I have never in my entire career thus far spoken to someone more naturally entertaining, outrageously funny, appropriately zany, overwhelmingly light hearted, captivatingly warm, brilliantly candid and honestly brilliant as actress, singer, dancer, comedian, director, producer and entertainer Michele Lee. She possessed every single trait and quality that makes one a super star.
Starting on Broadway at age 17, Lee has performed in productions such as Vintage 60, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and Seesaw. She headlined in popular films including “The Love Bug” and has appeared on television on numerous occasions in shows such as “Alias Smith and Jones,” “Night Gallery,” “Love American Style” and “The Love Boat.” However, she is best known and loved for her role as Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie in the popular primetime soap “Knots Landing.” There she was the only performer to appear in all 344 episodes. I truly love everyone I have a conversation with from my heart, but Michele Lee was someone very special. Every word out of her mouth was soulfully inspired. Her natural ability to be beyond funny caused us to laugh the entire interview. Our talk encompassed everything I wanted to know about her without having to ask. I implore you to go see “Nobody Does It Like Me” at 54 Below, June 11, 12 and 13, and discover a Michele Lee you might not have known.
So this brand new show that you’ll be performing at 54 Below, this June – tell me a little about it.
Yes…I mean, YES!
I knew you’d be a blast to speak to.
I am really excited about it. Have you been to 54 Below?
I have. it’s a very cool venue.
It really is, isn’t it? They did a great job. I guess from the get go it was good, but it’s just such a warm, upscale, sexy living room.
Yes it’s very intimate.
The way I love it. No, that’s not why I love it, the audience is why. They’re in my living room, right down at my feet where they belong. It’s true. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me, not in a stage role, but in a situation like this – have you?
I have not, I’m sorry to say.Well, I love to have fun. So I talk to the audience.
I heard that. I heard that you include and participate with the audience more than anyone else.
Also, I like to have fun, so you never know what’s going to come out of my mouth. That’s the thing. I open it up and something falls out of it.
That’s the best.
Right! Seriously. I started my whole career singing. I never thought I was going to act. I was always an entertainer. All of a sudden I started doing Broadway, and I had to act. It was like instant. “You’re acting now. Look at those people; they’re learning their lines, and they’re acting!” So it was almost like thrown on me. It was like, “Learn while you’re on the Broadway stage!”
You were really young when that occurred, weren’t you?
Oh, yeah. When I first got to Broadway I was 17. When I was nationally recognized, I was in “How to Succeed.” I was 19. I was in it for two years. I was a kid. But what happened was, as time went by, I started hiding behind the camera, when I did “Knots Landing.” When you’re doing film, you can say, “I wanna do this again. I really screwed up bad.”
Michele, you do not look like the type of person that gets angry, but if you were to get angry, what would the reason be?
A lot of things can get me angry. I can be moody. Not that I believe in astrology, but I’m a Cancer, and we’re moody people.
I am too.
When’s your birthday?
Holy shit, June 24. So I can get annoyed. Angry is a word. It’s different than throwing out orders. When I get nervous, meaning if I’m working and too many things are happening, I forget the good grace that I was given, and I say, “Do this. Don’t forget to call so and so. If they don’t answer, you better call me back.” … That’s not angry though. Disrespect. Disrespect gets me angry. If I feel disrespected I get angry, and I show it also. I’m not saying this because you’re a gay publication, but honest to God, the truth. Years before it became, “Oh everybody’s gay,” if anyone was derogatory about any group…living in Los Angeles for a long time, it’s still “the Mexicans”: “The Mexicans,” you know what that means. The gays, the Mexicans. I will stop them as they are speaking and say, “I don’t appreciate what you just said. You should not be saying that for any group; I don’t care what group it is.” That gets me angry. That gets me angry, because not everybody is caught up to everybody else, meaning society hasn’t caught up to certain people who have been enlightened before they were. The world is not ready for certain things, then they get ready for it and things become OK. Before Rosie and before Ellen … I mean, I’m in show business, so I’ve known gay people all my life. Gay people were always a part of my world. It’s a very different thing when you’re in our business, so that’s one thing. But people out there watching their television who hate all kinds of people saw Rosie not realizing she was gay. She was everybody’s girlfriend. Then she says she’s gay. “Oh, Rosie’s gay; that’s OK.” Then all of a sudden Ellen comes. Ellen, who was quite open about who and what she was, wins over the hearts of all her “girlfriends.” I say girlfriends because I think of it when I was playing Karen in “Knots Landing.” I always thought of myself as “every woman.” So everybody was my girlfriend. We’re all girlfriends. I truly believe that the movement this country has made has in a large part to do with average, everyday people watching the Ellens of the world, who came into their home and talked like us. They were funny and had respect for other people. “Oh, they’re gay, I guess it’s OK.” That’s what happens, and we slowly catch up to where we should be.
What can we do to make you change places with Hillary? Because I think you’d be more fun.
Hillary can be fun. She probably can’t show it. OK, we have to get Hillary in there. I want a woman in that office!
I think it should be Hillary, because she’s a woman, and she’s “now.” We’re so ready for it. I voted for Obama, and I was thrilled to death when he got into office. It was historic. The first half-white President of the United States. First of all, presidents are stuck with the presidency. They can want to do so many things. They get certain things out which they can do, and that’s fabulous, and then the Congress tells them you can’t do what you want to do. I respect Hillary … and thought her as one who would be a great president. … She’s so bright. She’s going to be able to do whatever she can do. Let’s all stop, get out our Hillary t-shirts and elect the first woman president of these United States.
I hope people don’t hate me for saying that.
I am sure many Get Out! readers agree! So you’re going to be at 54 Below during Gay Pride month in June.
That’s our month!
Is there a personality or artist that you haven’t met that you wish to meet?
Oh, God, that’s a good question. You know, when you’re in this business as long as I’ve been, sometimes you think you’ve met people when you haven’t even met them. You see a familiar face that happens to be a major movie star and you go, “Hey, how are you?” It’s like you’ve met, but you’ve never met them before. I am very lucky; I’ve met so many people. Actually, I say in the show that I’m doing at 54 Below that “I’m so thrilled that I’m a celebrity.” Of course they know it’s comedy when I say it. But it is true, because what happens is you have the opportunity. I’ve met every president since Reagan on. I’ve met and actually talked to [them], and actually been at the White House.
I’m serious. I’ve met first ladies, and I have stories. I’ve met Al Pacino. How much better can that be? I’ve met incredible icons.
I think that is incredible
I have a Bill Clinton story. Bill Clinton, I sang for [him] once. It was honoring Bill Clinton, and it was at Carnegie Hall. It was raining, and I was wearing velvet. My car was outside, but of course the president always leaves the building before you do. So I’m in the hallway, and he walks by, all six feet-whatever of him. He stops, and he turns, and he appreciates the blue dress I’m wearing. He looks at me and says, “Can I take you out?” OMG! I couldn’t believe it, in front of all the guys. I said, “Oh, I thought you were going out with an ambassador?” He said, “No, I mean it’s raining, can I take you to your car?” How about that for a foot in my mouth? Do you believe that? He was pointing to an umbrella.
How embarrassing! That is so funny. Have you written a book yet?
You need to.
One of the songs in my show is “I Could Write a Book,” and you’re hitting it on the head. So at the end of it I say to the audience, “I could write a book, but I won’t, cause I’m chicken.” That’s why I say I’m thrilled to be a celebrity, because there are so many things I could put in a book, but I’m not writing a book, so I’ll tell you a couple of stories. That’s how the show goes, with stories like I just told you.
You are a blast!
You know, I was honored by my friend Sandra Bernhard, who actually put it in black and white. She said that she thought that I was the most naturally funny person she’s known.
I never knew that you were funny, and you’re so funny!
Well, people don’t know that, because they only knew me from acting a certain role. But laughing has saved my life. There is no question about it. Through good and bad, I laugh at everything, sometimes inappropriately. But I also hide a lot of shit. My brother and I are both the same. We’re just almost slapstick silly.
Isn’t that fun though?
I know you have to be serious sometimes, though.
I am, because I’m also a businesswoman. In my head there’s someone who is very down to earth and can understand when, why and how certain things work, in terms of contracts, of meeting of the minds, putting egos aside. I was blessed with the ability to do that, and at the same time I have a very healthy ego. We all pay our dues, whether we’re in this business or not. As they say in “Death of a Salesman,” respect must be paid.
If you were a new addition to a crayon box, what color would you be?
It would be like a violet, but we’ve seen violet, so how can I say violet? It’s got to be one they’ve never seen. Like a violet pink with sparkle, with a glow.
If we were to look into your heart right now, what would we find?
Compassion: the ability to walk in somebody else’s shoes, feel what they’re feeling, looking out from their eyes, seeing their view.
You’ve done so many things in your career. Is there something that you still wish to do?
I’ve been longing to be a hairdresser. I used to do my mother’s hair all the time. When I went to New York the first time, she said, “I’m not just losing a daughter, I’m losing my hairdresser.” So if I had to do something else, I’d do something with the head. I’d either be a psychiatrist or a hairdresser!
This was the funniest, most fun interview I ever did.
You know what, this was fun. I like to have an interview that I can laugh with.