Life’s Been Tough, But Angie Dickinson Is Back In The Saddle And Enjoying It

Even her darkest days as Sgt. Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson can’t compare to Angie Dickinson’s trials since her daughter’s death in 2007. Life has definitely changed — but she’s taking things one day at a time and getting back in the saddle. “I like to act,” she says. “It’s just something I love doing, and I don’t think I miss it until I go back and do it. But I don’t have a goal anymore. I don’t have any plans. I just kind of go along with it. I don’t think that’s necessarily good, but that’s the way it is.”

This month, Dickinson returns to television in a new Hallmark Channel movie, Mending Fences, in which she plays Ruth Hanson, a tough ranch owner who’s losing her sight. When her city-slick TV reporter daughter Kelly (Laura Leighton, Melrose Place) and gothed-out granddaughter come to visit, they inadvertently uncover a plot between the mayor and a rogue businessman to divert water from the area in order scare the ranchers into selling their properties so that a casino might go up on the land.

Dickinson is brutally frank with us about her role, just as she was with the folks at Hallmark Channel when they approached her to play it. “I’m not the star … it’s not my story,” she observes. “When I went to see the Hallmark people and they wanted to see how I looked — which is fair [of them] to want that — I said, ‘This is not my story. It’s the daughter’s story.’ They said, ‘Yeah, but the grandmother, we feel, can’t be just a minor player. She has to be strong, because she has to be the motivator for everything happening. … They wanted somebody already strong-willed, I think, to take on the part. Because what might not have been [explicit in the script], certainly I would have fulfilled it. I might have been a feminine character, but never weak.”

And Ruth is no exception. She may be getting up there in years and losing her eyesight, but Ruth somehow still handles a firearm with complete confidence and accuracy. “One of the guys on the set,” she remembers, laughing, “he said, ‘You know what my favorite line is?’ … ‘I’m a blind woman with a gun, so look out!’ That sort of sums her up, too.” Dickinson obviously has a sense of humor about her work, even when asked whether or not she’s aware that Mending Fences contains a shot of her that obviously was set up as an homage to the famous still of her brandishing a pistol from her Police Woman series. (“Absolutely not!” she says, surprised. “That’s a little embarrassing.”)

At 77 and still mourning her daughter’s suicide, Dickinson’s sense of humor is as essential to her survival in the everyday as it is to sticking it out in her chosen profession. There’s an evident tone of resignation in her voice that echoes with her experiences of recent years, but she still stirs up enough of a sense of moxie to laugh at herself and how she’s changed. “The thing that hits me most is, I’m fatter,” she chuckles. “You know, I watch The Biggest Loser, and I don’t eat for at least half an hour after that show! I mean, you think you’re going to be inspired, because it’s so incredible, so wonderful, and absolutely amazing and inspiring — but it doesn’t carry into the next day.”

But Dickinson herself does, and although she says that her sense of ambition is spent, she does still ruminate on future plans. “I probably will write a book, if I ever get caught up with my other work, I will write a book, and things like that.” She even muses about doing the theater circuit. “I think what I would end up doing is the one-man Q&A show. And travel, and go to the big cities, or maybe small ones, because I think I’d be a smash — because I handle crowds well, and I’m not afraid to answer a question or to speak my mind, so I think it would be really fun.”

For now, she’s just taking it one day at a time.

Mending Fences premieres on Hallmark Channel July 18.

Photo: © Crown Media United States, LLC