Sally Struthers called seven minutes late, apologizing for her tardiness.
"I was mopping the kitchen floor and I got carried away."
I've been interviewing performers for several years now at The Gazette, but that's a new one. Not the fact that she apologized for being tardy, but that the Emmy-winning actress was mopping her own floor and admitted it.
Struthers spoke frankly and with humor throughout the half-hour we chatted over the phone Tuesday. She was in Los Angeles over the holidays with five more days off before she "got back on the big blue bus" and headed out on the "Nunsense" 25th anniversary tour. Struthers plays Mother Superior, who stages a variety show to raise money to bury the four dead nuns in her freezer. The show debuts in Billings on Monday at the Alberta Bair Theater.
I've always looked up to Struthers for her iconic role as the smart-mouthed, socially conscious Gloria, the daughter of the Queens bigot Archie Bunker in the 1970s TV show "All in the Family." The show paired social issues with sarcasm to help us laugh at our own prejudices. Archie was played by the late Carroll O'Connor, who attended the University of Montana.
Struthers lamented the fact that television shows today are too timid to take on hefty social issues.
"The powers that be don't seem to find social awareness to be good fodder for television anymore. Other than an occasional skit on 'Saturday Night Live,' I don't see anything that makes social or political commentary the way 'All in the Family' did."
Here are a few things I learned from Struthers, who grew up in Portland, Ore., in the 1960s:
• She would have been a doctor like her dad, but she hated the idea of dissecting cadavers.
"I couldn't even cut up a frog in school."
• Her laughter is integral to her personality. When she spoke about "Nunsense," Struthers said hilarity ensues when the sisters put on their show in the school gym. And I believed her.
• As a youngster, Struthers used to pretend that she was a TV performer because making people laugh was the most important aspect of her life.
"My mother told people 'Sally was born with funny.' When the TV would go on the fritz and the repairmen would come and take the insides out and just leave this hole in a cabinet, I'd get in there with puppets and dolls and put on a show."
• Her nun's habit in "Nunsense" is brutally hot.
"I'm always running hot, a degree or two above normal people. So the trick is just to get out there and act as cool as a cucumber when I'm so hot there's a trickle of sweat rolling down to my chin. Now I know why the nuns have such a bad reputation; they were just uncomfortable."
• Struthers has what she calls a funny voice. It can go shrilly high or become husky.
"The phone rings at five in the afternoon. There are three things that people say: Did I wake you? You're not well? Are your parents at home?"
• Struthers doesn't act her age and is most comfortable around children.
"Up until 12 years ago when my mom died, she'd give me a toy for Christmas every year. She'd put a card with it that said, 'Don't forget the child within.' People get so caught up in thinking 'I'm an adult, I have to be serious,' they forget how to have fun."
There was one topic Struthers wouldn't discuss, the "South Park" spoofs of her and her work with the Christian Children's Fund - spoofs that Struthers called "cruel." She'd rather applaud other celebrities getting involved in good causes.
"It's important for anyone who gets a voice, whether they're heard for five minutes or a lifetime, to pick a cause, be a squeaky wheel. I support anyone who reaches out, that helps any child or adopts an animal from a pound, or donates books to a library, or reads to a blind person. Be part of the community, be part of the world. It's a great antidote to your own problems."