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 DYANNE THORNE
A retroCRUSH INTERVIEW WITH THE STAR OF THE "ILSA" MOVIES
 

Dyanne Thorne made famous the role she played in four Ilsa movies, that sexy soldier of fortune with the tough attitude and incredible figure that everyone loves to hate. What you didn't know is she's been a fine actress of stage and screen for over 30 years with many varied interests ranging from sketch comedy to philosophy. Recently, Dyanne took some time to speak with us.

Where did you grow up?

Iím an easterner so I grew up back east as well as in New Zealand. I had family in New Zealand as well as here. Iím American born, but I had a life of winters. It was back east in the winter and New Zealand in the summer which is the winter. I went to New York. After graduation, I studied in New York City, and thatís where my career began. I settled in Las Vegas in the 1970ís. Iíve never regretted that. Itís been wonderful. Vegas is a great place these days.

Itís incredible how much itís grown.

Itís totally different than when I first came here. When I started out it was an exciting world; performers in Las Vegas were well respected with many perks.

Hotels had dinner theater, presenting tab versions of legitimate plays, in which I acted in several; the Actorís Equity Union was strong. Every hotel had a production show, and intermittently over a 20 year span, I appeared in many shows as "talking woman/ sketch comedienne", primarily doing black-outs, ala "Mad TV".

Opportunities were changing for women, and as an actress, I made choices that seemed ahead of the trend, not just in films, but on TV and on stage as well. Black-out comedy had been a man's world, with the female simply a foil, yet as a sketch artist, I held out for billing in seven Vegas Hotel Showroom productions in which I performed. I lucked out - it just wasn't done - and now we actresses have (rightfully so), come to expect to be more equally acknowledged for our work. Jack Paar was wonderful by acknowledging all the talent that appeared on his shows. God Bless Merv Griffin. When he hosted his comedy special on CBS years ago, I was privileged to be part of it. It was a presentation of the "GREAT" black-out comics of the past, and Mr. Griffin himself. By the way he introduced me, he educated his audience to understand that the gals who performed as the comedy foils in the sketches, were to be respected as an integral part of the scene.

Iíve read you got your degree in Anthropology.

No, I didnít get a degree in Anthropology although there were those who thought that I did because I started out seriously preparing for that field. My focus was to combine anthropology with journalism, but always acting has been my calling. Besides music and acting classes, I always continued with required college classes for my degrees. It took me ten years to finally get my degree, but preparing for the future is always worth the effort. My earned degree is as a professor of comparative religions. My interests moved from the stage to the podium, and now Iím able to perform elaborate weddings as a celebrant/officiate. It is great fun. I just love it. Iím having a really good time with it.

Your first leading movie role was in a movie called "Encounter"

That one I did with ĎLittle Bobby DeNiroí. Stella Adler got me that job actually. One of her students, Norman Chaipin, was the director. He went to her looking for a recommendation. She put me in touch and it went from there. Encounter did not get released here. Money limitations led to it being released in Europe. I was told that it earned awards at several film shows out of the country.

Norman Chaipin, the fellow who directed it has since been honored in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum where they periodically show a series of special films. The year before last he walked off with a big reward for his work as a director. I think that was one of the few times "Encounter" got to be shown in this country.

Even as a little kid could you see DeNiroís talent coming through?

I donít know. I think I was probably too self-centered at that time to focus on anyoneís performance other than my own. Just the idea that I was working was a thrill; the script was good and the direction superb. We all thought it was a winner. We were going to be at the top of the heap. I never judged others with thinking, "Are they going to make it or not?", or, "Are they talented?" There was no time for concerns about someone elseís future. You respected them for being a professional, colleague whether they were 3 years old or 30 years old. It was all about the work, and I was immersed in it. I do recall that "Little Bobby" was a beautiful child Ė handsome and well mannered. Heís ĎOh So Fineí now - how could he have been less?

 

You mentioned "Love me Like I do" and "Point of Terror" where you starred with Chuck Napier and Peter Carpenter.

Thatís right. Chuck Napier was in the first one rather and Peter Carpenter was in the second one as well. Peter is gone now, while Chuck is everywhere Ė both good guys. Peter got sick and died before making another film. I am grateful to him for requesting me to co-star. He was a stand-up guy and very talented. Chuck Napier is a perfect example of going onto good success. When he was in "Love Me Like I Do" he was just getting a foothold on the business, and he hasnít stopped.

I loved doing "Point of Terror". I think it had a lot of truth in it, it was good stuff. Besides in almost every film Iíve done Iíve gotten to kill somebody. In "Encounter" I got to kill my husband. I got to do it again in "Point of Terror". In the Ilsas I got to kill everybody. I think Iíve been a mistress of mayhem since the very beginning.

Was there a part of your career where you were doing risquť movies? Was there a stigma attached to it?

The thing is the 70ís was a time of exploitation. Every independent filmmaker thought he was making an Academy Award picture. Every actor was feeling they were a part of this underground that was creating something wonderful. You didnít walk around judging it. You got cast in something, youíre an actor, you do the role.

Thatís all it is. One always hopes the attention will lead to something better and better. Itís only in retrospect that you realize that some work was definitely not for career advancement, and yet you canít improve your craft if you donít work it. Talent needs a place to be bad; bad movies made me better. A job is a job; either commit to it, or donít do it.

Itís interesting to see what is shocking in each decade.

Oh yes, many films I did in 60ís and 70ís were quite shocking for the time. Itís probably the reason why smarter cast members didnít use their own name. Corey Allen had just won an Emmy when he directed Chris Warfieldís,"The Erotic Adventures of Pinochio", under a suito-nom.

Do you have very many memories of making "Sin In The Suburbs?"

I was doing a show in New York at the same time. As I remember it, I think I shot everything I had to do in one day in New Jersey, since I was in the revue at night. Chuck Napier was with me in that film; we didnít meet up again for years until "Love Me Like I Do".

You worked with Shari Eubank in "Chesty Morgan."

We never met. That assignment was kind of a fun thing, but my part is insignificant. I was in need of a job when that came down, but it had already been cast. I knew the producer and the director, and they offered me a few spots using a variety of wigs. Iím a pretty good swimmer, so youíll find me in the pool scene as well as out. Youíll never find it on my resume.

What about your role in "Real Men" with James Belushi and John Ritter?

Tho' my billing is nil, my picture is on the back cover of the DVD. The men on that set were all princes Ė the stars, the director/writer, and the producer all treated me in the most respectful way Ė not even swearing was allowed. Not since working with Omar Shariff in "Pleasure Palace" had I enjoyed such a happy working atmosphere while totally professional set. It was a great experience to work with writer/director Dennis Feldman.

What kind of career do you think youíd have today if you were 18 years old right now?

Itís a different world. I might not have an acting career at all. Iím glad Iím not 18. In the last century you could pursue avenues that no longer exist, i.e. nightclubs, summer stock, short films, radio, etc. I could be totally wrong on this, but it appears to me that these days talent has few places to gain experience out of the limelight. To get a break one better be politically connected, or, have gone to very good schools where they developed a strong network. I studied with the best, and still, I really learned my craft on the job. Getting a good agent eluded me.

I am appreciative of whatever help Iíve gotten. Charles Nelson Reilly, who rest in peace, just passed away, was my musical comedy teacher, and it was he who got me on the final Jack Paar show performing a sketch with himself and Bobby Morse. They were on Broadway at the time doing "How To Succeed In Business ĖWithout Really Trying". That networking encouraged me to hang in there. You need someone in your corner.

Would you want to do big budget action films or independent stuff?

I did want to work with noted directors, but I no longer care to act. There are quality independent films out there now; I relate to many. "Sundance" continues to encourage worthwhile contributions. Youíve got directors like Zombie and Tarrantino who are among those recognized for their style. If they offered me an interesting role I'd consider it. Itís a new century. In the 70ís & 80ís, low budget indies could be made for next to nothing. There was a first week celebration with a flash in "Variety" if a picture brought in $90,000 dollars. That was a big deal 30 years ago; now itís nothing.

Speaking of Quentin Tarrantino, have you heard of the "Grindhouse" double feature?

Yes

Did you know about the fake trailers in the middle?

It was nice to have been invited to be a part of that, but I chose not Ė I was far too busy at the time with my current activities. I havenít seen the trailer that they did put together.

Did Rob Zombie get a hold of you?

No, it was his casting gal. She called and then sent an e-mail and a letter. Iím so involved in what Iím doing now that to go to LA for a day just for a lark, doesnít fit in.

They made a parody, instead of "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS" they made Werewolves of the SS. Sort of a homage to the Ilsa movie.

Someone asked me if I wanted to make an appearance in it. Again, the time just wasnít right.

It would have been a lot better with you in it.

With the Ilsa movie Iíve read people stopped being your friends after you made it?

I got a lot of flack from that. You have to realize I came out of a very serious acting group. Part of that philosophy is not only to be the best you can be, but help support & promote properties and projects that are going to make the world a better place. Respectable colleagues thought I had totally sold out by taking some of the projects that Iíd taken. The truth is I hadnít been offered the other kind.

In your Ilsa movies your role is so powerful and forceful. Especially during the time in the 1970ís most women were being saved, exploited, or raped. You were the one kicking ass and making the rules. At the time that was so mind shattering. Today, everybody is trying to be that. Today you would have had a huge career.

We canít all be Rocky Stallone.

The Ilsa series is almost like the Rocky of that genre.

I do believe so. Ilsa was developed as a female soldier of fortune. The promos all read: female James Bond! Jean LaFleur was the fine director for "The Tigress of Siberia", and his understanding of that intrigue is exciting. Rocky Balboa emulates that variety of inner strength. My husband was in "Rocky IV", and we laugh to see that the residuals from his minor role on that major production dwarfs what Ilsa has earned for me.

 

When you read the script was there something that attracted you to the role?

You could do a thing like "The Presidentís Analyst" and have a weekís work out of Paramount, but nobody knows who you are and itís not exactly a career builder. Offered that leading lady part in a role that I could sink my teeth into, with an imaginative director that I trusted, was far too tempting. The script was trash, but the character seduced me. A chance to portray a real person who was an animal, and yet a charmer, with a history of heinous crimes Ė shocking, but after a week of contemplation, I said "Yes".

Take a look at the 1970ís when I did it. What we all created together was a shocker. Good, bad or whatever, decent actresses werenít doing roles like that. Joan Crawford had been as mean as they came, yet fans thought I was first of the kind to be even meaner than that. God Bless my fans. Without my supporters, my forfeited film career would have been in vain.

I totally respect where my critics are coming from, but people need to lighten up. I just make movies and I have no regrets. While doing those films, my husband and I have traveled all over the world. The most wonderful people have crossed my path. As a person I have been enriched; my life has been made nothing but more fulfilling. And best of all, we have the health and freedom to enjoy it.

They had written it as though it were practically a monologue. A lot had to be changed. Hard to imagine, but there were even worse scenes that I did refuse to do. Dr. Ilsa Koch was a black-hearted nazzi monster, and she did live. There is nothing glamorous about a socio-path, but she was a challenge to mirror. Thatís why when Ilsa gets killed at the end of every movie, the audience cheers, especially in Europe. Films Iíve made have been translated into eleven languages.

Considering it was such a short shoot it has an amazing quality about it.

The director did a great job. Don Edmonds knew what he was doing. He had the vision and he was able to get the Canadian producers to go along with that. There were a lot more people involved than Cinepix, but few who were willing to say they were connected. They stayed anonymous and just got rich. Wish I could say that!

I donít think the movie would be as popular or been around today if you werenít in it. Itís a very powerful performance that comes across through the screen at you, the whole character itself. When you play that kind of role youíre one of the few who can pull off that tough personae.

That was a character I created and Don found acceptable. Again, you donít know if any film is going to be a success or a failure. You throw yourself into it, and you go from there. A female James Bond was an idea that my ego found flattering and I loved the idea. We all had dreams that the series would get into mainstream. When they re-titled "Greta, The Wicked Warden" to be an "Ilsa" Ė which it wasnít, "Ilsa" was de-valued and investors backed out of future planned projects.

The same thing with SS it was never done as glorification. I didnít really understand. In my naivetť I didnít realize what the total focus was because the original script there were parts of it that really had value. When you know that this was a real person you almost think, "Well, Iím doing an expose here. People will realize that it happened and you canít keep denying that it didnít take place."

In some romanticized ignorance I really thought that we were making a film that could have value. I always say if someone who had more acceptance or were better known, I donít know if they would have done as good a job. They might have done better, but I think it would have been accepted without the judgment. If a Meryl Streep did a role like that it wouldnít have been judged. Life is full of unexpected consequences.

Did the Ilsa role drive you to more spirituality today?

 

My beliefs have always been my strength and helped me to survive. Weíre not talking religion. Weíre just talking about a connection to life that understands, we are not puppets. Before "Ilsa" I knew, and I know that I know, there is a power greater than I am and I can use it for the good of all concerned. This spirit has seen me through the tough times and it makes my good times better. Thatís always been me. Doing any role requires an actress or actor to dig deep inside and reflect life as best it is understood, even comedy. Does that make any sense?

Are you a method actress?

Every actor has their own method. I studied ĎThe Methodí, yes. I worked with Strasberg. In fact even Harold Clurman had a class for professionals that used to meet at midnight at Carnegie Hall. It was an incredible class and some good things came out of that. Technique has given me tools to fulfill my obligations to the script at hand, however, I will say that itís mostly instinctual for me. I have studied it, but do I always use it? No.

The Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia was a little different from the other movies.

It had a fine director, Jean La Fleur, and he had a good understanding, and gave a European polish to the intrigue and adventure scenes, but the unique Edmonds style had already been established in the previous two Ilsa films. The fans expected that look, and Tigress was meant to be different, and it is.

 

It seemed to veer off from the formula.

The ideas could have been very interesting. It too was based on a factual situation. There was a woman who had come out of Russia who was trafficking girls in Canada. It had had a measure of truth and potential excitement, but rather than taking advantage of that, midstream the vision was changed. Production chose the easy route which was again back to exploitation.

Did you ride on the snowmobile at the end too?

Yeah, and I did all my own horse work. Iím also good with guns and sports. Ha ha.

What about the trivia that they almost made a movie where you were going to battle Bruce Lee?

"The Washington Post, Style Section" ran a complete article and picture of the planned poster. Take a look at the archives of The Post dated Tuesday, July 13, 1976, page B9.There was a fellow who had changed his name to Bruce Lee when the original Bruce Lee died. Heís a wonderful Karate guy and actor. He changed his name to Bruce Lee so we really expected to go forward with that. I studied martial arts in preparation. Another meteor in my back yard: it didnít happen.

What are your favorite foods?

Iím not into sugars. Iím into pretzels and New York pizza. I do go for gourmet seasoning, and exotic sauces Ė but only with romantic lighting.

How do you maintain such a wonderful physique?

Lucky I guess. Mostly, I laugh a lot. I work out everyday. I always have. I run a couple of miles. Weíre at the gym every single morning. My husband and I have done that for as long as Iíve known him. I used to run 7 miles now Iím down to 3. Thatís a time element. I try to maintain balance. Iím not a vegetarian, but I donít eat meat that much. I eat it, but itís not an everyday thing. Iím not an alcoholic, but I do have wine with my friends. I have a little of this and a little of that. Drugs are not my thing and I do my very best not to take medicines. Self-hypnosis has always been valuable for me so, if Iíve got a headache I do self-hypnosis and a quick nap and Iím back on track.

Where do you think we go when we die?

Well, we get into philosophy then. See I donít believe in death. I think life is just continuous in a different way we may not yet be aware of. I see it as a continuum perhaps on a different level. I think itís important to a degree that this life can be as good as we dare to try and make it and keep our head on straight. I think the next is a natural progression. If thereís a hell I think we create it for ourselves and then we do have hell on earth. I believe life is eternal and that it gets better and better. Hopefully, we get what we believe and what we focus upon. I try to focus upon what I want, not what I donít want.

Growing up who did you have a retroCRUSH on?

Well, let me just say from the first day I met my husband I was lost.

What is one of the most important things youíve learned in your life?

Donít be rude to journalists especially if you have a fan. The most important thing is you have to keep your own counsel and thatís whenever Iíve had a disappointment itís because I was concerned about what somebody else thought about what I was doing. I try not to be phony, and dare to be myself, as I really value my friends and family. I have a small family which is dear to me, and my friends become my family. Earning a living by doing work I love to do, is the greatest privilege, and sharing life with those I love is my greatest blessing.

What are some of the stage performances you like the best?

Howard Maurer singing on stage with his 18 piece orchestra.

I appreciate talking to you.

I am very grateful to the fans. I have been a little overwhelmed which Iíve never quite gotten over the accolades, I have been remiss in answering a lot of fan mail. I would hope that within this next century I will perhaps get to answer some of that mail thatís come in. I want to apologize for not managing the time to do that.

Many artist fans have taken the time to send me their amazing artwork. May I say, "thank you" to all. THANK YOU for the beautiful work Iíve received through the years. I really appreciate it. I dare not name all,Ďtil you say I may. Iíd not to not only like to thank the artists who sent me pictures of Ilsa and their artwork. Iíve actually had 4 songs written about Ilsa in both Europe and the United States. They have put Ilsa on the covers of their CDís. Iíd like to thank the musicians who have written songs who poke fun at Ilsa and also to the writers who have taken the time to make me look better and I do appreciate that. Iíve had a lot of support from professional, creative people.

We LOVE your Ilsa films. They are good films! Theyíre very entertaining. I canít believe people take them so seriously. Thereís a lot of camp. To us itís more over the top, thrill ride. Itís very visceral and wild, more than thinking youíre an actual Nazi. Thatís kind of stupid.

I find it hard to believe people thought you were an actual Nazi. Itís so over the top & crazy. Itís based in reality and itís a terrible thing. You filmed it on the Hoganís Heroes set which people made fun of because they made comedy of the prison camps.

We need to learn to accept all sides of life. Sometimes it helps to see the worst side to remind us we donít want to repeat that. An actor plays a character, but is not that character.

Not to mention you did so many of the Ilsa movies. Itís not just the SS movie. Such as the one that was originally called Greta. That one is more of a womenís prison movie.

Every one of them was based on something. That was based on Las Palomas sanitarium in Portugal where exactly that story took place. A healthy minded woman disappeared and the story is how her journalist sister helped get her out.

They were just doing experimental, horrible things, and making a fortune off of these women and locking them up into this sanitarium. So that film started off with a very legitimate expose again if you will. Jess Franco however, is a wonderful director, but he definitely turned it into just exploitation and I was always sorry for that.

Youíve been doing weddings for awhile?

Yes, I have been and they keep getting better. We do upscale, outdoor wedding. Theyíre very beautiful. Theyíre not political. We donít do them in the churches and we donít do chapels. We do them in elegant places and we really make it special.

Interview by Steve Graf (steve@hotmail.com) and Randy Waage (randy@retrocrush.com)

DYANNE THORNE CAN BE REACHED AT: Ilsa.dyanne@yahoo.com.

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