In 1978, a low-budget horror film began production in the streets of West Hollywood and Pasadena, California. That film would be etched in history as John Carpenter’s Halloween – need we say more?
The opening sequence… notable for being shot with a Steadicam… follows the point-of-view of an unseen character on Halloween 1963. With the camera serving as our eyes into the voyeur’s perspective, we track a teenage girl and her boyfriend from outside the windows of an ominous looking house. We move inside through the back of the house, proceed up the stairs and into the bedroom of the teenage girl — in the interim, a knife is extracted from a kitchen drawer and a clown mask is placed over our visual. With the teenage girl’s back to us, we move in closer — she turns around, screams — and through the eyes of the mask, the audience is forced to watch as she is mercilessly butchered.
It’s become an iconic scene in cinema history – and one that has been duplicated/ripped-off on many occasions. The butcher? Six-year-old Michael Myers – one of pop culture’s most heralded icons. The teenage girl? His older sister Judith Myers.
We all know it’s a small role – but one that would serve as the catalyst for the entire series. As the first victim of Michael Myers, Judith is referenced in every film in the series — whether by visual homage or in the form of a ghost story. The character has appeared in comic books, fan films, and was deemed worthy for an extended role in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake. But whatever happened to Sandy Johnson — the original actress who brought Judith Myers to (ahem) life? Well, we asked our readers that back in July… and low and behold, we finally have an answer!
As far as fans knew, Sandy Johnson was born in San Antonio, Texas. She moved to Los Angeles sometime during the late ‘60s / early ‘70s and started working as a model before appearing in such drive-in fare as Surfer Girls and Jokes My Folks Never Told Me. After her turn as Judith Myers, she had lead roles in the sex comedies H.O.T.S. and Gas Pump Girls — both released in 1979. And then… she disappeared. In fact, she has been M.I.A. from view for close to forty years.
Despite interest, she has never participated in a documentary — and unlike her co-stars, she has never attended an autograph signing. And when you think about the kind of fanfare the Halloween series elicits, her absence is rather shocking. It isn’t particularly uncommon for an actor/actress within the genre to have eventually “quit Hollywood” — these films just weren’t regarded in the same manner as they are today — and until recently, the genre was hardly known as a potentially star-making machine — Jamie Lee Curtis being the exception, not the rule. Today’s cult icons are lucky to rely on the social media age to cultivate a fan base; an opportunity that just wasn’t afforded years ago.
Currently, there’s only a handful of franchise alumni that are unaccounted for — for the few notable characters whose actors haven’t attended a convention or participated in a documentary, it mostly comes down to scheduling issues or a personal choice. It wasn’t so much a choice for Sandy Johnson — NO ONE could find her. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Many convention agents, promoters and fans have attempted to find Ms. Johnson over the last 15 years. As personal appearances at conventions became more popular, the desire to have her attend became more important to the fan base. It’s tricky business — trying to make contact with someone who may wish to reside in obscurity (you never know until you know). It almost seemed like a fruitless cause — a small slice of perspective and history that would forever be lost to time. But after six years of his own searching, talent agent Rick Henriques has finally “found” the OG Judith Myers. We must extend a special thanks to Rick — with his help, Ms. Johnson has agreed to give her first interview in over forty years. She has been gracious enough to divulge her memories of Hollywood… and her brush with a slasher icon.
Dread Central: First off, could you tell us a bit about your early life in Texas — as well as the eventual move to Los Angeles?
Sandy Johnson: “My mother was a single parent — and my older sisters had already moved away. I was very close to my mom and carried a lot of responsibility as my mother suffered with bouts of mental illness and I felt like I needed to take care of her. Actually, for several years, I kept this a secret because I didn’t want my dad to take custody of me — he was a wonderful man but I just felt like my mom needed me. So we actually moved back and forth between Texas and California several times when I was young. It wasn’t until middle school that we actually settled in California.”
How would you describe your experience of living in Los Angeles in the ’70s?
Sandy Johnson: “*laughs* Well, they were definitely wild years for me. The hippie days were still lingering and I did run with a rowdy crowd. I wasn’t particularly happy being a young adult because my mom had been suffering from manic depression and there was a lot of, you know, traumatic experiences associated with that. I sought refuge through kind of writing dark poetry and participating in drama and dance in high school.”
How did you get your start in the entertainment industry?
Sandy Johnson: “My motivation, initially, was that my father had cancer — and there was a treatment that they were offering in Mexico but in order to get it, you had to go there — and of course, you had to be able to pay for it. And so I originally started in the industry to make money because I really didn’t have any other way to make it at that age. And so the goal was, really, to make the money to help my dad.
It started with clothes modeling and then, of course, I was offered Playboy, and that meant more money, of course, for my dad and stuff. So I went ahead with that. Although my true love was modern dancing and choreography, but there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities — but I loved the emotional aspect of both dancing and drama. So once I graduated, I started taking professional classes.”
Now, you were with Playboy for a few years — what was it like working with that company?
Sandy Johnson: “I enjoyed working with them. The photographers were fabulous — I mean, very talented. The sets were always very nicely done. The respect for the models was always good. The travel and stuff that went with it — I don’t have a whole lot of issues with Playboy — I thought my layout was tastefully done.”
Was there a camaraderie between you and the other girls?
Sandy Johnson: “To a certain extent, yes. At the Playboy mansion, of course, there were all these parties, big events — Halloween or New Years Eve — that they would always come to and that was always fun to visit with them.”
Back in your days as a model, you made an appearance on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour with Joe Namath. Sonny and Cher were such a powerhouse couple at that time. Was that an exciting experience?
Sandy Johnson: “It was amazing, actually — being on a big set with lots of stars and meeting Joe Nameth, of course — and I remember it was such fun having wardrobe people. *laughs* And make-up artists, making us all look our best — and it was a live audience, so that was a whole different experience, but it was definitely fun and exciting.
They [Sonny and Cher] were very nice — obviously very talented — and put us all at ease. I remember it as being a good experience — the only thing I didn’t like about it was I thought they picked the ugliest bathing suit to put on me *laughs*”
What motivated you to make the transition from modeling to the big screen?
Sandy Johnson: “I guess, really, it was just — I was into choreography and dance and all that in high school. When I graduated, I went ahead and got started with professionals — y’know, acting classes, and I was in the Playboy talent agency — so that lead to going on interviews.”
You made your screen debut in the 3D/4D beach romp Surfer Girls, which was shot in Hawaii… and followed that up with the sketch comedy Jokes My Folks Never Told Me. Could you tell us a bit about those roles?
Sandy Johnson: “I don’t remember a whole lot about Surfer Girls, but I remember that I was not happy with the role — and I felt pressured into doing scenes that I was not comfortable with. I don’t remember the 3D process being unusual — it was probably mostly done through the cameras.
Now, Jokes was fun — I enjoyed doing that — the director and the casting people were all really fun, and they loved that I had a Southern accent, which, for me, was a novelty — because most people just made fun of it when I moved to California. For someone to actually like it and to think it was cool, I actually thought that was kind of fun. And, of course, at the time, the jokes were new and edgy — now, of course, they’re just stupid.
I remember that it was hard not to laugh — we had to do a couple of takes because the guy in the bed looked so ridiculous — the whole thing was ridiculous — to not laugh at the funny scenes was hard. But that whole movie was fun and light-hearted — I liked the people that were doing it.”
Do you recall how you obtained the role of Judith Myers in Halloween? Had you auditioned for another role in the film or were you always set to appear in the opening scene?
Sandy Johnson: “The audition was done in a residential area. I can remember walking up the steps to go into the interview — I think it was just a general interview — I don’t think, at the time, it was for Judith. I remember when I left, I was hopeful — they had talked to me for awhile — and then, of course, when I did find out I was cast as Judith Myers, of course, I was very happy.
I think the audition was for any of the girls — I think they were just looking to see which girls they wanted — I don’t think they had cast anybody yet. They were just doing general interviews, kind of just bringing us down to see who they wanted to use.”
Having seen your other work, I could totally see you for the P.J. Soles role.
Sandy Johnson: “I can see that too. There are definitely similarities in style. For Judith, I was delighted to be a part of it.”
What do you recall about your first day on set?
Sandy Johnson: “The first day was getting a feel for the house — the whole thing — because unlike just a set, I mean, it was a real house in a residential neighborhood. We kind of just went through how it was going to work. Obviously, it was a complicated shot — and so the first day was kind of just visiting with everyone — talking about how they wanted it to go — how the camera was going to move throughout the scene. I remember that it was kind of creepy — going from a happy, kind of naughty scene on the couch — to with my boyfriend upstairs — and then being by myself — and then knowing that these people were going to murder me. *laughs*
Unlike some other things where there’s just a gazillion people there and all of that, it was a smaller room, so there weren’t a lot of people in there — and it was dark, so it was a little creepy.
I do remember that the house was a bit run-down — and that they were having to do some stuff to make it look nice and newer — somebody might’ve had pictures that they might’ve been showing me of what they were changing. ”
The opening scene is rather iconic in that it was filmed as one long continuous shot with a Steadicam. Was it difficult to accomplish? How many takes were necessary?
Sandy Johnson: “I know we did several takes because there was a lot going on — they had to lay tracks down and all that — and they had to move the camera outside of the house, down the back, through the kitchen, through the front, up the stairs, and then get to me — so a lot of the takes were before they even got to me. I’m sure we did a couple because it all had to be one shot. Getting us on the couch, getting us upstairs, the boyfriend leaves, and then getting the mask, my surprise, and the murder and all that — I remember we didn’t do it in one take or anything. It was definitely a very technical shot.”
In the audio commentary, director John Carpenter noted that you were “game” for the requirements of the role. Did he offer much input? How did he compare to other directors you had worked with?
Sandy Johnson: “I remember John was a good director — he was friendly and pretty clear on what he wanted. I was comfortable with him. He did provide some input as far as what he wanted in the downstairs scene with the boyfriend and the trip upstairs — what he wanted me doing and how he wanted that scene to go, with me turning and the surprise at my brother being there. He was definitely very descriptive with what he wanted.”
Do you have any memories of producer Debra Hill?
Sandy Johnson: “I believe she was at the interview — it seems like I remember her being at my interview. I’m sure she was probably the female lady whom I remember was going around when we were doing all the scenes. It’s been a long time.”
What was the atmosphere like on set? David Kyle, who played your boyfriend in the film, mentioned playing cards with some of the other actresses — Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles. Did you interact with them as well?
Sandy Johnson: “There was a wardrobe trailer next door — I remember us being in there in between the scenes and waiting for set-ups. The one thing I remember, all these years later, more than anything — the blood would stain my skin, and all of that had to be scrubbed off in between takes — and whoever was doing that was rough.
Jamie Lee came over and said, ‘I will help with that.’ She took over for whoever was doing that — she actually came over and was helping me get the blood off in between takes. She much gentler than the crew member. *laughs* So that’s the one memory that I’ve really held — is that Jamie Lee was really nice and I appreciated it because my skin was getting very tired of that.
I remember the girls being there — just hanging out. Not anything in specific other than they were all nice. Jamie Lee was really awesome to help with that stuff — it was just typical set stuff. But all friendly — and helpful. I remember doing the scene with David, but I don’t remember hanging out with him a bunch.”
What were your thoughts of the film upon release? Did you take notice of the initial success?
Sandy Johnson: “I remember going and watching it — and I thought it was fun and cool. It seemed to me that — you know, it was just a small film. It wasn’t a big, Earth-shattering thing at the time. There wasn’t any indication that it was going to be a notable film in any way — at least not from my world. At the time, it was just a low-budget film that was released and I was lucky enough to have been in it — and hoped that it would bring more work.
I was surprised a little that it did seem that it was holding on. A lot of films just come and then they’re gone. It seemed to be doing pretty good — other theaters were starting to pick it up. So that was good news. And of course, it meant residuals.”
Do you still get residuals?
Sandy Johnson: “*laughs* I do! A few bucks here and there. In fact, I think a lot of them are from Terror in the Aisles — the documentary — they had to get my permission to put that scene in there.”
You followed Halloween with roles in the comedies H.O.T.S. and Gas Pump Girls, the latter of which starred Kirsten Baker. Given that you had more substantial roles in those films, how did those experiences compare?
Sandy Johnson: “I mean, I loved making both of those — in those, I had enough of a role that I could use some of my own ideas and suggestions to have some fun — or add little things of my own to the roles. Both of them were kind of light-hearted sets with nice people to work with — It was just crazy, fun, young girls doing young girl stuff. Those were both filmed on location, so that was fun.”
As far as Gas Pump Girls, how was it working alongside the other girls, like Kirsten Baker (Friday the 13th Part II) and Rikki Marin (then-wife of Cheech Marin)?
Sandy Johnson: “I remember that we worked well together — they would try my ideas and I would try their ideas — I don’t remember any competition or anything. Just enjoying the fact that we had work and had roles that we could play around with.
Cheech did visit the set — in fact, I remember Rikki more because Cheech visited the set and we got to interact with him some. It seems like I did something with her after that — something social — I might’ve gone to the theatre to see one of his movie releases, and I think I saw her again. They were, obviously, both very funny and fun.”
Now, Gas Pump Girls was your last screen appearance. What prompted you to “leave” Hollywood? If you don’t mind sharing, what you have been up to these last forty years?
Sandy Johnson: “I had lost both of my parents, and I was still young — which was very hard on me. I was close with them both. I did get married in Los Angeles, and I moved to Oregon in hopes of finding happiness. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it and was divorced after only a couple of years. I had family in Texas, so I decided to move back.
After that, I did get remarried to a man that had two boys. I went to college and earned a Ph.D. — I worked as a full-time private teacher for children with learning differences — I wrote and taught environmental education, Master’s level courses, for university. And my husband and I used to like to travel with students — so we traveled both domestic and abroad with students. I finally did find happiness when I got remarried and started working with children.”
That is so wonderful. You’ve been away from the scene for so long — I’m so happy that everything worked out.
Sandy Johnson: “Yeah, it did. My life definitely made a turn there somewhere — and went from dark and depressive to a much lighter, happier existence.”
Convention agents had been searching for you for quite some time. Was it your decision not to participate in any celebratory events — or was it a matter of no one having reached out before?
Sandy Johnson: “The funny thing is — I guess I’ve been living in a parallel universe. I had no idea there was such thing as a Halloween event *laughs* so I didn’t have a clue that anybody was looking for me. I’m not the type of person that would go online and search myself on Google or anything — I really had no idea. If it hadn’t been for Rick, I would still be blissfully unaware.”
That is so odd!
Sandy Johnson: “I know, isn’t it funny? *laughs*”
Like a movie all on its own.
Sandy Johnson: “Other than my dearest friends and family — when I left California and went to Oregon and then to Texas, I pretty much cut all of it out. When I got to Texas, I was so depressed — divorced, no parents, y’know — I just decided that I needed a whole new life. And that’s what I got.”
Your character has appeared in comics and in fan films — and one of your modeling pictures was featured on a popular snowboard. Is it difficult to imagine that Halloween would become the monstrosity that it is today — and that there’s a fan base for your work?
Sandy Johnson: “First of all, when I found out that Halloween had found this *laughs* iconic position in the film industry, it was like, ‘What?’ *laughs* I mean, I really had no idea. I was blown away. When Rick told me that he had been looking for me for, like, eight years and that I had fans, I thought, ‘What in the world?’ And I actually had a fan club back east? I was like, ‘This is nuts.’
I mean, it’s so many different emotions — it’s funny. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, who knew?’ It’s amazing that all of this was going on and I really had no idea about anything of this — I had no idea that even a new Halloween was coming out and that they were trying to reach me so that they could use footage.
After I had talked to Rick, all of this stuff was just kind of swirling around in my head. I went online and then I started researching stuff, which would’ve been unlike me otherwise. But obviously, this stirred up some odd things and so that’s when I found the Vermont snowboard club, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is just crazy stuff.’ *laughs*”
Had you kept up with the popularity of the series? What are your thoughts on John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis returning for the upcoming film?
Sandy Johnson: “All I really remember is from watching TV — seeing that they were making a series of other films. Of course, I wasn’t really there anymore — so it was just a matter of, ‘Oh, I see they’re making a bunch of sequels,’ like they do with a lot of movies. So I didn’t really pay much attention to it. I did think it was interesting that it had managed to have that many sequels, but it still wasn’t something in my mind that took it back — that all of this was because of the original. It was like, ‘Oh, well, that’s cool, they’re just making more of them.’ I’ve never seen any of them. The only one I ever saw was the original.
The new film — I think it’s awesome. Especially that they’re going back to the original and aligning the story directly to that — and kind of leaving out, I guess, a lot of the stuff from the other ones. That — I think is really cool. I like that John Carpenter is involved with it — I think it’s very cool that Jamie Lee Curtis is back again — she’s obviously a very good actress and I really like her.”
Do you think you’ll see it on opening night?
Sandy Johnson: “I am. I’m actually going to attend the premiere.”
Sandy Johnson: “*laughs* The contract to use the footage included being there at the premiere.”
That is amazing. Have you already picked out your dress?
Sandy Johnson: “I have! My best friend and I spent the whole day shopping a few days ago.”
Your Gas Pump Girls co-star Kirsten Baker also appeared in a notable horror film — Friday the 13th Part II — and has attended conventions in the past. Are you excited at the prospect of reconnecting with others?
Sandy Johnson: “Oh, absolutely. I think it’s gonna be fun and maybe they’ll remember some things I don’t — so that should be fun.”
How have your relatives reacted to your Hollywood career? Is Halloween something that plays on your TV every season?
Sandy Johnson: “My mother and my oldest sisters were my biggest fans. They really were. They were just awesome — unfortunately, I don’t have them anymore. But I do have a few lifelong friends — actually, some that were there at the time — and they are super excited about all of this. They were as blown away as I was. None of them had any idea about all of this. Obviously, if they had, I would’ve known. *laughs*
Actually, there probably isn’t anyone in Texas, other than my best friend here, who knows any of this. Because remember, I worked with children. I never wanted anything to interfere with my teaching. My husband thinks it’s great. He’s as excited about it as I am.
I actually have the film on DVD or something — it probably does play on TV, but it’s not something I watch unless we pull it out.”
When you look back at your work, what would you say has been the greatest gift or the most rewarding life experience?
Sandy Johnson: “First of all, staying at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago — I remember it had a hidden, secret staircase that led to the Playmates Suite and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. I think working with the other actresses in Halloween and Gas Pump Girls and H.O.T.S. — that was tons of fun. I got to just, kind of, play — which, again, that wasn’t a happy time for me. So being able to just play and do stuff —
I think being part of the opening scene in Halloween — because, at the time, that was a really long sequence with a Panaglide camera and it was groundbreaking and we all sort of knew it — so that made it special. So those are probably the things that stand out in my mind. Fond memories of that time.
My life, in general, has been amazing from the beginning. I mean, everything is meant to be, so — other than wishing my parents had been here the whole time, there’s not a whole lot I would change because I believe everything that happens to you makes you who you are.”
Do you have any closing thoughts? Is there anything you want to get out to the fans?
Sandy Johnson: “I’m sorry that I neglected them all this time *laughs* I kind of feel bad about that, but I’m looking forward to meeting them and making up for it.”
You’re gonna be a huge hit at the convention.
Sandy Johnson: “Well, that would be nice — my husband and I would like to get a nice RV and do some traveling. I want to see those grandbabies more often. Just an added blessing.
It’s fun and adventurous — it’s just another good thing.”
If you’re in the Southern California area and want to meet Sandy, be sure to stop by for her first convention appearance at the H40: 40 Years of Terror event — this October 13th & 14th at the Pasadena Convention Center!