Johnny Caps 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 79 Park Avenue, Chiller Theatre, convention, Conventions, Mama's Dirty Girls, Murder She Wrote, Policewomen, Scandalous John, Sondra Currie, The Concrete Jungle, The Golden Girls, The Hangover, The Hangover Part II, The Hangover Part III, The Last Married Couple In America, Theatre, Three's Company 0
Sondra Currie, whom I had the great pleasure of interviewing recently, has a career that stretches back to the 1970s. Over the years, she’s appeared in a wide variety of projects, ranging from 70s cult classics like Policewomen and Mama’s Dirty Girls to guest roles on shows like Three’s Company and The Golden Girls in the 80s and Murder, She Wrote in the 90s, to playing Linda, the mother of Alan (Zach Galifnakis) in the Hangover trilogy. This is in addition to a lengthy stage career that’s seen her essay roles in classics from A Streetcar Named Desire to Death Of A Salesman.
I met Sondra Currie at the Chiller Theatre convention in October of 2019, as shown in the cover photo, and exchanged contact info there. On Thursday, January 30th, we had a wide-ranging talk about her career. I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Sondra Currie!
Sondra: How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. I just wanted to, first of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this.
Sondra: No problem. I’m excited to do it. It just crept up on me because I had an early meeting with Screen Actors’ Guild that went long, so I’m kind of at, “What time am I at right now?”, but it’s fine. I’m ready for you.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go, starting with this: You grew up as part of a show-business family, but if you hadn’t gone into acting, what do you think you would’ve done for work instead?
Sondra: That’s a good question because I couldn’t do anything else (laughing), I don’t think. The only other thing I think I could do is I could be a psychiatrist or a therapist. Now I teach and say I could’ve been Aimee Semple MacPherson. My grandmother used to love Aimee Semple MacPherson when I was very, very little, and I thought I could be a preacher, so it was all these crazy variations of acting, probably. By the way, I just did a talk show called A Dose Of Bliss which falls into those lines. It airs on Thursdays.
Johnny: Alright. One of your earliest film credits was playing a Saloon Girl in the Walt Disney Productions release Scandalous John. Disney in the 70s was nowhere near the powerhouse they are now, so what was it like to be working for the company at the time?
Sondra: They were still quite wonderful, Johnny. I loved walking the streets over there. I mean, it was a wonderful kind of fantasy world for anyone. They had Mickey Mouse Street and Donald Duck Street and they had the Animation Building. It’s huge now, but back then, it was still a very big powerhouse. Don’t forget, they did Snow White and Pinocchio and tons of other films that were very well-received. Comparatively, cost-wise, when you transfer it into today’s dollars, it was probably equal. They were hugely successful films, so I loved working there. I loved the publicity man there, a man named Leonard Shannon. He’s gone now, but he was a strong proponent of mine and really did help me meet people over there and get to do other jobs, so I thought Disney was terrific.
Johnny: Very cool. Another early role of yours’, and a starring one at that, was 1974’s Policewomen, where you played the role of Lacy Bond. What are your favorite memories of that project?
Sondra: Well, that was the first one where the executive producer said to me, “This is going to make you a star, kid!” (laughing). I’ll never forget that. I had the script by my side when I was driving around in my car. I mean, I really remember touching the script and going, “Wow, this is going to make me a star!”. Little did I know that it’s an ongoing endeavor to be a Star Star, when really what you want to do is be a lifelong actor in quality projects, so that was fun. Of course, I met my ex-husband on that film, Tony Young, so that was really fun, too, and I learned karate. I mean, I had to work a month before with a karate instructor, and so I did most of my own stunts in that film.
Johnny: Very cool.
Johnny: In another 1974 release, Mama’s Dirty Girls, you played Addy alongside Gloria Grahame as Mama Love. As Gloria was an Oscar winner, did she give you any advice on your acting?
Sondra: Not really. At that time, Howard Hawks was the person who really coached me to lower my voice and do all that kind of stuff, but Gloria was a lovely lady to work with. In fact, Alan and I just saw it because it came out upgraded to Blu-Ray. We watched it when we were in Maui, and it really did make me laugh, Johnny, because I thought I was so good, and I wasn’t (laughing), but I still have that quality. We were all very young, and so people wanted to see us, and we got lucky.
Johnny: Very cool. The 70s was one of the biggest eras for the television mini-series, and one of the most noted ones was Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue, which starred another former interview subject of mine, Lesley Ann Warren, and a loaded cast of talents, including yourself. Had you read Harold Robbins’ novel before signing on for the miniseries, and if so, how did it reflect your work on the film?
Sondra: Well, actually, Harold and his then-wife, Grace, were friends of mine and my husband’s, and so we knew them quite well. With that film, he had nothing to do with me getting the film. It was kind of fun. My then-manager took me on the Universal lot to meet the executive producer of that film, and then I got the job, but I didn’t even realize it. It was three weeks later that I’d gotten it. The other thing that was fun was that I’m part of the Actors’ Studio, and Lesley Ann is now part of the Actors’ Studio. It’s a whole full-circle kind of story.
Johnny: Cool. Staying with Universal, and going into the 1980s, in 1980, you played Lainy in The Last Married Couple In America, a film which starred Natalie Wood in her last full film role. What are your memories of Natalie?
Sondra: I remember her being a lovely, very supportive actress. The role I had was not an easy one because there was that nude scene that was very difficult to do, and she was really supportive, and kind of gave me a couple of hints about how to play that scene and not get in my own way to feel comfortable in the scene. It was with her and George Segal and Mark Lonow. He played my husband at that time. She was a really special lady. I was very devastated when she died.
Johnny: I can recall reading that she was up for Meryl Streep’s role in Sophie’s Choice, and if she had gotten that instead of Brainstorm, she might still be around today.
Sondra: Truthfully, I’m not sure. That’s kind of a link that people are pulling at straws because of Chris Walken, so I don’t know that that’s really true or if you could say anything about that. I don’t know. Obviously, with perfect timing you get what you’re supposed to get, and Meryl was terrific in that. The other part is a tragedy, and so that’s a whole host of if, if, ifs, you know?
Johnny: My apologies if that line of questioning caused offense.
Sondra: No, it did not. It’s just true. I mean, you didn’t cause offense. I’m just answering it as I see it. I mean, there are a lot of ifs in life, so I think we have to reflect on what is, and also, we’re each on our own journey. Sometimes when I’m meditating, I’ll say, “It’s not my journey. It’s that person’s journey”, so I get a little metaphysical about it at that point. She was a special woman.
Johnny: She certainly was. Well, to lighten the mood in terms of questioning, in 1982, you played Katherine in the Women In Prison movie The Concrete Jungle. What do you think made Women In Prison movies such a popular genre in the 70s and 80s?
Sondra: Well, I’m not quite sure if you can go with why it was popular in the 70s and 80s because you did have a lot of prison films, but you also had them in the 40s. Sometimes I think it’s more like when you’re watching Spartacus. You’re watching people in precarious situations get out of it. I don’t think there was a particular thing about Women In Prison, though that’s good drive-in movie fodder because you have all the women in distress, and women being stronger and physically heavier than the others. I think you kind of get lost in that storyline. There was a television show that Jack Palance and his son Cody were in called Bronk. I did that show, and I played Cody’s girlfriend in that episode. I think it’s just a genre of escapism.
Johnny: Very ironic, considering the setting.
Sondra: (Laughing) Definitely.
Johnny: Well, to go to my next question, in both the 70s and 80s, you made several appearances on Three’s Company playing different characters. Of the three episodes you’re credited for, Alone Together, Janet’s Secret, and Jack Takes Off, which was your favorite episode, or is it difficult to choose?
Sondra: Well, they were all fun, but of course the last one was my favorite, because that was the one that was actually supposed to continue. I was going to be the new next-door neighbor, and I was the art teacher. I loved John. John was a good friend, and I thought we had nice chemistry in that, and I thought it was the most well-developed character. The other ones were kind of window dressing, but that one had the most potential.
Johnny: Sorry it didn’t work out, but those episodes were very funny.
Sondra: Thank you. They were really wonderful. I got a lot of joy out of that, and working with John was really, really a blessing, and my husband worked with him on Hooperman. He was really an extraordinary and gifted talent, but also a great guy.
Johnny: How very nice.
Johnny: Speaking of classic sitcoms, in 1986 you played Margaret Spencer in the Golden Girls episode Big Daddy’s Little Lady.
Sondra: Oh, yeah.
Johnny: What was your favorite memory of filming that episode?
Sondra: Well, my favorite memory of that is Betty White. I mean, I just want to grow up and be Betty White, you know? I mean, she’s such a loving, gifted, generous actress. She really was quite wonderful as far as opening up her arms to me. Rue? Not so much. That role was also supposed to recur, and people have said I should’ve gotten a hair commercial from it because we did a read-through on Monday for that show, and the role was originally a very large role. They had intended on that continuing, and then they let us go early, and then the next day most of my dialogue had been given to David Wayne, who was playing Big Daddy. I was devastated because that was a really big break for me at that time, and David Steinberg, who was directing that episode, took me out to lunch and basically said, “I know this is really a hard one, but trust me, it has nothing to do with you or your ability. It was Rue”. She just didn’t want another young actress pulling attention from her at that point. Wildly enough, I get so much mail still from that show, and so many people know that show. Even Marc Cherry, who ended up creating Desperate Housewives, teases me when he sees me, and he’ll say, “Oh, the widow Spencer!” (laughing). I think that’s kind of a fun thing. I’m sorry it didn’t go on, but that’s what happens over the whole life of a career. There’s so many ups and downs and ups again. You just have to stay in it and keep steady.
Johnny: A good way to approach life in general…
Sondra: That’s true, Johnny.
Johnny: Moving into the 90s, as with quite a few of my previous interview subjects, you made a guest appearance on Murder, She Wrote, playing Carol Kendall in the episode Angel Of Death. What stood out the most to you about working on that show?
Sondra: Well, that was a well-oiled machine, needless to say. Angela is the consummate professional, and knows exactly how she wants to do things, and they’re done that way. It was fun. You just really have to be professional and show up and do your work. It was something where I wished I’d done more of those because she was someone who allowed actors to come back as different characters, and I did come back as different characters on Simon & Simon, but I didn’t go back on her show. It’s like, on NCIS, Mark Harmon will not allow an actor to repeat their role on the show more than once if it’s not repeating the same character. If you’re just doing a one-time guest star, that’s it. You can’t go back. I mean, I’m fairly well in touch with the people that are in the executive positions on that show, and he just won’t budge on that. He’ll only hire actors once, unless it’s a recurring role, whereas Angela was very giving about that, and you could come back on other seasons and do other roles.
Johnny: That is something I noticed with several of my previous interview subjects. They did play multiple roles on the show and they did good work on it, as did you. To move away from the 90s and into the 00s and New 10s, you played Linda Garner in the Hangover trilogy. What do you think made those movies so memorable?
Sondra: Well, I think it was very different. It was unexpected, it was free, and plus the fact it was good. It was excellent, and Todd Phillips, who, by the way, was nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Joker, directed the entire trilogy of The Hangover, and he’s really good. I call him “The Todd God” because he really is extraordinary as far as having a vision. He also went to the mat for all of us actors on the first one. The very first one was made for, I think, only $35 million, and they made a gazillion dollars off it, but most of us worked for scale plus Ten on that, but the studio wanted names in all of those roles. No one at that time really was a name on that one. I think that, from what I understand, this was what actually happened, he guaranteed that he could bring it in for X amount of dollars if they would let him cast the actors he wanted, so all of us got that job, and then he kept all of us together. It was a gift. We were his good luck charm, so even though in that second one Jeffrey and I had a very small scene in it, he wanted us in the film. It was part of keeping everyone together through all of it. On the third one, he changed the ending, which I was sad about because I actually liked the original ending. I don’t know if I feel that worked so well because I thought the original ending was really, really good on the third one, but who knows? It was expensive, so it just didn’t do as well as the first one. I looked at the first one with friends last Summer, and I was literally laughing out loud because it had been a while since I’d seen it. I was still tickled. It was still just so funny, and Zack was just unbelievable. That’s the other thing Todd Phillips really inspires with the actors. He knows when to let you run and he knows when to reel you in, so that was exciting. It was very exciting to be part of that.
Johnny: It certainly was. I certainly loved all of them, and oddly enough, the first one was introduced to me by my mother, believe it or not.
Sondra: Oh, that’s great.
Johnny: Yeah, that was kind of surprising, but I mean, we all saw it and we were all in hysterics.
Sondra: That’s fun.
Johnny: Well, to go to my next question: Jumping from the screen to the stage, what has theater acting provided you that screen acting has not?
Sondra: Oh, it’s a completely different experience. Number one, you really get to flesh out a character on an ongoing basis, and you always find new things to explore, which is really exciting. You get to really feel the audience when they’re with you, so that’s really quite thrilling. I call it The Magic Carpet Ride when you really know you’ve nailed something. You transform into another character and really lift off (laughing). That’s my crazy way of saying that. It’s an extraordinary experience, plus it’s much more private than doing something on camera. That’s why I love The Actors’ Studio. I’m really so grateful to have The Actors’ Studio to work at. I go twice a week, and you can go either here or in New York. The moderators are sensational. You’ve got Salome Jens here, who is phenomenal, and also Lou Antonio. We had Marty Landau who was, honest to God, one of the most gifted performers ever, and such a great teacher. He will go down as one of the greatest teachers ever. In New York, you’ve got Ellen Burstyn and Al Pacino, who comes out here occasionally, and Harvey Keitel. It allows you to put plays up if you want, or just develop new plays. I’m not sure I would want to do a play eight times a week. That’s really hard, and those actors deserve every kind of kudos that they get because you really have to stay fine-tuned. There’s a saying: You have to stay happy, healthy and fine-tuned.
Johnny: Okay. What stage role were you most surprised to land?
Sondra: Wow. Probably Blanche in Streetcar, because at that point, I was at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and Milton Katselas, who was another extraordinary, gifted teacher, is not with us anymore, but he really contributed a lot to my evolution…That was kind of a dare. He was like, “I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think Blanche is in your wheelhouse”, and I was determined to prove him wrong, so that one was quite exciting. I think that’s probably it as far as theater goes.
Johnny: Alright. To go to a similar question: Looking at your IMDB filmography, it mentioned that you appeared on stage in Death Of A Salesman.
Sondra: Yes. I produced that also. That was at The Actors’ Studio, and Mark Rydell played Willy Loman. The other characters were Actors’ Studio members, and Alan, my husband Alan Levi, directed it. I played The Woman. That’s the character’s name, The Woman, so that was exciting. That was a wonderful piece, and Mark was, of course, quite wonderful.
Johnny: Very cool, and that leads me to ask: If there were to be a gender-swapped version of the play, do you think you could handle the role of playing Willy Loman?
Sondra: I don’t know about Willy Loman. I suppose I could because you never want to say, “No, you couldn’t play someone”. I suppose I could dig around there and find a female Willy. I don’t know. Give me another one (laughing).
Johnny: I guess I was just thinking along the lines of how, just as there have been male King Lears onstage, so there have been female King Lears.
Sondra: That is true. I mean, look at 12 Angry Men. They did that with women, 12 Angry Women. Some of the great roles, even Waiting For Godot, they’ve done with women. You know, it’s really the text of the play that’s so thrilling. Right now I’m working on Doubt at The Studio. Of course we’re not swapping roles, but nevertheless it’s challenging, and it’s really a great piece. I’m trying to think of one with women. There are a lot of places now where women could be cast. In fact, the Screen Actors’ Guild committee I’m on, we’re now calling it Seasoned Artists, rather than Senior Artists. We’re talking about creating content, and women stepping into those roles is doable. That’s why I loved Robin Wright when she was doing House Of Cards. She was really great.
Johnny: Well, I hope the endeavor really works out, and that’s a very interesting concept. I hope it will bear some very good fruit.
Sondra: Thank you.
Johnny: One more stage question before going on to my next ones: What have been your favorite musical roles to play onstage?
Sondra: You know what? I actually have not done musicals onstage. I just got up and sang with my sister Cherie, whom I’m sure you know, when we were at the Chiller convention. That was my first time I’ve been onstage singing. I’ve done cabaret-style singing, jazz songs like “Stormy Weather” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, things like that, but I haven’t done a role where I’ve had to sing.
Johnny: Alright. Well, I do hope you land one someday…
Sondra: Thank you.
Johnny: …And since you mentioned Chiller, that does lead to my next question: You did appear at the Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, New Jersey last October, where we met…
Johnny: …And you’ve made the occasional appearance at other conventions as well, so what’s been the most rewarding part of attending conventions for you?
Sondra: Oh my gosh! Well, meeting you guys, that’s the most fun. That really, really is fun. That particular convention was really enlightening, and a lot of fun because I realized how many people pay attention. Honestly, the lives we live as actors, especially on television and in film, are pretty isolated and insulated, and we don’t see the public all that often. The people that turned out there were so kind and so generous, and I just loved meeting them. It really kind of made my day, and really made me feel good that my work was contributing to uplifting them in some way, so I think that they’re wonderful. I really appreciate being asked, and I really appreciate the people coming out.
Johnny: Well, I certainly enjoyed meeting you, so I do have to ask: What did you do during the chaos that Saturday when the second bomb threat in as many years was called in?
Sondra: Oh my gosh. Well, I followed Shirley Jones out. Alan and I went out the back. We were in the Ballroom, so we went out the back through the kitchen, and sat in the parking lot in-between a couple of fans and just waited. Everyone did, you know? We just waited and thought, “Wow, this is an unusual set of circumstances”. I must say that Shirley, I don’t know if you had a chance to meet her…
Johnny: I did.
Sondra: Yeah, she’s fantastic. She never complained, and she’s a little older, and it was pretty cold out there, if you remember, and never a complaint out of her. She just sat there with the rest of us, we were out in the back, and they got it together pretty quickly. I think we were out there maybe an hour or so?
Johnny: Yeah. It was fixed up a lot quicker than the one in 2018.
Sondra: Yes, I heard there was one before. In fact, there was speculation that it was the same person who did it both times. I hope not. I think Kevin Clement, who originated that show, does an extraordinary job. It’s very, very well put-together. I haven’t been at any others of his, but I thought he did a really excellent job and the turnout seemed quite great, wasn’t it?
Johnny: Oh, it absolutely was. I certainly enjoyed it, and I enjoyed meeting you.
Sondra. Thank you.
Johnny: That leads me to ask: What’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia someone has brought for you to sign at a convention?
Sondra: Well, I think someone brought me, at the Chiller convention, they brought me a huge, three times the size of a normal one-sheet, poster in French from…I think it was Policewomen, and I got a kick out of that because I’m such a Francophile. They brought that, and I thought that was pretty unusual, and I signed that for them. Someone brought me pantyhose, which I thought was kind of strange. I’d have to look up what he signed for me first to be able to tell you what it was, but that was unusual. Mostly it’s hats and pictures, but there have been some unusual pictures. I’ve seen picture of my mom and myself and my sisters, and I think, “Where on earth are they finding these things?”. They brought me things that I had never seen myself, so I love that they’re that curious and they pay that kind of attention. It’s really worthwhile, Johnny.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear.
Sondra: Yes, because you know that you’re really inspiring someone. The world can be very turbulent, and if you can shed some light in it and hope, it’s all about hope in someone’s life, and that’s a huge gift on our side. I mean, it feels really good when you do that.
Johnny: It certainly does. Entertainment can definitely impact the world in a positive way.
Sondra: Yeah. My sister’s very much like that, too. She gets in there and devotes time. In fact, Alan and I are just starting a short film for a charity that I’m part of called SHARE, which is an acronym: Sharing Happily And Reaping Endlessly. That’s for children who are battered and abused, children with AIDS, the developmentally disabled…I’ve been part of that for 25 years. We did a film for them once before because we fund different facilities in the Los Angeles area who take care of kids, and just going out there and being one-on-one with them is extremely uplifting, so we’re getting ready to do another one. I think that’s part of what our obligation as an entertainer is, to inspire.
Johnny: Well, you certainly do a great job of it.
Sondra: Oh, thank you, Johnny.
Johnny: And now I come to my final question: What talents, whether they’re actors or directors, would you most like to work with that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Sondra: Okay, well, I love Helen Mirren. I love Hugh Jackman, Meryl Streep…Of course DeNiro can fit into that group, but I think as far as being in a picture with them or working on a project with them, there’s a British actress named Juliet Stevenson, whom I think really lends a lot to everything that she does. I love George Clooney, and George is actually a friend. He’s worked with Alan several times. I think he’s got a glint in his eye that really is contagious. There’s a slew of them I’d still like to work with. I’d love to work with Todd again, and Bradley. Bradley’s a phenomenal actor. I would love to work with him again. He’s also an Actors’ Studio member, Bradley Cooper is. He’s a very conscientious actor. He went through Pace University in New York. He’s an Actors’ Studio member, and he’s sensational. I think Sally Field is fantastic, another Studio member, so I actually have a list. It’s not just one or two. Meryl Streep…I’d love to share the screen with her because when you’re working with really great talent, it really elevates you as well, so you’d love to see what you can do with people like that. If Philip Seymour Hoffman was still alive, I would’ve liked to work with him. He was just brilliant. One of my favorites to work with was Peter Falk. He was fantastic, and I did a couple of movies of the week with him. Peter was sensational. He was great fun to work with, and I learned a lot from him.
Johnny: Well, I hope you do get some of those elevating moments.
Sondra: Thank you, thank you.
Johnny: That does lead me to the end of my questions. I thank you again for taking the time to speak to me. I hope you have a fantastic evening.
Sondra: You have a good night. It’s late for you, isn’t it?
Johnny: Yeah, it’s 8:10 PM over here.
Sondra: Okay (laughing). Well, have a good night, and thank you for asking. Keep in touch.
Johnny: I absolutely will. Have a good evening.
Sondra: Thank you, Johnny. Bye bye for now.
I would again like to thank Sondra Currie for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Sondra’s life and career, you can visit her official website, which has links to all of her social media.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview is a conversation with Deborah Dutch, an accomplished actress with a lengthy filmography and, like quite a few of my previous interview subjects, a talent who has been to Chiller Theatre. Stay tuned for that, and thank you as always for reading.