Jewish Telegraph, October 2004
IT’S almost 20 years since she last played the role, yet Valerie Landsburg is still known to millions of Fame fans as Doris Schwartz. Fame started as a 1980 film, but made the transition to hit television show The Kids From Fame two years later, running for six seasons.
Following a group of students at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts, from their first audition to graduation, Fame told of the highs, lows, friendships and romances for the star-struck pupils.
Valerie, 46, did not star in the film but found Fame for four of the series which aired on BBC.
“I auditioned for a part in the movie,” Valerie — married to film and television composer James McVay — said. “When the series came about I auditioned several times. I filmed the pilot in New York while appearing on Broadway at the same time.
“It was a year after the pilot that the series was picked up. I had moved to California and the series was filmed there.”
She added: “There was no way I could have imagined how big it would be. I was just happy to have a job and be an actor working.
“We had been filming for five months before the first episode aired. The response was so interesting. But it wasn’t until it reached the UK and Europe, almost a year later, that the response was astronomical.”
Valerie, whose first film was Thank God It’s Friday in 1978, left The Kids From Fame after four seasons because, she says, “I was 27 and having to be 17 each week — it wasn’t easy”.
Despite having an ever-lengthening CV, Valerie is always going to be Doris . . . but she doesn’t mind at all.
“I was on the tube the other night and I was recognised,” she said. “How great is that. I never get bored of talking about Fame. There are lot of facets to talk about.”
Valerie was in London last week to promote Ultimate Fame (BMG) — an album which collects together 16 songs from the film, TV series and musical on one compact disc.
In addition there are three bonus tracks including Murphy Blues and False Alarm which have never been released before.
“The album brings back so many memories,” Valerie said. “I remember performing Hi-Fidelity on Top of the Pops — people went crazy for it. A lot of the album makes me think of Gene Anthony Ray.”
Gene, who died last year, had starred in both the film and TV series as Leroy Johnson.
Valerie added: “He was the most magnificent raw talent I’ve known. He could act, sing and dance, without any training. The BBC held a reunion in April 2003 and I was so glad to do it. They managed to find Gene. It was great for us all to be together.
“We had all been prepared for the phone call (of Gene’s death) for years, but we didn’t expect it so soon. Ultimate Fame is a tribute to him. He’s on so many songs.”
Valerie also spoke of the song Starmaker revealing how the tears shed were real. The cast sing Starmaker to teacher Mr Crandall (Michael Thoma) when they think he’s going to be sacked. Thoma was actually dying of cancer and this was his last episode.
“He was sitting down because he couldn’t move around any more,” she said.
Life Is A Celebration, which also features on Ultimate Fame, will always remind Valerie of Israel. When the cast took the show on tour, she had to introduce the song in Israel.
“I didn’t speak any Hebrew so our bodyguard taught me how to say it phonetically. They went crazy for it in Israel,” she recalls.
“It was a big thing for me being the Jewish member of the cast. I was a second generation US Jew who had had no inclination to ever go to Israel.
“But when I got there it was such a profound experience. If I had not been in a relationship or had my career I would have stayed in Israel.
“Our bodyguard was a French Mediterranean Jew, the same age as me, who had been beaten into a coma by neo-Nazis. So he went to Israel and joined the army. He told me, ‘If I die here tomorrow, my life is in perfect order’.”
“I haven’t been to Israel for four or five years because I’d feel uncomfortable travelling by myself. A cousin saw a car blow up just two cars in front of her. My family out there are frightened.”
She says her family was Orthodox with a number of rabbis, adding: “I love Orthodox Judaism because it’s passionate but there is no place for me in it as a woman. Reform Judaism is starting to appeal to me.”
In addition to Ultimate Fame, Valerie is promoting her latest solo album, Grownup which is available from www.cdbaby.com
“If you loved the music from Fame, you will love my record,” she said.
Grownup features 11 tracks and include Fame song Hi-Fidelity, produced by Lee Curreri who played Bruno Martelli in the series.
“I’m hoping to tour to promote the album,” she said. Valerie is also available to perform at benefit shows for Israel or Jewish charities.
“I’m happy to come if anyone is willing to book me.”
As well as acting and singing, Valerie is an acclaimed screenwriter and director.
Her film and television directing credits include the series Women for Showtime, Gr8buy TV, a pilot for Griffen Entertainment, with Julie Haggerty and David Leisure, and the cable films, Going Home and Beautiful Dreamer.
In 2000 she directed the critically acclaimed stage play Sons of Lincoln. Her other stage work includes The Boys of Mariel, nominated for a GLADD Award for best Los Angeles theatre production, and Telegram from Heaven at the National Jewish Theatre of Chicago.
The latest film she has directed is Long Dark Kiss starring Stephen Baldwin and Kristy Swanson, although she believes it is being renamed Betrayed for its DVD release.
Her recent film roles have included appearances in Bar Hopping and Rock Star as well as a recurring part as Dr Jocelyn Felt in the American TV series Beggars and Choosers.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Valerie travels all over America — and to London — conducting workshops for actors and directors.
“My two kids are older now so I have more time to do things,” she explains.
While working on Rock Star, she discovered that Mark Wahlberg was a Fame fan — “he’s beyond cute,” she says, adding that film director Quentin Tarantino was “dead excited” to meet her.
Valerie, who describes herself as “never so high profile that I ended up in tabloids”, is amazed that The Kids From Fame has never been released on DVD.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I was thinking of getting a few people together and buying the rights to the show so we could release it on DVD. There is definitely a huge market for it.”
The Kids From Fame also starred Albert Hague as Prof Benjamin Shorofsky. He had fled to America from Germany before the Holocaust. He had never acted until Fame.
At the audition he said: “I’m not going to act for you. You can ask me some questions and I will answer them.”
For more information on Valerie or to contact her about performing a benefit concert, visit www.valerielandsburg.com