Jo Ann Pflug


Jo Ann Pflug is well-remembered by TV and movie fans, although the reasons for those memories seem to vary. Some remember her beautiful face and warm smile. Others remember the flattering figure and great legs. For others, it's her distinctive, well-dictioned voice, and her infectious laugh. And, for some, it's all of the above.

Ms. Pflug grew up near Orlando, Florida, and began her career in local radio while in college, eventually working in television in the Miami area as well.

Shortly after college, she was in New York, performing on local programs, until she became a frequent sketch player on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Her work with the "king of late night" led to other opportunities, and by the late 1960s she had established herself as an actress in Hollywood, appearing in such series as The Big Valley, The Beverly Hillbillies and Bracken's World.


(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

Then came the 1970 hit film M*A*S*H, in which she co-starred as "Lt. Dish" (a great trivia question answered: Lt. Dish's actual name was Maria Schneider). She stayed busy throughout the 70s, appearing in such films as Catlow and Where Does It Hurt, along with the TV movies They Call It Murder, The Night Strangler and Scream Of The Wolf.

She continued to make guest appearances on TV series, including Love, American Style, Marcus Welby, M.D., Search, McCloud, Alias Smith And Jones, Quincy, Vega$, The Love Boat, CHiPs, Charlie's Angels, and Adam-12, among others.

Her bubbly personality and ready wit made her a natural panelist for game shows, and she was frequently seen on such programs as Match Game, Hollywood Squares, and, with then-husband, quiz show host Chuck Woolery, Tattletales. She also co-hosted a couple of seasons of the venerable Candid Camera.

During the 1978-79 season, Jo Ann appeared as Lt. Katherine O'Hara on the series Operation Petticoat (based on the Cary Grant-Tony Curtis film of the same name), and she was seen as Samantha "Big Buck" Jack on the first (1981-82) season of The Fall Guy.

Jo Ann was a regular cast member of the short-lived syndicated soap opera Rituals in 1984, and continued her busy schedule of guest shots in series such as Knight Rider, Matt Houston, Fantasy Island, The Colbys and B.L. Stryker (with Burt Reynolds).

In more recent years, Jo Ann has launched a series of self-help, motivational seminars, and, in late 2001, her own website.

Ms. Pflug, who is (by her own admission) never at a loss for words, beamed some of her glow into the Zone in this 2002 interview.


Were you born in Florida, or did you just go to school there?

No, I was born in Atlanta. Grew up in Winter Park, Florida, where Rollins College is.

Winter Park High School.

"Always on top, stand 'em on their head, stand 'em on their feet, Winter Park High School can't be beat!" (Laughs) How's that?

Very nice. And you were the co-editor of the yearbook.

That is right. Co-editor of the yearbook. So, you have a website. That's very interesting. How do you make a living at it?

I don't. Not yet.

Not yet? The web and the internet are all very new to me, and I find that fascinating, of how people can make a living on it. I'm going to sell hats.

 


Recent photo, lovely in red
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

You're going to sell hats?

I've got fabulous hats. I wear hats a lot. And people always stop me and ask me where I got my hats. And, so we have fabulous hats that we're going to set up on the web ... One of them is a huge picture hat that Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman. And one is a multi-collapsible hat, and then there's one that she wore in Runaway Bride that's a cowboy hat. But they've made it with straw and died it with tea, and it's rolled on the side, and it's really unisex. It's a fabulous-lookin' cowboy hat. I can't wait to get that.

But, getting back to Winter Park for a minute. Your daddy was the mayor.

Yes, the mayor of Winter Park. My dad was very smart, very artistic, and he wanted to be an actor. And that's why he was always behind me to be an actress.

But, didn't that put a cramp in your social life, having your dad as the mayor? I can just see some poor guy shaking, when you tell him, (in southern deb voice) "Nawh, yew betta behave, or mah daddy will brang three of his big policemen over to your house ..."

No!

No?!?

Oh, no! You have to understand. I was raised ... you didn't do things that would embarrass your family. I mean, we all had a good time, but I mean ... Those were the days, my friend ... because it wasn't like it is today.

Did you do a lot of school plays?

No. What we did was this. I decided at two and a half I was gonna be an actress. My parents used to go to New York for the theater and I guess that's where I got it. I've always acted ... (laughs)
Always told stories, always doing things, and ... we used to always go around the house and pick up props, and we would do plays for the family. You know, when you do your junior class play? The auditorium burned down, my sophomore year. And (laughs) I remember hearing the sirens, and we all jumped up, jumped in the cars and raced over to the school. And I was thinking, "Gosh, it's a beautiful old auditorium; I'm sorry it's burning, but ... I won't be able to do a junior play!" (Laughs)

So no junior play for you.

I never really got to do plays, until I went to the University of Miami and auditioned. I mean, I took acting at Rollins College and took piano from the age of six ... I took speech, all though private speech lessons, so I learned how to color my voice, so that when I did radio ... I couldn't get into the drama department when I went to the University of Miami, so I took costuming. And that meant, every weekend, you were making costumes, and it was enjoyable. I learned a lot about costuming.
But I went in to radio and television, because they didn't have any women in the department. So, I started doing radio my freshman year, and so I had my own radio show. I had a children's show that was on WQAM in Miami and it was on around the country, Sunday mornings, very early, called The Magic Carpet, with Miss Make Believe.

You were Miss Make Believe.

I was Miss Make Believe. And my producer and I would go to the public schools in Miami, and I would have on (laughs) a light, foam green, strapless evening gown. And I'd spray my hair silver, and put glitter in it, and we would act out Rumpelstiltskin. And he was kind of like an elf, and he would play Rumpelstiltskin. But we did that, and we did a current events show, and we did "Theater X," a radio drama, and I had so much on-air experience. And then I went into television, interviewing. So when I graduated I had already done hundreds and hundreds of hours of live television. And I wanted Barbara Walters' job.


Publicity photo, late 1980s
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

I see.

So, I went to New York, (after) a contest as Miss Sunny, for a local ABC affiliate.

 


"Miss Sunny Florida"
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

Miss Sunny?

Miss Sunny Florida, yes. And they promised me on-the-air work and when they didn't give it to me I went to New York, and that's when I met Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. And I ended up doing sketches on The Tonight Show. And, that's when I met Bill Cosby ... I met a lot of people, doing those sketches on The Tonight Show.
Oh! I did Mack and Mire for Hire, which was this slapstick, pie-in-the-face comedy. It was a 15-minute comedy series they did, and I worked on that a lot. That's how I got my Screen Actors Guild card (laughs). And I learned a lot, just working with them.

When did you start on The Tonight Show?

I started in the 60s; I was one of the original "Mighty Carson Art Players."

I'm trying to put a time frame on it, though. This was what, around '64?

Yeah, that sounds right. '64, '65.


Local TV appearance, 1960s
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

And the first acting gig, outside of that show, was around then?

Yes. I did commercials. I went and signed up for a commercial, to be an extra, only because I wanted to see how they shot commercials in New York. And I got there early, on the set, and they assumed I was the principle (actor). So, they were doing my makeup and were going to go to the hair, when the principle came in. And, they looked at me said, "Well, who are you?" (Laughs) I went, "Ah! I guess I'm an extra." They said, "Well, we're not supposed to make you up." And I said, "Oh, okay."
So, we get on the set, and they're going through all the camera (angles), setting everything up, and I see them all huddled together. And the ad people said, "Uh, excuse me, Jo Ann, would you come here a minute," and I said, "sure," and they said, "you know, when we look through the camera, you're too outstanding to be in the background - I'm 5'10" - so we're going to pay you for today, but you're not gonna be in this." (Laughs) I said, "Hey, that's fine with me; I don't want to be an extra, I just wanted to see how you shot commercials." I spent the day with all of them, and had a great time (laughs).

So, when did you head west?

I got west by working with a turkey.

 


A blonde - but turkeyless - Jo Ann, mid-1960s
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

A turkey.

Everybody works with a turkey at one time in their lives. Mine was a real turkey. I worked for Ralston Purina, Checkerboard Farms. They were introducing a new product called Honeysuckle Turkey Roasts. The girl that had been the pitch (spokesman) for them was a weather girl, and she couldn't do it anymore, so they hired me. And I had short blonde hair at the time, and I was going to wear a little white blouse and red and white gingham (skirt), and a little straw hat. And they took a picture of me with a 60-pound turkey.
"Now, these turkeys are raised in California, in the desert. Why are they so big? Well, 60-pound breeder toms are offspring that reach eating size, which is 18-22 pounds, at an earlier age. Therefore, the meat is younger, tender, and more juicy, and they're bred for a smaller body cavity, and they're bred for a wishbone that is round, so it has more meat on it." Aren't you glad I remember the schpiel? (Laughs)

Good grief (laughs)!

Then, I went to Erie-On-The-Lake, Pennsylvania, in the dead of winter, with this 60-pound turkey. And we would go to the shopping centers with the turkey in a playpen. And the lady I was traveling with (laughs) had dyed black hair, white, white skin, and she smoked cigarettes, all the time. And the smoke was always going up in her eyes, and she always had on a black suit. She had been in PR for years, and she had promoted - are you ready - the Studebaker! (Laughter) So, no wonder why she'd been out of work (laughter). Did you ever know about Studebakers?

I remember Studebakers, yes.

Anyway, she would cut the samples and serve it ... and I would give the schpiel to the people. It was very embarrassing, I must tell you. After all, being in your early twenties, with this thing on your head (laughs), when you want to be cool. Anyway, it was so cold. We were going to give the turkey to the zoo, a big presentation. So, the fellow from Ralston Purina, who wore his fedora and his trench coat; we were having a cup of tea or coffee. And he comes in, all white, and goes, (in horror) "You'll never guess what happened! I went out to the van, and I pulled the door back, and there was the turkey." Now, you have to put your arms up; "there he was, legs up in the air, frozen to death!" He said, "I wrapped him up in paper and took him to the city dump and burned him. So, they're flying in a new one, under the dark, so no one will know (the first one) died and we can give him to the zoo!" (Laughter) So, the next day, we gave him to the zoo!

Well, haven't those people ever heard of frozen turkey?

No, that's what they were introducing, Honeysuckle Turkey Roasts ... Oh! (Laughter) Oh, you're very good. Ba-dum-bum (laughs).
But, that's how I got to California. We went to L.A., Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Diego, ending up in L.A. And I had five names to call ... and I rented a car. I got a hold of Bill Cosby, and went out and had dinner with him and (his wife) Camille.

So, what was the first job that came after you made those contacts?

Well, I went and studied with Lee and Paula Strassburg, whom I had known in New York, but my background, as you can tell, is talking! (Laughs)

Right.

 


from "Operation Petticoat" circa 1978
(Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

So, I always leaned more toward that than acting, even though I love acting. But, of course, the more time you spend with something, the more knowledgeable and comfortable you are. But, I studied acting with them and ... you had to learn to just study and focus on what you were working on ... And, one of the people I called was ... I met Garry Marshall, and because of that (in Brooklyn voice) New Yawk accent that he has, you know, this is how I pictured him. Short, fat, bald, and very Brooklyn Jewish, with a big cigar. And so when I met him, and Jerry (Belson), who was his partner at the time, he was tall, Italian and very good looking (laughs). And he had a full head of hair! They did a show, and I had a tiny little part in it.

Right.

So I had to develop a retort, because I would go in for interviews, and they'd say, "Gosh, you're tall." And I'd say, "Yeah, but I'm cute." (Laughs)

Yes, (laughs) very good.

And I finally learned to be (myself) on an audition, and really not care what other people think (laughs). I used to be so prim and proper, and just sit and read and they didn't see the personality, so I just said, "The heck with this." So I just walked in, threw my arms up in the air and said, "I'm here!" And I got the commercial (laughs).

Oh, okay.

So, I did a lot of commercials, which I think, next to soap operas, which I hated, is the best training. Because it's such a short bit of time that they walk you through it and you learn an awful lot doing commercials.

And the soap opera was ...

Oh, we won't discuss that. That was Rituals.

Oh, sure. That was years later, though.

Yeah. But a lot of people did soap operas, and ... it's too nerve-wracking. I like the calm of a set, where there isn't something blasting ... and everything is scheduled. I like to go in and have makeup done, and then meet with wardrobe (people) and go over the wardrobe. That is what I was used to.
It just wasn't for me. But it was always, with the speaker in the dressing room, blasting, and you were always on the run, you had to do your wardrobe on the run, do your makeup on the run, and I just hated it. It was not scheduled the way the way I was used to working.

But, Rituals does have the distinction of being one of the more expensive turkeys in television history, speaking of turkeys.

(Wild laughter) Yes.

It did set some sort of record, I guess, for getting the least bang for the buck, or whatever.

I don't know. Not knowing anything about soap operas, I don't know. To me, you don't develop characters ... enough.

Taylor, wasn't that the character name?

Yeah. I loved her; she was great.

And she got lucky, she left early. Went to Paris or somewhere and never came back.

Yep (laughs). Never came back.

Didn't you do some cartoons in those early days in L.A., too?

Yes! I did Sue, the invisible girl, in The Fantastic Four.

Yes! Sue Richards, on The Fantastic Four.

That was fun. I worked with Paul ... Gosh, I just went blank on his name. He was THE voiceover (performer). I mean, his driver brought him up in his Rolls Royce.

Paul Frees.

Yes; that's it. I tried to track him down, two or three years ago. Yes, he was so good. I never heard (that show), except in the studio, and never saw it. I'd love to get a copy of it. But, it was fun; it was like radio. It was like what I had done all through college. It was great fun, 'cause I loved doing radio drama. I also did a (local TV) show, a year before I did M*A*S*H, that was two hours every morning, of just me, (in southern deb voice), bah mahself.

(Laughs) Yes.

I could tell you something, but then it would get out, and it's too funny a story ...

(Laughs) And God forbid if it would get out.

And then, I got discovered in the commissary at 20th Century Fox, having lunch with Betty Ashley, who Johnny Carson had introduced me to on one of his trips west with The Tonight Show (NOTE: Mr. Carson did his show from New York, with occasional forays west, until 1972. -- T.W.). And Johnny said, "this is a lady that works in PR at 20th Century Fox, and I think she is someone that it would be very beneficial for you to know." And she was. She became, not only one of my very best friends, but we were having lunch at 20th Century Fox when a young agent came up to me and said, "I think you'd be right for this part in M*A*S*H." And he came back after lunch, and literally took me to meet (director) Bob Altman, and I met the producer. And that shows you about that little circle of how you meet people.


Elliott Gould, Gary Burghoff, Donald Sutherland and Jo Ann, on the M*A*S*H set
 (Courtesy Jo Ann Pflug)

But you had done a few guest shots on TV series before that, right?

Oh, yes. My first part was on (laughs) The Big Valley, I think it was the last season. I had a little part ... and I got on set, and I was doing it with Richard Long (NOTE: "Jarrod Barkley" on the series. -- T.W.), who was the sweetest, most wonderful man. I was so nervous and so scared, and he said, "Would you like to run lines," and I said, "yes." And he and I blocked that whole scene that we had. So the scene was blocked before the director got there, and I was so comfortable, and that was thanks to Richard Long. And I sat, the rest of the day, and talked with Barbara Stanwyck.

Wow.

She was this tiny, tiny, tiny, little lady. A bit foreboding, when you first sat down with her, but she was very nice. I found, in those days, that those people were so nice. I had a friend who worked on those shows, and you could go around and meet people. I met Henry Fonda for the first time on a television show, I met the makeup people. We went to the Red Skelton show. And she knew them all. She was older, and she had worked on all these shows, and she knew the fellows at the gate, and they would let us in. And we would go from set to set to set.

Hmmmm. Interesting.

Yes. James Drury, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon. I remember Chad Everett; we went on (the set of) Medical Center, and he carried me over his shoulder onto the set (laughs). And, the other guy; I can't remember his name, but he had dark, dark hair ...

Vince Edwards?

Yes, that's it. But, I did The Big Valley. I did The Beverly Hillbillies. The lead on that, Buddy Ebsen, was from Orlando. He invited the other gal - we played showgirls - to his dressing room, where he had a Chinese cook, and gave us lunch. So we had lunch with him.
But, when I first went out there, I was so aggressive, and I met so many people who were really my parents' age. I met so many of those people, you know, the "A list." I met Greer Garson, I knew Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and I met the Wayne kids, so I knew "Duke." He called me "Legs."

And, if John Wayne calls you "Legs," then you are "Legs."

He was fun. And Cary Grant was just divine. And Jimmy Stewart was wonderful. And I just think ... Fred MacMurray, all those people. Just lovely. And you would always know, the bigger the person, the nicer they are. To me, that group of people - Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck and so on - they were really nice. Today's group of people are not responsible, to the extent of their actions, that they should be role models.

Right. I agree.

And, if you're going into any kind of field where you're going to be in the public eye. And these people go, "Duh, I ..." And I just say, "Get over it, or get out of the public eye. You're a role model, and people are going to know what you do." (They say) "Well, I had a bad life." Well, get over it! (Laughs)

Plus, we're living in that era now where anything that happens to me is your fault.

Exactly. And I turn around and say, "Wrong! You did that; you're going to reap the consequences. You're going to reap what you sow. Don't try and blame me, it's not my problem."
That's not to say that I won't help people, and have compassion. But, I don't want to hear that, "Well, I can't really hold her responsible for her actions." Excuse me! That doesn't fly with me.

 

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