Heather Menzies Interview

Heather Menzies: The SSSSSSSound of Piranha

Heather Menzies imageHeather Menzies (the widow of Robert Urich, now going by Heather Menzies-Urich) was a child actress turned seventies scream-queen. She played “Louisa” in the classic Robert Wise production THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and then, amongst a bouquet of television appearances (including “Logan’s Run”) and film roles, starred in two horror classics: SSSSSSS, about deadly vipers, and PIRANHA, about killer fish.


THE SOUND OF MUSIC

How was the audition process?
I auditioned for the role along with everyone else. I didn't know any of the songs from the movie so I sang "Wouldn't it be Lovely" from MY FAIR LADY. I think (director) Robert Wise had the kind of kids he wanted pictured in his mind and just kept looking until he found them. I was given the scene where we lie to our Father about where we have been. We tell him that we’re berry picking, not looking for Maria. I did all of the kid's lines at the audition.

What do you remember about the scene when you're all introduced to Julie Andrews?
I remember every scene like it was yesterday. It wasn't the first scene we filmed. The bedroom scene, when we were scared of thunder, was the first one. I just remember how much fun it was giving her a hard time. I was such a goody-two-shoes and it was great to play mean and throw daggers with my eyes.

Memories of the classic “Do Ray Me” scene on the hillside…
It was a joy to run all over those hills singing. The townsfolk couldn't figure out what was going on with all of that music being piped out over loudspeakers. The scenes were all filmed in and around Salzburg. In hindsight the scene is very similar to some of the modern MTV videos. Maybe the first of that genre.

Since you all didn’t sing live: how does this process work?
We recorded the album before we even began filming. It was done in a recording studio on the lot. The orchestra was not pre-recorded. They were all there and it was done all together. The whole process took about a week. We took copies of what we recorded home and practiced so that when it came time to film we could lipsinc exactly how we recorded it.

Falling out of the boat looked fun…
I think it took a couple of days to film that one. It was a little hairy because Kym (Gretle) didn't know how to swim at all. In every single take she sank to the bottom when we fell out of the boat. Her mother was screaming the entire time. She ended up throwing up all over me because she had ingested so much water. A fact that I constantly remind her of.

The ballroom dance and concert finale…
For the dance we rehearsed for six weeks before we started filming, so we were quite prepared. I think this was my favorite scene. People from all over the lot came to watch because it was such a production. The concert we filmed at night, all night. I remember even Ben Wright being a nice guy. Completely the opposite of his character. The crowd was fun, some of them becoming genuinely emotional.

Still in touch with the cast?
We became a family during filming and still are. Angela and I were inseparable. We, all seven of us, have a very special bond. Since the movie we have been brought together to promote every reissue of every DVD, CD etc. So, through the years there was no losing touch.

PIRANHA & SSSSSSS

PiranhaIn PIRANHA, along with great special effects, there are lots of cool outdoor scenes…
We filmed it in a small town in Texas (the name of which escapes me) between San Antonio and Austin. All of the lake scenes were in Austin. A few scenes were filmed in Griffith Park in LA. We didn't have much time to do any hiking… And they rehearsed the piranha effects in the pool of the Holiday Inn we were staying in. A lot of the effects were completed when I wasn't present.

Your introduction scene with Richard Deacon is memorable…
I had grown up watching Richard in just about everything. So, working with him was kind of surreal. We filmed the scene at the Burbank Airport. I think about that every time I fly out of there. The video game had been there forever. 

Eric Braeden was originally to play the Kevin McCarthy role…
I don't remember working with Eric. Kevin is an amazing actor. I was so fortunate to be surrounded with actors of such caliber. Bradford Dillman, Keenan Wynn and Kevin McCarthy. It doesn't get any better…
 
How was it being part of a Roger Corman production?
It was a blast. I felt as if I was in the middle of some wild western. I don't remember if Roger Corman visited but he probably did. I did another Corman film with Darrell Larson called RED, WHITE AND BUSTED. On that film he was quite present.

And working with director Joe Dante…
There's a reason Joe became as successful as he did. He knew how to edit in the camera. I did feel as though I was being a bit rushed, but I had done so much television that I was used to working that way. THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a luxury with all of that rehearsal and taking days to film one scene. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the finished product. During the making of the film there were times when I thought that this was going to look really hokey.   

sssssssA few years earlier, on the set of SSSSSSS (playing the daughter of Strother Martin), were you scared being around those sssssssakes?
At first we were all petrified. The boa constrictor was very docile but the python was more aggressive. They taped his mouth shut with scotch tape but that didn't stop him from trying to take a piece of me. I wouldn't go near the cobra. They had to put a glass partition between him and me. I wouldn't even go near the set unless the partition was up. I've worked with a few snaky people in my time… but I draw the line at cobras.

Some great makeup in this flick…
Dan Streapek designed the make up (also for The Sound of Music). He was also a writer/producer, I think. He did an amazing job with that snake man. I remember Dirk being in make up for hours.

OTHER STUFF

You had a small part as a waitress in ENDANGERED SPECIES with your (late) husband Robert Urich…
The director told me that originally the part was much more but when I was asked to do it, it was a cameo. I just happened to be with them on location. Brief as it was, it was a fun character to play. Gum smackin' Susan.

And you worked with Robert in SWAT and VEGAS…
We always enjoyed working together. That's how we met. Bob asked me to marry him during the filming of the SWAT episode. I guess that's pretty memorable. I usually did an episode of whatever series he did. The Vegas set was very close nit, probably because we were all on location together for three years. Both of my older kids were born in Vegas.

AND A FEW WORDS ABOUT…

Julie Andrews: FUN! She has a very bawdy sense of humor.
Christopher Plummer: He scared me. I've come to know him in his later years. I'm convinced my reaction was due to his method acting. 
Bradford Dillman: A very sweet man. 
Robert Wise: Again... Beyond brilliant. I miss him. He was great with the kids. He only had to read us the riot act once.
Strother Martin: He became like a father to me. Bob and I would go out to his house at Malibu Lake every Sunday.
Dirk Benedict: Gorgeous! Smart and funny. I think I had a bit of a crush on him. He's still a friend.
Reb Brown: SWEET! The humblest person I've ever met. It's tough to picture him as a bouncer but that is what he was before he became an actor.
Barry Brown (the Sheriff in PIRANHA, who earlier starred with Jeff Bridges in BAD COMPANY): He was an amazing actor, although I don't think he knew it. He was very nervous doing the scene. I heard that he later committed suicide.

And what’s going on now?
I am president of The Robert Urich Foundation for Cancer Research and Patient Care. Our goal is to fund research and create housing for patients that have to relocate for treatment.

Interview by James M. Tate

Heather’s Official Site: http://heathermenziesurich.com/

JMT’s FACEBOOK FAN PAGES FOR:

SSSSSSS

PIRANHA

ENDANGERED SPECIES


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