Main > Series > Articles/Interviews > Valerie Landsburg Interview


Quite often, when writing about various members of the Fame cast, we've observed how many similarities there are between the onscreen character, and the actor or actress playing the part.  Lori Singer, for example moved from the peaceful countryside to bustling, bewildering New York City, just like Julie Miller did in the series, so Lori was able to put her own experiences into her role.  Carlo Imperato has, if anything, an even better sense of zany humour than his character, Danny, and Debbie Allen teaches dance in real life, just like Lydia Grant.

Ask Valerie Landsburg whether she has much in common with Doris Schwartz and her answer is a resounding "Yes"!  It's partly good casting of course, in that the people responsible for picking the actors and dancers for Fame were uncannily clever at choosing exactly the right person for each part.  But it's also true that every single person in Fame has given something of themselves when building up their screen character, so that Leroy, Bruno and Coco automatically end up being rather like Gene, Lee and Erica!

The first similarity Valerie sees between herself and Doris is something which has become Doris's trademark in the series.  "We're both clowns," says Valerie.  "We both have a gift for making people laugh." Doris's type of humour isn't the slapstick sort Danny indulges in, it's more subtle than that, based on Doris's observations of her fellow students.  It's warm, funny and endearing.  Whatever Doris finds to laugh about in someone else's life or personality has a basis of truth to it.  And half the time, Doris laughs at herself, which puts us even more in sympathy with her character.

Like Danny, Doris often comes over as a bit of a misfit at the School of the Arts.  This is intentional.  In the original brief for the show, which gave the people working on Fame a potted description of each character in it, it says: "Doris Schwartz is not guided, but literally driven to become the slim, beautiful well-groomed sex goddess Madison Avenue has manufactured as America's typical woman.  Doris is pointedly aware that, in her case, this will require drastic changes, including an intense, on-going search for the ultimate secret of beauty and the most drastic diet revised by mankind".  In other words, unlike Julie Miller, who was born a tall, lean, blonde, typical all-American woman, and doesn't have to work at staying that way, poor Doris has to watch her face and figure all the time, knowing full well she will have to compete with people like Julie when it comes to professional jobs.

We have already seen some of Doris's dieting attempts in certain episodes of Fame and, at one point, we saw her fellow students get really worried about her, thinking she might be going too far and making herself ill.  Ironically enough, towards the end of the first series, where Doris was supposed to look overweight, Valerie had been working so hard that she'd actually lost weight, and had to wear layers of clothes to achieve Doris's usual rounded look!

Both Valerie and Doris hover between effervescent high spirits and serious introspection.  Whether or not she's playing Doris, Valerie's big brown eyes can change in a flash from twinkling humour to wounded vulnerability.  It's this sensitive, easily hurt quality about Doris which makes her so believable as a character.  You feel that her problems have made her wiser than her age and that she's had to do an awful lot of thinking and decision-making, as Valerie herself has been forced to do at several stages in her career.

Valerie was brought up in the world of films and television, being the daughter of producer Alan Landsburg.  Her mother, Sally, is an author and psychologist, who no doubt taught Valerie that special awareness of people that we can see in her portrayal of Doris.  Valerie started dancing almost as soon as she could toddle, and entertained her family by getting them to put records of Broadway shows on the stereo, then dancing and enacting the plots and roles.  Resigning themselves to the fact that their daughter seemed cut out to be in showbusiness when she grew up, her parents sent her to dancing lessons from the age of five.

Valerie lived in New York City until she was six.  Then the Landsburgs moved to Los Angeles.  "I went with them because I figured it'd be pretty hard for a six-year-old to make a living in New York" Valerie jokes.

In Fame Doris is majoring in drama.  This was the subject which Valerie loved most during her time at Beverley Hills High.  She really excelled at it and would cut other classes in order to practise her acting, which got her into so much trouble that on three occasions she was suspended.

"That's one point where Doris and I differ" Valerie points out.  "She's more academically oriented than I ever was.  I was more street-smart, from growing up in the television industry and taking my meals with the grown-ups from the age of eight onwards".

Valerie's schooldays weren't particularly happy.  She disliked the rigid structure which kept her from doing the things she loved the most.  Because she was set on becoming an actress, she found other lessons a waste of time, and the other kids called her a weirdo because her head was constantly in the clouds, dreaming about the roles she was going to play one day.

Also, while she was going though all these educational problems, things at home weren't particularly happy either, as her parents decided to get divorced.  Valerie and her sister, Shana, went to live with their mother and the three of them became very close-knit.  Shana now lives in the apartment building next door to Valerie's in Los Angeles, and both girls consider their mother to be just about their best friend.

However, in spite of all the emotional upheavals going on around her, Valerie never lost sight of her ambition.  When the school pressures became too much to bear, she dropped out and went to work for her father's production company, as a kind of Girl Friday - "Washing cups and emptying trash cans", Valerie recalls.  But at least the wages she was getting helped her pay her way through two years at Los Angeles City College.

But once again, Valerie found that Fate didn't intend her to become an academic and get letters after her name for, just as she was sitting her final exams, she landed her first professional acting job, on a children's television show called, "The Kids From Caper".  As far as Valerie was concerned, there was no choice to make - she quit and took the job!

This led to her being signed up by an agent, who got Valerie her first feature film role, in a rock musical starring singer Donna Summer, called "Thank God It's Friday".  She got excellent reviews for her performance in it, all of which predicted instant fame and stardom for this brilliant newcomer called Valerie Landsburg.  But, just like the ironic situations Doris gets herself into in Fame, Valerie found herself laughing hollowly at the critics' prophecies when no more roles came her way for a whole year!

A change of agent brought about an upturn in her fortunes and Valerie found herself appearing in the television films, "The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal", which had been shown on British TV, and "Marathon", in which she played Bob Newhart's daughter.  She was cast as a daughter again - Paul Lynde's, this time - in "The Impossible Years", and also understudied one of the lead roles in Neil Simon's hit comedy, "I Ought To Be In Pictures".

This latter job, though not the big break Valerie had hoped for, as the starring role of Libby went to Dinah Manoff, was good for Valerie in other ways because it enabled her to move back to New York City for a time, something she'd been wanting to do for ages. Eventually, she got her chance and played Libby for several months on Broadway before the show closed.

While she was involved in "I Ought To Be In Pictures", Valerie also laid down the foundations of what was to become the whole of her career for the next three years .... she auditioned for the role of Doris Schwartz in MGM's pilot episode of Fame, and got it! The episode was filmed while Valerie was still on Broadway.  She expected to hear no more about it, as lots of good ideas find their way into pilot episodes for projected series, then nobody buys the series and the idea gets shelved.  But Fame was an exception. Valerie had just take another understudying assignment in Woody Allen's "The Floating Light Bulb" at New York's Lincoln Centre, when she got the news that NBC had bought the series.  And so Valerie found herself heading back to Hollywood!

Since then, not only has Valerie become a great success as Doris, she's also had a hit record - her single, "Hi Fidelity", climbed to Number One in Britain and Number Five in France - and she's fallen in love! Her steady boyfriend is rock musician Jimmy McVay and every weekend Valerie sings with his band at the Sidewalk Cafe in Venice, a waterside district of L.A. Singing is her chief hobby and she'd love to make more solo records. If you've heard her sing "Beautiful Dreamer", which is on the "Songs" LP, you've had a foretaste of how terrific a whole album by Valerie would be!

Valerie also loves travelling. and is no stranger to Britain, particularly London, as she has relatives in Ilford and Golders Green and has been over here on social visits quite a few times.  When she came over to promote the first Fame album and single, quite a few Fame fans were lucky enough to see her appear in person at the National Club in Kilburn, North London, where she sang "High Fidelity" and then did an interview with Capital Radio dee-jay Roger Scott, in which she talked about the fame she'd gained from Fame.

In general, though, fame is not all that important to her, she says, although Fame with a capital 'F' certainly is!  "Work is the major factor in my life", she insists.  "Being rich and famous is icing on the cake". Valerie, as we mentioned before, is, like Doris, wiser than her years.  She has seen far to talented friends turn into neurotic wrecks because of the pressures that showbusiness fame brings.

"Actors and actresses live in a fantasy world, a constant Disneyland", she points out.  "If you can't learn to live in the real world, you can go insane".

With Jimmy, sister Shana, and her beloved pet cat Micha, around her, there's no chance of that happening to Valerie!

This interview was provided to me by Stuart Farrell.
The article above is from the Official Fame Magazines from 1983. The OFFICIAL FAME MAGAZINE was published by Beat Publications Ltd. and the interviews are copyright MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Copyright © 1997-21, Pamela Rosensteel | Return to top