I first became familiar with my next interview subject, Mindi Miller, when I saw her posting to the pages of a mutual Facebook friend named Terry Soto. Mindi struck me as a very intriguing individual, and as I looked up more about her, I was fascinated. Among other things, Mindi Miller has been an actress, a model, a bodybuilder and a skin care esthetician. In addition to all of that, she also dated Elvis Presley for a time.
I knew Mindi Miller would have some very fascinating stories to share, and she did so on January 21st. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this talented and diverse woman.
Say hello to Mindi Miller!
Johnny: Hello, Mindi!
Mindi: Well, hello.
Johnny: Thank you for taking the time to do this.
Mindi: Oh, no. It’s my pleasure. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say, going over my resumes and things like that, so it’s all good.
Johnny: Alright. Well, I have the questions ready to go, starting with this: Was being an entertainer your initial goal for when you grew up, or had you wanted to do something else?
Mindi: No. It had always been my vocation of choice, and being adopted at birth, I had no idea that both of my parents were in the entertainment business. When I found out in my 30s who my parents were, then the whole puzzle came together and it all made sense. It’s quite an interesting story. I’ve been asked many, many times to write my autobiography, and I may do that, but it’s a fascinating story. I actually ended up working with a lot of people in the industry that my father worked with. They never knew he had a daughter, and I never knew they knew my father, so when we worked together, they didn’t know who I was. Only later would I go back to these same people, a lot of whom were giants in the entertainment industry that my dad worked with.
Mindi: He worked with everybody you could possibly think of. I found his movies, and he was a major stuntman in Hollywood. I did all my own stunts, and was one of the first women to do them in my films, so it was all DNA, Johnny. It was basically all very DNA, and I knew from a very young age that that’s what I was meant to do. As I’ve told people, you have to have a passion for this industry. You can’t just kind of do it because you think you want to be famous or it looks glamorous. It’s NONE of those things. It’s extremely hard work. There’s a lot of backstabbing and backbiting. There’s a lot more to it than watching a movie and going, “Oh, I think I want to be an actor”, but I always, always wanted to do it. I can’t think of anything else actually. I mean, there’s a lot of things I can do and have done to reinvent myself, but that was always predominant.
Johnny: Alright. The IMDB says your first role was an uncredited appearance as a Girl In Saloon in Westworld. If true, what was it like to be on set as a performer for the first time?
Mindi: Well, it was intriguing. I had done extra roles, so I had been with the union which, at that time, was SEG: Screen Extras Guild. I had done a lot of work, and that prepared me for being in front of the camera on another level as a principal, and also doing a lot of stuntwork and costarring in things like that. I will tell you that being on that particular film, I have to look back on that because I believe that was Michael Crichton’s first film. He was a very prolific writer, and he went on to do many, many books and many, many more films. He was a medical student, 7′ 2”, and we ended up dating as a result of meeting on that film. It was very different to be on that particular film set as opposed to having worked as an extra. It was intriguing, but the thing that I always found fascinating about the bigger budget films was the set design, the workmanship, the professionalism that went into it on so many different levels. There were so many fascinating people to meet on that particular film and, of course, it set the stage for the rest of his films and genres like it. It was a wonderful experience. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t really anticipate that it would be that much different, but I loved it. It’s another world and, of course, the film Westworld was about going on vacation into other worlds. For me, personally, when I go on another set, it IS entering another realm. It’s going into another world, a world of pretend, and it takes you into different experiences that you might not have ever lived or ever done as a regular citizen outside of the entertainment industry. I loved every minute of it. I looked forward to it, and it was ingeniously done by Michael Crichton, I must say.
Johnny: Cool. Your first credited role, according to IMDB, was as the Tough Bikini Woman in the blaxploitation classic Hell Up In Harlem, a movie which saw you fighting Fred Williamson. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Mindi: Well, the stuntwork, basically. I really enjoyed physicality, and I had been taking karate classes, primarily Shotokan. I later went into learning Kenpo, nunchuks, firearms, sword-fighting, and I was horseback riding when I was 7, so I did all my own horseback riding stuntwork. There was also tumbling and gymnastics. I didn’t know why I could do it, of course, but then later I found out I had the body that my dad had, which was a stuntperson’s body: Very agile, very physical. It was fun. I had never worked on what was considered a black exploitation movie, and I guess, at the time, they were considered B movies back in the day. They had started, at least in Fred’s films, as uppercase B films, so it was fun to work on it, but every film is like a new family. It’s a different scenario every time you go in and do these things, but it was fun and he was very generous and it was funny. I loved primarily doing the stuntwork, and I thought it was so funny. I thought, “Really? How believable is this going to be? You’ve got this 6′ 2” ex-Kansas City Chief football player, and he’s supposed to up against (laughing) a 5′ 8”, very slim, athletic girl, and they’re fighting”. I thought, “How is that going to play out, really?”. (Laughing) It was really kind of funny, but on film, it’s fantasy. Let’s face it. It’s a fantasy world. You do it, you have fun with it, and you move on, you know?
Johnny: Alright. You’re uncredited as a Chorus Girl in 1975’s Funny Lady. I’ve heard mixed words about Barbra Streisand’s relations to cast and crew while on film sets, so what were your feelings on working with her?
Mindi: Well, I will say she is the consummate professional. She was a very nice lady. I had met her a couple of times, and she was a very, very nice lady. I was modeling at the time. I was doing fashion work, and my agency sent me out on the interview because they wanted girls that were tall and slender, but a little bit more busty than a fashion model, which I was. There was a call for probably hundreds and hundreds of girls for what, I think, they considered one or two leads, and we were supposed to be the principal dancers. I went and I met with Ray Stark, and his wife and the casting people were there. We had to do this kind of a walk in front of him, a long walk, and I was told to bring the highest heels I could, and to wear shorts because they needed to see your legs. I remember that I wore shorts and the very highest heels I could, and we had to do this very long walk. It was not a model’s walk, but a walk to come down stairs because we were told we would have these huge, HUGE headdresses, very much like they do at the Lido and on all the dancers in Vegas, these women in Vegas with huge, plumed, feathered costumes. You had to be able to hold onto that, balance yourself, and walk and perhaps dance in it, so it wasn’t easy. I guess Ray took a liking to me. He and his wife chose me. I went on the set, and we were on there for a long time. I mean, you would think that it was just one day, but it wasn’t. It was day after day, week after week because they kept shooting scenes that involved the showgirls, so I was one of the lead showgirls. They had a couple of girls, myself and a blonde, and we were the lead showgirls of the chorus girls. I remember we were introduced to Barbara, and she had said something to Ray Stark, with whom I had been standing with and talking. She came up, Ray introduced us, and she said, “Ray, I need to take off. I need to get a manicure. I need to get my nails done”. I interjected and said, “Well, my mom’s a manicurist. Would you like me to call her? Maybe she can come on the set right away”. Ray looked at me and said, “Are you kidding?”. I said, “No, she’s great”. He said, “Does she live far away?”. I said, “No, she doesn’t”. I literally called her from the set phone because, of course, we didn’t have cell phones in those days. She came over and she gave Barbra Streisand a manicure, and then Ray hired her. He said, “Why don’t you stay on set the whole time? You can give us manicures and pedicures and massages and things, and we’ll employ you”. I thought, “Wow, this is great! I just got my mom a job on Barbra Streisand’s new film!”. Barbra was very generous. She was very professional, and everybody listened to her. I remember one time she was dating my hairdresser at the time. His name was Jon Peters, and he had been married to Lesley Ann Warren…
Mindi: Here Barbra is, dating my hairdresser Jon. Jon would come on the set and visit her, and he would go into her trailer. Now, her trailer was on the set. She did not want the trailer in the parking lot or in the street and have to walk into the set. She wanted it ON the set, and it was a big, huge, long trailer. He went in to see her and have lunch with her, and I remember 2 1/2 to 3 hours later, she had still not come out of the trailer. We all knew what was pretty much going on (laughing), and Ray did not dare knock on the door. He told the director, “Do not dare disturb her. She’ll come out when she’s ready”. (Mindi and Johnny laughing) We all knew, and we were all just standing around waiting. We could not be dismissed to go do anything else, or go to the commissary because we’d already had our lunch break, so another 2 1/2 to 3 hours later, we were all still sitting there. We were quiet. We were not allowed to cause commotion, so we would read or knit or crochet. On the set, you would do very quiet things to busy yourself while everybody else was shooting their scene. I remember that she finally came out and everybody wanted to applaud, but they didn’t dare. Normally they would’ve applauded just as a joke, but Barbra Streisand? You didn’t do that. There were a lot of really fun things that happened when we did that film. She was beautiful, and I remember her skin. I don’t know if you’ve ever met her in person. Have you?
Johnny: Streisand? No.
Mindi: Her skin is like porcelain. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and she has the most crystal clear blue eyes. She has a beautiful smile, she’s very genuine, and she has the most beautiful skin, I must say. Great legs, and her hands were absolutely gorgeous. My mother would say, “Her nails are absolutely beautiful”. She was really a beautiful woman. I only have really positive things to say about her. I’ve never written a book about all these people that I’ve met or that I’ve known, and I try to keep certain things private about them. They’re wonderful memories, but if there’s an interview, and I can share something fun and intriguing, it’s nice to do that with the public.
Johnny: Well, I’m certainly honored you did so with me with that story. To move into another project in the 70s, you played Revel on the Robert Wagner series Switch. How did you get involved with that project, and what was your favorite part of working on that show?
Mindi: Well, again, I was between theatrical agents, and I was, I guess, 24 or 25 at that point. My modeling agency called me and said, “Come into the office”. She read the breakdown, and said they were looking for someone who could look Mediterranean. At that time I had very dark hair, which is my natural color, and I have dark eyes and a light olive complexion. Of course, at that time I did not know what my heritage was because, being adopted, I had not found my heritage or my parents yet. I always thought I was probably Italian or something, so a lot of the time I was going out for these ethnic roles. At that time, there weren’t a lot of ethnic roles available. It was still very blonde, light-skinned, blue-eyed, pug-nosed, All-American, so I was kind of in-between. I wasn’t black. I wasn’t Mexican. I didn’t look like anybody. I had my own look, and she said, “I think you might fit this. Why don’t you go in on the interview?”. Well, I didn’t have a resume made up at the time. I didn’t have 8X10s made up. She said, “Just take in your modeling portfolio”, which was huge. It was all 11X14 pictures. I went in and had a white dress on and stacked Summer heels. I went in and there were other girls waiting. It became my turn, and I walked in and sat down. The casting people looked at me and said, “Where are you from?”. I said, “I don’t know. I’m adopted”. They said, “What do you normally play?”. I said, “Well, I usually get hired for ethnic roles and things”. They said, “Can you say copy? Can you say dialogue and lines?”. I said, “Oh, of course I can!”. Now, I hadn’t really studied acting at all, but I knew I could, and when you go into these things, you always say yes. “Can you horseback ride?”. “Of course I can”. “Can you fall off a 10 story building?”. “Of course I can”. (Laughing) You always tell them what they want to hear, and then you learn how to do it as fast as you can, you know? They said, “Can you do dialogue?”, and I said, “Sure”. I don’t remember them even giving me any dialogue to say, and he said, “Well, you’ve got a great look. We really like your look. Can you leave us an 8X10 and your resume?”. I looked the casting director straight in the eye without batting an eyelash, staring into his eyes, and went, “Oh, you know? I left them in the car”, which, of course, was a total lie. I said, “I left them in the car. Would you like me to go get it?”. I figured psychologically he wasn’t going to say, “Oh, run out and bring it back”. He looked through my modeling book, and he said, “How’s this? How about if I take a couple of pictures here and show them to the rest of the studio heads?”. In those days we called them “The Suits” because they had final say so”. He said, “If you’re hired, we’ll see you on the set, and I’ll give them back to you. If you’re not hired, we’ll make sure they get back to your modeling agency. Is that fair?”. I said, “Yes, sir, it is”, and we shook hands. I left, and I felt like the biggest bumbling idiot you ever met. I said, “There’s no way in hell I’m ever going to get hired”. Two days later, my agent called and she said, “Congratulations, you’ve got the role!”. (Laughing) I said, “You’ve got to be kidding”, and she said, “No, you’ve got the role”. I said, “Oh my god”, and she said, “You’ll get your pictures back on the set”. I said, “Okay”. It was only supposed to be 2 or 3 times as the waitress in the Bouzouki Bar with Charlie Callas, and what happened was, I guess, thank god they liked me a lot, and they made me a recurring character, which was wonderful. I had always loved Robert Wagner, and Natalie Wood was one of my all-time idols growing up. She was of Russian descent, and I later found out that I was half-Polish which, in those days, was part of Russia. Natalie was dark and I was dark, and she was a July baby, a Cancer, I believe, and so was I. I saw all these similarities with her, so the first day I went on the set, I was scared to death, but everybody was so welcoming and so generous and very kind. Robert Wagner came up to me and he said, “Welcome, Revel! We’re so happy to have you!”, and I probably just about fainted when he shook my hand because he was so gorgeous and so beautiful.
Mindi: Now, you have to remember that it was during that time period that I had been dating Elvis Presley, and I knew that his wife, Natalie Wood, had dated Elvis Presley, but I never talked about Elvis for 40 years after he passed away. I never told the writers or the producers or Robert Wagner, whom I called R.J, or anybody that I was dating him. I never said I was dating him. I kept it very hush-hush, and Elvis didn’t like his girlfriends talking about him or trying to become famous off of his name, which I never did. I never utilized or misused or abused his name to get anywhere. I did the show for almost 3 years before we were cancelled, and the show has been on for about a year-and-a-half prior to me joining it. When Elvis passed away and I went to the funeral, I had to go to the producers and say, “You have to let me off. I have a funeral to attend”. They said, “Well, Mindi, to write you out when we’re supposed to be shooting now is going to cost us money”, and I felt so badly. They said, “It better be good. Is it family?”. I said, “Well, no. It’s my boyfriend”, and I said it’s Elvis Presley. They looked at me in absolute shock and they said, “We didn’t know you were dating him”. I said, “Well, no, how would you? I never talked about it. I never made it public. I never promoted it”. They said, “Of course you can go. We’ll give you 5 working days”. I was in Graceland and Memphis for 3 or 4 days, and then I immediately had to get back to work on the show. I didn’t have time to mourn or anything. You have to work. You’re contracted and you’ve got to get the job done, and you know the old saying in Hollywood, Johnny. “The show must go on”, and it did, and I continued working on the show until it was cancelled. It was a very riveting time for me with that particular show, and I worked a lot at Universal Studios. I did guest-starring roles and costarring roles. I had a lot of friends at Universal. I consider it, along with Warner Brothers, my kind of alma mater because those were the days that were ending of how you would be under contract and literally go to school. When my dad was there, they would put you under contract, and they would train you in how to sing, dance, act. They would perfect your voice, change your appearance, change your name. This was towards the very end of all that, and we were really in charge of ourselves at that point. It was a very pivotal time with that particular show for me.
Johnny: Do you have any funny stories about being offered a role that you turned down that you can share with us?
Mindi: I was sleeping, and it was very early in the morning, about 6:00 or 7:00. The phone rang, and it was my agent. My agent didn’t say hello, good morning or anything. All she said was, “Would you shave your head”? (Laughing) I wasn’t awake. I was sound asleep, and I said, “What? Who is this?”. She said, “This is your agent. Would you shave your head for a movie role?”. I said, “What are you talking about?”, and she said, “They loved your picture. They love your look, but they want to know if you’ll shave your head, and if you will, they’ll give you the part immediately. You don’t even have to read for it”. She said, “They want a specific look. They want dark, dark eyes. They want a definite kind of bone structure in the face.” I said, “Who and what is it?”, and she said it’s for the part that Persis Khambatta got in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We had to laugh about it (laughing), and I said, “Can I get back to you?”. She said yes, and I literally thought about it for the entire day. I thought, “What if my hair doesn’t grow back? I’m dead”. My agent was trying to talk me into it, saying “It’ll be the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s an A-movie. It’s an A-part”. Blah blah blah. She didn’t tell me there wasn’t a lot of dialogue at the time, and maybe there was more dialogue but it was cut out, or maybe they didn’t give it to Persis because of her Indian accent or something. You never know why, but there didn’t end up being a lot of dialogue for that character. Of course, as it turns out, Persis hardly did anything else, there was very little dialogue in the film, and as it turns out, I was very happy I didn’t do it. You see, in the beginning you don’t know if this is going to be something good. To shave your whole head, and then you can’t work for a long time because you’ve got a shaved head, which means you have to wear wigs for another year until your hair grows back, if it even will grow back, and they’re trying to tell you, “Oh my god, you have to do this. It’s going to be an A-part in an A-movie. It’s going to be a big deal. Everybody will know who you are”…Well, it may be true, but I wasn’t willing to take chance. Not a lot of women in Hollywood were going to shave their head for that role, but she wasn’t well-known, and she may have thought the same thing that my agent was telling me. “Oh, if you do this role, you’ll be out there. You’ll work all the time and everybody will know you”, and that didn’t happen for her. Most people only know of her from that one role. Of course, when the film came out and it didn’t turn out to be anything really big, I was glad I didn’t do it. Stuff like that happens all the time as an actor. You just never know. People can ask you to do something, and the slightest little thing can end up being huge or the biggest thing can end up being nothing. You know what I mean?
Johnny: I do. Alright. In 1984, you played Tina in Body Double, the classic Brian DePalma thriller. When working on it, did you have any idea that it would become the cult classic that it did?
Mindi: I had no idea, and I’ll tell you a funny story about that. Deborah Shelton starred in it, and she was a Miss USA, a very pretty girl, but not an actress, per se. I thought she did a very good job in the film, and I very much liked Brian DePalma. I heard about his history, and I heard that he could be difficult to work with. Again, my theatrical agent at the time sent me on the interview to Warner Brothers. I went out there and I had all my makeup on and everything, and I didn’t know what the part really was. He was the kind of guy a bit like Woody Allen because sometimes he wouldn’t show you a script. He wouldn’t show you any dialogue. He would just show up. He was looking for a look, and sometimes he wouldn’t even know where he would cast you. If he liked your look and didn’t have a place for you, he would make a place for you. He would make a character for you. They were looking for a girl who was willing to do a topless shower scene, and here I’m struggling. I’m trying to get into an A film. I had done all these B films, starring and costarring in them, and it was very tough without having parents. Again, I didn’t know at the time that I did have parents. To be able to say that my father is Jon Voight and my name is Angelina Jolie? I didn’t have that. It was all me. I didn’t have any family that I could refer back to, so it was very tough to get anywhere with no name or no family name. I walked in and I had my makeup done and a nice dress on. He was very nice. I went into his big office and he shook my hand. He said, “So, you’ve done work in the entertainment business”. I said, “Yes, sir. I’ve been doing children’s theater since I was 12. I grew up in this industry basically”. We talked a lot about that and coming up and the difficulties of it. He said, “Well, a lot of actresses don’t want to do nudity. They don’t want to do a topless scene, but it’s a shower scene and I can’t imagine you’d have clothes on in a shower”. (Laughing) I said, “No, I can’t imagine, either”. He said, “It’s a little character role, but you can bring a lot to it if you wanted to, and it is in my film, and I am Brian DePalma”. (Laughing) I said, “Yes, you are, and I’m sure it’s an A film”. He said, “So you have a good look, but I don’t think you’d be right for the role”. I said, “Well, may I ask you why?”, and he said, “You’re too pretty”. I said, “Well, what are you looking for?”. He said, “I’m looking for somebody who can do a New York accent and play kind of a down New York kind of girl. (Mindi slips into a New York accent) She’s kind of like, ‘So what are ya doin’?’. She’s out on the street saying, ‘I don’t like the way you look. I don’t like the way you smell. Get out of my face”. (Mindi slips out of the New York accent) I said, “I can do that”. He said, “No, you’re too pretty”. “I can do that”. I said, “Please let me come back tomorrow. I’ll take off my makeup. I’m very plain-looking without it”. He said, “No, you’re not”. I said, “Yes, sir, I am!”, and I had to talk myself into this little shower role because he wouldn’t believe it. He said, “Okay, come back tomorrow”. I called my agent and told her what happened. I said, “I’m going back tomorrow”. She said, “Are you comfortable with all that?”. I said, “Yes. I’ll make it work”.
Mindi: Literally before I went back out to see him at Warner Brothers the next day, I got into the shower and washed my hair. I got out of the shower, I got dressed, and he wanted me to wear a bathing suit bikini top just so he could see that I had a good figure. I went into his office, and he went, “Hello. Who are you?”. I said, “Hello, Mr. DePalma. I’m Mindi Miller. You saw me yesterday. He said, “You’re kidding me”. (Laughing) I said, “No, I’m not”, and I had a white towel around my hair like girls do when they come out of the shower and they wrap their hair up. I took the towel off my hair and my hair was a mess. I took a spray bottle full of water and right there, standing before him on the other side of the desk, I stood up. I had pants on and my bikini top, and I took the towel off my head, and I took the spray bottle full of water, and I sprayed my hair so it would get more wet. I combed it back with a big comb and I said, “Here you are, Mr. DePalma. I just got out of the shower”, and then he said, “Read me this dialogue like you would if you were a down-and-out New York girl”. I did. “You got the part”. (Laughing) So even for small roles you can go through a lot. They’ll put you through a lot. For him, it was a recurring kind of shower thing, and I was supposed to be the body double in the movie. They had another girl to dance throughout the movie, but you never saw her face, so he wanted me to end up having been that girl at the end of the film, and be in the shower with Craig Wasson. That ended up being the end of it, but he said, “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to give you credit as the body double dancing throughout the film”, and as it ended up, he didn’t, but it was fun. It was really fun, and it was a closed set for the topless part of it. I tell people I lived in Europe, and in Europe, everybody’s naked on the beach. They’re topless on the beach. It’s no big deal. When you come back to this country, being topless anywhere is a big deal, you know, and growing up in the entertainment industry, it was never a big deal to me. Everybody wanted to be a Playboy centerfold. Everybody thought it was a pretty way of photographing a woman’s body, and it was, and the girls were beautiful. At that time I didn’t think anything of it, and I was happy to do it, but never did I think it would become a cult film.
Johnny: Well, it’s definitely a great movie and it’s celebrating its’ 35th anniversary this year.
Mindi: It’s amazing. There were a couple of small B films I did that ended up being cult films, and it’s quite amazing. You go into these things and you don’t think going in that it’s going to be Academy Awards material, and then when they finish it and they splice everything together in the editors’ room, you just don’t know how it’s going to be perceived.
Johnny: Did you ever experience the casting couch that’s so prevalent in Hollywood these days?
Mindi: I have to at least address the fact that in the #MeToo movement, we are now looking at not just producers or directors. We’re looking at casting agents. We’re looking at all kinds of people that hire actors, and there has been so much abuse and misuse of people in this entertainment industry. Now we all know on the inside what’s going on. We see people all the time that are blackballed all the time for no reason because they won’t have sexual relationships with the producer or the head of the studio or whatever. I grew up in it. I’ve seen it all. I know what’s true. I know what’s not true. I know about the Bill Cosby case. I knew about that before it was ever made public. I knew about Harvey Weinstein. I knew about all of these people, but we never said anything because we were all afraid of losing our jobs or not being hired, and this is the power these people hold over you. Actresses are not little play toys, but unfortunately, the men have made them to be that because if a woman wanted to be in the industry, she had to succumb to that, or she didn’t have to succumb to it, but she wouldn’t work.
Johnny: To move to a lighter topic, one of the most notable roles to show off your strengths as an action performer was your role as Dyala in the 1986 Roger Corman-produced sword and sorcery movie Amazons. What was it like to be playing a powerful warrior like her?
Mindi: Well, you know, it was wonderful. It was after the time that Lynda Carter did Wonder Woman, but her Wonder Woman was very, very different than the real character. The Amazonian women, at that time, were not really looked at in film work to have any real strength training. Now I started bodybuilding literally lifting free weights when I was about 13 or 14. I was a very tall, skinny, gangly young girl, and I wanted to beef up. I had started modeling at that age because I was so tall and thin, but I wanted to beef it up and get muscle, so I learned how to lift free weights ,which women weren’t really doing at the time. I started getting involved in looking at bodybuilding magazines, and I started becoming very interested in Rachel McLish, who won Miss Olympia several times. She was one of the first after Lisa Lyons. Lisa Lyons won the first women’s bodybuilding competitions ever, and it wasn’t a time when women were really muscular like Bev Francis and all these other gals who came after them. The bodybuilding industry was not sure how to judge women at that time. They were so confused. They didn’t know. “Do we go with the nice physical physique? Do we go with the bikini model kind of look with a little bit of muscle? Do we go all out where she’s all muscle?”. They were very confused. They didn’t know how to judge at that time. They weren’t sure what the look was that would validate and represent the bodybuilding industry for women. At that time, I was bodybuilding and strength training. I was doing deadlifts. I was doing karate. I had all these things I was doing, and my agent called. I had a new agent at this time, the Lou Shirl Agency, and she said, “Would you be interested in going to Argentina?”, and I said, “I’d love to go to Argentina”. She said, “Would you mind being in the jungles of Argentina?”. I said, “I’d love it” because, again, I’m a tomboy, but still very feminine. I said, “What would it be for?”, and she said, “Well, it’s a B film, but it’s a Roger Corman film”. She said, “As you know, Roger Corman starts a lot of actors out”, and of course he did, starting with Jack Nicholson and a lot of other people. They came up the ranks of doing Roger Corman films, so to do a Roger Corman film was a B film, but it was considered a high-end B film because he had a big, big name, so I said, “Sure”. She said, “The director who has been chosen to direct this particular film will be up in L.A, and they’d like to meet you, so you need to go in and meet with them, and they have a particular look they want. They want you to look like a jungle woman, but very feminine and strong”. I created this look, and again I had to go in in a bikini because they were looking for bodies, and I got hired for a lot of body things because I had, and I will say this, one of the best bodies in Hollywood. Like Elle MacPherson was entitled “The Body” for modeling, I was entitled “The Body” for film work, and I wasn’t studying dramatic acting at the time. I wasn’t studying Shakespeare. I wasn’t brought up in England, unfortunately, where it was really predominant that I come from a theater background. I didn’t know any better. I was brought up in L.A, and it was the time that Raquel Welch was hot. I just thought she was beautiful, and I wanted to be the next Raquel Welch, you know? I thought One Million Years B.C was fantastic. I thought, “Here’s this gorgeous woman running around on the island of Tenerife in the Grand Canaries, and all the men loved her”.
Mindi: I thought it was pretty easy for me to break in that way, but little did I think that you could be stuck in those roles for a long time until you could prove your acting ability. I didn’t know, so I had allowed myself to get in these roles, but I thought doing this would be fun because the director said, “You have to be able to do karate, nunchuks, sword-fighting. You have to be able to ride a horse and do stunts on your horse, and still be able to act”. That’s a lot to demand of any actress. You don’t see many actresses doing that today, and the ones who are doing it are specifically trained. They now go into stuntwork training. They’re taught how to ride horseback, how to go into fencing, sword-fighting. I did all of that, Johnny, on my own, so by the time I was offered that role, I had already been doing that in my private life, so they gave me the job on the spot. They said, “You’ve got a great look, a great body. You can do all these things”, and I said, “Yes”.
Mindi: They flew me down to Argentina, and it was a fantastic experience. I got cut up. We used some real swords, but they were very dull blades, and I remember one of the many scenes where I was supposed to be fighting five guys. They were stunt people, but they spoke Castillian Spanish. Very few of their actors in Argentina spoke English, and I did not speak Castilliano. I had a very limited knowledge of Spanish. My first language after English was really French, and then Spanish, and then a little bit of Italian. I remember that particular day I went on set, and we were out in the jungles, and we were out among all these trees and things, and I fought these five guys. The stunt coordinator was the main opposition for me in that particular fight, and he forgot to put in his contacts that day, so he couldn’t see. Now, all the fight scenes are gone over with a fine-tooth comb, and you have to memorize every move that you make, just like a dance sequence like you’re in a dance program. We would go over these scenes days and days and days before we would ever film them, and then we’d film them five or six times, so it was very exhausting, and you had to be very, very strong. On one of the takes, it was the third or fourth take, I think, he was supposed to go past my knee for the camera to make it look like he was really stabbing me. Well, he missed, and he really stabbed me in the knee.
Mindi: The blood started gushing out of my knee, down my leg, and I knew that I was hit, but I also knew I had to finish the scene, and I am a consummate professional. I finished the scene, I fought off everybody, and they said, “Cut! Take!”. Everybody applauded. Everybody was happy. The director was thrilled, and I walked back onto the set limping. He said, “What happened?”. The blood was running down my leg and he said, “Is that real blood?”. I said, “Yes! It’s real blood! I’ve been stabbed!”, and so everybody ran over to me and they sat me down, and I said, “I can’t bend my leg because it will open the stab wound even more”. They rushed me off the set, and it took about an hour drive to get to the nearest emergency place. It wasn’t even a hospital. It was nothing, and they straightened out my leg and they put this large piece of wood in my mouth between my upper and lower teeth, and told me to bite down on it because they had to sew me up with no anesthesia or anesthetic.
Mindi: Yeah. Now, I’m a girl, okay? (Laughing) I’m not a wimpy girl, and I’m not a wimpy woman, either. I’m kind of bad-ass in that way, and pretty proud of it, I might add, so I bit the bullet on that one. They sewed me up and I couldn’t do any scenes for a week that were fight scenes because that could open up the wound again and get really infected, and that could get bad. They shot around my character, except for any close-up dialogue I had to do. Anything from the waist up I could do, but I sat in my room by myself for a solid week, while everybody else worked, with my leg straight out. It was literally all I could do. I laid out there. I slept a lot. I memorized my lines, but it was a tough period, I will say, and then I had to go back when it was pretty much sewn up. I went back to work, kept doing all my stuntwork and fighting, and it was a great film for me to work on because I did everything. This was before Pulp Fiction. This was before Angelina Jolie. This was before Tomb Raider and Lara Croft. I was in the first generation of stuntwomen. We did not belong to any Stuntman’s Association. The Stuntwomen’s Association had not been founded, and it was a time when stuntwomen were really not doing much work to take the place of the actors, so they were really looking for actresses who could do dialogue, do their own films, and do their own stunt work, and they were few and far between, and a lot of them were not good. They wanted to be able to zoom in and do close-ups on your face, and then zoom out, showing you were doing the actual action, which Tom Cruise is famous for in his films. It was a great experience. Roger Corman is a wonderful man. He and his wife are wonderful people. I’m sorry I didn’t do more films for him, but I really did not want to get stuck in the B genre of films. I wanted to move on, you know?
Johnny: Alright. To my next question: In 1987, you played Sugar in Penitentiary III. You’re the second talent from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being Raye Hollitt, whom I interviewed in 2016.
Mindi: I remember we used to body-build together.
Johnny: Oh, cool!
Mindi: Raye is a sweet lady.
Johnny: She definitely is. I really liked talking to her. Penitentiary III was a Cannon Films release, so I have to ask: What are your feelings on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the men behind Cannon?
Mindi: I liked him. I did some other work for Cannon Films in Italy, and that was on a Lou Ferrigno film, but I will say that the director, and I’m happy to forget his name, did not want a white girl in the lead role. He wanted a black actress, and the lead actor, Leon Isaac Kennedy, had been a friend of mine who had been married to Jayne Kennedy. Leon wanted me for the title role, and he knew that I could box. He knew about my stunt ability. He knew I didn’t have a lot of fear, and again, this was a time when they wanted actresses to be able to do their own stuntwork. He apparently, and I didn’t know this at the time, was having a big argument with the director, and the director said, “I want a black girl”, and Leon said, “No, I want a white girl and I want Mindi”. He fought for me for that role, and I was hired, and I did it. I had days and days and days…I think I had two months of boxing lessons and kickboxing lessons, and I worked with a girl who was a big, big girl. She primarily did stuntwork. She wasn’t really an actress, but she was a big girl, and the sweetest girl you could ever want to meet. She was, like, 6′ 2” and huge, and again, I was supposed to fight her and, against all odds, I was supposed to be able to win because I was very crafty and cagey in my boxing ability. That was the storyline, so we went on and we had about three or four days of nothing but boxing scenes. It was cut down to be a very short time period for the boxing scenes, and almost every scene that I was in in the movie, the director cut me out, so when the move came out, I was hardly even in the film. When the film came out, I was in shock once again, and then when I saw it, I realized that I had not even been given any screen credit. Now, being the lead actress, not only was I cut out of everything, he didn’t even give me screen credit. I had to go to Screen Actors’ Guild, and I said, “Do I sue him? What do I do at this point?”. They said, “Well, you can sue him, but it’s going to cost you an awful lot of money, but what we can do is stand behind you. We doubt we can get any of your scenes put back in the film. It’s pretty much been done (again without my knowledge), and he’ll have to pay you X amount of money and put your name back in there”. Screen Actors’ Guild fought for me, which is why we have our guild, and he had to give me screen credit and put my name on it, but again, it leads me back to what I’m saying, Johnny. You have these men in power who will override everything you do. You’re just looked at as a little nothingburger person that has an acting job, and whether they pay you a lot of money or not, you have no power. You have no say. You’re a puppet. You’re basically a puppet, and you have no say in anything unless, in the beginning of the contract, you sign it and say, “I want final say on this. I want this, I want this, and I want this”, and again, I was so young. I just did not know any better, and I didn’t have good managers and agents that really taught me anything. They put me out there to make money for themselves, but I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know anything better, so it was a very disappointing thing again. It was the third in the series of Penitentiary films with Leon Isaac Kennedy. He was a very nice guy, but it was a time where, once again, I’m taken advantage of.
Johnny: I’m so sorry you had to deal with that, but I must admit that I admire you for having the strength to have come through all of this.
Mindi: Oh, there’s even more going on now, even in the Elvis community. It’s unbelievable what the fans will do to people or celebrities or actors or anybody, and it all still continues. I mean, I could go on and on and on about experiences in the entertainment business.
Johnny: We can return to that, but I wanted to ask about the modeling, if I may. Who were your favorite designers to work for, and what were the most outrageous fashions you can recall wearing, whether in print or on the runway?
Mindi: Well, I would say my answer to both of those questions would be Bob Mackie. For a long time, I was Bob Mackie’s head girl on the runway in his live fashion shows, and it was at that time that he was doing The Sonny And Cher Show., and he was working with Cher to do all of her costumes. He was brilliant, and he would do these outrageous costumes for Cher because Cher had the body to be able to pull it off. Now, Cher and I have the same kind of body. We’re about the same height, very slender, very flat stomachs, so a lot of the time Bob would have me wear some of Cher’s clothing on the runway, along with his regular fashions. A lot of the time, he would put me as the first girl out to open the show. In the modeling world, that’s a big deal because you’re opening the whole show. You’re the lead girl, so I’d come out in one of his creations that he might have used on The Sonny And Cher Show, and people would applaud because they loved it, and then the regular fashion show would start, and then my next time out on the runway during that show would be in his fashions. He was very forward-thinking in the work that he would do, and this was in the 80s, where he would do a lot of shoulder pads. That was the look in those days, and he was avant-garde in many ways, and I really enjoyed him. He was a lovely, lovely man, and he did great work. I mean, his work is some of the best. He was partners then with Ray Aghayan, and then, of course, Bob went out on his own, but he was my favorite designer to work with. He was one of my favorite designers to wear. Now, another designer whom I loved to wear at the time was Norma Kamali. She was out of New York, and she was Mediterranean, I believe, dark-haired. I just loved her clothing, so I wore a lot of that. I wasn’t really into Chanel, but Ralph Lauren and some very classic designers like Carolina Herrera I loved. I really liked the high fashion New York designers because out here, being in California, you didn’t intend to wear those clothes a lot. The people who design for the red carpet events, for the ballgowns you would wear to the Academy Awards or the Emmys or the People’s Choice Awards, those ballgowns were very different than the modeling gowns or the high fashion that we would do, but I loved it all. I loved dressing up, and to this day, I still have a lot of antique clothing, and vintage clothing from the 30s and 40s. I also collect a lot of clothing like castle dresses and things that I can find, or are made up to look very period, pre-Raphael and things like that, but Bob Mackie was really, here in California, my favorite designer, and I just loved working with him.
Johnny: Fantastic. You do look great, and that leads me to ask: You’re also a paramedical skin-care esthetician. What led you to pursue that line of work?
Mindi: Well, it came to be that I was doing a TV series out at CBS TV in the Valley, off of Ventura Boulevard, and I was a real beach girl. I grew up at the beach. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and on the weekends and on some days that were incredibly beautiful Summer days, I would play hooky from school, and we would go to the beach and lay out. I had a propensity to get a really, really dark tan as I was a light olive complexion, and I would get so dark sometimes that people thought I was mulatto, you know, which is part black. They would say, “What are you? You are so different-looking, and we can’t make out what you are”, and that was on top of the physical features.
Mindi: The skin would get very dark, so they just wouldn’t know what to make of me, and I remember I went to the beach over the weekend. I laid in the sun, and I was not thinking about continuity, that you have to match the last shot you did because you’re coming back to that shot on Monday and you have to match it. Well, I had gone over the weekend and I had laid out in the sun, and my face was so dark that when I went back, everybody looked at me and said, “What have you done?”. I said, “Nothing. I just laid out in the sun”. They said, “Well, yes, you did. You don’t match the shots we did”, and so they took me into makeup. They were so upset, and again, too young. Too young and stupid. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know you had to match continuity, and I wasn’t thinking, so they took me into makeup and they tried putting all this light makeup over my tan, and nothing was working, and it looked really chalky and really bad. They were so upset with me, and the director and producers came up and they said, “Mindi, we can’t use you in these shots. We’re going to have to completely reshoot everything we did last Friday, and that’s going to cost us a lot of money. You have no idea what you’ve done”. I think I must have burst into tears. I don’t remember. I was so upset and I was so angry at myself, and I was just apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I just didn’t know”. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Well, this young, stupid girl trying to be an actress. She’ll never make it if she doesn’t get it all”. I was still learning all this stuff, so that was a horrible situation, and what happened is I burned my skin during that weekend. After the shooting was finished, I saw my skin peeling off, and I thought, “Oh, boy. This is not good”. I had to go to a dermatologist here in Beverly Hills, California, and told him what had happened. He said, “Well, what happened is…”, and he explained it all to me. “You burned your skin down to the second layer, and now it’s peeling”. He said, “Your new skin won’t match your old skin, so now what we’re going to do is have to have you go through a major face peel”. He said, “You can do it, but you have to be very diligent, and you have to be very disciplined and do every single thing I’m telling you, and you cannot get in the sun anymore. Your days of being in the sun are over. You can’t even walk in the sun”. I said, “Oh, my God”, and I’m living in beautiful, sunny Southern California, so this was like saying, “You’re dying and you’ll never come back alive”. This was it for me, so I thought, “No more beach. No more bike riding. No more doing anything in the sun because I’ll destroy the skin on my face”, and then I realized how important it was for your body and skin cancer, and I began to get a big interest in skin care because of that. Certainly I paid hundreds of dollars to go through this. I couldn’t go out during the day. I had to stay in, and it took me weeks and weeks and weeks to get my skin back, and to get it evened out, and I never made that mistake again. Even today, I don’t allow myself to go in the sun. When I drive, my hands are always covered by black gloves so I don’t get sun on my hands and get aging spots. I kept going in the industry, but as I was getting older, I thought, “Well, you know you’re getting older. You’re not going to work forever probably. You need a backup. You’re going to need a backup business plan”. I decided when I was 45, I think, to go to skin care school, so now I’m in my 40s. I had worked all the time up and through my 40s, since I was 12 years old, in the entertainment business, so intermittently, I had gone into radio, advertising, continuity, script girl. I’d gone into makeup, hair, styling for different shoots, so I did a lot of other things in-between my acting jobs because you had to. There’s only one percent of the ten percent of the membership in SAG that works. Everybody else is constantly struggling, so this is why I say I knew I had to get into something that I would enjoy, that could take me to my last dying day where I could not only work for people, but I could also be self-employed, which means I could always depend on myself to have a job if I couldn’t get hired anywhere.
Mindi: It was still in the beauty business, which I loved, so it was part of modeling and acting and anti-aging, so for me it was a very natural transition to be able to go into that, and learn about nutrition and eating properly and food-combining and an 80 percent alkaline/20 percent acidic diet, teaching people about cancer and how cancer mestatisizes when you’re eating an acidic diet, how to heal your body naturally with proper foods, staying out of the sun, all of this. My whole approach to all of it was that beauty and health starts from the inside out, and I can stay here and do your makeup, your microdermabrasion. I can sit there and do body massage, Reikian therapy. I can do all of these things I do, microdermabrasion, all the facials in the world, but if you’re not eating right, if you’re not staying out of the sun, if you’re not drinking alkaline water in an alkaline diet, everything I do is not going to help you. If you’re laying out in the sun and you’re doing all these things, there’s no point in having you come to me because whatever I do will be destroyed the next day when you’re laying out in the sun again, which is the number one destroyer, with smoking and cigar smoking and being around dust and all of that, your environment. I took it to another degree than most estheticians do, and I started working with doctors and burn care survivors, and started doing makeup with prosthetics for burn survivors who had maybe no eyebrows or no hair. I started working with them on teaching them how to care for their skin, telling them where to go for wigs for their hair, eyebrow prosthetics, all these kinds of things, so I took it to another degree and started working in the clinical end of being an esthetician. It wasn’t just feel-good facials. It was going into a whole other realm of working with the medical end of it, which is entitled the Paramedical Clinical Esthetician, which has been an absolute godsend for me. I love doing it, and recently, in the last few years, I’ve gone back into hosting and making appearances around the world on Elvis’ behalf, speaking about his legacy. Being an esthetician? I love doing it. I can still be in the beauty industry and do anti-aging, and now I do talks for women. I’ve gone into women’s jails and helped them with makeup, and tried to talk to them and read from the bible, and say, “You’re here for a reason, but that doesn’t have to be your whole reason in life”. I teach them about care and makeup, and how to feel pretty and how to feel worthy. I speak God’s word to them, and say, “Whatever you’ve done in the past is your past. Today is the present, which is why God is a present in your life”. I try and lift up their spirits and their souls because I can only imagine it must be a very bad time for a lot of these women in jail because of things that probably happened to them, and they were found guilty, and they’re sitting there. It’s a very bad and sad situation for a lot of these women, so I try and teach what I do and lift women up. A lot of women have gone through very bad divorces. They feel very downtrodden. They don’t feel good about themselves anymore. They have been browbeaten to the point where they feel like they were nothing, and we all need people to help bring us back up, no matter what it is we’re going through in life.
Johnny: Those are incredibly noble things you’re doing, and it’s very admirable how you lift up and help other people. I now come to my final question: You’ve performed some of Elvis’ songs at celebrations of him, so have you ever considered releasing a tribute album to him, or do you think that might be too difficult to do?
Mindi: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t actually sing his songs. I mean, I sing them privately, and I’ll sing them with friends, but I have never gone to an event and sung one of his songs. What I’ve done is I’ve sung tribute songs that I really liked to him.
Mindi: I’ll say to the audience, “This is one of my personal tribute songs”. Now, I may make up the song or write it, but there’s one song I really love, and it’s Vince Gill’s version of “Go Rest High On That Mountain”. It’s a short, very sweet song. It’s a country song and a gospel song, and as we all know, Elvis grew up in church. He loved the Bible. He loved spirituality, which I talk a lot about. He was mesmerized by esoteric studies, which we’d read a lot together in our spiritual books. It’s a song that I like to end my talking about him with to the audience, because it defines who he was to me so much as a human being and the giving, wonderful, generous man that he was. I have actually been asked by a few people to do a CD, but I don’t think I would do his songs because what happens with the public, and his fan base, is they are very, very protective of him. A lot of them would come to me, or go online on Facebook and social media, and say, “Who does she think she is now, Ms. Elvis Presley?”. With his fans, you have to be extremely careful about what you do, what you say, what you write, because they will chastise you to such a degree that it’s not even funny. Now, that’s not all of them, but that’s some of them because these people are extremely, emotionally involved with Elvis Presley, so you have to be careful and you have to choose your words very carefully. They love him, and a lot of them do not want to hear certain things that have been said in the past, none of which I discuss or talk about, as he wouldn’t want that anyway, but I love singing. I never made my living being a singer. I would have loved to, but I didn’t go in that direction, and the thing is you can’t do it all, Johnny. You can try the acting, the modeling, the stuntwork. You know I’ve been a spokesperson. I’ve been a host. I’ve hosted a lot of cable shows and TV shows and things. You can do as much as you can do. To add singing to it? It’s really hard to do every single thing. You have to choose at some point what you’re going to make your main living doing. Do you know what I mean?
Johnny: I do.
Mindi: It’s very, very tough, and Bill Dobbins, who is a friend of mine, does a lot of bodybuilding shots. In fact, I was his first model. I did a layout with him in Muscle & Fitness Magazine for Joe Weider, and the title was something like, “Is she a femme fatale actress, or is she a bodybuilding model?”, or something like that. It was really nice. It was about 4 or 5 pages with a lot of pictures, and we went in Golds’ Gym where I used to train, lifting the heavy weights and all that. Bill Dobbins you can find on Facebook now, and next week, here in California, he’s got a big showcase of his pictures. He’s quite incredible. The man can do everything, but I remember something I once read, and Bill and I were talking about it. He said, “You can be great at everything, but a master of none”, and that got me to thinking. “Where am I going to make the money and then do all these other things on the side?”. I had to make a decision, but really, one of my first loves has always been singing, and Elvis and I used to sing each other to sleep at night. He loved Roberta Flack, and we would sing harmony in bed before we’d go to sleep, and he loved to do that. The first time he ever heard me singing, he turned to me in the dark and said, (slipping into Elvis’ voice) “Honey, you have a pretty good voice”. (Back to her own voice) I thought, “Well, gee, coming from Elvis Presley, that’s a really nice compliment”, and I remember I said back to him, “Well, so do you, Elvis, but don’t quit your day job”, and he almost fell out of bed, he was laughing so hard. He was a funny guy. He loved humor. He loved to laugh. He was always cracking jokes. I think i might do it just for myself. I have a couple of people who want to record me, and so I think when I get back from England, which I’m going to for an Elvis event in three weeks, when I get back, I think that’s what I’ll do. I will record a CD. I don’t know that it will be something fantastic or great, or that anybody would even want to listen to it, but I have a very deep voice, kind of like Cher. People say, “Well, who do you sound like?”. It’s kind of like Elvis Presley. I don’t sound like anybody, but if I had to give somebody an idea, it would be more like Wynonna Judd or Cher. I have a very rich, deep voice, and I can go very, very low, almost like a man singing, and also very, very high. I don’t know. It would be very interesting, Johnny, to see because I’ve never really recorded myself to that extent. When I was in high school, I was singing with a band and I really enjoyed that. We did some gigs, but I never really looked at it as making my living professionally because I knew what a tough, tough business that is. That’s a dog-eat-dog business. The music industry is really tough.
Johnny: Definitely. That brings me to the end of my questions. I again thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this. It was great talking to you. I loved the stories you had to share. I know you have a lot going on. I know you’re very busy, and for you to take the time out of your schedule to do this means a lot.
Mindi: Well, I look forward to it. I loved your questions. Have a very blessed week, and thank you again.
Johnny: Likewise. I hope you have a wonderful afternoon, and I’ll catch you on Facebook.
Mindi: You bet. Thank you again. Have a great day.
Johnny: You, too. See you later.
Mindi: Okay. Bye bye.
I would like to thank Mindi Miller for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Mindi and her work, you can visit her website at Don Wilson’s Hollywood Beat.
Who will I Flashback with next? Stay tuned.