Interview With Desiree Gould (2000 & 2001)
Gould has one of those faces you never forget. And thanks to Sleepaway Camp,
she and her character Martha Thomas are forever tied to warped horror history,
like a string around a finger. In November 2000 I discovered Desiree to
be alive and well (and not a doctor, but a Real Estate Agent no less), contacted
her by email and she immediately replied. I found her to be a warm personality:
"Sleepaway Camp is an integral part of my life. I am always talking
about the film, the players, the entire crew, and most of all, the Director,
Robert", she told me with surprising zest.
to The Internet Movie Database will know Desiree's only other feature-length
credit was the TV Movie You Can't Go Home Again. Filmed much prior to
Sleepaway Camp in 1979, it was actually a Pilot. "... the director
loved it so much," she reveals, "he shot 6 hrs of film for a
2hr tv sequence. Need I tell you ... almost everything and everyone was
cut. I had three beautiful scenes with Chris Sarandon and Tammy Grimes,
however, they got cut!!! Boy! Was I sad about that." Although on
screen you would have to squint to find her (in typical enigmatic fashion),
the makers generously kept her listed in the credits, obviously happy
When asked the
million dollar question about possibly appearing in a future Sleepaway
Camp, she feels, "It would be so so much fun." In fact, she
even has a special message for the mastermind himself: "Tell Robert,
now that I am reconnected, because of wonderful you, I must be in the
new film. I mean, my character would add to the film. Right?" A resounding
Proving that she has
a sense of both respect and humor for her infamous past, she notes: "I'm
still in shock that you found me! I still can't get over it. It's amazing
how things happen. Life is filled with experiences that often make us
speechless." And she finishes with a laugh: "I'm rarely speechless..."
Aunt Martha only featured in two scenes in Sleepaway Camp, yet she remains
the most remembered character besides Angela. We can chalk that up to two
things: Robert Hiltzik's dead-on scripting, and the fabulous Desiree Gould.
It would surely sound more exciting and, to an extent, ego-driven for me
to say I went in grand search of discovering the mysteries behind the character,
the secrets, the mythos... but looking back, it's pleasing that it worked
out like that when everything fell into place.
Enter January 2001. While on
an overseas trip that spanned Los Angeles and New York, I was fortunate
enough to visit the house Martha, Ricky and Angela lived in on screen.
The house. Someone I knew took me there, and when I arrived I got there
I was in awe. It was snowing a blinding white but that heightened the
thrills, and the mystery.
I never went past those two
bushes framing the footpath you remember from the film. Call it respect.
Call it my prowler-like garb. I had fun straying around the sidewalks,
and it was positively bizarre to be able to step out of the frame... meaning,
to see and wander to places around the house not visible in the movie
shot. It is actually on a corner of the street. I constantly wondered
if someone was inside... watching... but if they were, then they surely
would have taken offense to my taking of some twigs and leaves off those
front bushes as souvenirs. And talk about easier said then done! I had
to fight to tear that stubborn twig off. All in the line of duty, folks!
As my foreign visit drew to
a close, I attempted to get in touch with Desiree now that I was in her
vicinity. Imagine my surprise when she phoned where I was staying and
engaged in chat with us! She got the machine at first so when we heard
her voice... my heart was pounding. And her voice. That was Martha. We
eventually were able to set up a meeting between her and I... while I
talked with her on the phone again the next day she listed places in New
York City we could possibly have lunch in. I stopped her at one she mentioned...
and so, we met on February 18th at... the Hotel Algonquin! Keen eared
fans will know Algonquin was the name of the camp Robert Hiltzik attended
as a child, and Sleepaway Camp was subsequently shot at.
In the film almost two decades ago, her character had garish make-up on,
heightening the creakiness. Desiree Gould the person today, looks so much
better. I was simply amazed by how elegant and youthful she looks. You
know how movie stars used to look, lighting up the room upon entrance
with their glowing presence, in a time before it became trendy to dress
casual? That was Desiree Gould. She reminded me of the Hollywood days
of old. But I digress. We dined and discussed our lives, and it was somewhere
in the middle of all of this that my vaguely mapped-out purpose became
clear: Get some answers about Martha.
Desiree said the doctor status
fed into the origins of the character. Which lead me to roll out my fanatic
theories... almost with a motherly tone, she put a stop to that, simply
telling me everything was up on screen, nothing more, nothing less. You
really had to be there... when I slowly, carefully stuttered out that
question of Martha's rationale in dressing Peter up as a girl. It's almost
as if I were asking Martha herself that question, which is why I was apprehensive,
fearful even. In telling how the deed simply seemed like nothing out of
the ordinary to the Aunt, she recited an ad lib of Martha's dialogue with
little Peter, finger gestures and all.
I talked with her at some measure
about Robert Hiltzik. She revealed that on the set, she was amazed, fascinated
and scared of her lines at the same time. She had only been given the
script pages for her character and as such, was at a loss regarding what
place Martha, and whatever attitude was needed, had in the film. So impressed
with the scripting was she, that she questioned if she could pull off
such a feat. Robert told her forcibly but gently, "You're going to
do the lines, even if I have to read them to you, you're going to play
the part." She had absolutely no problem after that. The director
had complete confidence in her and she in turn felt completely at ease.
Before we parted ways, I asked
her to sign some pictures for me and some pals. To do the signings we
sat in the swanky hotel's lounge area while the bellboy grudgingly fetched
my luggage, (hey, gimme a break, I was on my way home!). Desiree commented
on the decor: "Couldn't you just picture Martha in a place like this?"
we both agreed that if we had seen her office, it'd look like that place.
While signing the pics she also told me it reminded her of her soap opera
days, when she had a fan club, to which she has kept a book of clippings!
The mysteries really do go
deep. Years later, I'm still too excited over the whole thing to shuffle
it into a reasonably coherent, professional piece. So, think of this as
my 2001 Sleepaway Camp Travel Diary, online for you. Thanks Aunt, I had