1984 and 1985 saw Ellen returning to session work. She contributed back-up vocals on albums for Joe Jackson ("Body And Soul"), John Jarret's Tribe (self-titled), Dan Hartman ("I Can Dream About You") and Martin Briley ("Dangerous Moments"). Pictured right, Dan Hartman with the Ellen Foley Band, circa 1986.
Martin Briley played bass on "Nightout" and did Ellen's first solo tour. These days he is best known as a songwriter, having written songs for Celine Dion, Michael Bolton and many others, but "Dangerous Moments" was actually his third solo album. His biggest hit was "Salt In My Tears" from 1983 (a US #36 single).
Three other Ellen Foley band members also called on Ellen in 1984. Phil Grande, Tommy Mandel and Hilly Michals were recording the self-titled debut album for John Jarrett's Tribe for Capitol Records, and Ellen helped out on backing vocals.
Joe Jackson was another of Ellen's all-time favourites. She was offered to sing duet with Jackson, but something came up so she generously gave the job to her friend Elaine Caswell instead, content with singing back-up herself. The "Body And Soul" album made the US and UK top 20 album charts.
Ellen teamed up with Jim Steinman in 1984 as well, contributing backing vocals to "Holding Out For A Hero", a Steinman written and produced song for Bonnie Tyler which was used on the motion soundtrack album "Footloose". It later appeared on Tyler's "Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire" album from 1986. The vocal arrangement for "Holding Out For A Hero" is credited to Rory Dodd, Eric Troyer and Holly Sherwood, but Ellen is credited with 'Additional Vocal Arrangement'.
Additionally, Ellen also performed her solo act "Cabaret Before and After Rock-and-Roll" at Folk City in May and at Freddy's Supper Club in July 1984 (both NY clubs). Said Ellen at the time: "I liked acting, but I also very much wanted to be a part of the New York music scene. There was a real talented group of people in the late Seventies, like Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Debbie Harry, and David Johansen. It was a real exciting time. You knew you were involved with talented, creative people. There was a real camaraderie existing. A lot of the people took off and became famous, but a lot of those people who were in that crowd were musicians who aren't well known. Some of the artists were very creative and individualistic like David Johansen. His music was heartfelt. He was musical and he was a good performer. We all had to find new ways of expression because of the economics of the record industry. David put together Buster Pointdexter and I put together a cabaret act.
This new act that I performed at Folk City was what I perceive as true cabaret. I don't think cabaret has to be that spry musical-comedy thing that you see in theatre bars. To me, cabaret is that pre-war German feeling of people like Brecht and Weill. That's what rock and roll was born from. It's dark, dramatic, sexual, and passionate. The Doors recorded it and it's what David Bowie is doing. It's the pure form. I'd love to do "Threepenny Opera." Jim Steinman called me the modern-day Marlene Dietrich.
In 1984 Ellen landed a role in the second season of the popular NBC sitcom "Night Court", replacing Paula Kelly in the role of Public Defender Billie Young. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone played by Harry Anderson (Ellen and Harry pictured left, on the cover of TV Guide). It was a popular show that gave Ellen many new fans, but she too was replaced after only one season. Ellen later said that she left the show because her character didn't get to sing.
In February 1985 Ellen guested on "The Late Night Show With David Letterman", denying rumours that she was enganged to some fictious bloke, but more importedly, performing "Come And Get These Memories" live with Paul Shaffer's Band.
During her time with "Night Court", Ellen also found time to put together a cabaret act with pianist Marc Shaiman which she debuted at 'Upstairs at Greene Street' in June 1985. It ran throughout July and NY Times wrote that "it is an act that is cleverly conceived and to which she brings a broad variety of talents
In 1985 Ellen accepted an invitation from Gary Holton (ex-Heavy Metal Kids) to join him in a band alongside (Norwegian) Casino Steel and Carlene Carter to record a cover version album. Casino Steel and Gary Holton were based in Norway at the time, and their cover of Kenny Rogers' "Ruby" was the best selling single of all time in Norway. With their new band they wanted to crack the US market, but sadly Gary Holton died in October 1985, so Ellen backed out. Steel and Carter went along with the project though, replacing Ellen and Gary with Claudia Scott and Steve Payne, respectively. They called the band CCCP and released the album "Let's Spend The Night Together" in 1986, but broke up shortly afterwards. Interestingly, Casino Steel would record albums with Mick Ronson in 1991 ("The Bandits") and Ian Hunter in 1995 ("Dirty Laundry").
In August 1986 Ellen starred in the "Beehive" musical in Manhattan, paying tribute to girl singers of the 60s like Petula Clark, Connie Francis, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. Ellen worked alongside Gina Taylor, Laura Theodore, Jasmine Guy, Patti Darcy and Karen Maynard. Ellen is pictured right with Jasmine Guy and Carol Maillard.
Earlier in the year, Ellen joined other members from the original cast of "Hair" to perform at a charity event in New York on 31 January 1986 to benefit victims of the devastating 8 October 1985 earthquake in Pakistan and Northern India (killing 73,000 people and leaving approximately 3 million people homeless). More info
Then starting in December 1986, Ellen was chosen to originate the role of the Witch (pictured left) in the production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods" at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where it ran for 50 performances before moving to Broadway. Said Ellen: "But my favorite role so far was the Witch in 'Into the Woods'. There was no personality role match there. I played someone very different from myself. That role gave me the opportunity to eat the scenery and stomp around, to be really ugly, and then transform to be beautiful. Steven Sondheim's music is challenging and it inspired me.
" Ellen apparently always knew she wasn't going to Broadway with it, since they were looking for a NY "name" to open, and indeed it was Bernadette Peters who played the witch on the opening night at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway in November 1987. It ran for a staggering 764 performances, and Peters was eventually replaced by Phylicia Rashad, Betsy Joslyn and Nancy Dussault at various stages of the production. It was fitting then, that Ellen was invited back to play the witch for the final month of production on Broadway, in August 1989 (it closed on 3 Sep 1989). "I have read that I was Sondheim's favorite Witch
", Ellen said. "On closing night, he gave all of us a signed copy of the score. On mine, he wrote 'To Ellen: the alpha and the omega'
In February 1987 Ellen joined Nancy LaMott and Sara Krieger in Michael's Pub on East 55th Street for a cabaret called "Mostly Mercer", based on the rich legacy of songs by Johnny Mercer. The three performers were backed by the Ken Werner Trio.
Ellen's husband Douglas Bernstein wrote the musical comedy "Gotham" with Denis Markell which opened at Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre on 7 August and ran through 31 August 1987. "Gotham" is set in a small English medieval town that seeks fame by convincing the king to relocate his castle there. When the royals mix with the common people of Gotham, all sorts of romantic entanglements and situations occur (Ellen was the town nurse).
This was followed by a play called "Beautiful Bodies" which ran during October 1987 at Olympia Dukakis' Whole Theater in Montclair, NJ. Ellen portrayed Lisbeth, one of six women in the play. Karen Allen starred as one of the other women.
During 1987 and 1988 Ellen also focused on her film career again, starring in three successful movies. "Fatal Attraction" featured Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer. In "Cocktail" Ellen teamed up with Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown and Elisabeth Shue, and she was one of Michelle Pfeiffer's friends in "Married To The Mob". Ellen also appeared in one episode of the "Spenser: For Hire" TV series in 1987.
Ellen joined the "Me And My Girl" musical in the spring of 1988 at Marquis Theatre. This was a revival of a 1937 musical, directed by Mike Ockrent. Said Ellen: "Being part of the theater community is really vital. Actors feel most alive there. I believe that for New York performers, the theater is always at the core of their professional experience. The rush of the first Broadway production pretty much decides that. If you do it right, and you do it seriously, every performance is different. I did 'Me and My Girl' with Jim Dale for two years. After 150 shows, it still felt new every night! Of course, being a musical theater performer is like being an athlete. You have to take care of your instrument, or it might not be there on cue. It's a tremendous amount of pressure, but it's so exciting
Then Jim Steinman, always Ellen's biggest fan, called for her again. He was assembling a band for his next project "Pandora's Box", and he wanted to have Ellen as one of four featured female vocalists. The other three were Elaine Caswell (backing vocals on "Another Breath"), Gina Taylor (from "Beehive") and Deliria Wilde. Steinman called the album "Original Sin", and Ellen was lead vocalist on two tracks, "Twentieth Century Fox" and "My Little Red Book"; she was sharing lead on "Original Sin", and she recited the "Want Ad" monologue. Ellen took one week off the "Me And My Girl" musical to record "Original Sin", which got released in 1989. It was a brilliant album, with four fantastic vocalists, excellent songs and good musicianship. It was something Steinman had wanted to do for years; he was well pleased with it and wanted to bring the full band on tour with a theatrical rock show unlike anything the world had seen before. Sadly, it was not to be. The album bombed in Europe and it wasn't even released in the States, so a disillusioned Steinman started working on "Bat Out Of Hell 2" for Meat Loaf instead. Initially he was going to write another duet for Meat Loaf and Ellen for this album, but this came to nothing.
Ellen next got a role in a TV movie called "Murder In Black And White" which was released in January 1990. The movie also starred Richard Crenna and Diahann Carroll.