In 1997, to mark my 15th birthday, I rented three Eddie Murphy movies from the video store. One of those movies was 48 HRS, and that film was my first exposure to my newest interview subject. Greta Blackburn played Lisa, a hostage of Ganz (James Remar), and although her role was small, it was memorable. As I grew older, I would see Ms. Blackburn in movies like Chained Heat and Yellowbeard, and then I would become familiar with Greta’s work beyond that as a model, a musician and an author. I became Facebook friends with Greta Blackburn earlier this year, and we talked earlier this Summer about her long and varied career. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this incredibly beautiful and versatile performer.
Say hello to Greta Blackburn!
Johnny: Hello, Greta.
Johnny: How are you?
Greta: I’m well, thank you.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go…
Johnny: Starting with this: You first broke through as a model. How did you begin in that field?
Greta: Well, that’s interesting because I left Indiana to come to New York City to go to acting school at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts, which I graduated from. In New York, when you’re walking down the street, and you’re tall and skinny and from Indiana and not super-ugly, (laughing) people come up to you and say, “Hey, do you want to be a model? Here’s my card”. Eventually you go into one of the agencies and you start doing photos, and that’s how I got started.
Johnny: Alright. Who were your favorite designers to work for, and what are the most outrageous fashions you can recall wearing?
Greta: Well, I didn’t do runway or work with those designers, although I met Karl Lagerfeld in Paris early on in my career. I liked Halston’s designs and saw him around a lot in the city. The most noteworthy shoot I did for a magazine was probably when I was the first female featured in Esquire Magazine. They did a lingerie shoot, probably 8 pages, all me. It was considered very controversial at the time. Also, the cover story for that issue was Truman Capote and his wildly controversial tell-all called ‘Answered Prayers’. We shot it at Henri Bendel’s, my forever favorite store.
Johnny: …And you still look amazing to this day. To go to my next question: Who were your earliest acting teachers?
Greta: Well, we had great teachers at the Academy. One, in particular, for scene study, was Harry Mastrogeorge. I think he’s still alive in L.A. I need to connect with him again. We spoke on the phone briefly several years ago. He was just a phenomenal teacher. Other than that, the teachers at the Academy ran the gamut from dance to mime to you name it. We had a mime teacher. His name was Paul Curtis, and he would come over from Paris, where he studied with Marcel Marceau, so that was pretty exciting.
Johnny: Alright. To go to the big screen, one of your first roles was playing Sherri in the 1982 sci-fi horror film Time Walker. What are your favorite memories of that project?
Greta: Oh, my favorite memory about that is a very good one. At that time, I had a big birthday coming up. Before I was to start work on Time Walker, it was the night before my 30th birthday, and I was really freaking out about aging out in Hollywood. Now I look back and I laugh, but I spent the night before I started filming that movie with Bette Davis. We had dinner together…
Greta: …And I just remember saying, “Oh, I’m getting old”. Remember, I was playing a high school student, or a college student at the latest, in that movie, and I was much older than that. Bette said to me, (slipping into Bette Davis’ voice) “Oh, my dear. The most wonderful years for a woman are the years from 30 to 50. They’re just wonderful”. My most amazing memory about Time Walker was, the nigh before we started filming, having dinner with Bette Davis.
Johnny: Wow, that’s amazing!
Greta: Yeah, it was pretty cool. We had become friends after meeting on a plane between NY and LA. Later, she fought for me to be cast in Ron Howard’s first directorial debut ‘Skyward.’
Johnny: My first exposure to your work came through your role as Lisa in the action-comedy classic 48 HRS.
Johnny: When working on it, did you have any idea it would become the classic film that it did?
Greta: No. When we were working on it, none of us did. We all shot our scenes independently, of course, and then the movie comes together and you go to the screening. When we went to the cast and crew screening of that movie, and the lights came up, all of us just sat there kind of dumbfounded. We had the same reaction that audiences later had, which was, “Whoa, what was that? That was amazing”. It was one of the first $100 million-plus blockbuster movies, one of the first huge megahits in Hollywood. When you’re making it, you have no idea, and then, like I said, we went to the screening and felt, “This is an amazing movie”, so that was pretty exciting.
Johnny: It definitely was. You shared scenes in 48 HRS with James Remar, who played Ganz. I met him at the Chiller Theatre convention a few years ago, and found him to be friendly. Was he friendly to work with?
Greta: Yeah. He’s a sweetheart. He’s very gentle. As much as he played the badass tough guy, he was a very sweet, gentle guy….Very, very pleasant to work with him, yes.
Johnny: That’s great to hear.
Greta: I won’t say that about Nick Nolte. Nick’s a little quirky, and he wasn’t a super-friendly guy, but James was very nice, very, very sweet.
Johnny: Alright. Moving along, you played Lulu in 1983’s Chained Heat, one of the most noted women-in-prison movies of the 80s, which was a pretty big decade for that genre. As I’ve asked several other veterans of those films, what do you think the appeal of the women-in-prison genre is?
Greta: Well, I mean, I think it’s just women being badasses, women running around scantily, steaming up their prison. They had us dressing kind of sexyish. I think it’s women fighting women. People find that sort of captivating, I guess. Contrary to our times now, where people are misbehaving across the board, historically the idea of women behaving that way was pretty controversial, at least in the 80s still. Women were supposed to be behaving, so if you saw them behind bars being bad, it was like, “Oh, that’s titillating”.
Johnny: Well, it was a great movie, and you did good work in it.
Greta: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem.
Greta: We shot it in an actual prison, so that was interesting.
Johnny: Wow. Also in 1983, you played Mr. Prostitute in Yellowbeard. You’re the second cast member from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being our mutual Facebook friend Stacey Nelkin. As I asked her, what was it like to be working with such a stacked list of comedic talent?
Greta: Yeah, well, that was amazing. If we’re talking about the acting process and the camaraderie of the cast and crew, that was the most amazing. My favorite acting experience overall was Yellowbeard, in large measure due to James Mason and my scenes with him. Acting with him was like going to acting school because he just became the character. When you were on set with him and doing scenes, he wasn’t acting. He was the character. He was a very gracious man, and he was amazing. Of course, I became friends with Peter Boyle and the other cast members. Peter and I were friends for years after that. It was so much fun because everybody on that set was a really gifted comic, and to be in that environment where everybody’s just wicked funny was obviously very, very fun for an actor.
Johnny: Well, it was certainly an enjoyable movie, and how lucky you were to work with all those talents.
Greta: Oh, it was so fun. Yeah…
Johnny: Speaking of which, David Bowie had a small part in Yellowbeard. Did you ever interact with Bowie, either on the set of Yellowbeard or at a different time?
Greta: No, much to my now-dismay. I remember our set in Mexico was kind of a hot place to be. I remember Mick Jagger flew in to hang out one week. It was the place to come and visit. There were so many of the top British comics that it was the place to come for other actors and visit because everyone was a monstrously talented comic, and they were all connected in the entertainment world. I remember when Bowie was coming do his role. I think I was busy studying my lines. There was some dinner everybody was going to, and I just didn’t go. Of course now, later in retrospect, I’m kicking myself in the rear end, but at the time, I was going to bed early and not partying, trying to do my best on set, so I missed the cast parties.
Johnny: I’m sorry to hear you missed out on that, but I’m glad you still had a good time on that set. Moving along to television, you played Robin Kirk in the Three’s Company episode “Itching For Trouble”. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Greta: Well, everything that had to do with John Ritter, because he was such just a sweetheart, so fun and so amazing in every single interaction with him. He was just a super guy, and strangely enough, out of everything I’ve done in my life show business-wise, that role has been seen by more people than anything. Almost weekly, I’ll get a call from somebody saying, “I’m in a hotel room and I’m watching you on Three’s Company at three in the morning”. It just gets seen and seen and seen. That’s my most high-profile role besides 48 HRS. It just seems like that episode sticks in people’s minds.
Johnny: Well, it was one of the great comedies of the late 70s and early 80s.
Johnny: Staying with TV, you memorably played Lorraine in the mini-series V: The Final Battle. V is a project that, although relatively short-lived, is still talked about to this day, so what do you think has given V its’ staying power?
Greta: Well, I could tell you what I’ve discovered in my experience. I’m very good friends with folks in V fan clubs. There’s a group in Connecticut that’s a bunch of monstrously talented V fans. Some of them are artists, and one’s a psychologist, but they’re real fans. I have fans I stay in touch with in Europe. They’re sci-fi fans, *real* sci-fi fans, and they’re devoted. The common theme seems to be, or one that’s fairly common, is that a lot of people, as children, didn’t have wonderful childhoods, and V was an escape for them. I have fans and friends who tell me, “When I was a kid, my dad was not a nice man. He was mean to my mom and I, and I would go to my room and watch V”, and so I find that, in my travels around the world and meeting the people I’ve spoken to, it was a refuge for them in their childhood. I don’t know if that’s across the board, or if it’s just the ones I’ve run into, but that’s been a pretty rich find.
Johnny: I can see that. If you have a troubled childhood, seeking solace in pop culture is definitely a way to cope with it. I know it certainly was for me, and I think that’s a pretty big reason why V has the appeal that it does. I think you’re onto something with that.
Greta: Yeah. Well, I’ve got the letters to prove it, so I can say that for at least some of the fans I’ve come across, that these are their words, that it was an important part of their childhood, so I guess that stays with you, huh?
Johnny: Definitely. As I asked Sherri Stoner, who appeared on an episode of the series version of V, if aliens like those in V existed and came to Earth, how would you deal with the situation?
Greta: Well, I’m just going to say with what’s happening in America today, maybe we need an alien invasion. We’re all kind of living it, to tell you the truth. Things have gotten so bizarre in our world that it couldn’t be much worse if aliens landed, frankly. Just a lot going on. How would I handle it? Probably the way I do now. I speak my truth, and I try to support what I think is the right thing. Whether it’s aliens or bad actors with bad ideas, I just stand up to it.
Johnny: Alright. Moving along, you made several appearances on Dynasty in the mid-80s. What stood out the most to you about working on that series?
Greta: That was kind of the ultimate acting zeitgeist experience because Dynasty was such a part of the culture. It kind of spoke to what the 80s were about, so working on that show was like a heightened experience of what was actually happening in the world, you know? We were all running around with big shoulder pads and big hair. Everything was in excess. People liked Alexis and all of the over-the-top characters. Don’t mess with them. It was fun. It was the ultimate in pop culture. Art became life at that time, so that was fun. Those roles were great.
Johnny: I’m glad you had a good experience there. Jumping back to the big screen, in 1987 you played Cathy Williams in the musical comedy Dutch Treat, a Cannon Films release. I’ve interviewed several Cannon Films veterans, and opinions on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus have been, with some exceptions, rather mixed-to-negative. What did you think about working with them?
Greta: Well, I had fun working on that movie. Lorin Dreyfus and I became good film buddies in that period. I jokingly at the time called those two producers Menackem Schlockem because I joked that, if it had a title and a script, they’d make a movie out of anything, but that was good. Listen, they were very prolific. They were doing their thing making movies, and I certainly benefited from being in one of them. They were producers, so I didn’t know them and didn’t meet them, but working for the company was fine. I had a lot of fun.
Johnny: I don’t know who currently holds the rights to Dutch Treat. I know MGM has the rights to the bulk of the Cannon library, but as it came out in 1987, I think it might be a title that currently lays with the Warner Brothers part of the library. I hope it will get a home entertainment release from one of the boutique labels, maybe like Vinegar Syndrome, which currently has an MGM deal. Speaking of Vinegar Syndrome, in 1988 you played Angeline in Party Line. You’re the second cast member from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being Shawn Weatherly. What’s your favorite story from the set of that movie?
Greta: There’s no one favorite. It was just a blast working with Leif Garrett. He is so wicked funny and so talented and so smart. We had so many laughs and so much fun on that set. It was a pleasure. He’s just a great guy, super funny and fun to work with, and really just one of the smartest guys I’ve met. He ranks right up there with just about anybody in Hollywood, so it was really fun.
Johnny: Cool. Were you asked about participating in extras when Vinegar Syndrome released Party Line on Blu-Ray and DVD, and if not, would you have participated if asked?
Greta: No, I wasn’t asked, but I would have.
Johnny: That’s strange. I thought they would, and I wish they had approached you. I often ask that of talents who have seen their titles released on Blu-Ray or DVD, yet they didn’t participate in extras. It kind of puzzles me, but that’s a reason, in part, why I do the interviews I do, to help get the stories of these projects out if they were given minimal extras.
Greta: Right, right. I hear you.
Johnny: Moving from acting into fitness, what inspired you towards fitness awareness?
Greta: Well, that was always in the background with everything else that was going on. Before I first moved to New York, I had worked the Summer before in Indiana at a health spa that was then called The House Of Venus Apollo Health Spa. When I went to New York to go to acting school, I saw that there was a Jack LaLanne studio opening up on Madison Avenue in midtown. I went, “Oh, they must need instructors, and I just did that all Summer”, so I went to work at Jack LaLanne. I worked there from 9:00 to 1:00, and then I went to school from 2:00 to 6:00, so I was always involved in fitness even before the word “aerobics” was termed. It was always kind of a passion of mine because growing up as a kid, I wasn’t picked for any athletic team. I was skinny. I was uncoordinated. Nobody wanted me, but I had this yearning to be athletic, and it was like Revenge Of The Nerds. I became a jock and got athletic, so that was always something in the background, something I kept abreast of. I was involved in early trends. I’ve met some fitness people over the years. I’ve helped them in their fitness genres, and they became kind of iconic. I worked with Johnny G when he was just inventing spinning. We used to work out together at the same gym. I was always involved in it, and it was a logical jump when show business started getting weird and I started getting offered nothing but half-naked nymphomaniac roles. I said, “This isn’t for me. I’ve got a little more of a brain in my head than that, and I don’t want to sit and wait for the phone to ring”, so I went off into the fitness magazine world…
Johnny: …And indeed you were the founding editor of Ms. Fitness magazine, so what was the inspiration behind that magazine?
Greta: The inspiration behind that was that a gentleman named Wally Boyko, who had invented women’s fitness competitions with women who didn’t look like guys, but were fitness fans who looked like Miss America but better. They were pretty and feminine and really physically in shape. Wally wanted to do a magazine to go with that theme. He interviewed about five editors and said, “What would you do if I hired you to be the editor?”. He picked me, and I went off and did that.
Johnny: Well, that is proof of your versatile creativity, so when it comes to Ms. Fitness magazine, what has writing provided for you that performing has not, as I’m sure you wrote lots of editorials and the like?
Greta: Oh, and I wrote tons of articles. The budget wouldn’t allow us to hire many outside writers, so yeah. It provides control. I’m a military brat, the eldest of four kids, and so I like control. I like to be in charge. Like I said, I don’t want to sit around and wait for the phone to ring, so I went off into the fitness business and editing because I got to be in charge, and I said, “You know what? I’ll circle back to show biz when I have a little more control”, and that full circle has kind of come now. I thought, “It’s time to circle back with my music project”, which is mine. I control it. I’m the creator of the product, we’ll call it, and I don’t need permission from somebody. I don’t need some casting person. I remember the tail end of when I was just only in Hollywood. I was at an audition for a role, and I was in a waiting room with Donna McKechnie. This wasn’t near the end of my career, but at some point in my career. Anyway, she was out in L.A, hot off her run as the belle of Broadway in A Chorus Line. I think she was even on the cover of Time Magazine or something like that, but she was reading for a guest starring role. I remember sitting there, and when I went into the room, the casting girl goes, “Who was just in here? Do you know her?”. I said, “That’s Donna McKechnie”. It impressed on me that Hollywood was so far removed from other aspects, such as legitimate show business theater, and here was a casting person who didn’t know who Donna McKechnie was. She was the toast of Broadway, and I saw her in A Chorus Line three times at least. She brought down the house every night and I went, “This is a crazy business”.
Johnny: Before we get into the music, of all the articles you’ve written, whether for Ms. Fitness magazine or other outlets, which is the one you’re most proud of having written?
Greta: Oh, god. I don’t know. The thing is, there were so many articles that I was just on a crazy deadline and I had to knock it out that I don’t know, but let me think on that. I think I most enjoyed roundups on products that actually work and provided benefit for people.
Johnny: Alright. Let’s jump into the music then. I do find you to be a very gifted singer and songwriter, so who have been your biggest influences as a musician?
Greta: Oh, okay. Well, I love, love, love Annie Lennox. I just think she’s monstrously talented, and then my taste runs the gamut. I mean, I like Bowie, if we’re talking men AND women, and anybody who’s edgy and a bit of a storyteller. That’s kind of what appeals to me. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Barbra Streisand, her instrument, her voice. When you think of a voice, you think of Barbra Streisand. You think of Celine Dion. You think of Christina Aguilera, and then there’s another thing, which is presence, charisma, having a message and passion. There are a lot of people who are involved in that like, let’s say, Celine Dion, who are very talented, that I want to listen to.
Johnny: Alright. I can definitely see how they’ve influenced your work, speaking of which: What’s the story behind your song “Unfair Advantage”?
Greta: Oh, ha ha ha. Well, that song came out of…That story’s not over. Let’s put it that way. That’s based on an experience I had as a young actress and model in New York, and that fits in with, although I don’t want to stereotyped, #MeToo, but it was very much one of those types of situations. The song came about because I woke up one night with the lyrics in my head, and just started writing. That story has yet to be played fully out.
Johnny: I’m sorry you’ve had those experiences, but I’m glad you’ve been able to use the artform of music as a way to channel your feelings. Art is definitely a gift that can help you through those rough emotions.
Greta: Mm-hmm. That’s true.
Johnny: Speaking of using art to channel through rough times, you recently wrote the song “Lockdown”, inspired by our current chaos, and the second part of the trilogy, “Money Moves”, dropped a few days ago. Will you be taking these three songs written during, and about, coronavirus, writing some more of them, and turning them into a song cycle?
Greta: You know what? It’s a project in process. The third part of that trilogy has been written. It’s kind of an anthem for our country, and I’m sort of finalizing that, although it’s 90% done and needs to be completed. It’s a duet and I have an offer out to a wonderful actor/singer to work with me on that. I was compelled. There are just certain things you have to write. “Money Moves” was actually originally written a couple of years ago as a fantasy piece, and it was honed and sort of tweaked a little bit here in light of the lockdown, and people’s frustrations. Their mindsets are running wild during lockdown, all kinds of shoulda-coulda-wouldas and, “What am I going to do when I get out? Why didn’t I do this when I wanted to?”, so it kind of fit in there perfectly.
Johnny: Well, it’s definitely a great song. When I first heard “Money Moves”, I thought it sounded like it could’ve been a lost Blondie track. It reminded me of that, and I mean that in a good way. I just think it’s a really cool track.
Greta: You know, I’ve got to look into Blondie. I keep getting that. I’m not a huge Blondie person, but I think I’ve got to dig into them a little bit because I keep getting that comparison, particularly with that song, more often than not.
Johnny: Alright. Staying with music, this is a hypothetical question: You’re given an unlimited budget to record an album. Which five musicians, whether performers or songwriters, would you most like to collaborate with on this album, and why?
Greta: Okay. Well, I’m going to say Annie Lennox because I just adore her work. I would say I want Annie Lennox involved. I would want David Gilmour on guitar. I’m thinking musician-wise, not vocalists, because I’d want to be doing the vocals, although I would do a duet with Annie, of course. I’d love Paul Rodgers as backup. He’s just a killer, amazing vocalist. I love his work. Mark Schulman, Pink’s drummer, is a buddy and a great talent. I would love him on the sticks. He’s also a motivational speaker and has total positive energy, and that’s always helpful on a project. I’d love to pull in some hotshot producer, and Kanye West comes to mind. That guy is so out of the box and wildly talented.
Johnny: Moving along, you appeared at ComiCONN a few years ago as part of a V reunion. Did you like appearing there, and if so, would you do more conventions in the future, like perhaps Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, NJ or The Hollywood Show in California?
Greta: Yeah. It was really fun. I would love to do more shows, but what might be surprising is that it’s a lot of work. It’s really work because you’re there to serve the fans instead of sitting on your butt, eating chips or something (laughing). You’re working because you’re there to make the fans happy, so it really requires, on a long day, your constant attention and being very present to people there, but it’s very fun. You meet a lot of people, and it was a lot of fun.
Johnny: During your appearance at ComiCONN, what were the most wonderful pieces of memorabilia you signed?
Greta: Oh, boy. I signed a lot of stuff. Somebody had a little stuffed V baby they were pushing around in a baby carriage that I signed. I don’t know…It runs the gamut. People have posters. They have pictures blown up. I couldn’t pull one thing out of a bunch. People have different things. Let’s put it that way.
Johnny: Alright. To wrap up this interview, if I may be so bold, you still look amazing, so what’s the secret to you looking as amazing as you do?
Greta: Oh, well, that’s sweet of you. Thank you. Obviously, people have to give credit to if their parents were good-looking and they had pretty good genes. Genes play a part, let’s be serious, but I’m in the fitness and health and longevity business. I’m very involved in the anti-aging movement, having written the book The Immortality Edge: Realize The Secrets Of Your Telomeres For a Longer, Healthier Life. I’m involved in people’s goals to live to at least 125, you know, so we’re advocates of everything that keeps you looking good at a cellular level. Also, my background as a model is all about looking good, staying on top of the makeup trends and hair trends. It’s part of the job to stay in shape, which is what I do. Thank you for the compliment. It’s part of who I am. My mother was a very glamorous mother. We’re from Indiana, but my mother looked like a movie star back there in Indiana, and I just grew up with that as the sort of role model that, as you’re getting older as a woman, you keep it together, so I try to, and my dad was tall and handsome, with that great military bearing of his his entire life. My L.A girlfriends had crushes on my dad when he was in his 80’s!
Johnny: Well, you’re doing a great job of it, and I thank you again for taking the time to do this interview. You are a versatile talent. I’m amazed at all the things you do and do wonderfully, and it was an honor to speak to you.
Greta: Thank you, Johnny. I look forward to talking to you again.
Johnny: Before I do wrap it up, I just want to expand a little on what an honor it has been to speak to you because, as I mentioned, 48 HRS was my first exposure to your work, and although the role was small, it was very memorable. 48 HRS is one of the many 80s movies that I turned to during a very difficult period of time in my life. Between dealing with the effects of Asperger’s Syndrome, rough school years, rough years at work, and the decay of my relationship with my late mom, I was just in a dark spot for a very long time. 80s pop culture served as something of a light for me, and the stars in it were like lights as well, and you definitely played a part in helping to cheer me up during some dark times. I thank you for that.
Greta: Oh, I’m very happy to hear that. Thank you. Onward and upward.
Johnny: Indeed, and I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.
Greta: Thank you. Okay, bye bye.
I would like to thank Greta Blackburn again for taking the time to speak to me. For more about Greta’s work, and links to all of her social media, you can visit her official website.
Coming soon to The Flashback Interview will be conversations with singer/drummer/actress/baker Brie Howard and Amy Stoch, Missy from the Bill And Ted trilogy. Stay tuned.