Left-handed and Lovely
Recently, Emma Shane and Tibbys Bowl Entertainment Magazine conducted an interview, by fax and letter, with Muppeteer Louise Gold. In case some of you (especially readers in the US) think the method a little odd, then may I say that it is customary in England. Besides, what an appropriate means of interviewing the charming Muppeteer behind Sesame Streets Charmin.
Although she has been a Muppeteer for over twenty years, she was one of eight major performers on The Muppet Show. She is also a very accomplished actress, especially in the world of Musical Theatre, where her glorious singing voice is put to good use and is much enjoyed. She has just finished working on a new Mike Leigh film, Untitled 98.
So would you like to start by telling us a bit about the theatre that is masquerading as the Savoy in your new film?
GOLD: The Savoy Theatre was played, very well I might add, by Richmond Theatre. As I have always lived in the area it was great to be working at my local!
Have the rest of your family been involved in show business? If so, have you ever worked professionally with any of them?
GOLD: All my family is involved in theatre, my mother and father met at Unity Theatre in the fifties. It was an amateur theatre and very left wing. They acted, wrote and directed and my mother is still a professional actress, Una Brandon-Jones. My brother is also an actor. His most famous role to date was the villainous Dougie Briggs in Eastenders, and we have worked together at the Edinburgh Lyceum.
When and where did you make your professional debut?
GOLD: My first professional stage appearance was as Fairy Bowbell in Dick Whittington at The Malvern Festival Theatre during my school holidays.
Which episode of The Muppet Show was your first?
GOLD: I tried out for The Muppet Show on the Rich Little show and sang Chanson DAmour triple tracked with myself and played Mildred in the Press sketch. Then I went home and waited to hear if I got the job. There were 2 other people given try outs. I cant remember which show was my first but I didn't work on the Milton Berle show - we re-recorded Zelda Rose with me singing it just for the Muppet record and I didn't work on the Zero Mostel show either, but I was on the Edgar Bergen and the Steve Martin shows.
What is your fondest memory of working on The Muppet Show?
GOLD: Meeting Danny Kaye, who had been a hero of mine since I was a little girl
And your least fondest memory of working on The Muppet Show?
GOLD: My least favorite was being stuck in a very uncomfortable position with a puppet in some out of the way place under the set and finding that everyone had gone for lunch half an hour previously and not noticed that I had not heard them go!
You assisted Jim Henson a lot on The Muppet Show What was it like working with him?
GOLD: I worked a lot as Jims right hand, sometimes for Rowlf the Dog, sometimes Link Hogthrob, and it was always great fun. My main memories of Jim are of him laughing and laughing at other peoples performances. He enjoyed his work so much it really was a joy to be around.
Ever since I read in Of Muppets & Men that the majority of Muppeteers cant read music, I've wondered: Can you read music?
GOLD: Not very well.
Did you have any other involvement, besides actually puppeteering on the film, with The Dark Crystal? I only ask because Animations magazine claimed you worked as a mould maker,
GOLD: No. They were wrong. I performed The Gourmet Skesis and various other creatures.
What was your involvement with Labyrinth...?
GOLD: I was in the party scene as an actor but I didn't puppeteer on it.
...and John Denver and The Muppets A Christmas Together ?
GOLD: I worked on the John Denver Album and Muppet Show, but not on the Christmas special.
Do you have a favorite Sketch that you performed on Sesame Street?
GOLD: I love working on Sesame Street. My favorite character is probably Renata Scottie Dog, the Loudest Singer in the world!
So when did you first discover your unusual singing voice?
GOLD: My Mother said she knew I would sing because I screamed so much as a baby and got good lung power.
To continue talking about Sesame Street. When did you first work on the show? Time permitting, do you still record new segments for the show?
GOLD: I first worked on Sesame Street about 7 years ago, and Id love to do more.
What about the later Henson productions you've been involved with: The Ghost of Faffner Hall, The Secret Life Of Toys, and The Animal Show Do you have any special memories of working on those series?
GOLD: My favorite thing about working on all these shows is that any project Henson's is involved in has such integrity and I always love to work with the puppeteers who are all brilliant performers and wonderful human beings. I have to say that in case any of them read this interview, but its true!
You dont by any chance know who performed Daffodil/Dilly the doll who "lives on that high up shelf because shes breakable" in The Secret Life of Toys or the Dairy-Goat who "does Not eat sneakers!" on Sesame Street, do you?
GOLD: I performed Daffodil, but I don't know who does the Dairy Goat.
On The Muppets you often seem to be teamed up with Jerry Nelson, and make a pretty dynamic duo (The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Secret Life Of Toys, Muppet Treasure Island), whats it like working with him?
GOLD: I love working with Jerry Nelson, partly cause I just love him but also we often get paired together for musical numbers, and after so many years, it's really easy to work with him. I guess people think we sound good together!
GOLD: I don't really have one favorite character but I did enjoy doing Rhonda Rat Rodent Reporter for The Animal Show. I would like to think I'm most like Annie Sue Pig: talented, pretty and young Well, we all have our fantasies!
How did you first come to be involved with Spitting Image?
GOLD: Roger Law and Peter Fluck got in touch with me because I was the English Muppet, so I was involved from pretty near the beginning, casting puppeteers - I auditioned all the original puppeteers - and doing workshops with them. We did work on the fitness aspect. It's hard work lifting pounds of latex, and many of the performers have back and shoulder problems. I enjoyed doing it partly because of my parents involvement with Unity Theatre. I feel it's right that I should continue the family tradition of political satire.
Did you sing on any of the Spitting Image records?
GOLD: I sang Mrs. Reagan on Da Doo Run Ron. I think thats the only song I did that's on record but I'm not sure.
I noticed David Claridges Roland Rat in your resume. How did you end up working on that? What did you perform on it?
GOLD: I met David Claridge on a TV show called For 4 Tonight, a spoof chat show and we were both playing guests. He knew I was a puppeteer and asked if I would be interested in working with him. We did some lovely sketches together as Roland's mother and father, and we also did a duet of I Got You Babe as Roland and his girlfriend.
Do you find being left-handed an advantage or disadvantage or neither as a puppeteer? Also, when using a form of Performance Control System (i.e. CG puppet Tizzy Bee) as a left-handed puppeteer, which hand do you use for the mitten, and which for the joy stick?
GOLD: Being left-handed can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Sometimes there are physical positions in the set that only a left hand performer can get into, but if you are performing a dance number, it looks odd because there can be weird gaps between performers and everyone elses puppets are left handed and mine are right handed. I always use my left hand for the joystick or whatever. I'm afraid I can't remember quite how Tizzy worked.
What has been youre worst experience as a puppeteer?
GOLD: Performing "Any Old Iron" on The Muppet Show last thing at night when time was running out and we could only do one take. My character's eye fell off in the middle of the number and we couldn't do a retake!
About being an actress-cum-puppeteer: Can you think of any occasion when being a puppeteer has benefited your acting, or vice versa?
GOLD: One of the reasons I got chosen for the part of Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsense was because the director knew I puppeteered and the character had to sing a duet with a ventriloquist dummy.
That Blackadder appearance is probably your best known television appearance to date. How did that come about?
GOLD: I had been working on the pilot for Spitting Image and at that time, being younger and cheekier, I just asked John Lloyd, the producer, if I could have a job in Blackadder.
What has been your most unusual acting role?
GOLD: I think my most unusual acting role was in Lady Into Fox. I had to play a woman who turned into a fox - No fox makeup or ears - just me in a red dress, but it seemed to work!
Tell us about Lady Into Fox, and how did you end up playing such a part?
GOLD: I must admit, when I went to audition, I didn't think they would want such a tall fox, but in the end it wasn't really a show about a furry animal. It was about relationships, love, sex, possession and many other issues and ended up being one of the most exciting jobs I've ever done. The show was written only when myself and Dale Rapley had been cast, so it was specifically tailored to our talents.
What has been your biggest onstage mishap, or most unfortunate, or embarrassing, experience as an actress?
GOLD: When I was first starting out I was Assistant Stage Manager on a show and I had to do sound effects for doorbells, etc. Because I was happily chatting somewhere backstage, the poor actor on stage had to improvise a whole lot of lines about the doorbell being broken and having to come round the back. I realized then that I was not made for Stage Management!
Do you have a favorite role that you've played in a musical?
GOLD: I played many musical roles that I've enjoyed. But I did love playing Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes and also Calamity Jane.
What past great singers have you been influenced by?
GOLD: I listen to a lot of past singers male and female. I actually got to meet Ethel Merman when we did a Royal Variety Show! I also love Fred Astaire, Billie Holiday, Bea Lillie, Hermione Gingold (not perhaps a great singer, but certainly a wonderful performer), Judy Holliday - in fact there are just so many. Oh! And of course Garland and Piaf and, well, many, many more.
About Ethel Merman: You mention meeting her while doing The Royal Variety. Was that when you were in The Pirates Of Penzance or earlier, with the Muppets? Also, did you parody her on Sesame Street before or after you played Reno Sweeney?
GOLD: I can't remember but I think it was with Muppets. I did the parodies after I had played Reno. But I was trying to create a character not dissimilar from her.
Do you enjoy listening to other peoples Musical Theatre recordings?
GOLD: Oh yes, I listen to loads of other peoples Musical Theatre recordings but, as a lot of them are made by my friends, I don't think I'll pick any out as my favorites!
Which of your various recordings are you proudest of?
GOLD: Im not particularly proud of any of my recordings, as I can always hear bits I could have done better!
Kiss Me Kate was the first time you seriously opened in the lead in a West End show. What was that like?
GOLD: I loved doing Kiss Me Kate, it's a wonderful show and we had a big hit with it. I also loved working with Andrew C. Wadsworth. We got on very well and I admired him enormously for putting up with me slapping him very hard, several times a night.
You've co-stared with some wonderful leading men. Are there any you particularly enjoyed working with, and/or would like to co-star with again, or any that you just want to highlight working with?
GOLD: All of them are wonderful, but as I live with James Vaughan, he has to get top marks.
Would you like to tell us a bit about the Discovering Lost Musicals concert stagings? How did you first get involved with them? And do you have any that you've particularly enjoyed doing?
GOLD: I first got involved in The Lost Musicals by being volunteered by Dick Vosborugh, who I have known for many years. I love doing them. This may be because I get to play wonderful parts like Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Venus in One Touch of Venus, and all the Ethel Merman roles in the Cole Porter shows.
I think my favorite so far is Oh Kay, in which I played Kay, but maybe thats because it's the most recent one I've done and I remember it better! I am also very glad I got to meet Ian Marshall Fisher who gets the whole thing together. He is an enthusiast and a true eccentric!
What role would you most like to do as an actress?
GOLD: I don't know any more. I always used to say Hedda Gabler and Annie Oakley but I'm not sure any more.
Judging by a lot of your puppeteering work and some of the stage roles, you seem to have an affinity with strong female characters - is that intentional?
GOLD: One of the reasons I get strong female parts is that I am tall, 59".
Would you like to tell us about the alternative comedy group you were involved with, Anna Rexic and the Compulsives?
GOLD: Myself, Jane Gurnett and Felicity Steel performed a selection of songs in rather bizarre costumes.
I noticed your resume once listed a guest appearance at The Comedy Store. What was that all about?
GOLD: I have done a bit of improvisation and did a couple of gigs with The Comedy Store Players.
Have you appeared in any other films as an actress besides: Pirates Of Penzance, Labyrinth, Billy The Kid, The Green Baize Vampire and your current film? Do you see film work as an area youd like to go towards more?
GOLD: No. Those are my only films so far and, with the state of The British Film industry, I doubt that that will be an area that I do a huge amount of work in. I hope Im wrong!
What is your current film about, and can you tell us a bit about your part in it?
GOLD: It's a Mike Leigh film about Gilbert and Sullivan. I play Rosina Brandram, a member of the D'oyly Carte company... because of the way Mike works, beyond that I really can't say.
After your current film, do you have any plans for the future?
GOLD: Having been working on Untitled 98 for nearly 5 months, my immediate plan is to have a rest. Then, who knows?
For more information on Louise Gold, check out the extensive fan site, Singer, Actress & Puppeteer Louise Gold.
If anyone wants to know about the person Louises character in this film is based on try: The Savoy Photo Gallery and The Beauty Stone. For info about Mike Leighs legendary methods try exploring The Films of Mike Leigh and Listening to the World - An Interview with Mike Leigh.
Many thanks to Louise Gold for taking the time to write her replies to our questions, and also thanks to her agent, Mayer and Eden Limited for passing on our faxes.