My newest interview subject, Lori Lethin, has been a Facebook friend of mine for several years. I reached out with a friend request because I liked her work in the movie Bloody Birthday, but there’s more to Lori Lethin than that film. She had many acting credits from the 70s to the 90s before she switched careers and became a therapist. I interviewed her on May 26th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Lori Lethin!
Johnny: I’d like to start off with this question: Had you always wanted to be an actress, or did you initially have your mind set on a different career path?
Lori: Well, no, I didn’t always want to be an actress. It just sort of happened. I was here on the island of Catalina, and my parents ran a burger place called The Sandtrap, which was on a picturesque golf course. One day I was watching some commercials, and I thought, “You know, I bet I could do that”. I just flew by the seat of my pants. It was like, “Well, let me give this a try”. There was a person over here who had a friend who was in acting, and he suggested that I take these acting classes over town. One thing led to another, and it happened really quick.
Johnny: Alright. One of your earliest credits was playing Bo Fleming in the Charlie’s Angels episode Teen Angels, which also featured another former interview subject of mine, Audrey Landers. What are your favorite memories of working on that episode?
Lori: It was interesting. That was my very first acting job, on Charlie’s Angels. I was so naive that I thought, “Well, I’ll go on set and we’ll all be friends with the Angels”. I had no clue. I didn’t know how to hit marks. I didn’t know anything. When I went over town to start this career, I got my first job within the first three months, and it was Charlie’s Angels, so I thought they were just like how they were on the show. When I got on the set, everything was so new to me, and it was like being at Disneyland for the first time, but I was so shocked that they were not like they were on the show. It was a whole different ballgame. I remember Audrey. She was really sweet, and she kind of helped me through the whole process because I had a lot of questions as I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know how I got the job. I just went and read for it, and remembered that when you read for a part, there were callbacks. I didn’t even know what a callback was, so it was really interesting. It was Acting 101. I learned a lot from working on that show.
Johnny: Alright. Jumping into 1981, many people came to know of you through your role as Joyce Russel in the horror film Bloody Birthday. What do you think has made that movie stand out for 80s horror fans?
Lori: I think (laughing) it’s the kids of that film. You know, killer kids? That was kind of odd at the time. I’m not sure if they could make that movie today, but it was just the whole thing of the kids being so evil, the ones who were doing all the killings. I think it was funny. You know, back in the 80s, there were no big special effects. Everything was done on such a low budget, so there was part of me that thought it was kind of humorous to watch them go. I think it’s kind of kitschy, you know what I mean? You watch it, and you kind of chuckle afterwards because they’re so badly done, in a way, that they’re funny. I think that people who saw those horror films in the 80s, when they were younger, have fond memories. I get a lot of that when I meet the fans.
Johnny: Alright, so what’s your favorite memory from the set of Bloody Birthday?
Lori: Well, I liked that I got to do all my own stunts, you know? I’m kind of an outdoor gal, and also a bit of a tomboy, so the idea of running around, doing my stunts and being chased, was really fun for me. I loved working with the kids. They were great. I spent a lot of time with K.C Martel, who played my brother, and he was a really nice kid. It was fun, plus the fact that it was done quickly, so you were not allowed to have a lot of takes. You had to bring your A game in, and some days were good while others weren’t so good, but it was done on a small budget.
Johnny: Bloody Birthday has aired a couple of times on Turner Classic Movies in their TCM Underground block.
Lori: I know. I’m so thrilled about that because I’m a big Turner Classic Movies fan. I watch it all the time, so I was really excited about that.
Johnny: Yeah. I like how TCM acknowledges movies of all kinds as classics. They acknowledge that every movie is a classic to somebody, and that’s what I like about them.
Lori: Oh, yeah. I love TCM. It’s one of my go-tos when I turn on the TV at night.
Johnny: Returning to you, also in 1981, you played Lauree in the ABC Afterschool Special The Wave, which featured another former interview subject of mine, Jamie Rose. As that teleplay was based on a real life incident, do you think such a thing could happen again in our current climate?
Lori: Yeah. There’s two films I’ve done that keep coming back, and those are The Wave and The Day After. Those are the two films that come up a lot that have the possibility of something that could happen in real life. Back then, I thought, “No way”. I was younger, but now that I’m older, I can see that something like that can definitely happen, and I certainly hope that’s not the case.
Johnny: I certainly hope not, either. I will ask more about The Day After in a moment, but before I do, returning to the horror genre, you played Bobbie in the 1983 horror film The Prey. Camping provided the theme for a lot of 80s horror films. Why do you think that was?
Lori: Because it was so cheap, and it was scary. The Prey was filmed in nine days (laughing), and we just went out in the woods at night. It was pretty easy to do, and there were not a lot of people around. You could scream in the middle of the woods and nobody would blink an eye, so I think that’s probably why. It was pretty cheap to do in the woods, plus it’s a scary atmosphere with nobody around, and it’s quiet in nature. That’s probably why they filmed a lot of it in the woods.
Johnny: I can see that. To go to one of your most important roles, as mentioned, you played Denise Dahlberg in the classic TV movie The Day After. When working on it, did you have any idea it would become the television landmark that it did?
Lori: I did not. I had no idea. When I made the film, I was playing part of the Dahlberg family, and they were shooting different scenes in different areas I wasn’t part of, so I was just following the storyline of the Dahlberg family. I didn’t know what it was going to look like when it was put altogether because everything was shot separately, so I was surprised when all the controversy started. I was really surprised because the mood on the set was not heavy. I think that’s because the content was so heavy that we kept everything light so we could all get through it. I worked a lot in a cellar with Bibi Besch and John Cullum and Steve Guttenberg, so I had no idea, to answer your question, because we were segregated into one storyline.
Johnny: Alright. I do have to ask this: Which would you say was the scarier film, Bloody Birthday or The Day After?
Lori: Definitely The Day After, because it’s something that could possibly happen in real life. Bloody Birthday? That was fun to make. When I watch it, I get a chuckle, but when I watch The Day After, I don’t chuckle so much.
Johnny: That’s perfectly understandable. When it comes to The Day After, when Kino Lorber Studio Classics released the special edition Blu-Ray and DVD of the film, were you asked to participate in extras?
Lori: No, I was not.
Johnny: Would you have participated?
Johnny: I know they got Nic Meyer to do either a commentary track or an interview, but it would’ve been more interesting to get cast feedback on the release.
Lori: Well, I’ve had lunch with Nic Meyer within the last three months, and I think they’re making a documentary on The Day After. That’s my understanding. It’s not Nic himself, but a documentary company out of, I believe, Australia, and I was interviewed for that. I don’t know much about it, but Nic and I talked about it a little bit. We’re still pals. Nic was really the force behind The Day After. He’s really an interesting guy.
Johnny: He absolutely is a great director and writer. Going back to you, on a lighter note, although the role was still dramatic, you played Karen Kimball in the Diff’rent Strokes episode A Special Friend. What do you recall the most about working on that episode?
Lori: It was my first live performance in front of an audience, so that was new to me. I didn’t know that much about epilepsy, so I had to research it, and I really wanted to get the message right to people. Art imitates life in that my son, as a young child, developed a seizure disorder, so the research I had done for the role meant I wasn’t afraid when he had his first seizure. I knew something about it. I was able to understand what he was going through, and I wasn’t afraid when he had his first seizure. I understood what epilepsy was, so I was able to use that instead of freaking out.
Johnny: Alright. This next question could sort of be seen as a psychological one. I’ll ask more about your therapist work later, but sitcoms like Diff’rent Strokes are looked back on as having a lot of serious episodes by people who prefer the nihilistic, dark comedy of shows like Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, shows with an attitude of “None of this matters, and you’re a fool if you care”. I guess what I’m asking is: What attitude do you think makes for the best comedy?
Lori: I like big comedy, and I miss shows like Seinfeld. I love Saturday Night Live and all sorts of comedy. It was pretty straightforward in those days. There were laugh tracks, but it was familiar. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Johnny: It sort of does, because back then comedy was sort of a familiar thing, but we’re in a time where humor is going off in unknown directions, with some people even saying that a show like, say, BoJack Horseman is “post-comedy”.
Lori: Yeah. I don’t watch a lot of that kind of stuff, and I don’t like how comedy can be mean sometimes. I don’t appreciate that making fun of people. I’m not crazy about that.
Johnny: I can understand that. Going back to you, you played Charlene Matlock, the daughter of Andy Griffith’s Ben Matlock, in that series’ pilot. I’ve heard mixed stories about Andy Griffith over the years, with some saying he was very nice and others saying he was very mean, so how did he treat you when working on the show?
Lori: (Laughing) We had a great time. He had his wife with him, and we all got along really well. I was not their first choice. Linda Purl was the first choice to do the pilot, but she was already obligated to another pilot, so I guess I was the second choice. I came in, and I had a really great time. He was really kind to me, very nice to me. He liked to sing. It was his show, so he watched me work and he would give me direction. That was really nice about him. He would say, “What about if you tried it this way?”, so he was very helpful that way, and I had a really, really good time with him. I found him to be nothing but kind. Now, I don’t know how he was after the show went on as I know there were a couple of different Charlenes, but I found him to be completely nice and helpful.
Johnny: Alright. Moving along: As with quite a few of my previous interview subjects, you appeared on an episode of Murder, She Wrote, playing Christy Olson in the episode If A Body Met A Body. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Lori: Oh, my gosh. You’re going way back when. I haven’t seen that episode in so long. I remember I worked with Rex Smith. I liked him very much, but I don’t remember much about working on the show.
Johnny: Fair enough. We’ll move along to my next question. In 1987, you played several characters in Return To Horror High. As a veteran of the horror genre, what was it like to appear in a project that goofed around with what goes into making a horror film?
Lori: I loved it. It was a movie within a movie, based around a low-budget horror film where they didn’t have enough money to pay the actors, so they hire one actress to play three different roles. They just slapped different wigs on me, and I got to play all the different characters. It was really fun, and that was probably one of the best times I had working on a movie because it was lighthearted. Alex Rocco was beyond hysterical. I loved working with him. On that movie, literally, we laughed all day long, and I thought everybody did such a great job. It was so much fun to work on.
Johnny: That’s great, and I hope that one of the studios Lakeshore Entertainment, the owners of the New World library, has a deal with will put together a special edition Blu-Ray of that.
Lori: Oh, that would be a thrill.
Johnny: I know they currently have deals with Arrow Video, and Kino Lorber Studio Classics through the Scorpion Releasing sub-label, and I definitely think it deserves a special edition Blu-Ray.
Lori: Oh, thanks. That would be wonderful. My only sadness there is that Alex is no longer with us, and we lost Phil McKeon, who was a friend of mine.
Johnny: Their passings are sad, but what great talents they were.
Johnny: To move along, there’s not much information on the film on IMDB, so what can you tell me about 1990’s The Platinum Triangle, and your work in that film?
Lori: It was a weird little film. I don’t know why it never came out. I don’t recall that much about it, except it was a great experience and it was a dramatic film. I did the film, and I never saw it afterwards. There was never a screening. There was nothing, so I don’t really know what happened to it.
Johnny: I can imagine that, for an actor, it must be rough when you put a lot of effort into a movie, and then it just sits on the shelf.
Lori: That happened a lot back then, especially with low-budget films. When you did it, you never really knew if it was going to make it or not because films were easier to make back then. It’s not like it is now where there’s a bunch of people involved. I never knew, and I was always surprised when things came out. I mean, I knew The Day After would come out, and Return To Horror High would come out, but I didn’t know about The Prey. It was so short-lived, and I didn’t know about Bloody Birthday, either.
Johnny: To mention a credit that certainly DID come out, your most recent screen credit was 1999’s Brokedown Palace, where you played another Lori, the character of Lori Davis. What stood out the most to you about that film?
Lori: I played a mother. This caught me off-guard. I never saw that film, either. I know it came out, but once I got out of the business, I was pursuing my new career. I was a mom and everything, and so I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. I know that was my last film, and I had a very small part in it. I wish I could tell you more about it.
Johnny: That’s okay. It does lead into my next question. What led you to become a therapist?
Lori: Well, I was always interested in the background of the people I played, and I was interested in human nature and other people. It was always something that I was interested in pursuing, and so I decided that I wanted to go back to school. I was raising my three kids, so I would go to school at night, and that’s how I started. I’m really glad that I did.
Johnny: What form of psychology do you take your skills from?
Lori: Well, I work a lot in addiction and recovery and trauma, people who are trying to recover from the trauma that’s led to their drinking and abusing. I work with folks like that who cross my path. Right now I’m not working because I’m taking care of my mom, but that was certainly the catalyst for my becoming a therapist in the area I ended up in.
Johnny: Alright. You may have already answered this a little, but have you found that your acting background has helped your therapeutical skills in any way?
Lori: Oh, yeah. It’s been great. Are you kidding? Well, first of all, with every therapist, it’s about your clients. It’s not about you. I think that my one fear was that someone was going to walk in and go, “Oh my god, you look familiar. Didn’t I see you in blah-blah-blah-blah?”. I didn’t talk too much about my acting background, only my therapist background, but the acting definitely helped because in acting, you meet the other actor where they are and you work off each other. It’s the same thing in therapy. You meet somebody where they’re at and work there.
Johnny: Okay. For people who are still nervous about all that’s going on in the world right now, what advice could you offer them to feel better about things, or would you say that’s for the people themselves to decide?
Lori: The older I get, the less I know, I plan my day, I don’t get too far ahead of myself, and I don’t look back over my shoulders. Get outside and breathe the fresh air. Talk to the people that you love, whether it’s through FaceTime or whatever. Reach out if you need help. That’s what I do. I take a walk every day, and I take it day by day. I don’t get ahead of myself. If you get ahead of yourself, you get into a fear of things. If you’re looking over the shoulder into your past, you’re getting into would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, so i try to stay in the day.
Johnny: That’s definitely good advice. I do have to ask: If someone had written a part with you in mind, would you return to acting, or are you completely retired from that field?
Lori: If things come my way, I look at it and go, “Hmm, that’s interesting”, or maybe, “That’s not so good”. If the right part came along, I might, but did I ever think I’d be on an island, taking care of my mom and giving up the therapy work for now? No, but that’s what happened. Do you know what I’m saying? I look at whatever comes along and I go, “Hmm, let me think about this”.
Johnny: That’s always a good way to approach life.
Johnny: In our introduction to each other today, you did mention conventions, so what’s been your favorite part of conventions?
Lori: Well, I did one convention, and then everything kind of hit the fan. It was Texas Frightmare, and I had a really nice time. People were so kind, and the fans were amazing. What I found so interesting is that it was kind of a family affair. I saw people coming with their kids and grandkids. They had them dressed up. It was really wonderful, and I was so amazed at how people stayed in character with whatever horror they liked. It was really something. I had a really good time, and it was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I didn’t realize that there were so many horror fans. They had screened The Prey as Arrow had released a Blu-Ray version of it. They screened it at the convention and we did a Q&A, and we, the audience and I, laughed through the whole thing. They appreciated it because the old, vintage horror was done on such a small budget, and there were parts that were really funny, so it was great. I had such a good time.
Johnny: Well, I hope that, once things start up again, we’ll see you more on the convention circuit. I certainly would like to see you at the Chiller Theatre convention.
Lori: Yeah. Well, I hope to meet you in person some time. It would be my pleasure.
Johnny: I do have one more convention-related question before we wrap this up: At your Texas Frightmare appearance, what was the most wonderful piece of memorabilia that you signed?
Lori: There were a couple of fans I interact with over on my fan page, and I finally got to meet them. Everything they brought, I signed. There were a lot of people there. I think my favorite part was that people would purchase a poster, and we were all in a line, with Carel Struycken and Jackson Bostwick and myself. We would ask where to sign it and what color to sign it in and what to say. It was just so sweet, and I really appreciated that because I didn’t realize people were such fans. I really had a good time.
Johnny: I certainly look forward to the return of those good times. That does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Lori: Oh, you’re so welcome. It was nice to finally talk to you. I so appreciate you reaching out to me.
Johnny: No problem, and I liked interviewing you. Thank you for sharing your stories. I’ll catch you on Facebook. Be well.
Lori: Alright. Bye bye.
I would again like to thank Lori Lethin for taking the time to speak to me. For more about Lori Lethin’s work, as well as potential appearances at conventions once things improve, you can visit her Facebook fan page.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be conversations with actress and ADR coordinator Leigh French, as well as Linda Carol, who will be the third Reform School Girls star, after Sybil Danning and Sherri Stoner, that I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing.