Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Interview: Pamela McMyler (co-star of Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film “Amblin’”)

Legendary director Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical release was a 26-minute-long film about young hitchhikers in the desert…and maybe in love. It was called Amblin’ (which later became the name of his production company). To date, the film has not been remastered and made available digitally.




Shot in 1968 when Spielberg was 21 years old and released the same year, it starred only two people, neither of whom speak during the film. One of those people, Pamela McMyler, had not given an interview about it…until now.



What were you doing professionally prior to Amblin’?

My first acting job was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I also might have done The Donna Reed Show before. The U.N.C.L.E. [producers] had to write a letter to the Screen Actors Guild to say “No one else in the world could say this [one] line like she can.” I got my SAG card and Eddie Foy (a casting director) really liked me. 

Friends of mine had a little restaurant/bar a couple of blocks from my house. It was like an “actor bar” and they kept asking me to work there because it would be good for business. I was young and perky. I agreed to do it. One night a guy named Mark, very nice man, young man, good looking, said my cousin is making a short film and he has the financing and I think you’d be right for the girl, and so I met with Steven Spielberg. He wanted to do a screen test—I believe [the other person up for the role] was his girlfriend at the time. I got the part and I freaked out because I wasn’t yet a member of SAG.

What do you remember about the meeting with Steven?

How can I describe him? He was a young, friendly, nice Jewish boy. He talked about his mom a lot. Very nice, down-to-earth man.

How old were you when you got the role?

I was 23. I was a couple of years older than Steven. He was just out of film school. 



Did he cast you on the spot?

After the screen test. A couple of days later. 

What did you think of the story?

The way I describe it, it was a romp. [The male lead] was [a surrogate for Steven]—a nerdy Jewish kid. He said basically we’re going to go out and ad lib. He’d say “Now I want you spit olive pits.” More than a script, it was kind of descriptions. 



Was there a written script?

There was but how do you write ad lib scenes? It was a description of what would go on because there was no dialogue. He know exactly what he wanted for every shot. God bless the cinematographer Allen Daviau [who died from COVID-19 in April 2020]. Allen was a big sweetheart, like a big old bear. At one point he hung by his heels out of the trunk of a car to get a shot that Steven wanted. 

Do you still have the script?

No. I don’t know that I ever did! 

Any funny anecdotes about your Amblin’ experience?

I’m sure there are many I’ll remember when we get off the phone. (laughs) At one point there was a description about how the girl chases the guy with a snake. I wasn’t crazy about snakes. They took us out to Palmdale in the heat of the desert. They had a snake in a little aquarium on the bus. I had to take it out and talk to it and get to know it. [We ended up not filming that scene], but I made a friend. 


I think we drank beer in the desert and it dried up immediately. 

We did [the shoot] in very few days. Steven was serious. Friendly and casual but we were there to make a film in only a couple of days with X amount of money.

Is there one story about your Amblin’ experience you tell more than any other?

I was a little nervous to do the scene when I took off my top. That whole campfire scene was shot on a soundstage. It looks like it’s outside, to me. There were a couple of lighting guys and a sound guy. They set it up and left so it was just Steven, [co-star] Richard, and Allen when I showed my little boobies. 



What challenges did you face shooting this film?

Really only the heat. I’m sure it was summer. Pearblossom Highway in Palmdale. It’s outside of Los Angeles some sixty miles. It’s pure desert. At one point [after the initial shoot], Steven said “Pammy, we have to go back out to the desert. I didn’t get a good close-up of you when you two first see each other across the road.” I said “Nooo!” (laughs) We went back out there and I’m glad we did. It was a great close-up of me. 

We spent a good day out there to get the close-up and other pick-up shots. 

The original shoot had been, I believe, maybe four days. We stayed out there in a motel. We shot the ending in Malibu. 

What is your interpretation of the film’s ending? Debate rages on the Internet.

Oh really? Nobody’s ever asked me that question before. To me it was always Steven’s vision of himself as being a straight-laced, very serious Jewish boy who…what am I trying to say? The character was based on Steven. So it had to be his vision of wanting to be this cool guy with his guitar, which he didn’t have or play [in real life]. 

Why do you think the girl walked away after she saw what the boy had in his bag?

Maybe she was shallow. Not shallow, but she felt deceived in a way. She thought he was somebody he was not. She had come to care for him. He probably also would not have ended up with her, by his choice.



Did Steven articulate this or rather let the characters’ actions speak for themselves?

He pretty much let actions speak for themselves. He would tell us the technical things and let us go. That’s part of the genius of Steven. 

While working on it, did Spielberg seem like just another filmmaker or did you sense something special?

At first I thought “just another filmmaker.” But his enthusiasm kind of changed my mind. Then when we had the screening, when I saw it for the first time, I saw what his vision was. I was proud that I accomplished what he wanted. The reception—I was taken aback by how well-received it was. Someone told me [actor] Clu Gulager was in love with me. [So of course] when I walked onto the Universal lot, in front of the commissary, the first person I saw was Clu. 

Did you talk to him?

No, I was too embarrassed. 

What do you remember about your co-star, Richard Levin?

He was a sweet guy. A very gentle soul. Quiet. 


Did you stay in touch with him?

For a little while. We lost track—I hate when that happens. 

Were you paid to be in the film?

No. I often thought in the back of my Irish mind I could go to Steven and say “I could use a couple bucks these days.” (laughs) Of course I wouldn’t do that.

What are you doing these days?

I’m retired. I work around my house, plant my cactus garden, raise my dogs and my pig. 

I was doing antiques and collectibles and painted furniture. I did very well at it. At one store I worked in, I had all the windows and front of store for three days a week. They’re like antique malls and people have sections. I went into that about 1997. I did it for a long time. Ten years. But a lot of the shops closed. 



And before that?

Not long after Amblin’ I got married. I was married for eight years. 

In the 1980s I worked in film or TV only a couple times. You get to be a certain age and they don’t know what to do with you. I did a lot of small theater in LA. I enjoyed that a lot.

I had a beautiful house in the hills in Sherman Oaks. Sometime in the ‘80s, at midnight, I sat bolt upright and said to myself “I’m out of here.” My parents weren’t getting any younger. I wanted to be closer to them. They lived in Santa Barbara. Good luck affording anything in Santa Barbara so a friend recommended Ventura. In 1992, I moved from Sherman Oaks to where I am [still am today] in Ventura, a few blocks from the ocean. [For the first] five years here, I did nothing but go to the beach five hours a day.

I assume your dogs are in your house and your pig is not?

My pig did live in the house for a year and then she started rearranging the furniture—she’s an exterior and interior decorator. [So she then had to move outside.] 

How did you come to have a pig?

My neighbor had a baby pig, white with big black spots. I’d always wanted a baby pig. I would babysit the pig all day when she was little and eventually adopted the pig from the neighbor. I adopted her when she was little. Now she’s enormous. 

Can you housetrain a pig?

She housetrained herself. We left the front door open and she’d go in the corner on the porch. Always in the same place. Occasionally she’d pee in the living room.

A friend built a ramp outside my bedroom door. I don’t know how he knew a pig needed a ramp, but it did. 

What’s your pig’s name?

Blossom.

Your dogs?

Bobby and Mickey. Both boys.

Do the dogs and the pig get along?

They do. Once in a while she will chase them around the yard. But they run in.

If she caught them, what would she do?

She pushes them with her snout and sniffs them. Pigs can be gnarly once in a while. I brush her every day and tell her she’s a pretty girl. She eats only her pellets and fruits and vegetables.

I don’t eat ham or bacon anymore. Matter of fact, since I got her, I don’t eat meat anymore.

Any interest in acting again?

If someone just gave me a part and I liked it, sure, I would do it. But a craving? No.

Do you have children?

No.

Have you ever appeared at a pop culture convention? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?

No. Universal used to send us to places, but not conventions. Veterans hospital—kids paralyzed from the waist down. We—all these young starlets, pardon the expressionwent there supposedly to cheer them up.

In the late 1960s, they sent a bunch of actors on a bus to Orange County—Republican country—to sit at various tables and hand out awards at a real estate headliners of the year event. We ate these pineapple starters. Then a lady said “Sorry, wrong table” and put us at another table. Ate the pineapple starters again. They moved us a third time. Then someone came out and said [to the attendees] “Welcome to Orange County, the land of Richard Milhous Nixon!”

People told me I should do conventions because of Chisum, [a 1970 movie she starred in with John Wayne]. I might be interested in that.

What was it like to work with John Wayne?

Working with John Wayne was a hoot and a holler. He’d already [screen] tested six girls. My agent was a small agent who sat on the director’s doorstep until he would see me. He told me later that he liked me immediately. He showed John Wayne Amblin’. John walked out and said “Can the little girl talk?” Amblin’ certainly did its job for me for a while. 

Have you seen Steven Spielberg or Richard Levin since shooting Amblin’?

I worked with Steven a couple of times after Amblin’. He said I was his good luck charm. Then I guess he didn’t need a good luck charm anymore. (laughs)

The first thing he directed when signed at Universal was an episode of Night Gallery with Joan Crawford. Here’s this young kid directing Joan Crawford, of all people. Bless her heart, she drank vodka all day but covered it with a tissue so no dust would get in it. She was a germaphobe. 

Steven called me one night and said “Pammy, I have to put you in a brown wig because Joan doesn’t want any redheads on the set.” She thought her hair was red, but it was dyed some pinkish color. (They ended up having to cut my main scene from that show.)

Another time Steven called to tell me something he said I wouldn’t believe. Joan had called Steven into her dressing room. She had this whole entourage around her. She was naked with her butt up in the air and she was getting a shot for something. 

I used to run into Steven at a restaurant—late ‘70s. Once we went with another couple. Steven came over to our table to say hi and one of my friends said “What have you been doing since Amblin’?” Steven laughed. He’d already done Jaws.

That was probably the last time I saw him. Once in the ‘80s I called him at his office and he told [his assistant] to hold other calls. He said “I can’t believe my Pammy is in her forties!” He said he thinks of me because his company is called Amblin’. We talked for a long time.


Would you call Steven Spielberg’s office again now? 

I don’t know. 

He seems like the type to be receptive.

He’s pretty guarded. 

What about Richard Levin?

I heard a rumor many years ago that he had passed away. [But then] I have a friend who lives in Arizona—she and I have been friends since we were 17; her husband knows Richard and said he’s fine, but that was a while ago. I’m going to find out about Richard. [MTN: She was unable to.]

Did you meet Rod Serling when you worked on Night Gallery?

No.

When was the last time you watched Amblin’

Couple of years ago. I have it on tape. I’ve also watched it on the internet.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

I may have a couple of photos. No candids. Snapshots that maybe Allen took. I don’t even think Steven had a camera. 

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

No. There was some guy a few years back who tried to interview me about me but I cut it short. It didn’t work. Another guy doing a book on Universal Studios has interviewed me. He’s great. He asked me about my credits. I said I was in a TV series called Crosstown and he could never find it. [MTN: Me neither.]

What did you think when you first heard from me?

My first thought was “How did he get my cell phone number? And why is he doing something on Amblin’ 50 years later? Who is this nerd? I better talk to him.”

(laughs) Nerd...you got that right. If the Amblin’ experience changed your life in any way, how?

I was only working here and there and it got me a contract at Universal. John Wayne didn’t want a contract player in Chisum. But after he saw Amblin’, he wanted me for the part. And he wanted to put me under contract at his company, Batjac.

How do you look back on your Amblin’ experience overall?

It was a great, fun thing to do. I loved acting but was even more thrilled when I saw the reaction to the film. 

2 comments:

Darrell Brant said...

Pamela is still beautiful

PJ said...

Good to see she’s doing well

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