by G. Jack Urso
In 2023, Vicky Dawson, celebrates the 50th anniversary of her first on-screen credit, an ABC Afterschool Special “Rookie of the Year,” starring Jodie Foster. What better way for a Hot Hero cast member to get started than in a series which dovetails nicely into Bruce and Carole Hart’s vision to produce programming that models positive behaviors for adolescents.
But wait, there’s more!
That common clarion call from commercials highlights Dawson extensive commercial experience dating back to 1971 (nearly 150, most as a child actor), as well as let you know that there is more to Dawson than what first meets the eye. In the cast, Dawson represented the stereotypical pretty and popular girl in school. No, she didn’t wear a bag over head like Stanley Dipstick or have purple make up and bald caps like Ym and Ur; however, Dawson could go toe-to-toe with a Broadway veteran like Claudette Sutherland and had the “give-it-all-you-got” actor’s credo that is essential to every production and indispensable to comedy. Sure, she looked wonderful in dresses and jeans, but make her up as a Stone Age high school student or a giant dreidel and she’s still all go.
At the same age when I was barely able to drag myself out of bed and my existence stood as a monument to underachievement, Dawson had two jobs on network shows at the same time. While, yes, luck plays a large part in the entertainment world, it only gets you a seat at the table — talent and hard work keeps you there and Dawson has been there for five decades.
Every interview uncovers more pieces of the Hot Hero puzzle. Here, we learn more about just how close Hot Hero Sandwich got to a second season — or at least how close NBC President Fred Silverman wanted people to think, we dive into some after school children’s programming, review some clips, find out Jane Fonda has an aversion to baboon costumes, and just exactly what John Belushi kept in his closet in his dressing room at Saturday Night Live.
An Early Start
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: Space Age Nightmare High.
Vicky reports on the first woman president, Donna Summer.
Ae13U: To start off, just to get some basic information, you were the youngest main cast member. I was told you were 18, but given your birthday of July 5, 1961, you were actually 17 when you began filming the series, correct?
Vicky Dawson: Correct. It was during my time when I was on Another World [an NBC daytime soap opera] and I did graduate from high school that year and moved right into New York.
Ae13U: At 17? Where you living with family members? I know you also attended New York University. Was that about the same time?
Vicky Dawson: That was a little later. I grew up in New Jersey. My family was always commuting into the city and then when I was on Another World, it was just the commuting was a lot and so my parents were like-minded in that they thought I should just live in the city . . . set me up and there I moved in and then from basically right at the end of my 17th year I was doing Another World. I started Hot Hero and I think we shot it all through that summer.
Ae13U: According to your Internet Movie Database profile, starting at age 10, you did a lot of commercial work, about 150 in all. How many commercials do you think you did before Hot Hero?
Vicky Dawson: Before Hot Hero? Let's see, I would say probably two-thirds of them because I just was doing a lot of commercials as a kid. I did do more commercials as an adult, but not so much. I kind of moved away from that and wanted to work on other kinds of things.
Ae13U: You were doing those commercials in New York City, correct?
Vicky Dawson: New York or on locations.
Ae13U: What brands did you represent in the commercials as a child actor?
Vicky Dawson: Oh, my gosh. I'm pretty much across the board. AT&T, Cracker Jack, Pepsi, Hallmark . . . I mean, you name it.
Ae13U: What inspired you at such an early age to pursue acting?
Vicky Dawson: I honestly just think it's a passion and I just loved it. Obviously, with anything that you do, there's sacrifice. And so despite sacrifices, I continue to want to pursue it and my folks were very good and balanced about it.
Ae13U: Speaking of sacrifices, were you able to do the school play, go to the prom, things like that despite your schedule?
Vicky Dawson: Yeah, but most part I was able to find the balance. I think there were a couple of instances where I think there was a bigger project involved. My mom, who invested a lot in terms of her time with me, was kind of like, “You should do this,” and I wanted to go to the PEP rally! A 14-year-old would think so. There were a couple of times that happened, but for the most part I pretty much always wanted to do what was coming my way. On the East Coast, they don't have the same Jackie Coogan Laws like out here [Dawson is located in Southern California] where they need a tutor on the set. I mean, it's kind of the wild, wild, West and so I missed a lot of school.
Ae13U: How about acting, dancing, singing lessons? Did you do anything like that?
Vicky Dawson: I took dance and I took voice, but I'm not really much of a singer, but I did love dance but no, I never did because I was working so much. It was all I could do. I had opportunities with amazing people who taught me on set, some of these people that are just icons, so I appreciated that.
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 11: Nightmare High Grease Musical Parody.
Ae13U: I’d like to shift gears a bit and discuss the After School specials you did. You did three ABC After School Specials, including “Rookie of the Year” (1973) with Jodie Foster, “It Must Be Love ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb” (1975), “Sometimes I Don't Love My Mother” (1982), and one NBC Special Treat, “Snowbound” (1978). I’d like to focus on two of them, “Snowbound” and “It Must Be Love ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb,” both short, 30-minute programs.
I love both these wonderful coming-of-age films. In “Snowbound” you appear in just the opening exposition and the resolution, but you have this nice scene at the end where you realize your boyfriend is falling in love with the other girl, and there’s a mix of a sudden realization and disappointment on your face that I thought was remarkably true to the moment.
My favorite though, and one in which you have a bit more to do, “It Must Be Love ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb,” really fits into the Hot Hero theme of modeling positive behaviors in awkward situations. It also stars Alfred Lutter as the young boy whose affections for you create the conflict in the story.
ABC After School Special “It Must Be Love ‘Cause I Feel So Dumb” (1975).
[Note: Lutter originated the role of Tommy in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) and in the subsequent TV pilot; as Young Boris, the younger version of Woody Allen’s character, in Love and Death (1975); and the brainy baseball statistician, Ogilvie, in Bad News Bears (1976)]
Ae13U: In both, however, I see a trend. You play the pretty, popular, and slightly entitled girl. Was this a trend in your early career as a child actor?
Vicky Dawson: You know, you're right. It seems like I would either get cast as the nice pretty girl, the girl-next-door person, or the absolutely horrible cheerleader type, which is very typical but just the way it goes. You know, it's funny because for this project I was originally cast as the quiet girl.
Ae13U: Really? The girl that Alfred Lutter’s character eventually hooks up with at the end?
Vicky Dawson: Yeah. I was cast in that role and I think ABC thought the gal that was cast as the real, glamorous, sexy cheerleader, was, I think, was a bit too glamorous and too sexy. I guess they liked me, thankfully, and they just moved me over to the other role and recast the other part.
Ae13U: Interesting how you got pushed into that roll, though the girl who did eventually get cast for that part [Denby Olcott] did bear a slight resemblance to you, except for the pigtails.
Vicky Dawson: I got that part because she [Olcott’s character] plays the flute here. I play the flute. That's why I got that part.
Ae13U: Were you aware at the time of this growing sense that, you know, another cheerleader, another pretty girlfriend of the popular boy. Did you have a sense of this trend back then?
Vicky Dawson: You know, you always have to like the person you are, even if it's a terrible person because that's not the only thing they are, there's a lot of different levels to a person, so I always found if it was well-written, then there’s always different things that you can touch on and work on and make those characters interesting and actually hope to win the audiences, either their approval for you or they’re rooting for you that you stop being such a jerk.
But no, but as an actor you shouldn't approach any role like, “I hate this person,” because that's not the way people think. So, I never really found it boring and if the writing is good I could find something to work on for me to make it worthwhile. Plus, I always did a lot of theater so that's where you really have an opportunity to grow and be more challenged than whatever you’re branded as for TV or film.
Ae13U: Turning back to Hot Hero, there were some regular characters like The Puberty Fairy [Andy Breckman], Stanley Dipstyck [Paul O’Keefe], Tapedeck [L. Michael Craig], or Ym and Ur (Denny Dillon and O’Keefe]. You, along with some of the other actors, didn’t have those type of recurring characters. I’m not suggesting that they should have put a bag over your head, but I’m wondering if you felt at the time this was something you maybe were missing out on? It’s a bit of a small point, but I’m a bit curious about that.
Vicky Dawson in Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 6: The Holiday Play.
Sometimes, an actor just has to dreidel.
Vicky Dawson: No, it's a good question. I think that Denny was more of the seasoned comedienne . . . so I think a lot of it just naturally went to her because and she was wonderful. I think I did do more of the straight kind of roles. I think I had a “Vidal Baboon” character, I was a Jewish dreidel . . . two little things, but I think a lot of what I was fighting was my schedule because, you know, I would have to be in Brooklyn at seven in the morning, so leaving Manhattan at five. At that time, Another World was a 90-minute show . . . and I always had a very big story on Another World, so if I only worked at the quote “morning shift” I would be done by one or two and then they would have a car for me and they would take me to Rockefeller Center and then I basically work at Hot Hero Sandwich till – oh, my gosh — those were some late nights.
Ae13U: And into the early mornings by some accounts. You must have been working close to 19-20 hours a day some days.
Vicky Dawson: I'm not in as many things as the other actors because I literally was there maybe half the time they were.
Ae13U: There was one episode, episode 7, were you were only in two scenes and in non-speaking roles, so I see that. Still, you managed to have a lot of scenes, including one I have cued up I’d like to take a look at where you do some interesting character work. Your Hot Hero Café character, Susan, rebels against the “dumb girl” stereotype she has, so decides on a change. It’s one of my favorites, so, let’s take a look at it.
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: Hare Susan.
Ae13U: I like that sketch. It gives you a chance for some broad characterization. While it may be lost on viewers today, Hare Krishnas and cults like the Moonies [the Unification Church] were ubiquitous in urban areas, even up in Albany [where this author lives] but they were kind of like everywhere back then and even as a teenager I could see a lot of young people, some of whom seemed to be just being exploited.
Vicky Dawson: Yeah, I think that's why they wrote that, because it was a thing then.
Ae13U: It’s just a short sketch, but you show a range of emotions from joy to disappoint, rejection, pathos, and then back to joy at the end. Still, as I’m watching it, I see a young woman trying to break free of the role others created for her and I’m wondering if you didn’t perhaps see an analog with the roles you were getting and wanting to break free from that?
Vicky Dawson: I honestly don't remember being bothered by that. I think I had a few fun things to do. Honestly, I was up at five and probably going to bed at midnight, one. You know, I was happy to be working and grateful for both jobs and just trying to keep it all together and show up on time everywhere.
Ae13U: And you were doing all at ages 17 and 18. Incredible. OK. Let’s take a look at a sketch I watch with Claudette Sutherland, the “Name Jeans” sketch from episode 8 where you and Claudette are mother and daughter debating whether or not to buy an expensive pair of designer jeans. Let’s watch and get your response.
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 8: Name Jeans.
Ae13U: When I spoke to Claudette, I got a clear understanding you guys didn't do extensive rehearsals on this, nor on most sketches.
Vicky Dawson: [laughter] No, we didn’t!
Ae13U: What impressed me about this sketch is knowing this and seeing the timing is sharp, the responses snappy and believable mother/daughter chemistry, despite the fact you didn't have much rehearsal. Claudette is a Broadway vet with nearly two decades of experience at this point and here is 18-year-old Vicky Dawson going toe-to-toe with her.
Vicky Dawson: Thanks. That's nice. You know, it's funny. Watching these clips, I've forgotten that it appears to me that they would shoot it like a like a master shot like for film where it was a one-take thing. I don't remember how many cameras we had, but it was probably like a three-camera show so that they weren't editing later and you just had to get everything right. You know, it wasn't like they could fix it in the editing room because so yeah, it was it was fun and challenging.
Ae13U: OK. One more clip I love because it’s a short 30-second film with no dialog. From episode 1, the “Dating T-Shirts” short.
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1 Short Film: Dating Shirts.
Ae13U: [laughter] I played that for a few friends and it seemed to us a very “70s-era” clip. I don’t have any children, but not sure that I would let my 15-year-old daughter stay out to midnight. Dating is, of course, a recurring theme on the series, like in the "Name Jeans" sketch where your character wants to attract a boy with the right pair of jeans.
Vicky Dawson: In the scene with Claudette, I think they told me you can say any guy’s name [as the name of her character’s boyfriend], so I said, “Greg Irvine” because he was my boyfriend then, but now he's my husband.
Ae13U: Oh, my gosh, I never realized that! Of course, your name is Vicky Dawson Irvine. I must have seen that clip a dozen times and never made the connection. That is fantastic! You’ve been together 43 years. That is an impressive feat inside or outside Hollywood. It’s always wonderful to hear that, and there it was all along right in front of us.
Behind the Scenes
Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1 Opening Credits.
Ae13U: OK, small point I’ve wanted to ask. In the opening credits, who was the man in car acting as the driving instructor? I know it’s been 43 years, but just one of those things the Hot Hero Historian likes to check up on. Was he a crew member or something like that?
Vicky Dawson: I'm sure he's a hired actor. I don't think they pulled him off the street or anything. I believe we shot that in Yonkers.
[Note: I reached out to series writer Sherry Coben and film editor Patrick McMahon after this interview and they revealed the name of that driving instructor, and it surprised me so much, it deserved its own article: Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on John Nicolella, Consultant/Location Producer.]
Ae13U: I would love to get some street names used in the opening sequence and go down there and take photos of the locations as they are now. Something for the future to do
How did you land the audition for the show? Did you get it through an agent? Word of mouth? Trade ads? Based on what the other actors said, I’m guessing perhaps it was probably your agent.
Vicky Dawson: Yeah, I had an agent and a manager and that was back in the day when you could freelance agents, so I had a manager and it was basically whichever agent contacted her first to have me read for something they were the ones that had dibs. Now, you just have one agent and they don't have to compete. I don't really remember who it was and I don't remember much about the audition to be honest . . .
Ae13U: Well, nobody does of those I interviewed so far. It was so long ago. Any other memories?
Vicky Dawson: Well, first of all, everybody was so nice. It was so fun, and even though we were always busy and working to put so much material together. There were bands coming in and the interviews that they were doing, and so it was just a really fun environment to be in. I remember tap dancing with Sandra [McClain, a supporting cast member] to pass the time in the hallways. I remember that it was the studio where Saturday Night Live shot.
Ae13U: Do you recall which SNL cast member’s dressing room you got?
Vicky Dawson: Yes, I was in John Belushi's dressing room! [laughter] and I opened his closet — just because it was unlocked and I think I was going in there to put something in there and all of this like knitting or crocheting or something came out like single chain. Not a sweater or anything. It was just a one long single chain all coiled up. I guess it was a wardrobe mistress or somebody who also works at Saturday Night Live, she goes, yeah, he would just do that to calm his nerves before the show. He would just do it put it in the closet, just stuff it in there and it comes tumbling out at you.
Ae13U: [laughter] That is a classic bit of TV history and gives some insight into Belushi. Thank you for sharing that! Anything else stands out in your mind after all these years?
Vicky Dawson in character on Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 9: Stone Age Nightmare High. Not her “Vidal Baboon” character, but probably not far apart on the evolutionary scale.
Vicky Dawson: I do remember meeting Jane Fonda. I think that she was doing Meet the Press and so they used the same studio and makeup room right there. I think there was would have been a Sunday morning and I was doing my “Vidal Baboon” character and I had a fur onesie on, these pink high heels, and my Vidal Baboon sash. I think they did end up using those scenes in the shows, but I might be in doubt.
[Note: Those scenes, however intriguing, were one of several sketches that did not make it on air. Although material for twelve episodes were planned and sketches filmed, the high costs of production resulted in only eleven on-air episodes and the extra footage not used.]
They were taking me into makeup to get the final, finishing touches which was my underarm hair, attached to my underarms, and Jane Fonda is in there getting touched up for Meet the Press, and ,you know, she doesn't like people to talk to her, but I understand she's getting ready to go do a very serious show and basically I looked like Barbarella, her worst nightmare . . . not one of her favorite memories.
[Note: Jane Fonda and her then-husband Tom Hayden appeared on Meet the Press, Sep. 29, 1979, to discuss McCarthyism.]
She looks at me — like, to the side — when I sit in the chair next to her and, you know, I followed what they told me. I didn't say anything, but then they lifted my arms and they started gluing the hair. And I think it was just too much for her to take, and I just like kind of looked at her and I was like, “Hi!” Someone came in and said, Vicky, "We're going to, we're going to work on your costume out here." She [Fonda] had asked that I be removed. She’s a really lovely person and I don't blame her on a Sunday morning trying to put together very serious thoughts.
Ae13U: Right. I watch Meet the Press and I can just imagine some of the questions she was about to face. Understandable, but with the Belushi story, those are two classic Hollywood tales. Thank you so much for sharing.
One More Thing . . .
Ae13U: One last question I like to ask everyone is whether you thought there might have been a second season for Hot Hero Sandwich. Some thought there might have been a chance. Others suspected that the network was sabotaging the show because it was so expensive. What were your thoughts?
Vicky Dawson: One thing that’s interesting, after working 20 hours a day for like seven months, whatever it was . . . Hot Hero was picked up and they were going to move it to LA down here [where Dawson is now located]. I don't know why, but they made that decision. It was better for them. So, we were all going to move to shoot it.
Ae13U: That’s a new twist I had not heard!
Vicky Dawson: Of course, it was problematic for me because I was on Another World. So, at the time, Fred Silverman, because they were both NBC shows, just said we need her [Dawson] to go to LA with Hot Hero. So literally, in one day on Another World, I had my wedding [Note: Dawson’s on-screen husband was Ray Liotta], I had my honeymoon night, and I got a headache, and then I died of a brain tumor in my negligee. All of this was to get me off the show fast. I packed my bags. I was leaving that Friday. It was like Wednesday and NBC pulled the plug on the show. I went from two jobs for months on end to no jobs.
Ae13U: Wow. That is heartbreaking. Welcome to Hollywood, huh? Just when I think I’ve heard all the Hot Hero secrets, another one pops up. One thing I have learned though, Fred Silverman doesn’t have many fans among the Hot Hero alumni.
Well, Vicky, I see we’ve come to the end of my questions and I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. We’ve learned some really interesting things today that really helps put the Hot Hero Sandwich picture together. Thank you!
Vicky Dawson: It was very nice to meet you, a pleasure to chat, and thanks for the trip down memory lane.
If you wanna be a star of stage and screen — Look out, it's rough and mean.
— AC/DC, It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll)
One thing I have learned regarding Hot Hero Sandwich is that NBC President Fred Silverman told the cast and crew and the media different things about the future of the show. When it came down to the end, Silverman seems to have played people along — telling them different stories — in order to hide his true agenda to end the show.
The episode where Dawson’s character dies on Another World (Episode #1.3916) aired on Dec. 11, 1979. In a Jan. 18, 1980, article in The New York Times, Fred Silverman, then president of NBC, cited Hot Hero Sandwich, as one of several shows that demonstrated the network’s commitment to “informational children’s programming.” Then, a week later, the show was cancelled. I can give Silverman the benefit of the doubt he had not made the decision by Dec. 11, but he clearly was hedging his bets with Dawson and keeping others in the dark by telling conflicting stories.
It will be interesting to find out what Silverman told Matt McCoy and Paul O’Keefe someday. I almost expect two completely different stories I haven’t heard before.
As I watched Vicky Dawson recount the story about the various challenges and disappointments over her career, there was a certain sense of serenity to her. An acceptance as she acknowledged the realities of the business. I’m sure the scars still linger, but so do the victories. Another aspect of long-time actors I’ve interviewed is their resilience born of their love for the trade. They know they swim with the sharks.
It’s a tough business, but there comes the moment when you’re the one on the stage, when you’re the one who has the spotlight, and when 43 years later you’re the one being interviewed — YOU, not the sharks.
You have to be brilliant to stand out in an industry whose darkness can diminish your light, but that’s why we call them stars.
Because only stars shine in the night.
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