Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol
Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment
Get Crazy
Secrets of a Mother and Daughter
The Doris Day Show (TV series)
Josie and the Pussycats (Cartoon series)
The Cheyenne Social Club
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
The Split
With Six You Get Eggroll
A Guide for the Married Man
Who's Minding the Mint?
The Bob Newhart Show (TV series)
Why Must I Die?
Little Shop of Horrors
Speed Crazy
King Creole
Suicide Battalion



She's been elected to the Boards of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, works as an activist on behalf of women, saves homeless animals, heads a support group for women divorced from celebrities and has her own newspaper column. And yet many of Jackie Joseph's fans probably think she couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel. But this "dumb brunette" image is okay with Joseph, who realizes that after all the flea-brained gals she's played and the unusual jobs she's had, it goes with the proverbial territory. Few parts were as dotty -- and none are as well-remembered-- as her starring stint as the malaprop-prone flower shop salesgirl in Roger Corman's wacky The Little Shop of Horrors.

Born in Los Angeles, Joseph started performing while in high school, taking acting lessons that her mother (who worked for a liquor store chain) "paid" for by supplying the teacher with pilfered potables. Joseph started her professional career at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood in That's Life ("I was the entire chorus!"), soon becoming an in-demand actress-singer-dancer. A role in a popular stage show called the Billy Barnes Revue increased her visibility, as did a stint as the first "weathergirl" on L.A. television and roles in occasional movies (Suicide Battalion, King Creole, Speed Crazy). Other odd-very odd jobs included work as an Easter Bunny and a polar bear and a regular non-speaking role on the Saturday morning kid's show Magic Land of Allakazam, in which she was routinely sawed in half and dangled from sound stage rafters. But all these roles begin to seem a bit more mundane alongside The Little Shop of Horrors, in which Joseph's "Audrey" was the namesake of a giant, talking Venus fly trap -- and the girlfriend of the Skid Row schnook (Jonathan Haze) who keeps it fed with blood and human bodies.

TOM WEAVER: All your early publicity plays up the fact that you were a member of the Billy Barnes Revue. What exactly was that?

JACKIE JOSEPH: The Billy Barnes Revue was the first revue to tease the media, or to tease people who were movie stars. Billy, who composed the words and music, had a wry way of poking fun without being mean. And it was racy for its time, because it insinuated. Not all the time, it wasn't a rude revue, but it was very intelligent. It had four girls, four boys; Bert Convy was in the original cast, and also my husband Ken Berry, that's where we met.

It was a combination of musical numbers (mostly) and sketches, Hollywood-themed quite a bit. It was considered kind of daring to sing a little number like "What Ever Happened to Miss Bella Darvi?"-- people laughed at that! It was non sequitur humor, it was fun, it was the kind of thing that people would come, and then they'd bring their friends and come again and again. We didn't know it was going to be something that was going to be remembered in the hearts forever. Now suddenly these memorabilia shows are popping up, where you sit there and people come over and say, "I watched you 40 years ago. I loved you!" I've done so many dumb things, you never know what they're gonna mention [laughs], and a lot of people say, "I saw the Billy Barnes Revue." There's about as much sentimentality for the Billy Barnes Revue here in Los Angeles as there is in the film world for Little Shop of Horrors [laughs]. Which is underestimating Billy's revue.

Q: Mixed in with all this early stage work of yours were also nightclub appearances and your weathergirl stint.

JACKIE: My gosh, could you send me copies of all these early clippings you've found about me? You're unraveling my life in a wonderful way [laughs]! Yes, I was a weathergirl: They had these auditions for weathergirls, and I was thinking, "Well, I can't pretend I know about weather, so I'll just do a humorous interview." They stuck me in front of a camera and said, "Okay, be a weatherperson," and what I did amazed them. I said, "There are small craft warnings, so if you have a small craft, you better warn it!" [Laughs] And so I was hired. There was a different girl for each day, and I was Miss Monday. On Monday you'd go in, and no one would be there to tell you how to do it. At some point in the live [broadcast] I'd just have to pick something off a ticker tape, and then I'd have to work with a map of the country without the names of the states on it [laughs]! Luckily, I was the humorous, dumb weathergirl, so it didn't matter what I didn't know. (Unless anybody was interested in the weather. Then they were in trouble!)

I've had a series of very amusing jobs. I got a job as the Easter Bunny because when I was in school, when I was about 19, a trunk fell on my head and broke my nose. It was rather startling -- my nose just sort of disappeared into my face. Being someone who adjusts to situations immediately, I thought, "Well, that's okay, I'll be a librarian in Kansas. Who needs a nose?" [Laughs] But, luckily, while I was in the hospital I mumbled, "I'm a model" -- because I posed for free for photographers, I thought I was a model. So the doctor said, "Then we better call in a plastic surgeon," and they raised my nose back into position. And because of having this huge metal thing on my nose, to protect the nose while it was resetting, I got a job as an Easter Bunny in one of our major department stores. I think back and wonder what I was thinking as I sat in the department store office, looking for vacation work with this huge thing on my face [laughs]. It must have been a mercy job -- "Let her be the Easter Bunny with the big head." And that turned out to be a great job -- I did that three years, seasonally. And because of that experience, I was hired when I later went out for a job to be a traveling polar bear [laughs]. And that job got me three months of travel and got me to New York!

I think the quality involved in all of this was an innate ... well, rather than just saying stupidity, let's say innocence. That appealed to Roger Corman. Much of the work I've gotten was because people had seen me in Billy Barnes' show, and Roger obviously had seen it. I got a call from them when I was in New York: We had just finished the New York run of the Billy Barnes Revue, wondering, "Oh, well, what do we do now?" when I got a call to come back and do this movie. (I didn't know it was only gonna be for two days!) I heard Roger say afterwards that the quality he wanted in Audrey [Joseph's Little Shop character] was sincere innocence. Audrey just believed everything that was put in front of her. (Which isn't a bad thing -- I have to defend that, because I tend to be someone who believes everything that's put in front of me!) Has that segued into what you want to talk about?

Q: That's a perfect segue! Okay, you're in New York and you find out that you're going to be in this movie. It's not "Come back and audition," it's "Come back and do the movie."

JACKIE: It was "Come back and do the movie." Which is very flattering, because I was young and wanted to be in the movies. (I had done a few fairly weird and dinky movies before that.) From what I recall, at first they told me it was a detective movie; then, while I was flying back, I think they wrote a whole new movie, more in the horror genre. I think over a weekend they rewrote it. [Screenwriter] Charles Griffith was working with Roger, and he was just an immensely clever and funny guy. And Roger -- isn't he interesting for the stuff that he does? He's like a country squire; his persona is not some daffy, outrageous director. I don't know where this bizarre bent of his came from, because he's kind of an elegant man. No, not "kind of" -- he definitely is a gentleman.

Q: And yet he could knock out all these exploitation movies with the best of 'em.

JACKIE: He must have an incredible business sense. I think a lot of his work maybe didn't come from being an artistic director, but from saying, "Maybe this'll sell." And he was just totally right, and he became a legend in his time.

Q: But when you got the call in New York to star in the movie, they told you it was a detective movie.

JACKIE: As far as I remember, yes. Look, when I first heard about it, the key word for me was movie -- I didn't care what it was! Also, because I'd never been asked to do anything untoward, the thought of being careful what I said yes to never came to mind. And, really, I wasn't somebody who was "on top" of all the goings-on -- it was just, "I'm in the movies!" [Laughs] What I really cared about was being responsible to my craft. We had to memorize the whole movie, which, when you think about it, is pretty funny, 'cause that's a big hunk of memory. We had to do that because it was going to be done so fast. Your main concern was just showing up and changing your clothes. And hurrying all the time! I did a lot of my changing of clothes in a carpenter's booth right on the stage, because you don't want to hold anybody up. Jackie Haze and I had a couple of days before the filming, and we just sat and went over the script and "learned" the movie. We did that in whatever dumpy apartment he or I was living in at the time. (No one was going to rent a studio for us to rehearse in, not at those wages!)

Jonathan -- or "Jackie," as they call him -- had practically all the pressure on him. I don't think any of us would have been as successful if he hadn't been on top of what he was doing. It's funny to think of "professionalism" when you think of something as dopey as Little Shop, but there definitely were professionals on that stage. Everybody came in, not with a "We're doing something stupid" attitude, but with a "We're going to work" attitude. Everybody's object was to do the best they could. (Which I think is usually what you do.) What we didn't know, even though we knew it was unusual, was that it was going to be a classic. We just thought that, on our list of funny jobs, here was a big one [laughs]!

Q: Was Haze nice to work with?

JACKIE: He's a very nice boy. I mean, I know we're all grown-ups, but someone you knew as a lad, you still think of as a lad. (And hopefully he still thinks I'm a nice girl!) Jonathan was all-business, even now. For awhile he went into the "technical end," he was producing and directing commercials, but now he's getting back into being an actor again, which is cute. We do see each other every now and then at these sweet [autograph] shows where people like to come and say, "Oh, I've always wanted to meet you."

Q: Did you have any misgivings at all when you finally found out that the movie was going to be a comedy about a giant talking killer plant? Didn't you think it was just plain dumb?

JACKIE: No, not at all. The nature of the work in those days was that you got a job and did it. I really should just speak for myself, but I don't think we were that analytical, I don't think anybody said, "I won't be in this garbage!" Also, there was more work at that time than there is now, so it couldn't be just anything-for-a-job. But when you're a young beginner, it's a way to show your stuff. And you just played it real. In my instance, maybe it came from being in a revue that was pretty dippy in a lot of ways. You had to do it with all seriousness and heart. I think everybody did that -- I don't think anyone was trying to be funny. And, again, it was just another in a series of loopy jobs! We shot at a studio that is currently A&M; in those days, it was the Chaplin. I can drive by there and still get a sense of "That's where [Little Shop] happened," those amazing two days in my life when I became an icon to the weird [laughs]!

Q: Two cameras? Three cameras?

JACKIE: Three cameras. And I think Roger had really chosen that form to save time, so you didn't have to do any cover shots. I imagine he had to do some, but it was like you do the master, and all those other cameras are covering you. And if you happen to be in a big shadow, too bad! As you might notice if you see the film, sometimes you're talking and the shadow of your partner is over you. (Which is usually something that they'll scream cut for.) There may have been as many as four cameras, and that was something he probably borrowed from I Love Lucy, which was a real pacesetter in the three-camera show concept. It was fun, it was like live TV. Really, that's where I think being in the theater for so many years really benefited, because you just do it. You just act. And not worry about the equipment. You just do your thing. Maybe that's why Roger chose someone from the theater -- although I think he just chose the type of girl that I happen to have been.

It's funny, I'm getting very third-person about myself. It seems far enough away that I'm very interested in her [laughs]! I can look at some old stuff and say, "Gosh, she was cute," or, "What potential!", or, "What a brave little girl." 'Cause it's certainly miles away from the woman I am now. And it's fun to just...adore yourself!

Q: Was the plan to shoot the movie in two days -- on the first day, did Corman say, "The plan is to make it in two days"? Or did you guys work so fast that it ended up being done in two days?

JACKIE: I wasn't the kind of person that Roger took into his meetings -- in fact, I don't know if he was the type of person to even have a meeting and make up a plan. But what I am pretty sure of is, the reason it was designated to be two days was because (a) his brother Gene had this set sitting there, and they didn't have to clean it up for a couple of days. The space was just there. That was one thing that probably initiated the whole thing. And (b) the reason Little Shop had to wrap by midnight of New Year's Eve, 1959, was that, contractually, starting in 1960, the concept of residuals would come into play. Roger, being an exquisite businessman, certainly didn't want to pay anybody [residuals] if it wasn't really necessary [laughs]! It was a question of beating the deadline before the new residual rule, and so it had to finish in two days. I don't even know if we had a call sheet! I remember a very wonderful guy called Ed Nelson, who did very good work; early on, he did several of Roger and Gene's movies also. I remember running into Ed on the set of some movie that was being made by Gene, and he was just so crabby, he was just really cranky. They had been on some dire location (where you can get really hot and tired after many, many hours), and the crowning insult was that they were served their little meals on used TV dinner trays [laughs]!

Q: When I talked to Mel Welles, he said that everybody on Little Shop was so well-rehearsed, there wasn't really much for "director" Corman to do.

JACKIE: Well, let's just say ... somebody has to say, "Next!" [Laughs] And if Roger hadn't decided, "Okay, let's do this," then there wouldn't have been a Little Shop of Horrors. But as far as being well-rehearsed and ready, I think that went with the memorizing of the movie. Luckily -- and this also comes into Roger's domain -- he selected people who were professionals. I don't think he wasted anybody's time with people who he thought "looked good" or "were adequate." Even down to the young girls [Tammy Windsor, Toby Michaels] who come into the shop to buy flowers -- they may have been frivolous, but they knew how to make their point, they stood on their mark. Nobody dared waste any time -- there wasn't any time! You didn't have a chance to make friends on that set. Usually there's lingering-around time, you're sitting in your chair, waiting. On Little Shop, nobody was waiting for anything!

Q: You tell a great story I want to ask you to repeat, about the makeup man.

JACKIE: Oh! Yes! At the time, my sense of entitlement was fairly low; also, I took it for granted that anybody who was (say) a cameraman knew what the camera was doing. And that a makeup man was a professional, and he knew what he was doing. So you go to him and you say, "Here's my face. Make it right for the movies." I never wanted to interfere; not having a huge sense of self, I didn't want to say, "I think something's funny here." The makeup man [Harry Thomas] went to work, and I watched as the eyebrows on my very self become more bushy than any woman I've ever seen in the movies! Rather than say, "I'm nervous about my eyebrows," I started asking him about his life and what kind of movies he did and what movie star ladies he'd ever done before. And he said, "Oh, I've never done a woman before." [Laughs] Then you start thinking, "Hmmm, maybe my concerns are well-founded!" I asked him, "What did you do?" and he said, "Well, I mainly just did monsters." And I'm thinking, "Whoops! Here comes one now!" -- one more monster to put on his list [laughs]! I still didn't have the nerve to say, "This is too much" -- God forbid you should hurt anybody's feelings. But I was really very distressed, which is probably why I remember it so well. I was thinking, "Here's my big movie, and I'm going out there looking like a monster." So I'd get a Q-tip or two and head into the little ladies' room and start daubing away. I think I still have very generous brows in the movies!

Q: What about some of the other actors in the cast, like Mel Welles and Dick Miller?

JACKIE: It's funny, Mel was probably like three years older than I, but I thought, "Well, he's a grown-up." Maybe it was because he was portraying someone like a "good ol' uncle" or whoever Mr. Mushnik was, but I just thought of Mel as more of a grown-up. And of course he does have this great, confident persona. He's also a director, he's on the creative side, and so I thought he was a step ahead of all of us kids. I only knew Dick Miller a little bit from being on that set -- since we were running around a lot, we didn't have time to really become friends -- but he and I later worked in a movie called Get Crazy (1983) as the sweet family of some girl going to a rock concert. And then we worked twice for Joe Dante, who undoubtedly is the nicest person you could ever work for in the world. There are some people who ... it's like, they inhale and they're kind. And that's Joe Dante -- who is also amazingly humorous and talented. Dick Miller and I played husband-and-wife [Mr. and Mrs. Futterman] in Gremlins, and I like that they resurrected Dick and me in Gremlins 2. I was sure we were really wiped out pretty good in Gremlins, the first one -- I mean, if you're run over by a snowplow or a building comes down upon you ...

Q: That should do it!

JACKIE: I don't know if anybody even heard it, but in Gremlins 2, at the very top of the movie, just as a little throwaway line, the kids are walking around New York, chatting and saying, "The Futtermans are coming. They're feeling much better!" [Laughs] Dick is an interesting guy; he's got this tough "street" exterior, and he's portrayed such a grumpy weirdo in so many of the things he's done, but he's really quite a sweet gentleman, and sentimental. And (of course) extremely talented. He also has a wonderful wife who's just darling, and they're excellent together. Dick likes to eat breakfast at the same place all the time, and see whoever wanders by. I should go there sometime and watch Dick holding court. On the set, Dick and I shared lox and bagels together.

Q: On the set of Little Shop?

JACKIE: No, I don't think anybody ate on that set [laughs]! Not that I know of -- we were too busy running and changing clothes.

Q: Well, Dick Miller ate.

JACKIE: That's right -- he ate the flowers! And I think he was eating [real] flowers. They said, "Eat flowers," he ate flowers, and luckily they didn't give him a bouquet of anything that was poisonous [laughs]! He's a funny guy, and he and Jackie Haze have a huge history.

Q: Any recollection of seeing Jack Nicholson in action?

JACKIE: I do have a recollection of Jack. I tend to remember, even though Jack was still a minor player in those days, that there was a bit of mystique about him. I still think of him as a kid. When you first get your brain tuned in to somebody, it's hard to ever think of them as changing. I know we have, obviously, but I still think he's this kind of nice kid who just fell into a great opportunity. And talent meeting opportunity is always so nice! But even before he was famous, there was a little "buzz" (when I didn't even know what a "buzz" was). He had less than an afternoon -- he just came in and he did his thing, which was a hysterically funny part.

Q: Was there any ad-libbing on the set of Little Shop? Do you remember making any suggestions?

JACKIE: I don't think so. Although as a youngster I was in improvisation, my training was that you respect the script. You're hired to do what the words say. And I don't think there was a lot of leeway for ad libs. Or time for them. There was no time for, "Now let's try it this way," it was like, "Do it. Okay. Now let's do the next one." It really kept on cooking, and someone would have had to make a major mistake for us to repeat a scene.

Q: How much were you paid for starring in Little Shop?

JACKIE: I may have gotten $500. But, of course, I was doing it for "the art" [laughs]!

Q: Do you recall when and where you saw it for the first time?

JACKIE: I don't recall where; I do remember I was amazed that it even came out. It was a second feature, tucked in at the end of the evening, and anybody who even stayed for it got this kind of surprise. When Little Shop came out, I was either about to get married or I was newly married (I married Ken Berry in May of 1960), and I was doing a Billy Barnes show then. A year or two earlier, when I was working in Las Vegas, Suicide Battalion [1958] was playing at the Palace, and in my mind I was thinking, "I'm at the Palace!" I was working with an actress called Mitzi McCall at a book show in Vegas, and I said, "I'm in the movies! Come with me! I'm so excited!" So I took her to see this B-minus war movie, and at the end of it I was waiting for her to say, "How nice. You were in a movie." And she said, "You dragged me to see this in the middle of the afternoon?!" [Laughs] It didn't dawn on me to be embarrassed about any of that stuff!

Q: In recent years, of course, Little Shop has become a real cult item.

JACKIE: I didn't know it had became a cult event until I started to get fan mail that would have borders of hanging, stringy plants. It was from Little Shop fans. "That's funny...where did these people come from?" Then it became more and more pronounced. And the one thing I know a lot of us here had no idea about was the [stage] musical. When that came into New York, none of us was apprised. Now, what we found out later was that Roger knew, and I don't know if it didn't dawn on him to notify us, or if for some reason he wanted to keep this "his" thing, and not have the cast intrude upon it a little bit. There was a lot of publicity about it after awhile, when it really caught on.

When I finally got to New York, I called them and I said, "I'm coming to the show. I did the movie." A lot of the people were really excited -- they brought a photographer and all. But the part that made me a little sad ('cause, you know, overly sensitive, naturally) was that some of them were very hurt that we [the original cast] had never contacted them or supported them earlier on. It was like we ignored them. And the truth was that we didn't know about it! But I felt badly about that.

Q: When the play was turned into the 1986 movie, and the actors from the old movie weren't asked to get involved, did you feel snubbed?

JACKIE: I have to tell you what I did -- it was one of the most overt things I've ever done, because I'm not one of those people who sit and say, "How can I push my career?" I actually wrote to the producer-director, the Muppet guy [Frank Oz], and said that I was assuming that, just like the [1978] Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which had Kevin McCarthy [in a bit], he would be considering using some of the original cast. I told him it would really be a great pleasure for me to do...anything. To be humming on a street corner, or whatever! I got a letter back saying, "Thanks a lot, but no thanks." The letter was nice, but it said that they didn't have it in their budget to bring people over to London -- they were doing it in England for some funny reason. I must say I loved the stage musical, and a lot of work in the movie was wonderful, but I think the movie got too big. There was something about the smallness of the original Little Shop, the intimate feeling, that made it work. The new one got too "show business," and it lost something. Of course, if I had been standing on a street corner in it, my attitude toward the movie would be wholly different [laughs] -- much better!

I've been elected to the boards of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA -- sort of a late-in-life server to my unions. Personally, it's a way to carry on some of the activist work I do on behalf of women and girls; also, I believe in merging the unions, 'cause it's kind of dopey for actors to be in so many unions. People think of you in the tone of your board work, and then every once in awhile some other dignified board member will say, "Wait ... were you in Little Shop of Horrors?" [Laughs] And the funny thing is, it elevates you! Suddenly you're a person, not just some old actress. It's incredibly funny to me, 'cause you'd think their noses would turn in a different direction! So although there weren't financial residuals from Little Shop of Horrors, there have been the kind of residuals that money can't buy.

Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

"Here's the teenage hoodlum story!"
Teenage Crime Wave

"My mother was a stripper -- I want to be a stripper, too!"
Wild For Kicks

"Why do teenagers try to find out what it's all about too soon?!"
Look In Any Window

 All contents copyright The Astounding B Monster®