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Pamela Ferdin Interviewed

Pamelyn Ferdin’s acting credits are so lengthy, so varied, that even she can’t remember them all. Rushed as she was during the 1960s and '70s from one TV studio to the next, Ferdin appeared on “The Brady Bunch,” “Star Trek,” “The Odd Couple,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and the list goes on and on.
She racked up plenty of off-camera credits as well, leading her recognizable rasp of a voice to animated roles in “Charlotte’s Web,” “Sealab 2020,” “The Cat in the Hat” and “Play It Again, Charlie Brown.”
Ferdin walked away from the Hollywood grind in the 1980s, studying to become a nurse and taking up the role of animal protector. Her fight for animal rights twice landed her in jail.
After about 10 years away from the cameras, Ferdin is attempting a comeback, with only slight success so far. She will appear in two documentaries this year, owing more to her animal rights agenda than to her acting skill: “Pets on Your Plate” and “Your Mommy Kills Animals.”
But for a generation of boys who grew up in the '60s and '70s, Ferdin’s return to acting can’t come soon enough.
TVparty contributor L. Wayne Hicks caught up with Ferdin by phone, where the self-described “sweet girl next door” reflected on her acting career and a childhood spent working.
Q: I used to see you on everything. I don't think I knew your name. You were just the girl on the all the shows.
A: You know, I really was the busiest actress. There was never anybody before me that had three series going on at the same time. My agent at the time, who was like the biggest either child or young adult agent in Hollywood, said that not only was I her busiest client but there were times when I was the busiest actor regardless of age, I was doing so many things at the same time. I was that girl that people might not remember my name, but they remember seeing my face (laughs) on one thing or another.
Q: Well, you have an unusual name that people may or may not remember.
A: Right. Well, you know, it's interesting. Some people do remember my name. But other people remember my voice. A lot of people say, “Oh, my gosh, when you talk I remember who you are.”
Q: And you look like you used to. You haven't changed.
A: It's interesting. People say that. I really do look the same. I look older, but basically my features and my voice and my personality have pretty much stayed the same (laughs). I don't know if that's good or bad.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I actually grew up in Los Angeles, right under the Hollywood sign. I mean literally we could see it from our backyard.
Q: Growing up in Hollywood, did you dream of being an actress?
A: I never dreamed of being an actress. I didn't even want to be an actress. I was too little to know who I was at the time because I was about 2. My mom just put me in the business. She made my decision for me because I was able to memorize lines so well and I couldn't read obviously, because I was only 2. She was able to just tell me the lines and repeat them for me and I would memorize the whole script. Somebody saw me when I was doing a little play and they said oh you should put your child in the business, the acting business, and that's how it all started. I was doing a little local play. I think it was called “The Little Christmas Tree” or something like that.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was a Breck commercial. Shampoo. I played one of the daughters of this golden-haired mother. I was one of her three golden-haired children.
Q: Did you like that experience?
A: Yeah. I did. I sure did. Like I said, I was so young. Do you know how you felt when you were two and a half or three? It's just really hard to know and to remember what I was feeling at the time. That's a hard one to answer. I didn't even realize it was a set or anything. It was just very interesting.
Q: So you obviously weren't throwing tantrums at doing more work.
A: No. No. No. I wasn't one to throw tantrums. I was very obedient. My mother was very strict and highly critical and a real taskmaster, so no I would never ever throw a tantrum or say anything contrary to anybody.
Q: Even if you didn't want to do it, you'd go along with it?
A: Right. I could never contradict my mother. I just did what I was told.
Q: What was your childhood like? Was it working, working, working?
A: Yes. I was constantly working. I didn't even have friends my own age. All I can remember is working. I was doing two and three jobs at a time. Yeah. That's pretty much my whole childhood. I did spent a lot of time alone -- well, not a lot of time because I didn't have a lot of free time -- but the time I did have free I would just kind of go off. I'm a pretty contemplative private person and even though people that know me on a superficial level are always thinking you're so happy and you're so bubbly: I guess I am when I'm talking to people that I don't really know -- but in my personal life I'm just very private and I like a lot of quiet time. I would go off with my dog and that's the way I spent any free time I had. If I wasn't doing that, then I was working.
Q: Were your friends when you were a child actors as well?
A: You know, I really didn't have that many friends because I was surrounded by adults. So they were more like family members to me when I get to know them on a set and they would kind of take care of me and be my surrogate parents. I didn't have that many friends.
Q: Do you regret that now?
A: Do I regret that? That's a tough question. I really can't answer that. I don't know.
Q: Because that's the way you know your life. It would be hard to know it otherwise.
A: Right. Exactly.
Q: Well, do you regret having spent so much time acting?
A: I'd have to answer that question the same way as the first one because I don't know any other life, you know what I'm saying. My life is my life and I just accept it. I don't know what it would have been like or how I would have turned out if I would have had more time to pursue things like normal children. I don't know what profession I would have ended up going into or what. So I really can't answer that question.
Q: It seems like you were on every show back then. Were there not that many child actors or were you just the cream of the crop?
A: Well, I think I just got most of the things I went out on because I was smart. I was a good little trouper and I was easy to work with and I took direction well. I wasn't spoiled. I didn't have temper tantrums. I was just very focused and when I would go to work, even as a little tiny girl, I just was focused on what I had to do and I would take in everything that people told me -- all the information as to what they expected of me, how they wanted me to read the line -- and I would just do it. I just had a knack at a very young age and I think adults were really kind of impressed with that and they just kept hiring me and hiring me for everything.
Q: Were there roles you didn't get?
A: Oh, I'm sure. Yeah. There were plenty of roles I didn't get. I went out on so many that some I got and some I didn't get. Most I got, though. Most of the interviews that I went out on, I usually got the part. Also there were roles I couldn't go out on because I was working so a lot of it was conflict. Whenever I was working I couldn't go out on any other interviews.
Q: Did it bother you when you didn't get a role?
A: Mmm, not really. I think it bothered my mother more than me. I think it bothered me because I knew that my mom was disappointed and I felt badly that she was unhappy, but I was just doing what I was told and going along with the flow. So I wasn't really in any position to make any decisions. I just did what my mother and all the rest of the people wanted me to do and I tried to do the best job I could. That was really it.
Q: Was your mother an actress, too?
A: No, she wasn't an actress.
Q: She just thought you had enough talent that you should try it?
A: I guess so.
Q: I came across a Web site, There are pages of fan mail. There's letter after letter about crushes on you.
A: (laughs) Yeah.
Q: You inspired a lot of crushes. Why do you think that was?
A: I think it was an age when we were just all watching television. It was era when there were only a few different channels on so unlike today where you have hundreds of choices at any given moment, then you basically had the three or four basic channels. I think people saw me. I came into their home and they got to know me. I was their age. I was kind of growing up with them. I just played the sweet girl next door. I think that's why people, boys and girls, felt really close to me.
Q: Did you get a lot of fan mail back then?
A: Yeah. A lot.
Q: What sort of things would people write to you?
A: Everything. It just ran the gamut. They wanted to know what my life was like and what I did for fun, what kind of music I liked. Just everything. And telling me how much they liked me on television.
Q: Did you usually respond to them?
A: I tried to respond to them. I think I had somebody in the agency responding for me and then I would just sign an autographed picture to them. Or something like that. We worked it out different ways at different times, depending on how busy I was.
Q: One of the letters on this fan Web site says “Should I refer to myself as a Ferdinite, a Ferdophile or a Pamelynist?” Any idea which one is right?
A: Boy. Oh, boy. Boy. I would say just refer to me as who I am. A compassionate person. Basically that's what I want people to know me as, somebody that cares about making people happy and also making the other animals with whom we share the planet happy. I'd like them to know me as a compassionate caring individual that really believes that people need to look outside their own species and understand that we're all connected and that we have to treat other species with respect and with dignity. That's really how I'd like people to see me.

NEXT: Part Two of the interview with Pamelyn Ferdin!

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