Actress Rutanya Alda discusses her new book and her life in cinema.
Rutanya Alda is a name long known to genre fans as a fine actress in quality productions. Her work in Brian De Palmas THE FURY, Fred Waltons WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, Lewis Jacksons CHRISTMAS EVIL, Damiano Damianis AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, William Lustigs VIGILANTE, George Romeros THE DARK HALF, and Larry Cohens THE STUFF is enough to solidify her as a horror movie heroine yet adding Jerry Schatzbergs THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK, Sam Peckinpahs PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, and a starring role in Michael Ciminos THE DEER HUNTER sets Ms. Alda on her own pedestal of Hollywood royalty.
Yet amidst all of her nearly 100 film and television roles her most notorious role is that of Carol Ann in Frank Perrys MOMMIE DEAREST. A camp classic moments after its first release, Rutanya has been making appearances over the last few years to packed houses across the country, drumming up great memories of her time as Faye Dunaways personal assistant, er, eh Joan Crawfords personal homemaker in the film. Rutanya today takes on similarly strong roles and loves loves loves her horror films and her fans.
Now publishing for the first time her memoirs on the set of that film, Rutanya also reminisces on her childhood growing up in displaced persons camps during World War II, working as Mia Farrows stand-in on Roman Polanskis ROSEMARYS BABY, and more intimate time spent with Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah, John Wayne, Bob Dylan, and Brian De Palma. Out this month from Amazon, you too can share in the wonder and majesty of Rutaynas many exploits in Tinseltown, and most notoriously her time spent sharing the film stage with Ms. Dunaway. Here Rutanya offers some background on the project, and what you can expect in its covers, and forthcoming in her career.
SHOCK: Why have you decided to publish your diary at this time, more than 35 years after the film?
ALDA: I decided to publish the book, THE MOMMIE DEAREST DIARY, because of the huge continued interest in the film. The film has taken on cult status and people see MOMMIE DEAREST many times yearly. Showtime even ran it 24 hours straight on the last mothers day. There are yearly MOMMIE DEAREST events where people come dressed up as the characters. The film seems to have a life of its own that’s not stopping. When I journaled the diary I had no intention of ever publishing it. I did it for myself because of the stresses in my life both on the film set and in my personal life and it was a way of dealing with the stress and keeping myself balanced.
SHOCK: What was your actual relationship with Faye Dunaway?
ALDA: My relationship with Faye was strictly professional. I didn’t get to know her on a personal level. The on-set relationship is described in my book.
SHOCK: Did Faye Dunaway want to write a book with you, or just use your material for her own book?
ALDA: She asked me to fly in to help her write her book, for no money just a small credit somewhere in the footnotes. I didnt go any further than that as I wasnt willing to give up my time and my own book to help her. Thats been her way her whole life, that everyone must drop everything to help her. Like my book didnt matter.
SHOCK: You mention relationships with people like Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, and Brian De Palma. Peckinpah and Altman have left us though De Palma was just at the New York Film Festival. How does he feel about being mentioned in your book? Are you still in touch?
ALDA: I dont know if Brian has even read my book. We rarely see each other. When we do we have a very warm friendship. I think he comes off well in my book. I loved working with Brian. The early films I worked on with Brian, GREETINGS and HI, MOM! were very creative and there was a lot of improvisation which I loved. THE FURY was more structured and a studio film.
SHOCK: What was is like working on a film like THE DEER HUNTER alongside Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and other great talent? What was Michael Cimino like as a director?
ALDA: Michael Ciminio is a dream to work with. He loves actors. My experience in working on THE DEER HUNTER was a joyous one. It was a true collaboration. Everyone was there to support everyone else. There was no star drama. We were a family on that shoot.
SHOCK: Working as Mia Farrows stand-in on ROSEMARYS BABY must have been an incredible experience. Roman Polanski, Mia Farrow, Joan Crawford and so many others were a part of that shoot. I hear you also saw Sharon Tate visit the set.
ALDA: Working as a stand in and body double in ROSEMARYS BABY was hard work. You don’t get any breaks and the hours are long. Working on the film we didn’t know it would become a classic. Yes, Sharon Tate would come and hang out with Roman every once in awhile. The filming had long hours so most of it was concentrated on the shooting. I think Roman put a lot of his energy into the film. It was his first big film.
SHOCK: You have quite a fan base in the world of the horror film, with notable performances in THE DARK HALF, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, VIGILANTE, and of course AMITYVILLE II. Do you hear from a lot of fans from your horror film work?
ALDA: Fans of the horror genre love AMITYVILLE II. I get a lot of mail about this film in particular. It is a film that is finding a new audience but also has a strong fan base of people that see it again and again. It seems to be the favorite in the Amityville series. Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF directed by George Romero seems to be finally finding an audience. The company that released it went bankrupt so it opened with no support and kind of got lost. I’m glad its being rediscovered. George Romero was wonderful to work with.
SHOCK: Youre continuing to work in all sorts of projects, and recently starred in John Guares new play at the Tennessee Williams festival. What are some of your favorite recent projects?
ALDA: Performing at the Tennessee Williams Play Festival 2015 in Provincetown was really special. What a great atmosphere. So many plays being done in just one week with such energy all throughout the town. The audiences are so supportive and welcoming. I performed in the new John Guare play, MORE STARS THAN THERE ARE IN HEAVEN, and we had a sold-out audience and a great response. Mr. Guare came to rehearsal once for notes but he had to be in Italy so he wasn’t at the world premiere in Provincetown. I also recently did a premiere of another new play by Sarah Simon, THE PORTRAIT, which we performed at Theater 54 in New York City. I starred in another horror film called LATE PHASES: THE NIGHT OF THE LONE WOLF directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano. I also guest starred on the web series OLD DOGS AND NEW TRICKS.