Zane Buzby was not born in a trunk in Pocatello. As a child she didn’t perform in school theatricals or dream of becoming a ballerina. She didn’t graduate from Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High, demonstrate omelet pans at Bloomingdale’s or act in a soap. Her hobbies aren’t macrame or backgammon. She chooses not to jog or eat health foods. She has no gap between her front teeth and no measurements at all. So reads the official biography of the sexy 26-year-old composer-writer-actress whose more positive credits include songs for Melissa Manchester and Kiki Dee; a spacey CBS demo with Alice Cooper; the role of the speed freak Jade East in the Cheech & Chong dope opera, Up in Smoke; and, of course, her own parody bio.
What Zane Buzby is, really, is the female Robin Williams. Her Ork was Chetek, Wis., and her breakthrough property may finally be the new movie Americathon, in which she plays the Vietnamese-born paramour of the President of the United States. Apocalypse Now it isn’t. John Ritter is cast as the Prez, an est alum whom Buzby seduces with a love bite on the schnoz and a rendition of her “puke-rock” song, Don’t You Ever Say No to Me, Yankee Garbage. Ritter is very high on Zane’s future. So, needless to say, is Cheech Marin, who exults, “I think she’s gonna be the next great comic actress whose name begins with a Z.”
Behind the zaniness of Buzby and her crowd is a super-perfectionist young talent. When, tape recorder in hand, she scouted Vietnamese restaurants in L.A. to get her accent right for Americathon, Buzby bumped into the same refugees that Marlon Brando had tapped for his part in Apocalypse and spoiled with $200 tips. Her research at rock clubs for Up in Smoke was impeded because she was suspected of being a narc until “I wore black lipstick. I’m not a druggie,” she says, then adds with characteristic candor: “I certainly enjoy smoking grass in private, but I think anything else would be destructive.”
The lady is indeed much saner than her material. Her Russian Jewish grandfather emigrated to northern Wisconsin and named her after author Zane Grey. “He thought the Wild West was America,” she says. Her late father wrote for TV (Playhouse 90, Studio One) and her mother is a speech pathologist. Zane remembers Chetek as a town of “all bait and tackle and rowboat and canoes.” But she doesn’t say it with a transplanted Easterner’s condescension. “Between you and me, it’s really pretty there,” Zane says of the unspoiled homeland she keeps revisiting. “But we shouldn’t tell people.”
Buzby earned dual bachelor’s degrees in dramatic literature and performing at Long Island’s Hofstra University. Then, fudging a knowledge of filmmaking, she caught on as a script supervisor on a low-budget movie in New York and got a call for “a George Harrison show” as a sound assistant. The show turned out to be The Concert for Bangladesh. “I walk in the room and it’s Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Leon Russell,” she recalls. “It took me a second to go, ‘What, that George Harrison!’ ”
Buzby’s reaction time improved when she met standup comic Conan Berkeley “reaching for the same sandwich” at a Manhattan party in 1974. They quickly formed a rock act called, natch, Buzby & Berkeley. Sonny and Cher were impressed enough to try to buy up their material, but B&B hung in and wrote for the National Lampoon Radio Hour and, after a move to L.A., TV’s Fernwood 2-Night. “We’re surgically related at the brain,” says Zane.
Their production company is now headquartered in her two-bedroom bungalow on the funky side of the Hollywood Hills. Buzby says that Berkeley, a 28-year-old philosophy major from the University of Chicago, doesn’t live there. “I absolutely love him. We are together, but not together together,” she clarifies. “Next week,” grins Conan, “we could be a terrific item. In a month, we could be married, in two months divorced.” Zane insists, “I stay home and write.” Her major passions, she says, are World War II books, escape novels, jazz and R&B music (Weather Report, the Commodores) and late-night bowling with Cheech. “For dollars? No, Quaaludes,” he kids.
Her prospects are patently bright, and Zane, not into cant, doesn’t deny it. “It sounds disgusting to say I’ve turned down a lot of movies, but it’s important to me to work with good people.” Hustled for TV, she finds “All of a sudden ‘no’ comes out of your mouth. There’s no hiding when your face is out there and your ass is on the line.” Now she can afford to be choosy. “Things,” says Buzby, “are happening for me.”