My newest interview subject, Laura Summer, has been performing since she was a teenager. Starting in front of the camera in movies like Girls Nite Out and Hard To Hold, she would later make a mark in voice-overs, most notably as Janine Melnitz in the first season of The Real Ghostbusters and Patamon in assorted Digimon projects. I knew that she would make for a fantastic interview subject, so we spoke on Monday, July 15th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Laura Summer!
Johnny: Hello, Laura.
Johnny: Thank you for agreeing to do an interview with me.
Laura: Of course. My pleasure.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go, starting with this: What inspired you towards an acting career?
Laura: Shirley Temple. When I was little, I saw all those black-and-white films, and I thought, “Wow, that would be fun”. I had curls like that, and that was where it started.
Johnny: Alright. You made your film debut as Jane in 1982’s Girls Nite Out. What are your favorite memories of that film?
Laura: It was just a lot of fun, being a teenager and being with other people starting out, and it was a heady time. It was a very low-budget movie and Hal Holbrook was in the movie. You got one or two takes of everything. It wasn’t like I thought filmmaking was supposed to be, but it was a really good time. I was happy with my performance.
Johnny: Alright. This next question was inspired by a post on your Facebook page. You worked alongside the late Arte Johnson in an AM/PM advertisement. What do you recall the most about working with him?
Laura: Oh, he told a lot of funny stories. I didn’t know much about his pre-Laugh-In background, but he told outrageous stories about working with Nancy Reagan , back when she was Nancy Davis the actress. He was just a really cool guy . I acted in tons of commercials during that time period and working with Arte was a truly a highlight.
Johnny: I can imagine it was. It was just sad how he passed away.
Johnny: Well, on a lighter note, you played the character of Emily in a few episodes of The Facts Of Life. Was that character going to be a semi-regular in later seasons, or was she just a character for those three episodes?
Laura: Well, actually, I was hired to do one episode, and based on that first guest appearance, they wrote me into the show and then I graduated high school with the girls. My agents were in negotiations for some spin-off that didn’t happen that next year, and somewhere along the way, those negotiations fell apart. I went back to New York, and I heard this through my representatives at the time. After that first episode of Facts of Life, they said, “We’re going to have you back”, so that’s how I ended up being in the graduation episodes as well.
Johnny: Alright. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Laura: Um, it wasn’t the most fun (laughing). I mean, it’s years later. I can say whatever I want, right?
Johnny: Of course.
Laura: There was a lot of competition. The girls had been doing the show for years and were making a lot of money. They were acting a little threatened, which was very silly. “Oh, there’s a new girl on the show”. They weren’t very nice. Actually, the younger girls were nice. Tootie (Kim Fields) was nice (laughing). Also, I had just learned to drive, and they told me a very strange way to get there. They told me I had to cross the 101 freeway in one exit, and now I know you don’t have to do that at all. You can take side streets. It was petrifying, never having driven before and having to go across the 101 freeway. It was exciting because they kept having me back and writing this role for me, and the producer told me he named the character, Emily, after his wife. Jerry Mayer did that often on his projects as a loving tribute to his wife, so that was nice.
Johnny: Alright. To go back to the big screen, you played a fan in the Rick Springfield movie Hard To Hold. Were you a fan of Rick Springfield’s, and if so, what was it like to work with him?
Laura: Well, I certainly knew who he was. I was hired for one day to play a Groupe, and the director said, “We’re going to put you in the rest of the movie”. I shot in L.A, and then I went up to San Francisco for a while to work, but they didn’t really expand my part. It was sort of a loosey-goosey situation. Rick treated me as a fan, not an actor. He even said he was a jerk in that period in his book, but I didn’t have that much interaction with him. If he was miserable, I really can’t recall, but it was fun being in San Francisco on a big-budget movie. Patti Hansen introduced me to her husband, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, first on the phone and then in person. That was really exciting.
Johnny: I can definitely imagine. I’m a big fan of The Stones myself.
Laura: Oh, yeah. That was fun, and Patti was great. I am from Queens, NY and Patti was from Staten Island, NY. She came out of the fashion world as a very big model. When she made that movie, she already had a huge career as a supermodel. She was just a good, fun, down-home kind of girl. Patti was great and how nice that her and Keith are still together.
Johnny: Fantastic to hear. Going into the next year, 1985, you appeared in several episodes of The New Love, American Style. What do you recall the most about that project?
Laura: Oh, I did the pilot for that. Joan Darling directed it, whom I adore and have kept in touch with. She’s a fabulous director. Joan Darling won an Emmy for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the episode “Chuckles Bites The Dust”. She was just fantastic. Arsenio Hall, whom I worked with for a long time on The Real Ghostbusters, was also in the pilot, so that was a really terrific experience.
Johnny: You brought up The Real Ghostbusters, and that leads me to how many people would recognize you as the first voice of Janine. What was your favorite episode of the show to work on?
Laura: Well, sometimes we would record more than one in a day. When Janine became a Ghostbuster, that was a lot of fun, but you’re in a room with everybody, and just reading from scripts and going to the next script. It was a really fun episode to play when Janine got her Ghostbusters groove on and I got to act a bit.
Johnny: Yeah. When it comes to the character designs on The Real Ghostbusters, when you saw how Janine looked, were you like, “Wait, why doesn’t she look like Annie Potts?”
Laura: It doesn’t work that way. You get cast and then you record it. I had never even seen Ghostbusters when I got the job.
Johnny: I actually kind of meant that as a bit of a joke because the character designs were so different from the movie, with Ray looking Irish and Egon with a blonde pompadour. That was a weak attempt at humor. Sorry about that.
Laura: Oh, no. I thought you were asking about the voice process as you record first and don’t see the artwork. I mean, I guess sometimes you can see the artwork. Sometimes they’ll show you a picture and say, “Come up with a voice”. That’s not how Ghostbusters was done, and when I was first cast, I was talking like I am now. They then said to me on the very first session, ” Can you do a New York accent?”. I said, “Yeah, sure”, and that’s how it was in those first 78 episodes. (Slipping into Janine’s voice) “Hello. Ghostbusters”. (Back to her regular voice) My mother was from Brooklyn, so I was just doing her, but later they found out that Janine Melnitz is from Queens, where I grew up (laughing).
Johnny: So, I hope this isn’t a sore question, but you were replaced by Kath Soucie as Janine…
Johnny: So have you ever crossed her path in the years since, and if so, how have things been between the both of you?
Laura: Well, she had a big, successful career, and yes, Lorenzo Music and Arsenio and myself were all replaced at the same time because of some political stuff that was going on, I was told, so I don’t know any of that. It’s not really a sore point about another actress or anything like that.
Johnny: Alright. Well, if the upcoming Ghostbusters sequel were to lead to a revival of The Real Ghostbusters, and you were asked to come back to the role of Janine, would you accept?
Laura: Well, sure. I take everything that comes my way.
Johnny: Alright. One more Ghostbusters question before going on to other aspects of your career: As this year marks anniversaries for the Ghostbusters franchise, how would you rank the three movies that have been released so far?
Laura: I really can’t comment on that because what I did was the animated version of it that had nothing to do with the feature films. The fans, or you, would definitely have a better answer for that because the cartoon was a completely separate enterprise.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to move back to live-action film, you played a receptionist in She’s Out Of Control, which starred a former interview subject of mine, Ami Dolenz. What stayed with you the most from that shoot?
Laura: Oh, Ami was a riot. We had a really nice time together. That was a good day. I think, when you look back, when you show up on a movie for one day or a couple of days, it’s not like The Real Ghostbusters where you walked in every week to record. With films or TV shows, you’re only there for a few days. That was fun. The people were great. It’s really about the people, and the experiences you have, and that you’re trying to make something that other people will enjoy watching.
Johnny: Definitely. What I’ve seen of She’s Out Of Control, I don’t think it was nearly as bad as critics made it out to be.
Laura: Well, you know, things like that are not in my control. At the time, I remember my ex-husband ran into Tony Danza and said, “Oh, my wife was in your movie”, and Tony said, “Oh, she made the movie” (laughing), which was very sweet because I didn’t make the movie. It was just very, very fun, and I loved that director, Stan Dragoti. He was terrific.
Johnny: To jump back to voice-acting, you’re well-known for your work in anime dubbing. What’s the biggest difference, in your opinion, between Western animation and anime?
Laura: It’s done completely different. In one, you’re dubbing to something on the screen when you do anime, and it’s more like flaps of a character’s mouth that you’re fitting into. Western animation? You act the way you want with the timing you want, although the director is calling the shots. They lay the artwork to your voice, so it’s very, very different. The whole process is different. In anime, you work by yourself in a room. In animation, most of the time, you’re with a cast. They’re completely different kinds of experiences.
Johnny: Alright. Probably your most famous anime work came with your work on Digimon: Digital Monsters, most notably voicing the role of Patamon. What made that show stand out for you?
Laura: It was long. Digimon was done over many years, and it came back. That was really fun. That was certainly a surprise to do a job and, years later, be asked to come back. “We have some more Digimon to do”. One really nice thing about this career is that sometimes you get little surprises along the way like, “Oh, here this is. Would you like to do it? You don’t have to audition. They want you to do it because you’ve established the character. The voice is yours’. We don’t want to replace you”. You just say, “Yeah, I would love to do it”. You don’t have to go through any emotional upheaval auditioning or vying for the part against other people. It’s yours.
Johnny: Alright. Similar to one of my Real Ghostbusters questions, which was your favorite episode of Digimon to work on?
Laura: Well, I guess the last movie, the one where Patamon dies and than returns. That was really fun, and I did get nominated for an award. I didn’t win, but (laughing) I did my death scene and then I come back to life. That stands out.
Johnny: Cool. To go back to Western animation, you played the twins Drusilla and Minerva on The Garfield Show, which shared a lot in common, both in voice-over talent and on the writing staff, with Garfield And Friends. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Laura: The cast was fantastic. Mark Evanier, the director, was always bringing in older, established, famous icons to work on the show, like Stan Freberg or Rose Marie or June Foray, to name a few, for guest spots. That was always really thrilling to work with comedy legends. We also did a couple of musical numbers, and the producers from France came in to record us. They didn’t speak any English, and that was kind of interesting to get us to sing a song. I was singing with Laraine Newman and Julie Payne. We were playing singing mermaids, and the French producers were trying to tell us what to do. There was no sheet music (laughing), but in spite of all that, it sounded fantastic. It was a lot of fun. It was a wonderful experience, and working with Mark Evanier, whom I worked with many times, is always a treat.
Johnny: You’re actually the second veteran of the Garfield franchise I’ve interviewed, the first being Jewel Shepard, who also did a lot of voice-over work on the Garfield animated programs as well. Did you ever record with her?
Laura: Oh, yes. I know Jewel. Jewel is wonderful.
Johnny: She absolutely is. She’s one of the very first talents I ever did a phone interview with. Very friendly, and she has incredible stories.
Laura: Yes. She’s done a lot of different kinds of things.
Johnny: To go back to you, you’ve also done a lot of work in the field of ADR, and I’d like to ask about a few of those credits.
Laura: Of course.
Johnny: For example, what can you tell me about providing additional voices for the classic 90s dark comedy To Die For?
Laura: What comes to mind is that the group leader, the ADR coordinator, had us on stage recording, and said, “Watch this woman. Her American accent is impeccable”, and it was Nicole Kidman. That was the first time I ever saw her, so that stood out. She’s a wonderful actress, and her accent is impeccable. You’d never know that she was Australian.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of accents, you were part of the ADR group for A Knight’s Tale, the noted satire of sports culture that took place in Medieval England. What do you recall the most about working on that?
Laura: Oh, that was really fun. We recorded the entire day outside in Malibu, which I’d never done, at Pepperdine U. Recording outside captures the ambiance of the ocean and the birds, of England in medieval, Shakespearean times. They were recording us outside instead of a recording stage. It was a hoot.
Johnny: Cool. To go to another project, you worked on a Hanna-Barbera project, albeit indirectly, when you provided additional voices for Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. As I’m sure you watched the assorted Scooby-Doo projects growing up, what was it like to work on the film?
Laura: Well, I didn’t watch that cartoon, actually, but it was really fun. I dubbed Linda Cardinelli in a few places, and that was kind of fun. I mean, I didn’t know who she was at the time, but they said, “It’s great. You sound just like her”. She’s a terrific actress, and that’s what I remember about that.
Johnny: To stay with the ADR for another question, you provided additional voices for the Oscar-winning sports biography The Fighter. Where can your voice be heard in that film?
Laura: I dubbed some children and crowd noises. In a movie like that, there’s a lot of screaming for the fights. I also worked on a handful of Arrested Development episodes last season. I did grunts and screams for Isla Fisher. Sometimes stars can do that, and sometimes they can’t, so they’ll get a soundalike for that kind of stuff.
Johnny: Alright. On a related note, what have been your favorite experiences in voice-matching celebrities for TV edits and stuff like that?
Laura: I don’t really have a favorite. There are some actresses who are brilliant at it. I’ve certainly done some, but I’m not one of those people who can sound like a lot of people. There are some actresses who are really, really good at that. There are some who are in my vocal range that I’ve mentioned, like Linda and Isla, but that’s not the body of my work.
Laura: It’s a fine question, but I haven’t done that many voice matches.
Johnny: Alright. Whether it’s on-camera or off-camera, which talents would you most like to work with that you haven’t had a chance to do so yet?
Laura: Oh, wow. There are some projects I’ve been watching like Dead To Me. I would love to work with those gals. I would love to work on that show Schitt’s Creek. The talent on that show, and the humor, is right up my alley.
Johnny: Alright. I now come to my final question, and it’s this: Have you ever done any autograph conventions like Chiller Theatre or The Hollywood Show, and if not, would you consider doing so?
Laura: Sure. I have done voiceover panels, but I haven’t done autograph shows. I have been asked, but for different reasons and conflicts, I couldn’t accept. Yeah, I look forward to doing more with the fans in the future.
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.
Laura: You’re so welcome. Thank you so much. It was really fun.
Johnny: Thank you, too. It was an honor to speak to you.
Laura: That’s so very, very sweet. I wish you all the best, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Johnny: Oh, absolutely. I’ll catch you on Facebook.
Laura: Okay. Sounds good.
Johnny: Talk to you soon.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be conversations with, among others, singer Josie Cotton, actress Mindi Miller, and online singer and Instagram model Karen Eng, as well as a new interview with Ginger Lynn, whom I first spoke to back in 2014. Thank you as always for reading, and have a great day.