My first exposure to the work of my latest interview subject, Sandahl Bergman, came when WPIX, New York’s Movie Station, regularly played Conan The Barbarian throughout the 80s and 90s. Sandahl’s work as the brave warrior Valeria was very memorable. As I grew older, I would see more of Sandahl’s work in projects as diverse as All That Jazz, Xanadu and Stewardess School. I’d been hoping to interview Sandahl for a long time, but I never had any luck until this year.
When I interviewed Deborah Geffner earlier this year, I asked her if she kept in touch with Sandahl Bergman, and she said yes. Deborah was kind enough to connect me and Sandahl, and because of Deborah, the interview you’re about to read finally happened. Sandahl Bergman is a dancer, an actress and a director, and she has some amazing stories to share. I hope you’ll all enjoy reading them. Get your dancing shoes on because it’s time to hit the floor with my newest interview subject.
Say hello to Sandahl Bergman!
Sandahl: Oh my god, Johnny, are you on time.
Johnny: Hello, Ms. Bergman. How are you?
Sandahl: Hello, kiddo. How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. First of all, before anything, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Sandahl: You’re so welcome. No problemo at all. A lot’s going on with me right now. It’s been crazy, but other than that, how are you? I’m glad we connected, and whatever you want to ask me, I’m perfectly willing to talk to you about.
Johnny: Well, that’s exactly the kind of thing I love to hear. I’m doing very well, and I have my questions all ready to go, so let’s hop right in. Had you always wanted to be a performer, or did you initially have a different career goal in mind when you were a child?
Sandahl: No, I didn’t, Johnny. I think my mom and dad put my sister and I in dance school when I was, like, five, so that was great. The reason why I said I always wanted to do this is I grew up in Kansas City. Kansas City has the second-largest summer stock theater in the United States, so when they needed kids for shows, we would audition and I would get that. When I got old enough, thank god, they hired me.
I would go to high school from 10th to 12th grade, but in the Summer, I would work at Starlight Theater doing seven or eight musicals a season. When everybody was applying for colleges, I said to my mom and dad, “I just want to go out and do my thing”. It happened very early for me. There was never any decision.
Johnny: Alright. According to the IMDB, one of your earliest credits was a recurring role as one of the Golddiggers on The Dean Martin Show. What are your favorite memories of working on that show?
Sandahl: Well, Johnny, I’m going to tell you that is incorrect information. There’s been some incorrect information.
Johnny: I apologize.
Sandal: I never was a Golddigger. I was on the last season of Dean Martin’s show before the Golddiggers took over, so I was never a Golddigger and never wanted to be (laughing).
Johnny: I apologize for my incorrect information.
Sandahl: No. It’s what on IMDB. It also says I had a child with Josh Taylor, and I never had a child with Josh Taylor. There’s always incorrect information that’s there, and I was actually never able to correct it in some ways. What’s out there is out there, so thank you for asking me the questions.
Johnny: Oh, okay. Well, let’s go to a credit you definitely did work on. One of your first collaborations with Bob Fosse came when you were one of The Players in Pippin. Arriving in the cast after the show had been on stage for a while, had you seen Pippin before you signed on for it, and what was it like to work on it?
Sandahl: Well, I’ll tell you my interesting story. When I was in New York, I think I was 19 at the time, there were certain shows I would go see by myself. One of them was Pippin, and I remember sitting in the audience by myself at the Imperial Theatre, and I went, “Oh, my god, I have to do this show”.
The reason why I liked it, Johnny, is because a lot of musical theatre shows were always kind of like, as an example, The Music Man. (Singing) Oh, the Wells Fargo wagon is a comin’-down. (Speaking) Everybody looked the same. In Pippin, it was six women and six men, and they all were individual. When you danced together, that was great, but they all had their own individual character, and I had never seen that before, so I said, “I’ve got to do this show”. Thank god I auditioned for it, and I got it (laughing). I was fortunate enough to do that show, and in all my career, with all of the shows I did, even including A Chorus Line, which was a great experience, Pippin was one of my favorite shows I ever did.
Johnny: Very cool. I have to admit that my main exposure to that musical came through the song Magic To Do, which I heard not in Pippin, but being performed by Ben Vereen in the Grand Opening Of The Disney-MGM Studios special that aired on The Magical World Of Disney in 1989.
Johnny: To go back to you, you did mention A Chorus Line, and as I asked our mutual friend Deborah Geffner when I interviewed her…
Sandahl: Yeah. I did the show with Debbie.
Johnny: …What do you think has made A Chorus Line resonate with audiences after all these years?
Sandahl: Well, my feeling is, Johnny, it was a show for sure about dancers, but it was a show about everybody trying to get a job. The audience understood that, and that’s why I think it resonated so greatly for so many years. Everybody’s been on that spot, wanting to get a job, and A Chorus Line was about dancers, yes, but I think that was one of the big pluses to that show, and why it resonated with the public so greatly through so many years. Everybody has that story of wanting to get the job, and that was the brilliance, I will say, of that show.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking along those lines, to my eyes, the main idea the Chorus Line song One represents at the end is that all these auditioning dancers seem to have cast aside what makes them unique, what makes them “One”, in order to be part of the many. What’s your take on One?
Sandahl: Well, I love that as the finale to the show for one because, no pun intended, everybody’s included in that finale number, but when you look at the lyrics of that number: One…
Johnny: (Singing) Singular sensation, every little step she takes…
Sandahl: It was a great finale for a show that was inclusive. Every character in A Chorus Line was individual, and One made everybody come together. It was about one singular sensation, and funny enough, when I got married, that’s what I walked down the aisle with (laughing) way back when. It was just a wonderful finale to show that, again I’ll say, it had all the different characters and all their different stories, but at the end, everybody came together and it was about one singular sensation.
I will say that, and I’m sure Deb said that also, it was just a brilliant show. It was such a brilliant show, and I was very happy to do it. When Debbie and I did it, we were first replacements. It had only been on Broadway six months when Debbie and I went into it. They had the LA company, and then they had the international company, but Debbie and I went into the Broadway company.
It was another show, Johnny, that was among the few shows I saw. Pippin was one of them, and A Chorus Line was another where I sat in the audience, by myself, watching the show and said, “I’ve got to do this show”, and then it unfolded. with many auditions afterwards. I think when Debbie and I went into A Chorus Line, it was 1975. When I went into Pippin, it was right around that time also. I left Pippin to audition for A Chorus Line. I got it, and then I gave my notice to Pippin and went into A Chorus Line. I went back and forth, Johnny, from a Michael Bennett show to a Bob Fosse show to a Michael Bennett show. I mean, they were the two main choreographers.
Johnny: That does lead me to ask about reuniting with Bob Fosse for Dancin’, where you were part of the original cast. What numbers are you most proud of having performed in that show?
Sandahl: Well, what number did I like the best, are you asking?
Sandahl: All of them, because that was the hardest show I ever did in my entire career. When I’ve given other interviews, I use the phrase, “All I did in the show was sweat and change”. I did one number, ran off stage, changed my costume, and went back in. That was the hardest show I ever did, and actually all the numbers I loved because I was probably in about everything.
It was the experience of the show, starting with Bob Fosse in a brand new show. In a rehearsal situation, you were doing a show, I call it, front to back, where you’re original and all of you are creating the show. The choreographer, the director, Bob Fosse is, but also who he hired is creating what his vision is as to what he wants to do. That, to me, was an amazing experience. I’ve worked with some great choreographers in my career. I’ve been doing it professionally since I was 17 years old, but Bob Fosse was my mentor. I loved Michael Bennett, don’t get me wrong, but Bob Fosse was my mentor.
Johnny: That segues perfectly into my next question. You were part of his 1979 magnum opus All That Jazz. You’re the fourth cast member from that movie I’ve interviewed after Alan Heim, Leah Ayres, and Deborah. What made that movie so special for you?
Sandahl: Everything about it was special. For me, it was a unique situation because I originally was not supposed to do that number. The gal got fried, and I was in California (laughing) on vacation. In New York, when you’re in a Broadway company, you get two weeks off a year. You can take a week here and a week there, and I had taken my week off to come to California. I was doing Dancin’ at the time, and I got the call from Bob Fosse at 3:30 in the morning saying, “You have to do me a favor. You have to get on a plane tomorrow morning and come learn this number because I can’t change the shooting schedule, and I have to shoot it in three days”, so I did that.
There was nudity involved, and that was a concern of mine. I said, “Oh my god, Bob. I’m from Kansas. I grew up in Kansas. Oh, no!”, and I remember him saying to me, “This is not a go-go number. Trust me”. After doing Pippin for him, I went, “I trust you”, so that experience on All That Jazz, for me, was horribly horrifying. To step into something that they had rehearsed for three or four weeks, and I had three days to rehearse it and shoot it…I was scared out of my mind, but I trusted him, and when I saw the film, that number that I did was about a nervous breakdown. Unlike a lot of movies, it wasn’t exploitation of people getting naked. It was totally a scene about somebody having a nervous breakdown, and I was grateful for that.
The whole experience was just hard and tough. I’d shoot my scenes for All That Jazz, and then I’d have to leave and go do Dancin’ on Broadway, and then wake up in the morning and show up to shoot whatever we were shooting, and then leave that evening and go back to the theater to do my show. It was a very difficult experience. I was the only one. Debbie wasn’t doing it at that point in time. She was hired as a dancer and actress, and I don’t think she was in A Chorus Line at the time, but my schedule was brutal. Despite that, I say All That Jazz was my best experience as it furthered a career for me, but it was also one of the worst.
Johnny: Well, I can understand your conflicted feelings about it, but you did amazing work in that number, and if I may be so bold, you really looked sexy in it, even though I know that wasn’t necessarily the point. As you said, the point was a nervous breakdown, but it was a fantastic number, and you did amazing work in it.
Sandahl: Well, it was an amazing number, Johnny, and I’m very proud of that. There’s probably only three things, in a whole career of work I’ve done, that I’m proud of. I can probably only name three.
Johnny: Well, that sort of does lead into my next question: My friend and fellow Pop Geeks writer, Adam Pope, loves the movie Xanadu, so I think he might be interested in your answer to the following question: Xanadu didn’t do well at the box office or with critics, but gained a second life on home video and television, so what do you think home audiences saw in Xanadu that theatrical audiences didn’t?
Sandahl: Well, as you just said, it was a flop as far as a film being released, but it became one of those movies that people, again, identify to and really like. I’ve done a couple of questionnaires about that when they release the movie again and have an audience, and I’m always amazed, Johnny, how many people love that film, and I love that film. It was a great job for me. I had a great time working on it. Olivia Newton-John couldn’t have been a sweeter, nicer, harder-working person.
It’s just a shame that it was kind of a flop. I think at that point in time, Johnny, musicals were not all what they are now. When musicals come out now, like when they did Dreamgirls and Chicago, they came into a kind of fruition. Back at that point in time in the 80s, musicals just weren’t popular, and people didn’t gravitate to them, but I think the fans that love that movie, like your friend, have been really die-hard fans. I think they love the music. I think it was a fun show. It had a bit of a love story to it. It had magical aspects to it. My role in it was one of the Muses. It was sort of about fantasy and magic, and was a really nice love story in some ways, so I think that’s why people loved it, and I think the music was great in it.
Your friend, if he loves it, I always thank people who do. I’ve done a lot of conventions, and I’m always surprised when people come up and they go, “Do you have any pictures of Xanadu?”. Not very many people ask me that, but when that’s happened, I finally did get photos made up of Gene Kelly and the Muses and Olivia. I had the best experience doing that film. I loved it. I had so much fun working on that film.
Johnny: Since you did mention Gene Kelly, that was one of his last significant live-action film roles, so when you crossed paths with him, did he have any advice to give you that would carry through to your later work?
Sandahl: Well, no, because I did Gene Kelly’s show in Las Vegas in the 70s. It was at the International Hilton at that point in time. I was hired for his show in Las Vegas, so it was very interesting for me to meet all these many years later and see him again. He was always so kind to me, saying, “You were such a good dancer. I always knew you would do something great”, and that was my experience with Gene Kelly, but I did work with him,
I did his show, and I was one of the people in the wings when he would do Singin’ In The Rain, where they actually had rain in the theater coming down. I remember always standing in the wings watching that. He was my favorite. They’ll say, “Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, blah blah blah”. Gene Kelly was my favorite of that generation of dancers.
Johnny: That’s a lovely story. As I mentioned in my introductory e-mail, my first exposure to your work came through your role as Valeria in Conan The Barbarian. That movie turns 40 next year, and is still frequently discussed to this day. Similar to my question about A Chorus Line, what do you think has given Conan The Barbarian its’ staying power?
Sandahl: Well, I think it was the first of a fantasy film which, in our industry, was not recognized early on. Again, I’m going back to how it was a film that wasn’t recognized as far as Academy Awards or other awards shows, but it was done so well, and it got recognized. Like I said, I won a Golden Globe award (laughing), so that made me very, very happy. Again, it was a story that was an action film, but it was a love story, and I think Arnold and I had that chemistry. I think John Milius, who was the director, had a vision.
This is one story you might like. I remember when I got the role, and when talking to John Milius later, I said, “John, what were you thinking? For three leads in a movie, you hired a bodybuilder, a surfer, and a dancer”, and none of us had done anything really. He just said, “The three of you were the characters that I wrote about”. Thank god James Earl Jones was in it, and we had Max Von Sydow, but it was funny that the studio took a leap of faith on hiring the three of us nudniks (Sandahl and Johnny laughing) to star in this movie, but as John Milius said, “When I met all of you, you were the people. There wasn’t any question”. I walked into my interview with John Milius, my audition, basically, and the first thing he said to me was, “Where have you been all this time?”. I didn’t screen-test for the film. He just said, “You’re the girl”, and that was it.
Johnny: It’s amazing to have someone have that kind of faith in you, and you turned in a great performance, speaking of which: Conan The Barbarian was the first of several movies in the 80s where you would be wielding a sword. Were you nervous the first time you worked with a sword, or did your innate physicality make it easy?
Sandahl: Well, that’s one of the things that John wanted. He wanted for the three of us in Conan to be, physically, very apt, but we did study. I studied kendo. The production company made Arnold, myself, and Gerry Lopez study kendo. We worked with the samurai sword a lot. We took horseback riding lessons with the stunt coordinator. I mean, they basically worked with us before we actually went to Spain to shoot the movie, so we had a great background of Japanese, using a sword, all of that.
The thing that’s funny about John Milius is, he said me to me anyway, my sword weighed, like, 5 or 7 pounds. He goes, “I don’t want a girl wielding a sword which looks like cardboard”, and I went, “Okay”. (Laughing) That was hard, but he wanted it to be very authentic, and that’s the other thing I loved about doing the film. They didn’t care how dirty I was or how sweaty I was. You know, usually on the set they have a makeup person blotting you down or fixing your makeup or hair. This movie was the greasier you are and the dirtier you are, the better, and I loved that (laughing), instead of somebody picking at you every second about, “Oh, your makeup is different”.
It wasn’t the role where I’m running through the desert with lip gloss on. John didn’t want that, and when you look at me in that movie, I have hardly any makeup on. He didn’t want Valeria to have false eyelashes on. He wanted the real thing, and that was it. Like I said, I barely wore any makeup in that movie, but that was the character, and that was the time. I think why the movie had a ring of truth to it, outside of being a wonderful love story, is because of Conan as a young kid going through everything he went through. There was a lot of truth in that movie, and that’s why I think it holds up to this day.
People call me all the time and go, “Oh, Conan was on again. I just watched it. It was such a great film”, and I went, “Yeah, it was”. Also, there was no CGI at that point in time, really. We all did all of our own physical stuff. There wasn’t the CGI in movies that’s happening now. That’s why I don’t like them at all. I have no patience for those films. I don’t go to those films. It’s all too fake for me (laughing), which maybe shows you, Johnny, that I’m older, but in my day, like with Conan, you got hired because of what you could do, and what you could bring to that character. That was John Milius with hiring Arnold Schwarzenegger, myself and Gerry Lopez. We were the three people in his mind as a writer. With what he created and all of us, we were the people, and that was it.
Johnny: To go to a different question, in 1983, you performed Eye Of The Tiger from Rocky III at the 55th Academy Awards, working alongside The Temptations.
Sandahl: Oh, yeah!
Johnny: You’re the second performer from that Oscars ceremony that I’ve interviewed, the first being Melissa Manchester. Were you nervous about getting all the moves right on live television, or had your previous stage work prepared you for that?
Sandahl: It basically prepared me for that, and I have a great story for you about performing Eye Of The Tiger. For one, when I was in New York, and Rocky came out, after doing A Chorus Line, I went to the theater by myself to see that movie, and I was standing up cheering. Well, when I got a corporation here in L.A because of certain money things, guess what my coporation was named? Eye Of The Bunny. Instead of Eye Of The Tiger, which was very masculine, I said, “I want my corporation to be called Eye Of The Bunny”.
Back to The Temptations: As I told you, I grew up in Kansas City, and when I was working with The Temps and we were rehearsing, I went up to them and I said, “Guys, I have to tell you my story. I skipped my senior prom to drive up to KU to see you perform”. My mom had made my senior dress and everything, and I was dating a guy. I changed my clothes in the car and skipped my senior prom (that my mom and dad never knew about), to go up to see The Temptations. They looked at me and went, “Sandahl, you’re making us feel really old” (laughing). “Well, it was my senior prom. I was 17 at the time, and I skipped it to go see you guys”.
They were always one of my favorites. I’m an R&B girl. I was never a rock-and-roll person. I was really an R&B girl forever. All the bands I love are all R&B, but that’s my story about working with The Temps. They laughed when they said, “You’re making us feel so old, Sandahl”. “Well, I was 17, and now I’m 30something”. Every performance you get scared, and the Academy Awards is one of the biggest. I actually did two Academy Awards. It’s a huge event, but when you’re a performer, Johnny, you’re used to an audience, and you get nervous for sure, but you just go out and do the best you can do. Eye Of The Tiger, for me, was funny. Like I said, my corporation was Eye Of The Bunny (laughing).
Johnny: I would love to see your performance Of Eye Of The Tiger but, unfortunately, although I can find several other musical performances from that Oscars ceremony on YouTube, your performance of Eye Of The Tiger hasn’t made it there yet. I hope it does get up there.
Sandahl: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. With YouTube, maybe The Temptations have a thing they don’t want to do. I don’t know, but that was a fantastic, fun time. Like I said, I’ve had so much fun in my career, Johnny. I’ve had a lot of shit in my career also, don’t get me wrong, but for a lot of it, I was a very fortunate person to pursue what I loved to do. Not a lot of people can tell that story, but I can tell that story. I’ve lived long enough where I have way too many stories where people say, “You need to write a book” (laughing), and I probably do.
Johnny: Well, let’s go to the next question, and I hope you do write that book someday. You had your own exercise video, Sandahl Bergman’s Body, and would later be an instructor for several exercise videos in The Firm’s lineup. I’ve asked this quesiton of several talents, including Max Wasa, Julie Winchester, Marcia Karr and Darcy DeMoss, and now I want to ask it of you as well: What do you think made exercise such a big form of entertainment in the 1980s?
Sandahl: Well, I think back on the 80s, when Jane Fonda was doing her thing and all that. Exercise, at that point in time, really didn’t exist. There were no gyms with Pilates and everything that they do. The 80s were very influential for the start of fitness, and it’s certainly progressed to amazing things now, but in the 80s, there wasn’t anything, really. People weren’t going to gyms, so Jane Fonda sort of introduced it to a lot of people.
Sandahl Bergman’s Body was more of an entertainment looky-loo at. I had my own fitness company with my partner called Gym Jazz that was a lot more legit, and then The Firm hired me, because they were very popular, to front their tape. I think, in the 80s, that was sort of what was going on. Now it’s progressed to amazing fitness programs, but in the 80s, there wasn’t anything. Jane Fonda started it, and then everybody else got on board with it.
Johnny: I turned to the 80s in the late 90s as a form of escape from the turmoil I was going through in the 90s. I turned to the pop culture of the 80s as a way to escape because I had a whole lot of shit going on. Whether it was the diagnosis of my autism spectrum disorder, the death of my father, time spent in a mental hospital, or multiple school transfers…
Sandahl: Oh, god!
Johnny: …The 90s was really a shit decade for me, and that’s why I turned to the 80s as a form of escape (Sandahl laughing). Even to this day, I see videos of people exercising in the 80s on YouTube, and almost invariably I see people saying, “They must have been on cocaine”, and that doesn’t make any sense to me. If you were on cocaine, there’s no way you could exercise. Your heart would be shorted out. You might even end up dead on your first sniff.
Sandahl: Absolutely. I always said that, as a dancer, I can’t do a show, show up every night and physicalize it all fucked up. You can’t do it. There’s no way. Now, whatever anybody chooses to do after something is up to them, but I know, as a dancer and a performer, and this is my story, you can’t show up all fucked up and try to perform. You can’t do it, or I couldn’t, you know? Maybe some people did, but you’re right about that. You can’t be a physical person and be snorting cocaine, and then do what you do. You can’t do it. There’s just no way. I’m sorry about your story, but you seem like you’ve come out really good on the other end of all of it.
Johnny: It took a long time to get there, but I’m definitely in a better place now. That autism spectrum disorder…One of the aspects of that is an intense focus on a certain subject. For me, it’s the pop culture of the 1980s, and it allows me the chance to talk to great talents like yourself. To go back to my questions, in 1984, you played the title character in the remake of She. Had you read the novel the movie was based on before signing on for the movie, and if so, how did it influence your portrayal of the title character?
Sandahl: Well, that was one of the movies that I hated doing, and I had the worst experience of my life doing. I shot that in Italy, and it was a nightmare experience for me. I hate talking about that movie because, like I said, I have so many good experiences, and then there’s certain things in your life that you go, “I don’t even want to recognize that at all”, so that’s one of them.
Johnny: Alright. We’ll skip past that and go to this question. I hope you don’t mind me asking about this: You played Queen Gedren in Red Sonja. Like Xanadu, Red Sonja gained a second life as a camp classic, so was your approach to the character of Queen Gedren to play it campy, or with a straight face?
Sandahl: Actually, because I had that mask that was glued to my face most of the movie, that was another not-great experience. People often said to me, “How come you didn’t play Red Sonja?”, and at that point in time, Valeria in Conan was such a popular character with fans that they thought, “If you play Red Sonja, it’s too conflicting”. They said, “Do you want to play Queen Gedren?”, and I went, “Fine. That’s fine for me”, but that, again, was a movie that was not well-received. Arnold and I personally didn’t want to do any press on it at all because we thought it was terrible.
Johnny: I’ve definitely seen Schwarzenegger talk about that in a negative manner. He said that he would punish his kids by forcing them to watch that movie (laughing).
Sandahl: Oh, yeah. We were all pretty bad in it, and the director, Richard Fleischer, we all couldn’t stand. He was a terrible director, and it was just not a great experience. For me, there I am, once again, with this mask glued to my face. When they used to take off the mask, my whole face was ripped up and red from it. They had to figure out how to use other glue, and then the costume I wore in that weighed, like, 35 pounds, and that was miserable.
It was, again, a film I don’t have fond memories of, and there was another bad experience for me. At that point in time, they had to take me to the hospital when I was in Italy. You’re going to ask me, “Why did that happen?”, and I say, well, I was eating a lot of mozzarella cheese on bread with tomato. Not to be up close and personal, but I will since you’re a great guy, I got colonic poisoning…
Sandahl: …And I didn’t go to the bathroom for two weeks. I got on the set and the director went, “Action!”, and when I went to speak, all my words were mixed up. My system was so toxic that they took me to the hospital, and they found out I had colonic poisoning. I was allergic to the enzyme in buffalo mozzarella cheese. That movie, again, to me, was an experience of, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”. i hate to be so up close and personal about that.
Johnny: No, it’s okay. I’m just sorry that you had such a bad time on that movie.
Sandahl: …And then Brigitte Nielsen and I didn’t get along. It’s good we were adversaries, you know? Arnold was having an affair with Brigitte at that point in time, and she’s not a great person, so I’m glad, as I said, we were adversaries in that movie because she was a nightmare. She and Arnold were having this blown-out affair, and nobody could talk about it. Maria Shriver would call me and ask, “Do you know where Arnold is?”, and I knew where he was, but I couldn’t say anything. “No, Maria. He’s not with me. He’s with somebody else. He might be out with the boys”. Well, I knew exactly where he was. It was not a good experience, that film.
Johnny: Well, I’m sorry you had to deal with that, but hopefully you had a better experience with this next question: If my research is correct, at some point in the 80s you posed for Playboy?
Sandahl: I did pose for Playboy. They went to every show on Broadway and picked a girl from every show, and I was one of them. I forget which show I was doing, but they went to every show on Broadway and picked a girl, and I did it. I forget what they paid me to do it, but to me, it was a lot of money, and I kind of wanted to leave New York at that point in time, so I did that, and c’est la vie. That was that experience.
Johnny: Well, to go back to film, a change of pace for you came with your role as Wanda Polanski in the 1986 comedy Stewardess School, a movie that I think is great fun. Do you have any good memories of working on that movie?
Sandahl: I do. It was a lot of fun. It was a Columbia Pictures project, but again, at that point in time, Johnny, in the 80s, a lot of people were on cocaine, so that’s all I can really say about that, from makeup artists to crew members to director, but it was fun. It was the last of all those ridiculous comedies that they did, all the Airplanes and all that. It was sort of the end of a cycle of all of those comedies that people were doing. It was fun to work on, but I can’t say it was a memory I hold dear to my heart.
Johnny: Well, hopefully you’ll have better memories when it comes to this: Also in 1986, you were directed by Stanley Donen in the Moonlighting episode Big Man On Mulberry Street. As I’m sure you grew up with Stanley Donen’s musicals for MGM, what was it like to be directed by him?
Sandahl: Remember when I told you earlier there’s three jobs that I have the fondest and best memories of? The first one was All That Jazz, the second one was Conan, and the third one was Moonlighting. That was an amazing segment. On Moonlighting, they brought up subjects that most television shows weren’t doing, and the fact that they brought Stanley Donen in to direct it…I mean, how amazing is that? He was the director of Singin’ In The Rain with Gene Kelly, and Bruce Willis couldn’t have been more fabulous.
Johnny: Yeah. I could tell Bruce Willis was really putting a lot of work into it, and that was an amazing number.
Sandahl: Yeah, he was great. He and Cybill would be shooting their show, and then we’d come over to 20th Centur. He’d come over to where the choreographers and I were rehearsing, and he would rehearse with us. He’s a music guy anyway, so he understood music well, but he had to put a lot of effort into those rehearsals. Like I said, he couldn’t have been any more amazing, and I think that particular show was nominated for an Emmy, which was pretty amazing. The three projects I’m most proud of? That’s one of them.
Johnny: Alright. Well, you definitely have a lot to be proud of with it. Going into 1987, you played Samira in Programmed To Kill, written by a previous interview subject of mine, Robert Short. Samira is a character who doesn’t speak, and the few times she uses her voice, it’s to scream. How challenging was it to play a mostly silent character?
Sandahl: Well, that’s always really hard. It’s like when you’re doing green-screen in a movie. You’re kind of acting with nobody (laughing). It’s difficult for anybody, and so many actors have had to do that through the years. That’s the difficult thing on that note.
Johnny: Well, following along those lines, was there consideration given to the idea of an inner monologue for Samira?
Sandahl: I can’t think of it off the top of my head.
Johnny: Alright. I think that would’ve made an interesting addition to the movie. Because she didn’t speak, perhaps we could’ve heard her thoughts, but we’ll move on to my next question: In 1988, you played Spangle in the sci-fi action comedy Hell Comes To Frogtown.
Sandahl: (Laughing) I love that movie. That’s another cult movie with Roddy Piper.
Johnny: A very unique film, what stood out the most to you about working on that project?
Sandahl: What stood out the most? It was a crazy, fun project. You’re acting with frogs and, actually, all the frog characters were so amazing. It was a stupid movie. It was about sperm being transferred to somebody else, but you know what? When I do conventions, Johnny, that’s the one movie people ask me about. It became a cult movie, almost like Xanadu.
Xanadu wasn’t an underground movie, but it wasn’t a huge success. It just became so popular because people liked it, just like Hell Comes To Frogtown. With Roddy Piper being, of course, a famous wrestler, we just had the best time. We had so much fun doing that film, and it became a cult movie. People actually brought that movie, or would watch that movie and go, at conventions, “I love that movie!”.
Roddy and I were at a convention at one point in time, and we were both so surprised about it. He said the same thing. He said, “People ask me about Hell Comes To Frogtown”, and I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I have the same story”. I even had some photos made up of Roddy and I doing Hell Comes To Frogtown because people were requesting them. It was just a fun, goofy, stupid movie. Roddy and I got along great. We just had fun, and we had so many laughs making that film.
Johnny: I loved the scene where you’re asked to do The Dance Of The Three Snakes…
Sandahl: Oh, yeah!
Johnny: …And you ask what kind of dance in an exasperated deadpan (Sandahl laughs). I read in a YouTube comment that you didn’t have a choreographer for that, and you had to come up with it all on your own. Is that true?
Sandahl: Yes. It was just me doing something stupid. Like I said, it was such a silly movie, but the fun part was all these characters were so lifelike, humans in frog costumes. It just was a hoot, and fun, stupid and fun.
Johnny: Some of the best movie are. To jump to TV, you’re the latest in a long line of my interview subjects who have appeared on Murder, She Wrote as you played Sgt. Daisy Kenny in the episode The Petrified Florist. What was it like to work on that show?
Sandahl: Well, it was a treat because that was a very popular show at that point in time. I did that, and I did Designing Women. I did Cheers at one point in time. Those shows were very popular, huge shows back then, so it was just fun to work on those. Another one I did was Hart To Hart. They were fun to do, and different than doing a movie. Television is very different than doing a film, but it was just fun, and I got to do some fun television shows back then.
Johnny: I’m glad you had good experiences on them, and another TV question: You played the character of Ginger “Tracker” Morgan in two episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares (Sandahl laughs). Were those two appearances testing the water for a potential spin-off with that character?
Sandahl: You know, I’m not sure about that. That was another really popular show. I don’t remember so explicitly doing that, but like I said, I did a few television shows. They were all very different and fun…
Well, Hart To Hart wasn’t fun because that was scuba-diving, and I’m claustrophobic, and suffered bad earaches as a kid. Several of my scenes were shot underwater in Hawaii, and I lied to get the job. I said, “Oh, yeah. I scuba-dive”. Well, I’d never scuba-dived in my life, so I hired a guy to help me in a swimming pool. He helped me with scuba-diving gear, and he looked at me at one point and said, “Sandahl, I think you have to call them and say you can’t do this” (laughing). I went, “Okay”.
That was another challenge because I was a swimmer when I was a kid, and I suffered from really bad, temperamental earaches, and when you scuba-dive, going down or coming up, you have to clear your ears. I went, “I don’t know if I can do this”, and I’m claustrophobic, so I’m going, “Oh, my god. I’m breathing into this mask, and I can hear myself breathe”. That was a crazy job for me. I mean, i loved it. I had a good time, but I lied to get it, and then I had to figure out how to do it.
Johnny: Although you still perform onstage occasionally, you started directing in the 00s. What has directing that acting has not?
Sandahl: Well, it took you behind the scenes instead of in front of the camera or on stage. I sort of liked that because, for some reason for me as I continued on with a couple of things, it was a way to give payback for what I learned.
I pretty much was done with performing, outside of going back to do Chicago in 1998. I hadn’t been in the theater for 15 years or so, and that was fun for me, but although going back to do Chicago was a really fun thing to do, directing was kind of a way to choreograph and give back to younger people my experience, to hand off a little bit, kind of like what Deborah Geffner has done. She’s done a lot of directing at this point in time, and as a working entertainer, it’s a way to give back the knowledge you’ve learned through the people you’ve worked with. That’s what I kind of like about it.
Johnny: That’s a very noble thing. Of all the productions you’ve directed, which has been your favorite, and which provided the most challenge?
Sandahl: Well, I did three I really liked, and they were all shows I’d done. Two of them were Chicago and Pippin. Basically, they were all challenging, don’t get me wrong, because you’re working with young people, and the attention span of young people nowadays is not like it was in my day. They were all challenging, Johnny, because when kids have cell phones and everything, are you texting the note I just gave you, or are you texting your boyfriend? What are you doing? I think that was sort of a big challenge for me, and that was a lot of it.
Johnny: Well, speaking of directing, and to return to performing, if a director or screenwriter were to approach you and say, “You would be amazing for this role”, would you consider returning to performing in film and television, or is the stage where it’s at for you now?
Sandahl: I probably would, Johnny. I’ve had a couple of those phone calls, but I’m out of the game at this point in time. I’m going to be 70 on November 14th. I’ve had this great career professionally since I’ve been 14, so I’ve worked a ton. I stopped auditioning in the business and everything when the auditioning process changed, and there were a couple of instances for me where I turned around and walked out of an audition and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore”, so if somebody did call me about something, that would be great, but me going back with an agent and auditioning? I’m done with that. I’ve done it my whole life, and I’m done (laughing).
Johnny: I have a few more questions. What dance that you’ve done made you stand back once it was completed and say, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that!”?
Sandahl: All That Jazz was one of them. The number I did, Take Off With Us, in All That Jazz. When I looked at that, I went, “I can’t believe I did that”. Again, in a positive way, but also in the way I had three days to learn that and shoot it, and I can’t believe that I did the performance I did with that amount of time.
Johnny: …And what amazing work it was. You’ve appeared at a decent amount of autograph conventions over the years, so what’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you’ve signed at a convention?
Sandahl: Oh, god, the one I love so much is that somebody brought me a sword that was a replica of my sword from Conan, and they wanted me to sign it. I did that for them because when I did Conan, the director, John Milius, gave me my sword. I had a fire in a condo, and I lost my sword in the fire. People bring me really interesting things to sign, much more so than I could ever be, but that’s one that I remember, when the guy brought me the sword and said, “I made this sword. It’s your sword from the film”. I went, “Oh, my god. I lost that sword!”. He said, “Could you sign this for me?”, and that was something that was very, very special.
Also, somebody brought me a Chorus Line hat at one point in time, and had me sign that. The number you were talking about, One, where everybody was wearing the hat…Somebody had done that show and said, “Could you sign that hat for me?”. That was pretty special, but people have brought me wonderful things at conventions, and I’ve met the most wonderful people. I never wanted to do them, and I haven’t done that many, but the agent I work with said, “Just do one, and see what you thnk about it”. I was like, “Wow!”. Some really wonderful people I still keep in contact with over the years.
Johnny: That’s fantastic. To go to my next question: You’re an all-time great beauty, so when someone brings you a sexy photo to sign, while explicit personalizations are obviously out, are you okay with sexy personalizations, or at least flirty ones?
Sandahl: I try to sign everything a bit wordy because I appreciate them having me sign something they’re paying money for. I don’t go, “Oh, hi. Thank you, bye”. I’ve never been that kind of person. I got some of the nude photographs at one point, and I always go, “Oh, wow. Okay”, and I always charge more money for that, but I will personalize them…Not I Love You or anything like that. I’ll write something like, “Oh, surprised you have this and like it. Thank you. Sandahl Bergman”.
With conventions, when people are paying money, thet always try to see you. They want to spend a little bit of time with you, and they want you to sign something and not just have it be “Sandahl Bergman”, and give it to them. I always try to write something nice on them, and like I said, a few people that I’ve met at conventions, I still speak to on the telephone. “How you doing? How’s your kids? What’s going on? I know it’s your birthday, so I’m calling you to say hello”. They’re just very sweet, you know?
Johnny: That’s very kind. You appeared at New Jersey’s Chiller Theatre convention in 2010. With next year marking the 40th anniversary of Conan The Barbarian, is there a chance you might come back to the Chiller Theatre convention to celebrate that?
Sandahl: Possibly. People always contact you about that and other things. People have contacted me about Xanadu. “Can you come? We’ve rented this theater. The audience is great”. I’m good with that.
Johnny: I now come to my final question, and it’s this. It’s one I’ve been asking a lot over the course of the past year-and-a-half: We’re in a very uncertain time because of coronavirus, so what are you most looking forward to once we have this shit done away with once and for all?
Sandahl: Getting together with my friends. I’m glad Broadway is back. All my friends that I know in the theater that live there, that have been out of work forever, I’m happy about that. I’m happy that we can get together as people. I’m a big touch-and-hug person, and that’s been the hardest for me. I don’t want to knock my fist or hit you with my foot. I want to be able to go “Oh, I’m so glad to see you! I want to hug you!”. That’s what I look the most forward to, and that’s what I’ve really missed.
Johnny: I look forward to that as well, and I did ask about Chiller Theatre because that’s the main convention I go to, and I hope that you’ll return there because it would be an honor to meet you in person.
Sandahl: I hope so, too, Johnny.
Johnny: I again want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. This is an interview I’d been hoping to do for almost a decade now. I can recall first reaching out via your Facebook fan page, but things got busy and we weren’t able to set it up at the time. I didn’t know if I would ever have the chance to interview you, but thanks to Deborah, I have. I have to say this interview was everything I was hoping it would be, and I thank you so much for your time.
Sandahl: Well, Johnny, I adore you. You keep in touch with me, okay? You’re in my phone now, so thank you for wanting to even speak to me. I appreciate it, and you stay well, my friend. Okay? Thank you so much, Johnny.
Johnny: You’re very welcome, Ms. Bergman. Have a wonderful afternoon.
Sandahl: Don’t call me Ms. Bergman. Call me Sandahl.
Johnny: Alright, Sandahl. Thank you (giggling).
Sandahl: Call me Sandahl always.
Johnny: Alright. Be well.
Sandahl: Love you!
Johnny: Love you, too!
I would again like to thank Sandahl Bergman for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me, and I would like to again thank Deborah Geffner for connecting us. This interview was everything I was hoping it would be and more.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview is my second conversation with Shelley Michelle.