Tells us about the actresses or actors that influenced you the most.
Oh my, let’s see. My father really is with me the most. He gave me the ability and my feet remained on the ground. Both of them gave me a really spiritual balance and a work ethic that I have to this day. But I can say that Fred Astaire was probably the most influential actor because he got me my first song and dance in a motion picture in “Three Little Words.” It was he who said “I think she needs a musical number in Three Little Words, give it to her”. And he was on the set every day during my number. He gave me the choreographer, her plans, to director it. It was—he was very influential.
Tell us about meeting Fred Astaire the very first time. The first time you looked eyeball to eyeball to him, what did you find him?
I was at a party in Hollywood. Effy Mendel and Sir Charles Mendel house… and he was there, he was one of the guests at dinner, and Cole Porter was being honored at this party and we all gathered, after dinner, around the piano and started to sing all the Cole Porter songs he was singing on the piano. I guess Fred heard my voice. So I sat down next to Cole Porter at his invitation and we sang “You’re The Top” together. That was when I think Fred made up his mind that I should sing in this musical coming up.
That is a truly amazing story.
Thank you! I’ve had a very amazing life! I never planned ahead, it just sort of happened.
What did you find Cole Porter’s personality to be like?
Oh he was very outgoing and witty and charming and of course, he had to be charming when your leg hurts 24 hours a day. He had a cane, he wasn’t in a wheelchair when I met him. He had a cane, and he used it all the time.
You mentioned a moment ago, “Three Little Words.” What are some of your recollections from working on that?
Well, we ran rehearsals for about two to three weeks, and Fred Astaire came to rehearsals every day. As I mentioned before, he gave me his choreographer, Hermes Pan, which he always worked with. I worked with very tall handsome men, dancers who were dressed in black tie and Helen Rose designed sort of a pink lavender concoction for me and threw me a beautiful, large feathery fan to use during the dance. I felt like a princess because Fred was on the set every day. I’d rehearse, and every day the cameras were on me. He was sort of my mentor in a way.
Tell us about singing “I Love You So Much” in that.
Haha! Well, I sort of kidded the number in rehearsal and said a-ha a couple times. Nope, let’s keep that in. So anything that I came up with, they would very nicely include in the film. Going down those stairs, I think I had 22 stairs that I had to go down, while I was singing into the camera and trying not to fall on my face and looking interested in the gentlemen that I was passing down on the stairs. It was quite a feat for me to complete. But I did it, we did it in about three takes.
Of all the movies that you did, would you say there is one that shines particularly brighter? For you?
One that has a greater space in your mind.
Of course, “Three Little Words” was one of my favorites because of Fred, and because of giving me that number, that musical number. But I would say “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was the hardest film that I had ever done. Because I almost died on the set; I almost drowned, as a matter of fact. When we go to the center of earth and there’s an ocean there and the raft that we’re one starts spinning in the center of the sea. There’s 10 tons of water that are supposed to hit us on the back and they hit me on the face instead, and I started regressing until I was 5 years old when I almost died and they had to call someone and so on.
So I woke up in the hospital with Pat Boone who was one of my co-stars, and James Mason holding one hand and the other holding the other, seeing if I was alive or dead, whether the film would go on or not. It was a pretty scary thing and we spent three months in New Mexico and farther down into the caverns that anybody had ever gone. Of course, I had a little duck that I had to take care of. The duck had more stand-ins than I did. We had three stand ins in the back that were painted, the eyes were painted each morning before they started work. The duck was called Gertrude. And I think that Gertrude stole most of the scene!
When people ask me—when kids ask me about the Journey to the Center of the Earth because it is a wonderful film for children to see. Even now it’s out. I think, it’s out on film as a matter of fact. They ask me about Gertrude. They don’t ask me about Pat Boone or anybody else; they just ask me about Gertrude.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given?
I think the greatest compliment I have ever been given was by a mother who came to me when my daughter was in school and said, I think you are terrific for having taught your daughter good manners. How do I get my daughter to write thank you notes and say thank you when she’s given a compliment? And I said children mimic their parents, so, start by writing thank you notes yourself and let her see you do it.
I mean, children watch their parents to see what they should do.
But it was a great compliment and my daughter, even today with all the email and texting and everything, she still writes thank you notes on stationery.
You’ve written a number of books. One of them is called Always Ask a Man.
That was my first book, yes.
Tell us about that book, because it’s actually still available on Amazon.
Yes, you can get it also on eBay. It started because I wrote a column on beauty and health and fashion for 20 years, three times a week for the Chicago Tribune—New York News Syndicate, so I was asked by Mr. Schuster of Simon & Schuster if I would write a book for them on beauty and health, which I did, and wrote also, included in my column once a week, your beauty-scope. I ended up writing 12 of them, each sign of the horoscope, each sign of the zodiac, for each sign what the beauty and health rules were to be and how you could fit with your best, and how to get along with the men in your life.
I would like to get a couple of Arlene Dahl opinions on a couple of things.
The first one. This is a fill in the blank—Arlene Dahl says a lady should always __________.
Be subtle! Yes, be subtle. Don’t hit the man on top of the head with your sex appeal.
Hahah! Okay, and then the flipside. A gentleman should always __________.
Be respective. A gentleman should always be respective of you as a woman and you as an intelligent woman.
What is the first thing, in your opinion, that women notice about a man?
Well, of course, how he looks. And if he’s clean. I notice his nails. If he has dirty nails, it’s a turn off for me. If he has clean nails, I engage in conversation interestingly.
Would you believe that I had a feeling you were going to say something about nails?
Haha, really? How did you know that?
Maybe it’s because I always keep mine so immaculate.
Well, we would get along just fine, haha! When is your birthday, incidentally?
Oh, you’re a Virgo. Of course you’d have to have clean nails, and be very observing about how you dress and how you present yourself. You’re a good writer too. Good conversation. Virgo is ruled by Mercury, which rules the written and spoken word, so you’re in the right business.
Well, thank you. I wanted to talk about this Broadway Walk of Stars. Tell all the listeners about that.
Well, at a cocktail party about 7 to 8 years ago, we were talking about the renaissance of Broadway—getting rid of all those low class shops and porn stuff. And somebody said, why don’t we have a walk of stars like they do in Hollywood? They knew that I had been one of the first stars to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So they said, Arlene why don’t you carry the flag for us? Why don’t you start talking to the mayor and mayor commissioners about getting stars on the sidewalk to honor the stars and legend who made Broadway what it is today?
So Main Broadway, they had to start on Broadway like Lucille Ball and Bob Hope and Fred Astaire. And then they went to Hollywood and made films, so they began on Broadway. So they should have a star on the sidewalk of Broadway. It all began about 7 years ago, and I formed a 501(c)3 charity. Well, it’s really not a charity. It’s a company that if you give a donation, you can take it off on your taxes which is very interesting to people who donate to the Broadway Walk of Stars. We have a website, which you can get to by going to www.theBroadwayWalkofStars.org. And you will see, take the virtual walk and see Liza Minnelli singing “New York, New York.” As you take the virtual walk, stars on the sidewalk, you will see it being placed on the sidewalk with Liza’s name, Judy’s name, Tommy Tune’s name, Fred Astaire and Bob Hope and so on.
And we are very close to doing that this year with Mayor DeBlasio’s commissioner, Cynthia Lopez. We’ve had several meetings and we’re deciding on when this will happen, probably the fall. And where and we’re forming committees to choose the stars that will get their stars on the sidewalk. It’s going to happen!
Fantastic. So you mentioned a few of there. Tommy Tune, Liza Minnelli. Tell us about some of the others.
Yeah, Fred Astaire, of course for dance. We had five different programs. We had the dance, we have music, we have theater, we have television, and we have film. And for dance of course it would Fred Astaire and Tommy Tune. For music it would Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli. For theater it would Carol Channing and Helen Haze, because we like to include those who aren’t with us anymore as well as somebody who is still alive and kicking and making a difference.
For film we have Charlie Chaplin and probably Robert DeNiro. For television, Milton Berle, who was Mr. TV. And Barbara Walters.
Did you ever meet Frank Sinatra?
Oh yes, of course! Anybody who was in Hollywood in the ‘50s met Frank, everybody in the business that is.
What did you find him to be like?
He was charming. He was a Sagittarius, December 12th, and they’re celebrating his 100th birthday this year so we hope to have his star on the sidewalk for his 100th birthday. He was charming. He was witty. He had a private temper, but he was very philosophical, he believed in helping people without taking credit. He helped a lot of people who were down and out, in the business and out of the business. If he heard a sad story, he would do what he could to raise money from his own pocket to help them. He was a terrific guy.
What is the best thing about being Arlene Dahl?
Haha! Having three children I can be proud of and having nine grandchildren that I can be proud of, and having one and almost two great grandchildren that I can be proud of. They are my greatest production.
This is a very open ended question. What would you say to anyone who is listening in? Wherever they are?
Believe in yourself! If you’re different, be proud of it, and explore it. Whatever your desires are, if it’s at all possible, work on getting it done. Don’t believe in people who say, oh you’re too old or you’re too young or you’re too this or you’re too that. Pursue your interests, and really go after what you want to do in life with a passion. I think people lack passion in their lives; this is the most important thing. Whatever it is, if you want it strong enough and you go after what you want, you’ll succeed.
I’m the original girl who couldn’t say no. If somebody asked me to write a column, which I’ve never written anything but my name before, I say “I’ll try it. Okay!” Try what you have never done before. Maybe you’ll make a success. Also if you’re a failure don’t let it go to your head. Just pursue something else in a different line.
What would you say when you’re pursuing something? What’s the proper response to severe criticism?
Don’t take criticism to heart. Figure out who said it and what they’ve done. And if they’ve done a lot then listen. And make a difference in your life. If they haven’t done anything, then just dismiss their criticism and go on with your desires.
My last question. Who is Arlene Dahl?
Well, I’m somebody who is very happy that I’m healthy and still able to do things that I think are important. Be a good mother, a good grandmother, and a good wife. I have a wonderful husband who is 18 years younger than I, so he keeps me on my toes. I don’t believe in fluffing off life. I believe in living every moment you can and making the best of it, with whatever cards you were dealt.
Special thanks to Frankie Keane.