TYPECASTING IS THE nightmare of Thespians. It is in essence, their plague, the chic Hollywood curse to be eluded as one would duck a Nolan Ryan fastball. To forever portray a single character type is to always be known as the macho man, the sex kitten, the heavy or the psychotic. In many ways it is a sugar turned poison, for while the momentary popularity of a character type means work for the performer, long droughts of unemployment are not uncommon once that personification is no longer vogue. To be sure, typecasting is sediment that parches the creative well long before it has been thoroughly tapped.
It would seem, then, that Audrey and Judy Landers have plenty to fret about.
White both girls, arguably the hottest sister act to land in Hollywood in some time, have enjoyed gainful employment in their otherwise short tenure in the industry, their work continues to manifest itself in sexy, winsome albeit fender — headed characters. At the moment, Audrey portrays the unscrupulous though comely Afton Cooper on CBS — TV's Dallas while Judy graces the set of Madame's Place as the voluptuous but silly Sarah Joy.
It shouldn't be misconstrued, however, that the girls don't enjoy playing the babydoll roles. Rather, it is what Audrey calls “the stigma” of being a sex symbol that is somewhat disquieting and what Judy says is “definitely frustrating.”
Specifically, that “stigma” is the continued perception by the public and the media that blonde, curvaceous actresses who portray the sexy airheads are indeed, themselves, sexy airheads.
“I would like people to know that I'm not a silly blonde, an airhead or whatever character I'm playing at the time,” coos Judy in a whispy voice that unfortunately, yet undoubtedly is an integral part of the perception she is a silly sex symbol. “That isn't all there is to me, because I know there are a lot of people who think that.”
Audrey theorizes that the characters they are playing now are part “of a trend” in television. “Both of us have not always played the sex symbol role. We're just, really, playing in that image as a response to what the public wants from us right now.”
Judy concurs, calling the public's perception of her as a sex symbol “very flattering.” Yet, she laments, that the very same “flattering” perception of her character type is alarmingly literal, conceding it's unfortunate the vacuous sex role should spill over as an interpretation of Judy Landers the person. “The problem is people take the words 'sex symbol' and make them so one dimensional and limited. Instead of saying she's a sex symbol, why can't they say she's a person who is sexy? Being a sex symbol is flattering, but it's a shame people see it as so limiting. It is possible to be sexy and smart, too.”
Indeed. The beauty and sensuality of the Landers sisters is definitely a moot point. Yet, both girls' intelligence isn't particularly obscure, either. Audrey is exceedingly confident, outspoken and finds little trouble articulating her thoughts. Judy, on the other hand, is remarkably intelligent, carefully choosing her words in order to avoid confusion over what she means. Her rather overt shyness, however, coupled with her at times barely audible voice has a tendency to belie her rich acumen. Audrey finds Judy's plight analogous to that of another Judy ... Judy Holliday. “Judy's case is like that of Judy Holliday's. For the longest time people thought she was this silly woman, yet she had an unbelievably high IQ, and it wasn't until later in her life that people caught on.”
But one wonders how long these two eastern natives can endure the symptoms of the sexy image. Really, though, neither Audrey nor Judy look at their images as something to endure, as something they must constantly fight off. Both nurture designs to shed the breathy, busty bombshell images to chase more dramatic ventures, and are currently working up a Las Vegas act they hope to do together.
For now, however, patience is gospel.
“I have patience because I really love what I'm doing,” reports Judy. “Being perceived as an airhead is one of the not so pleasant things about doing comedy and playing a silly role, but I love the fact I have the opportunity to make people laugh.” “I think,” chimes in Audrey, “in a similar way that Judy believes in that our work at the moment entertains people. Acting is for making people feel other emotions. It's an escape, a fantasy world. It's for people to be able to turn on the television for a half hour or an hour and just forget. It's like, 'Those Ewings have all that money, but look at the problems they have.”
Audrey and Judy Landers are a rather unique mutation of a show business marriage. Very nearly, they are Siamese twins minus the physical link. Most of their time away from their respective shows is spent together making personal appearances, rehearsing scenes together and taking care of the home they share in Coldwater Canyon.
Yet, in Hollywood, an intimate relationship between two performers is frequently torn and tattered by the unusually harsh demands of the industry. This town is known for its inequity, where one actor's success could spell another's failure. Which leads one to believe, or so it would seem, that the Landers' dose, under-the same-roof symbiosis is often lethally threatened by the churning competitive nature of the industry.
But in actuality, the opposite is true. If ever a relationship fit the “two peas in a pod” cliché, it's that of Audrey's and Judy's. Their philosophy is that it's not two 'separate careers living under the Landers' roof, there is no “me” or “I” living here, but only “we.” The girls, together, are one giant assault on an entertainment career where success or failure of one affects the other equally. They have, to be sure, a rather remarkable central-assets-account approach ~Q an otherwise potentially disastrous arrangement.
Ironically, though, while Audrey and Judy function as a unit in the entertainment scheme of things, the fountainhead of their Hollywood co-existence roots itself in the girls' individual self-confidence. Says Judy, “You have to trust yourself and your talents first.”
Nodding in agreement, Audrey assays that it is confidence and security which inhibits storms of competitiveness that could drive them apart. “We have never looked at our working situation from a competitive point of view.”
“In our careers,” Judy expounds, “we've had great balance. There have been times when I've had a series and Audrey hasn't, and there have been times when the case is reversed. We celebrate together when Audrey or I get a series, and cry together if something we're doing is cancelled.”
“No one has to be selfish,” Audrey urges, recounting a particular lesson the sisters' mother, Ruth, preached during their youth. “If you know that somebody else is looking out for you, you never have to be selfish or greedy. You know that the other person is taking care of you and that you're taking, care of the other person.”
Muses Judy, “We're a team.”
But despite the insistent “team play” of the Landers, individually their demeanors are nearly polar. Born in Philadelphia but reared in New York, it was Audrey who first dreamt of a career in entertainment while Judy focused her efforts on gymnastics. In a personal sense, the girls retell how it was Audrey who beamed confidence and was the extrovert of the two while Judy was the shy one, almost painfully so. “She didn't even want to talk to people,” remembers Audrey of Judy. “She didn't want to smile. She was just very shy.”
Ironically, however, while the difference between Audrey and Judy is quite apparent-the extrovert and the reticent-their image in the entertainment industry has contoured them into a single package. It seems it's always the Landers, or Audrey and Judy Landers, but rarely do the imagemakers give us just Audrey Landers or Judy Landers. Even the girls themselves flounder a bit when attempting to discuss their careers as separate entities. It makes one wonder if Audrey and Judy could survive in the industry without each other.
According to them, it would be demanding.
Says Judy, “I don't think 1 could survive in this business without Audrey. I mean, I could survive, but not happily. I'm much happier this way knowing I have a best friend and someone who I can talk to and who knows everything that I'm going through. I think it's much better this way.”
Staring intently at Judy as she speaks, Audrey nods approvingly then reaffirms, “Of course we could survive. There's no doubt, you do what you have to do. But, it wouldn't be half as much fun. Part of our success has been the fact that we have each other.”
And they also have their public.
There is little question as to the gargantuan popularity of the Landers siblings. When not on the sets of their respective productions, Audrey and Judy spend their weekends jetting about the nation making personal appearances at rodeos, auto shows and the like. To say the least, they are in demand, a demand many prominent entertainers elude as an unreasonable intrusion into their spare time and private lives.
But in Audrey's and Judy's case, they regard their whirlwind tours as personal insurance that they are indeed wanted and accepted, and as payment to fans for their steadfast loyalty. To meet the people that watch them is “really exciting” giggles Judy.
“It's really nice to meet the people and just hear what they have to say,” she continues. “They see you all the time and you never get to see them unless you're out there.”
More specifically, relates Audrey, meeting people nationwide allows the girls to take a pulse of not only how they're accepted, but also of the viewers' reaction to their shows.
“I guess the reason we like to meet the public so much is because on stage you get an immediate response to your work, whereas on television you really don't know how your public feels about you until you are out on the street and people come over and say, 'Boy, I really liked what you did on the show last week,'” asserts Audrey.
“On stage, you can hear how loud the applause is, but when you're on television your only measure of success really is what your fans and your public think of you, and you don't know that until you come in contact with them.”
What is particularly interesting about these 1980s answers to the Gabor sisters is that while it is quite evident to the girls what their “public” thinks of them, both are somewhat perplexed when faced with the notion of what they think about each other. It's as if their “team” attitude has never really forced them to take stock of one another) and ironically feel more comfortable apart when faced with the chore of sizing each other up.
As Judy tends to a few tasks in their foliage-laden backyard, Audrey takes a long minute before describing not Judy Landers my sister, or Judy Landers the actress, but Judy Landers the individual.
Her eyes cast to her folded hands, Audrey says of Judy, “Of all the people I've ever met, I think she is probably the most determined, and I'm not saying this because she's my sister. I mean, she knows what she wants, and she puts on her little blinders and forges ahead and makes her goals happen for her.”
Teasingly, Judy appears at the back door to eavesdrop. In a maternal tone of voice, Audrey admonishes her to stay away, then continues, “Judy has always been very bright. She never liked to study, but she never had to, either. She got her A's by never having to open a book.
“I also know that she's a very sensitive person. I think that when Judy is with other people there is a certain side of herself, her personality, that she feels is okay to let people see. Most people see her as timid and very quiet, and I think that's because that is the part of her personality she's comfortable with. People accept that personality more readily than they would accept someone who is aggressive and bright.”
Sitting down to the table in their light and airy kitchen, Judy laughingly queries if Audrey said good things about her. But when she begins to speak of Audrey, there is a very long, serious pause. “This is going to be difficult,” she sighs.
“Audrey,” coos Judy, “is a lot of different things. She's a very strong person, basically honest. If she loves you, then you're a very lucky person, because she is the ideal friend that you very rarely find in life. For people that she cares about, she would do anything.
“Professionally, I think my sister is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood today. But I don't think she has had the opportunity to show how good an actress she is or how talented she is. On Dallas, she's getting lots of wonderful scenes to do, but I don't think she has had the vehicle yet to show off her talents to her full benefit.”
So with Judy's determination and never-open-the-books brightness, and Audrey's strength and talent, Landers Ltd. continues to thrive and grow. They insist that down the road a piece they will make the transition to serious dramatic acting in feature films. And as they ponder the day when their togetherness and living arrangement is no longer expedient, they look at each other and smile.
“When that day comes,” laughs Audrey, “we'll just have different kitchens.” “Yea,” Judy giggles, “we'll just live as neighbors.”
And with these two pretty residents on the same block, there's little doubt it will be a popular neighborhood.