Friday, January 18, 2019

Filmmaker Sonja Dunson: I Wear Many Hats


Former Miss Michigan Sonja Dunson discusses creating the film, You Can't Buy Love, being blacklisted, and dreaming of owning a sports team.

Sonja Dunson, a former Miss Michigan, wrote, produced, and co-starred in the film You Can't Buy Love, due out soon. Via phone, Sonja discussed the film, the music on the soundtrack, and being blacklisted by Lew Wasserman.

Tell me about the story and creation of your film You Can't Buy Love.

I have been in the business since I was a little girl. I've had my SAG and AFTRA cards since I was eight or nine years old. I did everything I could do in the state of Michigan. I'm from Detroit. I was Miss Michigan in the Miss USA Universe contest. I came to Los Angeles. After I arrived, I was a regular on three tevelvision series. ON DA, I co-starred with William Conrad and Harry Morgan. Also Emergency with Julie London, Kevin Tighe, and Randolph Mantooth. And prior to those, I was on Lohman and Barkley. It was comedy sketches. After that, I published my own magazine, Black Hollywood. That was for actors, actresses, music, behind-the-scenes, and all phases of the entertainment business. I had that from 1977 to 1979. Lo and behold, a few years ago, I heard that the SBA, the Small Business Administration, was going to fund movies for the first time. I went to the SBA here in Los Angeles and filled out the packet. I was interviewed and was one of two people selected. I got a loan for $120,000 and produced the movie You Can't Buy Love. From this movie, I have the CD, all of the music in it, the artists on there are Talmadge Armstrong, Linda McCrary and Butch Dubarri. It's a fantastic CD. I tell people if you are in love, have ever been in love, or are looking for love, you must purchase this CD. It is out on CDBaby, Digstation, and iTunes. Hopefully, I will have the movie out by the end of the year or Valentine's Day. That's pretty much the story.

Tell me about the musicians on the CD.

Talmadge Armstrong who used to be one of the world-famous Platters. He has an extensive vocal range. He's a combination of Johnny Mathis and Al Green. A lot of people don't know this but he helped Barry White create his sound. After he left The Platters, he was with a record company and he was with Barry White, and helped him create his own style. This man is so talented. "So Much Feeling in Your Love" and "You Can't Buy Love" I co-wrote with Talmadge. Linda McCrary has this extensive vocal range and she comes from a gospel family that travels all over the world. She sings "Don't You Understand." I think she would remind you of Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston all wrapped up into one. You won't forget this lady once you hear "Don't You Understand." The other two are pretty much rhythm and blues. Butch Dubarri is a veteran songwriter and he has a country style. The CD has rhythm and blues, pop, and country. You would probably compare him with Charley Pride or Wilson Pickett. He's got this song "Mrs. Right Loves Mr. Wrong." I think when you hear that you'll be saying, "I'll be doggoned." He's a writer and singer who has written for many of the famous contry singers. Those are my people.

I read that you were blacklisted by Lew Wasserman of Universal. Describe how that situation came about.

I didn't know how it came about until ten years afterward. Through investigation of people that were hired, attorneys, a friend of mine that used to work for the CIA, we found that Lew Wasserman blacklisted me because Farrah Fawcett thought Lee Majors and I were too friendly. This started before, but I didn't know it. Since Lee was being prepped for the Six Million Dollar Man, they didn't want outside interference with any other woman. Lee Majors and I were very good friends. We're both from Michigan, we're college graduates, and our dressing rooms were not that far from each other. He was also on the lot at Universal Studios. There was really a big mix-up. This movie, You Can't Buy Love, I think it touched off Lew Wasserman because Lee Majors took the movie to him. I had written the movie a long time before. Lee took it to him to have it produced because I had written the parts for Lee Majors, myself, and two other friends. I think there was a misunderstanding. I think he thought we were too close, so I was just eliminated. I was with William Morris at the time this happened. I didn't know. I just stopped getting auditions and interviews. It just stopped. That was one of my main reasons for bringing out Black Hollywood. Then I got an opportunity to know what was going on in the industry even if there was nothing I could do about it.

You are known as the "female Spike Lee." What does that mean to you?

Spike Lee started out with very little money, just as I did. A hundred and twenty thousand dollars is not a lot of money to complete a film. This was in thirty-five millimeter. The acting in it was exceptional. What it means to me to be the female Spike Lee: I wore so many hats, During the day, I was teaching. I'm a speech and language pathologist with the LA Unified School District. Then in the evenings, I was producing the movie. I wore the hat of executive producer, producer, I wrote it, I co-starred in it, I cast it, and was also locations director. Spike had to do pretty much the same thing on such a low budget.

Is there one person you'd like to work with?

Probably Spike Lee. George Clooney would be another one. And Lee Majors. We never did get to work together. What career accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like to accomplish? I'm proud of all of my accomplishments as an educator in the speech and language field. And also being on three television seeries as a regular, producing the movie. I can't put any one of these above the others. Also winning the Miss Michigan contest, graduating from the University of Michigan and attaining two Masters degrees. All of this being one accomplishment after the other that rates high. Also having a fantastic mother, father, and brother who supported me. I guess that's at the top of the list. After this is over, I have always stated that I have wanted to own a sports team. That is my dream, to own either a football or basketball team.

Is there one team you have your eye on?

No, but you know Los Angeles is still open for football. They're looking for a football team here. I don't know if there is a lot of confusion about where it should be placed, or the stadium. I try to keep up with it as much as possible. Now, there is nothing I can do as far as financing. But I'm hoping that with the CD and movie coming out, domestic and foreign, I can be one of the buy-ins on this.

About the Writer

Gary Schwind is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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