It may seem ironic that the niece in a family of monsters oozes class. Pat Priest, whose most famous film credit is Marilyn Munster in the classic family sitcom “The Munsters,” has her own modest explanation: “Do you know a lot of that comes with age? It’s called ‘mellowing out.'”
The polished, lady-like actress worked prolifically for television for over ten years in the 1960s and 70s. She talked to Legendarium Media at Mad Monster Party 2017 about her experiences in early TV and getting started in comic pantomime theater.
Legendarium Media: How did you get into theater, and what interested you most about it?
Pat Priest: Well, I got into theater kind of indirectly because of my mother. She directed a church roadshow. . .that went to several churches and she needed a five-minute curtain act. So she came up with the bright idea that I would do a comic record pantomime, which was five minutes while they set up the scenery behind the stage (because everything was timed, with a fifteen-minute show). I did—from an old British singer, comic singer, called Beatrice Kay—a record called “Hooray, Hooray! I’m Going Away with the Man in the Little White Coat.” I came out with a birdcage on my head and running around like I was a Loony Toon, and then they came and took me away, you know, two men in a white coat. Well. . .[in] the record she laughs, and of course I had to mimic that laugh, and it just brought down the house! Everyone was laughing so when I would roll on the stage and laugh, well, apparently it came to the attention of a radio show. This was in Salt Lake City, a television show. And I went down and I thought, “You know, I could get something else, all I have is one record!” So I got some others, some albums. . .some other different things. That started and later on I was basically in high school and later on I did little theater after I was married. . .I was married to a military man and we were transferred to California. I got an agent, started doing commercials, and then it went from there. From then on, and I [auditioned] for “The Munsters” and I got the part. That was it, in a nutshell!
Legendarium Media: Now, one thing that [stood out] to me was how you commuted to your job and it just looked like a regular day job from the outside.
Pat Priest: And you know what? That’s kind of the way I felt about it. I lived [a] 45 minute drive from the studio each way, and that would give me time in the morning to learn my lines because, you know, they were so few, you could do that in probably in the first ten minutes. But that was a very nice, it was a pleasant experience.
Legendarium Media: You’ve been in a variety of shows other than just “The Munsters” such as “Mission: Impossible” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Is there any particular show that either you want to be most remembered for or which one that you thought the most artistic?
Pat Priest: Well, of course “The Munsters” would fall in the category of both of those questions. But as far as television shows I think one of the things that I enjoyed the most was the Mary Tyler Moore show where I played Betty White’s sister from Atlanta with a Southern accent, and that was fun. I did a lot of TV work before “The Munsters” and after. And then I did a movie with Elvis Pressley called the “Easy Come, Easy Go”—the story of my life.
Legendarium Media: What was working with him like?
Pat Priest: Oh it was wonderful! Because at that period of time, Elvis was shy, he was quiet, he had his entourage of guys that went everywhere with him—great guys, wonderful! He was religious, and always on time, never any problems at all. He was a director’s joy.
Legendarium: For any aspiring actors out there, do you have any advice for them about starting their careers?
Pat Priest: Well, yes, and if, [you are] not in the Los Angelis or New York area, I would suggest that you try to do all the little theater. If you have looked at TV commercials, all that will prepare you for coming either to New York or to LA, because that’s the center, that’s where everything happens. But, you can [lay] all the groundwork out wherever you live so that then when you come in, you. . .get an agent, and “go big time,” so to speak, you got all the experience.
Legendarium Media: Do you have a parting story you’d like to leave?
Pat Priest: About the only thing I can say is this is my farewell tour. I’m not going to be travelling anymore. I live in Idaho, and it’s becoming just a little too difficult. Actually, I love the show! I love meeting the people and talking with them. It’s the airlines! It’s the travel part that I don’t like.