Actress Angie Dickinson is as famous for her film and television roles as for the men in her life. She dated Frank Sinatra and married Burt Bacharach, with whom she had a daughter, Nikki. Nikki tragically took her own life when she was 40. She was born prematurely and eventually diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
Ms. Dickinson created the prototype of the tough but beautiful female investigator with her role as Pepper Anderson on the 1970s series "Police Woman." The 77-year-old actress has worked every decade since beginning her career in the 1950s. She is starring in the Hallmark Channel original movie "Mending Fences," which airs 9 p.m. Saturday.
So you play a mother estranged from her daughter. What was your own relationship with your mother like?
I was fine, terrific with my mother. Toward the end, of course, it was great. I wish I had known in my 20s what I knew toward the end of my 50s or 60s. My mother raised three girls really pretty much on her own, and she didn't have time for play or conversation or whatever. She had to take care of a house, a business and three kids. Also I came from a German Catholic family in the Depression era. So nobody spoke, you know? One of the hazards of civilization is we have the ability to speak and we don't [laughing]. We'll do a book on that one. It was just a marvelous, normal life. Loving, but not lovey-dovey.
And your dad was in the newspaper business?
Yes, they owned the local newspaper. It was North Dakota in the '30s during the Depression. The newspaper kept us alive. When the war came, like everybody else, we moved to California to get jobs.
OK, so being beautiful turned out to be a big career asset in Hollywood, or were you not taken seriously?
How do I answer that? I never had a beauty problem. It was always my package. I was popular in high school. I smiled and I laughed and I talked and I wasn't bad-looking, but I was never considered beautiful, never, ever. Even, when I came into the business. I worked on it [laughing]. I was not the one they went va va voom over at all. I had a mature voice and a mature attitude and just a good package. I never thought of myself as beautiful. I thought I was OK, certainly good enough to get along. I didn't blond my hair; the studio did [laughing]. I now was in a business of beauty, so that was part of my job.
How did you handle unwanted attention from powerful men?
It wasn't easy. Each case was different. I started before the '60s, so it wasn't "sure, why not," which the '60s gave us. I was still a Catholic girl who was on the fringes. You handle those things.
Did you find aging a stressful process, or did you just go with it as the parts changed?
I went with it. That's a good way to say it.
What was it like being really the only female component of the "The Rat Pack?"
Actually Shirley MacLaine hung out with them more than I did, but she was never considered a Rat Packer. I think that's because she was married. I think it's because I openly dated Sinatra, and I played his wife [in the original "Oceans 11"]. Shirley just played a boozer or something. I had already dated Frank before that, and he was a swinger and all of that. Sammy Davis told me he said to Frank one day, "How about Angie as the part of your wife?" and he said, "Oh, that's a gas." I am billed with all those five guys. I think it all just fed itself and grew.
Who was the romantic love of your life?
The romantic love of my life I'm sure was Burt Bacharach. I had a few that were wonderful, but I married him and that's going pretty far [laughing]. Even though it didn't work out I don't pine or wish for anything more today by any means. But the reality is, at the time, it was a pretty great romance.
Did you realize what a breakthrough "Police Woman" was at the time? Even if your name was Pepper?
Yes, I did, and I chose Pepper. I always think names are very important like titles of books or movies. I had already shot "Police Story" from which it came, and they kept looking at the rushes and said it would make a series.
Were you a hard partier?
No, I wasn't. I was never into any drug scene. The party scene of today is quite different. If I were 26 now would I be doing it? I don't know. But I have a feeling I would be with the quiet crowd.
For all the highs, you've had some lows -- especially the death of your daughter. Was it faith, stubbornness or something else that kept you going?
I don't know. You are what you are, and you use what you have to fight any low and calm down any high. Reality and beliefs and integrity, whatever, you survive or you don't. I don't have any tools like daily prayer. Mrs. Dean Martin uses it, and she tried to suggest that to me. I don't have that except my basic Catholic upbringing, and that does help. When you see what Rose Kennedy went through with all of her children, and she was a devout Catholic. Of course my faith was or is nowhere near what hers was, but I certainly had the background. They say once a Catholic always a Catholic. I don't believe there is a reason for everything. I just think they happen, and there are no reasons. They happen because of that whole thing spinning around that whole time [laughing]. It never stops, and so what happens, happens.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613.