johnny: Well, I certainly wish you all the best with that, and that does lead me to jump from your acting to your health work. Has the chaos of coronavirus caused any difficulty in your commitment to healthy living, or have you been able to manage that well?
Cathy: For me, personally, I haven’t had it. I do live very carefully. I traveled recently to Costa Rica in search of alternative medicine because I do have trigeminal neuralgia which, as you can now hear, causes slowness in speech and stuttering. Among a myriad of other things, it’s known as “the suicide disease”. Thankfully, I have not contracted COVID. I do have this condition that I live with.
It’s such an important question because if everyone had a stronger immune system, if this Bar could open…Another thing I forgot to mention about The Bar is it’s Buy One, Get One Free. Ending hunger can be done. I opened The Bar in Virginia where, if you buy one Healthy Living drink, you are handed another, and our guests, our customers, would say, “What is that for?”. I would say, “Maybe it’s for the person behind you. Maybe you need two. Maybe you’d like to serve the homeless person outside. What do you think?”.
We began a conversation about everyone feeding everyone. Rather than just counting on a homeless shelter or The Salvation Army or the churches or the synagogues, how about us being accountable for everyone? I do believe that if these Bars began to open everywhere, and were promoted with Happy Days coming back (CBS, listen up!), we could prevent hunger.
As to COVID, I’m no doctor. I have no knowledge of what would end this or prevent this, nor would I make such a grand, sweeping statement, but if we had stronger immune systems, juice bars, healthy food at bars, and serving others at bars instead of just serving ourselves, would that make a difference? I’d like to think so, but again, not a doctor, so (laughing)…
Johnny: Alright. Similarly, has exercising become harder or easier in our current climate, or would you say it’s both at the same time?
Cathy: Well, I am outside pretty much every day because, if I’m not, this lyme disease is going to take over, so I am very regimented. It says, in my book, fear the diagnosis, and I did get two. I was on my farm in Virginia four years ago, and I inadvertently ended up with this condition, so I exercise every day because I have to.
I do exercise safely. I am outdoors, but I’m not around people. I hope that many others would get out and do the same. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be on the East Coast in a cold climate right now and not able to exercise, but then I think about people in jail who exercise just in their cell, and their bodies are healthy, and what the mind can do for people who are in a certain place. They can do pushups or situps, or running in place, or stretching, or using the hot water in the shower to do hot yoga on their own.
I’m also very big on chanting and meditation for my peace of mind. I’m very lucky. A dear friend went to India when I was 24 years old, and letters would come back, teaching me how to chant. I chant every day, and I meditate. These are things that we can do to stay healthy.
I’m very impressed with Walmart. They’re the largest sellers of organic. I’ve been in conversation with Tyler Lehr, who’s in charge of more than 7000 Walmart delis, and I asked him could he please open The Bar? I hope the Walton family hears this interview. I’m a mountain biker, and there’s this big mountain bike course in Bentonville.
I’d like to be invited, and I’d like to talk to the Walton family, and I’d like for them to hear me say that Tyler said no. I make my numbers, and I do believe that that’s a trait about health, and I’d like to hold the Walton family accountable for opening this bar where we can serve the homeless, where we can serve healthy living food. We can ask CBS for Happy Days to come back, and Henry pretty much said yes. We’ve got the cast, and we can influence, if you will, the rest of the world to be healthy and to eat healthy, and to serve healthy food.
That’s why I’m so grateful for your interview. I think if I can stay well with what’s known as “the suicide disease”, and lyme disease, which just kills you, I think anybody can.
Johnny: That does lead me to ask: In Happy Days, Healthy Living, you talked about the gradual change in your diet. When you make appearances related to your show business work, conventions and the like, do you bring your own food with you to ear during breaks and downtime?
Cathy: I do. I don’t always have the great luck to have it 24/7, but yes, you’ll see on my Facebook page that I’m always, constantly teaching how to travel with your own food. I live on raw dairy. When I was in Costa Rica recently, I found two farmers, one who literally milked the goats for me, and then I found another farmer who milked a cow for me every day.
For 30 days, I was able to have my raw dairy. I don’t think that Louis Pasteur did us any favors. I don’t think that pasteurization did us any favors. I live on raw dairy, and I am extremely strong. I’m not a vain woman, but I’m 59 and I’m ripped. I would like to be Jane Bond (laughing). I would like to be Wonder Woman. I would like to show that…
What am I? A senior citizen at 59 with these debilitating illnesses, yet I meet them and face them head on with raw dairy in my body. My body is so strong and healthy, as long as it’s handled safely. I’ve been drinking and eating healthy for 26 years. I’m perfectly fine, and also it wouldn’t be so expensive if everybody would sell it. I’m a very big proponent of certified organic food and raw dairy because that’s what I live on, and I’m certainly an example of healthy living.
Johnny: You definitely are. Jumping back to show business, as mentioned before, we met at the Chiller Theatre convention in April of 2019, and it was an honor to meet you. What’s been the most rewarding part for you of attending shows like Chiller Theatre?
Cathy: Okay, that’s a great question. My father, Phil Silvers…Gosh, people could line up all day long when I go to these conventions, and my greatest joy is talking about my dad, how loved he was. To see people talk about him and remember my father…
I was coming off the canyon yesterday, and an elderly man was falling backwards. I hopped off my bike to catch him, but thankfully he caught himself. Because of COVID, I was worried, for his sake, to touch him, but I said, “You remind me of my dad”, and I told him who my dad was, and he went (Cathy imitates her father’s laugh, then laughs herself). He did my dad’s hand movements. You had to see this man’s face. It just lit up.
That was just yesterday and not at a convention, which you were asking about, but at a convention, to see the looks on the people’s faces who knew and loved my father, especially in New Jersey as he was from New York and is very well-known on the East Coast, moreso than the West Coast, a lot of them…I’ll try not to cry, talked about my dad. It was quite an honor to meet his fans.
I try and tell the people who run these shows that they should have me there with Steve and Mick, who head up The Phil Silvers Archival Museum in Coventry, England, just outside of London. They dress up as dad, and I’ve asked the show-runners to have them come along with me. I think they would make a fortune, but unfortunately, it always seems to fall on deaf ears, so I hope this interview will lead to that when it’s safe again to return to these shows. I don’t think they quite realize what an enormous fanbase my father had, and still has.
Johnny: Staying with conventions, what’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you’ve signed, whether at a convention or through the mail?
Cathy: Hmm. I don’t know if it was Suzi Quatro’s guitar, but it was one of the guitars that was played on the set and had everyone’s signature on it but mine, because I don’t do many of these conventions. I’ve only done a handful in my life. I would really only do them when Erin said, “Please come”. It was pretty cool to sign that guitar. That would be it.
Johnny: Alright. Finally, to wrap up my questions, what are you most looking forward to once the chaos of coronavirus passes?
Cathy: Well, I guess since you let me go on about the theme of bringing Happy Days back, THAT. I hope that happens. There’s also PCMD, which I invented for my first husband, Dr. Alexander Burnett, who’s one of the world’s leading gynecological oncologists.
They still don’t have connectivity of medicine so, much like Hedy Lamar inventing GPS, I have my friend, Frank Webb, a scientist at JPL perfecting it. I would like to see PCMD perfected so that people all over the world can have access to their own medical information. DNA testing is involved, which is quite controversial, but there are so many fascinating studies now on DNA, and how we can heal from doing our DNA. I’m talking to one of my friends, a doctor, now about having connectivity for medicine occur.
I look forward to seeing Happy Days come back, and how technology can be. We can have conversations with people all over the world, and children are no longer alone in their rooms. They’re communicating with children all over the world. However, as you let me talk about earlier, getting outside is equally important. I certainly hope this will help people to get outside. Just be safe. Enjoy the sun and breathe in fresh air. Seeing other people outside is important.
Johnny: Well, I certainly look forward to that as well. That does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I must say you are an inspiration. Although my disability is different than yours’ as I deal with an autism spectrum disorder, I admire anybody who is able to deal with a certain condition and prosper, and be an inspiration to others. You definitely are an inspiration.
Cathy: Thank you very much. I would like to give a shout-out to those who have what I have, trigeminal neuralgia. I hope that they do find a cure, and I will continue to believe what Hippocrates said. Let your medicine be your food. Let your food be your medicine. I am not depressed. I have not allowed it to get the better of me, and I strongly believe my food is the reason for that. If anybody has what I have, or anything, just give it a try. Thank you so much for having me on.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. On that note, thank you for your time. I hope you have a wonderful evening, and keep up the good work.
Cathy: Thank you, You, too.
Johnny: Be well.
Cathy: You, too.
I would again like to thank Cathy Silvers for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. I hope you all enjoyed reading this.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with model/actress/documentarian/journalist/jewelry designer Sheila Lussier and animator/visual effects artist/director John Bruno, who took home a Best Visual Effects Oscar for The Abyss.
Thank you as always for reading. Be well, everybody.