Audrey Landers Is A Real Talent
All Photos: Alan Mercer Lighting: Eric V.
Audrey Landers is an accomplished actress, singer, writer, composer and producer. She is best known to fans all over the world for her memorable role as Afton Cooper for eight years on ‘Dallas’, her controversial Playboy pictorial, with her clothes on, and hundreds of television gigs in the 1980s and 1990s. However, she has been somewhat under the radar in the United States over the past few years, raising her teenage twin boys, managing and producing her son Daniel Landers’ music career and continuing to be a record-breaking singer/songwriter in Europe, recording and performing in several languages.
Audrey began her acting career at the age of 9, when she starred in her first community theater musical, and continued acting and singing in community theater shows in New York State. Music was always a passion, and Landers began writing poetry and songs at a very young age. Landers was first noticed with a country song that she wrote and performed at the age of twelve, which led to a Nashville recording contract with Epic Records, a performance on ‘The Merv Griffin Show,’ and a year-long role on the daytime drama,’The Secret Storm.’
As a singer and composer, Landers has earned 10 gold singles, 4 gold albums and 2 platinum albums. Most are pop and disco records. Some of her biggest hits are "Manuel Goodbye", "Playa Blanca", and "Jim, Jeff & Johnny". Her multilingual, mostly German, world records include duets with renowned German singer Bernhard Brink, ‘Heute Habe Ich an Dich Gedacht’ and ‘Mi Amor’ with Camilo Sesto. Her albums released in Europe from 2006 through 2011 are also in several languages. Audrey has been guiding the career of her teenage son, Daniel Landers, who, is already an accomplished songwriter, singer and performer.
Now she is back in the United States spotlight, successfully building a fashion business. Keeping it all in the family, her mother Ruth Landers has managed and produced Audrey's career for over 30 years and continuing their long-standing business partnership. Audrey and Ruth have co-created Landers STAR Collection, a line of glamorous fashion and accessories. As a teen, Audrey studied music at the Juilliard School in New York while majoring in psychology at Columbia University and starring in the daytime drama 'Somerset’. She literally grew up in front of the camera and on stage.
Throughout her career, she has continued to perform live shows in Europe, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, headlining with Billy Crystal and Rich Little, among many others. While working in the United States, she was breaking records in Europe as a singer and composer. She has earned 10 gold singles, four gold albums and two platinum albums. Her most recent album was released in Europe in September 2010. In 1995 with toddler boys at home, Audrey wrote 47 episodes, 250 original songs and performed in the children's series, ‘Huggabug Club’, produced by Ruth, which aired on PBS for five years and continues to run on other stations.
In 2006, Audrey co-wrote and directed ‘Circus Island’, a full-length feature film, produced by Ruth Landers. It was a family adventure in more ways than one! Landers has been married to businessman Donald Berkowitz since 1988 and they have twin teenage boys. Their family also includes two dogs rescued from shelters.
AM: Audrey, before we talk about anything else can you share a little about Larry Hagman?
AL: We are all so sad about Larry's passing. Larry had a way of making the world see him as, somehow, invincible. He will be missed, but he will be in our hearts forever. He was always bigger than life and now his spirit will live on. I have wonderful memories of working with him, and I am so fortunate to have been a part of a show that is pop culture history and ‘Dallas’ is legendary because of Larry's iconic JR Ewing. I found this photo from a couple of years ago. It's my son, Daniel; Larry; my mom, Ruth; and me. I'm so happy that my son had the opportunity to meet Larry, and to spend some time with him. I know it is an experience he will treasure.
photo courtesy of Audrey Landers
AM: That’s a beautiful tribute. Speaking of Daniel, I know you left Los Angeles when your boys were about six years old. Was that so you could raise them in a more normal environment?
AL: I was fortunate that I grew up with a small town upbringing, even though it was outside of New York City. I still had more home-spun values with a slower paced childhood. I really wanted that for my boys. I had been in show business since I was a child and I felt this was a really important chapter of my life and I really wanted to devote myself to it. So my sister and Mom and I all sold our houses in Beverly Hills and bought three new houses in Florida.
AM: Did you want to live in Florida?
AL: I have to tell you that Florida was not even in my vocabulary. I thought it was a retirement center! At the time we were doing the children television series ‘Huggabug Club.’ My Mom produced it. We did fifty half hours and I wrote 250 original songs. I even edited the series!
AM: The show is available for download at amazon.com
AL: Oddly enough, even though we were living in LA we filmed the show on the west coast of Florida. It was because of an arrangement we made with the public television station there.
AM: Did you fall in love with the area and want to move there?
AL: I did not fall in love with living there, but a couple years later we produced a Live Children’s Show that toured the States. Sarasota has a big performing Arts Center and asked if we would come do the show there, so we did. As soon as we got there, we fell in love with it. Within three months we all moved.
AM: Your husband moved there too?
AL: My husband and I have been together for a lot of years, but his business in is New York and it always has been. The LA, New York thing was difficult, but we did it for many years. Florida is at least the same time zone and only a two and a half hour flight. Although I grew up in the New York area, it wasn’t something I wanted to go back to. It works for us.
AM: Do you go see him more or does he come see you?
AL: When the kids started school he made the effort to come down every weekend. We would go there for every vacation and for the three months in the summer. We really have two homes. It’s like having the best of both worlds.
AM: When did you meet your husband?
AL: We met in 1983 when I started 'Dallas,’ so it’s going on a long time.
AM: ‘Dallas’ is probably how most people know you best isn’t it?
AL: Yes it seems to be.
AM: Now the new version wants to bring you back, don’t they?
AL: Yes, it’s official now. TNT will make the announcement when they are ready. We have been talking. I don’t know the extent of how much I will be doing. The original cast isn’t as involved with this show.
AM: I really want to see you on there. The fans want you back too!
AL: It will be awesome. The subject is crazy on twitter. One of the young characters on the show is named Rebecca and the diehard fans were asking if it was the little girl that Afton had named Pamela Rebecca. Is this the same character? On the last show of the first season we found out that Cliff Barnes is her father, so everyone figured it out that Afton must be the mother. The producers confirmed that Afton is the mother! They are in touch with my agent. It’s very exciting for me.
AM: I love how the producers of the original show overheard you playing piano and singing on a break one day so Afton got to be a singer. How perfect was that?
AL: It was perfect! It was amazing because I had been writing music and recording since my early teens.
AM: You even went to Juilliard music school, didn’t you?
AL: I did, I went to Barnard Columbia and I studied music at Juilliard.
AM: That means you have real talent. You don’t just go to Juilliard.
AL: No and you know what’s really exciting in this new chapter of my life is my son Daniel is going to the University of Miami in the Frost School of Music, which is a very prestigious music school. They’ve asked me to come and do a lecture series that I’m starting in a couple of weeks.
AM: You write most of your music don’t you?
AL: I do, most of the original songs I record I have written or co-written.
AM: You’re an amazing songwriter!
AL: I was writing and singing since I was a young teenager and I was on soap operas in New York and then the big one, ‘Dallas’ and I played a singer in all the shows. One day I got the script and saw that I was singing and playing a guitar in two days. My Mom said I guess we better get you a guitar. So then I had to learn two chords and write a song. On ‘Dallas’ I wrote all the songs that Afton sang.
AM: I know you wrote the songs as if you were the character of Afton. Is there a difference in writing from a character point of view than if you were writing as you?
AL: There is a difference. I had guidelines. I knew the songs would have to have a Country flavor. I would write based on whatever the character was going through.
AM: You’ve had great success in Europe, particularly Germany, with your romantic pop songs. Why do you think the Europeans like your music so much?
AL: When I was on ‘Dallas’ this German producer named Jack White was living in LA. He had just had a monster hit with Laura Branigan called 'Gloria.’ He enticed me to record for the European market. I got signed to a German record label. We worked over the phone mostly. He told me he wanted me to write a song called ‘Manuel Good-bye’ and I thought, “WHAT!?!” This was my first experience with European music. Then he told me it should be about a boy saying good-bye to his father as he goes on a fishing trip! Then I told him I couldn’t write that because I can’t sing it from my heart. I don’t want to tell a story about a fisherman. So he told me to write about what I wanted, just make that the title so I wrote 'Manuel Good-bye’ about saying good-bye to a lover, within the guidelines he gave me. We recorded it and it became a smash hit selling six million copies.
AM: Did you know it was going to be a hit?
AL: The style was always what was commercially viable for those markets. The record label was very specific because they knew what they were doing and they were right. I couldn’t really argue with them but there comes a point as an artist when you say to yourself, “Wait a minute, I’m an artist.”
AM: Did you write songs you couldn’t relate to that well?
AL: I didn’t always have my heart in those songs. I was happy to do them because it was such a challenge to write within those guidelines. It was an amazing career and a tremendous learning experience. The record company was so happy and telling me how great my songs were. I got these platinum albums, but from an American point of view it they never seemed that great to me.
AM: Do you perform these days?
AL: I really don’t except when I go to Europe which is quite often. I’ll go and perform at a gigantic New Year’s Eve Special that will be televised in nine countries.
AM: I saw you and Daniel performing 'One Star’ together on Youtube.
AL: That was a German hit that I wrote English lyrics for. It was a great experience for Daniel but it’s not his genre. While I appreciate all the compliments about my songwriting, he is an amazing songwriter. He started writing about the same age that I did and I groomed him and became a harsh critic along the way. I’ve helped him to hone his skills and now at age nineteen there’s not much else I can do. I can’t help him anymore. He’s at a whole other level.
AM: You must be so proud of him.
AL: I am. I’m very close to both my boys and I relate to each one of them very deeply, but in very different parts of their beings. Adam is the scholar and athlete. I was an academic nut as well. Both of my boys are, but I relate to Adam on other levels. I understand Daniel’s passion for his creativity. I understand his need to create and perform and have people hear his songs. That is a part of the soul that you just can’t change. I tried. (laughter) I moved away from LA so my kids would not be near show business and it didn’t work. I remember when we were doing the ‘Huggabug Club’ and Daniel was four years old backstage with my Mom, while I had the cast of kids that are like twelve years old on the stage. Daniel ran on stage and knew every word to every song and every step to the choreography. I said to myself, “Well I guess I have to let him be in this show.” I didn’t have a choice. He learned everything. He knew that’s what he needed to do.
AM: What a blessing.
AL: I had both of my boys there and afterward I gave Adam the same opportunity to be on stage. It was not his thing.
AM: Let’s talk about the ‘A Chorus Line’ movie! I remember when they announced you in the cast. I was so excited! You have the best part in the whole show! If you don’t remember anything else about the movie, you remember your part!
AL: (laughter) Oh thank you. It was pretty risqué.
AM: I wondered how you felt about that since you’re not the most risqué person.
AL: No I’m not. There’s one F word in the whole movie and I get to say it. I had to stand in front of the mirror and say it and say it and say it so it would come out naturally on camera. Of course having kids now it comes out a lot more easily! (much laughter) But anyway when ‘A Chorus Line’ was first casting they were not considering me. The director Richard Attenborough wanted to keep the original concept of no one person standing out from the chorus line.
AM: That makes sense.
AL: It was filmed during the time I was on ‘Dallas’ so people knew who I was. I was in Europe with my Mom every two weeks since I had the recording career going on over there.
AM: Every two weeks!?!
AL: We would get on a plane every other Friday night and fly to Munich or Paris or wherever we had to go for eleven hours straight and arrive at the airport in the morning to do press and videos and I’d have to rehearse for a TV show I was doing that night and the next day do a concert and fly back the next day. One weekend I had a show at the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes, France. Afterwards we were whisked away to a gold record presentation in a castle. It was a different world.
AM: I can’t even imagine...
AL: Mom and I didn’t sleep all night and the next day we got on the Concord to New York and from there I would head back to LA since Mom’s office was in New York. I had a four hour layover and Mom checked her messages when we heard they wanted me to audition.
AM: Had you seen the show on Broadway?
AL: I was probably the only person who had never seen ‘A Chorus Line.’ We found the cassette at a kiosk in the airport so I listened to the music in the car on the way to the audition. I sang the song for Sir Richard Attenborough and he thought it was great. Then he told me he had the seventeen finest dancers in the world and for me to meet the choreographer. I told him I was so honored but I am not a dancer on that level. So thank you so much, but I have a plane to catch. He still wanted me to meet the choreographer. So I walked the few blocks to the rehearsal studio and there was the cast, in the line with a space where Val would be. They had been rehearsing for two months already. The choreographer called a break and they all sat in a corner smoking and giving me the evil eye. Again I told the choreographer that I was not that kind of dancer.
AM: You had done a little dancing hadn’t you?
AL: I can dance a little. I had a Vegas act and did a show in Atlantic City but whenever I danced I just did what I could do. He asked me to do my interpretation of the song so I did it the way I thought she would and that is almost exactly what you see on the screen. I was so relieved when I was done. I left as quickly as I could and got in the car to go back to the airport. I called my Mom and told her I was making it back to the airport in time for my flight and she asked if I had gotten any of the messages she left for me. Remember there were no cell phones back then. When I told her, “No” She said, “You got the part. Don’t get on that plane.”
AM: What did you do?
AL: I stayed in New York for the next five months. On the first day of rehearsal Attenborough told me he understood how I felt and he would get me a double. I said, “What!?! I’m in the ultimate dance movie and you want me to have a double? I don’t think so!”
AM: Did you have to rehearse all the time?
AL: Dance rehearsal for the cast went from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day. I came in at 6:00 am with a private coach until 9:00 and then danced all day took a break from 5:00 to 6:00 and then rehearsed some more until 9:00 pm with another coach so that I could get up to speed or at least blend in. I was really proud of what I did.
AM: Aren’t you just thrilled to be in that film?
AL: I am now. I really am. It was a hard film to make. Especially then. It was the first of it’s kind. Even then it had a cult following from the Broadway show. Some people were against making this Broadway show into a film. Since then we have ‘Chicago’ and some others.
AM: You got great reviews.
AL: I was very excited about it. I was so proud to have been a part of all that.
AM: Audrey your relationship with your Mom is legendary. Have you always gotten along?
AL: My Mom and I are really friends. My sister and I are friends too. We were much closer when we were younger and first starting in the business. Now she has two daughters and her life is very busy with the girls. We all live within a mile of each other. My Mom and I have several businesses together. We have a fashion collection we started in 2008.
AM: So you pulled back from show business on purpose.
AL: I did.
AM: Now you want to return.
AL: I do.
AM: I think you will be welcomed back.
AL: I hope so but if not at least I am happy. I do a lot of things and I’m fortunate that I don’t “need” it. I love the creativity but I have other outlets.
AM: So you’ve never had a life of leisure.
AL: I don’t know how to do that. That was the idea when we moved to Florida but it didn’t happen. The first thing we did was fall in love with a peaceful lifestyle. Then Mom and I thought nobody has ever shot a film here. Mom had produced some films in LA and I had written some. So we quickly went to work and wrote a screenplay called 'Circus Island.’ It’s a cute, wonderful family film. It didn’t get the recognition it could have but it was an exciting little film. So that was our first foray into retirement!
AM: Somehow I don’t think you will ever know retirement.
AL: It’s because we love what we do. Also Mom and I started a real estate business when the market was really depressed so we bought condos that were on foreclosure and we completely refurbished and redesigned them for rent.
AM: Who is stronger at business?
AL: My Mom is the business person. She is my inspiration. She wakes up at 4:30 every morning and studies the world market. She does all her financial trades the moment the morning bell rings. She’s almost like a gambler in a casino, except she does all the research and she has a number she wants to hit every day. She makes money every single day. She’s the most brilliant business woman. I don’t understand how she does it. She studies what is happened the night before and uses her intuition.
AM: How did you end up in ‘Bachelor Party 2?’
AL: I took Daniel to meet this casting director in Miami that I knew from a long time ago and she asked me if I would consider being in a little film she was casting. I read the script and it was so raunchy! I thought I have never played a character like this in my life. She is a pill popping, martini slugging, potty mouthed socialite. It’s a really silly movie. I asked my boys how they would feel if they see me saying all these words on camera. I didn’t want to embarrass them. They said, “Go for it!” So I did and it was a ton of fun! At the end of the shoot the producers told me their series ‘Burn Notice’ was picked up and asked if I would like to be in it? So they wrote a little part for me in a few episodes. I hadn’t been trying for anything and they handed me this part on a little silver tray. I said, “Thank you!” It was fun and close to home. It was a nice experience.
AM: I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from you again Audrey!
AL: A few years ago people started asking me when I was going to release the songs I sang on ‘Dallas’ and I said I have to do that so now I’m going to finally do it and add some new songs.
AM: So this will be a recording for the United States!
AL: Yes, I am not focusing so much on Europe, though if it’s a hit over there, then great! I’m trying to lure my son who is so talented to do the tracks for me.
AM: I think we’ll be seeing a lot of Daniel too.
AL: Me too. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. He’s working very hard.
To learn more about Audrey Landers visit her web site http://www.audrey-landers.com/