Years before I knew her name, I first saw Wally Wharton as the character of Debbie in the Cheech and Chong movie Up In Smoke. Many years later, I saw her leave a comment on a mutual Facebook friend’s page, and I was so fascinated by her comment that I reached out to her with a friend request. She accepted it, and we hit it off so much that I knew I wanted to do an interview with her.
Wally is more than just an actress. She’s also a writer, a craftswoman, and a tremendously gifted artist whose artwork you’ll find throughout this interview. We spoke twice, once in October and once in November, and this article contains those two interviews. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll really know who Wally Wharton is, and I know you’ll find her to be fascinating in all the best ways.
Say hello to Wally Wharton for the first time…
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go.
Wally: Great, great! Wonderful.
Johnny: Okay. Let’s jump in.
Wally: First of all, I’m innocent. I’m innocent! I didn’t do it! I don’t know how the knife got in the dude’s back, really! I swear! (Wally and Johnny laugh)
Johnny: Okay, so where show business where you wanted to be growing up, or did you initially have a different career goal in mind when you were younger?
Wally: Not at all. My very first appearance on television was on The Hocus Pocus Show when I was 8 years old. It was one of those TV kiddie clown shows. He went around and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, (slipping into a little girl voice) “a movie star!”, (Back to her regular voice with a laugh), so there you go.
Johnny: Alright. One of your first screen credits was playing Debbie in Up In Smoke.
Johnny: Were you a Cheech and Chong fan before signing on for the movie, and if so, what was it like to work with them?
Wally: Yes, I was a fan because I had just graduated from college, and everybody in our dorm rooms had Cheech and Chong albums. We’d sit around and listen to the latest and, maybe, (in a stage whisper) someone might pull out a marijuana cigarette or two! (Back to her regular voice) I was pretty familiar with them, and I was thrilled to audition for them.
It was a very easy audition. Lou Adler was in the room, and both Tommy and Richard were there. We all joked around, and then they looked at each other and said, “Yeah, she’s good”. Later, my agent called me and told me I’d got the part, and I was really thrilled to get it, you know?
Johnny: Alright. With your comedy background, and knowing that Cheech and Chong would work with members of The Groundlings in future films, did you do any improvising in Up In Smoke, or was all your dialogue scripted?
Wally: It was all improvised. Originally, my part was supposed to be silent, kind of like a female Harpo Marx to say nothing throughout. I ad-libbed everything, and they loved the ad-libs. There was a little physical humor that I also ad-libbed, and they liked that. As mentioned, it was originally supposed to be silent, but years later, friends would say, “You should’ve gotten a writing credit!”. I said, “Look. This was my first union Screen Actors’ Guild job. I was thrilled to be making the $400 a week!”. (Wally and Johnny laugh)
Johnny: You’re actually the second talent and friend I’ve interviewed who’s worked with Cheech and Chong. Back in 2020, I interviewed my friend Kim Hopkins, who worked with them in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie.
Johnny: She had good things to say about working with them as well.
Wally: Yeah, they’re great. They’re pros. Both of them are totally different personalities, but they go so well together. We did a live prison show together up at Folsom Prison in the months after we wrapped on Up In Smoke, and that was fun, too. We were in the car for hours getting up there, and it was so much fun to hang out with them and talk, and then do this live show, which was bizarre to perform at a prison (laughing). They were really great guys to be with.
Johnny: Cheech and Chong performing in a prison, and probably half the people were in there for marijuana crimes.
Wally: (Laughing) Yeah, I don’t know. It was a pretty high-level security prison, I know that, and it was kind of ironic. One of the jokes we were doing onstage was where they would say, “Hey, I bet all you guys would like to get some action and see a really, really good-looking blonde!”, so they had one of their tech guys, who helped with the effects and everything, and was blonde, come out on stage. “Ha ha ha ha. No, not you, Bob”, and then I would come out, the blonde girl. (Laughing) We were all amazed because a lot of the guys in prison kind of start swinging the other direction, if you know what I mean. Believe me, Bob the tech guy got just as big applause as I did!
Johnny: (Laughing along with Wally) Oh, boy.
Wally: Yeah, it was kind of bizarre. It’s pretty funny. I also remember that it was a long day, and I had to use the restroom. Of course, with everybody at a prison, even the guests, you have a security person in uniform walking around with you the whole time. I go into the ladies’ room with a female prison guard. She’s very stern with a badge and a gun and everything, and I was so nervous, I couldn’t go! (Laughing) It was so weird. I couldn’t have any privacy.
Johnny: Well, jumping back to your acting work, you worked alongside a previous interview subject of mine, Kristine DeBell, in The Great American Girl Robbery, also known as Cheerleaders’ Wild Weekend.
Wally: (Laughing) Yes.
Johnny: Were you a cheerleader growing up, and if so, how did that influence your work on the movie?
Wally: Oh, gosh, no. No. I was a quote-unquote “nerd”, a scholastic nerd and drama freak all through my school days. I mean, I tried out fot the cheerleader squad dutifully every year. I never made the squad, and so I thought this was karma, man. This was justice. Now maybe I didn’t make the squad at William S. Hart High, but dammit, now they’re paying me to be a cheerleader! (Laughing) 40 bucks a week. That was it, 40 bucks a week, and I went from 40 bucks to 400 with Up In Smoke, but it was a fun movie.
With that cheerleader movie, I made friends for life. There were several girls who I attended UCLA with in the theater department. I was fresh out of school, though. I graduated a little early in the Winter of ’76.. Technically, I was supposed to get out in June of ’77, but I crammed everything together to get out a little early, and I was glad because, boy, that movie was grueling. The cheerleader movie was non-union, so we would have 12-or 13-hour days at times. It was really, really long hours to be running around topless in a mini-skirt, you know?
Johnny: Yeah, I can relate to that. I did some background work in a music video a couple of years back, and it was a non-union shoot. As I don’t drive, I had to get a ride to and from where it was being shot. We were shooting well into the night, and my phone was almost dead, so I almost didn’t get the call from my brother who picked me up at, like, 11:00 PM at night.
Wally: Wow, wow! (Laughing) That’s show biz, right?
Johnny: Indeed. So, going into the 80s, you played a party guest in the 1981 movie Heartbeeps. Knowing that that movie had a lot of scenes edited out before its’ final release, were there more party scenes in the movie that didn’t make it to the final cut?
Wally: No, no. That was the only one…I mean, the only one that I was assigned to. I believe that was the only one. It’s funny because the scene I’m in in that movie is on YouTube, and somebody commented, “Wow, look at that blonde! She must be Lady Gaga’s doppelganger”. I looked at it and thought to myself, “Boy, this guy’s right! I look like an early Lady Gaga!”. (Laughing) The way I was wearing my hair and my face with eyeliner? It’s so funny. Very odd. That was a fun shoot. It was great getting to know Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov.
Johnny: You can’t go wrong with them.
Wally: They were great, and Mary’s still alive. I know Paul has passed, but they were great artists all around.
Johnny: Indeed they are and were. Staying with you, though, in 1986, you played Wanda in Last Resort. Did you ever go on any vacations as bad as the one depicted in that movie?
Wally: (Laughing) Uh, no I didn’t, although I will say we filmed that over on Catalina. Every time I’ve gone over to Catalina, whether it was for a wedding or with my family, the ride over on that tugboat when you go there is always cold and always rough (laughing). Your teeth are chattering, and you’re like, “Oh, my god. I can’t believe I signed up for this”, but that was a fun shoot, and it was great because Zane Buzby was directing it.
Johnny: I was actually going to ask about her. What did working alongside her teach you that would be helpful to your later work?
Wally: Oh, she is such a talented woman, and she does a total immersion into her characters. When she was playing Jade East in Up In Smoke, it was so great because she had that character down. She had all these little details and accoutrements that Jade East would have with her, all the drug paraphenalia, a bottomless purse with all kinds of crap in it…She was so fantastic, and great to work with.
Subsequently, we’d get together even after filming. She and her boyfriend would have great parties at her house. I met Melissa Manchester, Kiki Dee, Cleavon Little and Ted Bessell, who was the male star of That Girl with Marlo Thomas. They were all good friends. To me, Zane was always at the top, the optimum of her craft, with her great comedy instincts and her ability to really become a character. She’s great.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear. Looking at your IMDB page, I was very intrigued to read of your appearances on talk shows in the 80s and 90s, so how much reality was in those talk shows you appeared on?
Wally: Well, they wanted us to draw upon our real experiences and our genuine connections to the topic at hand, but there was a certain amount of direction. It was like…You kind of had to take a side, and if there were contentious feelings between one panel guest and another, they kind of encouraged that and would build upon that. Now, when I was on Geraldo, that was the first time I did one of those chat shows. Geraldo didn’t talk to any of us beforehand, or give us his point of view. We just got on that stage cold.
When I was on The Montel Williams Show, before we got on that show, he came back and talked to all of us on the panel, and he also gave us a few cues like, “When I move over to this side of the stage and point here, I’m trying to get a close-up on this person”. He was really great because he explained how he worked his show, and I think that helped us be better prepared to be on stage there. He really was great. I have nothing but great feelings about Montel Williams, a very, very talented man.
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to famous Wallys, did you ever appear on Hot Seat With Wally George?
Wally: (Laughing) No, but he took me to dinner one time. He heard about me because, at that point, I’d started reviewing films for all the X-rated magazines, and so he read my name. He took me to dinner at Hamburger Hamlet on Van Nuys Boulevard because he said, “I wanted to meet the other Wally” (laughing). It was very nice. We just had a nice supper together, and that was it. It was very interesting because his daughter is the actress Rebecca DeMornay, and she played roles where she was very physically displayed, yet he’s Mr. Morality. It’s kind of ironic, but he was a very nice guy.
Johnny: Alright, and since you did mention it, an interesting turn your career took in the 90s was making non-sex appearances in adult movies.
Johnny: How did that end up happening?
Wally: Well, because I was reviewing them. Of course, to be in those films performing sex would be a conflict of interest. It’s like how Susan Sarandon doesn’t review the work of Anjelica Huston, you know what I mean? They’re both actresses. I got asked to be in a lot of the movies because they knew I had a theatrical and cinematic background, so if they needed somebody for a little comic relief, or to handle the dialogue, I was your man, so to speak. “No, sir, I’m not going to have sex with you, but there’s a girl over there who will!” (laughing), and then they’d cut to that scene.
It was fun, and a lot of the filmmakers have also become my lifelong friends. We go back years now because many people in the X-rated film business were consistently part of a population of kids whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to film school or a university’s theater department, so they were learning their craft by partaking in porn movies. That’s how they learned about cameras and equipment and the latest digital this-and-that. It’s kind of interesting.
Johnny: I can definitely see that. I particularly liked your work as the weatherwoman gradually going crazy in the Jeanna Fine film Velvet.
Wally: (Laughing) Thank you, thank you. Boy, you do your research, Johnny. You’re great. You are fantastic. I’m so glad you saw that. That was so much fun. That was filmed right here in my garage as a matter of fact (laughing).
Johnny: So, if I can ask one more question along these lines…
Wally: Of course.
Johnny: When it came to non-sex appearances in adult movies, did you ever work with Rob Black’s Extreme Associates?
Wally: I think I did. His production company was going to hire me to write something. I did a treatment for something, and then they didn’t pay me for it. A friend of mine who was working for his production company hooked me up, and I believe that was his production company, but then he pulled out of my participation but, you know, stuff like that happens.
Johnny: Alright. Well, staying in the general area, your cover photo on Facebook shows you spent some time writing an advice column for Chic Magazine.
Johnny: Did that follow on from the reviewing?
Wally: Oh, yes, because Chic and Hustler Erotic video Guide were both under the umbrella of LFP, Larry Flynt Productions. That was all Larry Flynt, although I also had a sex toy review column for Adam Magazine. That was not an LFP publication, but I didn’t have an exclusive with LFP.
I had articles in AVN Magazine, High Society, Gauntlet…There was also an LFP publication called Pure Magazine. It only had about two or three issues, and then it went belly-up, but I did not have an exclusive with them, so I was in numerous publications. Gauntlet was not necessarily X-rated, but it was very topical. It was all long essays, really, It wasn’t a pictorial magazine at all.
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to that advice column, it’s often said that the letters in adult magazines are not written by actual readers, but by other writers for the magazines. Did you ever have any suspicions along those lines when writing your Chic column?
Wally: Suspicions? I made up the questions myself!
Johnny: (Laughing alongside Wally) Sorry.
Wally: (Still laughing) Sorry to burst your bubble, Johnny. Sometimes my editor would throw in a question or two.
Johnny: Yeah. I can recall reading a story about Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. When she was starting out, she would write letters for British Penthouse.
Johnny: I kind of suspected that stuff was a work of fiction. After all, there was that scene in Splash where John Candy was boasting about getting a letter published in Penthouse. (Wally laughs alongside Johnny) Yeah, that probably wasn’t real.
Well, switching gears to a different form of pen work, you’re a gifted cartoonist. How did you start drawing?
Wally: Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, as a kid, I wasn’t athletic, but I loved to draw. That was kind of my outlet. I still have a couple of books that I scribbled in as a four-year old, and I have a lot of my early drawings. I love to draw the glamorous women on Hollywood. I guess that’s kind of evolved into my love of sketching pin-up girls.
As a matter of fact, when I was in the fourth grade, there was a huge paper-cutter in the back of the room, and the teacher would cut the paper right to 8.5X11 size, but there would always be this three-inch strip that landed on the floor, so I took all that paper, and it was the perfect size to draw a girl in a bikini or a girl in a mini-skirt.
I sold all these to the little boys for five cents each (laughing). They would tape them from end-to-end and roll them up and keep them in their pockets. When the teacher found out, he was really upset, and he sent the drawings home to my parents with an angry letter saying, “You should not allow her to draw pictures like this of women in bikinis. It’s distracting from her school work”. My parents laughed it off, quite frankly.
I would always be drawing, doing posters for the schools and things like that, but I did have to acknowledge that, by the time I got to college, my doodling WAS distracting me from my school work. It was definitely true, so I had to kind of curtail that, slap myself on the wrist in order to focus on my school work so I could pass, but I’ve always had that desire. My hands just can’t stay still. I’ve got to be making something, drawing something, fashioning something.
I often take things and repurpose them. It’s hard for me to leave anything as is. I love to modify all kinds of things. I make my own jewelry. In fact, I make X-rated jewelry (laughing). It’s not allowed on Facebook, but it’s really cute. I make porn pins. I take little images from the backs of the magazines because, of course, in being a writer for that industry, I accumulated so many X-rated magazines. I was looking at them one day and I said, “What can I do with this?”
I take the little tiny pictures, and then I would kind of applique them onto jewelry. I make little porn pins and earrings and necklaces with these very teeny-tiny X-rated images. When a person takes a look at my jewelry, they’ll say, “Oh, what are you wearing? It’s so pretty”, and then they’ll look closer and it’s, “Ho ho ho!”. They’ll see a girl whipping some skull on some guy at the center of my cameo (laughing), so, uh, yeah. I’ve always had an artistic inclination to create things.
Johnny: That’s very cool. When it does come to your drawings, who have been your biggest influences as an artist?
Wally: Oh, hands down, Mort Drucker of Mad Magazine. Absolutely. He passed on two years ago at nearly 100 years old, and he was so fantastic. I still have all of my old MAD Magazines, starting from 1959, and his caricatures were absolutely the best. I mean, many talented artisst have worked for MAD Magazine, sure, but I just loved his caricatures. He would capture every wart, every mole, every wrinkle, every nuance of every famous face, and I always thought he was really, really talented.
Besides him, I also loved the Vargas Girls. I have a couple of Vargas Girls, one from 1938 that my father had, which we found in his stuff when he passed, which I’ve, of course, framed. I would also say Hollywood glamour girls in general. All the costumes they wear, or NOT wear, have really influenced my work. I also do political caricatures as well, usually of local California/L.A politicians. I have a whole series I did of our mayor, Eric Garcetti, and a bunch more of them.
I do create drawings of men as well as women. It’s good to be flexible, but I really love to draw pin-up girls. I also admire Olivia De Bernardis. Her style is different than what I do, but her work is so stunning. It’s absolutely breathtaking. She’s fantastic. Of course, I love all the traditional pin-up artists.
Johnny: Oh, I get that.
Johnny: Have you ever considered selling commissions of your art?
Wally: Oh, I do. I do. A lot of people hire me to do anniversary portraits. If someone has been married 20 or 30 years, what do you get them for your anniverary? You already have a toaster (laughing), so what are you going to get them? What they’ll do is they’ll give me an old photo of their wedding day, and then I’ll take that and do an art piece out of it, two-dimensional caricatures of the bride and groom, and then I’ll do a special frame. For example, if the groom loves to fish on the weekends, I’ll put fishing lures all over the frame. I’ve done that in the past. People hire me quite a bit to draw their pets as well (laughing), always with the tongue out (imitating a dog panting). “Good boy, good boy!” (laughing).
I do that, and I do local cartoons. I live in a very small town, and there are small publications. If someone has a beef with somebody who’s on our neighborhood council board, they will secretly hire me to draw a funny cartoon exposing their hypocrisy, one way or another, about whatever local issue is going on here, and then it will be published in one of the local papers here. “Oh, my god! That’s terrible!”. I sign my name to my work. They know it’s me, but it’s a secret as to who hired me to do that kind of a lampoon (laughing).
Johnny: Very cool stuff. That does lead to my next question: You have a diverse array of talents, so which one that you haven’t shown off yet do you hope to do so in the future?
Wally: What a great question. Gosh. I don’t know. I’m a damn good cook. I can make eggrolls, which is pretty amazing, and I can bake a pie from scratch. I love to make complex pastries and things like that. I’m not going to be selling my cupcakes at the local fair or anything like that, but I just like to approach any task I have to do through the eyes of someone who wants to turn everything into an artistic effort.
I mean, I had my house painted multiple contrasting colors, ed, green, bright pink, purple. Anything that I can turn into something unusual and attractive, I’ll try to do that. I have a fantastic garden out here, and I grow all kinds of wild things. I have a way with animals. As a matter of fact, one of my regular jobs is dog-sitting, and I work with animals quite a bit. I also make a lot of kitchen magnets. I’ll tell ya, I’ll make a kitchen magnet out of anything. That’s about it, I suppose.
Johnny: Well, again, it is proof of your great versatility.
Wally: Thank you.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. Now I come to my final question: You’re part of what some call Generation Jones, but what I refer to as the BoomXers, the micro-generation born between 1955 and 1963 that, as can be inferred from my nickname, bridges the Baby Boomers and Generation X, so how has being a BoomXer impacted your outlook on the world?
Wally: Oh, very interesting question. Frankly, I’ve never heard of that subculture, as it were, but you’re so right. Yeah, 1955, the year I was born, up until 1963. I totally understand what you’re talking about. Well, I feel that mid-20th century era totally affects my outlook on the world. I believe it affects my art because of, like I mentioned about growing up, girls in bikinis and girls in mini-skirts, you know?
Also, I have a lot of Atomic Age artifacts. As you know, I collect antiques in general, but I have a genuine love of that era because that’s when I grew up, and that’s the kind of stuff my parents had. Being from that time, that specific point in time, it definitely colors my outlook on everything, on politics, on social issues. It was such a time of turmoil to grow up in the 60s. My sister is 10 years older than I am. She was born in 1945, and she was a hippie. She was a poster-carrying war protestor up North at San Francisco State and Berkeley, a “Ban The Bomb”/Haight-Ashbury kind of youth. That’s what she had.
My reaction to all that was that I couldn’t help but observe the strife that caused within our “nuclear family” because my father was an aerospace engineer, and I saw all the fights at Thanksgiving. “You’re making war machines, dad!”. I was like, “Ooh, boy”. I saw a lot of problems that the hippie revolution seemed to engender at that time, and so my reaction to it was to rebel against the hippies (Wally and Johnny laugh). I continue to rebel against the hippies to this day, but my sister is still there, man (laughing).
Johnny: I’m fascinated by the concept of micro-generations because I’m in a micro-generation myself. I’m an Xennial, part of the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983 that bridges Generation X and the Millennials.
Wally: Oh, yeah! Yeah.
Johnny: I was born in 1982. I’m turning 40 this December, and I’ve always felt something like a man out of time. I’ve lived all my life with an autism spectrum disorder, and one of the aspects of that is an intense focus on a particular subject. For me, my focus is on the 1980s as the 1990s were a real shitshow for me, and the 00s weren’t much better.
Wally: Uh huh.
Johnny: When I was an 80s fan in the early 00s, there would be people saying, “Oh, you’re only 19 (or 20). You can’t be an 80s fan”. They didn’t know the research I put into it and the passion I had for it. It would take a solid decade for me to get people to understand that.
Wally: Uh huh.
Johnny: Because of the work I’ve done for Pop Geeks, a lot of people now understand where I come from. I know people who came of age in the 80s, and they say I know more about the decade than they do.
Wally: (Laughing) Yeah.
Johnny: I’m a big 80s fan, but technically, I am a Millennial, and micro-generations fascinate me. You also have what I call the Silent Explosion, which are those born between 1936 and 1944, the one that bridges the Silent Generation with the Baby Boomers.
Johnny: You know, like how Dennis Hopper was 33 and playing a hippie in Easy Rider when he’d been playing teenagers in the 50s in films like Rebel Without A Cause.
Wally: Right, right! Yeah, very true.
Johnny: I think micro-generations have some of the most fascinating stories, although everybody’s story is fascinating in some way and, indeed, yours’ has been, so I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Wally: Sure, sure. This has been great. You’re a brilliant writer and a great interviewer. You really are. You’re so talented, Johnny. You should be writing for Rolling Stone!
Johnny: I’m flattered by that. Those compliments really mean the world to me. It always gives me a good feeling whenever I hear that, and I certainly do thank you for those compliments. I’ll definitely be in touch again soon, and until then, I hope you have a great afternoon.
Wally: I certainly will. I can’t wait to brag and tell everyone, (slipping into a posh voice) “I was interviewed by Pop Geeks about the historical significance of my life, ha ha!”. (Wally laughs in her regular voice)
Johnny: In all seriousness, what a life it’s been, and I thank you for sharing some of those stories with me.
Wally: Oh, thank you very much, Johnny. You have a wonderful day as well. We’ll talk soon.
Johnny: Sounds good. Be well.
Wally: Okay. Bye bye.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the interview you just read was our first conversation. When I sent her the transcript of our first interview, Wally, who was pleased with how it came out, sent me an e-mail with mentions of some other work she’s done that we didn’t talk about in our first interview. I knew there was enough material there for a second interview, so about a month or so after our first conversation, we delved into that material for our second interview:
Wally: Hey! Good afternoon, Johnny.
Johnny: Hi, Wally. How are you?
Wally: Pretty good, pretty darn good. How are you today?
Johnny: I’m doing good, and I have my questions ready to go.
Wally: Wonderful! Hopefully, I will have the answers.
Johnny: Alright, let’s start with this: Appearing in a Cheech and Chong movie isn’t the only thing you have in common with my friend Kim Hopkins as, like her, you were also one of the Mighty Carson Art Players on Johnny Carson’s version of The Tonight Show, so how did you land that gig?
Wally: Well, my agent had a connection with somebody who…Let’s see. How can I say this? Someone who hired the ushers and usherettes for that particular program. My agent was a young theatrical agent, but he had this other connection, and he happened to ask the guy one day, “How does Johnny get his comedy players when he wants to do a sketch?”, and the guy told him he has a kind of informal theatrical troupe that he often draws from. He’ll have so-and-so play a mailman, or get her to play the irritated waitress, some kind of stock character.
My agent mentioned, “Well, if you ever need kind of a goofy blonde (laughing), I’ve got somebody”. There were a number of girls that Johnny would hire within that category, but I did several shows. One show, I was, of course, jumping around in a bikini, and Ed McMahon was in it, too. A few months later, they called me again for another sketch, and that’s how it began. I also did one sketch with a guest host, Rob Reiner.
Wally: That was a fun one because I played a Las Vegas chorus girl. There were four of us, and we surrounded Rob. He had this big musical number where he wanted to sing Stars And Stripes Forever. We were in these sequined Vegas showgirl outfits that were red, white and blue.
At the very end, the floors were very slick in those TV studios, so as we were joining hands and doing our famous Rockette-like kicks, one leg and then the other, I accidentally slipped and I pulled all the other girls down with me in a chain reaction as the thing was ending. It was perfect. It was just great because the whole thing was supposed to be goofy. I had a little bit of a bruise on my behind afterwards, but it was literally a bang-up way to end the sketch.
I did a couple of more after that with Johnny, and it really was a lot of fun. Johnny was such a fantastic guy to work with. He was so funny just naturally offstage. When we were warming up for the studio audience to do a sketch, he’d be backstage with us, doing a little tap-dance and telling us old vaudeville jokes and everything. He was just a great, great guy, and a great performer.
Johnny: How lovely to hear. Speaking of comedy icons, you also worked alongside another one, Redd Foxx, on his 80s series The Redd Foxx Show, so what are your favorite memories of that show?
Wally: Well, of course, I met Redd and his gang of comedy pals. There was this comedian, Slappy White, who was really fun. He was in a bunch of sketches. My recurring sketch was that of a TV preacher’s wife, you know, with a big, blonde beehive hairdo and the Southern accent, and the guy that I worked with who played (slipping into the Southern accent) my husband (back into her regular voice), trying to get money out of the viewers, was part of a funny set-up.
I also met other comedians who’d come on the show. I met Billy Saluga and did a sketch with him. Billy Saluga’s famous line was, “Well, you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay…”
Johnny: “Or you can call me Ray J, or you can call me RJ, or you can call me RJJ Jr., but ya doesn’t hasta call me Johnson!”
Wally: (Laughing) You’ve got it, you’ve got it. Absolutely. That’s so funny. I did another sketch with Murray Langston, who’s better known as The Unknown Comic with a brown paper bag over his head, if you remember him.
Johnny: I do.
Wally: The show only ran about four or five times, and then it was canceled, unfortunately, and that was that, but it was really fun. The director was Albert Brooks’ brother, Bob Einstein, who has passed away, unfortunately. He was really a great guy and a very good director. It was a terrific show.
I’ll tell you this, though. We would rehearse it in the afternoon, and then we would do the show live with a studio audience at CBS Television City, there on the corner of Fairfax and Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood. During the break between rehearsal and the live show, (laughing) everybody would drink, and I mean DRINK!
I wouldn’t. I thought, “I’ve got to stay professional”, but man, it was amazing because a lot of people just drank and drank, and the hair lady and makeup lady would be like, (imitating a drunken voice) “Okay, now let’s redo, hic, hic, your hair and makeup a bit, hic, hic, for the show. Okay, honey?”. (Back to her normal voice) It was like, “Hmm, remember when we did it before, and you had my false eyelashes on really well? That’s how I’d like it again” (laughing). They were really a party crew, let me tell ya, but it was great fun. It really was.
Johnny: Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of Redd Foxx’s comedy. I downloaded a bunch of his albums off YouTube and burned them to my MP3 player. Probably my favorite Redd Foxx joke is this: What’s the difference between a pickpocket and a Peeping Tom?
Wally: (Laughing) What?
Johnny: A pickpocket snatches watches.
Wally: (Laughing along with Johnny) Oh, that’s great! That’s so funny! God, he was one in a million.
Johnny: He certainly was. Since you’re such a naturally funny person yourself, and you’ve crossed paths with many funny people, I would like to give you the names of some noted comedians who have passed on, and see if you have any stories about them.
Wally: Sure, sure.
Johnny: Okay. We’ll start with this: As the first few decades of your career coincided with the last few of his, did you ever cross paths with Bob Hope?
Wally: No, no. Boy, I sure wish I had. I always loved his movies, and I saw every Bob Hope special broadcast from Vietnam or wherever. I’m reading his biography right now, as a matter of fact. Fascinating guy. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a fascinating character on so many levels.
Johnny: Alright. Similarly, did you ever meet George Burns?
Wally: Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, I was auditioning for one of his TV specials and, of course, they were always poking fun at the fact that he was older than anyone else in show business. The sketch was he was going out with a really, really young girl, so I auditioned for it, but afterwards, my agent told me, “Well, they’re going to go with somebody even younger than you are”. I said, “Oh, that’s great! I’m too old for George Burns! Fantastic!” (laughing).
Wally: Oh, boy. Just one of those things.
Johnny: Well, to go to a younger talent, did you ever meet Robin Williams at any events?
Wally: No, I didn’t. I never met him. I saw him perform at The Improv one evening, but I didn’t meet him afterwards or anything like that. Keep going. There have been a couple of people I have met.
Johnny: Did you ever work with Gilbert Gottfried?
Johnny: Okay. Did you know Richard Jeni?
Johnny: Let’s see. What about Sam Kinison?
Wally: No, but I worked with people who did, and I know people that knew him. That’s all I can say.
Wally: No, I don’t, but she was brilliant. Such an original, but no. You can ask me about Phyllis Diller, though (laughing).
Johnny: Oh. Well, of course she’s very interesting, so what’s your favorite story about her?
Wally: Well, I did a TV show with Phyllis Diller. It was Celebrity Bloopers and Practical Jokes, if you remember that show. She wanted to pull a joke on Richard Simmons, and the joke was this: He was going to give Phyllis Diller a private workout session, so she calls him over. I mean, who knows if she was really trying to pull a fast one on him with the TV crews lining the streets of her house?
He arrives, and there were a whole bunch of us there, ready to work out in workout clothes, except we were topless. Of course, he acted all surprised and everything, and then, “Okay, everyone. Get up. We’ve got to start our aerobics”, and then he starts Sweatin’ To The Oldies. That’s when I did meet those two.
Johnny: (Laughing) You know, it’s interesting that you bring up the word “topless” because that leads me to my next question: You spent over a decade working as a stripper, so what are your favorite memories of your stripping days?
Wally: Oh, the money! The money, the money, the money, but actually, something I hold near and dear to my heart is the fact that I learned to be a better dancer in terms of balance and control, and the technique of being able to dance to any kind of music. I mean, I’d always taken ballet and everything since I was four years old, and it’s amazing. You use that even in bumping and grinding, shall we say, on stage. I’m such a ham that I always try to bring the dancing itself up to another level, and I feel I did. Some nights, the guys would applaud afterwards like they had just seen Swan Lake. (Deepening her voice) “Oh, that’s very fine. That’s excellent. Bravo! Brava!”.
(Back to her regular voice) It’s kind of ironic, but it was a great business to be in because you could be creative. You had three numbers on stage, and you could do whatever you wanted. Usually there were five to eight other girls working in rotation on a Saturday night, and then they introduced table dancing, which evolved or devolved, depending on how you look at it, to lap dancing. Basically, that became the star of the stripping experience, the lap dance, but that occurred when they took away the liquor licenses from all the nude clubs after the ’84 Olympics. They said, “We can’t mix being totally nude with alcohol. It’s too much like soliciting, so we’re taking the liquor liceneses away from the nude bars, but because there’s no booze, you can actually get more up close and personal with the guys”. (Laughing) Oh, gee. Thanks.
Basically, the guys were great, though. They really were, and some of them really did become friends of mine, and I had a few sugar daddies, I must say. Sometimes the guys get infatuated with you. They get incredibly taken by your “comely visage”, and they bring you things. I had fans in all kinds of professions, and sometimes it would get a little obsessive. The doorman would have to say, “Okay, partner. Hold off there. You’ve gotta remain a gentleman. You can’t just hound her all night. She has to see to other customers, too”. Stuff like that.
Basically, though, it was a great kind of side hustle to have, and then (laughing) when I’d be on, like, The Tonight Show and I’d be working, they’d close the bar down and everyone would watch The Tonight Show to see me. The manager would say, (sliding into a gruff voice) “Okay now, everybody. She’s going to be on TV, so we’re closing everything down, and we’re all gonna watch The Tonight Show. Got it?”. “Got it”. That was kind of ironic, too, to be taping a TV show during the day and then, when the sun came down, I’d be dancing naked as a jaybird up until 11:30 PM when The Tonight Show would come on, and everyone would watch it (laughing).
It was great. I can’t say enough good things about that business. It taught me a lot about how to manage my finances and how to budget. You know, you always have $100 cash in your purse, and I was able to save a lot of money by stripping, and that’s what I did.
Johnny: So what were your favorite songs to strip to?
Wally: Oh. Well, I loved a wide variety. Sometimes I would do a 1950s set. Other times I would even push the boundaries a little and dance to very old music, maybe even musical comedy numbers. I had different themes with all kinds of different, exotic costumes that went with certain themes, and sometimes you just want to do some down-and-dirty, simplistic rock-and-roll.
I learned a lot from the other girls. There was this one dancer who never had any flashy costumes. She never did her hair. She never even wore a stitch of makeup or sexy high heels. She was barefoot, and she had just one ripped, old faded dress. She would get on the stage, and she would dance for three numbers just like that, on stage in this old ripped dress. She wouldn’t leave the stage in between numbers, which we all did. She would just stand out there being herself, dance to some old blues music, and everyone was hypnotized, myself included. She was so excellent, the way she would weave a spell with each guy around the bar, around the stage. She would eyeball them, and work this kind of magic. Like I said, everyone was just hypnotized with no special effects whatsoever. It was really incredible.
You know, girls had different styles, and mine (laughing) was kind of show-bizzy, to say the least. I would also get customers from the record industry, and they would bring me all the new hit singles off the press, before they were hits. In a way, I got to introduce a lot of music, strangely enough, to the public, and that was fun, especially in the early new wave era. It wasn’t so much arena rock-and-roll anymore as it was this weird, quirky spin-off of punk rock that was happening in the music world. Basically, for me, it was a variety. It’s amazing what some people could do with entirely different styles, AND get the same results. The guys were very turned on.
Johnny: Yeah. I recall reading somewhere that someone said the one advantage that new wave music had over punk music was that new wave music was all about sex.
Johnny: One more question before moving on: What were the sexiest moves you could pull off, anything like booby-dancing or twerking or anything?
Wally: Well, nothing was defined as twerking, but I did see a lot of girls do things similar to twerking. In certain clubs, you were not allowed to bend over, you know, turn around and spread your cheeks. They would not allow you to do it, but everybody did it anyway. Some clubs also didn’t allow floor work or rug work. That’s when a girl would bring a rug out on stage and writhe around on it. A lot of people would push the boundaries, though, and do it anyway.
I wanted to be well-rounded. What can I tell ya? I learned a little of everything (laughing). Also, when you’re a stripper, you learn what your forte is. You analyze yourself, see what’s the sexiest pose you can come up with, what really showcases you, your body and your sensuality, that kind of thing. You learn what colors look best on you. Yeah, you learn a lot about clothes by working naked, strangely enough (laughing).
Johnny: I kind of feel the same way about writing. As you continue to write, you learn what you’re good at and what you’re not. You learn what works best for you. You learn what really impresses the readers. Writing is kind of like that, in a way.
Wally: Yeah, absolutely, like what really flows, what comes from your heart and works, and you don’t have to keep editing yourself over and over again. You’ve been able to describe your state of mind, and communicate. It’s really all about communication in anything you do.
Johnny: Definitely. Speaking of club work, another form of performance that was popular in the 80s and early 90s was mud wrestling, and you wrote Penelope Spheeris’ movie about the phenomenon, Thunder And Mud. What do you think the appeal of mud wrestling was?
Wally: I think it was the fact that it’s literally a contact sport, so it conjures up erotic images for the viewer thinking, “Wow, I’d like to tackle her! Ooh, I wonder if I could turn her over and bring her down with this move”. I think it could spark the imagination about having contact with one of the wrestlers. It just is. That’s my interpretation of it. I never did it myself. I’m not strong enough (laughing).
Johnny: Well, if Thunder And Mud were to get a Blu-Ray release from one of the boutique labels, would you participate in extras?
Wally: Well, I wrote the script, and I was also paid as an actress to be in it because Penelope said, “Well, write yourself a part”. I said, “Okay, I will”, so I did. I made myself one of the female mud wrestler’s managers, so that’s what I was, smoking a cigar, wearing a very revealing corset and high heels, of course.
Johnny: Alright. One more question along those lines before the next aspect of your work: Do you think mud wrestling might ever make a comeback, or do you think our current landscape, with COVID being endemic, might preclude such a thing from happening?
Wally: I don’t even know if COVID would have so much to do with it, but to pull a vat of mud onstage and let people slosh around in it? That’s a heck of a lot of clean-up. I think maybe there could be some kind of online, digital version of mud wrestling, but I don’t think, literally, it will ever happen again because sometimes that mud would get old, and it would harbor little creatures, little parasites. I knew some girls who got skin infections and stuff because they didn’t change the mud often enough.
Johnny: Yeah, I can see how that would preclude a comeback. Very unnerving stuff.
Wally: Oh, yeah. Now everyone’s litigious, too, so clubs like The Tropicana, I think, would get sued if anyone came down with a rash or anything (laughing).
Johnny: Well, switching gears, as an artist, one of your more recent projects has been coloring the illustrations for a collaboration between Barry Geller and Jack Kirby, inspired by Mr. Geller’s screenplay based on the Roger Zelazny novel Lord Of Light, so what is the easiest part of coloring and, conversely, what part is the hardest?
Wally: Okay. That’s a very, very, very good question. The easiest part is just the enjoyment of it, the sheer enjoyment of it, the fact that you have the huge spectrum of color in front of you. Barry would say, “Hey, color it however you want”. There was one thing I had to keep in mind: I couldn’t duplicate the former color versions of the prints that Heavy Metal Magazine had done. When they licensed those prints for five years, they had their own color techniques.
They hired a movie poster artist whose name I forget, but he was very talented. He used a lot of neon colors, but what Barry wanted was more of Jack Kirby’s lines, all of the detail he put into these architectural renderings. He wanted that to come out, and with the Heavy Metal artist, he just kind of dumped three or four colors on each black-and-white print and let it all blend together in a kind of weird way. It was very effective, but it didn’t show off Kirby’s lines to Barry’s satisfaction.
That’s why he wanted to do a whole other version that really accentuated all the details, and so that’s what, basically, my assignment was, but I could use any color I wanted. I would use certain colors to communicate certain things. Let’s say a character had a ray-gun in his hand. In the Heavy Metal version, the flames coming out of it would be bright neon-yellow gold. Well, I would then take that and do a different color, like a light blue, to make it look like a hot blue flame. You see what I mean? It still communicates the fact that it’s fire, but it’s a different type of fire, or a different type of power that’s energizing that ray-gun or whatever.
Basically, that was it. I was just accentuating all the lines and the detail, as well as who the characters were in each print. I didn’t change any of Kirby’s lines at all, except in ONE case. The Goddess Khali? I added ONE stroke, and it completely changed her costume. If you saw the first version, it looked like she was wearing a mini-dress, but she had other lines on that mini-dress that, if you added a navel, if you just added her belly button, all of a sudden, that mini-dress became a bikini. It was the oddest thing, and that’s what I did. All of a sudden, she was transformed from wearing a 70s mini-dress into wearing more of a timeless, Hindu-inspired bikini. That was the only addition I made to anything, and it really worked.
It was pretty incredible, but other than that, it was pretty much my theme with certain characters, certain warriors, to use a lot of deep, primary colors to connote strength and power and things like that. I could not use metallic colors because they don’t duplicate. If you have these metallic paints, you can’t just take them to a printer to duplicate. They become dull. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to spray-paint something metallic, but it won’t duplicate very well at all. I couldn’t do that, but I still had to communicate that certain things were part of someone’s armor, that something was metal, but I couldn’t use real metallic paint. That became a challenge. Everything’s a challenge, but it’s interesting because you reach inside yourself and find other ways to communicate what you want people to absorb from the print.
Johnny: That actually kind of leads into my next question: You’re one of the most naturally funny people that I know, so is it difficult to work on more serious projects such as the Lord Of Light project?
Wally: Well, I like a spectrum. You know, there are funny aspects of the Lord Of Light project, and there are very serious aspects of certain comedic assignments I’ve had (laughing). Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. It’s like certain types of music. You can find chaos within something very linear, and you can find something very simple and melodic within certain music that most people perceive to be chaotic, like certain types of jazz. You can still see the simplicity within all the musical complications or layers.
Johnny: I see. I think that’s a way that all art can be approached, whether it’s drawn or written. It’s definitely an interesting way to look at things. Going back to your own artwork, have you ever drawn portraits of the adult film stars you know?
Wally: I’ve done one of Ron Jeremy! (Laughing)
Johnny: Ooh, ugh!
Wally: A rather notorious figure, and I’ve done a couple of others, just informally. Sometimes, when I’d go to set, I’d be writing a piece, but sometimes I’d do a sketch of somebody. I’ve always done that. I like to capture people’s features and do caricatures. When I go to neighborhood council meetings (laughing), I’ll sketch my neighbors in the crowd, or people on the board just for the heck of it, or a guest speaker or two, and I’ll give it to them afterwards. “Oh, wow, look at that!” (laughing).
Johnny: Well, as I’ve said before, you certainly are a gifted artist.
Wally: Well, thank you. Thank you, Johnny.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. I now come to my final question for this.
Johnny: Your work has spanned multiple worlds, so if you could invite any five famous people, living or dead, to your house for dinner, who would you invite?
Wally: Aaah, okay. Alright. I believe I would invite French authoress Colette. She wrote Gigi, something that everyone knows, but I’ve read all of her works. I would also invite Yukio Mishima, author, very intense, very gifted. I would invite a relative of mine, Edith Wharton, who wrote The Age Of Innocence and Ethan Frome, and a few other seminal pieces around Colette’s time of the early 20th century. I would invite Bob Hope. Hands down, I would invite him. I would invite Margaret Mitchell who, as we all know, wrote Gone With The Wind. Have I reached five yet? I’m leaving someone out. I just know it (laughing).
Johnny: Well, that’s okay. That’s the fun of it. You come up with your five, and then another comes up, and then you could really have a real wingding.
I just have to say that, again, you’re a fantastic storyteller, and it’s an honor to hear your stories. Oh, and also, I did mention this in a voicemail, but when I met Cheech Marin at Chiller Theatre, I told him that I know you. He asked what you’re doing, and I mentioned your work as an artist, and how gifted you are, and he found that interesting.
Wally: Wow, very good! Well, thank you. Thank you, Johnny. Thank you so much!
Johnny: Oh, no problem. I figured he would find that interesting, and he did, and I knew I wanted to mention him to you as well.
Wally: Aw, great, great. That’s terrific. I’ve still got to get out there to Riverside and see his museum. He has such a fantastic eye for collecting, and the artwork he’s been able to preserve and showcase is just phenomena. In addition to all his performing responsibilities and such, this whole thing he’s done for the art world is very seminal. It’s really fantastic.
Johnny: It definitely is. He’s great at preserving it. You’re great at preserving your art. Art’s important, and you’re very good at it.
Wally: Thank you, and you are, too, as a writer. My golly, you’re great!
Johnny: Well, I thank you very much for that. I thank you very much for the compliments on my writing. It really does mean a lot.
Wally; Oh, well, it’s just the truth. Just the facts, ma’am. It’s the truth. You’re really an excellent writer, and I can’t encourage you enough, you know? You’re very talented.
Johnny: Thank you. I’ll leave you to your business, but it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, and I’ll catch you on Facebook.
Wally: Great. You bet. You take care, Johnny.
Johnny: See you later.
Wally: Okay, bye bye.
I would like to thank Wally Wharton for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me twice, and for her permission to include examples of her artwork in this interview.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with singer and dancer Deborah Jenssen, Oscar-winning makeup designer Kevin Haney, comedienne Monique Marvez, two-time Oscar-winning sound designer Russell Williams, and actress/singer Debbie D, the last of whom I met at both 2022 Chillers, as shown in my Pop Geeks articles on those shows. Until then, happy holidays, everybody!