On Friday night I found out that my friend Richard Skipper and I had a similar childhood experience in common. He grew up in South Carolina and I grew up in New Jersey, but we both grew up in the 1970’s, regularly monitoring the old TV Guide, after it showed up in the mail, to see if our favorite stars would be on any shows during the week ahead.
One of the ones Richard used to search for was Peggy Pope.
So he was the ideal choice to interview Peggy about her new book, Atta Girl, at the Barnes & Noble on 86th Street in Manhattan.
Richard first became a fan of Peggy when he saw her on Bewitched. Her first performance that I can remember was as Mrs. David, the mother of Billy Crystal‘s pregnant girlfriend, Carol, on SOAP. The mother was a hilarious character, outspoken and clueless at the same time, and best of all, she spoke with a Texas twang.
SOAP was the biggest event of the week when I was in high school, the joyous show that my friends and I could never wait to see. For the uninitiated, it was a takeoff on soap operas and each character was wilder, crazier and more over-the-top than the next. My school’s vice principal, Mr. Schnitzer, was a dead ringer for Richard Mulligan, the gifted comedian starring as the wacky character of Burt, which made the show even more popular at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. Burt could snap his fingers and make himself invisible after having been kidnapped by space aliens. Mr. Schnitzer would pose for photos, hands raised like Burt’s. A friend, Kathy, and I used to go over the show in fine detail during lunch the next day, imitating all of the characters. I remember sitting there one day and having a wonderful time repeating Peggy Pope’s lines in the lunch room.
The lines were so outrageous. Billy Crystal played Jody, who was gay, and like I said above, Peggy Pope played the mother of his pregnant girlfriend. When he knocked on the door to see Carol, Peggy Pope greeted him with, “You’re Jody – the homo?” She stared at him for several beats, as though he were a specimen in a jar. Then she announced, “You’re mah first homo!”
Billy Crystal shot back, “You’re my first Texan!” It was classic, and it still holds up. A few weeks ago it was on Antenna TV and just as hilarious as it had been the first time I saw it, long ago and far away.
Peggy’s career started long before SOAP. She entertained us with anecdotes about her career that kept the audience in stitches. Peggy started out doing a figure-skating act with her sister. It was called “The Wind and The Thistle;” her sister was The Wind; Peggy played The Thistle. What an original beginning! She later toured in a production of Mr. Roberts, which jump-started her career. Her father was Jimmy Durante’s doctor. She won an Obie award for playing a lady of the evening that specialized in – well, you might want to read the book to find out that part of the story! I’ll stop there before I spoil the best part!
Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business is easily one of the most hysterical memoirs ever written. This book is funny in a way that uplifts. If you want to read one of the best, get a copy of Atta Girl.