At 19, Pamela Sue Martin joined an all-star cast fighting to stay alive in an overturned ship in the popular disaster film The Poseidon Adventure. A few years later, she starred as young sleuth Nancy Drew on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. By the 1980s, the actress found herself portraying spoiled rich girl Fallon Carrington Colby on the ratings sensation Dynasty.
“It started out with a sort of satirical quality — a cut above intellectually,” Pamela, 70, recalls to Closer. “Then writers were replaced by more traditional soap writers.” Unhappy with the change in tone, she quit show in 1984 and walked away from Hollywood a few years later. “Some of the decisions I made seemed wrong to other people at the time, but I’d had my fill and just enough money to move on down the road,” says Pamela. “And I’ve never really looked back. I wanted to be with animals, ride horses, travel a bit and have a family. I was able to do all that by leaving.”
People still associate you with Fallon or Nancy Drew. Are you anything like them?
I always said I was nothing like the characters I played, but then I realized that maybe I am because I’ve always gone against the prevailing thinking and found my own way. I got a motorcycle when I was 16 and thought nothing of jumping on a horse. I think I always had a sense of adventure as a young person, otherwise I wouldn’t have ended up in New York pursuing modeling to make money for college.
Was modeling a good experience?
At 16 and 17, it was difficult. Modeling did a number on my head: be thinner; be prettier! I was sacrificing a part of my youth. It didn’t seem to be what life was about.
Your second film was The Poseidon Adventure co-starring five Academy Award winners: Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson and Red Buttons. That had to be daunting.
They were all very interactive with each other, while I remember just sitting back observing. Gene Hackman was pretty helpful. I remember having to do a scene where I had to scream when I saw a dead body. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, so he had me go outside and practice. Shelley was just loud. I’d found a small apartment to rent and I remember her going, “Oh gawd! That’s where all the hookers live!”
In the late ’70s you starred on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries alongside heartthrobs Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. Was that a teenage dream?
It was fun because we were all the same age, so yeah, we hung out. [We were] stupid kids driving around the lot in golf carts. I had a little problem with laughing on set. You’d have some old director getting mad at me, which of course, made my laughing even worse. But my singular memory from that time was being tired all the time. They were putting new episodes on the air like two weeks after we filmed them so there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver.
After Nancy Drew you posed for Playboy. How did that come about?
Barbra Streisand had been the first celebrity to do it. I was the second. I was told it wouldn’t be complete nudity, so I didn’t give it that much thought. In the article, I got to talk about my work with the environment.
Of course, Dynasty was famed for its over-the-top fashion. Did you get to wear a lot of fabulous designer gowns?
Not that often. There were always a lot of fittings, and I didn’t want to hang around, so I was pretty much an off-the-rack gal — but the rack was Rodeo Drive. They’d have four or five things laid out for me so I could try them on real fast and say, ‘That’s fine.’ The minute I got off work, it was blue jeans and horses.
Did you ever have a Dynasty catfight?
In one scene, I slapped Heather Locklear too hard. She fell down because she’s so tiny!
You quit Dynasty when it was one of the most-watched shows on TV. Why?
I had enough. I was not happy with the direction that my character took. And then Joan [Collins] came in with her caricature and it became less and less real. It became a trashy soap opera. If you were strong, you were a bitch; if you were weak, you were a victim. For me, coming out of the women’s movement of the ’70s, I didn’t take to that very well.
Have your thoughts changed on all that?
As I grew older and got out of my very serious point of view about everything, I came to recognize the value in doing things that just simply make people smile. Sheer entertainment. I’ve learned that through directing theater and staging things that were just fun.
What did your life look like after you left Hollywood?
After Dynasty, I moved up to Hailey, Idaho, with my horses and raised my son. I’ve had this place for over 35 years. Then I moved to Mexico [as my primary residence]. I renovated a barn into my little living space. That was over a dozen years ago.
Living in Mexico most of the time, you must speak Spanish pretty well?
I’ve worked hard to learn as much Spanish as I can. But my boyfriend, Allan Amador Cervantes, works as an official translator and calls my Spanish, “functional Spanish.”
Tell us about your son, Nick.
My son is 32. He has a biochemistry degree and a wonderful depth of knowledge about nature and plants. He and his girlfriend started their own river guiding company called Cascadia Rafting. They’re a couple hours outside Seattle in Washington state, but he comes to stay with me in the winter.
Are you still open to taking acting jobs?
If it’s short and sweet, I’m happy to dive in. But I feel very grateful for my life now, and that all comes from developing an appreciation for the simple things.
How do you express your creative side these days?
I began painting mostly in watercolors when my son was little. I’m really into my garden and playing the ukulele, which I bought in Kauai. I’m in a choir in Mexico and became a Science of Mind practitioner 16 years ago. I love theater and comedy and I’m actually going to be directing an upcoming production in Mexico this winter.