CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Interview: Angie Dickinson on the Big Break, The Rat Pack, ‘Police Woman’
Angie Dickinson has brought her charm and magnetism to a career that has spanned from the Marilyn Monroe era – she was featured in the original “Ocean’s 11” – to grittier movie roles in such cult classics as “Point Blank”, “Dressed to Kill” and Ronald Reagan’s last film,”The Killers”.
But she will always be remembered for her breakthrough TV role as “Pepper” Anderson in 1974’s “Police Woman”. Dickinson was the first lead role female cop character in series television history and laid the foundation for all the women-led action series that followed.
HollywoodChicago.com caught up with still radiant Ms. Dickinson in Chicago at the Hollywood Collector Show. She reminisced about her first big break, her life with the “Rat Pack” and how Pepper was a role model for girls…and boys.
Photo credit: Dr. Macro’s Movie Scans
HollywoodChicago.com: After bit parts in movies and the early days of television, who or what was instrumental in getting you your first big showcase film role in Rio Bravo?
Angie Dickinson: The connection was a director I had doing an episode of Perry Mason. His name was Chris Nyby. Chris was a film editor before he was a director, and had worked with Rio Bravo’s director, Howard Hawks.
So Chris Nyby said to Howard Hawks if you want to discover another newcomer, check out Angie Dickinson. Hawks saw me, I did a screen test and I was hired. That was my big break.
HC: What kind of difficulties did you have with the whole Hollywood system when you were breaking into the business during the time of Marilyn Monroe and the breakdown of the studio system?
AD: It was not easy. I found my career out of the blue. I was working as a secretary and had gone to college. I got hooked into show business a little later than most, and with no connections or background in it.
So every thing I got after that I felt lucky getting because I never aimed too high, I aimed realistically. Everything fell my way, and within four years I was cast opposite John Wayne in Rio Bravo. That was a fairly fast track considering how shortly I’d been in the business.
HC: Having been part of the actual people and the original film version Ocean’s 11 in 1960, what do you think of the whole “Rat Pack” style of cool has become so popular now? Is it deserved or do you just laugh?
AD: It is deserved and it was a blast. I didn’t think anyone could pull it off again, but George Clooney and Brad Pitt did it, and that was wonderful.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures
HC: You’ve had some varied and peculiar “against type” roles in your career. What was your criteria for choosing the unusual roles you’ve done, such as in Point Blank and Dressed to Kill?
AD: Money (laughing).
I don’t know, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just something good. When Police Woman came along, it was great to play that role, but I wasn’t aiming for it, I was just striving to keep me career going.
Some roles were great, some not so great. But just like a ballplayer, if you hit .375 that’s not too bad (laughs).
HC: You are held up as a somewhat feminist icon for your role on Police Woman. In looking back at that era, how do you think it helped pave the way for women to get different roles in television dramas?
AD: It paved the way because it was the first. It also had the title “Police Woman” and more significantly it premiered on a Friday night, where young girls could stay up later and get the role model part of it. Also younger boys were fans as well, I guess for different reasons (laughing). Everyone needs a role model.
HC: Finally, can you tell us something about Frank Sinatra that the rest of world doesn’t know?
AD: No. (laughs)