The video: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.
- Melody Knighton
- Marlee Matlin
- Lupe McDonald
- Susan McNabb
- Barbara Paolella
- Frankie Thorn
Lupe: I was 23. Fresh out of college and excited to be doing a music video, which was a fairly new thing in the music world.
Frankie: I believe I was about 24. Yes, that was me popping pills and playing the violin!
Marlee: I was 24 when Billy asked me to appear in “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Susan: I believe I was 28, but I don’t recall the shoot date. I might have been 29.
Barbara: 22. I was the future girl, all punked out in the kitchen. :)
Frankie and Antonio Sabàto, Jr. 1989
Where were you living at the time?
Melody: Hollywood, CA.
Lupe: Santa Monica, CA.
Frankie: Hollywood, CA.
Marlee: Los Angeles, CA.
Susan: West Hollywood, CA. When I was 24, I’d moved to L.A. from North Carolina to model.
Barbara: Malibu Canyon, CA.
What music videos, shows, or movies had you appeared in prior to that?
Melody: This was my first on-camera appearance. I had worked on several as a makeup artist.
Lupe: I had mainly done quite a few commercials, including McDonald’s, Miller Lite, Pepsi, Honeywell, etc. I had also done some theater in L.A. and at the New Mexico Repertory Theater Co.
Frankie: I had done a couple of films in Europe, a shampoo commercial in London, and a couple of other music videos over there.
Susan: I’d appeared in many commercials and music videos. (I’ve listed the videos in a later response.) I also did print and runway. I made most of my living modeling, but had also done quite a bit of extra work in film and TV to make ends meet, and I’d become Elvira’s stand-in and photo double by that time. I’d been working in L.A. for four or five years when I booked “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Barbara: This was the first thing I was cast in through an agency. I had done some modeling but nothing serious.
How were you cast in “We Didn’t Start the Fire”?
Melody: The call was for people who looked like celebs from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. My agent sent me the audition. It was my first attempt to look like Lucille Ball. I had not even studied her yet.
Lupe: I was cast, I believe, by a casting agent named Paul Ventura. [MTN: True! In fact, Paul was invaluable in helping me find Lupe, a process that took about a month but seemed like much longer at the time.]
Frankie: I went on the audition with hundreds of other people. Who knows why, but they chose me for the role. The whole casting process is still a mystery to me. I actually love auditioning. I go in and dance for myself!
Marlee: I got a call from my agent and publicist at the time that Billy thought it might be fun for me to appear in his new video.
Susan: I don’t remember the actual audition. I went out on a lot of music video auditions and many of them blur together with memories of standing on my mark and dancing in a bathing suit, trying to look sexy. I remember wondering if the casting directors ever showed the audition tapes at their parties so people could laugh at us. I often felt ridiculous.
Barbara: The call was for Marilyn Monroe types so I dressed like a 1950s Marilyn Monroe. I ran from another callback; I walked in and I thought I am at the wrong call. There are tall models who look nothing like what the casting agent said they were looking for. I figured I was not getting this.
Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?
Melody: I was thrilled to get a part, try out this character, and meet Billy Joel.
Lupe: I think at that point, being a struggling artist, I was ecstatic to be cast in anything. But this being a paying gig and being such a cool job, I was quite thrilled, to say the least.
Frankie: I was, as usual, surprised. Getting booked for any job in Hollywood is close to a miracle. There are so many beautiful and talented people here! And it was also my first acting gig in Hollywood. So I was especially delighted!
Marlee: I was over the moon. Me? In a Billy Joel video? I had never heard the song before, but didn’t care. I said “I’m in!”
Susan: I was always very happy to hear I had a booking, and this was no exception.
Barbara: This was my first job so I was really excited!
Were you a Billy Joel fan?
Frankie: I knew who he was! I liked his music!
Marlee: I had met him several times before and expressed my admiration for him and his music (was a fan ever since I was 8) and in 1988 we got to work together on Sesame Street.
Susan: Absolutely! Who isn’t? He’s an icon.
Barbara: I liked Billy Joel.
Where was the video filmed?
Melody: Hollywood. Raleigh Studios?
Lupe: The video was filmed at some big sound stage in L.A. somewhere.
Frankie: Oh jeez…it was some studio in the Hollywood area, but I’m not sure which one.
Marlee: I don’t recall where the video was filmed but I want to say Hollywood.
Susan: I don’t remember the location, but we were on a sound stage somewhere in L.A.
Barbara: It was so long ago I remember only that it was shot in a big studio somewhere.
Who is Meg James? See below...
courtesy of Sterling StormHow long was the shoot?
Melody: I think they shot for several days but I was there for one.
Lupe: The shoot for me was one day.
Frankie: I shot my part for two days.
Marlee: The video shoot took most of a day. That’s because I had hair/makeup and two costume changes—prom girl and hippie.
Susan: I only worked on it one day. I don’t know how many days they shot.
Barbara: The shoot was one day, I think.
How did you feel making the video?
Melody: I felt like a star. Lots of attention and loved the costumes.
Frankie: I felt soooo happy! I loved making this music video! It was a period piece. I was playing Marlee Matlin’s mother. [My character] started out as a young mom in the ‘60s, then they aged me with makeup and shot into the future. It was fascinating! I got a glimpse of what I’ll look like as an old lady! LOL!
Marlee: It was fantastic having an opportunity watching how videos are made. I know it sounds ironic coming from a deaf person, but it was really fun being part of a music video. I’ve always thought they play like little movies, so why shouldn’t I be in one? Thanks to Billy, I got the chance.
Susan: I loved the job! I was pleasantly surprised when I was put in the red dress. It was “pretty” and not the usual slutty garb required for most music videos.
Decorating a Christmas tree was also a wholesome task to perform on camera, which I liked. It was nice to just act like a normal person and not have to try to look sexy. Meryl Streep once said her hardest role was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman because she had to look beautiful. (Yes, I just compared myself to Meryl Streep—hey, stop laughing!)
I’d been told to bring some wardrobe of my own, which was common. Music videos generally had very low budgets, and we often wore our own clothes. I brought a selection of hats, and they chose to put me in one of them for my second change—a black felt hat with an attached black scarf that wrapped around my neck.
Barbara: I was so excited to shoot it until they started fitting me for this wardrobe, putting me in this ridiculous outfit; I became so bummed about it and never really told anyone about the video.
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
Melody: Trying to toss a weighted veil. I kept conking Billy in the head, neck, arm, chest. If you asked the actor who had to carry me across the threshold for numerous takes, I am sure he would say his aching back.
Frankie: There really was nothing hard that I can remember. I guess having to hear bits of the song seven zillion times, really loudly…that was a bit much…but obviously necessary!
Marlee: The hardest part was lighting up a fake marijuana cigarette. I was so apprehensive because at the time I had been sober for two years. But then, it wasn’t hard because it wasn’t that long. It was fun and scary at the same time.
Susan: I don’t remember anything being hard about it. It was a great gig.
How was it to work with Billy Joel? What was he like?
Melody: He was very warm and friendly. Kind of a quiet guy. Didn’t feel the need to be the center of attention. He seemed content to sit back and observe until he was needed. He was very tolerant of my lousy throw. He chatted with us between takes.
Lupe: I never did get to work directly, as in exchanging any lines, with Billy Joel. Once we had figured out the scene we were shooting, they would bring him in and plunk him down in his chair, in the middle of our kitchen, so he could observe our chaos and the filming would begin.
Frankie: Great! He was a quiet gentleman to me!
Marlee: Billy, as always, was a gentleman with a little undercurrent of mischief/subversiveness. He plays by the rules but he plays his way because he can—he’s Billy Joel! He was very patient explaining how the music would play and [how] we would act out various scenarios.
Susan: I’m certain we met but to be honest, I don’t remember talking to him—which sounds crazy, I know, because he’s Billy Frikkin’ Joel. It would have been customary to be introduced to him, and the fact that I don’t remember our conversations means that he was probably a perfectly lovely person, because if he wasn’t—that I would have remembered.
Barbara: I don’t feel I really shot the video with Billy Joel; he basically stayed by himself. No one really interacted with him that much. At the time Christie Brinkley was a bigger name so everyone asked me if she was on set and she was not.
Any funny stories from the shoot?
Melody: Well, I couldn’t resist milking it when I was wearing the pregnant suit. I waddled around and struggled to sit down. The crew was falling all over themselves to assist me. Like they hadn’t just seen me an hour before not pregnant. Cracked me up.
Lupe: I remember Marlee Matlin quite vividly. She was quite the hot actress at the time, having just won an Academy Award. I remember she came with a large entourage, and they would all be hanging out and seeming to be having a grand ole time while we were working. I was a bit awestruck being so close to her and Billy Joel at the same time.
Frankie: When I met Marlee Matlin, she was so vibrant! Such a free-spirited being! Wow! I was playing her mom; we are the same age, but I was acting. They aged me up pretty good at the end there! It was super exciting to be on the set, trusting and creating the director’s vision, making it come to life. Best job on the planet!
Marlee: It was fun trying to watch them figure out how I would take off my bra and burn it. I think we had a tough time trying to get the bra to ignite and they doused it in something after I took it off.
Susan: When we started to set up the coffin shot, the director wanted to get a shot of the coffin lid opening from a closed position. The actor spoke up and said he couldn’t be in the coffin with the lid closed, so the shot was changed—cheated a little to start from a halfway-open position. It’s not funny-ha-ha, but it’s kind of funny-odd. I couldn’t imagine speaking up and saying no to anything I was told to do by a director. But I could also see why it would be hard to be shut inside a coffin.
Barbara: I have no funny stories about the shoot; like I said, they pretty much made me look ridiculous and cut out most of what we shot.
Anything go wrong on the shoot?
Melody: Nothing went wrong while I was shooting.
Frankie: Don’t recall any major blunders of any kind.
Marlee: Nothing really went wrong except it was a challenge to take off my bra and burn it as I explained.
Susan: We couldn’t start the coffin lid-opening shot from a closed position.
What did you think of the video?
Melody: I thought it was very innovative for its time. I think it opened the door for more stylized videos.
Lupe: I really love the video. The idea of going through all the decades and seeing a slice from these people’s lives and realizing that we are all basically repeating the cycle over and over is rather fun and creative. And the way it is edited together keeps it moving so nicely.
Frankie: I wasn’t really sure what the whole kit and caboodle was going to turn out like in the end. There were all these time-period sets; conceptually I had no idea how they were going to put it all together. I was just into being my mother character!
Marlee: I thought the video was great. Very visual. Each word/lyric was accompanied by an image that reflected the time. Chris Blum, the director, did a great job.
Susan: I loved it! It was thought-provoking and interesting—not a typical video at the time. It told the story of the evolution of the American family and a warning about our future while showcasing some shocking historical images—really, pretty ambitious for a music video.
What did your parents think of it?
Melody: They always think it is fun to see me on camera. My dad was just thankful I wasn’t playing a prostitute this time.
Lupe: It was really just a job to them. I doubt either of them had ever seen a music video, then or even now.
Frankie: Oh my mom is always proud as punch! She gets to point to the TV and tell the world, “There’s my beautiful talented daughter on the telly!”
Marlee: My parents loved the video. They knew how much of a fan of Billy’s I was and were thrilled I got to work with him again, [this time] on one of his videos.
Susan: I don’t remember discussing it with my parents. They weren’t really MTV types. But they were always proud when I booked a job.
What did your friends think of it?
Melody: Most of my L.A. friends were in the biz so they were pretty jaded. However, over the years, my friends from Georgia and other parts of the country told me how cool they thought it was to have someone they knew appear in a video.
Lupe: My friends thought I was pretty cool being a part of something so popular and so on the cutting edge of music then.
Frankie: My hardcore Billy Joel fan friends kind of freaked out! Knowing I was on a set with him for two days was a bit surreal for them!
Marlee: My friends were blown away by the video because they didn’t recognize me at first as the prom queen and then as the hippie burning her bra. It was hilarious!
Susan: I don’t remember specifically discussing the video, but my friends were always very supportive when I was in a video. My friends back home in North Carolina were more impressed than my L.A. friends. My L.A. friends were mostly in the business as well, and had their own accomplishments that often made mine seem insignificant. But then, friends who weren’t in the business thought what I did for a living was pretty cool. It’s all relative.
Did you watch the MTV World Premiere of the video, and if so, where and how did that feel?
Melody: I didn’t even know they had a premiere. Unfortunately, once the production company gets you on film or video, they don’t want to know you. It is extremely difficult to even get a copy of your work unless you know someone.
Frankie: I did! I think I was in Minnesota visiting my parents at the time and we all watched the big premiere on MTV. It was amazing! It was much more multi-layered and historical than I imagined it would be. Everybody thought it was pretty cool.
Susan: No, but I watched MTV and VH1 a lot—always looking for myself and my friends in videos. Plus I was a fan like anyone else and had my favorite videos to watch for. We left it on all the time, like a radio. It was a big part of the culture at the time.
Did the video ever affect your dating life in any way (i.e. when you first told boyfriends you were the woman in it)?
Melody: What dating life? Just kidding. My husband was a friend at the time and he thought it was fun.
Lupe: Well, it’s a funny thing…around the same time, I was doing a play in Santa Fe called When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder, by Mark Medoff. The leading man was played by Christopher McDonald. Little did I know at this point that he was the man I would end up marrying. Anyway, he had seen that video right before I showed up in NM and was rather impressed that I was the girl in it, and now here I was playing his girl. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I did indeed end up “his girl” in real life. Interesting to think that a part in a video could have shaped my life so dramatically!
Susan: At the time I was dating Jerry Seinfeld, and that was the year he launched his TV show, so my appearance in a music video paled in comparison. I’m sure he was happy for me, but did it affect our relationship? No. Like I said, it’s all relative.
I don’t remember it being significant with later boyfriends, either. But was I thrilled to have booked it and proud to be in it? You can bet your booty.
Melody: I have received a few fan letters through the years but not for this video. How would they know? We don’t get credits. I was not even recognizable as myself.
Marlee: I don’t have any mail that I’ve saved from fans about the video. But I get tweets! People love the fact that they’ve picked me out of the video. “Was that you? Awesome!”
Susan: Ha! No. You’re the first person to ever contact me about it.
Marlee, did you get any flak for doing a music video after winning an Academy Award?
Marlee: I got no flak for doing this video after my Oscar. A lot of people thought I’d never work again just because I was deaf. I’m sure their jaws were on the ground when I proved them wrong by bending their expectations and doing a music video. But that’s me. Never happy with being “silent.”
Did the video generate any controversy that you know of?
Melody: The director had me tone down the Lucyisms to avoid any copyright issues.
Marlee: I don’t recall any controversy regarding the video.
Susan: None that I know of, but I do have a friend who says it gave her nightmares. (I hope she wasn’t referring to my Christmas tree decorating skills.)
Melody as Lucy 2008
What were you paid?
Melody: $200 or $300. SAG and AFTRA were giving music videos an exemption at that time. Nobody really thought they were going to be a big thing. Boy, if I had gotten residuals for all the times that video has aired through the years!
Frankie: I think I got a couple grand to do that part.
Marlee: I don’t recall being paid for the video. It might have been scale. I would’ve done it for free—it was Billy Joel!
Susan: $200. It was the first (and only) music video for which I signed a SAG contract. For some reason, most of them were non-union. They didn’t pay well but were considered prestigious to book, and could lead to booking much more lucrative commercials. It was like doing editorial print—being on the editorial pages of a magazine paid $150 for the day but was artistically more interesting than the commercial ads it could lead to that paid $1,500. My highest-paying music video paid $500 for the day, but the commercials videos could lead to paid thousands. I also considered the cool factor to be worth a lot. Being in them was cool.
Were you ever recognized in public?
Melody: When I am not in Lucy costume, hair, and makeup, no one recognizes me. However, when I am appearing as Lucy, I sometimes get asked if I am the one in the video.
Frankie: You know, I think after a while of doing lots of different TV roles, commercials, videos, films, and stuff, you seep into people’s brains subliminally. I’ve played so many different characters with lotsa makeup, no makeup, etc. A lot of people say I look familiar to them, but they are not sure why. It’s so sweet, really! I adore people! I am very touched if someone comes up to me and says they enjoy my work.
Marlee: People have recognized that it’s me in the video playing the prom queen and the hippie. It usually comes in the form of a Facebook posting or tweet. I think it was just a few weeks ago that people [last] recognized it was me.
Susan: I was rarely recognized in public. L.A. is crawling with people like me—working models and actors who aren’t famous. We’re rarely noticed, especially when we’re with famous comedians. I did have a woman approach me one night and say she enjoyed my work in a fashion show. I was having dinner with Jerry [Seinfeld] and Dennis Miller, and she didn’t say anything about them. But that happened once in eight years.
When I met the country singer Nancy Griffith backstage after her concert and I gushed at how much I loved her, she just pointed and said, “Oh my god, you’re the woman in the Steve Wariner video!” That was the only time I think anyone recognized me from a music video. I was pretty thrilled.
At an audition once, the director said, “I just saw you recently. In…um…” I asked, “A music video? Commercial? Fashion show?” He replied, “No, in El Pollo Loco.” Yes, I was embarrassed, but I did book the job, and he had lunch catered by El Pollo Loco because he knew I liked it, so there’s that.
Oh, wait—there was one other time. Kathy Foy and I were stopped on the street in San Francisco by an exuberant fan who swore he knew us from our videos. It’s more likely he only knew Kathy whose Bowie video was out at the time, but it’s also possible he just liked two young women in tight dresses and heels (on our way to auditions) and figured raving about their music videos was a good opening line (it wasn’t). Kathy and I always joked that we were so famous we couldn’t even walk down the street, but only in San Francisco, and only on that one street.
Did you appear in other music videos after that?
Melody: Nope. As my grandmother would say, “They want too much sugar for a dime.”
Frankie: I did! Off the top of my head:
“Who Is It”—Michael Jackson
“Love Is a Wonderful Thing”—Michael Bolton
“Restless Heart”—Peter Cetera
Among others! [MTN: Also a 1990 episode of The Flash.]
Marlee: I did a video with Garth Brooks called “We Shall be Free” in 1992 (and a follow-up in 2009). I also did a video called “Let’s Mambo” with rapper Sean Forbes in 2012.
Susan: Yes. I’d never thought to list my music videos until this interview. I came up with ten videos I did over the years, but I might have missed one or two. My very first job in L.A. (in 1984) was a music video for a Saturday morning cartoon called Kidd Video that featured music videos.
I think I have these in chronological order. There are several for which I have versions I haven’t found online. When I say I have them, I mean they’re on a videotape somewhere in a box in my basement. That tape is very important to me, which is why I put it somewhere so special that now I can’t find it.
“Turn Me Up”—Kidd Video
I can’t recall the song!—Kenny G
“The Weekend”—Steve Wariner
“When the World Cried”—Ya Ya
“I Don’t Want to Be a Hero”—Johnny Hates Jazz
“I Wanna Be Loved”—House of Lords
“Cool Runnin’”—Boz Scaggs
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”—Billy Joel
“UHF”—“Weird Al” Yankovic (the Robert Palmer spoof portion, with Kathy Foy)
Barbara: I went on to do other small things—a Bud Light commercial, a Japanese Lucky Strike ad, some small parts on soaps. I moved to New York shortly after.
Frankie in “Love Is a Wonderful Thing”
Did you ever meet other women who were female leads in a mainstream ‘80s rock video?
Melody: I’ve met some dancers who were in multiple videos.
Frankie: Christie Brinkley! She is sweet and super gorgeous in person!
Marlee: The one who comes to mine is Lesley Ann Warren who was in “Janie’s Got a Gun.” That’s a great video.
Susan: I knew a lot of them, and am still in touch with quite a few. When I booked a “Weird Al” Yankovic video, three of my close friends booked it as well—my bestie Kathy Foy, Dana Williams, and Linda Ashton. That was a really fun shoot because we were all together. I also shot House of Lords with a couple of friends including Kathy [again], who saved me from having to shoot topless by refusing to open my bra. What are friends for?
If you went to college, where and what did you study?
Melody: At both Kennesaw College [now Kennesaw State University] and Georgia State College, I studied journalism.
Lupe: I went to college at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) in Valencia, CA and graduated with a BFA in theater.
Frankie: I studied theater at the Juilliard School in NYC and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. I’ve continued my acting studies with some brilliant teachers here in LA. I’m slowly studying for my certification in recycling and resource management and a degree in botany at Santa Monica College. I’m a lifelong learner! I take classes and workshops all the time!
Susan: I have a BA in English Literature from the University of Tennessee.
Barbara: I went to F.I.T. and studied fabric development and marketing. I came back to L.A. and did some costume design/wardrobe supervising. I loved that work but again the lifestyle of the movie business can eat you up.
What are you doing these days?
Melody: I make a living as a celebrity impersonator. I have several shows where I perform as Lucy; I later added Dolly Parton and occasionally Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich to my repertoire. [My stage shows include] “The Tribute to Lucy Show,” “The Lucy and Ricky Tribute Show,” and “The Dolly and Kenny Tribute Show”; I perform all over the world. A few years ago I was selected to appear as Lucy in a national ad campaign for Armstrong Laminate flooring called “It Only Looks Like the Real Thing.” I [also] occasionally still work as a makeup artist.
Melody as Lucy then
Melody as Lucy now
Melody as Dolly
Frankie: I’m a green mom raising my two beautiful children! I have a green company that’s going to save the world with biodynamic organic farming, biodiesel fuels made from our trash, aromatherapeutic organic essential oil housekeeping and products, biodynamic and organic face care, body care, makeup, etc. Going for the zero waste, happy healthy Earth magnum opus! X:-)) And I’m developing a TV show for myself. I’m itching to get back in the saddle again! Never a dull moment!
In 2012, I played a survivor of breast cancer in a music video called “You Survived the Cancer.”
Playing a woman diagnosed with breast cancer struck a chord with me. So many friends, relatives have been subject to this devastating disease. Taking the cinematic journey through the diagnosis, chemo, healing process, and ultimately becoming a survivor of breast cancer, I felt honored to play such a role. I think it turned out beautifully!
Marlee: I’m still producing, still acting in TV and in film. Currently I am starring on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth.
Susan: After a very long career, I retired from working in front of the camera in 2011 and am now a writer.
I just signed my first publishing contract for a vampire romance (using a pen name), and am shopping two books under my real name—a Bridget Jones-type novel about a model in the ‘80s who dates comedians called It Seemed Funny at the Time and a collection of funny nonfiction essays about my life in L.A. called The Opposite of Famous. I also have a screenplay in pre-production that I wrote with Larry Donahue called Dreamland Motel.
I didn’t start writing until fairly late in life, and I absolutely love it. Can it replace the rush of strutting down a runway or seeing yourself on MTV? Actually it comes pretty close, and you don’t need to wear pumps while you do it. I can also walk down that street in San Francisco now without being accosted. Middle-aged writers don’t generate quite the same kind of attention as music video models, which is just fine with me.
Barbara: That life is so far away from what I do now. I work in a hospital as a microbiology tech.
Where do you live?
Melody: I live in the Atlanta, GA metro area.
Lupe: I split my time between Lake Arrowhead and the City of Orange, CA.
Frankie: Santa Monica, CA.
Susan: After 27 years in L.A., I moved with my husband and our five rescued dogs to a tiny and adorable town in the mountains of North Carolina known for being a writers’ and artists’ haven. It’s a dreamy life.
Barbara: Las Vegas, NV.
If you are/were married, what was your future husband’s reaction when he learned you were in this video?
Melody: My [future] husband knew me when I was in the video. He was then and is now very proud of me.
Frankie: No husband! Still looking! LOL!
Marlee: I wasn’t married at the time and hadn’t met my future husband [yet].
Susan: When I was in my mid-forties, I married a man I’d known in high school but hadn’t seen since. He thought it was very cool that I’d shot the video when I told him about it. He remembered watching it and liking the video, being a big fan of Billy Joel’s. He said he watched MTV for hours at a time, just like everyone else, and of course, didn’t realize I was the woman in the red dress, much less that he’d marry me one day.
Barbara: My husband worked on some things as a kid in the ‘80s and so he was not impressed.
Melody: No, only the four-legged, barking variety.
Lupe: I have four children: 12, 17, 20, and 22. They are constantly amazed that I had a life and did things before they were around. “You can juggle?”, etc. Perhaps I haven’t really mentioned much about what exactly I used to do, so when they stumbled across the fact that I was in a music video they were pretty much blown away! I think one of their friends from high school was the one who discovered this. They were very excited to share the news with me. I think it upped my level of coolness in their eyes. Still trying to hold on to a few of the mysteries of my previous life…wouldn’t want to use up my hipness all at once.
Frankie: I have a beautiful four-year-old daughter and a brilliant and handsome 13-year-old son.
Marlee: My children are 17, 13, 11, and 9.
Susan: I don’t have any kids.
Barbara: I have two children, 3 and 6.
What do they think of the video?
Frankie: I just showed it to them and they thought momma was being funny!
Marlee: I don’t know if they’ve seen it. But now that you mention it, I’m going to show it to them!
Barbara: They have seen my videos and some of the films I worked on; kids don’t care.
What did you think when you first heard from me?
Melody: You ended up in my spam folder. I deleted your email before reading it all the way through because it looked like you were trying to sell me something. I would not have read it at all if the subject had not mentioned “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” My agent forwarded [your follow-up message] to me and so I took a closer look.
Lupe: It was sort of a funny story getting tracked down by you. My husband came home from New York where he had been shooting a movie and said that a casting director had left him a message and was trying to track me down. When I had done the Billy Joel video, I was using a stage name of Meg James. God only knows how I got talked into that. I guess being young and naive had something to do with it.
Anyway, apparently I was very hard to find since I no longer use that name and am not acting at the moment. But somehow through much perseverance on your part and the casting agent, Paul Ventura, someone put two and two together and figured out Meg James and Lupe Gidley were one and the same. And “isn’t she the one married to that actor Chris McDonald” and voila…you found me. I must admit I was quite flattered that someone had expended so much energy on my behalf!
Frankie: I thought it was rather nice!
Marlee: I was happy to answer your questions. No one has asked me to answer questions in depth about this video.
Susan: I was curious so I looked you up, and was very happy to see that people are interested in the music videos of the ‘80s. I’m very proud to have been a part of an emerging new art form. My part was tiny, but I was there and I loved it.
Barbara: It was nice to have someone get a hold of me and make me remember those days. Wish I had more of a story to tell but it was such a small part and was totally cut out of the video.
Has anyone else ever interviewed you about this?
Melody: I have been interviewed many times for various publications. I almost always mentioned the video as propelling me into my current career.
Frankie: No interviews for publication about this project, no.
Marlee: I’ve not been interviewed about this video for any other publication.
Susan: No. As you can imagine, most people in the media have been more interested in the fact that I once dated someone famous. I don’t mind talking about Jerry—he’s a very interesting guy—but it’s so nice to be asked about my accomplishments, so thank you!
Susan, Jerry, and Susan’s brother 1986
Have you appeared at any fan conventions to sign autographs? If not, would you?
Melody: No and yes.
Frankie: Fan convention? Autographs? I honestly don’t think anybody is really gonna want my autograph! But if they asked, I would humbly give it to them!
Susan: Are there conventions for music videos? I’d be happy to sign!
Did you stay in touch with Billy Joel or anyone else from the video?
Melody: No, I don’t know him or them personally.
Frankie: Nope. It’s just a cool memory, and on celluloid forever!
Marlee: Billy allowed me to use lyrics from “My Life” for the opening of my autobiography and we worked together doing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2007. I don’t hang out with him socially since he lives in New York and I live in California but whenever he comes to town for a concert, I’m there!
Susan: Marlee Matlin called shortly after we shot the video (through an interpreter because she’s hearing impaired), and we stayed in touch for a bit. I was impressed at how friendly it was of her to call me. She was a very big deal, having won an Oscar for Children of a Lesser God, and yet went out of her way to find my number and contact me to say how nice it was to have worked with me. I was impressed. Marlee and I only stayed in touch briefly after the shoot.
I don’t know the names of the other actors on the video, but I remembered seeing the little girl in our scene in several things afterwards and was pleased to see how well her career was going. I looked her up on IMDb today (having remembered a film she was in), and her name is Noley Thornton. She was adorable, of course, and quite an exceptional actor.
Marlee, when was the last time you were in touch with Billy?
Marlee: In 2010 when I published my autobiography and asked for permission to use some of his lyrics for the opening of my book.
How do you look back on the experience?
Melody: It was great. It set me on the path to a really fabulous career as an impersonator and tribute artist. I doubt I would have pursued it otherwise. I think [the video] is still relevant because of the brilliance of Billy Joel and the time travel aspect.
Frankie: It was a joy to work on! Thank you for digging up that old memory! I [just] had a peek at the music video on YouTube with the kids. Fun times! Thank you for caring!
Marlee: It was fantastic to have been part of a number one video! It’s there forever and I’m very proud of it.
Susan: I feel so lucky to have had such an interesting life as a young woman, and even luckier to have mementos like this amazing video. Now, I write about my former life. It seemed normal to me at the time, but now I see how unusual it was both to have had a career in an exciting business and to have known so many interesting people in my personal life.
Anything you’d like to add?
Melody: Music videos are a great way for aspiring actors to get some on-camera and set experience. Once in a great while, an appearance will be noticed by the right people and lead to other things. Courteney Cox comes to mind. Even if you are not pursuing a performing career, everyone ought to be an extra at least once in [his/her] life.
Susan: Thank you for your interest in this video, and in the whole ‘80s music video world. I’m proud to have been even a small part of it.
Tweet about this interview to @billyjoel @MarleeMatlin @scmcnabb @Zencasagreen!
Next: Billy Idol, “Cradle of Love” (1990).