Dee Wallace has worked steadily acting in movies and on TV for over 40 years but her heart is in spiritual work she does with fellow actors and other clients who pay $300 for an hour of her time
Dee Wallace today and in "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" 35 years ago
Dee Wallace will always be remembered as Mary, the mom in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 blockbuster, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; and as a “Scream Queen” who has been in more than two dozen horror, fantasy and science fiction movies including Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes and The Haunting - among her over 130 starring or co-starring roles on the big screen.
She has also starred in four network or cable series among her hundreds of TV roles, while doing nearly 400 commercials and industrials, during a show business career that has seen her steadily employed for the past four decades – a rarity for any Hollywood actress.
However, she has never been nominated for a high profile industry award, until now. On Sunday (5/1), Wallace is up for an honor at the Daytime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles for a dramatic guest role on ABC’s General Hospital.
“I find it so funny,” said Wallace with a chuckle, “that out of all the work I have done, I get the nod for being a guest star on daytime. I love it. You know, god works in mysterious ways.”
The Lord, if there is one, certainly seems to have been working for Wallace, who has risen from a job teaching school in Kansas when she was 27 to the heights of Hollywood in her 67th year, where she remains active as ever, with three more movies and another TV series already shot this year.
“I’m not one of those actors who will hold off for a year or two waiting for the right project,” said Wallace. “I just like to work. And I like roles that have a big arc in them, like The Frighteners (1996). She starts out as a victim and becomes this maniac killer. What a ride for an actor. So much fun. I like to do emotional work and horror films give you that opportunity.”
Acting is only the one part of her life, although certainly the most visible. It is the fame from performing which has allowed her to move into also teaching acting, and that led her to a second career as what she called, “a Life Coach.”
Wallace provides spiritual, personal and career advice to more than 300 current clients and thousands of others who follow her each week on blog radio, read her weekly email blast, buy her five books and pay her up to $300 to for a 50-minute counseling session and $600 for an instructional video and related materials. One personal session a month for a year costs $1,200.
“I do a lot of healing work,” said Wallace. “I have a huge client base. I call it life coaching but really I’m a channel, a clear audio channel.”
Wallace uses terms related to psychics but insisted she is not the same as those sketchy palm readers and fortune tellers. “I don’t foretell the future because I believe the future can always be changed due to your focus and your conscious choices,” she explained, adding: “What I do is go in and look at what is happening right now.”
So while she will be seen later this year in Death House, an all-star horror fest she described as “bloody, grotesque and frightening,” she spends much of her life telling people how to calmly achieve their goals by believing in themselves and putting the past behind them.
“My message and the reason I think I’m here is to urge people to love themselves more, to really know how special they are,” said Wallace. “Whatever challenges have befallen them, they choose to learn and expand their consciousness. It’s all so beautifully created by us. Just know how important you are in the world.”
SHE PLAYS MANIAC KILLERS WHILE PREACHING SELF-ESTEEM
How can she justify portraying gore on screen while she preaches love? “Horror films always represent man fighting his own fear,” responded Wallace. “And that’s all healing work is: How do I get out of my fear and into the power of my own creation?”
In an industry rife with ageism, where actresses regularly complain work dries up as the get older, and studies show there are fewer roles for older women, Wallace dismisses the issue. “I don’t have that belief,” she said. “It’s certainly not true for Judy Dench. There’s a myriad of older actors that are hugely successful out there. So that belief doesn’t apply to those of us who are working. We just keep working because we can.”
She did lament that veteran performers are required to audition for parts a lot more, where as in an earlier time they would simply be hired based on credits and reputation.
One of those times was the early 1980s when a young Steven Spielberg cast her in E.T. without any audition. “He had seen me in The Howling,” recalled Wallace, “and then he called me in for Used Cars.”
She didn’t get that job but within a year she got an offer to do E.T. without auditioning. “He knew exactly what he wanted,” said Wallace, adding: “Steven has this innate ability to find within the person exactly who the character is, and a lot of his work is accomplished in the hiring process.”
As soon as she read the script for E.T. Wallace called her then-agent at The Gersh Agency: “I said I’m not sure how much this is going to do for me, but I knew this film was going to do a lot for the world and I wanted to be part of it.”
To this day, Wallace said people come up to her and, “tell me miracles that have happened in their lives because of that movie.”
As it became a blockbuster of historic proportions, Wallace became put off by some of the trappings of success. “I remember coming out of an event,” she said, “and having fans just storm me. I decided this was scary. This wasn’t what I wanted. So I kind of pulled back for a while.”
For one of the few times in her career, she turned down some work. But then she was attracted to Cujo because she said she, “loved and trusted” producer Daniel H. Blatt, with whom she had done The Howling. “I knew I was going to be in good hands.”
Dee Wallace in "Cujo"
She has rarely stopped working since.
For years her “quote,” the amount she made for doing a show or movie, steadily rose, but then things changed. It wasn’t just her age, said Wallace, but a shift in the industry. “I can tell you when it blew up. It’s when SAG (Screen Actors Guild) created the low budget, modified budget B.S. (Around 2005). They sold us down the river. It’s never been the same since."
“The second down fall was the merger of SAG and AFTRA (in 2012),” said Wallace. “I never voted for it. I worked against it. I think it’s weakened us instead of strengthened us. When the overall pictures weakens, it weakens everybody in the picture. People who used to be in the lower echelon now make the bottom just to work. That doesn’t help with health coverage. It was a devastating thing our union passed.”
It has forced many actors to make compromises, she added: “I think there’s six percent of the people in our industry making a living at acting and I’m one of them. Am I doing all the projects I wish I could do? Absolutely not. But I’m working all the time and I’m feeling creatively satisfied.”
JUST A LITTLE GIRL FROM KANSAS
She was born Deanna Bowes on December 14, 1948 in Kansas City, Kansas, where she grew up an avid dancer and ballerina. She studied to be a teacher in college (to please her mother) and married for the first time at age 19. She taught for a year at a local high school but the classroom wasn’t the stage she dreamed of treading, especially when her first marriage dissolved after only three years.
In the school library she read in the New York Times that one of Broadway’s biggest producers at the time, Hal Prince, was looking to cast an unknown in his new production, which became A Little Night Music. She wrote him what she recalled as a “cheesy letter” asking him to “hire a little girl from Kansas.”
Much to her surprise, she got a call from his assistant, who said Prince wanted her to come to New York to audition. She immediately packed up, bought her own plane ticket and rented a small apartment.
As soon as she got off the plane in New York she sent her bags to the apartment with a cab driver and headed for the audition. “It got down to the last five girls with the dancing and acting,” she recalled. “Then they said, ‘Mr. Prince would like to hear everyone sing.’ I said, ‘My god, I didn’t know we have to sing.’ And they said, ‘Well, this is a musical dear.’”
She didn’t get the job but she stayed in New York, living off her meager savings. As she was about to run out of money, she got her first national commercial, for United Airlines, which paid about $20,000. She was on her way.
Within a month of arriving she had an agent and had been accepted by a top acting teacher, Uta Hagen of the HB School.
To make money, Wallace did industrial shows (conventions, corporate events). One took her to Los Angeles. “Everybody said you should stay,” recounted Wallace, “you’re exactly what they are looking for right now.”
She stayed and soon got an agent but not work. She thought if she could just meet casting directors, she would win them over. “I saw the only people allowed on the lots were for deliveries,” she said. “So I baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies and wrapped them up.”
She breezed through the gate at Universal Studios, and went around introducing herself. “Reuben Cannon (a casting legend who helped launch the careers of Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Willis and others) came out and said ‘Come on in. I love chocolate chip cookies.’” Recalled Wallace. “While we’re sitting there, he gets a call from the set of Lucas Tanner. The girl who was supposed to play a waitress, with five lines, was sick and they needed to shoot in two hours.”
“He covers the phone and asked, ‘What size do you wear?’ I said what size do you need? And I stuck myself in a size four costume.”
Work on TV, in films and commercials followed. She studied acting with Charles Conrad in the 1980s, who was a disciple of Sanford Meisner who ran the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Other students included Carl Weathers, Veronica Hamel and Suzanne Sommers. “It was just the method I needed,” said Wallace. “Most acting teachers break everything down. Charles taught us how to just channel the character.”
She got married shortly after arriving in L.A. but that ended after three years as well. In 1980, a year before E.T., Wallace married actor and director Christopher Stone, who became the great love of her life. She starred with him in horror movies including Cujo and The Howling, and shared top billing on The New Lassie TV series.
Dee Wallace with her daughter, actress Gabrielle Stone, at the Prism Awards
Together they had one daughter, Gabrielle Stone, who is now 27 and pursuing her own acting career. However, she was only seven when her father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 53 in 1995.
“The death of my husband was very tragic for me,” said Wallace. “He was my best friend. I was in the middle of shooting a film (The Frighteners in New Zealand). When I got back (after flying home for the funeral director) Peter Jackson looked at me and said, ‘We never thought you’d be back.’ And I said, ‘that wasn’t the way I was raised.’”
Wallace married for a fourth time. That lasted ten years and ended about eight years ago. Now she spends most of her time, when not acting, on her “healing work.”
It really began in the early 1980s when she started teaching acting in L.A. because she needed the money.
SHE TEACHES ACTING BUT LEARNS ABOUT LIFE
She saw a pattern in her students and then in life all around her. “The common denominator for everybody is we don’t love and value who we are,” she said. “We’re not taught to. We’re taught the opposite, that it is egotistical to love yourself, to think you are awesome and magnificent.”
The acting school was successful but Wallace was more interested in the spiritual aspect of life. “My studio was created in conjunction with the universe,” said Wallace, “so I could learn all of this healing work. The acting studio was the beginning of bringing it out, and then they (the students) were having so much success, they wanted me to do it for their families and friends. So now here I am with clients all over the world. It’s a huge part of who I am.”
As part of her “healing work,” Wallace studied the brain and delved into a flood of new research about how it worked. “I was amazed to find out that how we see ourselves in the world and how we see the world viewing us is all in place by the time we are four years old, largely by the time we’re 18 months.”
She wanted to find a way to reach those children, and others, to instill self-esteem early on. “Bonding is really important for children,” said Wallace, “so I created a (talking) teddy bear they can bond with. It has 14 really empowering first person statements that the child says back to the bear: ‘I love my body’ and the child says, ‘I love my body.” At an early age the child starts claiming his own empowerment.”
Dee Wallace holds Buppa LaPaloo, the talking bear that teaches self-esteem
She calls the plush toy that talks and promotes self-esteem Buppa LaPaloo. “When you distribute toys you have to pick a (target) age, so two to seven is operative,” said Wallace, “but I have lots of parents buying it for pre-teen girls for their self-esteem. I have adults buying it for themselves. People who have parents going into Alzheimer’s have gotten it for their parents.”
Some of her buyers and clients are fellow actors. “Actors are children,” said Wallace. “We get insecure. I remember a year ago I called Mike (Eisenstadt of the talent agency Amsel, Eisenstadt, Frazier & Hinojosa) and said, ‘I just feel like I’m not going anywhere.’ He said, ‘Dee, I’m going to do your work on you. You’re recurring in two series. You’re getting ready to start a film and you just did a guest starring role. Do you know how many actors can say they have that going on in a two-month period?’ I went, ‘Oh, really I guess I do.’ We actors are just children. ‘Do you love me? Please tell me you love me.’”
“I felt really sorry for Sally Field. She took such a hit when she got up at the Academy Awards (in 1985) and said, ‘You like me. You really like me.’ It hit everybody hard because it was the truth. We’re all of us going, ‘Do you love me?’ I mean, that’s just who actors are.”
As much as she loves acting and knows it has been very good to her, she increasingly is drawn to her more spiritual work. “If I had to give up one part of my life,” said Wallace, “it would be the acting., because I could never give up the healing work. Never. I could do it 24/7 and never get tired.”