Sally: That's the good news about getting older: I can see that I've traveled a long way. But I'm always torn with feeling that it isn't enough. I've had such an odd career. I always wanted to be a great actor. I wanted to be Katharine Hepburn–ish—there was a bit of nobility about her. Instead I've always felt like the mutt standing on the sidelines, panting and saying, "Me, too! How about me?" That's just part of my personality.
Oprah: You also have two Oscars on that shelf. What does that mean to you?
Sally: It means that in the 1970s and 1980s, I got to do some great work. The Oscars are really nice, but the best part is that I had the opportunity to do that kind of work.
Oprah: When I was preparing to talk to you, I didn't realize that Gidget was on for only one season. I thought that show had been part of my life for years!
Sally: When it aired in 1965, a season had 36 shows, which is huge. At 18 I didn't see how the show was perceived. I barely had all my consciousness at that point, and I never read reviews or saw ratings. I had my own TV series, yet I'd never been on a plane or even been out of the state.
Oprah: You were raised in Hollywood.
Sally: Yes, but we were working class. My stepfather—his name was Jock, which was very appropriate—was on a 1950s TV series called Yancy Derringer, mostly as a stuntman. My mother had a few roles in Bonanza and Perry Mason. It was an insecure existence; we lived in the Valley, but one day someone came and took all our stuff away, and we had to move to a tract house. My stepfather never came to grips with the idea that what you have today might not be here tomorrow.
Oprah: I've heard that your stepfather didn't treat you well.
Sally: He was a colorful character.
Oprah: Is it true that he once threw you across a yard?
Sally: Yes. He was really big and handsome—I was both terrified of him and madly in love with him. Unfortunately, that stayed with me as I grew up: I was attracted only to men I simultaneously feared and loved. My stepfather was both cruel and loving, and therefore our relationship was very confusing. I felt I was in danger all the time.
Oprah: So if he became upset, he would pick you up and throw you?
Sally: Yes, although the emotional abuse was even worse. But in some ways, he saved my life. Even though my mother is a loving person, she and my real father were extremely passive and repressed. My stepfather, on the other hand, created a situation in which my survival was dependent on getting angry. So when I was 14 or 15, I would literally stand on the coffee table to look this 65 man in the face and scream at him. During my adolescence, that was the only communication that could go on between us. I couldn't swallow my feelings, or something in me would have died. I fought for everybody else in the family, too, including my older brother.