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Close-Up: Actor Earl Holliman
by Scott Holleran
Earl Holliman in Police Woman
March 8, 2006

Earl Holliman, 77, played Sergeant Bill Crowley opposite Angie Dickinson's Pepper Anderson on Police Woman, the popular NBC television series that ran from 1974 through 1978. In 2003, Box Office Mojo interviewed the actor, who also appeared in Hollywood classics Giant, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Rainmaker, in anticipation of the show's DVD premiere.

Box Office Mojo: Was your chemistry on Police Woman with Angie Dickinson natural or intentional?

Holliman: We didn't work on it at all. When they saw the first day's rushes, which took place in a hospital, they were raving about the chemistry between us. Angie was so beautiful, attractive and sexy and she had a marvelous sense of humor and a great vulnerability. She was very sexy yet at the same time there was something about her you wanted to protect, a little girl quality, that made you want to put your arm around her and say it was going to be OK. We were together 12 or 14 hours a day and Angie's very opinionated—when she thinks she's right that's the way it is—and we had our share of disagreements but you could tell we had a warmth. It looked like two people who adored each other. It was there.

Box Office Mojo: Was there ever a Police Woman reunion?

Holliman: No, though there should have been. It was a natural and I don't know why it didn't happen. For years, we all looked good. Apparently, it's past its moment. So many generations coming up now haven't even heard of Police Woman. That's the way it is in this business. There's something permanent about movies but not with television. Let's face it, it was a long time ago.

Box Office Mojo: Would you be in a feature movie of Police Woman if you were asked?

Holliman: Of course I would, if they asked. I had a good time doing that show. We had a wonderful relationship, a marvelous producer, and the four of us got along great.

Box Office Mojo: What was it like working with the co-star of Rio Bravo and Ocean's 11?

Holliman: At that time, Angie was married to [composer] Burt Bacharach and they had a young daughter, and it was very important for her not to work after six o'clock at night—it was part of her contract—though she got looser about that as time went on, because there were many times when we had to work at night. Sometimes, we'd work 'til midnight on location. We might start in the morning in San Pedro and finish the day on the streets of Burbank. It was tiring.

Box Office Mojo: Whose idea was it to name her character Pepper?

Holliman: I think Angie came up with that. I think her character's real name was Lee Ann.

Box Office Mojo: Why was the show cancelled?

Holliman: We had a very big, hit show. We were always in the top 15, sometimes in the top ten, and I remember one summer when we reached number one in the ratings—and that was before cable. They put on Baretta against us, Get Christie Love, the thing with Darren McGavin [Kolchak: the Night Stalker]—Police Woman was a hit. The entire Friday night lineup was a smash on NBC: Chico and the Man, Sanford and Son, The Rockford Files—and Police Woman. Friday night was NBC night. What happened was they would start taking us off [the regularly scheduled night] and put us on someplace else [on the schedule] for a couple of weeks to get our audience to watch some other show, so people looking for Police Woman couldn't find us. They moved us from Friday night to Tuesday night opposite M*A*S*H, which was a huge, established hit, and we began to slip in the ratings. We could have been on the air for another few years.

Box Office Mojo: Some claim that Angie Dickinson's character was de-sexualized because feminists had a problem with her being so sexual—

Holliman: —She was always sexy Pepper. Feminists had a problem with the show in the first season and we got a few letters because she was a cop using her sexuality on the street as a hooker and things like that. Some feminists wrote in that she was [being] exploited but it was not a big deal. We also did a show [during the first season] called "Flowers of Evil," about three lesbians running a nursing home—they were wiping out the old ladies—and we got mail on that. The Variety headline [about that episode's controversy] was: "Gays Finger Police Woman." In that same show, Pepper even admitted [to a lesbian character] that she had known a love like that. But they kept Angie looking as sexy, provocative and beautiful as possible. She was gorgeous.

Box Office Mojo: Did Sgt. Crowley get into the field as often as you would have liked?

Holliman: In the beginning, I was paired with [policeman] Royster [played by Charles Dierkop] while [actor] Ed Bernard [as policeman Styles] would play a pimp to Pepper's undercover hooker, but, after a while, they began to put us together. She'd get into trouble and I'd run in and save her. I would make some smart remark and she would come back at me in some sexy kind of way and a lot of that was ad libbed. We had a tacit kind of permission to do that and it really helped the chemistry.

Box Office Mojo: Do you have a favorite episode?

Holliman: There was one they wrote particularly for my character called—I think it was—"Sarah Who?" The star of Bridget Loves Bernie, Meredith Baxter-Birney, played the daughter of one of my best friends who had died—a cop who had been killed long ago—and she was like an adopted daughter. Somebody was killing policewomen and she was killed and I had a breakdown, crying and all that. I got to play a little bit of everything in that—tough guy, soft guy—and I always liked that.

Earl Holliman and Angie Dickinson
Box Office Mojo: Did your character have an affair with Pepper?

Holliman: No. I remember when my mother was sick in the hospital—she was in the intensive care unit after a heart attack—a nurse said to me: "I wanted so bad for you to take Pepper into your arms and kiss her," and then she thought about it and said, "and yet I'm glad you didn't." Our relationship was like Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty [on TV's long-running Western Gunsmoke]—you never saw them doing anything and yet there was no question that Marshall made it up those stairs to Miss Kitty's room. I think that's like what Pepper and Bill were about. They adored each other. He loved her, he protected her, he was crazy about her—though he wasn't exclusive about it. He was able to flirt with other ladies on the show and there was an unresolved, sexual tension on screen.

Box Office Mojo: Who played the other ladies?

Holliman: The first part Loni Anderson ever had was with me on Police Woman. She played a waitress. She had very dark hair—she looked Oriental—and it was before she had the blonde hair. She came up and took my order and I'm coming on to her and I asked her how she liked Ella Fitzgerald and she said "oh, my husband just loves her, why do you ask?" and my line was "I guess I'm just taking a survey." I'd get away with murder. [In one episode,] I had a stewardess at the little bar in my apartment. She said something about how to solve crime and I said, listen, I'll make a pact with you, you don't ask me how I solve a murder and I won't ask you how that pilot uses that big thing up in the air. Everyone on the set would snicker but we'd get away with it. I remember once when Angie and I had to get into [police] uniform and at the very end of the show we were walking back and, just as we walked past camera, Angie said "I can't wait to get back into my pants" and I said "neither can I."

Box Office Mojo: In today's culture, would there even be a show called Police Woman—or would it be called Police Officer?

Holliman: That I don't know. Quite possibly there wouldn't be. That takes the kick out of it, doesn't it? It's very precise, when you say, Police Woman, it means: tune in to see this woman as a police officer. Police Officer is kind of generic.

Box Office Mojo: Do you still hear from the rest of the cast?

Holliman: Charlie Dierkop and I, who share the same birthday, September 11, stay in touch from time to time.

Box Office Mojo: There are several false claims about your childhood on the Web and in movie reference books. What's your general background?

Holliman: My real name really is Earl Holliman. I weighed six pounds when I was a week old—I had yellow jaundice—and I was adopted. My natural father died six months before I was born—my birth mother lived until the 1970s—and I went to the orphanage. I was adopted by the Hollimans—and, as far as I'm concerned, the Hollimans are my parents. Henry Holliman, a World War 1 veteran, worked in the oil fields. My [adoptive] mother couldn't have children and they had wanted to adopt a child. When they came to see me, I was sick and they took me right away to the doctor, who apparently said: "you don't have a baby here, you have a funeral expense." They paid the midwife seven dollars and fifty cents for me—this was in the backwoods of Louisiana. I had wonderful parents who gave me all the love in the world. They encouraged me to be whatever I can be. I was their only child.

Box Office Mojo: Were your parents interested in the movies?

Holliman: The only movie I remember my father [who died when he was 13] liking was a picture called The Biscuit Eater, made by Warner Bros, I think. It was a beautiful story about a dog, and my dad kept telling me about this movie. I did see it in my hometown. Ironically, I ended up doing a remake at Disney [a two-part episode for Disney's television series in 1976]. My dad would have been pleased.

Box Office Mojo: Is it true that you hitchhiked to Hollywood when you were 15?

Holliman: After my dad died, I got a job working as an usher at the Strand [movie theater] in Shreveport [Louisiana] making 25 cents an hour. I saved a few bucks and hitchhiked to Hollywood. I had my 15th birthday on the highway. I brought along a pair of dark sunglasses, which I associated with Hollywood, and, on my first day in Hollywood, I went to Grauman's Chinese Theater and I remember walking up and down the forecourt of Grauman's [where movie stars put their handprints and footprints] in my dark glasses hoping everyone would wonder who I was. I didn't last long. I thought I'd be able to get a job but I couldn't get one. This nice lady talked me into going home, which I did. I went back to high school, played tackle on the football team, was president of the senior class and then joined the Navy—I was unhappy at home because my mother had remarried and I didn't like him—and the Navy sent me up to radio [communications] school in Los Angeles at a big armory. Whenever I'd get liberty, I'd hightail it over to the Hollywood Canteen and I met people I'd later work with like Roddy McDowall. Later, I applied for and was accepted at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Box Office Mojo: How did you break into movies?

Holliman: I was told that, even though I was a good actor, I wasn't handsome enough to be a leading man and I wasn't offbeat enough to be a character actor. I was just kind of in between. Well, when I sat in the barber's chair [for a bit part in The Girls of Pleasure Island], they cut my hair about a quarter of an inch long and in the front it laid down like bangs—that haircut you see all the time now but then nobody had it except Truman Capote—and, with my big ears, my broken nose, my two front teeth, my little eyes and my funny-looking haircut, I was suddenly a character actor. Just like that.

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