Constance Towers has had a decades-long Hollywood career – and her job is far from over.
While many fans recognize her as a vengeful Helena Cassadine in “General Hospital”, the statuesque blonde is originally famous with two John Ford westerns, “The Horse Soldiers” (1959) and “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) . In “The Horse Soldiers” she starred alongside heavyweights John Wayne and William Holden, whom she still fondly remembers to this day.
This year, the actress is preparing to pay tribute to Holden, who died in 1981, at the Gold Coast International Film Festival, which will also include the companion of the late Oscar winner, Stefanie Powers.
Towers, 88, spoke to Fox News about her discovery, working with Wayne and Holden, dealing with tragedy on set, and transforming herself into a villain.
PAUL ANKA RECALLS THE MOMENT HE HEARD FRANK SINATRA SING HIS SONG ‘MY WAY’: ‘I STARTED TO Cry’
Fox News: How were you discovered as an actress?
Constance Towers: Oh my God, it’s been a long time ago. I was born in a place called Whitefish, Montana, which is in the far northwest of the state on the Canadian border. My family was made up of Irish immigrants. I was a first generation American. They came to the United States via Philadelphia and saw signs that read “Irish people don’t need to apply.” So the only jobs they could find were railroad jobs. Whitefish was a home town for working people. And I was born there.
I had a grandmother who thought it was so important that children learn to read as early as possible. So I started my studies very early… By the time I was in first year, I could read fairly well. Two producers came to my little school and asked if there was a child who could play or at least read. I raised my hand. I didn’t know what it meant to play the part, but I could definitely read. They took me out and down the hall, I read this little script. I got the part probably because I was the only one who could read it. It started on my way to acting. My parents have supported me wonderfully and they have done everything they can to find the best coaches and teachers. I was lucky.
Fox News: You worked with William Holden and John Wayne. What was your first impression of them?
Tours: It was my second film, “The Horse Soldiers”… and the director was John Ford, the much respected and famous Irish director. It was pure luck. I could barely speak when I first met them. And yet, they were both wonderful to me. John Wayne was as tall as he was on screen and he treated me like his little princess. William Holden was very private. But he was also a gentleman and very willing to help a newcomer. I was totally amazed to work with these two stars, but they were both wonderful. They both got along really well too.
Fox News: Is it true that John Ford expected all actors to be gentlemen and not have the right to swear in front of women on set?
Tours: True. Women had his respect. He never used foul language and didn’t expect anyone else to do it on his set, either. I don’t think John Wayne would have used it anyway, but he didn’t and neither did William Holden. But John Ford ran a very tight ship. He would stop production at 4 a.m. everyday so that we could all have tea with cookies. It was so dignified. One day I asked him: “Why are you stopping production? It costs money. He said, “Ah, I’m asking everyone for more work because at 4 pm everyone is tired. There was a method to his madness. But it was a delicious set.
FORMER CHILD STAR ANN JILLIAN BECOMING A SYMBOL OF Eighties SEX, FIGHTS CANCER AT 35: “I JUMPED DIRECTLY”
Fox News: There was a tragedy on set involving stuntman Fred Kennedy. What happened?
Tours: I was riding an Amazon and had to do a lot of my stunts. But the studio’s insurers always made sure their actors were safe. And so John Ford appointed two wonderful actors and stuntmen to be my protectors. Whenever I was on horseback I had Slim Hightower on one side and Freddy Kennedy on the other. They were the cutest two men you’ve ever seen. They played tricks on me and they had a great time.
Fred had lost his index finger [in a previous accident]. He therefore only had the large phalanx of his right hand. He was standing behind the camera and had that knuckle in his nose just to make me laugh. They were dumb like that. But I had a wonderful relationship with them because they protected me. On the last shot of the film on location, John Ford and John Wayne came over to me and said, “Look, we’re not gonna call cut. When Freddy does his last fall … you’re gonna give him a big kiss on the cheek.”
He was really shy, so that was their way of having fun with him. So Freddy walked over the fence and fell into the bonfire. I ran in, hugged him and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. But as I did, I felt like I had a thousand broken bones in my hands. He had broken his neck. I turned around and said, “He’s dying. And it’s all filmed somewhere else. We immediately picked him up, put him in the back of a truck and rushed him to hospital. But by the time we got there he was gone… It was a very traumatic moment. We were all very devastated.
Fox News: How did you all live back then?
Tours: The company has put all of these toys and silly things together. We went to the grocery stores and bought basic foods like lard, sugar, flour, milk and water. We took it to the Black family who had been in the movie with us. I remembered that there was no floor in the house. They had a horse, a cow, and maybe chickens. We also raised enough money to buy them a bell for their little Baptist church. There were crowds of people in town who were upset that we were doing this. You had to remember what time this happened. You just weren’t doing this for people of color back then. Our society therefore left hastily. But it was a great experience for us together as a group during this very sad time.
CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE ENTERTAINMENT NEWSLETTER
Fox News: You later found fame in soap operas thanks to “General Hospital”. How does it feel to play a bad guy?
Tours: The role was created by Elizabeth Taylor. So when I was offered the role, I went to my theater coach and said, “I don’t know how to do that. I’ve always played the purest heroine.” … But my character is exaggerated. So I went over. And it was so successful. I appreciate it.
You can’t take it too far. She’s just a delicious, wonderful, evil woman. But no one ever told me, “I hate you”. Instead, someone will stop me on the street and say, “I love to hate you.” I keep experimenting with her because every villain has a weakness somewhere… They’ve killed her four times and yet I’m coming back. It’s fun and the audience loves it. Right now I’m dead again, but that’s why I could also make a call from home and wake the characters up in their nightmares * laughs *.
Fox News: What was the secret of your lasting marriage to John Gavin?
Tours: We really loved each other. For a long time, I was in New York and he in California. So we commuted before getting married. He had two children, I had two children and we have rebuilt our families. And they just love each other. I always recognized his ex-wife and she was fabulous. Her children accepted me without guilt. Just love.
… We also trusted each other. When he was in Mexico, I was playing in Los Angeles. When I was in New York, he was in Los Angeles. And despite the distance that separates us, we have never had a single moment of uncertainty. Every weekend he would get on the plane and hang out with me and I would do the same. It was a lot of give and take, but we supported each other in our ambitions. He may have left this Earth, but he’s still a part of our lives. He was wonderful and such a dream.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FOX NEWS APP
Fox News: What motivated you as a performer?
Tours: For any artist, it is truly the love of what you do. And I have such a passion for performance. I feel so lucky to have had so many years in this business and to be able to bring something new to it. It kept me going and I’m so thrilled. But it is a passion and a pleasure. People often ask me, “Well, aren’t you going to retire? And I can’t imagine my life without some form of performance. So my answer is always, “No, I’m not thinking about retiring because I wouldn’t know what to do.”