Friday, June 28, 2013


I recently spoke with actress/novelist LARA PARKER about her upcoming Dark Shadows book, WOLF MOON RISING. Because the novel won't hit stores until Aug. 20, it's a little early to release that part of the conversation into the wild. Look for it to appear in our podcast sometime in the near future, possibly on the next full moon.

Our conversation covered a lot of ground, though. After chatting about the book, we spoke about her various roles on stage and screen. The subjects ranged from her early stage appearances in New York City during the days of DARK SHADOWS, to her movie and television roles opposite people like Farrah Fawcett, Robert Wagner, Tom Selleck and Pierce Brosnan.

Also, it's worth noting that I stole the idea for this feature from The AV Club's RANDOM ROLES series. I regret nothing.

Lara and John Heffernan in WOMAN IS MY IDEA.

WOMAN IS MY IDEA (1968) - Emily Wendridge
The rehearsal period for Broadway shows is very long, and the preview period was several weeks. So I worked on the play for a long time until it finally opened ... then it got a terrible review and closed in about two weeks. WOMAN IS MY IDEA was a vanity production. It was actually written, bankrolled and directed by a man who was a Mormon who felt he’d written this wonderful play. It cost a fortune, and you can imagine how critics feel about vanity productions.

I was very young and so thrilled to be on Broadway, so thrilled to be Off Broadway. I think my attitude about my career has always been one of enormous gratitude. I didn’t have a lot of bitter feelings (when the play failed.) I was relieved I didn’t have to go back to the play and perform again.

Lara and William Severs in LULU

LULU (1969) - Lulu
We worked four of five months on that play, and it went through many changes. That play could have been wonderful. It suffered from too many ideas. When you’re acting, you’re trying to fulfill the needs of the director. ‘Say this line this way. You have to move quicker through this scene. Play her like a kitten. Play her like a prostitute. Play her like a trollop.’ You’re constantly getting badgered by all these ways to do things, but the person who’s doing the creating is sitting out in the audience.

It should have been played completely different than the way I played it. I played it like a kittenish little sexpot and the critics didn’t like it, as well they should not have. But, when you’re young you don’t care about bad reviews. You still have your whole life ahead of you.

Lara in HI, MOM.

HI, MOM! (1970) - Jeannie Mitchell
(Director Brian De Palma) ended up not liking me. I was very naive and not very courageous. There was a scene in a bathtub, which was cut out of the movie, where he wanted me to be nude. I didn’t want to do it. It was all improvised. He wanted me to improvise sexual fantasies ... in a bathtub … with bubbles … in the nude. It seems strange today, because actresses will do anything to get successful. But I was way too shy and way too inexperienced to come up to his standards. I couldn’t do it.

He was a brand new director. He was treading water, too. He asked us to improvise these scene, ‘You guys just talk,’ which is hard to do when you’ve been learning lines for however long I’d been acting. I didn’t know how to do it.

It was just unbelievable. I got to drive a horse and buggy. They had a horse wrangler that could make the horse prance and then fall down. It was Hollywood! It was just a thrill. I had a wonderful part, and then I don’t think I did anything for a year. I read for a lot of parts but didn’t get them. It’s not what people think. You don’t make one movie, become a millionaire and move to Malibu.
Jack Lemmon and Lara in SAVE THE TIGER.
SAVE THE TIGER (1973) - Margo
I came out to California to do SAVE THE TIGER, which was a really wonderful experience, then I went back to New York . My kids were getting older and my oldest son was going to middle school. I just didn’t think New York was safe for them. I thought they’d have a better life in California, and they did. It wasn’t that easy for them in New York City.

I thought that I’d become a big movie star. I didn’t realize that my best role was behind me, that Angelique was the best role I’d ever get. I was very, very confident when I came out to California. I had a good agent, I was with a big agency. Right away I was cast on KUNG FU and thought it was going to be a breeze.

Jack Lemmon was wonderful to me. Right after the director said ‘action,’ he said under his breath, ‘Magic Time!’ It gave you this little chill. You realized, ‘Oh my god, this is what I do. I’m an actor and I’m creating this moment, I’m making it real. It’s going to move people and excite people.’ It grounds you as an artist. And he said it every time.

(The director) had some kind of high-faluting idea where he wanted the other girl in the scene and me to embrace and kiss and caress each other. Of course I was humiliated. I was crying and didn’t want to do it ... but these are the things that happen to actresses. It was not in the scenes that I auditioned, and I didn’t expect it. I was told to do this on the set where I was trapped. I didn’t know how to do it, I wasn’t prepared to do it and I’d done no preparation that would suggest I had some kind of lesbian relationship with this other prostitute. She was actually a beautiful black model, a gorgeous girl. But it was unmotivated. You’re so used to doing what directors tell you to do that I did it, and was humiliated.

Jack Lemmon came up to me the next morning and said, ‘You don’t have to worry about a thing. None of that is in the picture.’ He laid down the law and saved my ass.

Telly Savalas and Lara in KOJAK.
KOJAK (1973, 1976) – Jenny Villers/Maria
BARETTA (1978) – Trudy
SWITCH (1976) - Ester Kelly / Shirley Harris / Tonya Mason

The ambiance on a television set is linked very strongly to the leading actor. For instance, there was a world of difference between KOJAK and SWITCH. Telly Savalas was a New Yorker and he hired a lot of guys from New York, so the set felt like you were in New York. You could hear New York accents, and it was kind of edgy and fraught with a certain kind of energy. The same with Robert Blake on the BARETTA set. Robert Blake was famous for firing people and losing his temper, so everyone was walking around the set on tip toe, trying not to do anything wrong. On SWITCH with Robert Wagner, everyone was laughing all the time. It’s amazing we ever got a scene shot because it was just one joke after another. Sometimes he wanted us to shoot something that was not in the script just so he’d have a piece of film for the Christmas party. (Wagner) was just so wonderful, so charming and sweet. So the set would feel different, depending on who the show revolved around. I always found that interesting.

Lara and Lee Majors in THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN.

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (1974) - Andrea Collins
I think I was terrible in it. The way TV shows are filmed, maybe not so much anymore, but it’s all chopped up, it’s all out of order. Scenes are short, and there’s so much emphasis on hair and make-up and looking good. I don’t remember too much about making that. But I had to say something like ‘I’ll always have a candle lit in the window for you,’ and I just couldn’t say the line. I couldn’t get it out, it was just such a corny line.

But I got to go on location. I got to go on some Air Force base out in the desert, and it’s always fun to go out on location. (NOTE: Lara said her character's name was a coincidence, and not a nod to DARK SHADOWS.)

That was a phone call. I didn’t have to audition. Darren McGavin had no idea who I was and had no idea what DARK SHADOWS was. He said to me at one point, ‘This kind of thing is really hard to do because nobody understands how to do it.’ I just looked at him and didn’t say anything. He was kind of a bad-tempered person and a little hard to work with.

Didn't that episode end with you covered in blue dye?
 The whole ending was very unpleasant, but that’s often the case. I watched some of the DARK SHADOWS movie last night, and saw the scene where Josette’s lying in the waves, in the sea, after she’s jumped off the cliff. And all I could think was ‘Oh my God, that must have been horrible to shoot. That must have been so uncomfortable.’

Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker and Peter Fonda in RACE WITH THE DEVIL.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) - Kelly Marsh
I was tucked into the movie by my agency, who represented a couple of the other actors. It was a plum given to me. I’ve told the story of the rattle snake so many times. I got all of Loretta Swit’s lines because she refused to even come on the set. People have a phobia against snakes, they don’t want to be within five miles of a snake. I felt the snakes were really beautiful. I watched the snake handler take the snakes and milk them. And they pulled the fangs, which was very cruel to the snake. The snakes can no longer bite because they had no fangs and they had no poison. And I had them all over me. I just felt so sorry for them. 

The director kept saying ‘Take the snake and bash it against the counter.’ I’d lift it up and set it down, and he’d curse and say ‘Bash that creature.’ Then he’d ask me to get the rattle and head in the close-up when I’m screaming. But I loved doing that scene. It’s like the hanging scene in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. You never get a chance to something like that again.

S.W.A.T. (1975) - Susan
The only time I was really aware of someone’s strong charisma was in a cop show I did with Farrah Fawcett. She and I were both captives, we were tied up together and some crooks were trying to get a ransom. Since my character’s mental state was one of hysterical fear, I did a strong preparation so that I could have tears in my eyes and be trembling. (Fawcett) had just come from a photo shoot with some famous photographer, so she just walked onto the set and did the scene. I watched it later, and you could not take your eyes off of her. Here I was, acting up a storm with all this reality … sometimes you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to act at all. You just have to be a face the camera loves. She definitely had that.

DOCTORS' HOSPITAL (1976) - Angela Sloane
I was playing a model who went through a glass window at a party, and the injury affected her brain. She had to have brain surgery, and they put a bald cap on me so it looked like I had no hair. It was a really good part; I got to play a whole spectrum of emotions. And, in the end, Tom Selleck’s character abandons me because he was sick of being with someone who was sick. She turned into a prostitute, so I got to do that. It was a really great role.

Bill Bixby and Lara Parker in the pilot for THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1977) - Laura Banner
That was just one day (of shooting) and I don’t think I was ever credited. I was hoping I’d come back in another episode. I don’t think I was paid, I don’t think I was credited and I don’t think I did anything about it. I wasn’t on set for any of the Hulk transformation scenes.

Roger Davis, Lara Parker, William Daniels and a cylon in GALACTICA 1980.

GALACTICA 1980 (1980) - Shirley Blore
I remember a lot of costumes. Wasn’t there some kind of costume party? Roger (Davis) and I are friends. We talk on the phone and see each other every so often. He’s a builder now, he builds houses in Hollywood. My husband is a builder, so Roger calls (him) a lot, so it was nothing new seeing him on the set. Glen Larson, who was the producer, used me in several things, and he used Roger in several things.

Lara and Pierce Brosnan in REMINGTON STEELE.

REMINGTON STEELE (1983) - Lila Colbert
I thought about (Pierce Brosnan) and I thought about Robert Wagner. They were both more charismatic in person than they were on the screen. Robert Wagner is so charismatic in person. He’s so funny, so warm and so relaxed. And so is Pierce Brosnan. He was flirty and making jokes, putting you at ease. He knew how to make the actors on his set feel relaxed so they’d give good performances, which was such a gift. Then he went on to be James Bond and, I think, deservedly so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lara was a guest on an episode of "Alice", along with Adam West.

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