Johnny Caps 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Animal activism, Batman: The Animated Series, Cagney & Lacey, Chiller Theatre, convention, Conventions, Loretta Swit, mash, S.O.B, Switheart: The Watercolour Artistry And Animal Activism Of Loretta Swit, The Muppet Show, vegan 1
I had the great pleasure of meeting my newest interview subject, Loretta Swit, at the Chiller Theatre convention in October of 2018. She was a very kind woman to meet, and was even okay with taking multiple pictures to make sure we looked good. I mentioned to her that I knew her publicist Harlan Boll, who set up my interviews in 2017 with Rip Taylor and Judy Tenuta and my interview earlier this year with Dee Wallace. I knew that Loretta Swit would make for a fascinating interview subject, and we spoke on Monday, November 26th about not only her acting, but her artwork and animal activism as well. We covered a lot of ground, so let’s jump right in.
Say hello to Loretta Swit!
Johnny: Hello, Loretta. Johnny Caps here, calling for our interview.
Johnny: Hello, there. How are you?
Loretta: I’m fine. Thanks.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go, starting with this: You’ve recently released the book Switheart: The Watercolour Artistry And Animal Activism Of Loretta Swit. Of all the paintings in your book, which one is your absolute favorite, or do you find it difficult to choose?
Loretta: Hmmmm. Well…..That’s tantamount to picking a favorite episode on MASH, or your favorite child if you have seven. There’s something wonderful I love in each one of them. Theoretically, though, in my opinion, my favorite work is what I’ve done lately. One, Charlie Brown, is a vet’s service dog and another, “Oreo”, is a rescue adopted by a friend. Let’s see……….In the book, I love Chutzpah The Rooster. Using such a vibrant background was a breakthrough for me, and I love the attitude of that bird. I also love The Rookie, a little lab puppy waiting to be evaluated to see if he qualifies as a search/rescue dog. They’re all so special to me.; then there’s also the floral, L’aube, which means Dawn, that I consider one of my best works.
There are pieces of each painting that are special to me. Family Stroll, the rooster, the hen and the little baby chick taking a little walk is warm and appealing to me.
Johnny: Okay. To go to my next question: When you first ventured into watercolours, were you nervous about making mistakes, or did you take the Bob Ross approach to painting and view them as “happy little accidents”?
Loretta: (Laughing) That’s a great attitude. I never thought about choosing the medium. It was just there and that’s what I used. I’m not trained. I didn’t know enough to be wary of watercolour. I had no idea, really, that watercolour was difficult. I just plunged in. I like to think of it as The Bumblebee Theory. The bumblebee, according to aeronautical data, with the wingspan and the weight of the body should not enable the bumblebee to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that, and it goes ahead and flies anyhow. I have watched my progress, though. I see progress in almost every painting. I’ve learned from doing. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I think, over the years, I’ve improved with each painting, but I still don’t know what I’m doing. However, I’ve had artist friends who have studied, who are accomplished, and they’ve discouraged me from studying because they feel that I’m doing my thing. One friend said, “Look, you’re going to take a course and you’ll study light and shadow for six months. You’ve already been doing that for some time. Just go ahead and keep doing your thing”. Of course there’s a wonderful freedom that comes with not knowing! A freedom from restriction or rules….After taking tennis lesson after lessob, the best advice I ever had during a doubles match was: Just return the ball….Forget form, technique, what-have-you! Just hit that ball and send it back! That advice took away the pressure, and not only did we win, I had more fun than ever before. What I’m saying here is: JUST. DO. IT!! We’re not talking Wimbledon here, HAHAHAHA, but just do it. Good advice.
Johnny: It certainly is. When it comes to painting, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the MASH TV series, you and your costars were portrayed in a painting by Bernie Fuchs. Have you ever tried your hand at painting portraits of your fellow cast members from MASH or any of your TV or film projects?
Loretta: Yes, I did sketches of the original cast, Alan, Wayne, Larry, Gary, and MacLean Stevenson. I framed them in fatigue-green mats and frames. I presented them for Christmas years ago. Bernie’s is a lithograph. It’s a wonderful piece of work. He did a magnificent job, composing it from photos, memory, our faces, and his imagination. It was a magnificent gift.
Johnny: Sounds good. Switheart is not your first book, being as you also wrote a 1986 book called A Needlepoint Scrapbook.
Loretta: Right, yes. Doubleday approached me with the idea when they saw a photo of me needlepointing on the set of MASH.
Johnny: Do you still do needlepoint, and if so, have you considered venturing into the field of mixed mediums and combining needlepoint and watercolours?
Loretta: It’s an interesting idea. Really interesting. No, I haven’t done needlepoint in a long time. I enjoyed creating the book. It’s a how-to book made more personal by adding anecdotes, recollections, and fond memories associated with each piece. I created needlepoint items as successful fundraising items for my activism, as is with the book and paintings. Prints can be ordered from the book…….or in some cases, you can even buy originals if available. I take orders for commissioned works of animal companions. All of the proceeds going to S.A.A and the projects.
Johnny: Okay. Going into charity matters, because of your work on MASH, you’ve worked with military charities, and one of those endeavors involves bringing military dogs home. As you’ve assisted in getting them home, what have been the easiest and hardest assignments, respectively, in rescuing them?
Loretta: My participation is all about funding, I wish it were more hands-on. Nor is it restricted to battle dogs; We also want to support programs composed of veterans training dogs for eventual pairing with other veterans, wounded, retired, in need of a service dog.
Just recently, Guide Dogs For The Blind in Israel sent me a video. Their main thrust is, of course, working with the blind, but now they are expanding their programs to aid veterans recovering from PTSD. The video showed a service dog waking and reassuring a vet suffering from a nightmare, calming and gently waking him. I recently marched with a branch of the Working Dogs In The Military in Phoenix. During the march, the people of Phoenix were very generous in donating to our projects.
I’m working with some pretty spectacular people involved on every level. Whether it’s return, retraining or rehab. The damage of battle takes its’ toll. They need our care, our love and our gratitude. We need to help them get rid of the nightmares. There’s no end of the gratitude we owe the military…The K-9 teams, the military battle dogs…The veterans who are training service dogs to partner with retired or wounded vets. These are extraordinary people.
Johnny: It’s very noble work you’re doing. It’s something that I definitely find admirable. I definitely think that, because of this, I forget what Emmy Award is the equivalent of the Oscars’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, whichever humanitarian award the Emmys offer, you should get it for the work you do with animals.
Loretta: Well, that is very generous of you, thank you. But it is really these caring people in organizations I’m privileged to work with. It takes a village, and people like these who are not looking for recognition. They work hard and they’re amazing………So many making a difference. I’m just trying to do my part……Trying to help, and as I’ve stated, fundraising is a big part of it.
Johnny: That’s definitely fantastic stuff you’re doing, and it’s very admirable. When it comes to animals, the cover of Switheart might be a giveaway, but which are you more of: a dog person or a cat person?
Loretta: Well, I have one of each in my life right now. When I lived in California, I had a herd of dogs. I guess I’ve had more dogs in my life than cats. As we speak, there’s a lovely little Chocolate-Point-Siamese rescue sitting right next to me, curled up next to me. You’re again asking, “Which of my children are my favorite?”. I’ve never met an animal I didn’t love. If you ever saw the series Those Incredible Animals! that I narrated, I was lucky enough to have a face-to-face and a hands-on with almost every animal there is. The centerfold of Switheart has photos from the series. There’s one that I took in Florida. I’m active at Ayla’s Acres, which is a rescue shelter in St. Augustine. In St. Augustine, there’s a place called Alligator Farm where I took a picture next to an alligator with his mouth wide open, and he’s huge! (Laughing) I sent the picture to Mike Farrell because he gets such a kick out of my craziness. He said, “You truly are insane, but I’m glad you’re okay”. (Laughing) For some reason, maybe it’s some kind of zen thing, I just don’t think those animals could ever hurt me. I don’t know why, but I have a sense of well-being around them. I don’t know. That’s another question of yours’ that stumped me. I don’t think I have a favorite. I just really love animals.
Johnny: I can definitely see that, and that leads me to ask: On YouTube, there can be found commercials you did in the 70s and 80s for food companies like Yoplait and Burger King. Do you regret doing those advertisements because of your support of animals?
Loretta: I don’t think I did a Burger King. Did I do a Burger King? It doesn’t ring a bell. Yoplait is dairy. I’m a vegan and I don’t eat dairy, but I don’t force my regime on anybody else. I was not a vegan when I did that commercial. I thought yogurt was healthy, and for some people it is. I know people with ulcers depend on dairy. For other people, it’s not a good idea. It hardens your arteries. I did a burger commercial? Are you sure it was me?
Johnny: Yeah. It was a commercial for The Whopper. You were in a car and you were talking to an announcer. It’s on YouTube. I can send the link when I send the transcript to Harlan for correction purposes.
Loretta: I guess it was so long ago I was eating burgers. I mean, for years I’ve eaten vegan burgers. At that point in time, I don’t think vegan food was (laughing) edible, certainly not burgers. We have come a long, long way with vegan food. I mean, Farm Sanctuary HSUS, we have sit-down black-tie dinners that are totally vegan, and they are magnificent. It was a long time ago, so I can hardly remember a burger ad. I remember doing a United Airlines commercial which, given what they do these days, is a little scary, and I do remember the Yoplait. As I said, at that point in time, I ate yogurt and I thought it was healthy. I was a vegetarian for years before I became a vegan, and I segued into veganism around 1980 or 1981, somewhere in there. I read a book and it went into veganism, and it turned out that I was almost already there. I would just have to cut out cheeses and milks and whatever. I felt, “I’m going to do that. I’m going to give it a shot”, and I was shooting a movie at the time. I always go to rushes, and I saw the first day’s work and the last day’s work. It seemed to me that I looked healthy and good. I didn’t look tired. The first shot of the day and the last shot of the day looked good to me. I looked the same, and I credited the diet, the regime, with that. I remained a vegan, and now the food is incredible, what you can get to eat. It’s more readily available. Friends of mine took me to a three-star Michelin restaurant for Thanksgiving, and they prepared a vegan meal for me and it was outstanding. Of course it was delicious, so it’s become fashionable, easier…It’s available. I remember running into my friend Gloria Steinem. I’ve known Gloria for years. She was coming out of one of my favorite vegan restaurants, Candle 79, in New York City, and I said, “Gloria! I didn’t know you were a vegan!”. She said, “Oh, I’m not. I just love the food”, which sounds like a strange response, but what she means is she eats other things, other types of food and cuisines, so vegan food has become its’ own cuisine. People can not necessarily be vegan, but they can love vegan food. When I went into the restaurant, the owners were there, whom I’ve known, again, for years. I said, “It’s the oddest thing”, and they said, “No, about 50 to 60 percent of our customers are not vegan. They just come here because they love the meals. They like the taste of the food”. I find that different. I find that so interesting. Also, I would say from maybe the late 60s or early 70s on, we’ve all become a lot more health-conscious, certainly in California with the jogging and the health foods and the salads, and New York is very into cuisine. I think that’s a big part of what’s happening, too. People are living longer because their diets are healthier. It just so happens that it dovetails into my ethical belief that animals are our friends and not our food, but that’s me. Gene Baur, who is the head of Farm Sanctuary, I love his attitude. He doesn’t try to convince anybody about our regime. He just talks about it and explains what we do, and if you want to try it or come along, that’s great. I honestly feel that it’s a healthier way of life. Plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular, and for whatever reason, whether it’s health or whether you just believe you shouldn’t be eating animal fats, whatever the reason, I think it’s healthier. Whenever I did that commercial, I don’t know whether I was aware of how bad that would be for me to eat animal fats or a burger. I also do some naughty things, like I have french fries. Fried foods in excess are not supposed to be eaten, but it’s vegan. I can have french fried potatoes (laughing), so it’s okay. The other thing I try to be aware of is sugar. Now there’s probably a lot of sugar in any kind of yogurt. Regret? No, I don’t think I have any kind of regret. I hardly remember doing that, and I don’t know that it influenced people inordinately (laughing). I think, when I look at the commercials late at night selling food, tempting people to go and raid the fridge late at night, it’s bad for you. Some of the rich foods that they’re putting forth and tempting us with, I think that’s a little unethical. The message is the massage. You know, you’re watching a film and there’s a commercial interruption. You weren’t thinking about food, and then suddenly you see this mouthwatering something that’s essentially bad for you, eating that late or eating at all, and suddenly you feel hungry. We’re very visual. I think that’s unethical. I certainly wouldn’t do those commercials now, but I don’t think anybody would approach me to do it now. I think, with my stand and my reputation, people know too much about my regime. For that matter, 100 years ago (laughing) I wore fur. I had a little fox fur jacket which, after learning how that came to be, or going into a store and seeing rack after rack of fur coats, I realize what that meant. I mean, you only know what you know, but then once you know it, it should be your responsibility to do something about it. I did not know, when I had that little fox jacket, that 80, eight zero, animals died indiscriminately to make one coat, and so on and so forth. I looked at this part of a dog I had. They’re cousins, they’re relatives, they’re descendants…They’re animals. They’re the same animal that made that little fox jacket, although it was a long time before that. I have done major anti-fur campaigns. I have gone out to Newfoundland to campaign against the seal hunt. I mean, I’d been very vocal about that before I knew it, but it’s important to know when you are responsible, when you do something. I have converted some women to fake fur. Once they know what the real thing required, again, you only know what you know, but once you know that, you have a clear choice. In a way, it was good for me to say I once did that and now I know better, and now I’m passing that knowledge on to you. Again, it’s their choice if they proceed. If they want to do it anyway, it’s their choice.
Johnny: I admire your candor in answering those questions. Now I’d like to move on to some entertainment-related questions, starting with the fact that you played Christine Cagney in the original pilot for Cagney & Lacey.
Loretta: That wasn’t a pilot. (Laughing) That was a movie, but it was a good movie and it got such high ratings that they immediately wanted to do a series. They don’t even call them pilots anymore. They call them short films, I’m told.
Johnny: Even though you didn’t go to the series, were you ever considered for a guest role on the show as maybe a different character?
Loretta: I would never consider it.
Johnny: Oh. Alright.
Loretta: I don’t always get the offers. They’re filtered, and I do believe they were after me to do something. I was very tempted. I loved doing the character. I thought she was a great character for me to do, you know? My brother had this theory that the audience loved seeing me in uniform. The idea of leaving MASH was too heavy. I mean, that was incomprehensible. My people, CBS and Fox, did not want to let me go. They didn’t want to let Wayne go, or Mac. They had winning combinations and we were a big hit. I didn’t force it or pursue it because the idea of leaving MASH…I look back now, and it was no contest. MASH is still on the air after 45 years. It’s never been off the air. It was a remarkable show and a remarkable experience, and I couldn’t leave it. i have no idea what would’ve happened if I had, but I think I did the right thing.
Johnny: Alright. On a different tack, you’re the second Muppet Show guest star I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, the first being Lesley Ann Warren back in 2014.
Loretta: Oh, sure! Lesley is my buddy. I know Lesley. Lesley and I did a television special, the musical comedy It’s A Bird!…It’s A Plane!…It’s Superman!. I love Lesley.
Johnny: I’ll get to the Superman musical in a moment, but first, what was your favorite part of working with Jim Henson and his fellow Muppeteers?
Loretta: Oh, God, he was such a lovely man, and Frank Oz, David…What a crew. I mean, just so gifted and amazing. Of course, I loved working with Miss Piggy, who was always trying to be Margaret Houlihan, which was such a wonderful running gag. I think what they wrote for me with Miss Piggy was a highlight of the show for me, just working with her. Just working with those Muppets who were so real. I mean, (laughing) it’s hard to describe, but you just don’t feel they’re puppets. They’re so real. It’s a joy. It’s one of the best jobs you ever have as an actor to work on that show. It just was so beautiful, and to sing with them? I was singing with Kermit and Miss Piggy, trying to get them to make up. They were having their traditional fight, and I sang “Side By Side” to try and pull them together. I also sang “I Feel The Earth Move” where I did a kind of King Kong thing. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and, of course, they were so gracious and elegant. When I was there, I was involved with the animals, and I fell in love with this adorable little Black Pekinese. When I got home, the Muppet people, David and Jim and Frank, came to visit me and they brought me the little Black Pekinese that I had fallen in love with, whom I, of course, called Muppet.
Loretta: They were just very special people.
Johnny: They certainly were. I was actually lucky enough to meet Jim Henson before his passing. I was at Walt Disney World. It was me, my brother and my father, and we were at Magic Kingdom. We’d just gotten off the Mad Tea Party, and my mom had mentioned that she saw Jim Henson sitting on a bench. He was filming the special The Muppets At Walt Disney World for NBC, and my mom noticed him. We asked his security people if we could visit him, and they said yes, and we spoke to him. He even did the voice of Kermit The Frog for us.
Loretta: (Laughing) Yes. I, too, was fortunate to be with him shortly before he died, which was a real shocker, a terrible surprise. He came to see me in The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. I was performing on Broadway, and he came to see me in the show and we went out afterwards. A lovely man and genius. The great star who was one of the first guests with The Muppets, and did much to catapult them into the orbit they eventually got to, was Julie Andrews. She appeared on The Muppet Show. Did you know that?
Johnny: Yeah. I know she starred on The Muppet Show, and she also did a couple of episodes of her ABC variety show with them and did a special with the Sesame Street Muppets as well.
Loretta: She’s wonderful. She’s perfect. She’s just wonderful.
Johnny: Definitely. You mentioned the musical It’s A Bird!…It’s A Plane!…It’s Superman!, so I have to ask: When it comes to comic book adaptations, do you think that the current incarnation of Superman could ever be in a musical like that, or do you think that the current version is just too dark?
Loretta: I wonder if I’m up with the current version.
Johnny: Well, I guess I’m talking about the current DC Comics movies, Justice League and stuff like that.
Loretta: Right, right, right. You know, the people in live theater who create shows…Would you ever think Oliver! could be a musical comedy? I mean, that’s pretty dark, yes? What about Chicago? We’re talking about females who have murdered (laughing). We’re talking about killers behind bars. The imagination that goes into putting on a Broadway show is phenomenal. Sweeney Todd is pretty dark. It depends on the infinite genius of these people who are able to do things like that. You and I would have to say that we wouldn’t know until we see it. Who knows what could be done? That’s blue sky when you say, “Well, could we do that?”. Back to MASH for a second: Who could’ve thought you could do a comedy based on that book, although I never thought of us as a comedy…More of a dramedy. I never thought of us as a “sitcom”, but that was our category. It didn’t laugh at the war. It didn’t make fun of the war and it wasn’t like hijinks and fooling around behind enemy lines. It was comedy and humor that came out of the craziness of being there, of being trapped in a place where you were sewing bodies together at 4:00 in the morning, and the kids that you were sewing together were hardly old enough to shave. The madness, the craziness of that…In the doctor’s case, they were making martinis and bathtub gin. We were pulling pranks on each other. That was what was funny, but we never lost sight of the fact that that the craziness came out of the situation, and the situation was not funny. It was bad. Without trying, it was a great anti-war message without preaching about it. I don’t know, and neither do you, until some genius sits down and finds a way to make it interesting, entertaining and palatable, you know?
Johnny: Definitely, and that’s a great explanation for why MASH has retained its’ staying power. Again, that’s an incredibly well-thought-out answer. There is a different project I want to ask about. In 1981, you played gossip columnist Polly Reed in Blake Edwards’ comedy S.O.B, which I found to be an underrated comedy from an underrated decade for film-making. As I’m sure you’ve had to deal with gossip columnists and tabloids in your life, what was it like to be able to stick it to those parasites?
Loretta: (Laughing) First of all, Blake Edwards. One of the best. He saw humor in everything, and Polly was so well-written. I mean, he had such a clear idea of what she was, who she was, and he loved actors. Blake would shoot a scene and then go to another set where he had a hookup of a monitor where he played the scene that we just shot. He had his actors watch their work immediately, and he once said to me, “If I see somebody laugh at themselves, I know it’s good”. Actors in general are so critical of themselves. We don’t laugh at ourselves if we’re funny. We’re looking at, “Did I really get that joke? Was it funny enough? Did I hit the mark?”. We look at it so critically in a different way, but he said, “If I see somebody laughing at themselves, I know it’s good”. I also found his taste to be impeccable. He had, for me, the last word in comedy. I mean, The Pink Panther is like the MASH of movies. It’s classic, just crazy, wonderful. When I went on the set the first day, I fully expected to sit down with Blake and kind of talk about her a lot, but I was off-camera and that was my first shot, off-camera. I waited for Blake to have a moment to chat with me, and he was busy working. Finally, I saw kind of an empty space to slide over. I remember saying something ordinary like, “Did you want to talk to me about anything? Should we sit down and make sure we’re seeing this crazy lady on the same page?”. He said, “I saw what you did off-camera. We’re of the same mind about this woman”. He was watching me, off-camera, do my thing, and got enough from my reading, my thoughts, to be happy. I’ve had this with really good directors. They’ll say, “I don’t say anything because you’re giving me everything I want. The only time I feel it’s necessary to talk or say something to you is when I want something you’re not doing, so I’m going to say ‘Why don’t you try…'”. Blake was very much like that. He was wonderful in terms of letting you go do your thing. I have a story that plays back to learning and “you only know what you know”. At this point in time, I was well into activism and so forth. When we were dressing Polly, she was probably the kind of person who would wear a fur piece. Years ago, women used to wear these pieces with the actual head of the animal on it. They gave me a piece like that and I said, “I’m terribly sorry. I can’t do that. I can’t wear that”. She was great. She just threw it over her shoulder and said, “No problem”. She didn’t much like it, either, but she thought it was probably correct for the character, so I said to her, “If you make the same thing, only fake, and then we note that in the credits”, she said, “Aaah, let’s forget the whole thing”. I learned very, very quickly it was easy to work that out on any kind of wardrobe. “I’m sorry I can’t do that. It isn’t anything I believe in doing”. People were of one mind about doing the right thing for you, making you feel comfortable or agreeing with you in theory, so it just reminded me of what we were talking about earlier, where once you know something, you can do something about it or not, but obviously it fed into what I had always felt about animals. Back to Blake, Blake and Julie, such a lovely lady and wonderful to work with. That whole cast…It was a fun, wonderful shoot. People in the cast would show up on the set when they weren’t working. It was like a party and you didn’t want to miss a day. “Oh, you’re not working. You’re not on the call sheet”, and you went anyway. You went to the set anyhow, and just sat around and talked and laughed and watched and had a great time. It was a very happy shoot.
Johnny: It definitely was a blast. Jumping into the 90s, you voiced Marcia Cates in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Mad As A Hatter”. You’re the second talent I’ve interviewed from that episode, the first being my good friend Kimmy Robertson, who voiced Alice Pleasance in that episode. What was your favorite part of working on what quite a few fans of Batman: The Animated Series consider to be one of the show’s best episodes?
Loretta: You have more information about that than I do. I’m one of those crazy actors who loves to do looping. I have always felt I could improve something if I loop it (laughing). Even if it’s a question of background noise ruining it or something, I love matching, syncing. I love doing that, and that warmth of acting is very appealing to me. I just liked the whole experience, but I didn’t know it was considered to be a favorite or so important.
Johnny: Yeah. Batman: The Animated Series is considered one of the best animated shows of the 90s, and one of the best representations of the Batman mythos.
Loretta: Wel, how about that? Well, good. (Laughing) I’m very pleased to hear that. That’s lovely.
Johnny: On a different tack, we met at the Chiller Theatre convention in October of 2018, and it was an honor to meet you. The Saturday of that convention was scary between the gas leak and the bomb threat, but in spite of all that, I had fun.
Loretta: (Laughing) It was terrible. It was a terrible adventure, wasn’t it? Well, good for you. I’m glad that, in spite of everything, you managed to turn it from lemons into lemonade.
Johnny: So what’s been your favorite part of attending conventions, and what’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you’ve signed at a convention like Chiller Theatre or The Hollywood Show?
Loretta: The people are extraordinary. Fans really are a race apart with the things they do to bring you, the event that they put together. They’ll assemble a large poster-sized compilation, and it will have little bits and pieces of artwork from a lot of different shows you’ve done. They’ve composed this beautiful thing all on their own, just to bring to you and have you sign it. It’s a beautiful homage. It’s so touching. I’ve signed different things like baseballs and baseball gloves or footballs, things that meant something to them outside of MASH or outside of any other films. (Laughing) I have a friend who is always so amused by the things that come up for me to sign, so he always teases me. He says, “Oh, Ms. Swit, will you please sign my child?” (laughing). I like when they have jackets or T-shirts, and they round their back and ask me to sign my name on their shirt. That’s kind of fun. I just think it’s charming and fun that they want that piece of you indelibly on a T-shirt. I’m trying to think of more spectacular things, but it’s usually something related to your career that they’ve composed or put together. They find posters of stuff that I’ve never seen. I mean, it’s just amazing. That’s only the second Chiller I’ve done. The first one I did with Jamie, it was not quite as open to other shows as it was to the horror shows. It was kind of their baileywick. I mean, we did fine, but we were sort of an afterthought, I think. When I was approached to come this time, they assured me that it was quite different. It was, first of all, much larger, but it included a lot of stars from various series, not necessarily spooky or horror, like the Love Boat gang, whom I adore. They were there and I took pictures with my buds like Gavin. The fun part, also, is seeing your friends that you don’t necessarily see anymore with the frequency you once did, like Gavin. Gavin and I go way back to a little organization called Words And Music. We used to do musical comedy and take it out to shut-ins and hospitals. Gaving was a spectacular Pseudolos in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, written by my genius friend Larry Gelbart. See, you go full circle, don’t you? I mean, you just keep going around and around. I think that’s a lot of fun. I saw R.J and Jill. These are friends who live elsewhere and far away. You don’t get to see them as often, and the phone’s not always enough, so that’s another wonderful thing about doing the autograph shows. I do the one in Chicago because I’ve worked a lot in Chicago, and I have so many fans and so many friends there. This Chiller was terrific. I’ll consider doing this again, maybe not so quickly as next year, but in a few years. I did think it was a fantastic experience to have the firemen there, and the cops just getting everybody out of the building. In the times in which we live, it’s very scary, very awesome. Were you frightened?
Johnny: Yes. I’ve attended quite a few Chillers, but it was my first time ever encountering anything like that, and it really scared me, but in spite of that, I was able to check in with a lot of the stars I met over the weekend. I regret not checking in with you and seeing how you were doing, but that’s because I wasn’t able to locate you. I’m glad that you were alright. What did you do…
Loretta: I was about to tell you. Talking about lemons into lemonade, Juliet Mills and her daughter, and my Andrea, my right arm, we went to Melissa, her daughter. Very crafty, she called ahead and found the nearest hotel restaurant, it was, I think. We got hustled into a vehicle and they dropped us off there, and we spent a couple of hours that they were closed getting to know each other. They’re two of the most delightful people. We had lunch, lots of laughs and lots of promises to keep in touch because it was just such a lovely afternoon getting to know them. You know God moves in mysterious ways. I would never have gotten to know them as well. Our booths were next to each other, but you’re busy signing and talking to fans, and had that not happened, I wouldn’t have had those two or three hours with them. I really just enjoyed it enormously.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear. I now come to my last question, and it’s this: Which animal charities that you’re active with would you recommend that people donate to if they’re looking to do something charitable this holiday season?
Loretta: Bide-A-Wee, but then at the same time, there are a few that I would quickly recommend. If you’re stumped, give it to Swithearts and we’ll do the rest (laughing), you know? You could give it directly, or give it to Swithearts and say, “You choose and tell me where it went”. I’ve worked with Bide-A-Wee for a long time now. Just recently, they helped me place a lovely little bulldog who was barely a year old, and before that, I think six dogs and two cats. What I love about them is the care that they take before placement. I mean, those animals are only given up to forever loving homes, and so when they do that for me, Swithearts gives them money to do that. They’re wonderful. The facility is wonderful. I go there sometimes just to sit in one of the cat rooms, and I do sketches. I’m working on, pardon the pun, a scratchpad. It’ll have little pictures of cats from Bide-A-Wee on it, and something like that I might even give to Bide-A-Wee to sell to raise funds. It’s a never-ending process, you know? It’s the ideas that keep coming. Why don’t we do this? That might raise money. People would love to have that? Why don’t we try this? That’s what does it, though, the never-ending caring. How can we make it better? How can we keep going? That’s what it takes.
Johnny: It certainly does.
Loretta: When you’re working in a humane environment, it’s all about money. You have to keep raising money, and that helps. I encourage people to ask, as you did, where and what would be best because these people need your help. They’ll send me things from time to time of what they’ve just found of these animals who have been tortured or abused, things that you can’t comprehend that people might do. They have surgeons on staff, and we need the funding to help all of these animals. I’m very much Bide-A-Wee’s sponsor. I love the work they do. If people are asking me from Florida, by all means, Ayla’s Acres, which houses about 150 animals, most of them unadoptable, so it’s really a care facility as well. If they’re in Florida, they might give some money to Ayla’s Acres or they can go to the thrift store on King Street, which is Ayla’s Acres thrift store. It’s run by volunteers and the only overhead is paying the rent. All the money that you give to buy something there goes to funding Ayla’s Acres, so that’s another idea. Some of that is in my book. The cover of my book is a Bide-A-Wee rescue, a Jack Russell rescue. It’s also getting information out there. If people want this kind of animal or that kind of animal, “That’s why we bought this kind of animal”, wrong! Wrong! Any breed you mention, there is a rescue unit that handles that breed. I have Yorkies. There’s a Yorkie rescue. There’s a Bichon rescue. There’s all kinds of rescues out there that you can help. We discourage buying animals. When you buy an animal, you condemn several animals in shelters. It’s the information that we have to get out there, a responsibility to take care of the ones who are homeless. A lot of that is in the book, and there’s a list at the end of the book of wonderful organizations that I work with, and they are dependable. It’s important for me to say you know where your money’s going. They’re not spending it on themselves. They’re using the money to help animals. Actors And Others For Animals, if you’re in California. I’m vice-president of Actors And Others For Animals, and I guarantee you, I can tell you every dime of where your donations are going. I love Actors And Others, AAO, because a lot of their thrust goes into education, goes into working animals, and into schools to help educate young people about care and love for animals. If you’re in California, it’s right there. I could go and on. Buy the book and turn it to the last page, and you’ll see my recommendations.
Johnny: Alright. I’ll keep that in mind, and that does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview.
Loretta: I thank you for being so organized. This has been a real pleasure. You are so specific and caring. You want to get at the root of things and I really appreciate that. There will be times when someone will call, and they haven’t even seen the book or know it’s out. I think your preparation has enabled us to have a really valuable interview. We covered a lot of ground, and we talked about important things, so I thank you for that.
Johnny: You’re very welcome, and I’m touched by your compliments.
Loretta: I do thank you for your time, too, and I’ve got to jump-start my day.
Loretta: God Bless.
Johnny: Likewise. Have a good afternoon.
Loretta: Bye bye.
I would like to thank Loretta Swit for taking the time to do this interview with me, and I would like to thank Harlan Boll for setting it up. For more on Loretta Swit’s life and work, you can visit her official Facebook page.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be a conversation with actor and activist Aki Aleong, a talent with credits stretching back to the 1950s and still doing action scenes in his mid-80s. Stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading.