May 06 2008
May 06 2008
May 06 2008
Last Summer we had the pleasure of seeing Jody Miller perform and, while familiar with her CDs, were “blown away” to use an expression not heard much in recent years. We knew immediately that this great gospel singer was someone we needed to interview for Point North † Tidings. We called her at her home in Blanchard, Oklahoma.
Ed.: You mentioned in your bio that at age six you were in California, but where were you originally from?
Jody: Well, my family was from here around Blanchard, Oklahoma. I was born in Phoenix. Then Daddy and Mother came back to their home which was Blanchard, Oklahoma. They were raised around here. We went out to California twice. They went the first time when I was born in Phoenix. We went the second time when I was about three.
Ed.: You’ve said your whole family was musical, I gather this was a major influence on you.
Jody: Yes, I think so. My dad was a fiddle player and my mother was a real good blues singer. My siblings, my sisters were singers and were real good. They liked to sing like anyone would when they’re washing dishes or something.
Ed.: You were a Mario Lanza fan and you liked classical music. That is very evident in your singing. Did you have classical training?
Jody: I wanted to, but my dad couldn’t afford it. We just didn’t go there.
Ed.: In your bio you relate classical music to gospel. Would you like to explain that?
Jody: I was asked this morning how long I could hold a note and I told her “pretty long”. One thing I learned about gospel singers is the last note on their songs was very important. They hold it as long as they can. This is true of classical music. I meant that it was pretty formal and needed to be sung correctly. Like The National Anthem. It should be sung correctly. It shouldn’t be jazzed up or done with notes going here and there and the other. It’s why they call it an anthem. It’s supposed to be sung like an anthem. It’s to be sung straight, not jazzy or bluesy or anything like that. Both gospel and classical music need to be sung straight.
Ed.: What were your first stage appearances?
Jody: When I was six years old my mommy and daddy got me into some bars around Oakland, California. They had singing contests. One time we had to sneak out the back because the cops were coming in the front door. The thing is they knew I could sing at a very early age. Powerfully sing. They wanted me to have a chance. They were poor, and the only thing they could think of was how far we could get with a contest, much like American Idol. One time I got to sing at the Oakland Auditorium and I was six years old and I came in second. I sang a Nat King Cole song, Mona Lisa, which was weird. Here I was a little six-year-old girl singing a love song. It would be like a six year old singing Stand By Your Man. It didn’t get me anywhere other than my mother and daddy were proud of me.
Ed.: When did you get into recording?
Jody : I was singing folk music around Oklahoma, after I got out of high school. I had a good job as a secretary and would sing as much as I could, folk songs. I was staying at the YWCA and the library was right down the street in Oklahoma City. I would go on my free time to the library to research the folk songs. You have to have the story, you just can’t sing it and not be able to tell people why the songs came about. They do have good stories and some were written in the 1700’s. I learned about 200 songs complete with stories so I would sing at coffee houses. They were real popular in the early ‘60s all over America. I was pretty hot in that I was singing folk music. After I had been married about six months, my husband and I went to LA to try to get in the record business. I did get in with Capitol Records because I was a folk artist and that music was so hot. My first recordings were at Capitol Records.
.Ed.: You know, I have to comment that there is such a melodious sound in your speaking voice that one can hear the music. A lot like a friend of ours, Connie Haines.
Jody: I am very familiar with her and I have been also compared with Doris Day. It may be just a pop singer personality or something.
Ed.: You also mention that you enjoy working with people with great attitudes. Could you give some examples of that?
Jody: That’s funny, but the first thing I think of is those who didn’t have good attitudes. It would be stronger for me to comment about people who don’t have a good attitude. I think people who don’t have a good attitude have the Devil as a ruler. The Devil of the world is a bad attitude. It upsets everything, puts everything out of kilter. I’ve had to work with two or three people who couldn’t see the glass half full. I just don’t understand, especially in show business, how somebody cannot have hope and have happiness. These are the qualities needed to be in show business. That alone should make anybody deliriously happy. if they can act or sing or whatever.
Ed.: You mention in your bio you had a preference for the great songs of the fifties, but you were classed as “country”.
Jody: Yes. I love pop music. Early pop music, J. P. Morgan, Nat King Cole, Doris Day, Connie Haines and people like that. Standard songs that were beautiful. There was a wonderful producer at Columbia Records who would say every once in a while, “It doesn’t take a hammer to kill a fly”. Exactly what pop music did for me. Those people laid on those notes just beautifully and sang the
lyric like it was supposed to be.
Ed.: How did your Grammy winning Queen of the House come about?
Jody: When I recorded Queen of the House I had been in Europe about two or three months. I came back and they wanted me to record it. I thought it was a jazz number. I wondered why they didn’t given it to Peggy Lee. She was a jazz singer for Capitol Records, but she wrote her own music. I thought she won’t cut that as she didn’t write it. Usually that’s the way it works with writers. I cut it, and I had been doing pop music and it went first on the jazz station in LA. Then it went pop and then it crossed over to country. It was country that gave me the Grammy. I won the Grammy for being a country performer. That thrust me into the country music business. I didn’t care too much for country at that time. It didn’t lay on my ear all that well, though I was brought up hearing country music with my daddy playing the fiddle. My sister listened to Bob Wells records all the time. Bob Wells was a pop guy, he really was, He might have played the fiddle, but he had horns in his orchestra. I didn’t like Jimmy Rogers or Hank Williams because I didn’t like the whining sound. When I was put in country music, I decided to do it my way. Half pop and half country. On both sides of the fence, but we sold some records.
Ed.: In the performance we saw, we loved your rendition of The American Trilogy. People often think of Elvis Presley in regard to this, however we felt you outdid everyone who had ever performed it. I recently played the DVD we made of you singing that number for an independent living center. It was in a Bible class. These were people who know and love gospel. They agreed that your version is the best.
Jody: What happened is the Mickey Newbury, the writer, put it together. He recorded it in the early sixties. I was a big fan of Mickey’s. My husband was a race horse trainer, and we were at a track in Northern New Mexico. I played the Trilogy over and over in a motel room and I learned to sing it very good. With the hit Queen of the House, I would do that number in my act when I made appearances. It wasn’t until I got to Montgomery, Alabama that the house came down. I was doing it before Elvis.
Ed.: What role or credit do you give your religious faith for your career?
Jody: I give my Lord everything, all the credit for me. He knew what I was going to do before I was even born. That settled that. I have a lot of faith, I know He runs my life. He is the one who guides me in my life. I give Him all the credit for everything. In my Christian music I pray about it constantly. It is not where I want it to be. I want my Christian music to be prevalent, but the Lord sees other roles for me. I would like to be more known as a Christian singer.
Ed.: You are in Branson, Missouri two weeks out of each month at a show titled God and Country. Would you describe that?
Jody: The show itself is called The Grand Ladies of Country Music. The theater is called The God and Country Theater, because the people who own the theater are Christians. They love our country and they want to combine their love of country with Christian music. The show I’m with involves Wanda Jackson, Norma Jean, Jean Shepherd, Leona Williams and Ava Barber from the Lawrence Welk Show. There are six of us and we rotate, three of us on stage at one time and we each do our hits. In the second part of the show we do a tribute to the great ladies of country music who had wonderful careers like Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette. Then we do gospel music and one patriotic song. Our market is people our age. They have 65 theaters in Branson so there is enough music for everybody.
Ed.: Are you working on anything in particular now? Like your dream of a pop album?
Jody: Not anything for an album now, but I have it all ready. I do not have any recording sessions planned. I would sure like to do that. I recently did a Centennial show for one of the towns in Oklahoma. Also, recently, I did an international show for a group of international folks who came in. I do shows like the Western Film Fair when I have the time and I am available for shows that want gospel music.
You may be sure Ye Olde Editor talked about media events we have had in the past and about her as a possible guest, should she be available.. Also, for our readers, there are many CDs available by Jody Miller for purchase. Two in particular may be directly secured from Amazon. Com that we want to mention here. ANTHOLOGY is a combination of pop, country and gospel with many of Jody’s best known numbers. The second one is HIGHER which is gospel. Amazon lists the latter as HIGHER LOVE.
May 06 2008
This Summer, September 9, 2007, Deanna Lund received a special honor from the Commonwealth of Virginia. In recognition for her work with young people in the Roanoke Valley, her charities, her involvement in local Christian programs and last year’s efforts to help victims of Katrina, she received a special “Commendation” from the Virginia General Assembly. This was offered by the House of Delegates majority leader, H. Morgan Griffith.
Deanna Lund is one actress who didn’t start out as a star struck little girl with a yen for Hollywood. That was the farthest thing from her mind as a child.
Deanna was born in Riverside, Illinois outside of Chicago. The youngest of three girls, her father Arnold Lund was a successful attorney and columnist. Too successful as far as the corrupt Daley Machine was concerned and so the family was transplanted to Daytona, Florida.
As a child in Florida, her only screen idol was Roy Rogers. That was primarily because she was riding in rodeos at the age of ten. She was interested in Country-Western music and wrote her own songs which would make her more a candidate for Nashville than the film capital. Her popularity in rodeos and horse shows was such, that her first modeling was done on her horse “Dynamite,” for covers on programs. Dynamite was named for her dad whose editorial column in Chicago was titled Dynamite Lund.
Her love of horses almost caused a crippling accident. “When a kid, I was kicked in the spine by a horse. Not his fault, it was an accident. I think it is why I am shorter than my sisters and my parents, all of whom are tall.” She still went on to be an outstanding equestrian.
Deanna was active for a bit in the political arena helping her father run for office. Arnold was narrowly defeated in his run for Congress in a contested and controversial election. Deanna’s mother Phyllis once told us, “Even popular president Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t able to help this rising Republican star to overturn the results.”
Sadly the popular Eisenhower and his party didn’t get involved until after the election when they saw how close the results were. The national Republican Party tried to talk Arnold into running for governor. He said “unequivocally no.” Deanna was told by her father after a trip to Washington, D.C., “there are no honest politicians in Washington.”
Arnold Lund really didn’t need political office as he was in real estate and ran a successful motel on the beach, The Surf and Sand where the family lived.
Later Deanna would ask “How did a clean cut kid like me wind up on the wicked stage”? Some journalists have assumed that because of Deanna’s athletic ability, looks and sunny disposition, the road to stardom was strewn with roses. It wasn’t and she admits, “I had to pay my dues.”
In high school, Deanna first went on stage because her father thought it would help her get over her shyness. She became hooked, though acting as a career didn’t seem to be in the cards. He father was opposed to the idea, especially the idea of motion pictures. However, after school she entered into a marriage that didn’t work and found herself forced into a wide range of occupations. With two babies to support, Kim and Randy, she moved to Miami where she had a variety of jobs including a car rental agency, running a modeling school, TV weather, news and sports casting, and appearing in commercials.
Before this marriage and while in college, Deanna did win a role in a Robert Taylor-Chad Everett film, Johnny Tiger along with appearances in a couple other films. A talent scout, Max Arno, tried to recruit her and met with her here in the Roanoke Valley, not far from where this magazine is published. He was unsuccessful due to her parents’ disapproval. A few years later and after her dad had died, she reconsidered. With her mother’s and sisters’, Barbi and Sandy, approvalshe packed up her children and headed for Hollywood. As providence would have it, she crossed paths with Max Arno, who helped her chart her new career.
Her first films were learning experiences. Deanna took any bit role she could find. “I went bicycling from studio-to-studio to work as an extra. or to take a small part. This generally wasn’t approved by the studios, however many of us did this to make a living.” Some of her small roles were well reviewed such as Our of Sight and she had the opportunity of working twice with Elvis Presley. The Presley films, Hawaiian Paradise and Spinout, gave her an opportunity to meet “the king”. “Elvis didn’t seem interested in me as I had my babies on the set and he probably felt, ‘Mama, you need to be home washing diapers.’ If only I could have afforded to do just that.” Her children were always first with her and to this day, along with her grandchildren, this is still the case. The roles she won were unfortunately not the kind of roles that would feed a family. She also had to work in time for drama classes. This was far from the image Hollywood had with instant stardom awaiting the newcomer. Deanna was beset with every problem faced by a single mother from inept baby-sitters to life threatening illness. Something within her told her she needed to return to Florida. “It was like God talking to me.”
She was so anxious to get back home to Florida, she had her agent get her a role in Frank Sinatra’s Tony Rome being shot in Miami. This looked like an easy ticket to end her film career. Back in the Sunshine State, she made up her mind that there would be no going back to Hollywood without a guarantee of a major role. Her one scene in Tony Rome impressed Sinatra and afterward they dated for a short while.
At that time one of the new breed of producers, Irwin Allen, was making his mark with special effect science fiction TV series and movies. Deanna Lund was already known on TV due to appearances on Batman, Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre and numerous other TV shows. In the works for 20th Century Fox was Allen’s Land of the Giants. Tony Rome was a Fox film and Allen saw the dailies which made her a cinch for a part without even an audition. Deanna had a hard time believing it was true when her agent called her and nearly hung up on him. She was still skeptical when she arrived in Hollywood to meet Allen for the first time. Though normally ash blonde, she was a red head in Tony Rome, and had been in a few other films made shortly before the Sinatra movie. She was starting to let her hair go back to its natural color, but when she met Allen he said, “I bought a red head, I expect a red head.” As Deanna explained it “The contract was signed and one did not contradict Irwin Allen. He was brilliant, but also autocratic.” Thus Deanna Lund became red headed Valerie Ames Scott in Giants.
Land of the Giants had the task of making viewers suspend their disbelief long enough to watch seven castaways survive on a world of hostile giants. Deanna’s task was to flesh out and give substance to the role of a shallow rich girl. During the two years the show was on air, her
character was viewed by many as the most evolved
and interesting. “I was kind of a bad girl turned good girl and this was not deliberately done on my part or the writers. It was just something inside me that came out.” Despite week after week of enduring such perils as hanging by a rope over flames, several times having an ape carry her off, being taped to a table and dropped into a specimen jar, she managed to pull it off. By the end of the series, Deanna Lund was one of the most popular actresses on television and she was more than just a screaming victim. She was now an accomplished and recognized performer. She additionally became a popular guest on Charades due to her talent to pantomime. After the Giants series was cancelled, she married co-star Don Matheson. Their daughter Michele Matheson is an accomplished actress and author herself today.
With Giants behind her, Deanna made a number of appearances in shows such as The Waltons and The Incredible Hulk as well as movies made for television. Her greatest impact for the next few years was starring in the soap operas, General Hospital and One Life to Live. For many actresses, that would be more than enough. For Deanna, it was to be evidence that nothing could be taken for granted.
There were problems ahead, not the least of which was a terrible mugging that nearly took her life. The attack nearly destroyed her emotionally and it was only her strong faith in God that helped her survive. “God put people in my life that got me through it” she explains. She could have been mentally scarred for life and the fight to restore herself was an event that truly would be considered an inspiration. “I was even told by one well known actor/director that I was through in Hollywood as I couldn’t do a scene with a man who was a mirror image of the one who mugged me.”
Deanna’s film career took off again in the eighties with a most notable female lead in the Jerry Lewis classic Hardly Working. It was a film Lewis needed badly for a comeback and it was Deanna’s long time friend, Beverly McDermott, a casting director who secured her the job. She also made films with independent producers. In the nineties, this led to more films on TV with the most noted being her role as a police woman in Red Wind.
Another change for her came in the mid eighties when she was a guest at her first science fiction and fantasy convention, RoVaCon (Roanoke Valley fan Convention). Deanna was amazed at what a fan following she had and soon there was a support group formed. Titled Friends of Deanna Lund, it had the largest membership of any non studio or agent-run fan club in America. She resisted calling it a “fan club” and its chief charity was Victims of Violence No More. The membership ran from Germany to Australia and from Canada to Brazil. Within RoVaCon she helped establish a new Drama Scholarship and introduced the idea of conventions holding Drama Workshops. Later she became a co-founder of a strictly designed media convention she herself named, Rising Star. Both the latter and RoVaCon were head quartered in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia..
In addition to her workshops she was also active in chapel programs conducting music presentations. The latter led her back to song writing and she has since performed in several churches in Florida.
Deanna Lund has also found another outlet for herself, writing. The writing instinct was inspired by there still being so many fans of Land of the Giants years after the show left ABC-TV. It has been continually on cable stations both in the United States and over seas. The Irwin Allen News Network became the most prominent champion of Irwin Allen TV shows and films in the Western world. Run by Jet in England, Deanna and other cast members have been invited to conventions across the nation and overseas largely due to the network.
There was hope that a new series would be developed or at least a movie as was done with Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space. It was this interest in the old series that inspired Deanna to write a novel published by Galactic Press titled Valerie in Giantland. The book takes up ten years after the end of the series and was co-written with Dr. Fred Eichelman. It is still available on the net and through various science fiction outlets. The book was “designed to have a spiritual element without hitting the reader over the head.” Deanna later co -wrote a similar script for a film, Dimension 3000, which has not been picked up, but has been floated around various studios.
Though nothing has been done to date about reviving the series, 20th Century Fox recently released a special boxed set of all the LOTG shows with a number of extras, including an interview with Deanna.
Deanna backed the idea of a Christian media program such as we have with Point North † Outreach and helped convert the media show programming into a series of Christian Media Conventions. She is one of four directors for Point North † Outreach.
Deanna continues her own “outreach” work and last year, despite severe pain and an operation due to that old accident with a horse as a child, joined her friend Connie Stevens to work with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. “Just when I think I can’t do something, that I don’t have the strength for, God says ‘You go gal!’. It’s an offer I can’t refuse.”