JOSEPH STERN / MATRIX THEATRE
Return to Press page

Veronica Cartwright's Career is in Orbit
(Originally printed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Friday, June 29, 1984)

By SUSAN KING

It took "Inserts," an X-rated film, to turn Veronica Cartwright's career into a personally satisfying future.

Veronica Cartwright has faced many challenges during her acting career She's fought the "pod people" in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," battled the creature in "Alien" and, as a child performer, even gave Beaver Cleaver his first kiss. And for the past few years she has been tackling another new challenge the theater. Currently, she's working at the Matrix Theatre in Nina Shengold's "Homesteaders," the first local theater entry in the Olympic Arts Festival to receive real critical acclaim.

This is not Cartwright's first foray into theater. She appeared "a long time ago" in "Butterflies Are Free," co-starred with Judd Hirsch in "Talley's Folley" at Eltich Gardens in Denver and appeared locally at Stages in "lonesco Tales." She was signed to star opposite Gregory Harrison in the Catalina production of "The Hasty-Heart." until she broke her leg in a car accident. But as Cartwright says, "mostly, I've been involved in movies and television."

Friendly, though somewhat nervous, the petite, blonde Cartwright is sitting in an upstairs room at the Matrix nursing a mug of coffee.

"The play takes place in 1979 and is about two brothers who dropped out in 1968 and came up to live in Alaska," she explains.

"The characters are complex and there is some wonderfully funny stuff in it. It is an ensemble piece. It is really nice and a real good group of people."

Cartwright, now in her mid-30s, is a rarity. She's one of the few former child actresses who has successfully made the transition to adult roles. She and her younger sister, Angela ("Make Room for Daddy," "Lost in Space"), were two of the busiest child stars in Hollywood during the '50s and '60s. Cartwright started out modeling when she was 7, appeared as the Beav's girlfriend, Violet, in "Leave It to Beaver" and, in 1958 at the age of 9, made her film debut in the Korean War drama "In Love and War."

It wasn't until 1961, when she played a kleptomaniac in "The Children's Hour," that she decided she wanted to make acting her life's career. "I have to put it down to Shirley MacLaine (who co-starred in the film with Audrey Hepburn and James Garner)," says Cartwright. "She was so incredible. I didn't realize what a major influence she had had on me. I've never run into her since but I think she's really the reason I got inspired to do this."

During her adolescence. Cartwright was always working. She appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "The Birds" and starred from 1964-66 as Jemima Boone in the NBC series "Daniel Boone."

Trouble soon set in, however; "When I hit 18, I didn't look old enough to play older parts, and I didn't look young enough anymore to play the younger pans, so I went through a bad period," she says.

Cartwright studied acting, moved to England, worked for a year there and then moved back, but her career just didn't take fire again until she was cast in "Inserts."

That X-rated movie starring Richard Dreyfuss as a once-famous Hollywood director reduced to making porno films set her floundering career on course. "Things started happening again." she says. "It sort of has been on a roll ever since."

Cartwright credits her parents for making her and Angela's life as well-adjusted and normal as possible. "They were always around," she notes. "When I did 'The Children's Hour,' my father came and stayed with me because of the subject matter (lesbianism). They were always pretty .open, if you asked questions about what was going on."

She also points out that though there were things she missed in her childhood she "also had an experience that a lot of people don't get." Cartwright admits that the years she didn't work were difficult for her. "You expect to continue working and that's what the hardship is," she says. "I figured I had to place my energies someplace so I might as well study some technique. I felt as long as I wasn't working I should redefine and find out what the hell I was doing. In a sense it was a real good period for me I grew up a lot and realized that there are a lot of hard knocks. You have to really want it or you're not going to pet it."

Last year. Cartwright appeared as Betty Grissom, the wife of Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom. in the highly touted "The Right Stuff." Adapted and directed by Phil Kaufman (who also directed Cartwright in "Body Snatchers") from Tom Wolfe's best seller, the film died at the box office and Kaufman failed to receive an Oscar nomination for his direction or screenplay.

Cartwright thinks the film failed to go into orbit because "let's face it. the kids who go to the movies today have no idea what the space program is about. People who went to see it went back and saw it a second time. People absolutely loved it, but the kids who go to pay their money for something that is three hours long would rather see 'Star Wars.'"

She also thinks "as far as Phil goes. he got the shaft. He's such a wonderful director to work with. I think that may be because Phil lives up in San Francisco and he doesn't play the games (of Hollywood). He gets out there and does his work I don't know what it is."

Cartwright never met Betty because Kaufman felt that the "character might get a little jaded. I can understand, with what she has been through with the death of Gus." She's also never met Ethel Kennedy, whom she plays in the CBS miniseries "RFK and His Times," which is scheduled to air this fall. (Brad Davis of "Midnight Express" fame plays Robert Kennedy.)

"The producers spent a lot of time with her and I saw a lot of documentary footage and I read as much as I could," she explains. "It's scary," she says about playing a real person. "You have to take a big deep breath. You have to make that character as real as possible and take the circumstances at hand and go with it. Hopefully they'll be pleased."

Cartwright also worked with actor John Belushi in his first film, "Goin' South," directed by Jack Nicholson. Though she hasn't read Bob Woodward's book, "Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi," she thinks the whole affair is "so sad. He was very hyper, but he was also warm and so funny. He was absolutely terrific. I like Judy (Belushi's wife) and I think Judy was a very calming influence on him. He was like a different person when she was around."

She admits, with a broad smile, that things got kind of wild while on location in Durango, Mexico, for the film. "It was a fun shoot. Let's face it. we'd all hit the bar afterwards," she says with a laugh "You were in the middle of Durango. Mexico, and there was nothing. We would have a little hi-fi down there and we would just sit down and party. I mean, what were you going to do?"

Return to Press page