When Liz Hansen was a Salt Lake City 11-year-old, her mother, Blanche, took her to see "Mary Poppins."
That's when the dream started."From that moment on I wanted to be Julie Andrews," the 34-year-old Hansen remembers now. "My whole life was focused on becoming a star."
And the way she sees it, she's right on track. OK, OK - so maybe the name "Liz Hansen" isn't exactly lighting up theater marquees from Broadway to Hollywood. And maybe her face - attractive as it is, surrounded by curly auburn hair that is handsomely offset by sparkling blue eyes - isn't . . . well, familiar. She's been living as an actress - and lately, playwright - here for more than 10 years, and she's only had to take a "normal" job (a six-month stint as a secretary) once.
In The City of Broken Dreams, that's a significant accomplishment. Remember, this is the place "where all the stars that never were are parking cars and pumping gas." So what if you can't find her name on a Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk star; you won't find it sewn onto a shirt next to a Texaco star, either.
Besides, Hansen thinks she's doing pretty well, thank you. She has toured with Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" and with the Yul Bryner in "The King and I." She's acted on Broadway and off-Broadway, in the Kennedy Center and in the Long Beach Civic Center. She's played in movies, on TV and in local theaters up and down the West Coast. And she's written two plays that have been professionally produced - one in New York ("A Pearl of Great Price"), and one in California ("A String of Pearls").
"I'm doing exactly what I want to do," the dynamic, energetic Hansen said while relaxing in a suite at Universal City's Registry Hotel. "I'm surviving as an artist in Hollywood. Sometimes I just barely survive. But I am surviving."
That's something that seems to come naturally to Hansen. The youngest of George and Blanche Hansen's three children, she grew up refining her survival skills against two older brothers, George III and Mark. She also had to survive her first year at Olympus High School ("I was very intimidated," she says when trying to remember that year. "I just try to block it out.") and the disappointment of not being cast as Guenevere in "Camelot" during her senior year at Cottonwood High.
Her four years as a theater performance major at the University of Utah were "great years," she said. But still, her dream of stardom had to survive a mainstage career that consisted mostly of being Pat O'Connell's understudy.
"I wasn't really a star at Pioneer Memorial Theatre," she said. "But that was OK, because I wasn't really that interested in musical theater. I wanted to be an `actress' first, even though I knew I could sing and I enjoyed doing it."
Longtime U. of U. theater professor Marilyn Holt had a lot to do with teaching her what it meant to be an actress. But even though she was a good and talented student, she found she was unprepared for the realities of show business when she came to California soon after graduating from college.
"As good as the collegiate experience is, it doesn't really teach you much about the business side of the business," Hansen said. "You don't learn how to handle cattle calls, how to prepare a good audition or a resume. You don't learn about agents and pictures and how to avoid being taken advantage of by the vultures that are out there."
In short, they don't teach survival. And even though Hansen came to California with those strong survival instincts and a clear vision of her dream, she was "really scared" - so much so that she momentarily set acting aside and considered a career as a cinematographer.
That only lasted for a little more than one quarter of classes at the Brooks Institute of Photography, which she hated enough to bring herself face to face with the only thing standing between her and her goal of professional acting: Herself.
"I was too fat," she says, something that's difficult to believe now as she carries a trim 124 pounds on her 5-foot, 8-inch frame. Still, she felt that she needed to lose weight and so she changed her eating habits ("Poverty helped," she jokes) and dropped 15 pounds. "You might say that my desire for food was outweighed by my desire for work," she said.
In June of 1978 she got involved in a drama workshop that changed her life. "I learned all about the business from professionals," she said. That led to her first Equity job - in a North Carolina dinner theater doing a melodrama called "Red Dawg."
She's been acting fairly steadily ever since - if you don't count that six-month secretarial stint and an occasional bout of joblessness. But even those dry spells have proven to be helpful, as they have prompted her to find something to do "between jobs."
"I've always enjoyed writing," Hansen said. "When I was going to Bonneville Junior High I used to write screenplays in my spare time. But that was just for fun. It wasn't until Marilyn (Holt) saw a one-act play I had written and told me she thought it had potential that I ever thought I could actually write something that people might want to see."
Still, it took a two-and-a-half year dry spell to convince her to try her hand at serious writing. "I didn't want to do commercials - I find that really degrading," she said. "And I don't like film work or TV - it's boring to just sit around and wait all the time."
Writing seemed like a good alternative, both creatively and financially. But her preparation as a professional actress hadn't given her a lot of insights into the world of professional writing. "I decided I could either learn by kicking around for a lot of years, or I could go to a good school and really learn it fast," she said. "I decided to learn it fast."
She enrolled at the American Film Institute and fell in love with the craft on her way to a master's degree. Her first AFI project, "String of Pearls," has been extended indefinitely for its current run at the Gypsy Playhouse in Burbank, and she now has several film and television writing projects in the works - including one with fellow Utahn Lyman Dayton.
"Acting is still a part of me," she said, "but now I see myself as a writer/actress. I don't have to push myself so much because the desperation isn't there. There are no dry spells - I'm always doing something."
Indeed she is. In addition to acting and writing, Hansen spends a few nights a week singing at a Los Angeles-area restaurant. And on Sundays she leads the singing for her LDS ward Relief Society.
And when she has a minute or two that aren't occupied, she still likes to dream. "Maybe I'm not going to be a star by the time I'm 35," she admits in a sudden fit of reality. "Lots of actresses didn't get their big break until they were past 40."
So an Oscar or a Tony still isn't out of the question? "Certainly not," she said, regaining her optimism. "And how about a couple of Pulitzer Prizes, too?"