I had the honor of interviewing Lucy Lee Flippin – Eliza Jane Wilder – the sister of Almanzo Wilder (Dean Butler) – on one of my favorite shows ever! – “Little House On The Prairie” and the eating receptionist who roots for Jennifer Beals during her dance audition in “Flashdance”.
1)Lucy, what was the auditioning process like for Eliza Jane Wilder on “Little House On The Prairie”?
My agent sent me to MGM for an audition with the LHOTP casting director, Susan Sukman. I read a prepared scene with her: the first one that takes place in the schoolroom, when Eliza Jane introduces herself to the students. Afterwards, Susan said she would like me to come back to read for Michael Landon and to yank my hair back in a very severe style. About a week later I read for Michael- it was for just him and Susan- he was casually sitting in the corner, jeans, boots and just really warm and relaxed. I read with Susan and then he had me repeat the scene but he told me not to smile- be more strict. Afterwards, he thanked me with a really big smile, 2 whole weeks went by before I finally heard the good news!!! Part of the delay was getting network approval!
2)Had you seen the show, or read the books, before auditioning?
No, neither. My mother probably was not aware of them and i thought the TV show must be for just children!!
3)What was it like working with Michael Landon, Dean Butler, Melissa Gilbert, and the rest of the cast?
Michael was very disciplined, as being producer, director for 1/2 the episodes and then starring in all of them- he was amazingly loose and funny except maybe very early in the am. He seemed trust your performance
Dean was adorable- we came into the show together- he was so easy to work with
Melissa was amazingly professional, with a photographic memory, she knew everyone’s else’s lines as well as her own, a charming, natural young actor
4)What were the challenges regarding the show and your character?
Writing -wise, there were several writers so sometimes you would have dialogue that was not necessarily appropriate for the character- in subtle ways usually
The exteriors were shot in Simi Valley, an hour’s drive out of LA and we had to cope with the gas shortage at that time. The costumes were very heavy in the dusty heat. My hair had to be styled with a curling iron- burnt scalp by accident at times and frizzed strands of hair- the prop glasses i used were prescription for a really challenged person- made me rather dizzy
5)How did you like filming on both soundstages and outside locations?
Liked the contrast- indoors so much easier and closer to home- outdoors felt more authentic
6)What were your three favorites episodes that you filmed?
“Back To School”, “Laura Ingalls Wilder” , and the episode when Laura and i go out of town to take a teaching seminar and a man has a crush on Eliza Jane- can’t recall the title – on location in Tucson..
7)Were you and Dean cast together or separately since you were sister and brother, and had to have the right look?
Separately. We were each put on tape so they could compare for a sibling resemblance
8)I loved you as the receptionist who eats and then judges in “Flashdance”! Did you have to audition for the role? What a great part – the only one who rooted for Jennifer Beals. What was it like working on “Flashdance” and with Jennifer?
The director was British, Adrian Lyne- I remember i was having a bit of an asthma episode right before i auditioned which i hid with some effort looking very pale and grim, again via my agent and the casting director. Adrian was energetic and creative- kept telling me not to act, spontaneously gave me a sandwich to eat in the middle of a scene with Jennifer as the dialogue was rather flat. Jennifer was lovely, her first film, did not really chat her out. The dance audition scene at the end included 7 dancers, 1 of whom was a man. i had no idea the film would be so popular!!
9)Lucy, what are you doing today?
Taking a break from show business after 45 years- part of the year I am restoring a 1767 farmhouse in PA that used to belong to my grandmother and great aunt, and am invoved with a golf club and newspaper business and the rest of the year i am in the CA desert and best of all, I love visiting my 2 granddaughters, 5 & 8 years old, in the UK.