Uninvited Leading Lady

 

                         conny-burt-in-ww1                                                                                             ww-poster-conny-and-burt   

Nashville, 1973…I think.  There was a big article in the Nashville Banner about a major Hollywood studio coming to film a story about real Country singers and The Grand Ol’ Opry.  Not only that, but it would star Burt Reynolds and he needed a leading lady. This was the stuff that movies were made of…for real.

I was under contract to The Bob Neal Agency. Bob was Elvis’ first manager.

bob_neal_is_manager_004

He became “The Agent” to be with if you were Country. God knows he had ’em all; Dottie West, Barbara Mandrell, Billy “Crash” Craddock, Bobby Bare, Marty Robbins, Don Gibson…and, oh yeah, me.

dottie-west                         barbara-mandrell11               billy-crash-craddock  

 

                    bobby-bare-1                             don_gibson

 

conny-sings-ww-and-framed

Bob Neal’s son, “Sonny” Neal was my agent and he and his wife, Joan” became friends of mine and, oh yes…and they endured my then-husband/manager, good ol’ “Whatzhizname”. ( I used to only refer to him as a name much more common. Referring to him by name has always felt like giving him more acknowledgment than he deserves.)   

Anyway, when Hollywood came to Nashville to cast for the movie, “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings”, the place went a little nuts.  I was 29 and my agency thought that I was too old to play the part of a 19 or 20 year old  “Dixie”, so they didn’t submit me for the audition.  I submitted myself.

The location of the audtions was printed in the paper, so, on the cold and rainy day of the auditions, I went to a small hotel…Vanderbilt something… to audition…uninvited. My husband, Whatzhizname, my son, Bronson, and the family dog, Princess, and I piled into the car and headed to where I would pull-off one of the best crashes I have ever engineered!

Alone, family waiting in the parking lot, I went in to the front desk and asked which room the auditions were in. I told the guy at the desk that I was Conny Van Dyke and that I was with the Neal Agency. They told me the number. It was just about then that I saw Dottie West walking down the hall. I wondered if she was there for the audition and why the Hell I thought that I had a chance at playing shit in a movie if she was going to be up for it!

 Nevertheless, I went to the room and knocked on the door.  I really don’t remember if I had any idea what I was going to do or say; I don’t recall that I had a script in-mind. Suzi, the wife of the producer, Stanley Canter, opened the door.  I thrust my hand forward and, as she involuntarily shook my hand, I said in my thickest Tennessee accent, “Hi. My name’s Conny Van Dyke and I’m a country singer.  I just wanted to come here personal to thank you all for coming to Nashville to make a real Country music movie with real Country music people from Nashville!” Hand still pumping, she said, “Please come in.” I entered and she said, “Tell me your name again?” Kind of like a question.  I repeated exactly what I had told her, handshaking across the threshold.  She asked if I would excuse her for a moment.  She went to the phone on the little desk in the room and made a call. I remember hearing her say, “Hey, Stan? You have to come up here and meet somebody.”

Shortly thereafter, Stan came to the room.  I repeated the same exact words…one more time.  He asked if I was with anybody…meaning an agent.  I played it even more blonde and even more unassuming and Country when I replied,”No, I ain’t with nobody.  Just came by myself to thank you.”   “Do you sing?”, he asked.  “Yep.  That’s exactly what I do. But I didn ‘t come here to waste your time or anything.”

Well, the next few days were whirlwind.  Dottie West was told that she could read for the part of Dixie’s mother…I don’t think that went over too well.  The Neal Agency stepped forward and supported me.  I guess since I was one of four chosen to go to Hollywood for a screen test, I really WASN’T too old for the part! (Actually, I was the ONLY local talent to go to Hollywood for the screen test.)

avildsen       John Avildsen was to direct…that was an amazing honor.  The guy did Rocky, The Karate Kid, Paper Tiger! (That’s Burt from W.W.in the middle of the photo.)

For the screen test, we were told that we would be singing the Tennessee Waltz on camera; I hate that song.  I made one up while in my Honey Wagon awaiting my turn and, when the time came, I sang that.  (I couldn’t tell you what it was about.)

Sissy Spacek, sissyspacek  (before Carrie  and Coal Miner’s Daughter, but after Prime Cut with Gene Hackman and Lee Marvin),

Candy Clark candy-clark-american-graffiti  (after American Graffiti with Ron Howard) and

Bernadette Peters bernadette-peters-2 (before The Jerk and her Emmy and Golden Globe nominations) all read for Dixie.  For some reason, maybe because I would cost less, Burt chose me. Whatever the reason, I have always been grateful for the opportunity, the experience and the REAL drama that went along with co-starring in a film with Burt Reynolds!  

I had been signed with the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles, so because I was with the Neal Agency and The Halsey Agency in Nashville, somehow W.M. acquired a new branch; they bought Halsey and The Neal Agency became William  Morris Nashville. What an agency percentage split! (Gee, I wonder why they picked the Neal Agency?)

                                                  framed-poster Ten days after wrapping the filming of “W.W.”, thanks to Burt Reynolds, I began another film in which I co-starred with Joe Don Baker…Framed. But, that would be for another time as one more of those…tales from a broad!

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3 Responses to “Uninvited Leading Lady”

  1. This was my favoite movie Conny made. She was so good in this along with some impressive stars. I wish I could find this on DVD for I’ve been looking for years, yeah years. I
    do want to say that her acting in this was so good and she was able to keep pace with her famous co stars. I loved her on Police woman also. She did a great job and held her own with Dickinson.
    Along with having known Conny I have always admired the fact she went after what she wanted and made good. I’m so glad you put this movie on her site for us to comment.

  2. I remember a story about Bronson watching the chicken get dumped on the road. I always loved this movie but I hope I don’t offend you when I say it was because “Bronson’s Mom” was in it.

  3. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

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