Udana Talks About Her TV and Movie Career, Pt. 1

NOTE: So many people have asked me about my career that I decided to spend time with my publicist, Bill Murphy, who interviewed me about my first few appearances on TV. Our conversation took place in September of 2012. This is Part 1 of what’s likely to be a 3-4 part series. I hope you enjoy it!

Bill: Let’s talk about your first TV appearance, which was Ironside in 1971. The episode was called “In the Line of Duty.” How did you get the gig on Ironside? What had you been doing? You were in your mid-twenties. So this must have been one of your first jobs.

Udana: That was literally my first job. I was going on auditions, and I had a manager who was helping me go on auditions, and I went to Universal Studios, and somehow I got chosen. I think [producer] Cy Chermak had something to do with that.

B: Let me check IMDB. Yep, Cy Chermak.

U: Got it. That’s so long ago. I had no idea who I was. I had no idea that I was pretty, all I knew was that I just wanted to act. Cy Chermak hired me for this, and I got my SAG card. That’s how I got my Screen Actors Guild card, and it cost me $280 to get my SAG card then. Now it’s $1000, $2000 or something like that. But at that point it was a whopping $280. [laughs]

B: [laughs]

U: And I got my Screen Actors Guild card. I kind of knew who Gary Mason was and Raymond Burr was, and I had, I remember I had a scene that I had to be very emotional in. I had to be crying. And there were four people in the scene. I think we were around a table, I have to look at it again. And there were women that I kind of knew from auditions, and that I got to know a little bit better there. But Cy Chermak was a sweetheart, a great guy. He said he hired me because I looked like his girlfriend –

B: [laughs]

U: — a girl he was dating. I thought, “Oh, ok.” But I was interested in doing the emotions of the character, so I was prepared when I went in. I had just a few lines, but I was just a sincere, dedicated actress. And just getting a little teeny role in a big series. And it was my very first thing, so I was nervous and I was prepared, and I was ready to do my emotional thing, and got there very early, went to makeup, and we waited all day for it to happen. Finally the scene came up, and I was ready for it to come up, and they had to do all of the takes of everybody around the table. First was Ironside, and then was this person, and that person. I was literally the last one there. And by the time I was ready to do my big scene, not only had everybody gone, all the actors had gone, and they had a script girl, and they didn’t even want to put her for eyesight. It took all for me to look someone in the eye next to the camera. They just wanted me to be pretending it or something. And I didn’t have the experience at that point to request that an actor say the lines and be there. I certainly couldn’t request that Raymond Burr stay there and let me look him in the eye. At least there was someone for me to look in the eye. [laughs] So there was this script girl who was totally bored, totally, I guess maybe overworked, and had literally no emotion at all. So that was my introduction to Hollywood, and to working in TV. It was like you hurry up and wait. And you had to be prepared for your big, emotional scene, and it may or may not happen. And at the end, you may be required to do it with a flat, dry script girl.

B: Oh wow.

U: [laughs] It was a shock. However, that was my beginning. And it was like, “Here we are, throw her into the deep end. Woo-hoo!”

B: [laughs] Did that discourage you? Did you think, “Gee whiz, did I pick the wrong profession?”

U: No, never. It never discouraged me. I was just like, “Oh. Oh. OH! This is a surprise!” No, it never discouraged me. I had to be an actress, or I was gonna die. I had to know. I guess I had a real gift for it. I had a passion for it. It was a calling for me. I had to do it. And for me it was something sacred, because it was about bringing life. It was like the fabric of my being. I was compelled and propelled, for as long as I can remember. And I can remember going into my teens and having these journals that I would write in, because I had a very, let’s say crazy-making childhood. So I would keep these journals, trying to sort things out and kind of get a sense of who I was. And I always wrote about God. I would capitalize these words: Art, God, Love, Nature, Sex, and Creativity. Those are the words that I would capitalize, trying to find a context and a feeling and a way to embrace that. And I spent my life doing that.

B: You paid $280 for your SAG card?

U: Yes.

B: Do you remember what you got from your appearance on the show? Did you make money on the deal?

Udana looks it up and gets back to me.

U: I got paid $250 from Ironside.

B: [laughs] Really? So you paid more for your SAG card than you made from appearing in the episode of Ironside.

U: Yeah. I was so oblivious to money, it didn’t even matter. I just wanted to do it, whatever it cost. Then I started going on auditions for commercials…but I had no concept about money. I had a business manager, a friend who was acting as a manager and a business manager, making sure I go there, and I got on time, and made sure that I knew my lines. And then, I didn’t even think about that. All I knew was it cost me $280, but I literally didn’t have the awareness to think about the day-to-day things, and so I didn’t.

B: Did you get to work with the principles? Do you remember Raymond Burr or Don Galloway or Don Mitchell or Elizabeth Bauer, Brandon De Wilde? Did you interact with any of the other actors?

U: My scene was with Raymond Burr. I don’t remember any of the other actors because I just had that small little scene. And it was the only one I remember, and it was in a room, and [Burr] was a big guy. Lots of presence. I can’t remember whether he was in a wheelchair at that time or not. All I remember was, all of a sudden there were three of us, there were three women—can’t remember their names, they were actresses and our lives kind of crisscrossed. And I was kind of in awe to see who they were, and how we kind of evolved. We were in different worlds, kind of, but we showed up at this one scene in this television show at Universal Studios. So we spoke a little bit, and I was kind of in awe of how sophisticated, particularly one of them was. She was partying a lot. Drinking a lot. Fortunately, I had decided not to drink, I was probably goody two shoes, but I saw that and I saw how that played out a little bit over the next 10 or 15 years. Didn’t know her well, I really liked her, but I saw that play out. I’m just really grateful I didn’t go that avenue.

But [the scene] was very formal. [Burr] was very nice. He came in and did his lines, and then left. And we just did everything else, and the crew was there to finish everything else. It let me realize how demanding it is to do a series like that, and that he had to protect his energy, obviously. Couldn’t become best friends with all the extras.

B: One more question about the Ironside episode. This was your first gig, and you’re in a room with a guy who’s not only physically big, but also at that point in time, someone with a reputation as being one of the big Hollywood stars. Did you feel nervous at all? Or did you just take it all in stride?

U: Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel nervous. Once I connected with an artist, I just looked for the reality, and he was there. I didn’t feel that he was pompous or egotistical or, I thought he was just there doing his work. And he was very good, he was very alert, and it’s just real interesting, because once I was into the work, that’s where I was, that was my whole reality. So he just seemed to appear for the scene, and we were just, I wanted to make sure I was good and I was serious, and then all of a sudden, they did the big shot, and then they did his close-ups, and then he disappeared. And so it wasn’t, I wasn’t a big Raymond Burr fan. I didn’t watch him all the time, so I didn’t really have this awe, like I had when I met Katherine Hepburn. I said, when I met Katherine Hepburn, I was, my jaw dropped, you know, she looked like she did, I couldn’t, but Raymond Burr, not that he wasn’t, but I really liked him, but I was, I didn’t know what I was looking at, actually, in terms of like the big, major star. I just know that I was on Ironside.

B: So right after Ironside, McMillan & Wife was your second TV appearance. It was 1972. The episode was titled “The Face of Murder.”

U: Yeah. McMillan & Wife. And I was on screen with Rock Hudson. And it was so exciting because it was bigger than life, and I played a little perfume girl. He was looking for a perfume, and I was just subbing at the perfume counter and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was totally rattled.

B: [laughs]

U: And I had to be just not knowing what I was doing at all. And I treated it like, you know, an Academy-Award winning performance. That’s what it was for me.

B: Are you saying your character was supposed to act rattled?

U: Yes, my character was supposed to act rattled. Oh my gosh, she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. Something [Rock and Susan Saint James] were looking for wasn’t there. [My character] didn’t know what they were looking for. So she finally had to go and find somebody else [to help them]. [Rock] was so handsome.

B: With Raymond Burr, you said you didn’t watch much TV. So you weren’t nervous about being in the scene with him. But with Rock Hudson, he was in movies, he was like the hunk star. What was it like being on set with him?

U: It was like being on set with Cary Grant. He was charming and charismatic. He was handsome. I mean, I was like, “Uhhhh.” And then I just had to gather myself together and do the scene. And so it all played, the nervousness, about fumbling around with all the perfumes in the case and not knowing what I was doing, actually fit in to being so, so awestruck by his stature and his energy and his handsomeness and his genuineness. He was a very nice man. He was really very kind. I’m looking at a picture at him right now, on the video. And he was just, wow, was he handsome! He had that mustache and the long sideburns that were so popular in the ‘70s. He was just great, he was just gorgeous, you know?

B: How old was he at that time, in ’72? [Looks up data on IMDB.com] Forty-seven. So he was a dashing, middle-aged guy.

U: He was dashing. Absolutely. He was dashing. He was dashing in a Tom Selleck kind of way, except he wasn’t as muscular as [Tom], but he was just gorgeous, just gorgeous. Very down to earth and happy with himself. He was just a great guy by that point in his career.

B: Your part was obviously very small.

U: It was one little scene, uh-huh.

B: What was it like being on set of McMillan & Wife compared to Ironside? Was it a bigger crew, a different feel, what was that like?

U: The crew was all the same. I mean, they had these massive crews. And makeup and wardrobe and all the lighting stuff. I mean, these crews, they were huge. This was an army of people who had been working together for years. And they would just, “Ok, need a setup.” And everybody knew what they were doing, so you as an actor would come on the set as the new flower, so to speak. The new little thing. But the vase and everything else was already set up and moving around, they were just doing the lighting, and they were just interested in getting the shot done and getting out. This was Universal Studios, and it was expensive. I had a small part, and so I went in there and I just practiced, practiced fumbling around and figuring out what I was going to do. And my hair, I looked at it and it was really curly. I don’t know how I got my hair curly. It must have been a permanent or something, because I look curly. On Kolchak, it was straight. Who knew I did curly hair, but it was cute, and I remember the little purple shirt, and the little hot pants with the purple belt. They were hot pants. And I think I had white boots, but you wouldn’t see them, because they went with the hot pants.

B: [laughs]

U: You know, they were little shorts. [laughs] And [my character] was like somebody who was fumbling around. So when we walked through it, I just fumbled around and then we shot it, and I think we did a couple of, you know, his reactions. They always did the stars first. And then mine, and we were done. It was fast. It was so fast, I couldn’t believe it. You know, I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s all done?”

B: Next for you was a movie, in 1972, called The Very Missing Person. You played a character named Mariette. This was a fairly big cast that included James Gregory, Julie Newmar, Pat Morita, Ezra Stone, etc. Do you remember how you landed that role?

U: It was just an audition. A Very Missing Person. I was a teacher in it, as I remember. Who is the woman who was the lead on that?

B: Eve Arden has top billing.

U: Oh, oh, golly! I had totally forgotten that! Oh my god! Oh my god! I remember Eve. Oh my god, she was wonderful! Oh my god.

B: [laughs] It’s a big cast.

U: See when you’re in a show like this, you just show up and do your scene. It’s not like you’re in a play where you get together and work through the whole movie, and you know, work through the whole story. It’s you’re one little cog in a big wheel, and the actors are protecting their energy and their time, so that they don’t have to get involved with everyone, because everybody wants them. So when you show up, you just show up and do what that little is thing that you do. I remember Eve Arden, and she was amazing. And I met her once or twice, and my eyes popped, because she had this larger-than-life presence. She was really wonderful, very kind, and very supportive. And again, she didn’t become your best friend, she was the lynchpin on this whole show. The hours that one worked to make something like that happen, if you’re the star in it, were colossal. I mean, you’d get there at 5:30 in the morning and you’re going home at 8:00, 9:00 at night. And you’re doing the same thing for however long it takes.

B: Tell me about Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1973.

U: That was sooo much fun! It was a small group of people, and we actually rehearsed, and it was so much fun. I have a copy of it on half inch somewhere. It was really, really fun. And I remember the fella who played Paul Revere, my husband, I think I played his wife. And we would break into song, but we all had to work together. It was like doing a musical, and then it was an after-school special. So it was kind of something like at three and four [o’clock].

B: It was literally a historical account of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere?

U: Uh-huh. And we sang. Oh, it was just so much fun. The music was written by a well-known Broadway songwriter: Portia Nelson. She was on the set. Big glasses. I didn’t realize that she was famous on broadway… only that this was a lot of fun.

B: Your next appearance was in 1975, in a show called The Lost Saucer. You played a character called Miss Ditto in an episode called Polka Dot Years. What do you remember about Lost Saucer?

U: Oh my god, that was a friend, somebody I met on the interview. It was these two brothers, the Kroffts. Sid and Marty Krofft. Marty was a friend, really great guy, I think I would play tennis with him. Sid was really into wheatgrass juice and living food, and Marty wasn’t. But I got to meet Marty, I don’t know whether I met him on an audition, but they called me in and said, “Hey, you want to interview for this?” And I said, “Yeah.” And it was a children’s show again. And I was Miss Ditto, and they just put a polka dots over me, and this little a-frame, this dress that looked like an a-frame and put polka dots all over that, and I can hardly even remember what it was, but it was just a lark, and something that was light and fun, and it was just a job. But I did remember how I really liked Marty Krofft. His brother Sid was a genius. They had a production house. But [The Lost Saucer] was just an afternoon of going in, and it was an extra job, so it wasn’t really a big deal. But Marty and I became friends. I haven’t seen him for a long time. I actually played tennis with him. I had gotten on the tennis circuit in Beverly Hills by that time. And so I was playing tennis. But I didn’t do a whole lot of work for them, because there wasn’t that much, except I was Miss Ditto, covered with polka dots.

B: [laughs] This next one is the one I’ve been wanting to ask you about. It’s the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode called “Legacy of Terror.” That was also 1975. Do you remember that one?

U: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I just saw it again recently, and I was blown away. I was killed off very early.

B: Yeah, I think you opened a door and some monster attacked you.

U: Erik Estrada was in it. Erik was very interesting because this show was before he got famous. I didn’t really get to know him well, but he had a very high opinion of himself, and he was very cocky. And he was kind of sweet, you know, he was a very sweet guy. But that’s where I met Sondra Currie.

B: That’s right, she’s in the episode.

U: Yeah, she was one of those beautiful blonde people. And I remember going, “Oh my god, I don’t look like any of those women. Those look like beautiful blondes! I should look like them.”

B: [laughs]

U: [laughs] And then when I look at it, I go [to myself], “Oh my god, you have kind of an Audrey Hepburn look, you have that round face.” Aubrey Hepburn didn’t have a round face, but I thought I had just a round face, but I wasn’t a California girl with a wide, thin mouth, which I thought I was supposed to have. I was this round, kind of eastern European face that was unusual. I look back at it like, “Oh, my God!”

B: [laughs]

U: But Erik Estrada was there. And Darren McGavin. He was great! He was a warm guy, he was funny, he was interesting. Erik Estrada was just starting out, and [his character] was exactly who he was, with a trail of girls following him.

B: [laughs]

U: [laughs] And I remember, because we were all trying to make our careers work, and very much into psychics and things like this. There was a woman in West Hollywood, I guess Erik told me about her, and we all went over there for some kind of a lecture that she did, or psychic readings or something. Because it was, again, it wasn’t far from where I lived at the time. And you know, we all wanted to know what was going to happen to us. And he seemed to know what was absolutely going to happen for him, which was ultimately that he did CHiPs. I can’t remember if [the Kolchak episode] was one day of work or two days of work, but whatever it was, I loved it. I loved it. Then they killed me off. And I wanted more! I wanted more. [laughs]

B: [laughs] What was it like working on the Kolchak set?

U: You waited around until it was time for you to do your scene, and you were nervous the whole time. And then you would wait, and you’d just hope you would remember your lines. And then I would go into this space where, “Ok, I’m now in the character.” And that would be the peace, the respite, you know? But otherwise, Darren McGavin was wonderful. We didn’t hang out with Darren McGavin, because again, these guys were under such an incredible schedule, they would hang out in their trailer.

B: In this episode, you appear about 10 minutes into it, and it’s a big hotel lobby scene, and you’re sitting in a blue uniform, and standing right next to you on your left is Simon Oakland. How was he?

U: He was kind of like his character. He was an actor that found a niche character that was a good fit for him. There were a lot of amazing character actors like that. Actors who were like chameleons who could fit from one thing to another, and but would get some unique little thing that they could put their own personality and their own spin on it. So then it would get to be something that their personality could flourish in, and they could get paid for on an ongoing basis. So it was very synergistic. And I remember that about Kolchak, Darren McGavin, because he had the little hat on and everything, when he showed up, he just had that charm and that interest. You know, I should have watched more television then. I would have been more nervous. Or I would have been more savvy.

B: You were in this episode probably for five minutes. Erik Estrada shows up with a bunch of blonde women trailing behind him. He’s in a pink suit. And then a couple minutes later you’re in your hotel room, and there’s a knock at the door, and some Aztec monster kills you.

U: Exactly.

B: And that was it.

U: Exactly. And I was combing my hair. Seeing it again I went, “Oh, my God!” I had dark hair. It was before young actresses put highlights in their hair. It was before that whole thing started with the frosting and the highlights, so my hair was just dark brown, and it looked thick. It was cut well, so it looked thick, it wasn’t thick, but it looked good. [laughs]

B: [laughs]

U: My hair’s always so fine. I remember when I was a little girl and there was a Prell Conditioner advertisement, and I made my mother buy Prell, and Prell, it was a shampoo. And there were these girls with this thick, long hair, and they would swing their head around, and the hair would fly in slow motion and kind of hit the back, you know, just look gorgeous, like silk. And I bought the Prell shampoo, I made my mother wash my hair with it, and my hair didn’t do that, and I cried. I cried. I cried!

NOTE: In my next interview with Bill, I’ll share recollections of the next five TV shows I appeared in: Barbary Coast, Marcus Welby, M.D., Good Heavens, Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley.

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