In a town that puts a premium on golden girls, the Landers sisters are moving into what might be called the “24-karat league.” Blond, bright and blessed with early success in an industry where thousands of young actresses are waiting on tables while waiting for parts, Audrey and Judy Landers are being called the hottest sister act in Hollywoad (though granted, there aren't that many sister acts).
Audrey. 23. is known to Dallas fans as Afton Cooper, the sultry, sloe-eyed mistress who kept J.R. Ewing's extramarital passion simmering while struggling to light a fire under her own nightclub singing career.
At 21, Judy is a relative newcomer to television. Sexy, with a kittenish quality, she has for the most part landed roles with more emphasis on bust than brain, such as “Stacks,” the lady trucker in B.J. and the Bear, which ran from 1979 to 1981.
“We've always felt we were dealt equal decks,” says Judy in the living room of the West Hollywood apartment she shares with Audrey. Sipping apple juice. Judy curls up on the rug beside the coffee table dressed in a cotton camisole and soft, flounced skirt in her favorite color, pink. Nearby, Audrey settles hack on the couch, comfortable in a strapless cotton wrap, twisting her long blond hair up off her neck. “We sort of compliment each other,” says Audrey. “It's only recently that we're getting this 'sister' thing and we love it.” Big sister Audrey possesses the devastating combination of sensational looks and top-drawer intelligence usually found in James Bond heroines. At once exuding firm capability and frank sensuality, she is crisp and precise in her speech A woman who clearly knows who she is an what she wants, this is no ingenue. That role belongs to Judy. Shy and still a bit unsure of herself, she has a youthful, unformed quality that stands in contrast to her sister's high-gloss polish and definition. Judy comes on unabashedly as the sweetly sexy baby sister. What she lacks of her sister's sophistication and savvy, she makes up for with bouncy enthusiasm and a disarming lack of pretension. Together, they play easily off each other, each clearly in tune with the other's moods and feelings.
But it's only been recently that the Landers sisters have acted together professionally. They will soon share top billing in Sweethearts, a movie that just finished production this spring. “This is going to be very unusual,” says Audrey eagerly. “It' a psychological thriller about two sisters who are a little... insane?... Well, they have psychological problems. They have a very strong love/hate relationship. There was something in their childhood that split them apart.”
Although the sisters stress that no such problem exists between them (they won't even confess to a squabble over clothes), Judy admits, “When you're playing a part, sometimes, something of it rubs off on you.”
“It affects your personality,” Audrey agrees.
“So, we had our Mom move in with us [during production],” adds Judy with a giggle.
The Mom in question is Ruth Landers, a successful printing, music publishing and management executive in her own right, in addition to being her daughters' agent and business manager. Based in New York, where she raised Audrey and Judy in the suburbs [the girls' parents are divorced and they consider Ruth's second husband “Daddy”), Ruth flies in to see her daughters regularly and is, according to them, the foundation of their success.
“I have a theory -- I don't know if everyone else would agree with me,” says Judy in her gently tentative manner, glancing up at Audrey. ”I just think if you're a good person and you do good things, good things will come to you.“
“That's a strong part of it,” says Audrey approvingly, “and also, for us, a very strong reason is our mother. She's our manager and, aside from her good career decisions, she's a great friend and we have love.”
As a result of this love, the sisters maintain they have never felt desperate to take any job or discouraged to the point of quitting. Their earnings are pooled in a common corporation, administered by Ruth, from which each draws the same allowance -- and Audrey offers no complaints.
“We live together,” explains Audrey, “and there are times when one of us might be working and the other isn't. There is no resentment; we've always shared everything. Both of us are level-headed enough.”
So seemingly level-headed, in fact, that the sisters have indulged themselves with nothing flashier than cars -- a white Eldorado for Audrey and a red and white Trans Am for Judy. “We've never had to feel grabby or greedy,” Audrey says. “Maybe it's because we think of each other as part of a working team.”
Audrey's technique has been developed in 12 years of experience in television. After making a singing appearance on the Merv griffin Show at 12, she landed a part on The Secret Storm at 13 and stayed with that soap opera for about two years. Graduating high school just before turning 16, she started college at Barnard in Manhattan. She majored in pre-med and worked on the soap Somerset, managing to finish her undergraduate career with a 3.9 average despite the rigors of a daily appearance on the show.
At 13 -- the same age at which Audrey broke into acting -- Judy was entering the world of competitive gymnastics, eventually winning a state championship.
Though she showed little interest in acting, Judy admits that, “Inside, I wanted to be an actress and perform. I think that's why I found gymnastics, because it was a way of performing without doing what my sister did. I was always really shy. I think it might be because Audrey was so outgoing and successful that I took the other role.”
Eventually Judy overcame her shyness and Mom introduced her to Audrey's agent in Los Angeles. From there, she got such parts as “Wanda the Bod” in the TV movie What Really Happened to the Class of '65 and more recently, prior to her “Stacks” role, she played “Angie,” the more sweet than swift secretary on Vegas.
Does she feel typecast in the dumb blonde role? "Well, the silly blonde -- that is me, part of my personality that's really there," she says. "But there's another part of me that's totally serious, determined and intelligent, and I would like to be able to show that other side, too."
Recently, she was able to demonstrate another of her talents, singing publicly for the first time, with Audrey at her side, on the Nashville Palace TV special. “She's a good singer,” says Audrey with apparent big-sister pride. “All these years she's been keeping it quiet.”
An accomplished singer herself, specializing in pop with a country flavor, Audrey managed to broaden the Afton character on Dallas to incorporate her talents as a singer and composer. “I write almost every song I sing on the show,” she adds.
Both sisters have steady boyfriends and although both say they eventually want to marry and have children, neither is contemplating marriage for the near future.
Judy regularly dates Frank Capra III, who is involved in film production, a family tradition [his grandfather produced and directed It Happened One Night, among other films]. Audrey's boyfriend, Eddie -- whom she prefers to keep in the private part of her life -- is in his last year of law school. He grew up with Capra and is one of his closest friends.
Audrey and Judy say they have neither the time nor the inclination to hit the Hollywood party circuit except when business obliges them to. Both maintain their lives have not been touched by the legendary seamier side of Hollywood life.
“You don't have to be a part of it because it's there,” says Audrey. “If you're a person with your own values and your own judgment, you don't have to take a piece of candy just because it's offered to you.”