Catching up with Martha Smith from "Animal House"
Actor / restaurateur Mark Metcalf, who writes about movies for OnMilwaukee.com, recently attended a reunion with fellow cast members from the film "Animal House."
Metcalf, who played Douglas Neidermeyer in the 1978 classic, conducted interviews with several cast members and will share the conversations with OnMilwaukee.com readers.
In this installment, Metcalf catches up with actress Martha Smith, who played Barbara "Babs" Jansen in the movie.
Mark Metcalf: Was "Animal House" your first film and what were you working at, or in, before you were asked to act in "Animal House?"
MS: Yes, first film to speak of. I had done only commercials and some small fly-by parts on television shows; the girl in a bikini who was killed after one or two scenes. I was chloroformed, stabbed, shot, strangled, and beaten in the space of a few short years ... My mother grew increasingly concerned that this profession was damaging to my well-being. I held the dubious honor of being the very first cadaver that Jack Klugman got to examine on the pilot of his series "Quincy ME." The very week of my "Animal House" casting call I had also auditioned for a series regular role on "General Hospital," that I really, really wanted. I felt at that time it was my dream role. I made it all the way down to the screen test and then I did something unprecedented for me -- I forgot my lines. I was devastated. It meant I would have to do that silly college comedy "Animal House" instead of "General Hospital." Which, of course, would never amount to anything.
MM: Ignoring the philosophical reality that any act is a life changing experience, and thinking in terms of journalistic reality, was working on "Animal House" a life-changing experience?
MS: I think maybe that answer becomes more clear as we look at this 30-year anniversary date. So, yes, I think I can now say 'Yes' to that. At the time, it felt much like a free-flowing experience that had no standards of comparison, being a first film and all. Also, the nature of the filming made it seem like we were all just living up there in Oregon for a month or so and having fun ... oh, and look at that -- there are cameras and microphones here, too! That could come in handy.
MM: What was it like working with John Landis?
MS: Being "Babs" was a cheerleader-- I like to refer to John Landis as the film's REAL cheerleader -- in that he was forever so convicted about the greatness and the success of "Animal House." He would send these old classic movies postcards to us in the motel mailboxes that announced "We are making a classic movie!" and the like. Very exaggerated, or so it seemed at the time. He turned out to be right. I was impressed with his infectious enthusiasm as a director. There was no slacking on a Landis set. It didn't make sense -- he kept the energy levels one decibel beneath frenetic all the time. The pacing that made the comedy bits bounce off the screen can largely be attributed to John's timing and high energy levels.
MM: What has it been like to be part of a film that seems to be so specifically a part of the American experience?
MS: Having just returned from the Chicago reunion event at Hollywood Boulevard ... I can say it's never ceased to astonish me just how deeply this movie has carved itself into the American psyche. Hundreds of people traversed the wintry roads to get a chance to shake our hands, get a signature and see the film one more time on the big screen. And to see Otis Day singing "Shout!" It's hard to know which is more impressive: the AFI Top 100 Funniest Films List, the induction into the Library of Congress National Film Registry or my personal favorite accolade -- the parody issue of Mad magazine. I can't wait for the 50-year reunion in 2028.
MM: What are you doing now?
MS: Today I am acting only sporadically -- after "Animal House" I starred in a few TV pilots, then I finally got to do my starring role on a soap opera in 1982 -- as Sandy Horton on "Days of Our Lives." My character cried every day on that show. From 1983-'87, I starred in CBS TV's "Scarecrow & Mrs. King" with Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner, playing what appeared to be a grown up version of Babs -- she became an intelligence agent! I spent some time living in France in the early '90s and came back to America to rediscover my life. I started writing and singing, met my husband, Keith England, while singing together in a cabaret act. We got married in 2000.
I also sell real estate to a select, high-end clientele, largely in Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills. In the past few years, I've also become very politically active. I wrote a book on election integrity in 2004, wrote and produced a series of political podcasts on elections and international affairs for General Wes Clark's "ClarkCasts." I am also a senior managing editor on his Web site -- http://securingamerica.com/ccn. As a political blogger, I cover candidates, issues, fundraisers and participate in conference calls with officials to report back to the netroots. The most recent example was with California Senator Barbara Boxer in a brainstorming session to defeat the California Ballot Initiative that would have reapportioned our 55 electoral votes. We were successful!
The last film I did is now on DVD -- called "Loveless in Los Angeles" (2007) and stars the beautiful, talented Brittany Daniel. Other than that I also did a bizarre thriller with Faye Dunaway last year called "Dr. Fugazzi" but I don't think it has been released yet.
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I love that movie. I also really like Belushi's sweatshirt.
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