Oprah: Was your stepfather often physically abusive?
Sally: No. There was always the threat of violence in the air, and a few times, it turned physical. I never felt safe. In high school, acting is what I did to stay sane. It wasn't about showing off; it was about revealing parts of myself that I couldn't reveal anyplace else.
Oprah: Did you think you'd pursue an acting career after high school?
Sally: I had no idea what I would do after high school. I never even took the SAT. During that era, few people had great expectations for women. I didn't even have enough sense to panic; I just put myself in a fog. I couldn't feel a lot. The only thing I knew was that I had to keep acting. I must have known that a person could go to New York to study and become a real actress, but I couldn't see that for myself. So when I graduated, I asked my stepfather if he knew where I could study. He mentioned an old lot at Columbia Pictures that was used for acting workshops at night. I borrowed $25 from my real father to pay for it; I'd never asked him for money before. My mother auditioned with me. We did a piece from the Lillian Hellman play Toys in the Attic. It must have been horrible beyond belief! But I got in—only to find, from the first day, that I didn't like the techniques being taught. Thank God I had a place inside me that knew this wasn't for me. It was a kind of arrogance, but it gave me the strength to say, "I know I can do this. I have something."
Oprah: I know what you mean. I started talking in front of people in the church when I was 3 years old, so I've always known I could do that. How did you get the role in Gidget?
Sally: After the first night of my workshop, a casting guy asked me if I had an agent. I didn't, but I still went in for an interview. The waiting room was filled with girls who looked like movie stars. They all had professional head shots; the only pictures I had were wallet photos of me with my friends. At my screen test, I walked in and said, "Which one is the camera?" The crew members were like, "Oh, boy." But the casting director said, "You're it." God was looking out for me. He thought he'd throw me in the ocean and see if I could swim.
Oprah: What was it like?
Sally: It was such bliss. I was in heaven, learning as much as I could learn. I loved, loved, loved every minute of it. On the show, Don Porter, who played my father, was this sweet, loving, gentle, generous man you wished was your father. He didn't scare you. He didn't hurt you.
Oprah: I wanted Gidget's father, too! And Ward Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver. There were so many girls like me who were enamored of Gidget. How much of you was in the character?
Sally: That character was the superficial part of me that I learned to use to protect myself. I played Gidget when I wanted to entertain people but keep some distance. When I was Gidget, no one ever really knew me. And by playing Gidget, I learned about me—about how deeply I wanted things I hadn't even let myself see.
We Hear You!