by Susan Figliulo
AUDREY and Judy Landers have done their mother proud. These soft-spoken sisters have been successful in the risky pursuit of television stardom, landing choice roles in two networks' series.
Audrey, 22, plays Afton Cooper, one of the newer regulars on “Dallas” (9 p.m. Fridays on Channel 2). Ambitious Afton hit town for TV brother Mitch's wedding to Lucy Ewing, then stayed to trifle with new in-law J.R.
That's plenty for mother Ruth to be proud of. Even dearer to a mother's heart, though, is the close friendship between her daughters. Best friends all their lives, the sisters now live together near Hollywood, with frequent visits from their other best friend-you guessed it-Mom. “We're really very best friends” claimed Audrey, her sister murmuring concurrence on a three-way phone line. “We think we're terribly lucky, because people look and look for someone they can be close to. We've always had each other, ever since we were kids. We're closer than ever now.”
And they're closer than ever to Mom, who comes to stay “at least a week every month,” though she still lives in New York.
“Our mother is such an extraordinary woman,” said Audrey. “She manages both of us. She's always been involved in our careers, since we first began working. Actually, she also has her own business, which she set up 10 or 15 years ago, and it's very successful. She's in forms—printing and designing business forms. She's been the perfect mother for us, while making it on her own. We don't know how she did it—she's really Superwoman!”
“Superwoman,” divorced from their father when her daughters were young, had been a model. That's how Audrey started.
“She did a commercial with me when I was about 3 or 4,” Audrey explained. “I liked performing, and got into school plays as a kid. When I finally decided I wanted to pursue it, I went to my mother and asked her to help me.”
One job led to another, and by the time she was 12 Audrey was working steadily in commercials and soap operas.
“I kept going to school, too — I wanted to be either an actress-singer, or a doctor. I did pre-med courses in college, but I always had time to memorize my 30 pages of dialogue, come in at 6 a.m. for a shooting, and write my music. Finally I realized that school was making me nervous, that I was much more relaxed before the camera than I was before an exam!”
Sister Judy, in contrast, “was very shy when I was growing up. I was into gymnastics. Then one day Audrey auditioned for a commercial that called for a gymnast. She and our mother really wanted me to try for it, but I was scared. Finally I decided I would — but only if I didn't have to talk!”
Laughing at the memory, she added, “I always kind of knew I wanted to be an actress, but it took that long before I'd admit it to myself. I started doing commercials about 3 1/2 years ago. Then I came out here.”
“And she got work right away!” Audrey broke in. “She is so special in her type [giggles from Judy] that as soon as she went out for a part, the director said, 'I gotta shoot' this girl!' She was so new in town, she wanted to go on the Universal Studios tour when she was already working there!”
Judy picked lip the story: “"My first big role was in 'What Really Happened to the Class of '65? I played Wanda the Bod, the girl who rebels and becomes a hippie.” With that, Judy was on her way. “When I went for a part in the 'Vegas' pilot, Mom said, 'You're not right for it, but we'll see.' And the' part I got wasn't even originally in the script. They rewrote, so my character, Angie, was made permanent.”
Working on a series, Judy found, offered “much more security than guest shots. You can be more creative and build the character.”
Did she prefer “Vegas” to her current “BJ” role? “Oh, I like 'BJ' much better!” she exclaims. “I love the people on 'BJ.' I loved working with Robert Urich, too, but the people on 'BJ' are very close. It's really like a family. Besides, on 'Vegas,' they wouldn't give me anything to do, Angie just sat around.' But Stacks knows just what she's doing.”
That's about how Audrey regards her “Dallas” character, though Afton's no angel. “Afton doesn't have too many scruples, but I like her. I can always rationalize what she does. We're both very determined, but she's devious. She has a great vulnerability, though. People are like her in real life sometimes their lives get so twisted they can only show the sad part.”
Judy's view of Stacks is similarly upbeat, though some might consider the role exploitative. “I think it's nice they can show women in fields of work they weren't in before,” she said. “It goes to show you can be beautiful and feminine and still compete. You don't have to be fat and ugly and act just like a man.”
Both sisters plan more work for their summer break in filming. Audrey knows Afton will be back in “Dallas” next season: “She's already had an affair with Cliff Barnes and in the last episode you can see she still has her hooks in J. R.
“The producers tell me next season I'll find out some things about Afton that'll make me very happy.” Till then, Audrey's awaiting release of her first movie (“It's a wonderful film called 'Underground Aces,' about a huge underground garage”), cutting a country-flavored pop record (she writes her “Dallas” songs), maybe visiting South Africa, where “Dallas” is the No. 1 show.
Judy's planning a movie or two during the summer, too. But it's a sure bet the Landers daughters — who stress that they were “raised very strictly, very old-fashioned” — will find time to return to New York for some time with Mom.