IF YOU CAN READ THIS
YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
WE TALK WITH "TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT"
STAR, LYDIA CORNELL
Interview by Randy Waage
Lydia Cornell is best known for her role
in the 80's hit ABC sitcom "Too Close for Comfort" as the funny and sexy Sara Rush.
In an exclusive retroCRUSH interview Lydia talked about her past crush on gay
co-star Jm J. Bullock, an angry Ted Knight, and the art of dating David
did you grow up?
I grew up in Texas, but always wanted to live in
California and be a
beach girl or a Mouseketeer. Disneyland was my favorite place. My favorite
stars were Audrey Hepburn, Julie Christie, Hayley Mills and James Bond
(Sean Connery) — all British. Everyone thought I was a nut in school
because I walked around speaking with an English accent, wearing a trench
coat. I dreamed everyday of coming to Hollywood and being in movies. I
guess kids who don’t get enough love at home, need attention on a grand
joined the drama club in high school and co-starred in many plays. I
played Petra in Ibsen’s "Enemy of the People". But I was a
geek and lost the part of Desdemona in Othello to a gorgeous, statuesque
girl. Instead I played a "torch-bearer" along with my best
friend Monroe, a drama club geek whom they later used as the prototype for
"Monroe Ficus" in our series. We were like stick figures
standing behind the actors, holding torches
did you get your start in show business?
I graduated from college in Colorado with a Bachelor of Science in
Business, packed a U-Haul and drove straight out to
graduation. After being there for three months, working for a record
company and modeling for album covers, I went to a party and was
"discovered" by a man who owned a newspaper and put my picture
in the paper the next day. I had a boyfriend, who took headshots of me and
submitted them to the Academy Players Directory. Every actor in town had
their picture in there. One day, out of the blue I got a call from some
entertainment managers, who thought I had the right look for several
pilots being cast.
They represented a 21-year-old actor named Michael J. Fox, who was
playing a 12-year-old (!) on a series called Palmerstown, USA. I signed a
contract promising these managers 20% of my lifetime earnings (I didn’t
read the fine print) and the next week they sent me on an audition for an
ABC pilot called "Blue Jeans" produced by Leonard Goldberg. I
bombed royally and it must be hilarious because I over-acted. I
didn’t get that one, then got rejected on a
second CBS pilot called "Ladies Man" and then I got a third
pilot called "Keep it in the Family" — a British series by
Brian Cook that was being adapted for American television.
Luckily I had been rejected on the other two pilots – so I was
released and available to audition for this one. In the business, you sign
your life away when you commit to doing a pilot audition – and you are
not free to do any other pilots until you are released. The third pilot
turned out to be the charm and they changed the name to "Too Close
for Comfort." The odds of this happening and a show going on to
become a hit are very rare.
Did you beat out many actresses for the role of Sara Rush on "Too Close for Comfort"?
They had seen over 300 girls for the role of Sara Rush. It
sounds ridiculous, but that’s the number I’ve always heard.
I was the very last one to walk in, before network finals the next day.
I had to take three buses in the rain, and when I arrived I was half an
hour late, my hair was soaking wet and my sweater was clinging to me. The
producers were ready to go home and when the casting director told them
they had "one last girl" to see, they reluctantly sat down.
Werner was in the room – he was the network exec, and would later become
a partner at Carsey-Werner, producing "Cosby" and
"Roseanne". I had to read my lines with Arnie Sultan, the
producer. Arnie, who was wall-eyed and looked like Groucho Marx, he had
created "Get Smart" with Mel Brooks. There was a scene in which
my character says, "I am a mature, sophisticated adult; all I have to
say is…" and at the end of the line there was a stage direction
that said, Sara gives Dad a raspberry — so at the end of my line,
I picked up an imaginary raspberry and thrust it at him.
The producer looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "What the
hell are you handing me?"
"A raspberry," I said.
"What are you nuts? Don’t you know what a raspberry is? It’s a
Bronx cheer, it’s like this…" and Sultan proceeded to blow his
tongue out through his lips until they flapped and made a silly noise. Tom
Werner and the other guy in the room cracked up and I just stood there,
mortified. Then Arne Sultan said, "She just fell off the turnip
truck. She’s perfect, she’s Sara!"
They all broke up laughing and the next day they sent me to ABC network
where I had to read with Ted Knight. I was one of five girls who had made
it to the "finals" at the network. Every girl was wearing tight
shorts and body-hugging clothes to show off their breasts. I was the only
one wearing a white flowered dress; I looked like a virgin. When I got
into the scary room to read with Ted, there were ten mean-looking people
on the couch just staring at me.
Apparently I did something right because
they laughed pretty hard when I opened my mouth. The first line was,
"It isn’t truuuuue!" They gave me the job on the spot
– without even waiting to call my agent. Deborah was the only one
reading for the role of Jackie. We hit it off right away. An interesting
coincidence: Deborah was a secretary for my father’s company in New York
– and she remembered sending my father telexes in Holland (where we
lived during high school.)
they told Jm Bullock (Monroe) to "butch it up" Did you know he was gay?
have fond memories of his big butt right in my face. He would deliberately
stick it out like Aunt Jemima wearing a "bustle" and I would
crack up just as we went onstage. He did a lot of things to make me laugh
– in fact,
I had a major crush on Bullock
for the first two years of the series. I was the only person who didn’t
have a clue he was gay! Of course, he hadn’t come out yet, but I should
have guessed when he came to the wrap party dressed as Charo. Boy did I
feel like an idiot. I used to go to work with my heart thumping, and every
time he’d talk to me I’d turn bright red and get tongue-tied. My
fantasy was to marry him! It took a long time for Jim to come out. No one
ever discussed this issue on the set. But one producer wanted him to speak
in a high squeaky voice, and the other kept telling him to "butch it
up", as you say.
What was the mood like when the show was retooled & the title
changed to the "Ted Knight Show"?
Ted and I had a love-hate relationship. He didn’t want the girls
(Sara and Jackie) to become more popular than he was, so when we had funny
episodes that revolved around us, Ted would put a stop to that. He even
went so far as to bring in a new baby, and add more older people
storylines. I also heard they would hide my fan mail, to make sure I didn’t
think I had any fans. They would only give us five letters each to make it
fair. Once I came to work and Ted was holding a magazine with my picture
on the cover. He threw it at me and said, "I’m the star of the
show, not you!"
From that moment on, I backed off any publicity or
hiring a publicist – which was stupid because Morgan Fairchild had a big
publicity company promoting her, although she was on a show that got
really low ratings (Flamingo Road). She became a big name, bigger
than the show. I would have done the show for free I loved acting so much.
But my managers were negotiating behind my back and angering everyone I
guess. Ted was always mad at me. I have some funny stories about the Merv Griffin show and terrible antics we got involved in
to make Ted mad. My favorite person on our show was Audrey Meadows.
What was it like re-teaming with your co-star Deborah Van Valkenburgh from
Too Close for Comfort for your film Venus Conspiracy?
I had so much fun acting with Deborah on my own movie. I write and
think comedy all day long; Deborah had perfect timing and delivery of the
lines. Frankly, Deborah and I are angry right now that Too Close For
Comfort is releasing a DVD of our first year – yet they never contacted
us about helping promote it – and we never did any interviews for the
DVD. Jim Bullock has been contacted and apparently he’s involved in the
We feel the producers of our show have always treated us
like we don’t exist. But I love Jim and speak to him when I can. My son
watches this Nick series called "Ned’s Survival Guide" and we
saw Jim on it playing a teacher named "Mr. Monroe." Nancy is
teaching at UCLA. She always says weird things that don’t make sense. I
read somewhere that she says I’m out of the business now – which is
completely untrue! I am more involved writing and producing than ever
before. Nancy was very bitter and jealous of younger people on the show;
she was not a kind person at the time. She’s gotten better and I love
You guest starred on a lot of classic 80's TV shows.
Got to kiss John Schneider on Dukes! Fred Dryer was fun on Hunter, lots
of action scenes. Had a great time on all five Love Boats I did.
Aaron Spelling is wonderfully generous; his wife would always send the
stars engraved silver gifts. I have so many; one is a Superbowl, engraved
with "Love Boat" on it. I met great stars and worked with Patty
Duke, Shelley Winters, James Brolin, Diane Ladd, Arte Johnson, Ted
McGinley, Rosie O’Grier, Englebert Humperdink, Cliff Robertson, Wayne
Gretsky (host Victor Awards.) I did comedy specials with Bill Cosby,
Debbie Reynolds, Don Rickles, Andy Griffith. I did two "Hotels"
– one in which Lew Ayres played my father, a priest. Another one I did
was with Evelyn Keyes, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s little sister in
"Gone With the Wind."
I had a crush on David Hasselhoff on "Knight Rider"
– we dated briefly during the show. Just ran into him at a wedding along
with Paris’ mom Kathy Hilton. Kathy and I had our babies at the same
time: Barron Hilton and my son Jack are the same age. I’ve known Paris
since she was 11 and she seemed so innocent then. I loved working on A-Team,
especially with Dwight Schultz; he’s so handsome! Also, on Simon and
Simon, I loved working with Gerald McRaney. He gave me backrubs on the
set; I can see why Delta is married to him.
I worked with the one-and-only Kenneth Mars who was hilarious in Mel
Brooks’ original movie The Producers. On Fantasy Island I played
a Playboy Playmate who falls in love with John James from
"Dynasty". I had to sing and dance. I also worked with Linwood
Boomer at Jack Webb "Dragnet" company before we both got series;
he was a Xerox boy/gopher, and I was a secretary. Then he got Little
House on the Prairie, and I got Too Close for Comfort. Later we
did a Love Boat together. He is now the producer/creator of "Malcolm
in the Middle".
Did you enjoy
working with James Earl Jones in the 1982 horror movie "Blood
Red Tide or
"Blood Tide" was a mythological horror movie filmed in the Greek
Isles. It was my first film, and I had just gotten the series, so I went
to Greece for 9 weeks, and then had to come back and start the show. I
loved working with these amazing Academy Award-winning actors: Jose Ferrer,
James Earl Jones and Lila Kedrova. Marty Kove, Deborah Shelton and
Mary-Louise Weller also were in it. The art director was Aurelio Crugnola
who did "The Black Stallion", and became my Italian boyfriend on
the set. We lived in a Byzantine castle and had donkeys carry the camera
equipment. The producers had a yacht docked in the harbor, and I had to
practice windsurfing for my death scene.
shared a balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea with another actress.
The day I moved in, I heard noises and wandered out to the balcony, where
her window was wide open and I saw this actress making love very
vigorously with some guy. She stopped, looked at me and said,
"Nice meeting you Lydia! Now get lost!" I was
did a brief topless scene in the movie?
I refused to do any topless scenes – to this day I will not
pose nude; it’s a moral & ethical issue with me. I never want to
have to explain such a sleazy thing to my kids. Anyway, they had me run
into the sea, topless, and drown. I had to take off my t-shirt, and make
it look like I had no top on. But I was panicked about nudity – I mean I
had a network family series to shoot in the fall. The wardrobe lady put
bandages over my boobs so the underwater cameras couldn’t get any shots
of me topless, but the bandages came off in the water. Later that night I
sneaked to the DP’s cave (we all lived in cave-like ruins) and I grabbed
the can of underwater film! I hid it in my room, and they never found it.
They had to reshoot the underwater scenes, so we finally got smart and put
zinc oxide all over my boobs, so they couldn’t use those shots. It
On the movie shoot we had 21 crew
members and 4 actors on a small speed boat, filming a scene in the ocean.
The entire sound crew was from Mexico and had just worked on Farrah
Fawcett’s movie in Acapulco. The entire camera crew was Greek, the
producers were British and the actors were mostly American. No one could
communicate – it was the tower of Babel! Anyway, we’re filming and
suddenly a crew guy gets seasick and up-chucks overboard, losing his
entire set of false teeth! For the rest of the summer the poor guy had to
eat lamb and potatoes with a straw because it was impossible to get
dentures flown in from Mexico –- and we were stranded at the end of the
Greek Isles, in a primitive place called Monemvasia!
Another funny thing
happened while dancing at the "disco" – a cave with stone
floor in the fishing village. I fell and split my chin open. The nurse had
no anesthetic so she made me drink red wine; then she burned a thick
carpet thread over a flame and stitched my chin back together. I still
have the thread in my chin. One day I ran into a goatherd who was actually
an American hippie who had moved to Greece in the 60’s and decided to
live here at the end of the earth, herding goats.
ever entangled in the party lifestyle of
Yes I got into the party life-style, had a crash
and burn then a spiritual awakening, but I am 10 years...my entire life changed through prayer – but not the "intolerant
right-wing fundamentalist religious-zealot kind". Then after being
dumped by a series of schmucks, I surrendered the search for a husband,
prayed to accept being single the rest of my life – and the very next
day I went to the park with my little boy (wearing Clearasil and baggy
sweats — for the first time in my life not looking to meet a man)
and of course I met my husband! There he was at the next tree, pitching
softballs to his son. Now I have two sons. But though I have a deep faith
in God and Christ, I’m a democrat, not a right-wing Republican. Bush,
to me, is not a true Christian; he has missed the whole point.
What are your thoughts on being an actress in "Hollywood"?
Being an actress is wonderful, if you like death by humiliation. I
loved theater acting for the pure joy of it — pretending with other
actors and creating wacky characters. But I had no idea how weird and
soul-draining Hollywood could be. Everyone here is so incomplete, so
desperate to be famous. You can feel "the yearning" in the
airwaves. The audition process and the competition for jobs take all the
fun out of it. I actually fainted at an audition once; of course my jeans
were too tight, but I really fainted from fear. The button popped off my
jeans and hit a producer in the nose.
What new projects are you working on?
I’ve done a lot of films; I just did a cool film with lots of rock
stars like Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, Ringo Starr, Cloris Leachman, Joe
Cortese, Cindy Williams. It’s all of us reading parts of a friend’s
book, a songwriter for Aerosmith. I’m doing a great movie that I love, called "Nooner"
– a hilarious 3-character play that PBS in New York broadcast a few
I got a Best Actress nomination at the Method Fest for "Miss
Supreme Queen". I am most proud of my one-woman show, "Relationshop"
and the movie I wrote "Venus Conspiracy."
I am getting ready to launch the feature-length version of my big movie
"Venus Conspiracy", and I’m
finishing my book on the Trotsky assassination (The Sylvia Plan), which
has been on the back burner. Mainly, I’m writing a comedy series called "Falling
UP" about spiritual growth in a raw, ugly, embarrassing and
hilarious way – which is my life.
Do you have a favorite famous person you liked while growing up that
you have a retroCRUSH on?
I’ve dated lots of rock stars, but my biggest crush is on
Browne. I would give anything to meet him. Have
you ever heard his song "Adam"? His lyrics and melodies are so
brilliant, so haunting. I have been in love with him since high school.
Make sure to stop by Lydia's
official website: www.lydiacornell.com
You can also see Lydia in the recently released first season DVD of
"Too Close for Comfort".
If you watch closely you can see her in William Hung's "She
Bangs" video: William