Main > Series > Q & A > Valerie Landsburg
(ACTOR: "Doris Swartz", DIRECTOR)
You were a most beloved character in FAME. I read that you left when your first daughter was born. Would you have stayed another season or more without those family reasons?
I was ready for a change and actually only wanted to direct. I actually left 2 years before my daughter was born. I was 27, it was hard being 17 every day.
Who was the FAME partner you had the most alchemy with? Are you still in touch with someone from the cast?
Alchemy? I don't know. My closest friend was Lee. One of the best acting experiences was with Bruno Kirby who played my brother. And with my late friend Dominique Dunne.
How much of Valerie did you put into "Doris"? Did (or do) you love her more than other characters you gave life to - apart from the success she brought you?
Doris is a blend of Valerie and Doris who grew from the pens of Christopher Gore and Bill Blynnn.
Your voice is so beautiful. Why didn't you follow the musical career many years before? Do you consider yourself an actress much more than a singer?
I always considered myself an actress first. I really didn't ever feel that comfortable as a singer until a year after recording GROWNUP.
On the show, not only did you perform at so many levels (e.g. acting, voice, and dance) but you also started writing & directing. What drew you behind the camera?
I directed when I was in grade school. I knew it was something that I always wanted to do and now it's my main focus.
Is it true that your real life daughter was the baby Doris was holding in the final episode of "Fame"?
Yes, that's Taylor who is off to college next year.
Apart from Lee (as we know you were roomies with him) could you please tell us which male and female cast member you got on best with and why?
Cynthia Gibb and Carol Mayo Jenkins. Carol was always like a mentor, a "real" actress.
I saw the Kids from Fame tour in London, and wondered why you did not come over with them?
I was in Boca Raton with my husband's (then boyfriend) family really meeting them for the first time.
Where do you see Valerie Landsburg in five years time?
Living somewhere with seasons and snow. Directing and writing movies and television. Acting because I love it. Playing music. Enjoying life.
Carlo has a large Fame flag he kept for himself after the show finished. Have you anything from the Fame set?
I have the “Friendship Day” plaque and I have the neon sign from the Wizard of Oz episode that says, “Wait here for Doris Schwartz”.
Did you feel when you took the part of Doris that the character and the show would have such a wide impact for the viewers then and for future generations (as the original Fame shows are now classified as 'cult' T.V.)?
I would have never guessed in a million years it would have the impact that it did and that Doris would be so loved by so many people.
Doris was such a special character, how alike are you to her?
We share the same heart. We love people, we love giving, we are very fragile and strong at the same time. We have big feelings.
How can I get an autograph?
Send me a letter and you will eventually get one. Hard copy mail is much more cumbersome and time consuming so I'm always a couple of years behind as I do it myself.
When can we have a follow up to your great Grownup album of more great Val songs?
Funny you should ask. With the help of the great Sharon Rayner (this was her idea) we are releasing DORIS GROWS UP, a compilation of songs from GROWNUP and interviews with me. I will start work on FIREBRAND, my new album, in January. I have written 8 new songs and plan to collaborate with a few artists.
Are you friends with Erica Gimpel and Lori Singer, currently and in the past?
Erica and I talk about once a year. She is working doing all kinds of things. Lee and I are still very close. I saw Lori 10 years ago at a screening. Nothing bad our lives just never seemed to intersect.
Are you interested by astrology? (you're a great example of Leo!)
Not really, but yeah, I'm kind of a major LEO.
When will your next Cd be released? I have "grown up". It's terrific.
DORIS GROWS UP, this Christmas. FIREBRAND –2005
The Kids from Fame is the only record released to CD. Is there any plans for the others to take a CD format?
Not that I know of. (other than mine and Lee's CD's)
Did you ever imagine the impact "Fame" would have, even 20 years after? We love "Fame", and now, our children do!
As I answered before, I had no idea. I also have had the experience of other people's children seeing the shows for the first time and loving them. They are timeless.
Would you do any Tour in France soon?
If they asked? Anytime.
What do you think about "un, dos, tres", with Monica Cruz? I think, personally that it's a pale and bad copy of "Fame" only destined to push Penelope's sister's career!
I don't know it.
What is your favourite film and theatre show?
I have so many favorite films, some are: CABARET, ALL THAT JAZZ, GODFATHER I AND II, APOCALYPSE NOW, KUNDON, THE LAST EMPEROR, ALMOST FAMOUS, NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE, THE GRADUATE, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, NOWHERE IN AFRICA, PRINCESS BRIDE, STAR WARS, ANYTHING BY CHRISTOPHER GUEST, SO MANY MORE.
If you could do something totally different to what you have done / are doing what would it be?
I would have been a doctor.
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
Honesty with compassion, humor, and ability to work through difficult feelings.
I would like to know how it was to work with Carlo. Is he as funny in person as he is on the show?
We were like brother and sister. We saw each other at the BBC reunion, we still feel that way.
What is the name of your band and how would you describe your music?
I have no band, just an amazingly talented group of friends who are kind enough to play with me. Then of course there is my husband James McVay (www.jamesmcvay.com) who makes it all come together.
What do your songs tend to be about?
Do you use a routine when you write songs?
No they are all different. Sometime they just write themselves, the words just pour out. Sometimes the music comes first. Sometimes they take a year to finish, sometimes a day.
Are there any other pursuits that you would like to tell us about?
I am currently a writer and director. I have a book about acting and living that I have been working on for about 4 years. I would like to learn to fence.
What did the experience of working on Fame teach you most?
To follow your heart, do something because you love it. To stick it out when things get tough but also to know when to step aside. To keep being willing to grow (open).
What have you done since Fame?
Big list. Go to IMDB.com and you can see the credits. I rode in the AIDS ride in 1999, 576 miles on a bike, directed theater, choreographed, learned to be a filmmaker and so much more in the last 22 years. But besides that, had two children who are everything to me. I've stayed in my marriage come hell or high water and I have been sober for almost 20 years. I am currently working with being enough just breathing.
I've been looking for Fame albums of songs performed on the TV series. Do you know where I can order them?
Ebay I think?
I've been keeping Fame inside my heart for 22 years. It...all of you , passed on to me a lot of values I still have. What I feel is that, it was and remains the most authentic, real and pure Tv series of all times. What do you think about that? Am I just too much ingenuous, a sort of "a beautiful dreamer"?
I think you are very smart.
Were you only actors playing a part or was it as I've always felt inside?
Both, but that's what art is. I think.
Why did you leave "Fame?"
It was time to leave, or so I thought. Everything happens for a reason.
I still have the magazine articles from when you visited Australia in the 80's. Did you enjoy your time here?
Yes, it was heavenly.
Exactly how much time passed between the pilot and the show getting the green light? As the set in the pilot was dark like the movie, whereas from the 2nd episode on, the 'school' had been brightened up a bit ... most noticeably the hallway floors.
One year. And yes, NBC changed the look, they were worried it was “too dark”, somber. I think if the show aired now they would have kept that look.
I love the episode in Season 1 'Street Kid' .. did you get to know Dominique Dunne very well? Her death only a few months later was very tragic ... how did the cast become aware of her passing?
Dominique and I had been friends for years, from acting class in 1977. Her death was devastating.
When Season 2 was over and the show was axed, did you all think 'well that's it then' or did the cast know almost straight away it was going into Syndication?
No, we thought it was over. I went back to New York and then got the call. Bill Blynn called me and said, “This is like the joke where they say, everyone who has a series that just got canceled take one step forward..not so fast Blynn” That's how I found out.
Fame as the world knows was massive in the UK. When Debbie Allen won her Golden Globe for playing Lydia ... did the cast get excited that finally the 'tide of popularity' was changing in the states?
I think that we weren't seeing that. Debbie was in the front and getting the attention. It was great for her.
When Erica left in Season 3 ... (my perception was) that your workload seemed to increase with being the only original female 'kid' left. Do you recall feeling it change with more songs to sing etc.?
Did Erica leave? Oh right yeah. I think that was somewhat true. I was the strong female voice, but there was also Nia. She took up a lot of the Coco place.
I .. (like you, I'm told) love the song 'Shadows and Light' ... and used to think why did they waste Christie Houser (Lisa) as a guest star, when she could have replaced Coco. Then it dawned on me, that maybe she was miming the song. Can you recall, was it her voice ??
No,no, that is Christie's voice. I know, it's great. I ran into her with her husband (Gerry Hauser, Summer of '42) and her kids. She looked great.
Everyone knows which is your favorite episode 'Not in Kansas Anymore' .... if you don't think it will be treading on any toes to answer. What was your least favourite episode?? Was it due to song, script or concept??
Hmmmmm. The one where I had to dance the Astronaut suit!
Have you heard anything about the possible release of Fame on DVD?
Rumors. I wish they'd do it.
If Fame is released on DVD and you were approached about doing commentary for it, would you be interested in doing something like that?
I would love it. Hope they do.
Were you happy with how Doris was written out of the show in the 4th series? Did you feel that Doris should have had a better send off? The producers/writers constructed a whole flashback episode around Janet Jackson leaving. I always felt that it should have been Doris, Danny and Leroy looking back over the whole of the last 4 years as Leroy and Doris had now graduated.
Do you want to hear something crazy? I don't remember how it went. I was in my last year of drinking (I'm sober almost 20 years). I think it was painful for me to leave. 5 months later I got sober. The story of why doesn't seem to be on the desktop. I'm sure if someone reminded me I could comment.
Have you ever ever considered recording any of the great songs that you got to sing in seasons 3 and 4 that have never been released like "Turn to Me", "Shadows and Light", "Dare to Dream" etc...?
Yes and no. They aren't mine and require licensing and there are no royalties for me in the independent world. It's probably not worth it. I loved a lot of those songs, but they were also for a younger time in my life.
What do you think of the chances of say a 25 year reunion episode of Fame? If any such reunion happened, What do you think would have happened to Doris over the years. As the last episode showed Doris being married and just had a baby I always felt she would have concentrated on her family rather than her career. I would like to see Doris go to work at the School of the Arts as the school counselor, while supporting and perhaps being overprotective of her daughter who has enrolled in the school and is trying to become an actress. What do you think of this story line?
25 year reunion? WE just did the 20. It would be hard with Gene dead. Sad. I had an idea for the reunion and I am actually working on it with someone. I kind f movie where everyone is grown up, middle aged. Your thought is not far from mine. I think Doris always work with people, but slightly different.
Although I know it might be a difficult topic, what are your thoughts on the sad death of Gene Anthony Ray last year? Did it come as a complete shock? Were you able to attend the funeral? Were other cast members present?
I was not at the funeral, most of us didn't know until it was over. It's very sad, I knew it was coming for a while. I miss his sweet face and am so glad I got to hug him and laugh with him at the reunion.
When will your web site be updated and what's happening with the fan club?
Yes, we keep trying to get the fan club going, it's really ready to go I just get very busy with my present career and things fall back. My goal is early 2005.
What was your favourite song on Fame?
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Probably STARMAKER.
What was your favourite episode?
Wizard of OZ
How do you feel about still being known as Doris Schwartz after 20 years?
Are you surprised that there are still so many Fame fans?
No, everybody just grew up.
Doris leaves FAME at the end of the 4th series. What did you do in that time? How do you judge the new characters and the new cast after your leaving? Don't you think that, from the first series to the last, there's been a change of prospective? Probably I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the first two series were, as we say today, 'politically incorrect', left oriented (I remember an episode about a strike), and the characters were conceived on that ideals; step by step, year after year, prevails also in the characters a disposition into the line with current trends, more conformist, more Reagan-style; is that the reason some of the first members of the cast of FAME went away? Probably Doris, with her uncontainable personality, was no longer suitable to the conformity of the new times?
You are correct. The writer/producers changed. In the end we did not have Bill Blynn who wrote in a very different way. Casts were composed of different types. More diverse maybe less defined. Our characters had many years to grow, the newer didn't. True of most series.
Have you never been to Italy? You know, there are still lots of fans of FAME here, we grew up, twenty years ago, with Doris, Bruno, Danny, Coco, with the marvelous singing and dancing of the School of Arts sometimes we were not able to live without you! Watching FAME on TV was our food! I'd love, sooner or later, if you will come here to promote not only the Ultimate Fame CD, as you did in London, but also your CD.
I would come to Italy in a heartbeat. I love it there. I was in Berlin this summer and got stopped a lot by Italians who loved the show. Serrano Famosa
Do you ever think about visiting Argentina?
Send me a ticket!
Have you ever met Barbra Streisand in person and had a chat with her?
Yes, she was there the day my daughter started walking. I don't know here well.
I'd read that you auditioned for a role in the movie Fame and didn't get it. What was auditioning for the TV series like for you?
Yes. I auditioned 4 times. The final was for the director who was unsure. By the end of the audition I had the role. I have my screen test on tape.