Sunday 14 April 2013

Interview with Aleshia Brevard: Part 2

Monika: Today I would like to focus our interview on your movie acting. Your first movie role was Sherry in „The Love God?” (1969). Did you have to go through any auditions to get the role? How did it feel to be an actress for the first time?
Aleshia: Oh, yes, Monika, Universal had seen every tall redhead in Hollywood by the time I auditioned. That, at least, is what I was told by my agent, with whom I’d just signed. I was so new in the business that I didn’t even have headshots – which almost proved my undoing. Some Universal executives feared I might not photograph well on screen but the director, Nat Hiken, fought for me. Bless that man! I was absolutely stunned by my good fortune, loved every single moment of the process, and promptly buckled down on set to learn my craft. It was a glorious experience.
Monika: Sherry was an extremely sexy lady that accompanied the main character played by Don Knotts. How do you recollect your work with him?
Aleshia: I adored Don Knotts. "The Love God", in my estimation, was a testimonial to Don’s comic genius. The film was ahead of its time, no doubt about that, but Don Knotts was perfectly cast as the misguided sex symbol. His improvisations still make me laugh when I see the film.
Don was from West Virginia and during filming could not have been kinder to me, a neophyte from Tennessee. After the film wrapped, Universal Studios sent Don and me on a publicity tour. What fun! We premiered in Atlanta, following the tour. 
Monika: At that time you were not using your real name. Instead, you were using the name Aleshia Lee?
On a break from The Love God
publicity tour in 1969.
Aleshia: At the time that was my real name. I’d married a Lee. I now realize, when it’s too late, what a mistake it was to professionally change my name every time I married a new husband. Why would I do that? I’m not sure.
Perhaps at the time, I felt duty-bound to include my husband in my career. All that served to accomplish, however, was to leave me having several films professionally listed under different names.
Needless to say, switching names like shoes wasn’t my wisest professional decision. I think perhaps I could never really decide whether I most wanted to be a wife or an actress.
Monika: Your next movie was “Bigfoot” (1970). Your role was titled “Female Creature”. Do you have any special recollections about that movie?
Aleshia: Can you imagine anyone rushing back to Hollywood from “The Love God” tour, with all those perks offered by Universal Studios, to don a hairy suit and play a mamma Sasquatch? My only excuse is that my first film experience had been so wonderful that I seemingly assumed that all future film work would be equally great. How wrong I was! I was not incorrect, however, in taking “Bigfoot” for the opportunity to work with the great character actor, John Carradine. The film might not have ended up an anthropomorphic epic, but learning from Mr. Carradine was worth all the negatives connected with the shoot.
Monika: Did you have a chance to get acquainted with Joi Lansing, playing one of the main characters in the movie?
Aleshia: Oh, oh, oh – that’s quite the Tinsel Town story! Ms. Lansing did not join the cast until after I’d dropped my hair suit on the dressing room floor and fled the film. That’s when her character was parachuted into the script, in a gold jumpsuit – no less. Ms. Lansing landed, metaphorically, in the arms of the young woman who had replaced me as the mamma Sasquatch. Must have been fate! They were together for years.
Monika: You played “Cigarette Girl” in “But the Memory Lingers On” (1970), an episode in TV series titled The Partridge Family, along with such actresses as Shirley Jones and Susan Dey (she turned down the role of Sandy in “Grease”.) Do you remember them?
Aleshia: I remember that entire experience quite well. Loved that costume! I also loved both my ‘Cigarette Girl’ role and having the opportunity to work on “The Partridge Family”. At the time it was a very popular series. Shirley Jones was very gracious – although I can’t honestly recall having even seen Susan Dey. My scenes, of course, were with the Partridge family’s redheaded imp, Danny. What a kid!
As Sadie in The Female
Bunch (1971).

Monika: The role of Sadie in “The Female Bunch” (1971) was one of your greatest roles?
Aleshia: “Greatest” might be stretching it, Monika, unless we’re restricting the definition strictly to film. I was cast as Sadie after Brenda Vaccaro’s success in “Rosemary’s Baby” caused her to drop out of the cast before filming began. Landing the second female lead in “The Female Bunch” certainly did make Sadie my largest film role to date – and it led to my life-long friendship with its star, Jenifer Bishop, “Queen of B-Grade Movies”.
Interestingly enough, Jenifer just called and I told her I was filling out your questionnaire and would have to call her back. Jenifer and I have remained friends for over thirty years, even though she only discovered my history after my first book was published. We filmed together and were roommates on location in Hanksville, Utah. The other highlight of that experience is that Jenifer and I worked closely with great character actors: Lon Chaney, Jr. and Russ Tamblyn, our male lead. This movie was Lon’s last film before his death. Working with him was certainly another learning experience, one for which I remain grateful.
Monika: In “The Sins of the Fathers/You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore” (1972), an episode of “Night Gallery” TV series, you played along with such remarkable actresses as Geraldine Page, Cloris Leachman, and Lana Wood. Any recollections about your role and those actresses?
Aleshia: You bet’cha! My clearest memories, however, are not ones I’m free to share in print. Not all of the actresses you mentioned were joys with whom to work and/or share a set. That filming might well represent my first experience with a high-handed, self-important performer. More than enough said about that!
The Red Skelton Show.
Fortunately for me, most of my professional life was spent touring in theater, living in close contact with fellow performers who were generous, professional artists. Those theater roles, bye the bye, represent by far my best roles. To this day many of those touring actors remain my closest friends. I will add, however, that I remain an enormous fan of the great Geraldine Page. She was a brilliant interpreter of Tennessee Williams and his fascinatingly complex women.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your role of Giganta in “Legends of the Superheroes” (1979, TV series). This was the first role where you were listed as Aleshia Brevard.
Aleshia: Ha! I suppose by the late ‘70’s I’d wised-up and left all the earlier husbands behind. “Legends of the Superheroes” was a Hanna-Barbara two-part series. It was a rather silly, tongue-in-cheek piece, I suppose, but it was a wonderfully fun romp – and I ended up dating one of the more recognizable stars on the series.
Perhaps, now that I think of it, I hadn’t yet fully wised-up concerning the concept of husbands! To this day I regret that my favorite scenes with Batman and Robin, in which I played a geisha (thinking I looked absolutely smashing), ended up on the cutting room floor. Art it might not have been, but it was certainly an experience!
Monika: You also played in The Red Skelton Show on CBS and One Life To Live, the popular Emmy-winning soap opera.
Aleshia: Without a doubt, my year with The Red Skelton Show was the highlight of my time on television. I was hired to play varied roles in the skits for which the show was famous, thereby getting the opportunity to work opposite stars such as Audrey Meadows, Jane Powell, Lyle Waggoner, the musical group Three Dog Night, and even Tiny Tim. I also played the Moon Maiden for the show's opening promo. To this day I maintain that Red Skelton was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth professionals in the business. His show was a true breakthrough for me, coming on the heels of my first two films and leading directly to stints on the Dean Martin and Andy Williams shows. It was thanks to The Red Skelton Show that I was able to do most of the television variety shows of the early '70s. 

Dean Martin Show appearance.

My role as Tex (the loud-mouthed bartender) on One Life to Live was a happy fluke. At the time I was doing summer stock for Stage One Productions in New Jersey. As luck would have it, one of the theater company's owners was the Emmy winning head-writer for the popular soap opera. He wrote the role of Tex, tailoring the character for me and giving her some great one-liners.
The unfortunate part was that my character only appeared when the show's plotline involved the disco where Tex was a bartender. Guess it figures that once the disco was destroyed by fire -- Tex went up in smoke with that plotline. All in all, however, it was a nice experience while it lasted.
Monika: You had a 7-year break in your acting career between 1972 and 1979?
Aleshia: That break was merely from film work. As I commented earlier, my true acting career took place in the theater. For example, I played the lead role of Joanna Markham in "Move Over Ms. Markham" in seven different productions/tours. It was also during that period when I did my favorite work: “Gingerbread Lady”, “Seven Year Itch”, “The Shadow Box”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Night of the Iguana”, and “Ruthless! The Musical” among them.
Monika: You came back in 1980 with the role of Wally Lewis in “Smokey and the Judge”.
Aleshia: I’m horrible with time-lines. I suppose I’ve lied about my age so much in Hollywood that it became impossible to keep dates straight. “Smokey and the Judge” was probably filmed in the ’70s with the working title of “Stronger Together”, but not released until 1980 trying to cash in on the popularity of the “Smokey” films. Such a pity. I’d had great hopes for this movie, truly believing it would bring a big boost to my film career. Didn’t happen. Unfortunately, a rather good script was butchered in editing.
What’s with all those car chases? They weren’t there when we filmed the story of the successful musical group HOT and how they first came together in prison. That was interesting material on an interesting and popular group. I played their parole officer – and had such fun with the role. What a shame the film didn’t maintain its original purity. Such, I fear, is the nature of the business.

As Mother in The Man with Bogart's Face (1980).

Monika: In the same year you played Mother in “The Man with Bogart's Face”. It must have been quite a role.
Aleshia: Yes, Mother was a joy – a rather gruesome joy, but a joy nonetheless. I felt very fortunate to end up in that MGM production, even if they did stick me in a fat suit, cover it with a shapeless muumuu, glue false hair to my eyebrows and stain my teeth yellow.
Guess, I really wanted the role, considering that I showed up for the audition looking like the human smokestack that script described Mother to be. Once again, however, I thought the film would make a much bigger splash than it ended up making.
Monika: And finally in 1981 you played the role of “Snoopy Lady” in the movie titled “Hard Country”. You were playing along with such actresses as Kim Basinger and Daryl Hannah.
Aleshia: I had a very small role in “Hard Country” but since our stars took off on a toot, it took three weeks on location before they could get my tiny roll on film. Such was the nature of the business in the early ’80s. That location shoot remains my most bizarre experience in film. My opinion at the time was that Hollywood had gone absolutely crazy. Looking back – I believe I was correct in my opinion.
Before Moon Maiden wardrobe
backstage at the Skelton show.
Monika: In retrospect, you had the intelligence, talent, and looks (still have!) to become a bigger movie star. Do you regret anything? Could you achieve more in this respect?
Aleshia: How kind of you to be so flattering, Monika. It would be unattractively vain of me to agree with you – but I freely admit that at the time I was very frustrated by what I considered roadblocks to the quest for ‘stardom’.
In truth, considering my gender history, I should have realized how fortunate I was to have broken into the film industry to any degree. I was doing what I had always dreamed of doing, in part because no one had told me it was impossible to do.
Today, of course, some in our community say my being there in the ’60s does not count because I was working in deep stealth. And, yes, perhaps my fear of ‘discovery’ presented an ever-present block to moving higher up the ranks. That statement, of course, is merely Aleshia grasping at straws, wondering “What if…?”
The fact remains that I was living and working at pursuing my dream. How that ranks within today’s community really is of no importance. For me, it was about the acting. The glaring truth for every actor, regardless of gender and/or the gender in which one begins life, is that the entertainment industry is a business that’s notoriously difficult to conquer. That, I’m sure, remains true today. I was extremely lucky to work in a profession I loved. Regrets? Some would argue there is a huge difference between work in stage and film, that film acting is done with the eyes, mirrors to the soul. If that is true, then my regret with my film work would be that I was always bigger than life. Unfortunately, I never quite believed that less is more!
Monika: Thank you, Aleshia!

All the photos: courtesy of Aleshia Brevard.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Aleshia Brevard has passed to the other side. May she find the happiness and love she gave to others. Thank you for all you have done. Rest in Peace.

1 July 2017

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