Fans of “Hee Haw,” “Happy Days” and Marilyn Monroe are likely to recognize a familiar face when Misty Rowe, a recently new resident of Bluffton, shows up at the library or at lunch in a local restaurant.
“ ‘Happy Days’ fans know me as Wendy the Car Hop. ‘Hee Haw’ fans know me as the bubbly blonde who never stopped smiling,” Rowe said. “Marilyn Monroe fans know me as the first person to ever portray Marilyn in a major motion picture.”
The 70-year-old Rowe said she has appeared also in thousands of stage performances over her 50-year career in show business.
Her diverse career includes more than 200 TV appearances, five TV series, 10 films, thousands of stage performances, and more than a decade of directing and writing.
It was one particular stage performance that brought her to the Lowcountry – and eventually convinced her to become a resident.
In 2015, Rowe performed at the Main Street Theater on Hilton Head Island in a Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute production of “Always…Patsy Cline” – and fell in love with the Lowcountry. Ironically, her Uncle Chuck lives in Hilton Head Plantation, but she had never been to Hilton Head before. “And my Mom always said that South Carolina was her favorite place,” Rowe said.
A chance to visit with her uncle was the reason she decided to accept the role, one she has performed numerous times. She portrayed Cline’s No. 1 fan, Louise Seger, who became friends with the star singer.
“It was a small theater, but very charming, and the play sold out. They were really good to me and it was a wonderful month,” Rowe said.
She spent her down time exploring, enjoying the beach on the island, having lunch at the Cottage restaurant in Bluffton, and especially spending time at the Bluffton Library.
The next year, she got a call-back.
“Savannah Theatre wanted me to come back in April to perform “Always…Patsy Cline” during the Heritage,” she said. “Before I left California, I put my house on the market, and as I was getting on the plane, I got a call and learned my house had sold. So when I arrived, I was homeless!”
Rowe moved from Big Bear Lake in California where her home was 7,000 feet above sea level, it took about an hour to drive up the mountain, and winter could be five months long. She made her home here in 2016.
“It’s now a time for me, and I’m where I want to be. People are so happy here … they love old memorabilia, old music and they love people,” Rowe said of her new home.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to her work last March, but she got a call from publisher Scott England who suggested that she write a book about her life. At first she was hesitant, but her daughter, Dreama, convinced her to do it.
“Dreama said, ‘We have Alzheimer’s in the family … what if you forget all your wonderful stories?’ So I decided that this would be a new venture in my life, and doing it was fun,” Rowe said. The book is titled “Misty Memories.”
“It was like my life flashed before my eyes. The book is about the REAL me. I share it all … the good and the bad.” Rowe shares her heartaches, her successes, and the myriad experiences she had during her career including very personal stories of marriage, divorce and the loss of a baby.
One of her favorite memories was meeting Sir Elton John in London when she was the star of the movie, “Goodbye, Norma Jean.” Rowe said she actually modeled the infamous, white dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in “The Seven Year Itch.” It was retrieved from Madame Tussaud’s wax museum for the occasion.
Another story she shared involves her love of directing musicals on stage. She was holding auditions in New York for her production of “A Misty Christmas.” She said, “The last person to come in was a little person with a beautiful face and the most amazing baritone voice. It was Peter Dinklage, long before he was in ‘Game of Thrones.’ My sense of humor is off the wall and we were crazy. I asked him if he minded using pompoms, and he said, ‘Only if you do it, too. No one makes me an elf. I am an actor.’ He had such a majestic presence, but we did all these crazy improvisations to Run, Run Reindeer. I taught Peter Dinklage to tap dance!”
“I have so many stories to share,” she said. Her new book includes 225 photographs and tells how she came from nothing; how she was discovered in a coffee shop by Noel Blanc; how a young, shy and naïve girl was recommended by Karl Reiner to study at The Actor’s Workshop, and much more.
Rowe has worked with Mel Brooks, Minnie Pearl, Billy Crystal, Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, Sid Caesar, John Laroquette, Joe Namath, Gabe Kaplan, and many more stars of film and stage.
“Misty Memories” is available at mistyrowebook.com. Visitors will find an option for a Zoom call with Rowe along with an autographed copy of her book.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.