If you’re an aspiring actresses in Auburn’s Theatre Department these days, having a wacky, high-pitched voice will open all kinds of doors.
Three decades ago, it closed them tight. At least it did for Victoria Jackson.
“I liked my teachers (at AU),” Jackson, a Saturday Night Live cast member from 1986 to 1992, recalled in a 1989 interview published in the Mobile Press-Register, “but I don’t think they saw anything special. All my teachers thought I was affecting my voice.”
As a result, the helium-voiced actress turned conservative political activist only got one major role during her one year (1979-1980) in the Loveliest Village.
“There were two girls at Auburn who got all the big parts,” Jackson said. “One of them was neurotic and intense and the other was very voluptuous with a lot of hair. I did get to play a lesbian, though, in ‘The Killing of Sister George.’ It was terrific!”
“I did a lot of singing and dancing (in other plays) and I was always jealous of the leads.”
Of course, the leads probably couldn’t walk on their hands or do the splits on the balance beam and stuff.
In its review of Auburn’s musical production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” The Plainsman gave what was possibly the first mention of what would eventually become a hallmark of Jackson’s comedy: “The gymnastic antics of Victoria Jackson… must have quickened more than a few pulses Tuesday night.”
(Can’t see the video? Try here.)
It did not, however, change her professors’ opinions about her future.
“They were teaching me how to make costumes or be a set designer but they wouldn’t put me in any plays,” Jackson told The Plainsman in 1989. “One of the instructors said that I had a terrible voice and I’d never get a job.
“One day I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna learn acting this way.’ I wanted to be like Suzanne Somers. I figured I could play a dumb blonde on a sitcom. I wish they would have given me roles. I just wasn’t being used.”
(Can’t see the video? Try here.)
So she dropped out and headed north. To Birmingham. The Magic City’s Town and Gown Theater had no problem with her voice. Neither did comedy clubs in Los Angeles. Nor Johnny Carson. Nor Lorne Michaels. Nor Hollywood. During her stint with SNL, Jackson starred in films such as Casual Sex and UFH. She was also in Baby Boom with Diane Keaton and Family Business, alongside Sean Connery, Matthew Broderick, and Dustin Hoffman.
Jackson’s Auburn connection isn’t exactly well-known, yet despite her on-stage (or I guess off-stage) frustrations, she frequently spoke fondly of her time on the Plains.
“I went to three colleges and Auburn was my last one and favorite one.”
Before Auburn, the Miami native attended Florida Bible College and later Furman on a gymnastics scholarship. The problem was she didn’t like the Paladins’ gymnastics program. She quit flipping for the team, they quit paying for school. At least that’s the way the Plainsman makes it sound.
“Her brother, then an architecture student at Auburn, told her Auburn had a theatre program and that the financial situation would be much better.”
Ditto the social life, apparently. That Press-Register story said even after a decade in the limelight, Jackson’s best friends were still those she met in Auburn.
“I love Auburn,” she told the Plainsman. “The only fun experiences I had in college were at Auburn.”
Those experiences just didn’t have anything with football. She wasn’t exactly a fan of the sport—maybe it really was just coincidence that an Auburn football reference popped up in SNL skit the first year she was there—but memories of the pigskin passion she witnessed in college definitely stuck with her.
“I loved living in Alabama when I was at Auburn. I love the drawl and the people and the atmosphere is kind of lazy. But I never liked football so I would just sort of roam the streets alone whenever there was a game. It was weird. Even the drug store would shut down. For a football game!”
It’s not the typical attitude of an Auburn coed, no. And no, she didn’t graduate. But Victoria Jackson actually seems to credit her Almost Mater with helping her get where she is today, or at least where she was in 1989.
“I think every experience in life teaches you something,” she said. “If doors weren’t shut in my face”—and, per her bio, the doors were only really shut at Auburn—”I wouldn’t have looked for open doors.”
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