Posted May, 2011
Ah, the sixties! For many of the Baby Boomer Generation, that is considered the golden era of music, television, movies and cars. One thing that we began to witness in those years was music busting out beyond the radio and jukebox and began merging with TV and movies to sell stars, cars and soda pop. This was a wonderful, beautiful, creative perfect storm that captivated the attention of millions and turned stars and starlets into icons whose images are forever etched in our brains.
One young lady who found herself in the dizzying vortex of that perfect storm was the beautiful and talented Donna Loren. Starting out in radio at the tender age of 8, she quickly broke into TV in the southern California area, eventually getting the nod to be the only “Dr. Pepper Girl” on the cola’s national advertising campaign. She also managed to make it as a regular on the historic TV program, Shindig, as well as staring in a string of iconic “beach party” movies as well as lots of guest appearances many TV shows.
I was recently afforded the opportunity to chat by phone with the perennial beauty by way of introduction through her husband, Jered Cargman. After some delays caused by my schedule, they were still gracious enough to chat with me.
The first impression I had of Ms. Loren is that she still sounds like the “Dr. Pepper Girl” of 40 years ago. As the conversation progressed, I quickly learned that the youthfulness of her voice is driven by the youthfulness of her heart. When you visit her website or purchase her CD’s, you’ll see that she still has a very youthful look that mirrors her outlook on life.
As we settled into our conversation, I asked Donna how she has been doing.
“Oh, pretty well, actually. I’m starting to rehearse for my first performance that I’ll be doing live since 1968, so that’s pretty monumental in my life. I mean, with one exception, I did one live performance in the early 80’s, opening for Jerry Lee Lewis. Other than the one time I was on the Merv Griffin Show, it was like a little blink in my life in the early 80’s. Now, I’m really going for it.”
Having been off of the stage (for all practical purposes) for more than 40 years, I asked her a real brainy question: Is she nervous? (Brilliant, Patterson! Geez!)
With her infectious laugh, she replied, “Um, as long as I remember all the words, that’s all that matters. I’m really digging deep. Digging deep. I’m digging very deep. I’m going back to songs that I haven’t sung since I was a child – just reviewing things that happened to me in tandem with performing. I’m writing my autobiography so it’s (the show) sort of a musical way of taking people on my journey.”
Did she say, “book”? This bookworm’s eyes widened at the thought of an autobiography by this woman. Naturally, I immediately asked her when the book would be available.
“Gosh, I’ve been gathering information for a couple of years now. When my mother passed away, I received a bunch of diaries so I’ve been compiling and going through a bunch of information. Now, I’m actually putting it into manuscript form. Also, my father - my ‘now I-know’ adoptive father – was my manager back in the day. He was also a photographer, which was also a great deal of what he did during the days of my career. Some of the things I inherited after my mother’s death are just a bunch of negatives that have never been developed. So, that’s another process that I’ve been going through, looking at photographs that he took while I was doing my career. I’m still sort of processing all of that information and seeing what’s relevant for the book. It’s a lot of reflection but it’s also just life in general right now.”
It’s at this point that Ms. Loren shares where her drive and motivation are rooted.
“My philosophy is that the condition of our dear planet is just crying for a higher consciousness and a coming together. People are so fed up with all of the separation and all of the division and all the divisiveness. I constantly reflect on the condition of this planet and what I have lived through just in my lifetime and all the changes that are occurring now and the build up to where we are. I just see the likes of the people at the very top like the Bruce Springsteen’s and the Sting’s and the people that are out there, really, really giving - giving of their hearts, giving their all to help people come together. Again, it seems that music is the one language that everybody understands.”
“You know, Randy, when you think of the different times of renaissance that have happened over the course history – all of the great minds and all of the great contributions to art through the millennia, you wonder why it only went so far and then, all of a sudden . . . A perfect example is, let’s just say, Nazi Germany, for one example, which is a time and period we had just begun the Industrial Revolution. It was well on its way. Things had just been invented. The telephone was common. Television hadn’t been invented yet. What was the first thing that was attacked? The arts!
“So, really and truly, what I’m getting – at least what’s motivating me a great deal – is what all the seeds that have been planted through the eons of time are now being supported. When you think about seeds being planted, we go back thousands of years with the same thread of information because it’s the truth, right? So, it’s like you’re remembering, I’m remembering, lots of people are remembering. There are lots of brave souls out there fighting for their freedom now - lots and lots of people all over the world!
“So, when you think about the seeds that are dormant in our earth – in the depths of our earth - just like the fossil fuels – at the depths. How many millions and millions of years that it takes for all of that to finally ‘surface’, let’s say. So, I’m just feeling that the universe is supporting this movement of freedom because it seems that it’s so contagious all over the planet even though we’re witnessing so much resistance because of leadership that doesn’t want to give up their power. Hey, man, you can’t fight it when you’re in the minority and I have a lot of faith in humanity even though we’re going through everything we’re going through.”
“I don’t know if you believe in ‘trapped energy’ but I used to go to Sedona (Arizona) a lot. In the early 80’s, I discovered Sedona and wrote a song about it. I fell in love with it – the energy there, the magnetic fields there. They call them ‘vortexes’. There were times that I would drive to Sedona from Los Angeles or sometimes I would fly into Phoenix. I knew this man who was a minister and he was a pilot, so I felt safe in the sky with a man of faith at the wheel, flying me over the desert and up to those mountains – those red rocks. Sometimes we’d land at a place called Table Top Mountain. He would tell me, ‘You know, not everybody can stand the energy – weather the feelings you get from this particular power spot - especially people with heart conditions. There’s a heart energy on this particular mountain that some people, they just can’t come up here.’
“So, there are different vortexes. Some of them are positive and some of them are negative. I’m sort of getting that the heart energy of the earth is opening up rather than the intellect and what I call the ‘lower chakras’ of the warriors who feel that fighting is the answer. To me, that’s a dead end.”
Because Ms. Loren referenced her song, Sedona, I seemed to remember that she was backed up by guitar great, James Burton and the rest of Elvis Presley’s TCB band when she recorded that song. I asked her about it.
“Yes! Oh my god! That was such a great experience because I knew James when I was a very little girl. He used to back me up on a radio show I used to go on to when I was, like, eight years old, called Squeakin’ Deacon. It was a live radio show – a country and western thing. When I was a very little girl, my favorite music was Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. It just touched my heart. I didn’t quite understand what the words were all about. Even at that age, I ended up being part of a little bit of the country scene that was happening in Los Angeles. Cliffie Stone and the Bakersfield crowd would come down to Los Angeles. Anyway, that’s when I met James.
“Then, probably when I was seventeen, so nine years later, we ended up doing Shindig together because he was part of the Shindig band. Then he became the leader of the Shindogs, so we worked together quite often during that period. Then, in the early 80’s, we reconnected. During my divorce, which took almost two years, rather than going to therapy or finding some other way of ‘getting it out’, I had access to Amigo Studios over at Warner Brothers. So, James and I would go into the studio quite often and that (Sedona) was one of those occasions.”
“He’s (Burton) one of those guys back in the 80’s – he was a very high integrity man with a family and a wife of many years. By the time I got divorced in 1983 or ’84, he and his wife, Louise, told me that he was going to be moving back to Shreveport. So, once he did that, and I was a Los Angeles girl – then, eventually, I moved to Hawaii – we really have lost touch since those times – now going on 30 years.”
Donna Loren first gained national notoriety as the one and only “Dr Pepper Girl” back in the 60’s. With so many companies going “retro” in their advertising, I asked Donna if she had any idea why Dr. Pepper hasn’t asked her to be their “girl” again?
“Well, the thing, is – just a little history. When I was hired to be the Dr Pepper girl, it was a solely owned company – it was a Dallas, Texas, based company. When I retired – first of all, I retired two years shy of my contract fulfillment. I spent five years out of seven with Dr Pepper. In my book, I go into detail of how and why I chose to stop at the last two years of my contract. Technically, if I wanted to be cute about it, they still owe me two years because I walked away when I got married and decided to change my life. At some point, Cadbury-Schweppes bought it, which is an English company. It’s just one of many companies that the corporation owned. When you go from a solely owned company where I used to be invited to sing at the board meetings – they used to fly me into Dallas and I used to go to their headquarters with a dozen or so men around a long table at seven o’clock in the morning for a prayer meeting – man! I was there! Going to a huge corporation like Cadbury and now Dr Pepper is just one of many, it probably got lost in the shuffle.
“A couple of years ago, I did get an e-mail from the museum for Dr Pepper down in Waco. They were searching around and they didn’t have anything on me. The curator or whomever it was looked around on the web and saw that I had some calendars and stuff on my website. So, they contacted us to get some artwork and fill in some gaps.”
As Donna Loren’s popularity grew on the radio and on TV, it’s hardly surprising that the doors quickly opened for her to appear on the silver screen – most notably, the “beach party” movies that were all the rage in the 60’s. I asked Donna her opinion as to what made those movies so endearing to the public.
“First of all, I think the people that were cast in the films – how would you ever expect Don Rickles to be in a beach party movie? Don Rickles – the guy is very close to 85 and he’s still doing it. And Frankie Avalon – he’s still out there. He looks sharp – looks great. He’s still out there doing it. With the exception of a George Burns, you didn’t think that people would have that longevity. Sid Caesar is another guy. Mel Brooks is another. Betty White. You don’t expect people in their late 80’s or 90’s to still be relevant in terms of that broad of a communication. I think there’s also empathy for Annette’s (Funicello) health – to remember her when she was young and full of life. All the years that she’s been a recluse and debilitated – but her spirit lives on. She’s so amazing! But you look at the cast and my god! Little Stevie Wonder – there were so many people in those movies! From my experience – because I grew up next to the ocean – (it’s because) so many people have never even seen the ocean.
“When I lived in California growing up, I lived 2 miles from the ocean and it was a part of my life. The sea air was part of my life. Whenever I had the opportunity, I was always on the sand and near the water. When I eventually moved to Hawaii, I was even closer to the sand – closer to the water. At one point, I was living in Honolulu, right at the water’s edge. I could, literally, look off of the balcony into tide pools and it looked like an aquarium on a clear day. I could see the Humuhumu-nukunukuāpua’a – the fish that, when you go to Hawaii as a tourist, somebody says, ‘Oh! There’s a Humuhumu-nukunukuāpua’a!’ They’re a special fish that you can see that swims around close to the shore’s edge and it’s noticeable.
“Anyway, I, personally, had this relationship with the ocean. After a lot of personal things happened to me and I became aware of it, and I was gifted with this opportunity to be right next to my friend, the ocean, I was able to process so much information and so much emotion just by going into the ocean all the time. Having that experience in the ocean because – I want to call it the motion of the ocean – when you’re in the ocean and the waves constantly moving, that communion with the core of your being is all around you, it’s almost like being back in the womb. It’s very comforting. Yet, it’s this constant motion that allows you to release certain feelings that, maybe, in some other environment, may be still trapped inside you.”
I asked Ms. Loren what her fondest memories are of making those carefree, beach party movies. After some thought, Loren shares, “You’re going to think this is silly but, because I love the ocean so much, being in the studio is, sort of, not my favorite thing – being inside all day. The idea that we got to go to so many beaches all along the coast in Malibu - each movie had its own location (was great). In my diary, there are notations of different beaches that I’ll be describing. Most of my career, I was heavily, heavily chaperoned and, so, most of my memories are, ‘Gee, they’re having so much fun.’ But everyone was of legal age and no one was hanging around them. Other than Stevie Wonder, when he was there, I was the youngest, so my life was more about my responsibility to my family and my father was always there watching me. I couldn’t go too far. But, I would say, of course, singing in those movies I thought the highlight was singing my duet my first time out the gate with Dick Dale. I go into stories in my book about my experience meeting with him the first time – all of the exotic animals he had at his house where we had our first meeting.”
At this point, Ms. Loren slightly interrupts herself to share a story that happened recently.
“I almost reconnected with him (Dick Dale) last year. There is an organization called American Cinematheque and they bought the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and renovated it. They show all kinds of movies there – rare footage. Last year they honored Matt Damon during a coast-to-coast broadcast. They invited me to host a Beach Party marathon. I was still living in Hawaii at the time and came back to California. That was my first public appearance and sang some of the songs from the movies. They asked me, ‘If you could have anybody join you, who would you like?’ I said, ‘Dick Dale!’ They contacted him and he declined based on what they were offering him, I guess. I’m still thinking that would be an interesting reunion.”
Donna appeared on some of the most iconic TV’s shows of the 60’s. Like the movies, I asked Ms. Loren her thoughts as to why those shows were such huge hits back in the day.
“I would have to focus on Batman. I don’t know what it was, but the seeds were planted for longevity during that period of time. I just think that it’s an energy that people now going on four generations are just not willing to let go of. There’s something about it. It’s not just characters. It’s not even the plot. When you really get down to it, it’s an energy – maybe an intention that there is something possible – maybe you look upon someone as a hero.
“Batman, like Superman, were still flesh and blood. Robin was just flesh and blood. Yeah, they put on their pseudo-hero costumes but the supernatural heroism that anyone can show these characters symbolized. And for it to become a caricature larger than life, it’s sort of like the animated characters. They take a snapshot and they never age so the relevance is still ‘right now’. So, little kids that watch Batman on television – the first Batman versus the most current Batman – it’s pretty much this thread of continuity. It’s all basically the same. The technology changes but what you have with the character is the same. Who knew? Who knew there would be this crazy amount of longevity back then?”
I asked if she thought that part of the reason was a sort of innocence that permeated the 60’s – a still-pervasive goodness that was in the hearts of society that existed before the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and the Watergate scandal.
“Naiveté. Yeah, exactly. I think you hit it on the head, Randy. After all of those incidences and – if you really want to dig deep – there’s just so much corruption that’s happened. The naiveté of the 60’s still hadn’t reached that point of cynicism. Finally, after we all witnessed three icons being shattered, it was a phenomenal power play to control our population and move in the direction we had been going in for way too long –since ’70. And when you think about the drug culture, why do people do that all over the world? Why do people put themselves in a fog? Because there’s a feeling of a lack of empowerment. Before that, there was a feeling of at least a little bit of empowerment – that dream of, ‘Yes, if I have a vision, I can make that dream come true with a lot of hard work. At least I’m going to try!’
“But, when you go through the 70’s with that major drug scene – even in the 80’s with politics and drugs, etcetera, etcetera – only now, since the beginning of the year in the Middle East, we see that people are willing to die for their freedom again.”
Because of the pervasive appeal that Donna obviously had with her audiences, the legendary Danny Thomas offered Loren her own TV show. After the pilot was shot, she decided to retire and focus on raising her family. Did she have any regrets about what could have been?
“As soon as I knew that I was going to be starting a family – it wasn’t the only reason why I retired – literally, I knew that I wanted to raise my children. I wanted to be at home and spend time with them. I wanted my children to know who they were and I couldn’t divide myself that way. I had to devote myself to them. I knew that it was right for me. I also had to change my lifestyle in terms of my relationship with my parents because we had a business together and I was the commodity.
“But there were quite a few reasons that came to a head very, very quickly. What can I say? I really believe that everything happens for a reason and that it’s for your own personal growth. If you can try to keep that in the front of your mind, your brain, your heart, that you’re doing what you’re doing exactly when you’re supposed to be doing it – even if you don’t get it at the time – just keep your faith that that’s where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. Things just evolve. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I hadn’t made the decision that I made then. I wouldn’t have my three incredible kids. They wouldn’t have their lives to experience. It’s not all perfect. It’s not why we’re here. I don’t think our souls are here to live in perfection.”
In recent years, Ms. Loren has been quietly but actively recording music, I asked her who she felt her music would appeal to most.
“Normally, I would say anyone who values the work that I did in the past. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet up with a couple of people – one was a big fan of Shindig. His name is Paul Shaffer (David Letterman’s Tonight Show band leader). Another one that I met up with was Little Steven who plays my song, So, Do The Zonk, all the time on his Sirius/XM radio program, Underground Garage. I would say that generation would see the value in my past work. I would say that it’s infinitely possible to enter to a frequency that would make a connection. I’ve met people in their late 40’s that have an inkling of a memory of me based on TV. People in their early 50’s who remember my Dr. Pepper jingle. Then, there are their children and even, possibly, their grandchildren that have a fondness for, like you said, the Nick at Night and Nickelodeon. I’m not going to limit it. There’s a big wide world out there and I’m hoping to connect with as many people as possible.”
As a follow up to my question, I asked Donna what the reception has been like for her latest CD, Love It Away.
“I can’t really articulate it that much because I haven’t performed it ‘live’ yet. I have a steady stream of internet sales through Amazon.com and downloads through iTunes and various other sites that have my music. I’m looking forward to seeing what the live audience response will be.”
So, what can we expect from Donna Loren in the next year and in the next five years?
“Ooh! My goodness! Ideally and philosophically, I would say to stay with devoting myself to heart energy and really promoting that. Most of my songs that I write are about that. If I’m singing old songs or new songs, that’s my intention and what I want to put out there. I want to ride the wave of newness that’s happening on the planet and align myself with that. It’s a full time job – 24/7 – to not be distracted by the negative stuff. Not to put my blinders up – I like to be aware of it – but I don’t want to immerse myself in it.”
You can keep up with the latest happenings in Donna Loren’s life and career by visiting her website, www.donnaloren.net. You can follow her blog, sign up for her newsletter and visit her store to check out her offerings of CD’s.
And, if she’s going to be appearing at a venue near you, why not check out her show and witness for yourself her talent and warmth?