Often-forgotten Pamela McMyler helped Steven Spielberg get his big break
Their art film sent them both directly to Universal. Only one became a legend.
When Pamela McMyler started acting, the freckle-faced redhead turned very few heads.
Her earliest roles found her barely appearing in the background on hit mid-Sixties shows like The Addams Family, Batman and The Donna Reed Show.
That all changed, though, in 1968, when McMyler met Steven Spielberg, who at the time was being described by critics as one of a "new breed of young directors."
Spielberg had won an award for a short film called "Skater Dater" in 1965, and he wanted to follow it up with a silent art film called "Amblin’."
In his eyes, McMyler looked like a star, and he cast her as the female lead.
"I played a desert rat who became involved with a city boy on the run," McMyler said, describing the film’s plot to The Pittsburgh Press. "We meet while hitchhiking on a country road."
Running only 25 minutes and featuring absolutely no dialogue, the film "put great demands on Spielberg's direction and Pam’s reactions and movements," The Press reported.
McMyler described the film as simple, showing the couple competing to hitch the most rides or see who could spit seeds the furthest.
For Spielberg, the film was a chance to outdo his low-budget efforts by avoiding the use of any expensive sound equipment.
After filming, he dubbed a guitar-harmonica musical score over the top and crossed his fingers that the film would be as well-received as "Skater Dater."
And as everyone in the world can attest, the box office smashing director got the attention he sought for "Amblin’."
After it was screened, Universal Studios immediately signed both McMyler and Spielberg to contracts in 1970.
For Spielberg, that meant he got to get his feet wet by doing four TV movies, including his memorable TV movie Duel.
For McMyler, it meant juicier parts on TV, appearing on shows like Adam-12, Mannix and Gunsmoke.
In addition to catching Universal’s eye, McMyler also caught John Wayne’s attention.
It’s said that he watched "Amblin’" and when it was over, he was moved enough by her performance to cast her in 1970’s Chisum, but of Spielberg’s silent film, he joked, "It’s fine, but can the kid talk?"
By the Eighties, McMyler had proved, yes, she can talk.
She’d even become a familiar face, following a recurring role on The Waltons in a pair of 1981 episodes — "The Tempest" and "The Whirlwind" — and a role as Laurie’s mom in the much-anticipated horror sequel Halloween II.
However, while Spielberg went on to become a Hollywood legend, McMyler eventually stepped back from the spotlight, retiring in 1989.
Perhaps the oddball roles she loved to play had simply dried up, or perhaps she simply wanted a simpler life once she hit her Fifties.
It seems from early interviews that she never expected to hit the same level of fame as Hollywood’s most glamorous celebs — or biggest directors.
"I’m usually cast in unglamorous parts... orphans, waifs and the like," McMyler said. "But I don’t mind scavenger roles. There are so many pretty people around and they don’t get these good character parts."