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Deborah Tranelli exclusive dallas interview

You put your question forward to the talented Deborah Tranelli who played Bobby Ewing's faithful secretary Phyllis on Dallas.

Deborah Tranelli has released a surprisingly solid and enjoyable debut album, A Lot Of Livin'. While she is the recipient of a Back Stage Bistro Award, she is not widely known as a singer. Hopefully this album will rectify that as it is one of the best debut albums I have heard in quite some time.

You can purchase Deborah's fantastic new album here

Ultimate Dallas - Welcome Deborah, great to talk to you finally. We have received hundreds of questions for you from all over the globe.

Deborah Tranelli - That's good to hear, hopefully none we can't answer (laughs). Actually my two biggest sources of fan mail is the UK and then followed by Germany.

UD - The show was huge in the UK and still is. Do you still get a lot of mail?

Deborah - You know they don't seem to find me since I moved from California to New York. I used to get tons of mail, although its hard to believe its been off the air since 1991 now. With the DVD out and the movie that keeps things alive.

UD - Ok lets kick off with the first question from the fans

Jamie meng in Fontana California asks How is it like to have your own singing career?

Deborah - You know, I started singing in school, so its my first and absolute love. I was singing in school with Choirs and then when I was 13 years old I was in a Production of the Sound of Music and then I was introduced to theatre. It's a joy, I absolutely love my acting work but music is my first passion.

UD - I spoke to Steve Kanaly the other day and he mentioned you were singing back in those Dallas days.

Deborah - Oh yes, if you speak to him again please give him my best. I haven't seen him in years. I did a lot of Celebrity Sports Weekends and he and I did several Tennis Tournaments together. It was great to see him on the Reunion show although I was greatly disappointed they didn't ask Sly and Phyllis to be on the show (laughs).

UD - Yes that was a shame, you joined Dallas very early on.

Deborah - I moved to California in November 1980 and the first episode I filmed was on December 23rd 1980.

Greg_G in London asks How did you get the role of Phyllis, did you expect to be with the show for so many years.

Deborah - I was interviewing with an agent and the agent sent me out on the audition, they were replacing Bobby's secretary. When I first got it, it was just such a whirl wind, I thought it was for just one episode and never in my wildest dreams thought that I would still be there over 10 years later until the end of the series. The great thing about the show was that I was on a lot of the episodes but also had the opportunity to do lots of other television, continue my theatre and music. It was a wonderful job

DallasMan in NY asks were you told how to play Phyllis? What information were u given about her, did she have a back story

Deborah - I was never really given a back story, I sort of created one. I'm a theatre person and a background is important to us, I was creating a new character and saw Phyllis as a Northern girl who moved to Dallas looking for work or ,we used to joke, looking for a husband - an oilman in Texas. So I really had to create her whole history. She was a nice girl from the North who ended up working for a really nice guy.

UD - Phyllis was like Bobby whereas Sly was like JR

Deborah - Well you know, I used to describe Phyllis in interviews as Della Streak. She was the Della to Bobby Ewing as Della was to Perry Mason. Very honest, very straight forward, she cared about Bobby but never in a sexual way.

Bobb Jay in Los Angeles asks Hi Deborah just want to say I loved u as Phyllis and just and to ask you a question... Phyllis was very protected and defensive about Bobby was that out of loyalty or were the writer some time playing with the possibility of her having feelings for her boss?

Deborah - They started to develop something maybe more than a working relationship between Bobby and his previous secretary so when I came in they wanted to create a friendship and a close relationship but they didn't want to play with her having feelings for him beyond that. I always thought that was a very limited point of view, I always felt frustrated that they felt it was one or the other. The season that Pam worked in the office, I call it the shower season, Victoria Principal really fought for me and for the two of us to have more to do together. So I actually had more to do in the office because nobody was going to jump to the conclusion that something was going on between Phyllis and Pam, the way they would with Phyllis and Bobby. Patrick and I were always sort of frustrated by that too because we had such a great friendship off camera, we had such a great relationship and lots of laughter. We had a few episodes where we would have a drink together or maybe he would confide in me but they were afraid to go any further which I was always disappointed about.

UD - The character of Sly was more involved

Deborah - She was working for JR, so if she wanted to or not her job was at stake if she didn't do something for JR. Whereas Bobby would never of asked Phyllis to do something illegal to support him.

Gerard in Spain asks Would you have liked to have seen Phyllis having an affair with her boss Bobby?

Deborah - Well the truth is I always thought a fling was rather obvious, everybody was having affairs with everybody. I thought it would be a lot more interesting if she got involved with the intrigue of the business or she was doing a little spying for Bobby. I always thought that would be a lot more interesting than the obvious. Phyllis involved undercover but not under the covers (laughs)

Kayla in New Jersey asks what was your favorite episode of dallas for you to shoot?

Deborah - There were two or three of them, I did so many episodes, 154 or something like that. One of my favorite episodes is the one time I did go out and have a drink with Bobby, he opened up with me the Cattlemans Club. One of my other favorite episodes is an episode where the office was bugged, Ray and Donna come into the office to figure out how the bugging was done. One of my other favorite scenes is where Bobby was killed, I didn't have any dialogue but was crying very deeply at my desk and Sly was comforting me. I was asked at an interview afterwards "What were you thinking?" and I was thinking "I'm out of a job" (laughs)

UD - Did you actually think that was it for Phyllis?

Deborah - My emotion was real because I cared about that character but who knew if I would be on next season, they could of said there is no Bobby so no Phyllis.
In a later season I had nothing to do so I was trying to bolster Bobby back into the fight and I thought that was a great episode between us because Phyllis was being the strong one.

Sally Hollingsworth in Ipswich,Suffolk,England asks What was it like to work with Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman?

Deborah - They were two of the greatest people to work with, it was always fun. I do a lot of voice impressions and I would crack Patrick up and do these silly voices like Katherine Hepburn or Eartha Kitt when the camera was on him and make him laugh.
One of my favorite things Larry and Patrick used to do, you know the scenes when the elevator would open and close, it wasn't a real elevator, it was just a set piece and the door would literally just open and close, so every time the door opened they would be on their knees as if the elevator had stuck and they would act like the elevator was stuck between floors.
Then they would do something called 'rat face' and they would do little squirrel faces with buck teeth. We had so much fun.
I was on Oprah Winfrey's first or second season and it was secretaries to stars in real life and secretaries on television. Oprah asked about gifts we got from our bosses and one of the other guests was Susan Ruttan from L.A. Law who played Roxanne, apparently the actor who played her boss sent her flowers all the time.
I looked at her "He sends you flowers! I never get flowers", about a week later Patrick was on Larry King so I called up and they got me on the show and Patrick confessed he saw my Oprah interview and he said "Your flowers are on the way" and I said "I'm sitting here waiting". Well sure enough the next day a dozen long stemmed red roses showed up at my apartment. (laughs).
I thought that was one of the sweetest things that happened, that is what is was like working wit Patrick, he was an absolute joy to work with, I can't say enough about how great he was.

Linda in Texas asks What have you been doing since Dallas?

Deborah - The series ended in 91, I went on a concert tour around the country, I did some television work and theatre work and then I sorted of decided around 93/94 I would go back to New York, I missed my family a great deal. I moved to New York permanently in 95 and have done mostly theatre and concert work. I have been very busy on the other side of the performing arts. I would love to continue to do television and film, I did a Law and Order and some other film work. But I love doing my theatre and concert work.

Donald Gilmore in Glenpool (Tulsa) asks OK- I hope you remember me. I was one of the party guests in the Tulsa Opera production of "Sound of Music." I bought your CD which you graciously signed. The music really touched my heart especially "Gentle Souls & Tenderhearted Fools" and "Believe What You're Dreaming." My current "day job" will be going away at the end of November and I want to follow my dream of making my living acting and commercial modeling. I've been doing community theater for over five years. Now that I have a real chance to follow my dream, what is your advice on what to look for in an agent? Also, what other things should I do do help my dream come true.

Deborah - That's a huge question, first of all hello and what a wonderful time we had doing the Sound of Music. I think if you are passionate about anything you have to follow that passion. In an agent you have to find someone who is reputable and willing to work and build a career with you, be strong and be prepared for disappointment because that's a big part of it. Continue to take classes and develop your talent. It's also important to create your own projects, you have to be out there making phone calls and lots of it is perseverance and luck. Also a great deal of faith.

Christy Thomson in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Canada asks Were you sorry to leave Dallas?

Deborah - Oh absolutely, being on the show that many years. It felt like a job, I didn't always get challenged as an actor as I would liked to have, but it was a family. When you are sharing 10 months out of the year with people for 11 years they become like family to you. I certainly stay in touch with several people on the show. My last episode I had one of the greatest parting lines on a series ever (laughs).
JR asked me to stay on because Sly was leaving to get married and he says "What about you Phyllis?" and I walk to the door and turn around and said "JR, hell would have to freeze over before I would ever work for you" and I smiled sweetly and walked out the door. I'm someone who said no to JR and lived. (laughs)
Ken Kercheval directed that episode, he said "be as delightfully sweet and juicy as you like"

UD - What was he like as a director?

Deborah - Ken was terrific, Larry directed some episodes, Patrick directed.

UD - Linda directed as well

Deborah - She did, everybody said I looked like her sister. In my mind I thought that would be a great plot. To find out Phyllis is related to Sue Ellen, that would be great. Morgan Britanny and I used to also get mistaken for each other.

Chris Sumner Matheson in San Antonio, Texas asks Hi Deborah! You were great as Phyllis, I was wondering if you would've liked a front burner storyline at some point in the series?

Deborah - ABSOLUTELY, I several times went to Leonard Katzman and said is there any possibility of storylines but the main characters had president over us.

Katie in UK asks How would you describe your music?

Deborah - I think in one word, Collective. I was raised listening to Jazz and Big Band music. Great influences like Carol King and Joni Mitchell, some wonderful female singers who had their own voice. I also have a great love of contemporary song writing, my album reflects all of that. Some contemporary songs with an RnB flair to them because I was lover of RnB, Motown and Gospel, and a little Country. What speaks to me is a good song, a good lyric, a good melody, do I connect to it. I'm seriously considering for my next album to do a contemporary Latin feel.

Lowell C. Johnson Tampa, Florida asks I know Deborah Rennard's character had a full name (Sylvia "Sly" Lovegren)as well as Sheryl Lynn Katzman Rentino's (Jackie Duggan), but, did Phyllis ever have a last name?

Deborah - That would be a great Trivia question, Phyllis's last name was Wapner. All of the secretaries on the show were named after secretaries who worked for Lorimar. My name was Phyllis Wapner, Sly was Sylvia Lovegren who were real secretaries. In the early episodes we had name plates on the desks, I wish I had kept those.

Duane P. from Eklof Liberty, MO asks I loved the Katharine Hepburn impressions that you did when you appeared on "MG '90" - how much fun was it to go on that game show with game show icons such as Charles Nelson Reilly?

Deborah - Oh my goodness, we did Match Game. I do a lot of impressions and Katherine Hepburn is one of my favorites. I had so much fun doing Match Game. I adored Katherine Hepburn, she is one of my idols.

Jack66 in Missouri asks Hi Deborah! Do you ever keep in contact with the other "Ewing secretaries"?

Deborah - I do keep in touch with the actress who played Sly, Deborah Rennard and I do keep in touch with Danone Simpson who played Kendal. Unfortunately Sherrill Lynn Rettino who played Jackie passed away several years ago and I did keep in touch with her until then but sadly she is no longer with us. We were all very good friends and would have lunch together on the set.

Joanne in Glasgow asks The scene where Bobby dies and Phyllis is in tears was so sad, you were amazing. How did you find out Patrick was leaving and at what point did you know he was coming back?

Deborah - Those episodes were a need to know basis. I truly did not know of Bobby's demise until it was filmed. I joked with you earlier that I was out of a job but the truth is I cared about him very much and was very sad he was going to be leaving. There were talks about him coming back but these were like Government secrets, people would come up to us to try to get information but these were top secret. I was thrilled he was coming back, when I heard he was in the shower for a season I thought "No one would buy that" and sure enough that is what they went with.

Pauline in Glasgow, Scotland asks What did you think of the dream season?

Deborah - I was glad he was back but disappointed because I had so much to do in that season he was gone. There were so many other storylines, the Krebb's adopted a child - suddenly that didn't exist anymore. So I was disappointed about some of it but happy Patrick was back.

Dusty'sTrails in Dublin asks When Pam AKA Victoria Principal took over Bobby's office during the Dream Season how was she to work with?

Deborah - She was fabulous, we worked occasionally together but not that much. I was doing some charity work at one time and she was very helpful to me in doing appearances and press. She really went to bat for the character of Phyllis, she said "I really don't have many close female relationships on the series and I would love to develop a relationship with Phyllis". She wanted storylines developed around the office and our business relationship because I knew everything about the business, plus Phyllis was close to Bobby so there was a nice connection to his memory. She was terrific to work with, very bright woman, very articulate, and very passionate.

Pauline asks If you could play any part on Dallas, which character would you liked to have played?

Deborah - Oh gosh that's a big one. I loved the character I played, I wish it had been the character I played but with more to do. More of a partner in a business, my character but a step up and involved in the company.

Minty asks What was Barbara Bel Geddes like to work with?

Deborah - I was so fortunate to work with some of the greats, Barbara, Alexis Smith, Donna Reed, Howard Keel. There was an episode we did, Miss Ellie came into the office to use the computer but didn't know how to use it. I think it was a scene with all the secretaries and we were all gathered around my desk to show Miss Ellie how to use the computer and we had a lovely time with her and she was terrific to work with. We all went to lunch that day and when we came back to our trailers all of us had a beautiful bouquet of flowers and it said 'Thank you so much for your help, it was a joy to work with you', it was from Barbara. She was a great pro, she was old school, she would work those long hours, she never complained, she had a great sense of humor, she was terrific.

Luis Guadalupe in Peru asks Hi Deborah! Greetings from Peru, in South America! I'd like to ask you this: If a DALLAS movie would be done, which actress would you consider as playing as Phyllis?

Deborah - ME (laughs). I should be playing myself, everybody who is still around should be playing themselves.

Pamela in London asks In an interview with Leigh McCloskey who played Mitch Cooper he said the feeling on the show changed over the years he came in and out. Did you notice this? He said that things became more hostile as in 'watch your back', did you notice this?

Deborah - I was on it so steadily I probably didn't notice it as much as someone who would come on and off. There were certainly favorites and people who had more influence on the storylines than others. We had those couple of years where Barbara left because of health reasons and Donna Reed came on, there was some tension on the set, it wasn't personal, I think Larry was happier with Barbara being around. My job is to do my job and not get involved in the politics of it.

Rudy in Maryland asks where are you performing now ?

Deborah - I just performed at Carnage Hall, a beautiful tribute to the composer Sheldon Harnick. I just did a show 'Mamaleh' , Jewish in nature, a lovely theatre piece. Now I have some concert work coming up, shows related to the album and focusing on that. I'm working on a one woman show right now, a combination of my love of comedy and voice impressions and music, co-writing that with my fiancee. Hopefully more television and film

UD - Any final words for the fans?

Deborah - I really want to thank people. I have been touched over the years with the fan mail I have received. People have been so supportive and understood what it is like to be a supporting character, wanting to see more of me. I always felt people really looked forward to the show every week and understood I was trying to do good work. I just hope they will consider supporting me in my music, I think they will be in for a treat. I think people will see the good of Phyliss in my music.

UD - Thank you so much

Deborah - Thank you so much for keeping Dallas alive. Stay in touch

Thanks to Deborah for taking part and to all the users of Ultimate Dallas for your questions.

Ultimate Dallas strongly recommends Deborah's debut album, A Lot Of Livin' . You can purchase her new album here


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