I remember that we filmed the Alka-Seltzer commercial in December 1969, then on New Year’s Eve it went on the Johnny Carson show and people began stopping me on the street. I had no idea it would have this impact. The commercial went pretty much like this. There was a shot of me in bed, reading a cookbook. In the background Terry Kiser, the guy who played my husband, is in the bathroom. It’s after the first meal of our marriage, and I say, “Our first home-cooked meal!” and he says, “I’ve never seen a dumpling that big!” And I say, “Well, I considered making a lot of little ones, but I wanted to impress you with something that would really stick to your ribs.” He says, “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish it, it’s a shame you had to throw it out,” and I say my favorite line: “No, no, I froze it.” He’s now fixing the Alka-Seltzer, and I say, “Let’s see, what will we have for tomorrow?” I start naming things like marshmallowed meatballs, sweet-and-sour snails and creamed-duck delight. I hear the fizz and I say, “Is it beginning to rain, dear?” He says, “No, no,” and drinks the whole thing. I’m still reading the cookbook as he walks to the bed as if he’s going to jump in and make love to me, and I say, “Poached oysters!” He just does a complete U-turn back to the bathroom.
We won a lot of awards, a Cannes Film Festival prize, and Terry and I each won Clio Awards for best actor and best actress. People were writing in. It was quite peculiar. I started working when I was 9.1 had already been in five Broadway shows. I had been nominated for a Tony. But I had no experience with national exposure. It was a bit terrifying. I was just a girl who wanted to have boyfriends. I had just heard Andy Warhol’s famous statement, and I felt like I was the first person to be famous for 15 minutes. Back then I didn’t know anybody who was famous, it wasn’t like now when everybody is famous. It was tricky to walk down the street where everybody knew you. People would stop me every five minutes. It went on for a long time. People still stop me, but they say, “Boy, you look like the girl in the Alka-Seltzer commercial, when was that on, about five years ago?”
When we made that commercial, I wasn’t a recognizable type. Women in commercials were models or they were housewives. Since then there has been the Alice Playten type, comedic and slightly off center with a kind of scratchy voice. The flip side is that the product sales went down that year. In fact, in the 60-second commercial we never said Alka-Seltzer. A card came on the screen that had “Alka-Seltzer” on it, and a voice-over said, “What love won’t conquer, Alka-Seltzer will.” They took the account away from the agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach. It used to bother me that I’m most famous for [an ad], but I’m older now. All I wanted to be in life is memorable, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to achieve it in a commercial.