Somewhere Down the Road
Whether known as the Dr Pepper Girl, featured singer on Shindig, sitting atop a beach blanket or countless other images, Donna Loren remains entrenched within the American psyche as an icon of the sixties. This is despite the fact that she has not performed professionally in more than twenty years, so lasting was the impression she created. Today, Loren owns her own business – ADASA Hawaii – where her love of fashion design has evolved into her new career. Endearing as ever, she sits down with Adam Gerace to reminisce about her swinging sixties, talk of her new passion, and to tell the world what she still believes…
Donna Loren, sixties teen singing sensation, debuted as a professional performer at age eight in 1955, with a commercial for Meadowgold Icecream, “with the former voice of Speedy Alka Seltzer”, and a gig on the radio show Sqeakin’ Deacon. By ten she had recorded a single, ‘I Think It’s Almost Christmas Time’ (1957, Fable), and had been chosen to guest star as an Honorary Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club. She continued to perform throughout the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, recording for Skylark, Ramada, and Crest. By 1962 she had joined Challenge, where her standards included ‘I’m in Love with the Ticket Taker at the Bijou Movie’, and ‘I’m Gonna Be Alright’. And then in 1963 came Dr Pepper.
Above: Ten year old Loren performs 'I Didn't Know the Gun was Loaded' on The Mickey Mouse Club.
The iconography of 1960’s Donna Loren seems to very much rest on her tenure with the Dr Pepper Company. As the only-to-date Dr Pepper Girl, Loren exuded an endearing wholesome charm as she was mass marketed on billboards, television, and in print. Yet, such days were a mixed bag remembers Loren, “Yes, this was the sixties”. One particular memory rests with the burgeoning of the feminist movement, “I took my bra off only to be ridiculed and threatened until I put it back on.” Loren stayed with the company until 1967, at which time she left on her own terms, “I took back my power when I called the CEO of Dr Pepper and resigned in 1968. No agent, manager did it for me”. On another note, the sixties are a pervasive memory for Loren, both professionally and personally, “I was preparing to be introduced as the Dr Pepper Girl in Dallas thirty minutes before Kennedy was shot” recalls Loren.
Left: Loren with Dick Clark in her role as Dr Pepper Girl. Above: Loren in a Dr Pepper promotion.
The Dr Pepper days were of course her busiest. In 1964, she joined Capitol Records, releasing many of her more well-known songs including, ‘Blowing Out the Candles’, ‘Just a Little Girl’ (both 1964), ‘So, Do The Zonk’ (a personal favorite of Loren), ‘Call Me’, ‘Smokey Joes’s’, (all 1965), and ‘I Believe’ (1966; and regularly performed in her Dr Pepper commercials). At the same time, Loren began appearing in the American International Pictures’ Beach Party series, in admittedly small roles for which today she is fondly remembered (in no small part due her performance of one or two songs in each film). Yet this – one of her most famous gigs – nearly did not happen. What was supposed to be a cameo for AIP’s sponsor Dr Pepper in Muscle Beach Party (Loren was to hold a bottle of Dr Pepper whilst sitting at a table), was expanded by the series producers Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson, who offered Loren the chance to sing 'Muscle Bustle' with Dick Dale. Despite her continuing popularity in these roles (and her Beach Blanket Bingo signature tune ‘It Only Hurts When I Cry’), these films were only a small part of her booming career. Although Loren admits “the sight of those musclemen getting pancake makeup lathered over their entire bodies daily was an amazing sight”. Beach Blanket Bingo produced Loren’s only album, a project that would have been quite taxing not just for the teenager but any performer, “I worked for fourteen hours straight. That album was completed in that session”.
Above: Loren in Bikini Beach
Above: Loren (in a rare swimsuit pose) with Candy Johnson in Bikini Beach.
It was also during this time that she began her tenure on Shindig, as the (seventeen-year-old) regularly featured vocalist. Shindig was obviously a personal highlight in Loren’s career. “The microphone that I used was the greatest. I loved the sounds that came out”. And to put a rest to rumors that many of the shows featured prerecorded lip synching, Loren corrects, “I always sang live. The music was prerecorded”. Loren was with the series for its entire run. Watching those performances, one is struck by the naturalness and talent with which Loren performed as a mid-teenager. Indeed, one is often struck by the stark contrast apparent when watching Loren the performer versus Loren the teenage spokesperson for Dr Pepper or the guest star on much episodic television. “Somehow I had a knowledge in me that came through my voice and therefore more mature songs were chosen and adapted for recording”, explains Loren. “How is a little girl to know the depth of understanding when singing ‘From this Moment On’ if not (for) some inner wisdom guiding her young years?”.
Above: Loren with Susan Clark (left), Cheryl Sweeten (right) and Annette Funicello (seated) in Pajama Party. Loren and Funicello are still partners in a real estate venture.
Above: Loren performs on Shindig.
In 1966 Shindig was cancelled and replaced by Batman (ironically, Loren later played Suzie in two guest roles). However, Loren jumped straight into another show, this time The Milton Berle Show, although her role was essentially the same as in Shindig. Of that time, Loren says “I loved singing with Bobby Rydell and Bobby Hatfield”. Throughout 1966-1967, Loren also wrote two separate regular columns for Movie Life Magazine.
Right: Of the Donna Loren style, the singer says, "Anatomically, connect your heart with your throat and breathe from your center. Then put your emotions into it".
It seems that when Loren is mentioned today, she is inseparable from the titles of ingénue or wholesome teen queen. Such characterizations may not be far from the truth. Says Loren, “I was supervised by my manager/adopted father and literally sheltered from socializing. I could have rebelled, but it was not my nature when it came to family.” Yet, Loren has not, and never will, see this as a bad thing. In an interview with Screenland magazine (October, 1965), Loren attested when asked if there was truth to rumors that she was fighting with her parents that, “I love my parents very much and without their help and understanding my success in show business would not have become a reality”. Today she just as declaring when asked about her family life during this time, “It [her career] was not only my life but my immediate family’s. A love and obligation”. So, unlike her contemporaries such as Sandra Dee or Deborah Walley, Loren remained happily single in the eyes of the public, although she was often photographed on “dates” with Paul Petersen (of The Donna Reed Show and now the president of the child actor advocacy channel ‘A Minor Consideration’), and Randy Boone (of The Virginian), much of this seems to be more fanzine fiction that actual fact. In addition, she has spoken about dating Robert Linkletter – son of comedian Art – who gifted her with the pendant she wore through much of her performing career.
Above: Loren with Paul Petersen. Says Loren, "He is like a brother".
Like most of the other singers of the time, Loren began guesting on various series. She did a seven-part Dr. Kildare, The Red Skelton Show, The Monkees, and The Mothers-in-Law, amongst others (as well as appearances on numerous music and game shows). Of this time, Loren says, “It was a guided career move to attain a different status”. Yet she never had inordinate dreams of acting stardom, “I never claimed to be an actor even though it is an integral part of singing. I began to develop some skill which helped in the endeavor so some aspects were rewarding, especially a little comedy on Gomer Pyle”.
Above: Loren with Adam West in Batman. Below: Loren as Colette with Davy Jones in The Monkees.
So then there is the question of what Loren did after walking away from the spotlight and her chance to star in her own series. It was 1968 and Loren had been recording with Reprise (releasing the exceptional ‘As Long as I’m Holding You’ and ‘It’s Such a Shame’ the year previously), and had filmed a pilot Two for Penny. One can quite easily imagine Loren in a That Girl type series, playing on her sweet, girl-next door charm. Instead, Loren decided to call it a day. She married music producer Lenny Waronker (the marriage later ended) and became a mother of three. Today, her children are all performance-minded much like their mother. Son Joey is a drummer with the band IMA Robot, having previously worked with REM, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Beck (as well as being one of the original music composers for the film The Good Girl); daughter Anna headlined the band That Dog for many years, and in 2003 released her debut solo album Anna; while Katie has been affiliated with One Year Lease, a New York theater company where she has appeared in ‘The Lysistrata Project’, and designed costumes for their other productions, including ‘Look Back in Anger’ (both 2003).
In 1982 Loren returned to what she had done for most of her life - recording. However, much had changed. Loren was this time producer with her own label (Royalty Records). The result was ‘Sedona’, an intensely personal piece from Loren who was deeply moved to write the song after visiting Arizona in the early eighties (flip-side ‘Simply Loving You’, also written by Loren). Two years later she returned to put a decidedly country spin on ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’, “the first song I sang on Shindig” (flip-side ‘Somewhere Down the Road’). The song was a decidedly nostalgic piece, with Loren’s old sixties producer Jimmy Bowen at the helm (with Loren), and James Burton (who had worked with Loren on Sqeakin’ Deacon) as one of the musicians. Since then she has stayed away from the studio, which beckons the question that she has countless times been asked—will she ever return to recording. A difficult question? “You are right” says Loren. “I hate sounding wooy wooy but this is in the hands of a higher being. I will let this unravel in its own time”. Despite this serendipitous attitude Loren can think of a possible play list, “Mostly original and a few selections from all genres including gospel, Broadway and rock and roll”. And although Loren is intensely proud of her sixties collection, her tastes today are somewhat different, “I sing songs now which I relate to and therefore help to express who I am. I never made a record that reflected that. Maybe the best is yet to come”. Despite this, the influence of these old recordings is not necessarily far from her mind, “Jesse Hodges turned me onto an R&B genre with ‘If You Love Me… (Really Love Me)’ and that evolved into my love of gospel”.
So, with the exception of these four songs from the 1980’s, Loren led a decidedly un-entertainment industry life through much of that decade and the early nineties. She kept busy with her hobby of clothes design, which was noticed as early as 1963 when she appeared in the “If I Can Sew, You Can Sew” commercial for the Simplicity Pattern Company (notably Loren designed most of her wardrobe during her music career). She moved to Hawaii in 1995 with second husband Jered Cargman, and like Sedona, Arizona, Loren was spurred to action. “Moving to Hawaii inspired me to be artistic and the path I chose to show my appreciation for being granted the privilege to live here was design and fashion”. In 1998 Loren publically premiered a couture collection she designed and a year later came her first ADASA Hawaii boutique (a by-appointment outlet) in Waimea, Hawaii. “It (Adasa) is my birth name, my great-grandmother’s name” explains Loren. “She was a very brave lady who passed this attribute onto me”. After the opening of the initial boutique, two retail stores were opened in Waikiki and Kailua (Oahu). Loren’s designs are as eclectic and multifaceted as the lady herself. At once contemporary, chic, feminine and yet bold, Loren is decidedly influenced by her new home and her 1960’s heritage as well as a knowledge and love for old style glamour.
Above: The Waikiki, Oahu store, which is located in The Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Above: The second ADASA store in The Jean Luc Building in Kailua, Oahu.
In 1998 Loren was named one of Hawaii’s best new designers by Honolulu Magazine (with one of her designs featuring on the front cover of the March issue), as well as being featured as cover girl on Island Business Magazine in 2000. Lucky magazine featured her boutiques twice (in 2001 and 2003), with her boutique in Kailua named as one of the best new stores in the United States. Parallel to this success, her 1960s legacy is, perhaps, burning even brighter than it ever had, with the release of two compact discs The Best of Donna Loren (Missing 1998; a European release featuring the Beach Blanket Bingo soundtrack, as well as some of her Challenge/Capitol/Reprise recordings), and The Very Best of Donna Loren (Collectable 2001; containing the Beach Blanket Bingo soundtrack, as well as her Capitol releases).
Above: Loren in 1998 at a presentation of her designs at a fundraiser for The Tibet Fund, in Aspen. Below (left and right): Two of Loren's designs
So Loren is once again is being featured in the magazines and on television – only this time she is CEO of her own business empire. Yet, while Loren may not be singing her creative outlet is as strong as ever, “As a rites of passage I am compelled to voice my ideals, collectively with my husband Jered and the team we are building through this particular venture. I always ask myself why and then I meet another wonderful person whom I would have never met otherwise if I had not committed myself to creating designs and offering them to the public”. This is not to suggest that her image as 1960’s icon and fashion designer are mutually exclusive. And Loren has no qualms about that, happy to be remembered for her time on the beach in a decade that obviously shaped her, “The sixties are here to stay and God willing, this time idealism will prevail”. To her fans of yesteryear (and today) Loren says in her heartfelt way, “Thankyou for honoring me with your interest. Little did I realize that whatever I did would have longevity. I am humbled”. And speaking to Loren (or reading her regular website column Let’s Talk It Over, which, incidentally, was the title of one of her sixties fanzine series of articles) one can tell that this once teen queen has matured spiritually into a confident and alluring lady whose total persona lies with her core beliefs, “We all have a choice in life to be creative or to succumb. Don’t be too hard on yourself and try and be accepting that even a difficult path will be rewarding” says Loren. “Have faith and keep moving forward”. A sixties spirit in a very modern woman, brave like her grandmother and willing to still tell the world what she still believes.
Above: Loren in 2004.
Visit Donna Loren's official websites ADASA Hawaii and Donna Loren: The Swingin' Sixties
Email Adam Gerace
View Adam Gerace's biography of Donna Loren, as well as a list of her television and film appearances at TV Tome
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Donna Loren and Jered Cargman for their unending help in both the creation of this interview, as well as the generous use of their archives in the writing of the biography. In addition, much thanks for their kindness, generosity, hospitality, and friendship.
Text (c) 2004-2005 by Adam Gerace. No reproduction of any part of this interview without the expressed permission of the author.
All pictures within this article were provided by Donna Loren and Jered Cargman from their personal collection. All photos remain the property of their respective copyright holders. No reproduction of these images without the expressed permission of Donna Loren and Jered Cargman.
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