It wasn’t all that long ago that actress Laurene Landon got her big break in Hollywood. Granted, the movie wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, but in no way does that dampen the fact of having achieved what the majority of wannabe actors can only dream about.
Landon made it into show business.
“I think it’s remarkable that people remember me from the film. When I go to the store and different places, it amazes me the number of people that come up to me and say ‘Oh my God, you’re the girl from All the Marbles,” said Landon in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling from her home in Hollywood, California.
It wasn’t just some walk-on role that launched an active career performing in front of the movie camera. Landon in fact was one half of the ass kicking, voluptuous women’s tag team known as The California Dolls in the MGM movie, All the Marbles.
So how did this Canadian native (hailing from Toronto) score the role that is still winning over fans after all these years? Landon traced her journey to Hollywood from her days at the Los Angeles campus of Cal State. “I was going to police academy training at the time, I was going to be a police officer and wanted to be a service to my community.” Landon and her family had relocated to California when she was only three.
However, being an officer of the law meant carrying a side arm. As she discovered when applying her marksmanship skills at the shooting range, firing a gun was just not for her.
“When it came to shooting the gun, I realized I was much too emotional to actually kill someone. I felt guilty shooting at the targets,” confessed Landon.
Abandoning her aspirations for the law, Landon enrolled in acting classes. The move proved to be a good one, landing her first role in front of the camera for a TV commercial after only two weeks of classes. Small movie roles would follow, along with modeling jobs. In fact, it was while pursuing one specific modeling assignment that she would stumble upon a lead that would eventually take her to that elusive spotlight of fame.
“I went to Las Vegas where they were casting for the Miss Black Velvet billboard girl,” told Landon. “I flew up to Las Vegas, met with the casting director and I just missed it. They picked another girl. While I was up there, the casting director told me that down in Los Angeles they’re casting this huge movie and they’re not happy with any of the girls they’ve found. They had been across the country, back and forth, looking for two girls.”
Specifically, they were looking for were two females to play the role of professional wrestlers. As Landon went on to explain, attempts were made to get actual women professional wrestlers to take on the roles.
“Initially, they found wrestlers and tried to teach them how to act, but they couldn’t do it. So now they’re going the other way; trying to find actresses and teach them how to wrestle. It was very exciting to me because of the physical aspects of it. I thought I would be able to handle the wrestling part of it because I was always athletic and won trophies since I was a little girl. I loved sports and so I thought ‘This wrestling thing can’t be too hard.'”
With a phone number in hand, Landon setup an appointment with a casting director for the film. It would be at that meeting where she would meet with the man who helmed the movie, director Robert Aldrich.
“I was a fool, I thought he was Robert Altman (famed movie director),” admitted Landon when she first met Aldrich, who directed such films as The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard and The Frisco Kid. “When I met him I said ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Altman.’ I didn’t know and everyone started laughing. Robert Aldrich said ‘That’s very funny, but my name is Robert Aldrich.’ I guess he thought I had a sense of humor, but I was being very sincere. I didn’t know; I was nineteen years old.”
A prompt apology followed from Landon and perhaps the thought that her big chance at fame had come to an abrupt end with the blunder. Instead, she got an invitation to be screen tested for the film.
Leading up to the screen test, it was revealed that Peter Falk, forever immortalized for his portrayal of the meandering, crafty homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo from the TV series Columbo, would be cast in the leading role as the manager of the tag team.
“He was a doll, he was wonderful — one of the most caring people I every met in my life,” praised Landon.
“I was very apprehensive and scared to meet this famous actor. I was living in trepidation during the screen test period because I just felt that I’m going to get busted that I can’t act. He (Falk) gave me a lot of confidence. He had a brilliant sense of humor and that helped too.”
According to Landon though, Falk was not the first person the studio had in mind.
“They were going to use Paul Newman at first, but he decided to do another film, so Peter Falk was brought on board.”
“I was not selected right away,” Landon added. “Twelve of us were screen tested out of 2,000. It was a dramatic spot and I played a lesbian initially. It was a scene where Peter Falk was yelling at me for being a lesbian and I broke down and cried. That was the scene that got me to the top four.”
“After that, Robert Aldrich called us in and said ‘There’s only four of you left now and we’re only using two of you and two of you are backups.’ He was very forthright and I truly respected him for that because he could have just tricked us and said you’re all going to be in it.”
Aldrich also made it clear that all the remaining candidates would have to pursue training as professional wrestlers.
“One of the prerequisites by Robert Aldrich right away was that we were never going to be doubled. We all went to wrestling school for a long, long time. It was endless and incredibly arduous.”
The school they attended was run by none other than legendary female grappler Mildred Burke.
“Basically, we were training for $800 a week, which back then was a fortune. We would get there at eight o’clock in the morning and we start off by jogging in this giant park until we virtually collapsed and doing leap frogs to build up our stamina. We got into the ring and we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. She (Burke) showed us all these moves and combinations of moves — suplexes, flying mares, air plane spins and stuff that none of us had ever heard of, of course. There were these wrestlers from Mexico that were incredible, bouncing off the mat and flying in the air. I thought ‘How on earth am I going to learn that?’ I kept thinking ‘I’m an athlete and I can do it.’ It became so easy, so second nature to me that I could have done it blindfolded.”
As fate would have it, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) went on strike on July 21, 1980, right at the same time that Landon and the other actors were in the midst of their wrestling training. In the spirit of solidarity, all of the actors in question were expected to discontinue their training until the labor dispute was over.
“The actors’ strike hit half way through and we were supposed to stay away from the gym where we were practicing our wrestling. Instead, Vicki Frederick and I opted to go out to the gym to wrestle with the Mexican wrestlers. We just wrestled every day and practiced, practiced and practiced. That’s one the reasons why I think I was lucky enough to get the role because I wouldn’t give up. I had a lot of blind faith when I was younger and I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
It may very well have been faith that would ultimately lead her to scoring the role. Before a gathering of studio brass at MGM studios, Landon, and the other candidates, wrestled in a ring in their final attempt to earn the roles.
“Funny thing is, I got thrown out of the ring and I broke my foot. I kept wrestling anyway, even though I knew I had some kind of fracture. I limped out side and they all thought it was great, that I was so believable that I acted like I hurt my foot, when in fact I really did hurt my foot,” Landon said.
“Robert Aldrich called in one of the girls and apparently she went out the back door. Then they called me in and Robert Aldrich said ‘You know, you did a fantastic job, you worked really hard. We’re all very, very proud of you.’ He was staring out the window the entire time that he said this. He hesitated and I blurted out ‘But you don’t want me in your movie!’ I started to cry like a fool. He laughed and said ‘No, no, I want you to play the role of Molly.'”
Aldrich wasn’t done with having his fun. Under orders from him, Landon returned to the back to confront the remaining actress, Frederick.
“He said, ‘Vicki is also in the film, she’ll play the role of Iris. But don’t tell her she got the role, make it look real bad.’ I was jumping up and down real excited and Vicki was sitting there looking at me with her eyes wide open and she said ‘What happened?’ I said ‘Well, you better go in but it doesn’t look good. I’m sorry.’ She came running out five minutes later, punching and screaming at me ‘You liar! Why did you do that to me?'”
With that, Aldrich found the two actresses who would go on to play a struggling women’s professional wrestling tag team in his movie. The name of their team would be – The California Dolls.
But if Frederick and Landon thought they were on easy street, they were in for a harsh awakening.
With the SAG strike ending in later October of 1980, a 10-week shoot schedule was struck. The film was shot in two primary locations; soundstage 11 at the MGM studios in Los Angeles and Ohio.
The story, written by Mel Frohman, would follow the typical rags-to-riches story arc. The film opens in a darkened arena where Iris and Molly are battling it out in the ring against another women’s tag team. Ever present of course is their fast talking manager, Harry Sears (Falk). From that point, the saga unfolds of Sears maneuvering his team through the impoverished and nefarious maze that is the wrestling business, burdened with dream of making it to the big time where fame and fortune await.
You would think that in their roles as a tag team would lead Frederick and Landon to establish some kind of special bond to carry them through the coming physical rigors of the film.
“Vicki was very beautiful, very athletic looking. She had come off-Broadway and had done A Chorus Line. She was a very famous dancer on Broadway, which I didn’t know,” told Landon. “She was very serious about the role, where I was goofy and irreverent. I just couldn’t help myself back then. We weren’t that close during the shooting at all.”
“The thing was Vicki was 10 years older than myself. She was more conservative and serious than I was, even though I was extremely dedicated to the work and wrestling. She smoked, and I had a tremendous aversion to smoking at the time. I would get sick in the car and ask her not to smoke so that caused a little friction. I was always goofing off with the crew and Robert Aldrich and making jokes. I don’t think she quite appreciated that in me. Looking back, I don’t blame her, but that was my personality. She was very sedated and very serious.”
Both actresses would have no choice but to hold a mature focus when it came to delivering convincing performances, especially in the ring. Fortunately for both Frederick and Landon, their time at Burke’s gym had prepared them well.
“We had built up so much stamina. The wrestling came easily for me. Sure, we were tired by the end of day. We did the dialogue stuff first and saved the wrestling for the last four weeks in case we got injured.”
With Burke acting as a consultant on the film, Frederick and Landon would shoot numerous wrestling scenes. In some cases, their opponents were in fact active professional wrestlers, including the Japanese team of Taemi Hagiwara and Ayumi Hori, and famed Mexican wrestler Irma Aguilar.
“They were into their own world and they probably assumed we knew what we were taught,” explained Landon when it came time to get the ring and wrestle while the cameras were rolling.
“They really didn’t give us any direction at all. We had Mildred Burke there and we just kept practicing and choreographing the moves that we were going to do in the movie. They would just basically tell us you’re going to do this type of move in this sequence and then you guys can just improvise the rest. It was so easy to improvise because we learned so many moves. At least 50% of what you saw was improvised. They shot so much footage they said they could have made another movie out of it.”
With the wrestling side of movie in good shape, all Landon needed to do was focus on her dialogue, something of a challenge as she explained.
“Peter (Falk) had a tendency to change the dialogue around in the movie the night before we shot. He would call us up to his room and change the dialogue all around. The next day we would go on the set and the dialogue had very little to do with the scene whatsoever.”
The end result was predictable with an enraged Aldrich confronting the actors while shooting in Ohio.
“Robert Aldrich took us all out in the alley and screamed at Vicki and I and said that we were fired. He slammed Peter Falk up against the wall and said ‘These girls are getting fired because of you. I know it’s you who’s behind this. You can all be replaced if you don’t stick with the script.’ Vicki and I were positive we were going to get fired. We went back and did the scene properly. That night, I went up and knocked on Robert Aldrich’s door and I said ‘I apologize for what happened. Please forgive me.’ He said ‘I know it wasn’t you. I know it was Peter, but I was trying to make you guys an example. I was trying to humiliate Peter so he won’t do it again.'”
“Three days later, Peter called us up to his room again and changed more dialogue.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Frederick and Landon would butt heads with Aldrich. Assuming the role of wrestlers meant the two actresses were expected to wear one piece, form fitting bathing suits, the traditional garb for women grapplers for decades.
“When we started shooting the wrestling scenes, Vicki and I decided we weren’t going to go bare leg. That’s what Robert Aldrich demanded; that we not wear pantyhose,” told Landon, as she and Frederick had other plans.
“Well, Vicki went down to this place and got a pair of panty hose that we could wear that would not show on film, or so we thought. So when we were shooting the wrestling stuff, we put on our pantyhose and got up on the mat. We’re ready to shoot and Robert Aldrich comes up to us and says ‘You and you; get in my office now!’ Vicki and I were like ‘Oh shit.'”
“We went into his office and he said ‘I know goddamn well you’re wearing pantyhose. You’re defying me once again. Unless you take off those pantyhose you’re fired. The first thing I noticed when I saw you two get up was those fucking pantyhose. I knew you two were going to pull a fast one on me because you mentioned this pantyhose crap before.'”
With that, the pantyhose were gone.
But the stress of delivering convincing performances, whether it was acting or wrestling, or wardrobe preferences, would pale in comparison to the one scene in the movie that still reviles Landon to this day. The setup would involve Frederick and Landon mud wrestling. The catch? Aldrich insisting they must go topless.
“He (Aldrich) told us there was going to be a nude scene and we were going to be topless in the mud. Vicki and I totally freaked out,” said Landon. “We figured out a way that we could get away with not showing our breasts. When we were wrestling, we kept coving our breasts with the mud, or wrestling in the mud at the other girls to cover our breasts. We thought we got away with it.”
“Well, we got a call from Robert Aldrich the next morning in a rage. He was very angry that we didn’t show our breasts. In addition to that, they struck the mud wrestling set the night before. He said ‘I know what you two tricksters are up to. We’re building the set all over again because of you two.’ We had to go in there again and wrestle and show our breasts so to speak. I was mortified; I was so ashamed and embarrassed. Plus my parents were still alive and I respected my mom and dad so much that I promised them I would never do nudity in movies.”
Landon would carry on though, and in early 1981 filming finally wrapped up. It would debut in theatres in the fall of that year against some heavy competition as it turned out.
“It opened against the night of the World Series and the head of publicity at MGM got fired,” noted Landon, who set off, along with the other stars of the film, to promote the film.
“We had to do publicity and travel all across the country to be interviewed by the press. We were put up in the most amazing hotels. We would fly to two or three different states in one day.”
The biggest highlight for Landon while touring to promote the film came when she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
“They brought me into The Tonight Show and interviewed me. They said that all I did was make them laugh their heads off. I was on with Dudley Moore and I picked him up because Johnny Carson said, ‘Can you do any wrestling moves?’ I said, ‘Sure, stand up’ and everybody started laughing in the audience. I said, ‘Let me show you some moves’ and he grabbed himself and said, ‘Oh no, I got an old war injury.’ So I grabbed Dudley Moore instead and lifted him up, spun him around, carried him off the stage and dropped him on his butt. This was all improvised and everybody laughed.”
But there was a minor drawback for Landon while she trotted around the country for the movie.
“I was terrified to fly. I sat in the back of the plane because planes don’t back into mountains. Peter Falk always sat in the back with me because he was terrified to fly as well.”
She also struggled with another fear; seeing herself on screen. Initially avoiding early screenings of the film, it was only a matter of time before Landon would have to watch her performance in the movie, with an accompanying audience no less.
“I was just terrified to see myself on screen, but a lot of actors are like that way,” Landon said. “They screened it at the academy for all the producers and directors and I had to attend that. I could hardly look at the screen I was so embarrassed and scared.”
If there was one consistent accolade that Frederick and Landon received, it was their convincing in-ring performances. Time and time again they were greeted by awestruck industry people and members of the press.
“Everybody thought it was fantastic and nobody could believe we did our own stunts (wrestling). None of the press could believe that we did our own wrestling. They knew we did it but they said they had never seen anything like it before in their lives.”
Whatever insecurities Landon had about her future in the business were dashed when offers started flooding in. But with those opportunities would often come with a condition that she would not budge on.
“I started getting offers left and right, movies with nudity. I turned them all down. My agent encouraged me to do the movies where I would be nude or topless. But I said I could not and would not do it. Playboy offered me a fortune when All The Marbles was coming out. I couldn’t make that kind of money in two years. But I said I would do it if I kept my clothes on. I said I’ll wear lingerie and we bantered.”
Neither side would relent, and Landon never did pose nude. But she did get some offers from the world of professional wrestling.
“I did get offers to wrestle, but I didn’t want to pigeonhold myself into being associated with wrestling all my life. I wanted to do other parts. Matt Cimber, who directed me in Hundra, started GLOW – Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling. He wanted me to be a part of the wrestling series, but I declined. He found some blonde (Jane Hamlin) who looked like me and caller her The California Doll.”
But All The Marbles did provide her the opportunity to take on others roles that did not involve her removing her clothes or performing flying drop kicks. She would go on to play a variety of roles, some of which would cater to her athleticism.
“It was pretty vital in the sense that I got a lot of movie roles that entailed a lot of physicality. For instance, Hundra, a movie I shot in Spain where I played a female Conan, I did all the stunts in that movie except for one – it was falling backwards from a 180-foot tower and I was very excited to do that stunt, but the director would not let me.”
Hundra (1983) would be among a variety of projects that Landon would take on, including noted films such as I, The Jury (1982) starring Armand Assante, Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984), Armed Response (1986) starring David Carradine, Maniac Cop (1988) starring Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell, and The Ambulance (1990) with Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones. Most recently, Landon appeared in the Masters Of Horror series.
When not acting, Landon remains active in writing music and scripts from here home in Hollywood. She has composed lyrics for a movie entitled Captivity, which is currently in post production and is writing a thriller called Father Time.
By her own choice, she remains single to this day.
“I never met a man who wanted to follow me around with a mop and a can of Lysol the rest of his life. I am a free spirit. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to meet someone and get married.”
While All The Marbles proved to be the gateway to a life in show business for Landon, it also proved to be the last ever movie that Aldrich would direct. On December 5, 1983, Aldrich died in Los Angeles at age 65.
Peter Falk would continue to remain active in both film and television, primarily anchored to the Columbo character throughout the late ’80s and ’90s. Most recently, he starred in the comedy film Checking Out.
Vicki Frederick would go on to appear in such films as Body Rock (1984), A Chorus Line (1985), Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989) and Scissors (1991). From available records, her last on screen appearance was in 1992’s Chaplin.
“We spoke on the phone now and then because we would call each other when there was a review on TV. We would speak on the phone periodically but we never got together after that,” explained Landon of her fading communications with Frederick.
It may come as no surprise baring in mind the conflicting personalities the two actresses displayed. But to this day, Landon feels a sense of loss in not staying in touch with her one time tag team partner.
“That was a big mistake I feel in my life and in my career,” admitted Landon. “I ran into her on an audition at 20th Century Fox about six years ago. She had gotten married to some very wealthy man. She was living somewhere in Brentwood. She said she would call me and we would get together but she didn’t call me. But that’s okay, it wasn’t anything mean on her part. She was very amiable and kind when I ran into her at the audition. I would love to meet up with her again.”
“I get emails from fans all over the world everyday and people, a lot of times, say ‘Where’s Vicki?’ I would say call the Screen Actors’ Guild. I called one time, this was about six months ago, and they said there was no agent or manager for Vicki. I don’t know if she’s active in the business or not.”
Time will only tell if Landon will meet up with Frederick and swap tales of their adventures in making All The Marbles. Sadly however, it seems that MGM, the backers and distributors of the movie, have forgotten all about The California Dolls (the alternative title of the film at one point). To this date, the movie has never been released on DVD. In fact, fans may be surprised to find that at the studios’ website database of movies, there is no listing for All The Marbles or its alternative title.
“I thought they were going to release it on DVD. That’s what I heard recently,” said Landon.
But fans of the movie have not forgotten and Landon continues to receive emails from fans, recognized to this day for her role that continues to endure in the hearts and minds of those fans that got hooked on the antics of Landon, Frederick, Falk and everyone else who came together and went for all the marbles.
“I would just like to say to the fans, the kind people who supported the movie and my career, thank you so much for being there and writing me. I’m just eternally grateful to the fans who have not given up on me.”
The only way that this story will ever be complete is if we get the chance to interview the other half of The California Dolls, Vicki Frederick. If anyone can help out, please contact Corey Lacroix. Oh yes, truth be told, The British Bulldogs were never really Corey’s favorite wrestling tag team.