Pam Munter is impossible to quickly characterize, but I’ll try: She’s earned six higher-education degrees, and is a retired clinical psychologist, a singer/recording artist, an author, an award-winning playwright—and an outspoken advocate of living an unconventional life.
“I’ve always done something for fun,” says Munter, 77 and a Palm Desert resident. “I played clarinet in the band in school. I wanted to play trumpet, but girls didn’t do that back then. Then a friend and I wrote a musical called Like Wow! while I was in high school. I wasn’t going to go to college.
“When I was a little kid, I had a secret that I never told anyone: I was going to become a legend. My plan was to escape. Our neighborhood had women who didn’t do much. I had to find role models more like me—and I found them at the movies. I believed everything I saw, and I’d read magazines to figure out what their lives were like. I’ve lived in the Hollywood fantasy most of my life.”
In one of Munter’s writings, Becoming a Legend, she explains that she now recognizes classic androgyny in herself.
“The thought I might be special or fated for fame somehow made it all understandable,” she writes. “It gave value and meaning to my uniqueness. I wasn’t a nerdy loser; I was anointed. It’s just that nobody knew it yet.”
Munter, who has a younger brother, was born in Santa Monica and raised in Pacific Palisades. Her mom, “a typical 1950s housewife who seemed to have no aspirations to be other than that,” had wanted to be on a stage as a teenager. Munter remembers her mom as loving, kind and a good role model.
Munter’s father was born in England and came to the U.S. at age 11. “He had grown up as ‘that foreign kid.’ He was always his own guy, with not much to say,” she says.
Munter was married for nine years and has a son, Aaron. “I’m so thankful he is in my life,” she says.
When Munter came out as bisexual, her mother had a rough time with it, and they had no contact for more than a year. “It was never the same for us,” she says, sadly.
Munter started writing at about age 9, producing a four-page newspaper for the neighborhood. “I distributed it by hand and to my teachers at school. I got into journalism in high school.”
One of Munter’s early jobs was as a “copy kid” with a major newspaper.
“I knew I could write by then, but on the first day on the job, they told me that it would be at least a year before I’d be able to write for the paper. It was a time of sexism—a ‘women don’t do that’ attitude, like writing about sports, for example. Well, within two weeks, I had an article, and shortly after that, a byline!”
Even though she originally didn’t plan to go to college … she obviously did. Munter first earned an associate’s degree in theater at Santa Monica College. She went on to graduate from UC Berkeley, studying journalism, political science and theater.
“Getting that degree was the best decision I ever made—I realized that I was smart,” she says.
That was followed by a degree in political science from Cal State Northridge; in psychology from Cal State Los Angeles; and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska.
Munter and her partner of 30-plus years came to the desert from Oregon in 2002, after Munter had retired from a 25-year career as a clinical psychologist and media psychologist on television.
“In addition to the TV, radio and press interviews, I worked mostly with individuals. … I did groups, some family work, and lots of public speaking,” she says. “It was a busy time. When I had retired from practice, and had stopped performing, it was a stronger hit than I expected. I thought I had to get out of there—and it worked.”
In 2017, Munter earned a master’s degree in the Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts program at the Palm Desert campus of UC Riverside.
“We had to write 25 pages a month of something, so I thought I’d write about some of the people I’ve known,” she says. “I was asked why I didn’t write about myself—and when I started, I couldn’t stop.”
She wrote her first play as part of that program, and Life Without went on to be nominated for the Desert Theatre League’s Outstanding Original Writing Award. Several of her plays have been staged locally.
Munter’s essays, book reviews and short stories have appeared in more than 150 publications. In 2018, she published a memoir, As Alone As I Want to Be. Her book Finding Fame: Women of a Certain Age in Hollywood, a fictionalized version of what former stars’ lives might have been like, is due out early this year. She’s currently working on marketing another book, Fascinating Me: Essays From an Unconventional Life.
And then there’s Munter’s performing career.
“I took singing lessons, and thought, ‘I can do that,’” she says. “In 1980, I was sitting in at jazz clubs. I wrote a cabaret show and sent it to clubs around San Francisco and New York. When I first jumped into doing cabaret, Frank Sinatra’s music was the first thing I thought about. As a kid, I spent hours in my room, listening to him, memorizing his lyrics, his style, and his phrasing.
“I also did a Doris Day-themed cabaret show. I’ve written about my connection to her in essays, a short story, a performance piece, and a fictionalized play, Shawna, which was produced locally. Her first movie was also mine, Romance on the High Seas, in 1948.
“I can’t count the number of hours I spent watching her movies over and over again, memorizing dialogue. And then there were the records I played endlessly, singing along. When I was able to record a CD at Capitol Records, of course, it was a tribute to her. The drummer, Earl Palmer, had actually recorded some of the tunes with her back in the day, and his stories were marvelous.
“My producer insisted I send her a copy, and I was blown away when what came back sounded like a fan letter from her. I relished the synchronicity: I had spent all those hours in my room, listening to her, and now she was in her house, listening to me. Just wow!”
Pam Munter’s advice: “Use yourself up. Do all you can to give yourself away. George Bernard Shaw said that life is not about finding oneself; it’s about creating oneself. My life has been dedicated to doing just that.”