With boundless charm, a great sense of humour, and a good measure of Vegas glamour, Valerie Perrine created one of the most memorable characters in the vast canon of Superman movies, Eve Teschmacher. Along the way, she also proved that Lex Luthor’s girlfriend can be much, much more than just a moll, a foil, or a deus ex machina.
So when Andrea Brooks was cast as an updated version of the character on the CW channel’s Supergirl, she knew she had big shoes to fill.
“Valerie is legendary, and I try to pay homage to her in my work, because I remember her character so vividly and she means so much to me. When I was a kid, my brother and I would always rent Superman VHS tapes because my mom loved Christopher Reeve, and we'd all watch the movies together.”
Now, shortly after her 75th birthday, Perrine is the subject of a new documentary, Valerie, directed by Stacey Souther. An intimate retrospective, the film covers everything from Perrine’s early life as a Las Vegas showgirl to her film career, and up to the present day as the legendary performer deals with the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease.
“I went down to Los Angeles last month to film a segment for the documentary,” Brooks says, “and got to meet Valerie, which was really incredible. Even though she’s not able to speak very easily she grabbed my hand and said ‘thank you so much for coming’, it meant a lot to me.”
The film has been in the works for four years, with stars like Jeff Bridges, Margot Kidder, Angie Dickinson, and Elliott Gould having already filmed segments. It's nearing completion, but a project of this sort can be very expensive, especially when the costs of clearances for film clips, legal fees, music, and postproduction work are figured in. Like any independent effort, financing has been difficult to secure, and Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns have helped keep things moving.
While much of the film concentrates on Perrine’s career, including such classics as Slaughterhouse 5, Lenny, and The Last American Hero, a good portion also chronicles her ongoing health concerns, and day-to-day struggles.
“She’s very ill,” Brooks says, “and when she's asked in the documentary about her illness and how she feels about it and why she thinks this happened, she says it's karma. She has a bit of a dark sense of humour about her, but overall she does have a good attitude and she's a lovely lady with a real spark in her eyes.”
Raised in White Rock, Brooks is a veteran of the Vancouver film industry, with appearances in locally filmed shows such as iZombie, The Flash, and Bates Motel (where her character went on a blind date with the notorious Norman Bates). Along with Supergirl, she’s also a regular in the Hallmark Channel’s period drama When Calls the Heart—also filmed in the Vancouver area—which boasts an enthusiastic fan base known as "Hearties".
“It’s such an interesting fandom,” she says, “it's an older demographic and I don't know if there's ever been anything quite like it. We had a convention for the Hearties a couple of weeks ago and five or six hundred people showed up from all over, they got to tour the set and meet the actors. They really love the show, it's quite adorable.”
Of course, like most superhero-inspired TV shows and movies, Supergirl also boasts an extremely strong fan base, most of which is based around the show’s strong female leads.
“Working with Melissa Benoist, who plays Supergirl, and Katie McGrath, who plays Lena Luthor, has been nothing but a dream,” says Brooks. “Those two girls, they're so bright, so smart, and so fun, and it really comes across on-screen.”
Since Perrine’s Teschmacher was romantically involved with Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the original films, there are many fans who ‘ship’—or hope for a romance—between Brooks’s Tessmacher and Lena Luthor on Supergirl.
“I think it's really fun,” says Brooks. “We have so many awesome fans who engage with Supergirl, and people are very invested with the characters. If people read into things a certain way, that's fantastic, but we'll just have to see what happens.”
While Perrine and Brooks may now share the role of Miss Teschmacher, there are some definite differences between the 1978 and 2018 versions. For one, Eve’s last name is spelled slightly differently—Tessmacher—in the Supergirl universe. She’s also now a Yale-educated nuclear physicist. Still, both versions of the character find themselves colliding with the Luthor family, the sometimes evil, sometimes helpful clan which has helped drive the Superman mythology for decades.
Happily, one thing that does remain the same across the decades is the propensity for fellow characters to scream out “Miss Tessmacher!”, Hackman-style.
“Everyone has so much fun doing that,” laughs Brooks. “You can imagine being on that set, crew members are always yelling ‘Miss Tessmacher!‘ at me, and for those who get it, it's a big laugh. The day we first did it Calista Flockhart said, 'I'm going to do my best Gene Hackman.’”
As far as Miss Tessmacher’s future, Brooks is happy that everything’s wide open. “You never know what to expect with a Tessmacher, she’s interesting and weird. The only thing I can say is that there will be plenty of surprises and a lot of fun stuff to come!”
And in the end, Brooks can rest assured that she has Perrine’s personal seal of approval.
“She's been watching the show, and when I was telling her some stories from Supergirl her eyes just lit up, seeing what she started being channelled into the 21st century. I asked her for some advice and she said that I should just have fun and that I’m doing great—it was very nice to hear.”