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Interview With Desiree Gould (2000 & 2001)

Desiree 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.

Eagle-eyed visitors 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 with her.

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 yes!

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..."

Meeting Martha

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 a blast!



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