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Charlotte Stewart Print-ready version

From 'Prairie' to 'Human Highway' to 'Twin Peaks,' The Actress Documents the Long and Winding Road of Her Remarkable Life and Career in New Autobiography

by Paul Freeman
Pop Culture Classics
August 2016

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Actress Charlotte Stewart has had a remarkable career. And an even more remarkable life.

Many TV fans revere Stewart for her role as schoolmarm Miss Eva Beadle on "Little House on the Prairie." Others adore her for playing Betty Briggs in "Twin Peaks." Horror film fans remember her fondly for portraying Nancy Sterngood in "Tremors." And Elvis Presley aficionados recall her from "Speedway." In "Cheyenne Social Club," she appeared opposite James Stewart and Henry Fonda.

Originally from Yuba City, Ca., Stewart attended the Pasadena Playhouse and was hired to walk around Disneyland as the park's first Alice In Wonderland. She landed roles in tons of classic TV series, including "Bachelor Father," "My Three Sons, "Bonanza," "The Waltons," "McMillan and Wife" and "Then Came Bronson." She even had a stint in "The Young and the Restless."

Stewart married "My Three Sons" star Tim Considine, who had been a Disney star in "Spin and Marty," "The Hardy Boys" and "The Shaggy Dog." (and though the couple went through a devastating divorce, they later became close friends again).

While living in Laurel Canyon, she befriended such musical icons as Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. With a creative pal, Stewart opened The Liquid Butterfly, a boutique featuring trendy clothes she made herself. It became an in spot.

A wild child in the late 60s and early 70s, she enjoyed sexual escapades that included Mike Connors, Jon Voight, Richard Dreyfuss, Michael Parks, Ralph Waite, Chad Everett and composer Johnny Mandel. She went on memorable excursion up the coast to Hearst Castle with Jim Morrison, whom she has described as "a buddy with benefits."

She etched herself indelibly into the minds of cult fans, when she played Mary X, the mother of a mutant child, in David Lynch's 1977 surrealistic debut, "Eraserhead." But Stewart was also making a lasting impression in the wholesome "Little House" series.

That show provided financial security at last... or so it seemed. But Stewart was ruining herself with vodka and drugs. The man managing her money fell into a cocaine spiral himself and burned through his clients' funds. Stewart, who had survived an earlier suicide attempt, was penniless and, at one point, resorting to smoking crack.

But, unlike her friend Jim Morrison, Stewart was not doomed to tragedy. Resilient, blessed with inner strength, she pull herself out of the self-destruction, went into recovery and thrived. Even her breast cancer and years of caregiving and grieving for her third husband couldn't crush her.

And with 1990's "Twin Peaks," Stewart celebrated one of her greatest successes. She's now revisiting it, as the show returns as a limited Showtime series in 2017. Like Betty Briggs, Stewart's optimism can't be vanquished. She makes and sells patchwork "Beadle Bags," with photos of Miss Beadle on them, raising money for a post-surgical program serving fellow cancer survivors.

Another recent surprise was the digitally remixed and restored release on DVD and Blu-Ray of another cult classic featuring Stewart - the phantasmagorical, anti-nuclear, satirical 1982 sci-fi musical "Human Highway." Co-written and co-directed by Neil Young (under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), this previously rarely seen work also stars Young, Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper, Sally Kirkland and the band Devo.

All of Stewart's on and off-screen adventures have been documented in entertaining and enlightening fashion in her candid new autobiography, "LITTLE HOUSE IN THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS: A Bad Girl's Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me" (Bear Manor Media), written with Andy Demsky. And ultimately, it's a truly inspirational tale.

Neil Young said of Stewart's book, "I didn't know Miss Beadle knew so much about sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll!"

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
How did you come to the decision to write the autobiography?

CHARLOTTE STEWART:
My co-writer, Andy Demsky, had been after me for quite a while. I live in Napa, in Northern California. I moved here nine years ago. My late husband, at the time, was ill and had emphysema and I just thought, "Gotta get out of Los Angeles and move to some place with better air in it. And as it turned out, I moved closer to my sister and brother, which was great. In the long run, it was really beneficial to all of us. And I met Andy Demsky.

And nobody in Napa knew me, knew I was an actress or anything. I'd basically retired for the time being. But we'd sit at a Starbuck's and I'd tell him stories and whatever. And he said, "You should write a book." [Laughs] I went, "No way! Maybe these are fun stories for people in a small town. But nobody's going to be interested in reading it." He said, "I think you're wrong." And so went met every two weeks and had coffee and he encouraged me more and more to kind of be real. You know what I mean? I didn't need to be entertaining. This new friend just wanted to know - who are you? Why did you choose do the things you chose to do?

And it surprised me even, when I started pulling threads. I started telling little stories and realized that it led back somewhere that was maybe more important than I thought it was. That was surprising to me. And then, later on, as my confidence grew, and my confidence in him as a writer grew, it was easier and easier to get to the stuff that was hard. And I never ever intended to tell anybody some of these stories I had never told anybody. But it became easy, because he was my friend, because he was interested, and told me that it was important.

So the places that I stumbled, I was able to look at again and say, "Oh, okay. I get that." And those times when I made bad decisions, he let me know it was okay, that I wasn't alone. And that these things were important to talk about. So the whole thing was surprising to me. I thought, if people would be interested at all, they would be interested in the people I had worked with or the men I had in my life, stuff like that, the more showy stuff. But Andy said, "No, it's what happened in between." So I trusted him.

PCC:
And the process was cathartic?

STEWART:
It was. And even some of the stuff that I knew would be cathartic was more than I ever anticipated - the various deaths that I experienced, my Mom, my Dad, David [her third husband]. And it really allowed me to reexamine. And I found so much humor in it. That was surprising. I really didn't know that I would come out the other side realizing that I had a funny life, that I had an ironic life. Some of the things I experienced, I would stumble into things. And I think I quoted my friend Mickey Fox [who appeared with her in "Human Highway"] in the book. She used to say, "Charlotte, you could fall down a manhole and come up with a set of dishes. That's just who you are." And I totally get it.

One of the things I realized, I had done so many different roles, not always very big, just consistent, one after another, one show to another, one movie to another. And I realized it's because I never said "no" to anybody. I never said, "Let me think about it" [laughs]. It never occurred to me to think, "Hmm, maybe that wouldn't be the best thing for me to do." I did them all. And they paid off. I met fabulous people. I had some great adventures. I tried things that I wouldn't have thought possible. Like the film I did with Neil Young - "Human Highway." You haven't by chance seen it, have you?

PCC:
I have, actually.

STEWART:
Oh, you have!?

PCC:
Yes, the new DVD release. Very trippy film.

STEWART:
I am so glad, because it's difficult to explain to people how different that role was for me. Different from anything else anybody had allowed me to do. You know what I mean? It was crazy. It was simple. It was loving. And it was just delightful. And Neil allowed me to just do it, create it. And I had so much fun. I can say, quite frankly, that was the most fun I've ever had, because I got to be Charlotte Goodheart all day long, for like a month.

PCC:
And you had an opportunity sing.

STEWART:
I got to sing! Who would have thought?

PCC:
And Neil, was he totally in command of his cinematic vision?

STEWART:
He was. You know, he was working with Russ Tamblyn and Dean Stockwell, who were totally professionals. They had been working since they were children. And Neil hadn't. Neil wasn't an actor and never pretended to be. But I think, in the same way I was able to play Charlotte Goodheart - because somewhere, deep inside me, that's who I was, trusting and loving and sweet, in my very deepest part - Neil was a real dweeb. That's who he really saw himself as. He wasn't a rock star. He was a guy who liked trains and was kind of simple about everything... and trusting. And believed in the good of people. And I think that's where he really, really enjoyed himself on that.

The part of the film that's in the middle of "Human Highway" was kind of the first attempt to make the movie. It was a road show. And he saw it and that wasn't enough. It didn't work for him. So with my friend Jeanne Field, who was of the producers, he came up with this idea of a story and then putting a dream sequence in the middle, where he was basically Neil Young, rock star. But in his real heart, he was Lionel Switch, garage mechanic [laughs].

PCC:
There were some great, bizarre musical numbers in there with Neil and Devo.

STEWART:
There were! Devo being the nuclear garbage collectors. I know there were a lot of in-jokes. I saw a lot more in there.

PCC:
It must be gratifying to see the film getting this new release.

STEWART:
Oh, it's fun! It's totally different from the first version I saw. Neil cut it way back. He cut it way, way, way, way down. And I think it needed that a great deal. But I was excited that Cameron Crowe liked it, that he thought it was really good and was interested in being part of the whole revival. And it was fun getting back together with everybody. And then Neil gave me that great quote for my book! I so appreciated that. He just did that, basically, because he was a friend. And, I don't know, maybe I caught him at the right moment [laughs].

PCC:
You mention in the book that there was a point where you wondered whether your career had really had any true meaning. And then Alison Arngrim [Nellie Oleson on the series] introduced you to this world of "Little House" enthusiasts. That must have been quite an epiphany.

STEWART:
Well, it was. I had no idea. I had gotten used to people basically saying, "Oh - that show." Because I lived in Los Angeles and it wasn't very hip. And I was never embarrassed by it, because I knew there were people around the world, or at least all around the United States, that liked it. But I had no idea. And it all happened after the series. The Laura Ingalls Wilder museums across the country, mostly in the U.S. picked up on the show, which had become very popular, and started inviting the cast of the show back to their museums to meet fans. And now it's become a yearly thing. We go all around the country every year.

I just got back from France two days ago. I was in the south of France, where they had a "Little House" event. "Le Petite Maison Dans La Prairie," the show is called. It was in Toulon. Yeah, my husband and I were in France for 10 days. And it was very popular there. Toulon is a small town. It's a seaport and quite nice. And it blew my mind - we were invited to a restaurant in Toulon, by the owner, who knew we were in town. And there were four of us from the cast, plus spouses and people who were putting the event on. We were all invited. And they hired security for us. We had three FBI agents as our security. I was like, "What!?" [Laughs] Who cares about the cast of "Little House on the Prairie"? But they felt like we were that visible in France. So you never know.

PCC:
Why do you think the show does still make such a strong connection with viewers?

STEWART:
Oh, gosh, you know, with everything that's been going on in the world, for the past 10 years or so, maybe a little more, I think people love the idea that life was simple at one time. And Pa was good and hard-working and Ma was good and hard-working. The kids were good. And who the hell has that kind of a home life now, anyway? I think they just wish it could be that way. I doubt that it ever will be. But I think that's what the draw is.

Now, in France, and this is what I discovered, why we're so popular, is that, for many, many, many years, everybody goes home for lunch at noon. Whether you're in school or the office or wherever you are, you go home for lunch, with the Mom and Dad and Grandma or whoever. And at 12 o'clock every day, "Little House on the Prairie" is on. So every day, every family in France, for years, for probably 30 years, has been watching "Little House on the Prairie." So, all of a sudden, we're this huge thing in France. I'm just talking about France, but it happens here, too.

I meet people all the time who watched "Little House" in Kansas or the Midwest or God knows where, with their grandparents or their parents. On a Monday night at eight o'clock, you sat down and watched "Little House on the Prairie." And they grew up and their kids started watching it with them. And now they're grandparents. And I meet these people all the time, who literally grew up with "Little House on the Prairie." And it's become part of the memory of their childhood.

You hear about all these awful things going on, all over the world, I wish there was some way we could stop it and tell people to be sane and loving and all. But it's not going to stop. So we sit down at whatever it may be, 10 o'clock in the morning on the Hallmark Channel, and we watch "Little House on the Prairie" [laughs].

PCC:
And feel better. And you've heard from people who were inspired to go into education from watching the show and because of your character.

STEWART:
All the time. All the time. And I tell them, "Thank you. But it wasn't me. It was Michael Landon. He was the one who literally created this. Miss Beadle was not in the books. She was mentioned once. In one book, she's mentioned when Laura and Mary go to school. And all it says is that she was pretty and that she smelled good. [Laughs] So I get tons of Lemon Verbena, all the time. So Michael literally went with the character and stuck her in there for four years, God bless him. And he was the boss. He guided the storylines. I mean, he had writers and other directors. But he knew his audience.

"Bonanza" showed him a great deal about what people wanted for their television shows. They didn't necessarily want shoot-em-ups or whatever else is on. He knew they wanted some kind of family entertainment. And he was absolutely right. And then he went on to do "Highway to Heaven," which was another one about goodness and helping people. He did it again. He played an angel. I have to thank him for anything that I get from the audiences or the fans - it was all because of Mike.

PCC:
It was nice that he brought you back for a "Highway to Heaven" episode.

STEWART:
He did! I know! And my character's name was Cindy, which was his wife's name. So I think he had something to do with that. It wasn't a big part. But it was fun.

PCC:
At the beginning, studying at the Pasadena Playhouse, when your first critique was heartlessly disparaging, what kept you going?

STEWART:
You mean after the humiliation of someone telling me, "You don't have it. You should go home"? Well, I couldn't go home. I wasn't going to tell my parents what the teacher said. And it wasn't like I had to take my grades home and have my mother sign my report card. So I just stayed. And thank God, the next part they put me in was something I could understand. I didn't understand the Greek classics, for God's sake. And so it was lucky that I got into something that was a girl like me, who talked like me, kind of looked like me, whatever. And, of course, I made huge progress [laughs].

And then, I think, just the fact of the way the school was run, this was an all-day school. There were classes in the morning - history of the theatre, drama, television, history of the European theatre, dance, all kinds of things. And then, in the afternoon, you were assigned to a play, whether you were acting in it or stage-managing or working with the director. And at night, you were always in a play of some kind. So you were doing three projects at once, plus your homework from all your other shows. And I just dug in. And I think by osmosis, I learned. I just worked and worked and worked.

And then by the time I got my first audition - it was a very cheap movie - I think the original name was "VD." It was paid for by like the State of California Education Department or something. It was a teenage love story with a little educational film in the middle about how not to get v.d. But then they changed it to "Damaged Goods" and released it as a kind of a regular movie. And God bless my Dad. He went every single night to the local drive-in, when it played there. Sat there in his pickup truck.

I was playing Judy, the most effervescent ingenue you could ever imagine, just absolutely giddy with enthusiasm. The fact is, I looked 17 or 18 until I was 30. I had long blonde hair. We got into the 60s and that's what everybody wanted. And then the hippie look. And I had that. And I just seemed to go with the times. And I don't think I really worked that hard for my career. It's just that I never said no. I never said no to anything. My agent sent me out for auditions and I would go and they would say, "Great. You start Monday." And I would go, "Really!? Okay."

I did a lot of those ingenue kind of parts for a long time. I didn't play anything heavier until, gosh, I did a "Hawaii-Five-O" and played a drug addict. And then on "McMillan and Wife," I played some kind of scammer woman. Why they gave me those parts, I have no idea. But I just kept doing one after another, one after another until, one day, I got an audition for "Little House."

And Mike, "Bonanza" wasn't really his show. He was the heartthrob of the show. But I'm sure he watched every show. And I did three "Bonanza" episodes. I played three different characters on "Bonanza." And maybe he remembered me from that and said, "Let's have her in."

In my audition for "Little House," I totally took over the room. Totally instinct! It could have been the most disastrous decision I'd ever made, but I just made it on the spur of the moment. I walked in the room and saw the producer, Ed Friendly, who I didn't know, sitting behind this great big desk. And then five men sitting in chairs around the room. And just on instinct, I sat behind his desk to do the audition. And none of the other actresses had done that. But I did. And maybe that's how they saw me as the teacher in control. Because I sat down and told them all to be quiet [laughs].

And then as I walked out, I thought, "Oh, shit. I just made the worst decision ever." All the other ladies in the waiting room, the other actresses, were all dressed in costume. They were all in western dress, like bonnets and all of that thing. And I never did that. I always believed that, if they couldn't picture me in costume, as the character, then I wasn't what they were looking for. It just didn't occur to me to go in costume. I had never done that.

PCC:
One of your early roles was on "The Loretta Young Show." What sort of interaction did you have with her?

STEWART:
Oh, I didn't like her at all. I was impressed that I was going to be on "The Loretta Young Show." The first episode I did, she was not in. And I didn't see her there. Audrey Totter, she played my mother. She's an actress who always played drunks, although she never touched a drop in her life. She was just a really good actress.

And the next show I did was with Loretta Young. And she did not give me the time of day. She was very aloof. We would go in, we would walk through a scene together, we would shoot it. She would just walk away. I expected her to say, "Oh, Charlotte, that was really good." You know? I thought that's what people should do, say something like, "Oh, that was delightful." None of that. Absolutely none of that. So I just stepped back and went, "Huh, that's interesting."

PCC:
She was the grande dame?

STEWART:
Yeah! I think it was her decision to go sweeping into the room. At the beginning of her show, she would always enter through a door with some gorgeous outfit on and introduce the show. But anyway, no, I didn't like her. And the other person that I never liked was Shirley MacLaine. She was a real bitch. Maybe she was having a bad day or whatever.

But you know, I always kept a job, from about 1980 all the through until 2007, when I moved here to Napa. I was working in a production facility. And I would save up my vacation days to do my acting jobs. And I would go off and do "Tremors" or do this show or that show. And when I did "Twin Peaks," I was still working in an office. I always supported myself. And I think that's kind of what kept the balance. And in the years when I went really off track, it's because I had nothing else. I wasn't being hired for jobs. And I was drinking too much. And I didn't have anything to do. But once I decided that I would support myself other than through acting, my life straightened out considerably.

PCC:
You did a few "Bachelor Father" episodes early on. What were your impressions of John Forsythe?

STEWART:
Oh, he was very nice. He was charming. And I was very young. He was very handsome. Just a nice guy. I didn't really think much about him.

PCC:
And then, while working on "My Three Sons," you got to see the softer side of the gruff William Frawley?

STEWART:
Oh, Bill!. Oh, Bill was so great. When I was a little kid, we used to watch "I Love Lucy." [Frawley played Fred Mertz] all the time. The show would come on, we didn't have a television, so we would go over to neighbor's house - Jack and Dodo, he was a plumber, and we would watch "I Love Lucy" at their house. And my Dad just loved it.

I did three different "My Three Sons." It was when Bill Frawley was still on the show. I just loved him. He was such a great old fart. My parents came to visit and there's a picture in my book of my Mom and Dad and then me with Bill Frawley. And that was the highlight of my Dad's life, literally. I scored so big [laughs]. My Dad was always the most supportive of me, in every way that you could imagine. But that capped it. And Bill took us all to lunch. And he and my Dad had whisky shots. And they just got along famously [laughs].

PCC:
Later, working with Elvis, you got to see a more sensitive side of the King?

STEWART:
I did. I didn't really know what he was going to be like. When I found out I had gotten that part, I was 24, maybe 25 years old, wasn't that far out of high school, so I remembered how big he was. I hadn't really gone to a lot of his movies, because they were kind of corny. And this one ["Speedway"] was, too. It was really corny. But I got there and I was impressed, because people like Elvis Presley or Michael Landon, nobody else is visible within 50 feet. They just are so luminous, not only because they're famous, but because they had that special something, that indescribable light that just shines on them.

And he was so sweet and so nice. And I write in the book that he pulled up a chair for me, sat me down next to him. He took my hand. He talked to me for about an hour, while they were setting up different lighting or whatever. And first he apologized for this movie being so horrible. He said, "I don't even read these scripts anymore. I don't know what they're about. I get the car, I get the girl and I sing a song."

And then he talked to me about his Mom. And I'm sitting there the whole time, he's holding my hand, I'm thinking, "Holy shit! Elvis Presley is holding my hand! [Laughs] Oh, my God!" But I was very calm outwardly.

PCC:
You made so many musical friends when you were living in Laurel Canyon. Joni Mitchell, what impressed you most about her?

STEWART:
Oh, that was so nice. She hadn't been out here that long. And my husband, Tim Considine, from "My Three Sons," had become a photographer. After his career kind of waned, he took up the camera and he became a really good photographer of rock shows and things like that. And he had done some pretty amazing pictures of Joni at The Troubadour and at different places where she had played. And, in fact, he did the cover of her album "Blue." And it's quite amazing.

So I became friends with Joan through her manager, Elliot Roberts [music manager and record executive, a key figure in the careers of artists like Buffalo Springfield, The Cars, Devo and The Eagles; helped David Geffen form Asylum Records]. After Tim and I split up, I started seeing Elliot. So Joni and Elliot lived two houses apart in Laurel Canyon. And I would spend a lot of my time at Joan's house, just hanging out. In fact, the way I wear my hair today, the bangs - she cut my bangs. I had that long hair, parted in the middle, hippie style. And she sat me down one day and she said, "You need bangs." And she just took a pair of scissors. And I've worn it like that to this day, with bangs.

PCC:
And you still have one of her paintings?

STEWART:
She gave me a painting, yeah. It was one of the four covers of "Ladies of the Canyon." And in those days, she didn't drive. And she had moved out from New York, out of Saskatchewan, and so I would take her wherever she wanted to go. And her mother had come to town and we would go do things. And my mother would come to town and both our mothers, Joan and I would go out to lunch or do shopping or something.

And so I would take her to The Troubadour. And that's how I became friends with Neil and other people in rock 'n' roll, because I was part of the crowd. I was just part of their day-in, day-out people.

PCC:
Hanging out with people like Joni, Neil, Crosby, Stills and Nash, did you ever toy with the notion of recording an album yourself?

STEWART:
Oh, God no. [Laughs] No. Never. In fact, I didn't even go to concerts. I went to a David Bowie concert many, many, many years ago. But I had never been to a concert where I sat in the audience. I was always with somebody backstage or helping or something. So a lot of my friendships were around my store, The Liquid Butterfly [a hippie clothing boutique] or in each other's homes.

PCC:
You mentioned Tim - in that marriage, was it difficult having to live up to the wholesome image the two of you had early in your careers?

STEWART:
Oh, I don't know. Tim and long since let go of that. He started growing his hair long. We got married in 1965. By the time we got back from Europe, that Christmas, the change had already happened, at the end of the 60s. The Beatles, long hair, smoking a lot of grass had come in, hippies, the war, all of those changes that were so significant at the end of the 60s and the early 70s, were all a part of our lives. Everybody that we knew was now wearing long hair and fringe jackets. It changed. Everything changed. And there was no wholesome image anymore. I had it, when I would get the parts that I got. I would go home in my bellbottoms and my T-shirt and my beads [laughs] and all of that.

I did a couple of commercials where they actually had me wear my own stuff - my long hair in multiple braids, my little granny glasses that I ended up wearing on "Little House on the Prairie." And lots of beads and sandals and bellbottoms. I was a sign of the times.

PCC:
Another sign of the times, your road trip with Jim Morrison. What do you think it meant to him?

STEWART:
Well, I think it was the escape he was looking for at the time. I never saw him sing. Never. I, of course, knew who he was. And he knew a lot of the people I knew. That's why he was hanging out around my store and my building. And we became friends - I would be along with maybe several other people, when we went to lunch. Jim would be there. And then a couple of times, he would say, "You want to go get a drink?" In the middle of the day, of course. And I'd leave the store and we'd walk down the street to one of the restaurants and hang out for a while. And we became friends.

I think he trusted me. I didn't want anything from him. I mean, I was impressed that it was Jim Morrison - in those days, who wasn't? I think he just needed a friend at that time. He was facing a lot of really ugly stuff. The possibility of going to jail was serious. They were going to send him back to Florida to stand trial for this obscenity charge or whatever else was involved.

I don't know the particulars. I didn't ask him. The only thing I asked him was,"Did you do it?" Did he expose himself on stage? He said, "You know what? I don't know. Probably did." Because he was very, very drunk at that concert. They'd had a layover in Texas. The plane was late. And they got drunk by the time they got there. He doesn't even remember doing the show.

So he said, "Do you want to get out of town?" And I said, "Sure." So we rented a car. He picked me up and off we went. And we didn't really do anything but stop at bars, play pool, stay in motels, get up and go on to the next town. I took him to meet some friends of mine. I didn't say who he was, because they weren't in the music business. They didn't go to concerts. They didn't know who Jim was. They never asked. I never said. So he had complete anonymity on this trip. He didn't look like the Lizard King. He didn't look like Jim Morrison. He was a little overweight. He had a full beard. And nobody knew who he was. And it was perfect. And that's what he wanted. He just wanted some peace.

And it's funny, we'd been in Cambria just recently. And I ran into a friend and we had stopped at their house during that trip. My friend Peter Fels is a metal sculptor, who lived in Cambria. He's an interesting guy, an artist. So he and Jim went off to look at the metal sculpture and all of his workshop. And then we moved on. And I just ran into Peter a couple of months ago in Cambria, where my husband and I were doing a rock and mineral show. And I said, "Hey, Pete, remember when I came through with my friend?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Do you know that was Jim Morrison?" "No!" And that's exactly the way it was supposed to be.

PCC:
It seems so incongruous to have Jim Morrison, on a tour bus at Hearst Castle. It seems so bizarre.

STEWART:
I know. And there's a picture in the book. I have Super-8 film that I took. I had just bought the camera from Tim Considine, who had been my husband. And I took it with me on the trip. So I have shots of driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with Jim driving and then going to Hearst Castle. Just odd stuff.

PCC:
What was his reaction to the castle?

STEWART:
He thought it was pretty amazing. And I had told him about Tim's mother, Carmen Pantages, who was best friends with Marion Davies. So Tim had spent time there as a child. He had stayed there with his Mom and went swimming in the pool, which of course, you're not allowed anywhere near anymore. And Jim thought that was interesting. But really he was just interested in shooting pool and having a drink and talking, basically.

PCC:
But you were able to see his vulnerable side, the one unlike his wild image?

STEWART:
I didn't see the wild image at all. I never saw that. I saw a quiet guy who wanted to be left alone, who just wanted some peace and could tell some funny stories. And I guess I knew that's what he wanted, because after we got home, he dropped me off at my store and I never saw him again. He and Pam [Morrison's longtime companion, Pamela Courson] left for France a couple of months later. And that was it. I heard he had died.

PCC:
Did you sense that he was destined to become a tragic figure?

STEWART:
No, but I didn't think that he was going to live long, because he had rheumatic fever, as a child. So he had an enlarged heart. And you could see, when he drank, he turned beet red. Just absolutely beet red. So it seemed to me, if he was going to continue living like he lived... I never saw him do a drug. Ever. Never saw him smoke a joint. Never saw him do cocaine. Never saw him do anything. All we did on our adventures together was drink. And I kind of thought that was going to be the way that it would go.

And he was only 27. I didn't think he was going to live long. He was starting to put on weight. And there were all these incidents during the concerts where he would either fall off the stage or just pass out and not be able to go on. So when they said, "Oh, drug overdose in Paris," I don't think so. I think he died of an old heart.

PCC:
And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you worked with Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda on "Cheyenne Social Club."

STEWART:
[Laughs] Oh, yes, when I made a complete ass of myself with Henry Fonda. But Jimmy Stewart was so sweet and so pleasant. And I was still very young when I did that, well, under 30. And it was a very small part. But the fact is, when you're in a movie that big, you get to spend a lot of time around them. And Mr. Stewart was just as sweet as he could be, although it was a very sad time for him. His stepson had just been killed in Vietnam. So we kind of left him alone. But he was very sweet.

PCC:
And then the faux pas with Henry Fonda...

STEWART:
Oh, God! I don't know why I did that. In with the in crowd, I thought maybe it would be a hip thing to do - "Hey, Henry..." Although I didn't call him Henry. I called him Mr. Fonda. I said, "Can I speak to you for a minute?" He said, "Sure." So we stepped outside for a minute and I said, "Do you have a joint?" He said, "You have the wrong Fonda." And I realized what a dope I had made of myself. Quite a rude thing to do.

PCC:
And Gene Kelly directed that picture?

STEWART:
Gene Kelly was great. Gene Kelly was energetic, he was all over the place. He was so sweet. He was a wonderful director. There was a lot going on. In "Cheyenne Social Club," Jimmy Stewart inherits a whorehouse. So all the women in the movie were all in the whorehouse. I was the only woman who was in the other scenes, in the big restaurant, the big saloon. So I got to hang out all by myself with all the guys [laughs]. And in the scenes, there's all these character actors. You would know every single one of them. They were classic guys. So I had a great time. And Gene Kelly was just charming and wonderful. And he let me dance with him down the street, as we went to lunch one day.

PCC:
And then you worked with the great character actor Jack Elam on a "Texas Wheelers" episode.

STEWART:
Oh, yeah. Well, my friend Stuart Margolin directed that. And Jack Elam played the dad. And Mark Hamill and Gary Busey were the two sons. And it was the pilot, basically. But the scene was so funny. And Elam was a great character. The plot, Jack Elam is a shyster guy. He's the scam artist. And he had a watch that would only run for three minutes. And he wants to sell it. So I have a pawn shop. And before he walks through the door, he's got to hit the watch to get it going. And then he has three minutes to sell it, before the watch stops. [Laughs] Great premise. And Elam was wonderful in it.

You know, you watch people like this work, it's like having a front row seat to watch a great show. You know, he had that wandering eye, walleye, one eye would go in one direction and the other didn't. And he wasn't quite as crazy as he got to be later on. And Mark Hamill was just a sweet kid.

PCC:
And it was while you did "Little House" that you were also filming "Eraserhead"?

STEWART:
Well, I had almost finished "Eraserhead" by then. I had done a lot of it. And then, while I was doing "The Waltons" and "Little House," David [Lynch] would call me back in to pick up scenes or to do some kind of night thing. He only worked at night. We would start after midnight and work till dawn. And by that time, I'd have to run out to Burbank or Hollywood, depending what show I was working on, to get into wig and costume and go do that. It was a little crazy for a while.

Nobody ever heard of David Lynch in those days, because he was still a student filmmaker. By the time "Eraserhead" hit, I was almost off "Little House on the Prairie." So the cast, especially the kids, in "Little House," were very shocked to find out that I had been in "Eraserhead," when it played in the L.A. film festival.

PCC:
With shooting dragging on for years on "Eraserhead," you must have had blind faith in David's talent.

STEWART:
Like I say, I never said no to anything. I did student films. Of course, any of the other student films that I did, you never saw again, you never heard of the director. But he was a kid. And he was different. I got to respect him after we were in it for a long time. But I didn't expect it to really go anywhere. I just appreciated that he was a hard worker who had an inventive, artistic streak. He was willing to work very had and long to get it exactly the way he wanted. But I had no idea.

I didn't expect anything from it. In fact, years later, after he did "Elephant Man," he called me up and said, "I have something for you." And what he gave me was a check for the amount equivalent to minimum salary for the entire time I had been on "Eraserhead." He paid me. I had never been paid before for any of those crazy student films or independent things that never went anywhere. Nobody ever paid. He paid me every nickel.

PCC:
And then, after "Little House," having the difficult years...

STEWART:
Oh, it was all my own fault. Too much money and not enough to do. I married again. Crazy husband - who's a dear friend still - Jordan, who's a magician. And we both liked cocaine. And I didn't do a lot of work. And I just kind of destroyed myself for a while. And then my accountant got addicted to cocaine and managed to - I don't think he meant to, he was also a good friend, he meant to pay everybody back - but he got kind of hooked into spreading accounts around and switching money from one client to another. And then he couldn't that anymore and it all fell apart. And I lost my house and everything.

So then I really hit the bottom. And I didn't handle it very well. I didn't look for help. I just kept drinking and acting out. And it wasn't until I just got so physically ill from all of it that I put myself into a treatment program. And that was 1984.

PCC:
It must have been surreal to have that bit of your life turn up fictionalized in scene in the novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

STEWART:
Really, it was strange. It was very strange. And yet I just kept hiding out. I kept thinking that it would pass, but I wasn't doing anything to make myself better. And yes, "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was so weird [laughs]. By the time that book came out, I was already sober. I was in recovery and I was doing well. I had gotten a day job. I was staying with my friend Jeanne. And when I looked back and I read that in "Bonfire," I recognized it immediately.

And I called up my friend Erica Spellman, who was, and still is, a literary agent, and she's the one I'd been staying with when I went off on this dinner date, Anthony Haden-Guest [writer]. I said, "Do you think that was me?" She said, "Of course it was you!" [Laughs] "Oh, no!" I don't know, she had talked with the author, Tom [Wolfe]. But, yeah, it was crazy, my leaving [drunk, she had disappeared in the middle of an intimate dinner with Haden-Guest, Wolfe and his wife]. But that's the way I did things - when I couldn't think my way out of it, I would just leave.

PCC:
But you did have the strength and resilience to pull yourself through all of that and come out the other side.

STEWART:
Well, it wasn't just me. It was friends who didn't give up. And my family - my sister, my brother, who stood by me and let me know everything was fine and I'd be fine. And I was. For a long time... until my third husband, David passed away. And I was fine even through that. And then I just fell apart. But by that time, I'd established a network of friends who understood who I was and the way that I operated. And, you know what? I'm fine today.

PCC:
And you've shared the tribulations, as well as the good memories, in the book.

STEWART:
I decided I didn't need to shy away from what was the truth about my life. My father died of alcoholism. My whole family drank. My sister and brother are both in recovery. And a lot of my nieces and nephews. It kind of ran through my family. And you know, today, I'm just fine. I've just married again. I just turned 75. I'm a newlywed, basically. We're just celebrating a year together. And life is good.

PCC:
And the new "Twin Peaks."

STEWART:
Yes, the new "Twin Peaks." Andy talked me into ending the book, basically, except for a little p.s., with having David Lynch calling me and saying, "Hey, Char, are you ready to go to work?" It seemed like the perfect roundabout.

PCC:
From your perspective, what is the magic of David Lynch?

STEWART:
He just has this optimism. He is just one of the most joyful people I have ever met. And his set reflects that. People on the set enjoy being there. You don't find that tension, that grind that you find on a lot of sets, where everything's at stake. He's happy to be there. We're happy to be there. Just the fact that the whole cast refused to work for Showtime, unless David Lynch was back on it, I think pleased him a lot. We all made up little personal videos and said, "Without David, we're not there." So they weren't going to have a show anyway.

PCC:
It's mind-boggling that Showtime would even consider doing it without him.

STEWART:
I know! But I think because he knew what it was going to take financially to do the show he wanted to do, and they went, "Whoa! Too much money! We can't spend that kind of money!" And he said, "Okay, well then, I'm not doing it." And then they were going to do it some other way. And I got an email from Peggy Lipton. And somebody else got an email from me. And we circulated these emails and said, "Make a video, put it on Facebook and just say, 'Not doing it, not without David.'" I think I said, "'Twin Peaks' without David Lynch is like Abbott without Costello."

PCC:
And Betty Briggs, does she maintain her eternal optimism in the new show?

STEWART:
Betty, oh, yes. Yes. Oh, my God, I can't tell you anything more than that [due to a non-disclosure agreement]. But yes, her optimism does show through. [Laughs]

PCC:
And her trademark Happy Face button, that wasn't in the script, that was something you brought to the character?

STEWART:
It's a button that I had. I picked it up on the way to work that day. And I thought, if somebody wanted me to take it off, I would take it off. But nobody noticed, because it was the one scene where the entire cast was there. Everybody in Twin Peaks was at Laura Palmer's funeral. And the director, her name escapes me right now, did not notice. David wasn't there. Nobody else noticed. So I went ahead and wore it. And I don't even think there was a closeup of me. I think I was in the crowd. But the fans saw it. And I started getting all this artwork with Betty Briggs with the Happy Face button.

I was just up in Seattle a month ago and I took a whole bag of Happy Face buttons and I was selling my book up there. So if you bought a book, you got a Happy Face button.

PCC:
What do you think made the original series such a sensation?

STEWART:
Well, it broke a lot of molds. I think up until David Lynch did "Twin Peaks," no feature film director was even thinking about doing television. It was like a step backwards. And the fact that he did it and it was so provocative, from the beginning, the music, the storyline. You could not predict what the next week's show was going to be. You could not predict it. It did not follow those rules. And I think that intrigued people.

It became the water cooler show. It's like, I guess, "Game of Thrones" is now. Everybody goes, "Oh, did you see it last night?" And everybody was talking about it. And nobody had seen anything like it. And now, once again, the interest is up - what is he going to do now? He's taking basically the same cast 25 years later in the same town, back in Twin Peaks.

PCC:
Can't wait to see it.

STEWART:
I know! Me, too! [Laughs]

PCC:
You appeared in another classic series, "Then Came Bronson," with a "Twin Peaks" felllow cast member, Michael Parks. What are your recollections of him?

STEWART:
Oh, gosh. Well, I had a little fling with Michael Parks, when we were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Of course, I had a huge crush on him. He was so sexy. You know, he was the new James Dean. And I really think he shot himself in the foot after that series. I think he should have paid more attention to his career, because I think he turned down everything that was offered him. I don't think he should have done that, because you didn't see him in too much. And then, David puts him in "Twin Peaks." And I didn't even know he was in it.

And then David did that with a lot of people. A lot of the cast members in "Twin Peaks" really had strange backgrounds in the entertainment industry - soap operas and just all kinds of different things. David doesn't care what their background is. When he meets them, he never auditions. You don't see a script. And he just talks. And that's the audition. And if he thinks you've got something in you that reflects the character he wants you to play, then you've got the part.

PCC:
You had a number of old friends in the "Twin Peaks" cast?

STEWART:
Yes - Russ Tamblyn, Jack Nance [her "Eraserhead" co-star]. Jack Nance and I were sharing a house together at the time. We were roommates, literally... again. Back when I had fallen completely apart and put myself in treatment, I wouldn't say we were roommates, I was staying at his apartment... in a building that I had used to own! And I had lost in bankruptcy. I had put Jack in as the manager of the apartment building. And then I lost everything. He still had an apartment, so I went and stayed with him.

And then all those years later, when I heard he had gotten sober, I called him up and he had lost everything. And I invited him to come stay at my house, because I was then renting a two-bedroom house. And so he came and stayed with me and that's where David came and talked to both of us and told us about "Twin Peaks" and that we would both be in it. So that was ironic.

PCC:
Looking back, any regrets? Or just an appreciation for a remarkable life?

STEWART:
Oh, tons of regrets, that I didn't make better decisions, that I didn't take better care of myself and blah, blah, blah, blah. But I am who I am today. And the only thing I can say is that maybe somebody will recognize themselves, if they read my story, they'll maybe say, "Oh, I can see what I'm doing" or "My daughter - or somebody that I know - is really headed in the wrong direction. Maybe I can say something." And I encourage them to say something. Even though we don't want to listen. I didn't want to listen. I didn't want people to tell me how to live my life. But if they hadn't have, I don't think I would be alive today. They loved me enough to help me and I appreciate that.

PCC:
But your life reads as a great adventure.

STEWART:
My life has been a great adventure! [Laughs] And you know what? It still is. I wake up every day and say, "Hmm, I wonder what's going to happen today. Oh! That's right. I'm going to get a phone call from Paul!"

PCC:
With this long, impressive list of credits, what has been the most rewarding aspect of the acting career?

STEWART:
Oh, gosh. I think "Human Highway" was one of them. And "Twin Peaks" was another. They're all different. But I think I enjoyed those two the most. And the friends that I made along the way, that I still have. I'm still friends with a lot of these people. I didn't burn bridges, even though I made a complete fool of myself a lot of times. But I think they basically knew that I had a good heart. And here I am.

I'm married to my fourth husband, Michael Santos, who was an old friend of 35 years. We hadn't seen each other for many, many years. In fact, his sister married my brother. And we ran into each other Christmas Eve at my brother's house. And my husband had passed away. And his wife had passed away. And we kind of struck up a conversation. And next thing you know, we're living together. And then we got married... much to the shock of my family [laughs]. But we have a good time together.

Michael deals in meteorites. He's what they call a meteoriticist. He finds, collects, trades, sells meteorites from all over the world. And he's quite an authority and he writes papers for those rock magazines - not the rock I used to be involved with, but rocks. And we do trade shows together and I work with him. And then he goes on my trips with me. And we have a very good life.

PCC:
And you're still making the Beadle Bags?

STEWART:
I'm still making the Beadle Bags! Yes. I sold a whole bunch in France. I have a book signing coming up here in Napa. I'll be selling my books and my bags. You know, I've been here nine years and nobody knew what I did, except maybe one or two people who recognized me. I'm not the kind of face people recognize. It's usually my voice. When they hear my voice, they go, "I know you!" And then when I tell them, because it's the most well known, "Little House on the Prairie," they go, "You're that schoolteacher!" And so that's what I get known for. But other than that, nobody knows me here in Napa. And I didn't come here for that. I came here to take care of my husband and be with my family. But I found a lovely home here in Napa. I'm happy here.

PCC:
And part of the proceeds from the Beadle Bags go to a breast cancer program?

STEWART:
I'm a breast cancer survivor. And when I had cancer, when I had my surgery, there was no program for me. And I was in one of the biggest hospitals in the world - Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles. And when I finished my radiation, they said, "Okay. Bye. Have a good life." And I went out and I found my own nutritionist and physical therapist and all the things that you need to get back on your feet again after you've been through this horrendous ordeal.

So I moved to Napa and I was looking after my niece, my sister's oldest daughter, who had breast cancer. And she was going to a group called The Wellness Center. And so I went with her one day, because I had recovered. And it was a fabulous program. It was absolutely free for any cancer patient, no matter what hospital they went to, they can come, with a doctor's prescription, they can come to The Wellness Center for six weeks of physical therapy, swimming, yoga, art class, writing class, skin evaluation, all kinds of fabulous things - free for six weeks.

And I thought, "This is the best thing I've ever heard of." So I started making these bags and selling them and giving a nice percentage to The Wellness Center. And I've been doing that since I moved to Napa - nine years now. And then I'm in their fashion show every year - all cancer patients who are modeling in the show. And it's quite unique and wonderful. It's such a feel-good thing. And I'll continue to do it as long as they want me to.

PCC:
So you have all sorts of fulfilling things going on in your life now.

STEWART:
I do! Yes, I really do.

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