Untold Tales of Hollywood #18

Conan the Barbarian needed a Valeria, so John Milius called Academy Award-winning director (and famed choreographer) Bob Fosse.

John described the role to Fosse. She had to be extremely fit and physically capable for the amount of action scenes she’d be performing. She also had to be gorgeous and graceful.

Bob immediately gave Milius two names: Ann Reinking and Sandahl Bergman.

We never saw Ann (a huge heartthrob of mine); she may have been busy with a show.

I was there in the office, though, when John gave Sandahl the role of Valeria.

(Above: One of Sandahl’s professional head shots at the time.)

John asked me to sketch Sandahl as her new character. I drew a quick portrait sketch first, to familiarize myself with her distinctive features:

(Above: A polaroid I shot of Sandahl on her first visit to the Conan offices.)

He had her strip down a bit for me so that I could see her sleek muscled limbs.

(Above: Sandahl posing for me. John Milius is far right. The poster I did for The American Success Company is on the wall behind Milius.)

Some of the following Valeria sketches were returned to me by the producers when they needed me to work on the sequel, Conan the Destroyer. Obviously, storing them properly had not been a major concern of theirs.

 

Some helmet designs:

I eventually did an oil painting portrait of Sandahl as Valeria:

To make Valeria’s sword more sleek and feminine, the sword’s cross guard was pretty much removed.

Big mistake.

There’s a damn good reason that swords have cross guards. Although the sword looked really cool, not having that cross guard meant that in a sword fight, there was nothing catch the opponent’s blade and prevent it from cutting Valeria’s fingers or hand. We learned this very quickly, as Sandahl came close to losing some fingers in one of her first fights.

I got to know Sandahl pretty well. She was one of my favorite people on Conan the Barbarian — incredibly kind and thoughtful. She’s down to earth with no show biz ego problems at all. For Sandahl, it’s all about doing her best. Her dance training allowed her to move with an animal grace and ferocity, carrying herself like a panther — perfect for the Valeria character. Later, she, my wife and I became good friends until jobs and geography pulled us apart.

L to R: Sandahl, me, my wife Kent. Sandahl and I were promoting Conan the Barbarian up in Seattle.

In more recent times we were both on a Conan Q & A panel at a screening of the film in Hollywood. She has maintained her incredible shape and teaches dance — and is still as sweet as ever.

2 Responses to “Untold Tales of Hollywood #18”

  1. aaron says:

    Ms. Bergman was great in the role. I too am an admirer of Ann Reinking and I’m sure she would have done a fabulous job. When I imagined an actor to play Conan (with perfect 20/20 hindsight) I always thought of Mel Gibson especially in a scene where he is on foot chasing a car through the night streets in the first Lethal Weapon movie. But tell the truth, Mr. Stout, didn’t you sometimes think during the work on this, “Ray Harryhausen should be bringing some monsters to this movie.”? Just curious.

  2. Richard Tucker says:

    I’ll catch hell for writing this but I found Sandahl’s Valeria to be more like Conan than Arnold was. Even in the big fight scene in the mountain hall, she was the first one in and the last one out.
    I’m not sure how or why her character rung truer to a Robert Howard character, but she did.

    Tucker

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