In 1966 Julie Sommars seemed headed for a career on the big screen. She was in her early 20s, starring opposite Brian Bedford and James Farentino in the movie comedy, "The Pad and How to Use It." But while she was beautiful and had a real flair for comedy, Sommars didn't make another theatrical film until 1977 when she starred as a race car driver in Disney's "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo."
In between she kept busy on television, including starring as Jennifer Jo Drinkwater in the sitcom "The Governor & J.J." (1969-70), with Dan Dailey playing her father. It was in connection with that program that she called me at the Providence Journal.
"This is the first time I've ever done phone interviews," she said, "and I feel sort of uneasy about it. For one thing, I'd like to know what you look like."
"I'm a dead ringer for James Farentino," I lied. Well, it wasn't a complete lie, at least not to a co-worker who had noted such a resemblance a few weeks earlier. It was the first and last time anyone ever made such a comparison.
"Then you must be very good looking," she said. "I made a movie with Jim, and he's a very attractive, very nice guy."
Thus we touched upon a big advantage phone interviews. If I were still doing them, I'd claim to be Jon Hamm's long-lost twin.
She told me she turned to television because "The Pad" hadn't created any buzz. "I had only one offer as a result of it — and that was to do a play in London."
She told me that in person she didn't look at all the way she does on screen. For one thing, she said she was virtually blind without glasses. It seemed likely that if we ever bumped into each other on the street we'd wouldn't recognize each other. I'd be looking for Jennifer Jo Drinkwater, and she'd be looking for James Farentino.
Her television series lasted 39 episodes, but she kept working. In addition to the "Herbie" movie, she is best remembered for her role as Assistant District Attorney Julie March on Andy Griffith's hit series, "Matlock." Sommars was featured in 94 episodes.
I also noted in her resume that she had guest roles in two episodes of "The Fugitive," with David Janssen, also also did one episode of the spoof, "Run, Buddy, Run," which quickly bombed. It starred musician-turned-actor Jack Sheldon.
For me, Sommars' most memorable (and chilling) performance was in "The Winds of Death," a chapter of TV's wonderful maxi-film, "Centennial." Sommars played Alice Grebe, who broke down during the unending dust storm that swept through Colorado, killed one of her sons, and destroyed the family farm. She attacks her other children with a large knife before her husband returns and kills her, then commits suicide. It was a character unlike any she had played before, but one she had always wanted to play. Our interview took place almost 10 years earlier, and she told me then she had wanted to be the next Geraldine Page. "Centennial" finally gave her the opportunity.
Sommars was single when she did "The Governor and J.J.," having been married and divorce twice. She married again in 1971 to Stuart Erwin Jr. They had three children before divorcing in 1976. In 1984 she married again, to Jack Karns, and apparently they are still together. Sommars is 70 or 72 years old, depending on which biography you read.