Maximum Respect (and a kingdom) to
Earthling Adam Gross, who supplied and emailed the many
megs of scans that make up this article. Cheers
Adam. Images and words (c) Starlog
magazine Issue 41 December 1980
A Young Actress Finds Out That Playing The All- American Girl Is
Not Quite The Same When She's Also Flash Gordon's Sweetheart
By KAREN E. WILLSON
"It was like I'd been kidnapped!" Melody Anderson exclaims. "I told (Dino) that I was planning to leave New York for Los Angeles, and I was going to do a TV series. He said, 'You're gonna do Flash Gordon'. I said, "No, I can't!" De Laurentiis was persistent and Anderson found herself on a plane to London that that same night, signed to play the part of Dale Arden. "That Saturday morning, after flying all night, I was taken immediately to the studio," she remembers." They sprayed my hair brown because, in the cartoon strip, Dale had brown hair." Anderson is a natural blonde. "I had costume fittings, screen tests, met with the director...Monday I was off to Scotland and I started working Tuesday. It happened that quick for the Canadian born actress, this hectic beginning was only a sample of what was to come during the next four and a half months shooting Flash Gordon. In order to facilitate the special effects, principle photography had to happen fast. "We didn't have any preparation time at all," Anderson admits. "There was just no time. It's such a large special-effects picture, the actors really are secondary in it. We were just sort of pointed in the direction of the camera and (told) to do it. Many times we had to do it in one take because the special effects were so expensive or took so long to set up."
A New Experience
Flash Gordon was Melody Andersons first feature film. Working with special effects and shooting blue screen was a challenge. In one sequence, Dale Arden is kidnapped by Hawk-men and taken to their Sky Palace. For Anderson, filming that one scene meant hours of hanging in a harness in front of a blue screen. "I was being held up," she explains. "All I see below me are the mattresses and a wind machine. The director's saying, 'Okay, Melody - look up and see the sky palace!' Everything's black, and all I see are lights and cords hanging down. It was difficult. There weren't even scale models to get an image in your mind of what you were seeing."
Between takes in the flying harness, Anderson would walk around the set and "watch all those poor Hawkmen. They're the ones who pick me up and kidnap me; then I fly. They could never sit down, because when they did the wings would dig into their backs. When we had a rest period, you'd see all these guys lying on their stomachs with wings, like they were ready to take off. It was a very funny sight." Working in the flying harness was not the most difficult task in the movie, according to Anderson. "There was a scene where Dale Arden is supposed to be turned into a spider by Ming," she says. "At least, she's a spider in Flash's eyes. He sees an image of Dale as this monster who's about to eat Flash," To accomplish this, the makeup artists turned Anderson green with body paint. "I had vampire teeth and a headpiece that weighed about 25 pounds with real glass eyeballs. I had blood dripping from my mouth... After I 'd been in makeup for four hours and on the set for another six, the director came in and said, "This is wonderful! But we can't use this it has absolutely nothing to do with the script!" Anderson went home and spent the rest of that evening trying to wash off the green make-up. "That, I'll remember!" she laughs.
Straight to Camp
When Anderson read the script for Flash Gordon, she decided the film was a live-action comic strip done in space. Because of the campy nature of the film, she decided to "play it very straight, the more you play it straight, the funnier it is. I think that's why Flash and Dale work, because of the way we played it."
The "camp" aspects of the film left room for a great deal of creativity. The actors were given a rare chance to create scenes. Anderson, together with Sam Jones, dreamed up the "quarterback stuntfight" in Ming's palace. "In the beginning scene, all these people are bringing gifts, and one group brings these eggs," Anderson explains. "Sam Jones was saying, Flash Gordon was supposed to be a quarterback, so why don't I use one of these as a football'? Then I thought, 'Well, I'm the All-American Girl, shouldn't I be a cheerleader?' It was very funny... that's how the whole film went, because there was no time to prepare. We would just create and throw things in as we went along." The "All-American Girl" was not an easy role to play. According to Anderson: "The exotic and the sensual is much more interesting for the audience to watch than the average girl next door. I had to be careful not to make Dale too dull. It was not a character I could put my teeth into. She was just an average lady, and that was tough." Ironically enough, Anderson says none of the actors knew Flash
Gordlon was a comedy. "The director said, 'l want you and Sam to try to go for a relationship, make this as human as possible. Don't camp it up or go for laughs,' That's why the movie's so funny, because we didn't try to make it campy."
"In fact," she continues, "I'm surprised that (people) are laughing, because we weren't out to make a funny film. In fact, De Laurentiis was very upset when he showed the film and people started to laugh, because he thought they were laughing at it and not with it. In fact, he re-did the cheerleading scene. He wanted it to be serious...with macho man out there."
Overall, Anderson is pleased with Flash Gordon. "l love it!" she says, laughing. "I didn't have any idea that it would come out as campy as it did. It was a very pleasant surprise." But in retrospect she wishes the part of Dale Arden could have been broadened. "It was hard to get something to put your teeth into as far as the development of her character," she sighs. "In all honesty, Dale is still a bit of a fixture in the film. She just really wasn't that multi-dimensional a person. I'm not going to build it up any more than it is. The thing I found good about her was that she was spirited, ready to fight her way out.
She's just this girl who's very ordinary and can't understand all these absurd things that are happening around her. And why this bald man wants her, that's the worst part of all!"
One of Anderson's favourite scenes is Dale's wedding to the Emperor Ming, played by Max Von Sydow. "I have this wedding dress that's black, beaded and weighs 55 pounds. That was fun to carry," she says. "It was wonderful doing that scene because of lines like 'If you marry Dale Arden, you promise not to blast her into space?' There's also a scene where Ming devises this magic potion for me to drink so I'll find him very attractive, and I do a switch with this slave girl who brings it to me. I get into her costume and do a fight scene with the guards, use guns, and play 'Dale Arden - tough, fighting woman! '"
When Anderson looks back at the film she often wonders if' "I should have gone for laughs more. Looking at the performance now and knowing what I know, I think I would have liked making it a stronger comedic role. That's where the innocence paid off, in making it funny."
Rough Work But Worth It
Melody Anderson feels that Flash Gordon was more than just her motion picture debut, it was an education. "I did a lot of growing up on that picture," she says. "It was an education as far as working on films is concerned." Making a movie in Europe was ''very difficult. The costume/set designer was Italian, and always spoke through an interpreter. And the Englsh and the ltalians didn't get together on a lot of things. The difficulty was that the two groups would never get together. The English thought they knew, and the Italians thought they knew, and the actors were caught in the middle of all this confusion of, 'What's going on?' It was, well - an interesting four and a half months." After Flash Gordon, Melody Anderson returned to the States exhausted. "It's very rough work, and this is what people don't realize," she explains. "You don't realize the hours, the time involved, the job insecurities... I would never advise anybody to do it. I was almost ready to give up the ship after Flash Gordon." After resting up, Melody Anderson returned to the screen in a horror film called Dead and Buried. Although she enjoyed working again, she was disappointed with the role. "I'd like to get out of the All-American Girl image," Anderson says. "Even in Dead and Buried, I'm this lovely All-American housewife schoolteacher. But, we'll see what happens. I'd love to do comedy because it's something I thoroughly enjoy." Melody Anderson will always remember Flash Gordon and smile. "The whole thing was a laugh!" she explains. "I love challenges, and acting's still exciting for me."
Dead und Buried opens in February of l981 and Melody Anderson hopes that despite the title, her career is just starting.
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