Fembot #1 - Katy from "Kill Oscar"
Janice Whitby is no stranger to fans of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. In the classic three-part story "Kill Oscar" her appearance as Katy set the tone for the story from the very first scene. She will always be Dr. Franklin's #1...the world's first FEMBOT!
I'd like to thank Janice for taking the time to participate in this interview. It was a thrill!
JAMES SHERRARD: "Prior to being cast in "Kill Oscar," were you familiar with the Bionic shows?
JANICE: "Yes. I was already a fan of both “The Bionic Woman” and “The Six Million Dollar Man”. I’m a serious Sci-Fi enthusiast and loved the concept of both shows!"
JS: "How did you land the role of Katy?"
JANICE: "I auditioned for the role, by reading for the casting director."
JS: "What were your initial thoughts about playing a super-strong, sexy, robot?"
JANICE: "Honestly, I thought it was a really nice sized role. It just seemed like a wonderful opportunity."
JS: "Did you get any specific direction on how to approach playing this character?
JANICE: "Not that I remember. The objective was to make Katy as real and natural as possible. That way it would be a complete surprise when Katy’s face came off."
JS: "Let's talk wardrobe. In the opening scenes, Katy is dressed in hot pants, a top that's tied in the front with several buttons undone, and the ever present neck scarf. Later on, her clothes are not as revealing. Were there any reasons given for this particular wardrobe choice?"
JANICE: "I remember thinking some of the wardrobe choices were “odd”. Maybe I was dressed that way in the beginning to impress the Baron?"
JS: "In Part I, Katy's face mask is ripped off twice, once by Dr. Franklin and the other time by Jaime.
Was a mold created of your face for this mask?
JANICE: "A mold was made of my face and from that a latex mask. I was extremely claustrophobic at the time, so I was very nervous about the whole procedure. The make-up artist had a very convincing way to help me through it. He told me I would lose the part of Katy if I didn’t have it done! That sounds mean, but it actually worked, and after the third try I was able to manage it. I couldn’t wait for the plaster to dry and to get it off my face!"
JS: "Was there more than one robotic Fembot mask, or was the same one worn by whatever actress needed it for the scene?
JANICE: "There were quite a few robotic Fembot masks. But, as far as I remember, Corinne Michaels was the only other cast member who had a mold and latex mask made of her face."
JS: "The sight of the robotic Fembot face frightened many young viewers when the episodes first aired. Have you heard this before, and does it surprise you?"
JANICE: "I have heard it a great deal lately! At the Super MegaFest convention every fan said the same thing, “You scared me to death!” Until the convention I had no idea the fembots had made such an impression. "
JS: "Prior to foreign DVD releases of The Bionic Woman, "Kill Oscar" had its own VHS release in the UK. Joe Harnell's brilliant soundtrack to Parts 1 & 3 has also been released on CD. Plus, the Fembots took on a whole new life in the Austin Powers films. What do you attribute to the on-going interest and popularity of the Fembots?"
JANICE: "I think anything that represents “artificial life” (like a fembot), whether viewed seriously or in camp, holds a certain fascination. I remember the very first ‘I, Robot’ episode from the original “Twilight Zone”. It made a lasting impression on me."
JS: "Did you keep anything from the filming of "Kill Oscar" like scripts, call sheets, photos, neck scarfs, or cans of knock-out gas??? "
JANICE: "I had my original scripts, but unfortunately I didn’t keep them. I tried to get the latex mask of my face, but I was told they might need to use it again. "
JS: "Do you have any special memories or stories from your time on the Bionic shows?"
JANICE: "I think spending time with John Houseman was incredibly special. Mr. Houseman had some interesting stories to share. He was friends with George Balanchine who I knew from studying ballet at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in NYC. It was interesting hearing another perspective on the very intimidating “Mr. B”!"
JS: "This 3-part story is action-packed, and you had the opportunity to participate in many of the stunts. Was this the first time you had done this type of stunt work? Were there any stunts that were difficult, or didn't go as planned?
JANICE: "I had never done any stunt work before the “Kill Oscar” trilogy. It never occured to me that I would have to be quite that involved in the fight scene with Lee Majors. Having been a trained ballet dancer I did quite well with the fight choreography, but I looked “too feminine” according to the stunt coordinator. We had to work on me looking like I actually had the strength of a 300 pound fembot. If you notice most of that fight scene was performed by two stunt doubles and me! I did hurt my hip smashing into that metal table. Originally I was supposed to jump onto the table, but I was too concerned that I would end up falling on my face."
JS: "In the script for Part II, the following scene is described...
"Steve grabs a roll of fencing material and unrolls it so he can whip it up and over the two (Katy and Callahan). The screen falls over them like a net but they wave their arms through it like it was a spider's web." Do you recall if this scene was ever filmed, or why it may have been omitted?
JANICE: "That scene was never filmed. A lot of the fight scene was choreographed on the set and there wasn’t a lot of time involved. Lee Majors was used to doing stunts and Jennifer Darling wasn’t involved, only her stunt double. I was told that they would rather have me do the fight (than my stunt double Stephanie Epper) because it would add believability to Katy."
JS: "Since starring as the world's first Fembot, have you been recognized by fans, and what is their general reaction to you?"
JANICE: "Fans have been amazing! Christopher Chaisson drove in from Long Island (to the Boston Super MegaFest) just so I could sign his Fembot Action Figure. Another fan, James O. Edwards is sending me his Fembot Action Figure because I don’t have one of my own! Last year Stacy Davies dressed as Katy for Halloween!
Everyone has been incredible. Fans seem genuinely grateful to meet me. They all have stories of how the “Kill Oscar” trilogy impacted their lives."
JS: "In 1978, Kenner Toys released the Fembot doll. It could impersonate Jaime Sommers or be disguised as a "Mystery Lady." The "Mystery Lady" was obviously based on your likeness.
Were you consulted during the production of this toy? What do you think of it?"
JANICE: "I had no idea there was an action figure in my likeness until a few months ago. In fact, I had no idea that there was such a following for the “Kill Oscar” trilogy until a few months ago! A friend asked me if I had ever Googled myself . . . and if not, that I should definitely do so. I found the original Janice Whitby Fansite created by Mark Fornale and there was the Fembot Action Figure that looked just like me as Katy!"
JS: "Did you continue acting after your stint as a Fembot? What path did your career take, and what are you currently doing?"
JANICE: "I did continue acting for a while and ended up doing quite a bit of modeling for various cosmetics companies. I had a Maybelline mascara commercial that ran for over two years!
In the 80’s I put myself through art school and became a graphic designer and illustrator. I’ve always been involved in art through my Mother, who was a beautiful water colorist. My six years spent with Disney Consumer Products was a very rewarding time and I met some outstanding artists while I was there. Working on children’s art and product is still one of my favorite creative outlets.
Now I would love to return to acting. I think at this stage of my life it would be great fun!"
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm sure that Bionic/Fembot fans everywhere thank you too.
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