Women’s History Month with Pamela Dillman Haskell
Uncredited inventors in science, math, aeronautics, architecture, music, and art, women have made numerous contributions to everyday life. Heralding causes from suffragettes, No Kid Hungry, health care, truth in cosmetic ingredients, and redefining beauty – women strive to change the patriarchal narrative.
Take notes, Almar Latour, the hemline index, rather the long and short of it, coincides with the direction of the stock market.
Women’s History Month started in 1978 with the Sonoma County Commission Education Task Force on the Status of Women who planned and held a Women’s History Week to correspond with International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8. With lobbying efforts, that week became a Presidential Proclamation in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, and in 1987-1990, via Public Law 100-9 with resolutions, the U.S. president proclaimed March as Women’s History Month.
To celebrate all things women locally, this column is dedicating the month of March to them – their contributions, their stories, their inspiration, and opportunities to support.
The voice you may be listening to on your audio book as you commute to work just may be the same voice who is the president of the SB Rescue Mission Women’s Auxiliary, a VNA Health Board member for 10 years, and a board director of the Creative Network, with former volunteer work as Montecito Union School PTA president, the Friendship Center, the Lobero Theatre Associates, the Granada Theatre, the Marjorie Luke Theatre, and the Santa Barbara Council for Arts in Education. She teaches master classes and workshops in the Meisner Method of acting, holds a BFA from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art London, has acted in live theater, TV, and films, modeled, and yes, is a wife and mother.
We are talking this week about and with Pamela Dillman Haskell, who came to Montecito-SB in her teens with her dad, actor Bradford Dillman, stepmother and renowned model Suzy Parker, and her siblings. Recently nominated for an Audie Award,a.k.a. the Oscars for audiobooks, she starts her day with yoga, coffee, and then off to work!
Here is our interview with the spoilers left in.
Q. When you reflect on Women’s History Month in 2023, who stands out for you?
A. Hmm — which women come to mind as our greatest role models for today’s generation of women? Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have to be on that list, for sure. And Maya Angelou.
Among living role models, I’d say, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Atwood, Amal Clooney, Lizzo … I could go on and on, but those women are all so incredibly inspirational, they come first to my mind.
What contributions by women are most relevant?
Women’s rights in general. And women standing side by side with men in any field, quietly, steadily, purposefully getting the work done to make the world a better place, without calling attention to themselves or angling for personal glory … but using their positions to make a difference. Those are the women I look to.
Did you have female mentors?
Both my mother and stepmother were powerful forces in my life, inspirational in different ways. Both were actresses. Suzy Parker, my stepmother, was a passionately artistic woman who made an enormous impact on my life. She was a model of international stature, then became an actress. My mother, Freida Harding McIntosh, influenced me greatly in my love of books, literature, and the spoken word. To their lasting frustration, neither of my mothers were formally educated beyond high school. They grew up in a generation when women were expected to marry young, and if they had beauty, as they both did, to marry “well,” and be an asset to their husbands and providers. That is a truth that makes my daughter’s generation cringe — but it certainly still exists in today’s world.
Anyway, both Suzy and my mom were fiercely self-educated, powerhouse women in their own ways who made more of their lives — and became more influential — than they were raised to believe they could. I would say their looks sort of shadowed their potential, though, because when the world sees you as a beauty, there are expectations about what you are supposed to do with that, and there are implied limits upon how you should impose yourself in a man’s world.
When you attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art London, how were women viewed?
When I was at RADA, there were seven young women and 14 young men selected for the course that year, which was the standard term limit. The half number of women-to-men was supposed to reflect the fact that there were twice as many roles for men in the professional world of acting, so the school was being “realistic.”
In fact, there were far, far fewer than 50% of job opportunities for women in the field of acting then, as now. It’s a slightly improved percentage in today’s world, I should say, but still not equal opportunity.
What experiences as a woman in your profession made an impact on you?
I really struggled with a sort of identity crisis in the early years of my acting career. Having gone to RADA, I thought I should be a Royal Shakespeare Company actor. I worked in the U.K. for years after graduation from RADA, completely hiding my American accent and trying desperately to become fully English. My maternal family is English, so I forgive myself somewhat for my confusion, but honestly, I was just trying too hard to find myself. And in acting, trying hard is death. “Efforting” just shows. It’s only when you stop trying so hard, and just live your truth, that your work can be any good at all. These struggles were certainly part of being a woman in a dominantly male field, where the roles available were at that time more limited to ingenue, vixen, or what we called “character.” I do think that has begun to change, today.
Tell us about your nomination for an Audie Award for your narration of The Wilder Widows by Katherine Hastings.
I’m really so happy about that. Everyone says, “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” but really, those are true words! Even if I only get to give a fist bump to David Sedaris at the awards ceremony in New York City this March, I’ll be incredibly tickled.
It’s sort of like a small indie film that gets major recognition, you could say, because the book was published independently, as opposed to the other four finalist audiobooks, which were from major publishers, and I produced and directed the audiobook from my own recording studio. So, woo-hoo! That’s why it’s an honor just to be recognized as a finalist for the 2023 Audies.
I’m very proud of The Wilder Widows, though. The books are terrific, and Katherine Hastings is a remarkably versatile and talented writer. Her characters simply resonated with me, so it was easy to bring them to audio life. I relate to them all, in different ways.
I just finished recording the second volume, and there is a third coming soon.
When you transitioned from acting to book narration, were there many women narrators?
It is true in the early days of recorded books that a good number of the narrators were men, due to the publishers focusing on classics, which they felt were best read by men, as most of the classic authors were male. Except, of course, for the Jane Austen genre.
Now, most of the time we are cast as narrators based on the gender of the author and/or the gender of the main character of the book. I recently narrated a series of books about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie Stories, for instance, which were written by a man (wonderful William Kuhn), but he decided to cast a woman narrator to suggest the voices of Jackie and her best friends, even though he wrote the stories in first-person reflection.
What is it about voice-over/narration work you find most rewarding, or what keeps you motivated in this genre?
I love interpreting the author’s words and bringing the author’s vision to life. You have to convey so much without being overly performative. But it comes to the same truth as performing in any medium. The listener will absolutely know if you are not “in” the story, or if you are merely reading the words. The best narrators are living the story as they tell it, while letting the listener envision the scenes and characters in their own way. I also love that audiobooks are a very valid way of consuming literature in a world when so many don’t have time to sit down with a book, but can enjoy listening to one while traveling or working out or doing hobbies, et cetera.
Where do audiobooks fit in with increasing literacy awareness and access?
I think it’s a growing conversation. When audiobooks first emerged, the first company was called Books on Tape, invented for commuters (which later evolved into Recorded Books). Publishers saw it could be another marketing tool and started recording “classic” books, and later best-sellers considered popular enough to warrant having an audio version. So, the focus was more on the market, not literacy.
Now, every published book has a concurrent audio edition, and there is more focus on how they fit into literacy and education. There have been many studies done on how our youth are not as much inclined to reading hardcover books as they are to audio or cinematic exposure.
In the early days, some people might have thought of audiobooks as an “inauthentic” way of consuming books. That is no longer a widely held belief. As book narrators, we speak the words exactly as the author wrote them, just with interpretation.
Your next project? Any spoiler alerts?
I’m working on a “cozy murder-mystery” series for Dreamscape, currently. And an amazing fantasy series for Santa Barbara-based author Bobbie McMorrow. I spend so much time in my recording booth, my husband is starting to complain, lol!
You also edit books…
Yes, I am a book editor, which arose from my audio work. I think if I hadn’t become an actress, I would have pursued journalism, because the written word is just so powerfully moving and lastingly impactful. I’ve always been fascinated with editing, and how it can make a good work great. A few authors had contacted me with the desire to have their books recorded, but they felt their books needed editing first. I offered to work with them on the editing and the audiobook. It worked out — and so I’ve been doing more of that.
What does your community volunteer work mean to you?
It means a great deal. In a very challenging season of my life, I turned to volunteer work as a way of giving back to the community and getting out of my own head, and I honestly can attest that doing hands-on work for others will get you out of contemplating your own navel. The more I volunteered, the more work I saw needed to be done. And I wanted to do it right, so I became more and more involved until I began to see the changes manifesting, for the community and in me.