SPRINGFIELD If you don't know the name Carol Cleveland, just ask a fan of the highly influential comedy group Monty Python.
Cleveland was the beautiful young actress who was clearly up for anything in the name of comedy that John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and the late Graham Chapman could dish out.
She appeared in most of the original television shows and all of the Python films.
Cleveland appeared in Springfield this weekend as a guest at the United Fan Con, presented at the Springfield Marriott Nov. 12 and 13. Other guests scheduled to appear include actors Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), Richard Hatch (the original Battlestar Galactica) and Mira Furlon from Babylon Five and Lost. For more information on the convention, log onto www.unitedfancon.com.
Speaking to Reminder Publications before the start of the convention, Cleveland said, "The guys [the Pythons] are always amazed at the continuing popularity of Python."
Monty Python's Flying Circus is regularly seen on the cable channel BBC America in this country, but in its native Great Britain it is seldom seen, Cleveland said.
The Broadway musical Spamalot, based on the Python film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, is a hit and Cleveland attended the opening earlier this year. All the Pythons were at opening night and Cleveland said, "all the guys were overwhelmed" by the positive reception the new show received.
Cleveland was never officially a Python in the legal sense of the partnership, but she always has been in the eyes of the fans. Her close identification with the group has had its ups and downs.
"It has been, in a way, a bit of a ball and chain," she said.
She added that she has long been "fighting off" the role of the Python "glamour girl."
Active in British television drama at the beginning of hercareer and currently busy with various stage productions, Cleveland said, "people don't remember those things. Python just sticks out."
British by birth, but raised in Texas and southern California, Cleveland was active in the pageant scene before her family moved back to Great Britain. Winning titles such as "Miss California Navy" gave her a taste of show business and she was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Fellow students at the time included Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ian McShane currently starring in HBO's Deadwood and David Warner, among others.
McShane, Cleveland noted with a sigh, was her first true love.
Cleveland never intended to become a classical actor, although she enjoyed watching productions of Shakespeare, but she worked toward being an "all around actress."
"I didn't see myself as a comedian," she said.
After graduating she appeared in a number of television dramas, including shows that were popular imports to this country such as The Saint with Roger Moore and The Avengers with Patrick McNee.
She also was a busy model at the time and was one of the first Playboy Bunnies at the London Playboy Club.
Because she was busy appearing on programs on the BBC, her name was suggested when the Python troupe realized they could play women in certain roles, but not sexy ones and get the comic effect they needed.
Cleveland recalled that she knew of the Pythons because of what the individual cast members' work prior to that show and she was "a bit in awe."
"I was just a high school girl from America," she said.
Cleveland had done work as a "glamour stooge" in previous comedy shows, but, on the Python show, she was able to be more than just a prop.
Cleveland said that Palin described her as being "happy to send herself up" and that she came across in the comic sketches as a real character.
The Pythons quickly took to her and fought for her to remain with the show at the end of the first season.
She never contributed ideas to the show, something she regrets now. She said that, by the end of the third season, she knows the Pythons would have received them well.
Although the shows have a loose, almost ad-lib feeling to them, Cleveland said they were tightly scripted and there was no improvisation. The impromptu atmosphere was created, she explained, because the troupe did not rehearse the material as many times as the casts of other televisions shows.
Cleveland now spends much of her professional time on stage and performed earlier this year in Five Blue Haired Ladies Sitting on a Green Park Bench in this country after winning raves for the show in Great Britain.
She has also written her own show, Pom Poms Up, which she described as a "semi-autobiographical, melodious, slightly outrageous look at the glamour business."
With her background in beauty pageants one of her titles she recalled with a laugh was "Miss Paddington Shopping Queen" and her extensive modeling and acting careers, Cleveland knows a lot about the professional beauty business.
Young casting directors may not know what Cleveland has done, though, and she has received advice from friends that perhaps she should look more her age in order to obtain roles more easily.
They have told her that she should "grow into her age."
"Nor do I intend to," she said with a laugh. "I don't look my age and I don't act it. I still resemble myself."
Casting directors don't know what they are missing.
Cleveland's web site is www.carolcleveland.com.