Daily News from New York, New York on September 22, 1974 · 292
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

Daily News from New York, New York · 292

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 22, 1974
Start Free Trial

HEX HIED C m Two First-RL ate Tale! Hand ."Broadway TWO EXCITING ACTRESSES will kick off the new Broadway season this"week and a lot of money and hope will be riding on their pretty heads. Angela Lansbury finally arrives Monday in "Gypsy" after a year of touring America on a crest of rave reviews and record-breaking box office business. Tuesday night, Elizabeth Ashley opens in a new production of Tennessee Williams' decadent evergreen. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Both ladies are appearing in revivals, which is an ominous sign for Broadway, but the state of the economy being what it is. we're lucky to get them at all. With nothing but revivals of old plays and imports from the London stage, it looks like a grim season ahead. Broadway is going to depend on stars to draw in the ticket buyers and for starters you couldn't ask for two more dynamic ones. Both ladies are stripped and ready for action. ; Elizabeth Ashley comes back to Broadway as Maggie the Cat after a series of punk movies and sassy interviews determined to prove once again she can act right along with the best of them. She's come a long way from her early success in "Barefoot in the Park." and. in a way, this independent fireball has come full circle. Fr.om humble beginnings in Baton Rouge, La., she's got the most demanding role of her career and the role is Southern. If there's one requirement for Maggie the Cat, one of Williams' most physically exhausting characters, it's stamina, and Ms. Ashley has plenty of that. From Louisiana to New York At the end of her freshman year at Louisiana State University she arrived for her final exams with a copy of "Peyton Place" under her arm, read through the bio-science test, scrawled her real name, "Elizabeth Ann Cole," across the blank examination paper, and headed for New York a few days later to become a star. She lived in cold-water flats with bathtubs in the kitchen, studied diligently at the Neighborhood Playhouse, worked as a showroom model and as the Jell-O Pudding girl on a TV game show, got married and divorced twice (to actors James Farenti-no and George Peppard). landed on the cover of Life magazine, became the toast of Broadway in "Take Her She's Mine" and "Barefoot in the Park," gave out interviews proclaiming herself to be "a cross between Betty Crocker and Zelda Fitzgerald," learned to talk dirty, and had a nervous breakdown. Elizabeth Ashley is a different kind of woman today. She has learned about life, liberated herself from the shackles and drives that plagued her private life, and perfected her craft. When I saw her powerful performance as Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" this summer at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn., I could hardly believe I was seeing the same neurotic, insecure actress who once told an interviewer, "Men are like cities you see from a train and I've passed through them all." Here was an accomplished actress carving off a piece of her craft like rare roast beef and washing it down with the wine of human experience in a shimmering, shattering performance. She had wounded her coccyx in a fall and wasn't up to an interview after the show ("If you want the truth, baby, I fell on my ass!" she said bluntly in Bette Davis dialect), but when I talked to her last week, in preparation for her Broadway opening of "Cat," I discovered a new Elizabeth Ashley, as thoughtful and intelligent in her private concerns as in her new public acting accomplishments. The Tragedy of the Theater "I've spent my life sashaying my fanny on and off the stage and I usually take my money for simple endurance. You get a script and you say, 'How the hell am I gonna wrap my mouth around this garbage?' The tragedy is that nobody is writing relevant, journalistic theater. By that, I mean plays and films that deal with the way we live now. So I consider Maggie the Cat the most fulfilling thing I've ever done. "The play is more relevant now than it was 20 years ago, and it's still ahead of its time, because it deals with truth and the illusions of truth. If you can't tell the truth to yourself, you can't tell the truth to the world around you. And I've spent a lifetime looking for truth. I've found it in this play. I never saw it on Broadway, but I saw Elizabeth Taylor in the movie and forgot it. So I've had to create my own character out of my own raw materials and there's been a lot of Maggie in my own life. Some of what I do is Tennessee Williams, but a lot of it is me. I've never been in a movie I'm proud of, but I'm proud of this play. "When most people hear Maggie the Cat "they envision some creature in a torn slip squatting on a bed in a Southern plantation, panting. But Maggie is more. She's a particular Rrnd of Southern girl I grew up with and knew quite well. She has the courage to thrash out all the pride and all the false dignity her culture has thrust on her to achieve and fight for what she believes in. I love the risks she takes. "I've run a lot of risks in my life to get where I am. I went through hell to get past all the defensive mechanisms and protective devices to fight for what I wanted as a fulfilling woman. It's especially hard to do that if what you're fighting for is love. That's the statement the play is making. And I think it helps to be a Southern woman myself. It's not a geographical state. We're a race. The female experience and the Southern experience are two equally important parts of my life that have made me what I am today. "I came out of that stifling Southern childhood, with all of its cliches, totally unprepared for life and especially unprepared for New York. Ten years ago I wasn't ready to play Maggie or anybody else. Nobody taught me success and achievement are not synonymous. Learning the Hard Way "I had a lot of success very fast, but I hadn't achieved a goddam thing. What I'm paid for as an actress is to know more about human behavior than other people. Unfortunately, it's only after you've lived and gone through a lot of agony and made a lot of expensive mistakes that you know about yourself. I didn't know anything about myself. I learned the hard way, through a lot of personal sacrifice and years of analysis baby, I've been through everything! and now what I am as a woman is what I am as an actress. "If I'm a better actress, it's because I've been there. That's where I get my juice. The situation for women has been bleak, but that's changing. The more I move around in the world the more I discover. Both men and women are more interested in women than they've ever been. No literate person today believes women are in their prime between the ages of 15 and 22. Women in the scripts I've always been given are either negative caricatures of some male writer's warped point of view, or they are plot , devices used to ask the men, 'How do you feel, where are you going, where have you been, what was it like?,' or they are sex objects. "I've played those birdbrains because I wanted to earn a living. Now, it's changing. Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda even I are more interesting than we were at 22, because - we've lived some and we're breaking through the barriers and myths. 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is like a new beginning for me as a senior artist, and baby, I don't want to mess around with the finger of fate.-" Angela Lansbury has been around longer. She doesn't have to prove anything. She makes no bones about the fact that she'd rather be doing something besides the role Ethel Merman made famous in "Gypsy" but narrows her blueberry eyes and asks: "Where are the great new works, the gieat new roles, the great new musicals ? Survival is the name of the game, and if I've survived and developed a career with some longevity it's because I've never been willing to sit aronri and wait. If something ir-v ikbi 'i"ww: 'H. mn 'Hcmm JJpfspl if JPT 'is k ? ' ' Ti Elizabeth Ashley (above) as Maggie the Cat, "a rola I consider the most fulfilling I've ever done." Angela Lansbury (left), as the mother of Gypsy Rosa Lee in "Gypsy," a musical she describes as "a staggering piece of theater." I can create from scratch doesn't come along, I'll do something that's already been done." And she's doing it he own way. "I had tremendous reservations about playing this famous dame, the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, and I said NO for two years. Then I changed my mind because, what the hell ? It's a staggering piece of theater and I'm not like Merman at all. I've heard her sing the songs countless times at parties, but I never saw the show, luckily, so I approached it just as I would any new role. I tried to find the core of honesty in the part instead of playing a caricature of the monstrous stage mother, and I think my hunch ha3 paid off. "I've played some despicable dames in my checkered career, like the mother in 'The Manchurian Candidate,' but I've always searched for the honest, underlying human element behind the words and actions of the characters. As a woman, I look for the fascinating facets and truths behind people that can make the worst bitch in the world a palatable human being. 'Gypsy' is really about the tragedy of good intentions. "The character of Rose is an absolutely stupid woman transfixed by the word 'stardom.' That's the only word in her dictionary. The irony is that both of her daughters, Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc, became extremely successful, but not in any of the ways she imagined for them. They fulfilled their dreams, not hers. "She's a pathetic person, but her guts make her riveting, exciting and extremely stageworthy and that's what the audience takes away with them. I have two audiences, really the people who love to see me play bitches and the ones who want to see me sing and dance and this role has everything, so it's perfect for me. "I could've gone on playing 'Mame' forever and always, but I wanted to give audiences a different look at me and there aren't any movies coming my way, so 'Gypsy' was the best offer I had. It'3 been a much bigger success in London and on the road than anything I ever imagined. 'The Superficial Image' "I never really made it in the movies. It had something to do with my own inability to submerge my own simple life-career requirements and exchange them for the superficial image I would have needed to please the very people who couldn't make me into that kind of a star. "I know damn well the public would have done it for me had Hollywood given me the right breaks. I could've paid off in the right movie. I could've done it in 'Mame.' But the movie I envisioned far 'Mame' will never be made, so maybe there 's another one in my future that will give me the kind of screen recognition I wanted. "There is such a thing as being a box-office attraction on stage but not in films. Lauren Bacall, Mary Martin, even Ethel Merman proved that. No, I don't feel I ever made movies work for myself. I still haven't realized my ambition in movies. But as long as people see me on stage and get my message, I'm satisfied with that, and they get the message in 'Gypsy.' " A lot of money and hope are riding on this week's leading ladies, and Elizabeth Ashley and Angela Lansbury are ready to meet the challenge. 1974 Naw York News, Inc. World Rights Reserved C z o - CO m 73 K -O 2

Clipped articles people have found on this page

Get access to Newspapers.com

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 21,900+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra® Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the Daily News
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free