Thursday, March 13, 2014

INTEVIEW: Joan Benedict Steiger talks with TV STORE ONLINE

TV STORE ONLINE:  I'm really dying to ask you about working on the original Steve Allen Show in the '50s...

STEIGER:  It was wonderful.   I first started out on the show as the spokeswomen for Hazel Bishop cosmetics.  I was on the Sunday night show live for about a year, and then I went on to work in the sketches on the show too.

TV STORE ONLINE:   What kind of a guy was Steve Allen?

STEIGER:  He was a wonderful man.  He had such a terrific sense of humor.  People don't realize just how many songs he wrote too.   He was so brilliant.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Then you had some involvement in the making of BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960) as well, no?

STEIGER:  Yes, I did.  I was living in New York City at the time.  I used to bother the MGM Casting Director in New York.    Back then, everything was so free and open.  There was one person that handled everything then and it wasn't like today where you have someone and their ten assistants.  I went in to see him one day and he said, "Joan, I have something for you.  Daniel [Mann] is going to do BUTTERFIELD 8 with Elizabeth Taylor.   Daniel wants to do a lot of rehearsing and Elizabeth doesn't want to".  MGM  had told Elizabeth Taylor that if she didn't do BUTTERFIELD 8 she couldn't do CLEOPATRA (1963).  So Daniel was looking for an actress that would work as a stand-in for her.  So I auditioned and I got the job.   I worked on the picture for almost a year.  I rehearsed with Laurence Harvey and Eddie Fisher.   I was in the movie too.  I played the secretary of Elizabeth Taylor's psychiatricist and I have one line. I take Elizabeth Taylor into a room and say, "She's here, Doctor." 

TV STORE ONLINE:  You've done so much work on the stage...I was wondering if we could talk about your portrayal of the "Queen Of Mean" Leona Helmsley?

STEIGER:  Well, that was the best role I've ever done.  I did that here in Hollywood at The Matrix Theater.   I was on a stage for an hour and ten minutes.  We would do the whole thing without taking a intermission.    I spent six months learning the role.    When we did it, Leona was in jail in Connecticut.  What happened to her...A lot of her anxieties and that short fuse came from the loss of her child.  She and her son worked together in real estate in New York City.   The son had wanted to take a vacation, but Leona had asked him to close up some business in Florida before he left on vacation and something happened and his heart literally exploded and he died.   She was never the same after that. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you ever hear from her while you were playing her?  Had she heard about the play while she was in prison?

STEIGER:  The play was based on published materials.  So there wasn't anything that wasn't already known by those that were following her in the press.    With that being said, we all thought that she had representatives in the audience and if we would've done something crazy about her she probably would've had us shut down.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'm a huge fan of Don Knotts and I love your character in one of his later films THE PRIZE FIGHTER (1979)...

STEIGER:  I had known Don for years before that.  I had first met him when I was on The Steve Allen Show.  He was friends with my first husband and we worked together on the stage in The Mind with the Dirty Man.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  You were also on Days Of Our Lives in the '80s, right?

STEIGER:  I was on that for over a year.  I was on General Hospital for three years. I played "Edith Fairchild".  It was a great experience for an actor.   Its  very wonderful and difficult for actors that are just starting out.   You have to be a quick study to be on a soap opera because there are so many lines, and you memorize them and then when you come in the next morning to work all the lines have been changed.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You were on those shows when they were at their campiest.

STEIGER:  They were a lot of fun.   I was always amazed at what we could get away on television during the mid '80s. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are you working on now?

STEIGER:   I'm working on my memoirs now.  I'm also working on a film and I may be working on a television series soon as well.  I can't say too much about those now though.  You'll have to follow my website for more on those...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  Thanks Joan.

STEIGER:  You're welcome. Anytime.

For more with Joan Benedict Steiger please visit her official website HERE: