Q&A with former child star Beverly Washburn, win tickets to see Old Yeller this Saturday
Diablo and the California Independent Film Festival host the Disney classic this Saturday at the New Rheem Theatre in Moraga
Diablo and the California Independent Film Festival continue the monthly Classic Film Series this Saturday with a matinee screening of the Disney classic Old Yeller, starting at 11:30 a.m. at the New Rheem Theatre in Moraga. We'll have child star Beverly Washburn on hand for a Q&A with Diablo's Pete Crooks immediately following the film. Tickets are still available at Caiff.org, and we have a few pairs to give to Diablo readers for free. Scroll down to the form at the bottom of the interview to enter to win tickets to Saturday's 11:30 a.m. screening.
Washburn, who recently published her autobiography Reel Tears, is flying in from her Las Vegas home for the special event. We caught up with her to chat about her role in the beloved Disney classic, as well as many, many parts on classic television shows.
Hi Beverly, looking forward to seeing you at the New Rheem on October 23rd. But, I noticed your birthday is on Thanksgiving this year, so I was wondering what your plans are for Thanksgiving this year?
Yes, I was born on Thanksgiving, and this year, my birthday is going to be on Thanksgiving again.
One of my best friends is Sharon Baird, one of the original Mouseketeers. She and I were in school together while she was on the Mouseketeers and I was filming Old Yeller. She lives in Reno—she is going to fly in and spend Thanksgiving with me.
How were you cast in Old Yeller?
I was called by an agent to read for it. I went in to audition and Walt Disney and director Robert Stevenson were both there. Mr. Disney was very soft-spoken and quiet. He had the final say and I’ve always been very grateful to him, because it was one of my favorite roles of my life.
Where did you film Old Yeller?
The story was supposed to have taken place in Texas, but we filmed most of it on the Disney lot in Burbank. The location stuff was all around Los Angeles. There were only seven actors in the entire film, so we all became very close. We were together for three months.
What was Fess Parker like? I always had this bigger than life impression of him, since he played Davy Crockett in those original live action Disney films.
We was the nicest man. I did not have any scenes with him, so I did not get to know him as well as some of the others during the shoot. But a few years back, I was invited to an anniversary of Disney event and I saw Fess Parker there. I introduced myself and he stood up and gave me the biggest hug. He was so warm and friendly and down to earth.
And the dog who played Old Yeller, what was his story?
The real Old Yeller was a rescue dog whose name was Spike. He was just a great dog. He was two or three years old when we filmed.
In the movie, my character’s dog had puppies with Old Yeller. I remember going into the makeup room and they were covering this cute little puppy with powder to match the same color as Old Yeller. That is one of my favorite memories of the film, it was such an odd sight. (Laughs.)
OK, I want to ask about some of your other roles, because you were on a ton of classic TV shows. One of my favorites was Dragnet. Can you tell me about Jack Webb?
I remember being mesmerized by Jack Webb, he had a teleprompter on the set and he would read his lines. That’s why he always spoke in that monotone style—he was reading the lines that way. I was fascinated by this.
I got a Christmas card from him every year, up until the year he died. His Christmas card was exactly the same every year, it was a white card with the Mark VII Studios logo and it said Seasons Greetings.
And then there’s Star Trek—you were on the episode called “The Deadly Years.”
Yes, this was on the show’s second season. At that time, the show wasn’t all that popular yet. I know, was not very familiar with it—I had not watched it.
When they called me in, one of the questions they asked was whether I was claustrophobic, because I was going to have to have a plaster cast of my face and have me breathe trough a straw for three hours so they could made a rubber mask of my face.
My character had to age a lifetime in just a few days: In one scene I looked normal, then they just put dark circles around my eyes to make me look older, then I came in with the rubber mask to make me look elderly. At least I got to die in Captain Kirk’s arms.
And finally, you’re a big animal rescue advocate. Can you tell us a little bit about your advocacy, and how you help rescue shelters?
I have three dogs and two cats at home, they are all rescues. I’ve always loved animals—they are so vulnerable and they have no voice. My theory is that we have to be their voice. I don’t want to wend up an old cat lady with dozens of cats.(Laughs)
Part of the money that comes in from sales of my books and the pictures I sign at appearances, I always donate to shelters. I live in Las Vegas, and Nevada leads the nation in foreclosures—and all of our shelters have more than they can deal with. So I do what I can.