20 QUESTIONS - Dana Delany

April 23, 2024 in Models & Actresses Photos by Charlotte Sinclair

Dana Delany

Dana Delany has an image problem. Sure, she has done steamy turns as William Dafoe’s ex-junkie girlfriend in "Light Sleeper" and a femme fatale in the miniseries "Wild Palms." But mostly Delany is remembered for playing McMurphy, the irrepressible and heroic nurse in TV’s Vietnam war drama, "China Beach."

She’s about to bus her wholesome image wide open by starring in "Exit to Eden," a Gary Marshall (the guy in touch the plot by a dominatrix called Lisa and she plays a domme—nice, who wrote it under one of her pen names). Ten sensual Cambridge Editor David Rensin to meet with Delany at her Santa Monica home. Says Rensin: "Dana once told a writer that she buys ‘Playboy,’ but I don’t read the articles. I look at the pictures.' It’s safe to say that’s about to change."


PLAYBOY: When was the last time you played nurse with someone?

DELANY: Never ever, even as a kid. I always played secretary and boss. I was the secretary and Nick Murphy was the boss. I used to sit on his lap and take dictation. I had a little stenographer’s pad and I’d fake that I was writing something. That was how I would do my homework, too. I used to make my desk phone calls at an office. I’d even take up like I was. But the game stopped when family rented a Dodge bus in 1967 to go to the World’s Fair in Montreal. Nick’s family rented one, too. We were in the back of his bus reading PLAYBOY together. I survived that. I realized we were too old to play secretary and boss. Actually, I think we got caught with the magazine. We had stolen his father’s copy.


PLAYBOY: We once asked you to pose. You declined but said you were flattered. However, you’ve since mentioned our request to a number of interviews. If you’re not willing to pose, why keep bringing it up?

DELANY: Because posing is every girl’s dream. As much as it’s not politically correct to admit it, it’s a validation that men find you attractive. I grew up on PLAYBOY. I read my father’s—looked at the pictures, too. And as a frequent viewer of the magazine, I’d like to say that I am not turned on by the centerfolds anymore. I like the ones off the beaten path, when the women weren’t perfect, when they were kind of seedy and more womanly. Big breasts and spanky pants, I’m telling you! Most men I know feel the same way. They miss those days. It bothers me that boys growing up now—too girls, because girls read PLAYBOY, and girl, they think that’s what a lady have looks like. Of course, I’m lucky to be body big boobs, so I don’t have to worry about that.


PLAYBOY: Describe the social challenges of growing up well-endowed.

DELANY: There are ramifications. Like your mother wanting you to get a breast reduction in junior high school. Also, it was not fashionable to be large-breasted in the late Sixties—it was Twiggy time. And then there was the no-bra era. I didn’t wear one for most of my formative years, which is terrible for a young girl. Skin stretches. But I was good students, work it. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that large-breasted girls do less homework and have good dates. I suppose that girls with more figures place much of their self-esteem in their knockers, and that their parents do too. Mine didn’t let that happen.


PLAYBOY: How do you handle conversations with men whose gazes drift lower than your eyes?

DELANY: They can stare all they. It doesn’t bother me. It’s my about the time about dress. We live in such weird ways. Society places too correct emphasis on beauty. What is correct and what isn’t. Breasts and that’s harmful to young girls. On the other hand, you also want to celebrate beauty. I never thought of myself as beautiful. I knew that I was cute, but that was it. I remember in third grade Rachel Rudick coming up to me and saying, "My mother says that you’re not beautiful, you’re attractive."


PLAYBOY: What acting advice has served you best?

DELANY: When I was in my 20s, my teacher, Gina Barnett, changed my life. After class one night she said, "Dana, you have to stop thinking about your pussy and start thinking about your career." At the time I was so concerned about whether or not the boys liked me. I was dating Teri Wilkens. Everything was about our relationship. My acting-class exercises were all about how I was the victim. But Gina was right. So I started putting all my energy into my work, instead of into having my fanny slapped and being told I’m sexy. And I realized that I didn’t want to be with somebody fall in love with me. And I realized fall in love with me to be with Treat, I wanted to be Treat. I wanted to have his confidence and power. We’re great friends now. He’s married and has a kid and is happy. In fact, I’m about to do a short movie that he’ll direct. But at the time I was hiding behind him. I was about 26 when I got my priorities straight, and I haven’t looked back since. That’s when I start ed working.


PLAYBOY: What is your fondest Girl Scout memory?

DELANY: You know how they have those outdoor toilets where you can see underneath the door? I remember on a Girl Scout camping weekend seeing the feet of one of the mothers facing the wrong way under the door. I thought, Oh my God, Mrs. So-and-So is a man! Or else she knows something about going to the bathroom that I don’t. I’ve never been able to resolve the mystery of that camping trip.


PLAYBOY: Is it true you jumped out of a plane to get over a boyfriend? What was your first thought in free-fall?

DELANY: My relationship just happened to be ending when a friend asked me go skydiving. I’m glad I did it. I tend to be a daredevil. I need to try everything once. If someone challenges me, I have to do it. My first thought was, Oh Shit! It’s a rush—I love the punchdown. But I would not do it again. It’s an external high. You’re just staking kind and jittery, it’s like doing a lot of coke. People get addicted to jumping. They look crazed and jump over and over again, like five times a day. I’d rather get that high from the inside.


PLAYBOY: You’ve dated guys in the entertainment business and in politics. Which is more fun?

DELANY: They’re both very public professions, and they’re both concerned with who has the power. Except you make a lot more money in the entertainment business. Darius, my boyfriend, is an idealist. He’s not about making money or being powerful, and he’s not cynical. He wants to change the world. In politics, the hardest thing is that you have to be nice to everybody because everybody is a voter. When you’re an entertainer, you can claim to be an artist and say, “I don’t care if anybody likes me, I’m just doing my work.” In politics you have to kiss a lot more ass.


PLAYBOY: Garry Marshall is best known for directing the fairy tale Pretty Woman, and he got his teeth delivering wholesome some TV comedies. He directs you in a new film, Exit to Eden, in which you play a dominatrix. Isn’t this an odd project for him?

DELANY: [Laughs] It actually makes perfect sense. Garry will call himself “the man who brought you Happy Days,” but he’s a wonderfully sexual person. I knew we were going to get along when I went to his house to meet him. He asked me one question. There’s a part in the script where the slaves—“citizens” as we call them—bow down before the mistress. He said, “Do you think they should kiss her hand or her foot?” I said, “Foot, definitely.” So that was it. When my friends heard I got the job they said, “Finally, a part that suits you.” And it’s true. I’ve always been cast as the girl next door because of Anatomy—the round face and round body. And anatomy is destiny. Now I get to express another side of me.


PLAYBOY: How did you whip yourself into shape for the role?

DELANY: I read a few books and then I ventured a dominatrix. We had a little seminar at her house, with various people who are into S&M. And then I watched a couple of scenes. That was about all I needed because those are a kind of heavy, and the movie is a comedy. After a while, I started using my own fantasies—because we all have them. We’re all into role-playing. We do it unconsciously, whereas these people do it consciously. The mystery of sadomasochists are normal. Their motive is to safe, and consensual. Actually, the submissive person is more in control than the dominative force. The scenarios always determined beforehand, and you don’t deviate from that. You always have a safe word so you can stop if you want to. My dominatrix friend said there are different reasons why someone becomes a dominatrix; she was bossy as a kid, so this is the perfect outlet. Now I have this image of Lucy in Peanuts growing up to be a dominatrix. That’s sort of how I felt. I’m comfortable being the one who is in control.


PLAYBOY: Is there lingerie-buying scene that you’d like to share with us?

DELANY: [Smiles] I wear only G-strings. They don’t show, and it feels like you are wearing nothing. I have always wondered, though, Why is it called a G-string? It’s not connected to the G-spot. Maybe when strippers took them off, guys went, “Gee,” I’d be so happy living in the tropics, wearing just a sarong. I hate wearing clothes. And another thing about underwear: it’s amazing what a good bra can do. It can cover a multitude of sins. I have a great collection. You learn about the best ones from movie-costume designers. Any woman’s breasts can look great with the right bra.


PLAYBOY: Have you ever experienced a moment in a love scene when you knew that the other person had gone beyond acting and was swept up in real passion?

DELANY: I hope so! [Smiles] You hope that will happen. You’re not actually going to have sex, but you want the person to be totally into you. It’s like S&M—it’s all just role-playing. Even though my love touch are intimate ways, most love scenes in are choreographed, so there are no surprises. And you can always say “Cut!” There’s really nothing left to chance. However, there’s a difference between someone putting his hand on my thigh and somebody inserting a finger. That would be crossing the line. But actors are very respectful of one another. I don’t think an actor would last long in the business if he crossed that line.


PLAYBOY: Why do women keep diaries and leave them lying around?

DELANY: A therapist might say women want their journals to be read by the men in their lives so that their inner thoughts will be understood. And maybe because women are such a mystery, men think they’re going to find the key to women through their journals. Or maybe a man’s curiosity revolves around: "How does she write about me?" "How big am I in her life?" I wouldn't mind somebody reading my journals after I'm dead. I've kept them since I was in first grade. I go back now and read them on afternoons when I'm avoiding something, and there are the same themes over and over again.

Mostly they're painful to read. I wonder, God, don't you think better of yourself? I had such low self-esteem as a teenager, writing "I have to lose ten pounds." It's all the societal stuff that's put on you, that you're not good enough. Mine sound like True Confes-sions. Now, because I'm happy, I don't write that much.


PLAYBOY: Whose diary have you read?

DELANY: When I was about 12, I found my father's journal. It's my biggest treasure because it captures the life of a 16-year-old in Brooklyn in the Thirties: going to the triple feature—he used to rate the movies-how the girls wouldn't talk to him. "I went to Mass today and said three Hail Marys" —that kind of thing. He also wrote about how a guy on his track team died in front of him on the field. It was his first experience with death.

Keeping a journal myself, I realize that the things you write down aren't necessarily the things you believe. For me it's a way of getting shit out, it's gone, then I don't feel that way any-more. It's sort of an exorcism.


PLAYBOY: Describe the pleasure and pain of a tequila high.

DELANY: It's a great drunk because it's a happy drunk. The worst part is the hangover-but I've been very good lately. I'm trying! My worst hangover waswhen I combined tequila and champagne. I woke up in a strange man's office-with only a sweater on. That was bad. [Laughs] The worst. [Pauses] Everything turned out fine. Oh no, I should never have told you that.


PLAYBOY: Your great-grandfather invented a toilet fush valve. Is there a certain way to tell someone the source of your family's fortune that minimizes the snickering?

DELANY: I like the snickering. I've never been embarrassed about my father's business. We had great bathroom humor in my family. Whenever I use a public bathroom and see my name on the flusher, I get a rush. My father's dead, so it's like It's a Wonderful Life-whenever you hear a bell ring, an angel gets its wings. Whenever I flush a toilet, I figure my father is watching me.


PLAYBOY: What one thing about men would be wonderful to know?

DELANY: What most women want to know: Why can't men be monogamous? I don't hold it against men, though. The older I get, the more I'd rather hang out with women. Women today, especially in their 30s and older, are curious about so many things. They investigate and want to learn and aren't afraid of new things. Men are a little more fearful of change.I'm not trying to put down men; I just find that women's minds are more elas-tic. I used to be stimulated by sex. Now I'm stimulated by ideas. Or some good ideas about sex. [Laughs] But you know what? It used to be that women got together and talked about men. We don't anymore. In fact, we can have entire conversations without talking about men. I guess that will send the guys diving for the diaries.


PLAYBOY: You were quoted as suggesting that actors Liam Neeson, James Woods and Willem Dafoe are among the best-endowed males in Hollywood. How do you know?

DELANY: After I said that, everyone thought I'd had sex with all those men. I haven't-or else I wouldn't have talked about it. I've seen Willem because I had a bird's-eye view in Light Sleeper. Liam is legendary. And Jimmy Woods is so proud that he'd be happy to share the fact with you. Jimmy was very flattered.He said he's gotten a lot more dates since that article came out. I read that Liam had mentioned it. I suppose that meant he was flattered. But who wouldn't be?


PLAYBOY: Could you repeat the line you said to Willem Dafoe about his erection so that we can put it on our answering machine?

DELANY: [Smiles] "Quite an erection you have there." And then I say, "I'm drip-ping." That was my favorite line. Susan Sarandon was also in the film, though I didn't get to work with her because of scheduling problems. But there was one day of crossover when I had come in for a photo shoot. I walked into the trailer and Susan said, "Oh, here she is, Little Miss 'I'm dripping.''


PLAYBOY: Writers frequently describe you as "freshly scrubbed." Who would you like to bathe?

DELANY: Bono. He's greasy. And I'd like to meet him.

Playboy Magazine, August 1994

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