Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Talk With Donna Loren

Before her tenth birthday, Donna Loren was in show business guest starring on THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB and making records. When the popular Beach Party movies of the early sixties came along, she was actually the only regular who was still a teenager. In each of the films, she was allowed her own song solo. By that point Donna had become THE Dr Pepper girl--the one and only as the company never followed up the program after her five year contract. During that time, she traveled extensively for the soft drink as well as appearing in print ads, teen magazines, calendars and TV commercials. Somehow she also found time to be a regular peformer on the legendary SHINDIG as well as the equally legendary flop MILTON BERLE SHOW comeback attempt of 1966. Add to that a still popular appearance on BATMAN (opposite Kip King!) as well as memorable acting stints on, among others, DOCTOR KILDARE, THE MONKEES and GOMER PYLE and it's not surprising she was ready to retire by the time she reached legal age.

Donna has been designing clothes in Hawaii in recent years and is now poised to make a musical comeback. She will also soon be sharing the fascinating story of her life and career with us all in more depth through her upcoming autobiography. She very graciously agreed to speak with me last week, though, to share some of her memories and some of her optimism for her own future and ours, too!

After you've read our talk, check out all the clips at Donna Loren's own nifty site at You can also order her "new" eighties album (along with other cool stuff) at

B-Hi, Donna! I really enjoyed your new video (posted here at the Library recently). Thanks so much for sending me that.

D-Well, you're quite welcome. I enjoyed doing it!

B-That song, "It Only Hurts When I Cry," has always stuck with me from BEACH BLANKET BINGO. It's what they call an earworm--It's easy to get stuck in your head. In the film, though, you've got the silly bit with Jody McCrea crying and then you see he's just peeling an onion. It's such a lovely song, though, and I think that comes across more in the new version.

D-Why, thank you. It was interesting, actually. I was introduced to this fellow who does all the compilations for Starbucks. His name is Maurice Gainen and he has a nice little studio in Los Angeles so when I was visiting I was introduced to him and I was thinking, "Hmmm...What would I like to begin with if I decide to do a current album?" Now I'd written quite a few original tunes lately and I'd like to do that but, y'know, something told me to link the past to the present and I hadn't sung that particular song for...well...eons! So I just tried it and that's what we came up with. Then a friend of mine, Jeffrey Abelson, who used to be really active in the MTV world, decided to pitch in and he liked it, too! So it sort of caught fire a little bit. We went in and put it down and here we go!

B-I've had a couple of emails from folks who saw it on my website and really quite enjoyed it.

D-Oh, excellent!

B-You do realize what a big fan base you have on the Internet?

D-Well, you know...actually I've been extremely quiet my adult life and only since I remarried within the last decade...My current husband looks all over the Internet and he sees and tells me a little bit here and there but he knows he can be objective and it's totally the opposite for me. When I decided to retire at such a young age there were a lot of personal reasons and...It's taken all this time. Last year there was a moment, almost exactly a year ago on August 14th--it just happened to be a full moon!--and I received an email that just totally inspired me! The email was from India, from a Guru in Chennai and something happened! Something transformed my thinking from being very reclusive to wanting to participate.

B-Well, your fans like that decision.

D-(laughter) Sad to say, I've been a real closet case just singing to myself in my living room sort of sporadically over the years. I would even wait for my husband before I'd go out and take a walk or something. I just felt like it was something just so incredibly personal and then when it changed last year suddenly I opened my door to my neighbor--a sweet lady from Hamburg. She was so receptive and then I asked another girlfriend to come in and she was so supportive. Then, like I say, I met this man, Maurice, and then my friend Jeffrey stepped in so...It's sort of continued like that over the past year. I feel like there's a threshold and with the changes that are happening on the know, there's one passage in the Bible. I'm not a religious person but I really subscribe to "the meek shall inherit the Earth," y'know? Even with all the tumultuous behavior, I still feel that most of us want to live peacefully and be creative and have love in our hearts but everyone's been going about their business very quietly and now, if we don't speak up, if we don't molecularly connect, necessary changes will occur. I live on the big island and I'm living 200 miles away from an active volcano. It's been erupting since 1983. Right now, it's calmed down a little and the air is beautiful and the sky is blue. It's a direct reflection of what I call the Goddess Energy in this Earth that wants to nurture life. For thousands of years that energy has been opposed. I get together with a friend of mine who's very literary and since I had a limited education, I just try to teach myself as I go along. She's a wonderful asset in my life and we talk about the Goddess energy a lot but not in a sort of...well...quote-unquote, "Woo-wooey" kind of way. Literally the nurturing quality in every man and woman and in every living being. Part of the DNA on this planet is just crying for stuff like that. Just from listening to your voice I can tell you're a peaceful person and I totally suck at war and fighting and all that.

B-Well, in the sixties you obviously had that wholesome, "girl next door" image. It sounds like a lot of that was more or less true.

D-I would say my intentions were being honored on a high level but in the meantime...well...I sort of call it the lasagna effect--just many, many layers. You know, like some people call it peeling the onion. There have just been so many layers to my life. I've been in the process of revealing them to myself and some to others. It's just been a very, very interesting process. The superficial choice, let's say, of my image? That was all dictated by others so...if left to my own devices...(laughter) I had an incident when I was 18. I was feeling a little bit more empowered as an individual and I thought, "Okay, I'm gonna jump in here and become a little bit more of a feminist." Not militant at all, mind you, but you know. I don't know if you know this but usually I made my own clothes. I was inspired to make something that was a little less rigid and so I went onstage without a bra! And because I was still under contract to Dr Pepper, they called me on it!

B-Why am I not surprised?

D-They were all, "Don't you ever do that again!" I was totally reprimanded and completely put back in the box. Put back the bra, put the gloves on, put the hat know. Keep yourself as our little warrior. You can't express yourself.

B-So the thing that made you almost a household word with all the TV ads was also incredibly limiting to you?

Donna Loren - Dr Pepper Equestrian Commercial (circa 1964)
Uploaded by S60SGUY. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

D-In a way and yet obviously it gave me the tremendous opportunity to meet so many people. That was an incident that told me again NOT to rebel. If that's a limitation then I understand big time that this was pushing it too far. But in the meantime, when I connected with people it was great. They had me out on the road all the time. Mother would literally pack a suitcase, meet my adopted father and I at the airport, trade suitcases and we'd be off to the next location. I really did get to connect with a lot of people one to one. That was really rewarding. That's my favorite part.

B-You had been in show business pretty much your whole life by that point. Did you already have an understanding of how the whole contract thing worked or did you just stay out of all that?

D-Ohhhh...All I can say is business is business. I think it was basically an agreement that was almost forced upon me because a child can only take on so much responsibility unless they're put into survivor mode. That's basically how I was operating. Something in me gave me enough sense of responsibility to cooperate. I was always of a very obedient nature. As I said, I'm NOT a fighter. I knew that when I was a little girl. I realized that it was not an area where I excelled. It was just unconscious.

B-For most of my life, I've been a big fan of all of the Beach Party movies and I think something many people think of when they remember them is you because of your showcase spots. You made a very big impression on people. So many people when they think of the sixties think of Woodstock, the Beatles, the moon landing, assassinations, hippies and drugs but to me, I also think of silly sitcoms, Herb Alpert music, Batman and the beach movies. I think you're really limiting that great and weird decade if you just concentrate on any one part of it.

D-(laughter) And look at how pervasive the music has been. Not just the music, either. That whole mid-century era has been pretty much put on a pedestal by...I know MY kids even! Mid-century houses, mid-century furniture...It's like somehow the seed was planted then. I received other information about the Age of Aquarius...,when Jupiter aligns with Mars. To think that it began in that period of time, just 40 years ago...That's a blink in terms of the manifestation that's occurring now. It was like a prophecy! I don't think we've reached the tipping point quite yet but it's comin' (laughter)!

B-Let's talk about some of the people you worked with in the sixties.

D-I can talk about Annette. She and I met when I was ten years old and she was fourteen. Literally when I was on THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, I stood more than a head shorter than her.

B-I've seen a picture from that episode.

D-(laughter) I really looked up to her and her energy was so gentle. I never really talked to her on an intimate level so I don't know how she felt about being a child star. She seemed to be sort of okay with it.

B-Have you ever read Paul Petersen's book about the Mouseketeers?

D-Oh my gosh, no! Of course I know Paul but...

B-Well, he has a marvelous book called WALT, MICKEY AND ME that he wrote back in 1977 in which he went back and interviewed as many of the former mouseketeers as he could and some were bitter, some were jaded but then he gets to Annette and she surprises him by coming across as wholly genuine. He concludes that she was kept totally separate from any of that and was just very, very genuine.

D-That's how she came across to me, too. Paul told me...I think he lasted six weeks and then got kicked out (laughter).

B-Oddly, I was watching him in HOUSEBOAT with Cary Grant on TV last night.

D-I attended Paul's wedding to Brenda Benet and actually Cary Grant attended as well so I had a chance to actually see him up close (laughter)! Paul and I still stay in touch. He's literally like a brother. When I moved to Hawaii, I had three little doggies and the quarantine rules were just very stringent. They would have just perished and he and his wife took two of the little doggies. So that's how close we are. But let me get back to Annette.


D-So then when I was brought into the beach party scene, Annette was just beginning her courtship with Jack Gillardi who in my memory was my first agent when I was maybe eight or nine years old. I was always protected and guarded by my mother, my father...I really didn't socialize with anybody but if I would go to lunch there I'd be in a booth or something and I'd see Annette and Jack courting. In the eighties when they were talking about doing a beach party revival, I did speak with her and I heard something strange in her voice. I don't know if she'd been diagnosed at that time but it was gravelly. (Booksteve-Annette was diagnosed with MS in 1987, the same year that BACK TO THE BEACH was released) It sounded so not like her. It sounded like a very dark energy. That leads me to believe that she probably had one of these marvelous personalities where she maintained her sweetness but I really have to say that when someone harbors feelings that it does manifest physically whether it's genetic or acquired or whatever. I think she's a living testimony to someone who on the surface wants to please everyone and be very sweet but internally something very dark was going on.

B-I would assume then that because of all the traveling you never got a chance to be close to very many of the people you were meeting?

D-Well, Paul was number one. On SHINDIG, Bobby Hatfield. It's very strange. Bobby Hatfield ended up being just a lovely man. We never dated but he escorted me to some event, some awards show or something. He stood in the wings when we were on the show. He would be one who I would consider a peer, who would give me kudos. Rather than being strictly surrounded by an agent or, well, my parents.

B-How about Tommy Kirk?

D-Oooooooooooh, Tommy Kirk. He was always very much to himself as so many people are on set. Is he still with us?


D-Has he ever come out?

B-Oh, yeah.

D-Well, back then I don't think he had. There was an incident that I witnessed and since I was so sheltered I wasn't really into his sexuality but I was into his emotions and I really felt bad for him. That's a story for my book. As I say, I was extremely sheltered but I was on set and I was an observer. The only person other than Annette that I really had any contact with on set was when we did "Muscle Bustle," Dick Dale. We did a rehearsal at his house. Other than that, everybody pretty much stayed to themselves, did their work, had their own agendas, you know. (laughter)

B-I'm surprised you didn't do more as an actress. You really had a good delivery. In the BATMAN episodes for instance, I thought you were great. Really fun and funny! You had a real character and funny lines and you stood up to the Joker.

D-(laughter) Uh-huh!

B-What did you think of Cesar Romero?

D-Well, he was a mega-movie star to me. I was just entranced by how his posture was, being an older gentleman--so elegant and so extremely professional. Again, it was all work. It was symptomatic of me always being chaperoned and being a minor and all that. At the time I guess the reason I didn't do more acting was because I was always on the road for Dr Pepper so I wasn't in L. A. enough. Looking back, I never, ever, ever dreamed that anything I ever did would become a part of our pop culture. I just thought they were light hearted fun and I never took any of it all that seriously. Like I said, it was the sixties and seeds were planted for this time period of more appreciation so it actually is good to be here. I've been so removed from all of it for so long. I got married two weeks after I turned 21 and I was still under contract to Dr Pepper but it all unfolded very quickly. By early summer of that year, 1968, I just retired. The decisions were based on my family. There was only one time I was not chaperoned in my entire career and that was when Morrie collapsed while I was doing DR. KILDARE and my mother opted to go to the hospital to be with him and my director wouldn't release me! That energy was very pervasive with my agents, my producers, the directors. There was a very dominant energy that was pervasive. I was sort of locked in. I was basically victimized but I didn't realize it, you know?
B-Your recording career comes across that way to an extent also. There was no one person guiding you, no one producer or...not even any one style of music so while it was all well done, it was also all over the board.

D-Yeah...That was a combination of me complying with all the manipulation. My priority was supporting my family. My form of obedience was cooperation. That's what's so interesting now since over this past year I've been sort of exploring more music and writing more music. It seems to have finally shed itself away from me and I feel like for the first time I've been able to really express myself. Just sing songs coming from me! It's taken a looong time!

B-A lot of people remember you and your music and I think that if marketed to the right circles, new music from you could do quite well.

D-Thank you. We're on the threshold of releasing a CD of the music I recorded in the eighties. That was a bad time for me. I was going through a divorce from my first husband and I opted not to go into therapy--I went into the studio! (laughter) I had married into the Warner Brothers family. I was a Reprise artist when I met my first husband. I sort of adopted his life and I had access to Amigo Studios. A dear friend of mine, James Burton, was in my life at that time helping me make music and once a month or so we would go into the studio--there were other people also--over the two year period and sort of...I did what I could do to stay in the present state of mind and not just totally freak out because I was getting a divorce.

B-Sometimes everyone needs a lifeline and it sounds like music was what you latched onto.

D-I did. (laughter) This is something else that happened within the past year. My current husband was going through boxes in the garage and discovered all these tapes and things and he's, like, "What are these? Do they even play? Do you mind if I listen to them?" So he started a project of listening to everything and he even discovered a video from when I was invited to go to Japan and ended up sort of spontaneously performing there. It was very haphazard but I took ten or eleven songs to this musician I met recently who has his own studio about ten or fifteen minutes from where I live and he cued everything from the old tapes and we decided to put together an eighties collection. Someone told me recently, though, "When I think of the eighties, I think of Blondie and David Bowie and...This doesn't sound like eighties music." So my eighties collection is songs I sang then but I didn't sing them to be public except for one. That was "Wishin' and Hopin'." That was released. Oh, and I did sing "Somewhere Down the Road" on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW. All of these things were at the time just very haphazard. I was just tapping into old energy and I realized that was not where I belonged so I moved on. That's sort of where my focus is right now. Even though that music was a product of a difficult time in my life, it is a little bit more of who I am, especially my original tunes.

B-Well, I'm sure you know that a lot of great songs come from troubled songwriters.

D-Oh, yeah, but that's starting to change. That whole thing about how great art comes from struggle? I really think that when you relax into your creativity that that's when the creative juices really start flowing.

B-Thank you for spending some time speaking with me today, Donna.

D-You are so very welcome! Au Revoir!

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