Morgan Fairchild Interview: On Pals Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Hallmark's "Perfect on Paper"
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Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress Morgan Fairchild began her career as Faye Dunaway’s double in Arthur Penn’s 1967 iconic crime drama Bonnie and Clyde. From 1973 to 1977, she portrayed Jennifer Pace on the renowned daytime drama Search for Tomorrow. The following year, Fairchild appeared on the primetime soap Dallas playing Jenna Wade before taking a lead role in the NBC series Flamingo Road in 1980.
In 1984, Fairchild co-starred on ABC’s short-lived primetime drama Paper Dolls and then appeared on Falcon Crest from 1985 to 1986. Other television appearances include Kojak, Switch, Happy Days, The Bob Newhart Show, Police Woman, Mork & Mindy, The Love Boat, Murphy Brown, Roseanne, General Hospital, Cybill, Friends, Just Shoot Me!, Chuck, Bones, Revenge and Hot in Cleveland.
"Eight months later, I get a phone call from my agent saying, 'Well, we’ve got good news and bad news. You’ve got the movie you really wanted.' I asked, 'What’s the bad news?' He answered, 'Oh Garry Marshall wants you to come do this show, but it’s all under wraps, and nobody knows anything about it, they don’t want to pay you that much, and they don’t want to give you a contract. We don’t think you should do it. It’s Mork & Mindy.' I said, 'That’s Robin Williams’ show! Don’t tell Garry, but I’d work for free to work with Robin Williams. I’ll bet he was doing that character on Happy Days when I saw him.’"
Film appearances include The Initiation of Sarah, The Dream Merchants, The Seduction, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Sleeping Beauty, Deadly Illusion, Street of Dreams, Mob Boss, Venus Rising, Dead Man’s Island, Star Command, Walk-Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Beverly Hills Chihuahua2, A Perfect Ending, Weiner Dog Nationals and Beethoven’s Treasure.
Fairchild can currently be seen in Perfect on Paper, also starring Lindsay Hartley, Haley Strode, Drew Fuller and Bryce Clyde Jenkins, which premieres on the Hallmark channel September 20, 2014 at 9:00 p.m. eastern.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Morgan, is Perfect on Paper your first project with Hallmark?
Morgan Fairchild: It is, and they’ve just been great. We had a very fun director, Ron Oliver, and just a lovely cast. Lindsay is just a delight. We’ve become buddies (laughs). She’s a very nice lady, so it was a very pleasant time, a fun one. They’re not all fun, you know (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is the premise of the movie?
Morgan Fairchild: My character is a sort of over-the-top romance writer who’s very successful for this publishing house that Lindsay comes to work for. She is their number one seller, and Lindsay is a young, idealistic book editor who has big dreams of editing really great books, considers my oeuvre sort of beneath her and doesn’t think much of my writing. As I point out in one of the scenes though, she’s probably never read anything I’ve written to begin with, so she doesn’t really know.
It starts off a bit adversarial because I can tell she’s condescending to me, and she thinks I’m just silly, but we slowly become good friends. I become more of a mentor. That’s kind of the story arc. We both learn a good deal from each other, and then of course, there’s the romance which I’m sort of peripheral to where she has to choose between a couple of guys who are very interested in her.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What drew you to the project?
Morgan Fairchild: I really liked it. It’s a fun character. She’s a bit over the top, a bit domineering and kind of funny. I like that, and then I had just worked with Ron Oliver, the director, on a Beethoven movie, a family movie. We’d really gotten on, and he wanted me in this and I think kind of expanded the part for me to do it, so it was really a labor of love because I thought that was sweet of him. He’s a wonderful director, makes the set a lot of fun, and indeed it turned out to be a lot of fun in the making.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have a great comedic side. I laughed until I cried when you came out dressed as Elka on Hot in Cleveland!
Morgan Fairchild: (laughs) Yeah that was a fun one! Betty is such a doll. When I came on the set, she said, “Oh I’m so glad we’re working together again!” I couldn’t believe she remembered we had worked together before. We did a George Schlatter special back in the 80s.
Betty has done so much in her life. I didn’t even think she’d remember that one that far back with all the other stuff she has done in between because it wasn’t a series or a movie or anything. I just love her. I had worked with Jane Leeves on Murphy Brown, and I’d worked with Wendy (Malick) on Just Shoot Me! The only one I hadn’t worked with was Valerie (Bertinelli). What a great team of ladies! Just lovely, really wonderful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That was just like old home week for you.
Morgan Fairchild: It was! It was fun! I had not met Nora Dunn, and she was fun. We just had a great time. It’s really one of those sets where everybody’s terrific and supportive, the writing is good, the people are fun. I’m glad you liked it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the atmosphere like taping on sets back in the 70s and 80s?
Morgan Fairchild: Certainly back in the day, I did Mork & Mindy with Robin. He was just a doll. I was very upset about his passing. Those times were a little more freewheeling in that you could try all kinds of things. Now with all the corporate ownership of all the studios and networks, you have a few more people to review which sometimes puts a little damper on trying anything which we did a lot of that on Mork & Mindy (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand Robin would not stick to the scripts.
Morgan Fairchild: Oh no he didn’t, but that was why they hired him. Garry Marshall very wisely made use of what Robin’s attributes were as opposed to trying to fit him into a mold. Nowadays I don’t know if they’d let him do that. My third job when I got to Hollywood was Happy Days, and they were such a lovely group of people.
I would always stop by when I was on the Paramount lot auditioning or doing another show and say, “Hi.” I stopped by one afternoon, and Henry Winkler asked, “What are you doing later?” I said, “I don’t have anything.” Henry replied, “Come and watch this kid rehearse. He’s really great.” I stayed and watched their guest star (Robin) all day so I could tell him afterward that he was a genius.
Eight months later, I get a phone call from my agent saying, “Well, we’ve got good news and bad news. You’ve got the movie you really wanted.” I asked, “What’s the bad news?” He answered, “Oh Garry Marshall wants you to come do this show, but it’s all under wraps, and nobody knows anything about it, they don’t want to pay you that much, and they don’t want to give you a contract. We don’t think you should do it. It’s Mork & Mindy.” I said, “That’s Robin Williams’ show! Don’t tell Garry, but I’d work for free to work with Robin Williams. I’ll bet he was doing that character on Happy Days when I saw him.”
When I started Mork & Mindy, the show was not on the air so nobody had seen it. I went over the day before to see the taping of the show before mine so that I could see what the character relationships were. It was funny at the table read, and then we got up and started blocking. I quickly saw that Robin would just go off, you know? He would just go off on these tangents, and people would just sit there and watch him go. Howard Storm, the director, would say, “Okay. Let’s get back to the script,” when Robin would run out of material, but he would never admit he’d run out of material (laughs).
When I started blocking my scene, Robin threw something out, and I threw something out, he looked at me, he threw something out, and I threw something out, and we went back and forth. Finally, Robin came over and gave me a big hug and said, “Momma, you’re one of me!” We would improvise things, and they would incorporate things that worked into the script, so we had a great deal of fun. It was just great.
Christopher Reeve and I … I’d been on Search for Tomorrow in New York at the same time he was on Love of Life. We had the same agent, so we would do auditions and scenes together, so we had gotten to be friends. He and Robin were great buddies and had been roommates and stuff. Chris would come over and visit the set. It was just a great group of young people all hanging out together.
The Taxi set was right next door, so we’d go back and forth there. Happy Days was around the corner. Laverne & Shirley was there. All of the Garry Marshal shows were on Paramount, so everybody would just visit back and forth all the time. Robin was just so lovely, and I was so distraught with what happened. He was such a lovely person. Not only a funny person, but just a lovely, generous hearted, kind individual. Such a loss. We’ve got enough of the other kinds of people in the world.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had also worked with Joan Rivers?
Morgan Fairchild: Oh yes, Joan and I were friends for a long time. I met Joan when I first came out there. I did The Tonight Show with Joan. Joan and I were in a movie together. She really wanted to act, and we did one called How to Murder a Millionaire. She would always call me her acting coach because I would give her camera tricks when we were on the set, how to do things to look better on camera and stuff like that. We were great friends. I’ve been to dinner at her house.
I hadn’t seen Joan as much since she moved to New York, but I adored her. Again, such a tragedy because this was a woman, in spite of some of the sharp edged comments she’d do in her act and she did have a tongue on her, who was such a generous hearted, kind person, who did charity work and worked hard behind the scenes. At eighty-one, still just going gangbusters. My mother died at seventy-four. My father died at eighty. Neither of them could ever have matched the energy and the force of nature that Joan had going for her. It was just so sad. To go in such a strange way was very sad, too. I just feel terrible for Melissa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How are you recognized these days, as Chandler’s mother (Friends) or as Jordan Roberts (Falcon Crest)?
Morgan Fairchild: You know, I’m in Kansas City doing a play, which I should probably mention also. It’s called Murder Among Friends, and it’s at the New Theater. I’ve been doing talk shows this morning for that, yet people want to talk about Friends, they want to talk about Flamingo Road. I’ve got my diehard Paper Dolls fans which is one of my favorites, and then there’s always Pee-wee’s Big Adventure or The Seduction.
It’s kind of interesting because different people have different things that they really liked over the years. Usually when I’m doing radio, everybody wants to do their Jon Lovitz imitation for me and want to talk about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. It’s kind of fun to have been a part of some cutting edge things whether it’s Mork & Mindy or Pee-wee.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that you were just about the first person to speak out about AIDS in the 80s, and some people labeled you as being “too controversial.” Was that a difficult time for you?
Morgan Fairchild: Yeah. I lost work. I lost friends. People wouldn’t have me come to their homes because I visited hospices. It was a very difficult time. One of my hobbies is emerging viruses and epidemiology, so I’d been tracking this weird new disease since it was just thirteen cluster cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma in New York and then eleven cases of pneumocystis pneumonia in San Francisco, and then it came out that they were all in gay men, and I knew something new was out there long about 1980.
I’d been following it all the time, so suddenly when Rock Hudson got sick, there was a great fear in the country. I don’t know if you remember, but people were terrified. Hollywood was just hit with this because we have a large gay community. I mean, you couldn’t walk down Rodeo Drive without some newsperson coming up and trying to thrust a microphone in your face and asking, “Are you ever going to kiss anyone on set again?” It was all crazy because Rock Hudson had kissed Linda (Evans). That was the point where I needed to make a decision.
I knew I was the only famous person that I knew of at that time who actually knew a lot about the virus who could go on national television and talk about it and try to get it treated just as a disease and not as a social stigma to get people education on it if I had the nerve to do it because I knew it would be very controversial. My agent and manager … everybody said not to do it, not to put myself in the crosshairs, but I felt a moral obligation.
I knew I was the only one in this unique position with the fame, the knowledge and the access, so I chose to do it, and it’s frankly the best thing I ever did in my life. I know that I contributed through lobbying for funding for research, through education, through trying to get people better taken care of in individual situations. I actually helped save some lives or helped make some lives better. To me, it was the best thing I ever did. People ask, “What’s your favorite part?” This was my favorite part because I actually made a difference in people’s lives. Did I catch hell for it? Yes. Did I lose work for it? Yes.
I’ve even had gay producers and casting people come up to me and say, “I felt really bad because you were standing up for our community and for a disease that was affecting our community, and I didn’t have the nerve to stand up for you in the casting room.” They’d tell me that they knew I lost parts because of my activism and because people thought I was controversial, so I knew that it cost me. Like I said, it cost me some friendships because people just didn’t want to have me around because I visited hospices and because I helped people with AIDS, but it’s the best thing I ever did.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is acting the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do?
Morgan Fairchild: No. I waned to be a doctor or a paleontologist when I was a kid. That’s why I’m a virus nut. I’m very interested in diseases. Anybody who follows my Twitter feed actually will know that I’m always talking about paleontology. There was just a big new dinosaur discovery, and I tweeted about that. I tweet about archaeology, Egyptology, anthropology and all kinds of medicine. I tweet about ebola, the new HEV 68 that is affecting kids in the Midwest, any new emerging diseases. I tweet a lot about foreign policy and what’s going on. If you want to learn anything about ISIS, come to my Twitter. You’ll get more than you want (laughs). I have very eclectic interests.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well then how did you get into show business?
Morgan Fairchild: I couldn’t make an oral book report in the fifth grade. My mother was just appalled. For three days in a row, nothing would come out. My uncle was a judge and a lawyer, and my mother had been on the debating squad, so they were raised to be able to communicate, and she was worried that I was sort of incapacitatingly shy, which I was, so she made us start taking acting classes.
My sister loved it, and every Saturday we’d go and I would throw up before we went. I hated it, and it was because it was the same thing I hated about standing in front of a group of people reciting a poem or reading an essay. I hated it, but at the end of the year, they actually had us do a play, and I kind of liked that. One Saturday morning my mother got up and read in the paper that they were having auditions for the Junior Players Guild, which is a very good children’s theatre group in Dallas. They don’t have children in the plays that much, but their plays are put on for children.
They were having some auditions, and my mother insisted that we must go. My sister was excited, so we went and sat in the back of this auditorium. They were having the kids improvise scenes, and I sat back there thinking, “Well, I could do better than that, but I won’t. I won’t! I’m not going down there.” My sister said, “I want to go audition!” She went down and auditioned. I knew if I didn’t go down and audition that I would get yelled at all the way home.
I always say I have a career today because my fear of the stage was second only to my fear of my mother (laughs). I got up and auditioned, and this nice man gave us both little parts in the show. It just shows the differences that an adult can make in a kid’s life. Number one, my fifth grade teacher made me do an oral book report that brought all of this up, and number two, the director that day gave us the little parts. I’m so shy that if I hadn’t gotten something on that first audition, I don’t know if I would’ve ever had the nerve to go back. That’s just the kind of steps along the way and how adults can make a difference in a kid’s life that they may never even know about.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So true. Is there a chance you might make an appearance on the new Dallas as Jenna Wade or another character?
Morgan Fairchild: You know, they haven’t called. I think it would be fun. I love to work with Linda (Gray). I love Linda. I loved Larry (Hagman), too. He was such a doll. I had scenes with Larry when I did Jenna in 1978, and we were the only two Texans on the show. The producers became aware that some of the actors were sometimes doing better or worse southern accents, so they started telling them that, and people would come over to us and put their script in front me and say, “Say this in Texan.” That way they could hear what their lines would sound like in Texan as opposed to Tennessee (laughs).
Larry and I were the “go to” guys for the Texas accent. When we had scenes together, we’d just be talking a mile a minute. We had a great time. I just loved Larry to death, and I love Linda. I love Patrick (Duffy). He was my love interest on the show, and he is just a dear man. I’m glad it’s back on again. I’m glad everybody’s back doing it. If they asked me to go, I’d sure think about it depending on what they wanted me to do. I’d love to go do Jenna again, but they haven’t called.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are so correct about southern accents being different depending on the location.
Morgan Fairchild: Well, that’s what I tried to explain to them when they were doing these accents. No. You’re doing southern, and southern is not Texas.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, you told me about the play, so what else is coming up for you? I believe you have a film with Corbin Bernsen.
Morgan Fairchild: I do. I love Corbin! It’s called Christian Mingle, and Corbin directed it. David Keith is in it and also Lacey Chabert who’s just fabulous. Lacey’s just a very talented young actress. I was so excited to work with her. I’ve known Corbin on and off for a long time because we had series on at the same time. It was really nice to see him, and we had a lot of fun.
I’ve got another film coning out called Wiener Dog International, which is a sequel to Wiener Dog National that made its rounds on the DVD family circuit. It’s about racing dachshunds, so it’s very cute about kids and dogs. Jason London is in it and Bryan Batt who people will know from Mad Men and also he played in 12 Years a Slave. I just consider myself very fortunate to keep getting to work with such talented people and that we have a lot of fun on the set. It cannot be fun if somebody’s a jerk (laughs). It can really not be fun.
I’ve got Beethoven’s Treasure Tail with director Ron Oliver that is probably coming out on DVD, too. I did one called Sam that Nicholas Brooks directed who is Mel Brooks’ son. I’m not sure when that’s coming out, but it’s another romantic comedy. I’ve been very fortunate here in Kansas City to be doing this play and blessed with a wonderful cast here. We’re doing very well, and the audiences seem to like it. It’s a murder mystery comedy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You look great, Morgan. What’s the secret for staying young inside and out?
Morgan Fairchild: Somebody tweeted me from an interview I did this morning, and I was getting some nice comments, so that’s always good to hear. When it’s you, you see everything that’s falling (laughs). It’s nice to hear that somebody thinks you look good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you’re like me, it helps to stay active and just don’t think about it too much (laughs).
Morgan Fairchild: Well, exactly. You just keep running around all the time. Sometimes when I work on sets, young girls will ask, “What’s your secret?” when I would go to work in the mornings with no makeup on. Anyway, I answer, “No sun, no drinking, no drugs, no smoking!” They’d say, “Oh, we couldn’t live!” Then I’d ask, “Which one could you not do without?” (laughs)
My mother always used to say, “ At twenty, you have the face God gave you, and at forty, you have the face you’ve earned.” I always add, “At my age, I have the face I’ve earned and paid for!” (laughs) This getting older is very expensive. My poor boyfriend when I come home with all these creams and little electric stimulator facial things. I do try everything (laughs). It’s expensive being an old broad!
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