After nearly 25 years, the actress who played Virginia Lottery’s Lady Luck talks about retiring.
A Virginia icon will soon hang up her crown and wand. After serving in the role of good fortune for over 20 years, Virginia Lottery‘s Lady Luck will retire in May.
“I loved the character of Lady Luck, and she’s been a constant in my life for many years,” said the actor who played her, Melanie MacQueen, by phone from Los Angeles. “But ultimately there is only one constant in life and that’s change.”
MacQueen has played Lady Luck since 1989, when the Virginia Lottery’s ad agency, the now defunct Lawler Ballard Advertising, created a campaign highlighting the lottery’s first foray into jackpot prizes.
Paula Otto was an early public relations director shortly after the Virginia Lottery formed in 1987. Today she is the lottery’s executive director. “Virginia was a little bit different in that we did not start with a big jackpot game,” Otto said about the lottery’s beginning. “The first game we introduced was Pick 3 that had a top prize of $500.”
In early 1990, Otto said the lottery felt it was time to “introduce Virginians to the first big million dollar-plus jackpot game.”
She said advertisers “came up with the idea of this somewhat whimsical character who would be traveling across the country and was on her way to Virginia to bring us the new type of game.”
In Los Angeles, MacQueen went in for “just another commercial audition.” Because this sort of regional spot typically didn’t pay that much or last that long, MacQueen said “the stakes weren’t all that high.” So she had some fun in the audition. “I had an idea that I would make her a little sparkly, little Bag Lady” type of person. “I went in there and I started vamping.”
Casters responded well to it. Soon after MacQueen auditioned, she was asked for her measurements for a costume. The wand arrived some time later.
Paula Otto accompanied MacQueen on tour soon after.
“We took Lady Luck out on her first tour1 very early in 1990 as a way to talk about the new game.” Otto soon realized that not only did MacQueen perform well in the commercials, but in person too. People loved her.
“Part of what the lottery is about is giving people smiles, giving them an opportunity to think about the Powerball ticket, or Mega Millions, or Win for LIfe,” Otto said. “Lady Luck and her antics and her commercials gave people a smile, and really put the lottery in perspective.”
One of the most popular commercials features Ms. Luck at the dry cleaners, asking why her wand hasn’t yet been cleaned:
Otto said that these types of commercials “helped the lottery weave itself into the fabric of Virginia.” She said “who better to help us weave the lottery into Virginia’s everyday lives than an approachable, fun, witty, sometimes sarcastic character?”
MacQueen is grateful for the role.2
“Any acting job that could last this long is absolutely amazing. I’m a little sad that she’ll be out of my life.”
As the Virginia Lottery approached its 25th anniversary–celebrated this year–Paula Otto said the lottery has conducted research and focus groups to learn how to “position the lottery for the next generation of lottery players.”
“We really have made a conscious decision to move away from the luck theme” to one that embraces games, Otto said. While retaining it’s fingers-crossed logo, its tagline has changed to “We’re game,” and its new spokesman is Jason, the Virginia Game Guy.
Otto said Lady Luck will retire in May.
“We’re going to give her an appropriate send-off,” Otto said, the details of which are being arranged.
Although Lady Luck has been a constant in MacQueen’s life for 24 years, the actress has created an impressive career beyond her role as good fortune. She’s acted in popular television series Parks and Recreation and True Blood, written plays, and is the director of a free after-school program, Kids Acting Out!, for elementary and middle-school children in Los Angeles.
“Things are always changing in an actor’s world,” MacQueen said, resigning herself to the character’s end. Yet she feels that Lady Luck won’t simply vanish upon retirement, her spirit will move through the world to give good fortunate to others. It’s something MacQueen said the world needs.
“The spirit of luck needs to be out there doing its thing.”
The Virginia Historical Society and the Library of Virginia plan to preserve and exhibit Lady Luck memorabilia for posterity.
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- On that first tour, Otto laundered the Lady Luck outfit. “I got glitter all over the washing machine,” she fondly recalled. ↩
- MacQueen said that, over time, she created a backstory for Lady Luck to help her play the role. The character’s mother was Dame Fortune, a mother retired in Florida; Jinx was her undesirable cousin; and her sister was Hispanic “for no reason,” MacQueen said. “Lady Luck’s family was across the board, and encompassed everything.” ↩
photo of Melanie MacQueen courtesy of the Virginia Lottery