Archive for the ‘Interviews & Profiles’ Category


by David Lefkowitz

(This is a list of notables who were either interviewed, or served as profile subjects, in my writings. Hundreds more have appeared on my podcast, Dave’s Gone By. You can hear those archives at http://www.davesgoneby.com.)

KAREN ALLEN (actress, May 2017):

LUCIE ARNAZ (actress, Sept. 2010)

LESLIE AYVAZIAN (playwright, Feb. 2001)

BOB BALABAN (actor-director, June 2015)

ANNE BASS (Lantern Theater executive producer, March 2017)

MEREDITH BAXTER, actress, Sept. 2011)

GLEN J. BECK (director, May 2008)

JOY BEHAR (comedian, May 2010)

JEFF BENNETT (artistic director, April 2015)

VALERIE BERTINELLI (actress, March 2017)

LORRAINE BRACCO (actress, Nov. 2009)

J. STEPHEN BRANTLEY (actor, Sept. 2014)

TONI BRAXTON (singer, Jan. 2018)

DIAHANN CARROLL (actress, Oct. 2008)

LYNDA CARTER (actress, Oct. 2017)

KRISTIN CHENOWETH (actress, Jan. 2013)

JACKIE COLLINS (writer, June 2010)

PAT COOPER (comedian, April 2011)

FREDERICK DEFEIS (artistic director, March 2010)

MICHAEL BENTON DISHER (director, March 2014)

FRAN DRESCHER (actress, Feb. 2013)

PATTY DUKE (actress, Sept. 2009)

SUSIE ESSMAN (actress, Dec. 2008)

LINDA EVANS (actress, May 2012)

JULES FEIFFER (author-cartoonist, April 2017)

CARRIE FISHER (actress, Oct. 2009)

TONY GEORGAN (Merrick Theater founder, Feb. 2016)

SEAN GRENNAN (playwright, Nov. 2015)

KATHY GRIFFIN (comedian, March 2016)

BRUCE GROSSMAN (Cultural Arts Playhouse producer, March 2016)

CHRISTOPHER HACKERT (playwright, May 2017)

DARRELL HAMMOND (actor, May 2011)

MARCIA GAY HARDEN (actress, Nov. 2018)

PATRICIA HEATON (actress, May 2016)

CHERYL HINES (actress, Sept. 2017)

AVI HOFFMAN (actor, March 2009

LINDSAY HOWE (dancer, Dec. 2017)

SARAH HUNNEWELL (artistic director, March 2012)

JERE JACOB (director, May 2009)

ALLISON JANNEY (actress, April 2017)

BILLIE JEAN KING (athlete, Jan. 2017)

TARMO KIRSIMAE (director, Feb. 2016)

BARBARA KOLB (principal, Feb. 1977)

CHRISTINE LAHTI (actress, July 2018)

DAMIAN LANIGAN (playwright, June 2010)

CHRIS LEMMON (actor-singer, Oct. 2015)

ANNIE LENNOX (musician, Feb. 2015)

JEANIE LINDERS (playwright, July 2009)

LORI LOUGHLIN (actress, Jan. 2016)

JANE LYNCH (actress, Sept. 2015)

ANDIE MacDOWELL (actress, Nov. 2013)

SHIRLEY MACLAINE (actress, May 2011)

KATHLEEN MADIGAN (comedian, Jan. 2019)

WENDIE MALICK (actress, Sept. 2011)

JOY MANGANO (entrepreneur, May 2018)

TRICIA McDERMOTT (director, July 2009)

LAURIE METCALF (actress, Dec. 2015)

JILLIAN MICHAELS (entrepreneur, Dec. 2010)

FRANCINE NEMEROFF (director, Aug. 2008)

BEBE NEUWIRTH (actress, March 2012)

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN (actress-singer, July 2017)

KELLI O’HARA (actress, Dec. 2017)

ROBERT (BOB) O’NEILL (artistic director)
Nov. 2012: https://wp.me/pzvIo-CD
May 2010: https://wp.me/pzvIo-ye

DOLLY PARTON (musician, Jan. 2015)

JOSHUA PERL (director, May 2013)

MACKENZIE PHILLIPS (actress, Aug. 2017)

PAULA POUNDSTONE (comedian, Nov. 2017)

GREG PURNHAGEN (actor, Nov. 2008)

QUEEN LATIFAH (musician, March 2014)

ROBIN QUIVERS (radio personality, Feb. 2014)

JOELY RICHARDSON (actress, Nov. 2014)

LISA RINNA (actress, Sept. 2012)

JOAN RIVERS (comedian, May 2009)

MELISSA RIVERS (TV personality)
Oct. 2015: https://wp.me/pzvIo-zq
May 2009: https://wp.me/pzvIo-wQ

RITA RUDNER (comedian)
April 2012: https://wp.me/pzvIo-Da

VINNY RUSSO (director, April 2009)

JEFFREY SANZEL (Theater Three artistic director)
Sept 2016: http://wp.me/pzvIo-bG
Feb. 2009: https://wp.me/pzvIo-xc

SCOTT SCHWARTZ (artistic director, May 2014)

MICHAEL SGOUROS (Players Theater artistic director, April 2007)

SHERRI SHEPHERD (comedian, Nov. 2012)

ALENA SMITH (playwright, June 2015)

RABBI SOL SOLOMON (Rabbi, Aug. 2010)

RONNIE SPECTOR (singer, March 2018)

DALE GRIFFITHS STAMOS (playwright, March 2011)

WANDA SYKES (comedian, Oct. 2013)

REBECCA TAICHMAN (director, Oct. 2017)

JONATHAN TOLINS (playwright, May 2016)

LILY TOMLIN (actress, March 2015)

MORGAN VAUGHAN (director, Nov. 2014)

TRISTAN VAUGHAN (actor, Nov. 2014)

BEN VEREEN (actor, April 2014)

SELA WARD (actress, 2019)

JENNIFER WARNES (musician, Oct. 2012)

DIONNE WARWICK (singer, Dec. 2013)

ALI WENTWORTH (writer, Dec. 2018)

VANESSA WILLIAMS (actress, April 2015)

ANN WILSON (musician, March 2013)


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SELA VIE: Sela Ward Stays in Sync

by David Lefkowitz

(This article was written in February 2019 and first published in the May 2019 issue of Long Island Woman magazine)


She’s played a U.S. President, First Lady, detective, medical lawyer, artist, news anchor, and zoologist. That’s almost as cool as her real-life jobs as actress, model, painter, author, philanthropist, wife, and mom. No one can say Sela Ward didn’t make the most of her looks and talent in journeying from college homecoming queen to TV series regular, and given her wealth, status, and still-stunning features, the 62-year-old enjoys a life more enviable than most. But even the luckiest get bumps and bruises, and from childhood through her husband’s recent failed senatorial campaign, Ward has learned the value of rebounding and always “marching forward.”

Of course, time remains an enemy for every person in show business—especially models-turned-television stars—so Ward is quite conscious of her exceptionally long shelf life as a leading lady, as well as how precarious that can be. “When you get close to 40, that’s when you start worrying,” she recalls. “At that point, I hadn’t even done botox or anything, and I look back on it now and go, `You were so young! You looked so great!’ But the pressure is heartbreaking. Everybody’s trying to live up to an ideal that doesn’t even exist.

“I hosted a documentary for Lifetime called The Changing Face of Beauty,” she continues. “They wanted to make it more about plastic surgery, while I wanted to ask the question, `why in this culture do we not honor age and wisdom like other cultures do? Why are we so youth obsessed?’ I mean, in the film, we went to a fashion magazine, and they were retouching photographs of 17-year-olds! I was stunned. Or young models reach 20 and start worrying if their career is over. That’s just tragic to me.”

And yet, Ward admits she does what she must to remain camera-ready. “You can’t look like this at 62 and not have had a little help along the way,” she chuckles. “I’m not gonna say what I’ve done, but any little thing—that’s not drastic—to help the cause. But  importantly, it’s to enhance how you feel about yourself. It isn’t about not looking older or wanting to be another age. It’s about looking in the mirror and thinking, `I don’t wanna look so tired. I don’t feel tired!’ What frustrates most women is that you want reflected back to you how you feel on the inside.”

The futility of racing the life clock was brought home to Ward at—of all places—a traffic light. “I’ll never forget,” she says. “I pulled up alongside a car. And the woman in the car alone happened to be a dear friend of mine. But she didn’t know I was there. Just before I was going to roll down the window to say `hi,’ I watched her adjust the rear-view mirror to look at herself. With disgust, she whipped the mirror back, rolled her eyes, and let out a sigh. As women we’re always internally fighting this natural process.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that our phone conversation takes place amidst the pulsing music and steel-on-steel noise of the Equinox gym. Yet Ward’s exercise regimen—cardio every day and a workout three times a week “minimum”—and feelings about her physique changed radically two years ago when she was injured on the set of the Nick Nolte cable series, Graves. “In the last

episode, I got knocked down accidentally by these two humongous guys playing Secret Service agents who slammed into me. I went flying off the stage and landed on my left hip. I hit so hard, it gave me a little hairline fracture. It healed, but I have to take it slowly now, which is such a drag, to build myself back up. I was in great shape until that!

“And not being able to exercise for awhile after that injury took its toll,” she sighs. “I had to say, `Okay, I’m starting to really see the age. It’s time to embrace it.’ So my whole focus has shifted more to how I’m living my life as opposed to being ever vigilant of Father Time.”

Granted, the life Sela Ward currently lives involves being married to entrepreneur Howard Sherman; raising their two grown kids, actress Annabella Raye and musician son Austin Ward; founding Hope Village for abused and neglected children, and playing Special Agent-in-Charge Dana Mosier on the new CBS series, FBI. To an outsider glancing at her IMDB page, Ward’s path from being a Wilhelmina model and the face of Maybelline, to compiling a filmography that includes movies by Blake Edwards, Garry Marshall, and WKRP creator Hugh Wilson; to becoming a veteran TV presence on Sisters, Once and Again, House, and CSI: NY would appear as smooth as her visage. Not so.

“It took me a long time to study and study harder and catch up with everyone,” Ward recalls, “because I didn’t start acting at 18. I started at 27. I would have agents literally say to me, when I went to audition, `Well, you stunk up that room.’ This business is cruel; people are tough and heartless. But things just fly off me like hitting Teflon.”

An example Ward brings up concerns her third feature film, Nothing in Common, which starred no less than Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason. They were fine; it was Ward’s teacher who rocked her. “I was paying this well-known acting coach to work with me. So I show up for our session, and she looks at me and says, `I’m just not sure how you got this job. My daughter would have been so much better for the role.’ Now, I could have gone home with my tail between my legs. But I just laughed and worked with her, and kept working, and proved her wrong. Maybe not in that movie, but down the road. I was fierce in my conviction that I could do this. So I just got back up and kept going.”

That perseverance has come in handy for the Sherman-Ward clan following Howard’s unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in Sela’s native Mississippi during last year’s midterms. He beat fellow Democrat David Baria in the primary, but the margin was close enough to require a run-off. Baria won that handily but then got trounced by incumbent Republican Roger Wicker in the general election. “That was really disappointing,” admits Ward. We were very naïve going into this, and I’m not sure why. I tend to think the best of people, so when you get into situations with the contrivances of lies and so many things twisted, you just stand with your mouth open thinking, `It’s not supposed to be like this!’”

Chuckling, Ward adds, “It was an eye-opener that some people will do anything at any cost to get elected. The lack of humanity in politics was really startling. I really care about the plight of Mississippi, but it’s its own worst enemy. So it’ll be awhile before there’s tremendous progress there—because people like it this way. But at the same time, being on the campaign trail was a fascinating experience. I learned so much about the state, the people, the mindset. We had a very rich experience, and Howard and I would take nothing for that.”

Certainly, Ward has to be tactful in talking about her upbringing. Criticism about her 2003 memoir, Homesick, generally picked at the nostalgic picture it paints of her Southern heritage—replete with “sweet tea and porch swings, corn bread and courtesy” versus, well, lynchings and apartheid. “There is no defense of Mississippi,” Ward acknowledges. “There was a really ugly side, and underbelly, that still exists there. And there’s nothing about it that I respect, admire, or would hold a flag up for. People like me who grew up there have a lot of shame connected to the reality of the racism in that state and the horrific abuse. Even in the Senate campaign, I saw a lot, and the rose-colored glasses came off. I saw many people in positions of power—black and white, but most shockingly, black—who are participating in keeping their own people down.

“But despite that, nothing is completely black and white—pardon the pun,” she adds. “There’s always a grey area of people you can’t put into one of two boxes. People who are sophisticated, well-traveled, living on a higher level of consciousness. And I wanted to be part of the voice for positive, progressive changes. It will happen, but in a slow, grass-roots way.”

Ward’s ability to power through the dark side to pursue the silver lining comes from childhood experience. Her father was an alcoholic who didn’t get sober until he turned 79. “It wasn’t like we repaired anything at that point,” she notes. “But it became a really great last chapter of his life. And all along, I was never estranged from my father; I admired him greatly—when he wasn’t drinking. He just became a different person, and I grew up with that. But it’s amazing the resiliency human beings have.”

That strength applies, even more so, to the children of drinkers and the way they approach the world later on. “Alcoholism is a very specific disease,” cautions Ward. “They have it down to a science how it affects the blueprint of a family. You learn to read people very quickly, their body language. You are much more sensitive to your surroundings and the energy in a room. And this actually helped me, because you develop survival skills as an actor that I never would’ve had without that experience. So I’m actually grateful for it in many ways. I am a much more knowing and aware and sensitive person to others.”

Those survival instincts helped brace the actress for her early years of modeling in New York, particularly during the wild “Studio 54 years.” Amazingly, considering that scene, she never endured a #MeToo incident—well, at least not on a Weinstein/Moonves/Cosby level. “Nothing as egregious as what would happen when people would go up to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room,” she recalls. “The only things I encountered are what I would chalk up to men being typical men. Like after waiting for some guys to finish a set of tennis and hearing, `You wanna take a shower with me?’ `No, thank you, I’m fine.’”

“The weirdest thing that happened to me,” continues Ward, “was when the agency had set up a photo shoot. So I went to this photographer whose office was down the hall from his studio. At the end of shooting, I changed and went back to the office to retrieve my bag and say goodbye. Now, you gotta remember when this was. The photographer had been doing line after line of coke—which in those days was commonplace. So I walk in, and he’s lying on the floor naked except for a chastity belt. And he says, `I have this chastity belt, and no one has the key but me, in a safety deposit box.’ He was so high. And I just stepped over him, grabbed my bag, and said, `Well, that’s nice. Thank you so much, this was great.’ And I walked out.”

Laughing at the memory, Ward then explains that once she got into TV and movies, she was working almost immediately with “A-team level people,” so the chances of bad behavior were much less likely. “Usually a lot of the bad stuff happens in independent projects or things that are very low budget,” she says. “There’s a lot of room in those scenarios for mishaps and stranger things. But I learned enough to stay clear of people who were devious. And I would never, ever compromise my own integrity or personal values to put myself in those positions.”

Ward also appreciates being in the fortunate position to choose projects that suit her. She holds fondest memories of her six years on Sisters and three on Once and Again because they were family dramas that concentrated on relationships. “Once the writers start writing for the sensibilities you bring to the role,” Ward notes, “you really become in sync.” She contrasts those experiences with her time on House, as the ex-girlfriend of the crusty titular surgeon. “I signed up for a nine-episode arc,” she explains, “with the potential of doing more. But I realized after those nine that it wasn’t something I enjoyed. A procedural in the medical field was not my cup of tea, so I was out of sync.” That said, Ward places the blame not on people, but on the show’s literal environment. Because her mother spent several years dying of ovarian cancer and undergoing “three major operations, on and on and on, I had some PTSD from that. Being in a hospital setting on that show was just not good for my psyche at all.”

And yet, oddly enough, had Ward not succeeded in show business, she says medicine would have been her go-to career: “I really should have been a doctor. When I was in the fifth grade, a friend of mine’s brother had a major chemistry lab. So I went to the library on my own and memorized all the abbreviations for the elements. I really was obsessed. But I grew up in a time, the early 60s, where that just wasn’t honored in girls and wasn’t really encouraged.  So my mother took my chemistry set away from me; she thought I would poison myself or blow something up.”

If Ward regrets ditching doctoring, another of her passions that got sidetracked but never discarded was her major at the University of Alabama: art. More than four decades after taking her first formal art lesson, Ward went back to the brushes with a vengeance and has since seen her work displayed and sold at galleries in New York and L.A. “If you’ve ever read the books, Passages and New Passages” explains the actress-artist, “Gail Sheehy said that because all of us are living longer now, we have a entire second adulthood. So what do you do with that? The most important thing is to look back at what, when you were 12 years old, occupied you for hours on end—to the point where you didn’t notice the passing of time. For me, it was always design or art. So that’s my serious next chapter.”



What songs have you been listening to lately?

The past several days it’s been Yo-Yo Ma doing the Bach Concertos. I can’t stop playing it. Also Cesária Évora. And my son, Austin Ward, who’s a 24-year-old wannabe musician and working his tail off. He’s doing it.

What are you reading?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (by Yuval Noah Harari) and Jessica Shattuck’s The Women in the Castle. I read more than one book at the same time because I get bored with one and pick up another.

Favorite Food?

Pasta. Something Italian. And tiramisu for dessert.

Favorite Vacation Spot?

I’m always drawn to the Caribbean. I love that turquoise water and the whole island vibe.

Favorite movie?

I love Cinema Paradiso. The Wedding Crashers is so funny. And for years, my sister and I would watch The Party with Peter Sellers and just howl. I doubt it would hold up today, though. My daughter and I watched the little promo for it, looked at each other and went, “never mind.” So maybe it was more about time and place.

Is there a role of yours that you wish more people would seek out?

Graves. We did two seasons, but no one saw it because Epix didn’t have proper distribution. I love doing comedies and also watching them. Real life is tough enough; when I go home, I just wanna laugh.

Best advice you ever got?

It’s the old expression: pick yourself up by the bootstraps.



David Lefkowitz hosts the long-running radio podcast, Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com). He also publishes TotalTheater.com, co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com), and adjunct teaches at the University of Northern Colorado. 

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ONE IN SEVEN: Kathleen Madigan is Still Standing

by David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published Jan. 2019 in Long Island Woman magazine.)


These are tricky times for comedians. Gone are the heady years when a good set at “Catch a Rising Star” and a thumbs-up from Leno or Letterman automatically led to a network sitcom. Our fragmented era of podcasts and web series may offer more outlets, but not necessarily more careers. At the same time, established comedians find themselves attacked for their behavior (Cosby), their material (Kathy Griffin, Roseanne), or both (Louis C.K.). Meanwhile, Americans have become so virulently polarized, taking on any serious socio-political topic risks losing half the room.

Through it all, however, veteran comic Kathleen Madigan endures and thrives. A former journalist, she’s not averse to picking at controversial topics (e.g., her celebrated bit on the still-missing Malaysian Flight 370), yet fans of all political stripes accept the Missouri-born Irish Catholic as a one-of-us, blue-collar type in the vein of Ron White and Bill Engvall. She’s entertained the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but you won’t find her on a Fox News panel anytime soon. Where you will find her, week after week, is in concert halls across America doing her “Boxed Wine and Bigfoot” tour, which reaches Huntington’s Paramount Theater April 12.

Madigan’s appeal, then, lies in her down-to-earth style, her work ethic, and, of course, the jokes: “I always give homeless people money, and my friends yell at me, ‘He’s only going to buy more alcohol and cigarettes.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, like I wasn’t?’.”

Even offstage, Madigan speaks frankly about her background, material, and career choices—especially her continued pursuit of stand-up while so many in her field jump to television and movies at the first opportunity. “I never wanted a sitcom, she notes. “I don’t want one, and still would say `no’ to one. For a while at ABC, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner ran the ship, and they were big fans of women. They helped Roseanne and Brett Butler. And Ellen’s show ran on ABC. But then Carsey-Werner kind of went away. The people now in their 60s—Ray Romano, Brett—that was the last group where stand-ups just got a sitcom (except maybe Kevin James, who’s my age). But ABC was the only option.

“NBC was white-guy central. Period,” Madigan continues. “They gave Bill Cosby a show, and that was it, as far as black comedians go. It was so obvious back then. NBC would pull from its stable at Saturday Night Live, but they never gave a female stand-up a sitcom ever, in the history of existing.” [Editor’s note: Well, one: Whitney Cummings, who had a failed solo that led to her producing the six-season hit, 2 Broke Girls.] “Even now,” noted Madigan, “when I don’t pay a lot of attention because there are so many other things on TV, I imagine it’s pretty much the same.”

Asked if there was anything she would change about her most visible network television credit—two seasons on Last Comic Standing a decade agoMadigan confesses to being a bit out of sync with the reality-TV audience. “The parts I didn’t like…the general public seemed to like,” she says. “And that’s because I didn’t like all the drama. I don’t watch The Voice or any of these music contests because this whole idea of Competition/Elimination/Challenge—I just think it’s done, it’s over. That whole thing of, “Oh, you can save your side!” or “So and so’s returning!” I can’t imagine that people would still be hanging off the edge of their couches waiting for that.”

Perhaps Madigan’s desire to ease away from competition stems from her childhood years as one of seven siblings. As she has often joked in her act, you can never be the center of attention when you have four brothers and two sisters; you just follow along and fall into line. In fact, even when it comes to comedy, she readily admits she has one brother and one sister who are just as funny as she is. “I just beat `em to the punch,” she laughs. “And when everybody around you is kinda funny, you don’t think of it as `funny’; you just think that’s how people are—until you meet unfunny people. And then you’re like, `Oh wow, there are very serious people out there. We are not those people.”

Sensing a riff, Madigan adds, “Even greeting cards. I look at them and think, `Do people really send these sappy things to each other?’ We would never… We just would never do that. Unless you’re dying, nobody’s gonna say serious, nice things to you. It’s not gonna happen!”

Still, when Madigan names those who influenced her style, she points neither to her family nor, surprisingly, to female comedians. Instead, she offers such strong male personalities as Ron White, Lewis Black, and the late Richard Jeni. That said, it’s not as if she ever sought out icons to emulate because she “never even wanted to be a comedian,” she reveals. Having `influences’ implies that you watched something and later went and did it—and that you drew from them by watching them. That never happened. No influences would be the real truth. But when I say that, for some reason, people don’t believe it.”

As to the reason she—unlike other comediennes who might cite Joan Rivers or Rita Rudner—offers male counterparts as her examples, Madigan explains, “When I started being a comedian and doing open-mic nights, the only people that I saw were the ones in the clubs. And at the time, with the exception of Brett Butler, who was a very good stand-up, I can’t even think of a female headliner. I was familiar with Roseanne, but I didn’t really pay attention to TV for being a comedian. So if you ask me, `Okay, in the `90s, in the clubs, what people were actually, physically, in front of my face doing stand up?’ It was 99 percent men.”

Among those men were the aforementioned Lewis Black, whom she briefly dated and with whom she remains a close friend. “I think we just have a lot of the same interests,” Madigan notes. “We both like to golf and drink wine. We like the news and politics and sports and all the same stuff.”

Black is one of the few comedians for whom Madigan has written material: “he had this big thing in Montreal, and we had to put together something quickly and write jokes towards a theme. Since Lewis is one of my best friends, I can write in his voice.” Another was the late, great Garry Shandling, when he was hosting the 2004 Emmy Awards. Recalls Madigan, “I was a fan of Garry’s. He was crazy, but that’s okay. Not harmful crazy. I mean, comedians tend to throw around words that aren’t politically correct, so `crazy’ might get me in trouble. But he was so smart and so funny and so nice.

“He was just scattered,” she remembers. “Even his papers. He’d put his thoughts on legal pads, but it looked like the Unabomber wrote `em. You’d go, `What is this, Garry?’ `Well, I have these ideas,’ and then he’d point to a weird corner of the page, and there’d be drawings next to some words. I mean, I get that. I don’t write out a whole joke; I write out key words to remember the idea. But for the Emmys, we were supposed to meet at the club, sit in the Green Room and go over stuff, and then he’d go out and do it. But when we’d get there, he wouldn’t do anything that we worked on. He’d tell me, `I know, I know. We’ll do it tomorrow.’ And I’d think, `You’re the child in the Catholic grade school that doesn’t apply yourself, Garry. You’re clearly capable of it!’ But eventually, he’d still go out there and just kill it.”

Though an admitted news junkie and former editor of The Alestle, the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she received a B.A. in journalism, Madigan waves off the idea that this background affects her comedy writing. “I’m not being facetious,” she vows. “They really are two totally different things. My jokes are more conversational—just the way I talk. I heard Ron White trying to explain to someone his style, and he said, `I’m not funny all the time, but I am naturally funny.’ That’s a good way to put it because Ron is just a funny person. It’s the way he talks and what he says, but he’s not thinking about that. That’s just who he is. So for me, the effort is getting to the shows and the travel; thinking of jokes and then doing them is the easy part.”

Indeed, considering Madigan’s personal interest in current events and the country’s increasingly absurdist news cycles, it remains surprisingly easy for her to eschew topical themes from her material because, she says, “I think 90 percent of the people who come to see me are excited about Irish-Catholic-drinking-family jokes. I know it because I read all my social media, and I meet a ton of people after a show, and that’s the stuff they like the best. I could write sports jokes or political jokes till the day is done, but that’s what they come for, so that’s what I mainly focus on.”

Asked if that stance might make fans believe she leans politically to the right, Madigan responds, “There’s a show on Fox called The Five. And they’re always trying to find comedians to go on there. I’ve said `no,’ like, 50,000 times. I’m like, `Are you high? I’m not gonna support that.’ Lewis won’t go on it, either. They have a tough time finding comics who even would agree to jump into that because we’d be making their show better. They could easily get serious left-wing people who could argue a point in an intelligent way. But they want entertainment. I guess for a comedian who has nothing else to do and wants to help Fox, have at it. But my fans probably see me in the same way they think of Ron [White]. People can be amazed that he’s…I don’t know if you’d call it `liberal.’ Maybe practical or just more in the middle. But for me, I don’t even know enough…I mean, to really understand healthcare and what is the answer? I have no idea.

“Granted,” she adds, “Do I think pot should be legal?—and I don’t even smoke pot—yes, I do. Because I’ve been around enough comics who smoke pot that I don’t see any issue. It’s way better than drinking for a million reasons—and I’m a drinker. But those kinds of ideas are more social than political. Especially with comedians because we’re the most mixed-up, messed-up group. Well, not messed-up, but certainly diverse. You couldn’t find a more diverse group in terms of occupation.”

As is the case for many entertainers who spend their nights onstage and lives on the road, Madigan hasn’t settled down and doesn’t see doing so in the near future. In terms of dating, she says she’s “out there” but won’t specify further—especially since, even in terms of her career, she doesn’t plan “more than six months in advance.”

She does say that, considering her chosen profession, she’s been lucky in never having to endure a Harvey Weinstein-style encounter. Lucky and savvy. “Look, in this business, we all know—even the dudes know—who’s a pervert, who are the nice guys, who are the aggressive people,” she explains. “It’s like any other office: `Stay away from Bob in accounting; he’s a total perv.’ Nothing that has come out in the news has surprised any of us. I mean, people go, `Oh my God, can you believe Charlie Rose? Isn’t that shocking?’ No. It would be shocking if you told me he was a furry. Then I’d be like, `wow! What animal does he pick? I wanna see his outfit!’”

More seriously, Madigan adds, “Granted, I’m talking about me and my own circle of friends. I don’t know about 20 or 30-year-olds in the business. But friends my age have had this information for awhile. It’s just that nobody believes us till the guy gets caught.”

Asked if the ugly behavior of Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. should affect our appreciation of their skills and older work, Madigan answers, “You’d have to decide whether you like those comics to begin with. Whatever Bill Cosby has done—his comedy was always too slow for me. I don’t have the patience. I’m not a long-story person; I want bam bam bam bam bam! But I guess if you were a Cosby fan…could you go backwards in time? He’s probably still funny to those people.

“I used to do a joke in my act about Stevie Nicks—I’m a lifelong fan. Let’s say I have tickets to go see Stevie Nicks four months from now. And then someone came on CNN and said, `Stevie Nicks ate a baby.’ I would be, like, `Well, yeah. But I bought those tickets before she ate the baby. I mean, I gotta hear “Landslide.” So do we have proof she ate the baby? I don’t believe it till there’s proof.’”



Do you recall your first stand-up routine?

I know I did some jokes about the Olympics because it was an Olympic year. But otherwise, I don’t remember.

Didn’t you used to smoke?

I quit a long time ago. I just stopped.

How do prepare just before a show?

I usually just sit there drinking a cup of coffee.

Favorite comedy club?

Zanies in Nashville. [Mark Ridley’s] Comedy Castle in Detroit.

Favorite Food?

Mashed potatoes.

Favorite Vacation spot?

Southwest Ireland.

What’s on your iPod?

Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Anita Baker, Arcade Fire, Jann Arden. Those are what I listen to the most in my house.

Most recent books you’ve read?

Nick Tosches’s Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, and David Corn’s Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.

Favorite Funny movies?

I still love Arthur. If it’s on, I still watch it. Or anything by Christopher Guest—especially Best in Show—but anything with Fred Willard in it.

Favorite TV shows?

As a kid, I liked M*A*S*H. Now, I don’t even watch regular TV; I watch Netflix. So there’s Queen of the South and Ozark and a British thing called Broadchurch. Being on the road and always working at night, I don’t even know what’s out there.



David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) live on Saturday mornings (facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz).  

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BAD STUFF, TOO: Ali Wentworth’s (Mostly) Charmed Life

by David Lefkowitz


On the day I was to phone writer and comedian Ali Wentworth for this article, she texted to reschedule owing to a nasty bout with norovirus. “Aha,” I thought, “her life isn’t perfect! I can help readers overcome their jealousy and find her sympathetic.”

Awful thinking, I know. But check the facts: Alexandra Wentworth was born 54 years ago to a well-off and well-connected Washington D.C. family. After attending a tony girls’ school followed by Bard College, the pretty blonde actress joined the L.A. sketch troupe The Groundlings and then made the cast of TV’s In Living Color (amidst cohorts like Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey). Minor roles in movies and TV episodes followed, as did a long and still-happy marriage to news anchor George Stephanopoulos, resulting in two healthy and blossoming teenage daughters and a mansion in the Hamptons that the family sold last year for nearly $6 million. Oh, and Wentworth recently completed two seasons and counting of Nightcap, the TV comedy show she created and stars in on the Pop cable network.

So, yes, Wentworth’s life does have a fairy-tale sheen to it. (In fact, her 2012 book of humorous autobiographical essays was titled Ali in Wonderland.) But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t faced harsh challenges along the way—and not just the “vomiting, fever, and body aches” she admitted came with her norovirus bout.

“So you don’t have a charmed life?” I asked when I spoke to the fully recovered actress three days later. “I don’t think so!” she laughed.

“Fine,” I retorted. “Then tell me something horrible, anything. Help a writer out.”

“Well, I had depression when I was in my twenties, and I was attacked by a gang in L.A.”


Turns out, Wentworth did suffer clinical depression during her early years in Hollywood, though now—big surprise—“I’m completely fixed!” she jokes. She stopped seeing a shrink awhile back, though she is “not averse” to returning if she needs to. Asked how she climbed out of the chasm, Wentworth points to “therapy and Zoloft. I was getting over a breakup with a boyfriend. At times like that, all the other stuff—like my parents’ divorce—comes bubbling up to the surface. So the cure was two-fold: talking in therapy, while the Zoloft provided a nice floor.”

Just as matter-of-factly, Wentworth speaks of her scariest encounter—with that Los Angeles gang. “I had just done a show with the Groundlings on a Saturday night,” she recalls. “The actors had parked their cars in a back alley behind the theater, so me and Mark, another actor, were out in this dark alley talking about our rehearsal schedule. That’s when this cholo gang of six guys with hairnets and tattoos circled us. They slapped me around a little bit and tried to get me into the car. As I wrote in Ali in Wonderland, I could tell their idea was to take me to a park, gang rape me, and kill me. And I had one of those split seconds where your survival instincts come forward, so I just ran.

“They stabbed Mark in the chest. He had a thick coat on which caught the blade, so he got cut up pretty badly but wasn’t killed. I survived. He survived. I called my mother, hysterically crying, from the emergency room when Mark was having surgery, and her response—which is her response to every horrific thing in life—was: `go to the Four Seasons Hotel.’ So I did. I didn’t know what else to do.”

As readers might know, Wentworth’s own encounter with a knife was more recent, better publicized, and fully voluntary: in 2012, she underwent cosmetic surgery to remove the bags she’d had under her eyes since her youth. “I realized it was like my Moby Dick,” she explains. “I had to do something about it. So I went online, but there was nobody being honest. Nobody was saying what the recovery was or how much it might hurt. I’d see my actress friends in L.A. and ask them, `Who do you go to? Who’s your doctor?’ And they’d answer, `What do you mean? I don’t do anything.’ And I’d think, `Oh my God, really? You’re pretending you haven’t had anything?’”

Meanwhile, Wentworth would be on film shoots and overhear “the lighting guy and makeup person fighting about whose problem it was that I had these dark bags under my eyes.” That’s when the actress decided not only to undergo the procedure but document it, in words and before/after photos, in Elle magazine. “I have to tell you, I get stopped as much about this as anything I’ve ever done in my career,” notes the actress. “I’m stopped by women saying, `thank you so much’ or `you’re right, it didn’t hurt that much.’ It’s very funny how I became the poster child for blepharoplasty.”

Wentworth adds that she’s all for other people getting various kinds of plastic surgery and that she might even try Botox herself at some point, but she doubts she’d ever go for “big-deal elective surgery” along the lines of a face lift or tummy tuck: “I’m afraid to get my teeth cleaned, so more than that seems like a lot of pain and agony.”

Painful in a different way was Wentworth’s sole foray into standup comedy. It was back when she was doing zany characters on In Living Color, and she noticed all her costars were making big bucks during the show’s hiatus weeks by hitting the club circuit. “So I went to the sports bar in the Marriott Hotel next to LAX,” Wentworth recalls. “There was a hockey game on, but it was an open mic night. So I came out, and the announcer was yelling `Strip! Strip! Strip!’ I came to this crossroad in my life where I thought, `Well, here we go. What am I gonna do? Am I gonna be a stripper?’ I dropped the mic and left.”

It’s not that Wentworth let that one hellgig get to her, though. “I realized the medium wasn’t for me,” she explains. “And that life wasn’t for me. I’ve talked to people like Amy Schumer about it; going across the country, living in Motel 6’s, eating out of a vending machine, and having people heckle and scream at you just didn’t appeal to me on any level. Plus, I prefer to hide behind characters.”

In fact, Wentworth still feels most nostalgic about one particular character: Sue Goober, the clumsy supermodel that landed her the In Living Color gig. “I auditioned eight million times for that show,” recalls Wentworth. “At the time, I had a manager—the kind of manager who lived in a van—but still, he knew they were doing a nationwide search for a black guy. A black comedian. Somehow that didn’t deter me. I went into the assistant-assistant-assistant casting agent and did a bunch of characters. After that, I must have auditioned ten times. Then I had to audition for the network. Then I had to go meet Keenan Ivory Wayans. It was a very long process, but it worked out in the long run.”

Asked when she knew she nailed it, Wentworth surmises it was when she was doing the network audition for “fourteen guys in Armani suits. I played a young actress auditioning for a James Bond movie. So I come in and think I’m gonna be reading lines as a Bond girl, when it’s really just to be one of the naked girls who dances around the gun during the credits. All of a sudden, the James Bond music comes on, and I do this whole physical thing where I end up flying and hitting the wall. When I did that for the network and these men, they were laughing and clapping and also wondering, `Oh my God, who are you?’ So I think it was that moment of total physical and emotional abandon.”

That caution-to-the-wind approach, nurtured at The Groundlings, served Wentworth well in the joyful tumult that was In Living Color. “There were so many funny, creative people in one room,” recalls the actress. “The perfect image of a rehearsal was Jim Carrey on one side of the room doing a character, while Jamie Foxx would be on the other side, pulled up to a piano and playing some piece of beautiful music. There was a frenetic energy all the time, and I was quieter than I’ve ever been just because there was so much going on around me.”

Wentworth’s memories of Carrey as a colleague are just as rosy. “He was incredibly kind and helpful and supportive,” she remembers. “Yet he was at a high decibel of funny—doing characters and physical comedy—even when we were just having lunch. It never stopped. I doubt he’s that way now; in fact, I know he’s not, but back then he wanted to be that person who was on all the time.”

Another hilarious person Wentworth speaks of fondly is…Mariska Hargitay. That’s right, the beautiful and soulful detective on that laugh riot, Law & Order: SVU, has a side only her close friends—like Wentworth—see. “We met at a party 25 years ago,” Wentworth recalls, “and it was akin to when I met my husband. It was like I’d known Mariska my whole life. We immediately fell in love and hid ourselves in a corner talking and laughing. She is one of the funniest people I know. You know how, when you’re a funny person, you seek other people out? Like when you want to play tennis with someone who’s as good as you? She is hysterical.”

On the other hand, George Stephanopoulos, Wentworth’s spouse of 17 years, is not. “Not a big surprise, right?” the actress chuckles. “I mean, he has a great sense of humor, but he’s just not funny himself. That’s what makes the relationship particularly good; he’s a great audience.” Asked if she ever suggests questions for the anchorman to fire at a newsy guest, Wentworth replies, “only in a joking way. I don’t tell him to do his job in the same way he’s not allowed to say to me, `Oh, you know what would be funnier…?’ We stay in our lanes.”

Except in bed, that is. Wentworth’s latest collection of essays, Go Ask Ali: Half-Baked Advice, has received the most attention for its chapter—titled “Shh, I Love My Husband”—on her sex life…and how good it is. She notes that while all her female friends gather for lunch to complain about their intimacy-challenged unions or confess to affairs, in order to avoid angry looks, Wentworth has to keep her happiness “on the down low” and later “weep in the back of the subway about the tenacity and fortitude of my marriage.”

Which brings us back full circle to Wentworth’s (mostly) lucky life—including being able to work as “creator, writer, executive producer, and star” of Nightcap. “When In Loving Color ended,” she notes, “I was surprisingly optimistic. My feeling was, `Okay, what’s next?’ I thought of TV like the corporate world; you just move up. And I did get a deal at NBC soon after—which meant they paid you a lot of money to do nothing. It wasn’t until after having a few deals that I realized, `Wow, it’s actually very difficult to get on television!’

“Even now,” she adds, “when I’m predominantly just writing, and there are so many more outlets, it’s very hard to get a show on the air. You have to have a big celebrity attached or some shiny thing you can present [the decisionmakers] with, because all they’re thinking is, `How do we sell this internationally?’. Luckily, I have some nice friends who are well known, like Sarah Jessica Parker and Paul Rudd, who will come and play.”

Lucky indeed, since Wentworth—still recognized for being Schmoopie on the Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode—can’t even think of a career she might have pursued had comedy not worked out. “I wanted to be a performer since I was a little girl. Always, always, always. I would have done it no matter what—even if on a much smaller scale. I’d be teaching it, or maybe I’d be an assistant to some porn director, but I’d be in the industry in some way. I just love it so much.”

And go figure: for Ali Wentworth, things worked out perfectly.




Favorite vacation spot?

Any place where there are seashells and ocean.

Exercise regimen?

Not really. I do what I need to do. We have two dogs that I take for an hour-and-a-half walk in the morning, and I just started swimming, which I’m loving. But I’m a sporadic exerciser.

Favorite funny movies?

Private Benjamin and Manhattan.

Songs on your device?
I’m very nerdy, so there’s no pop music. It’s either classical (Rachmaninoff or a good Brandenburg Concerto) or The Grateful Dead (American Beauty).

Last two books you’ve read?

Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted, and I’m about to start Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I wanted something dark.

Do you procrastinate?

Some people can sit down at a computer and just write. I can’t do that. The apartment has to be cleaned. I need my tea to be hot. There’s probably four hours of procrastination for every 45 minutes of actual work and focus.

Best advice you ever got?
Don’t take no for an answer.

Worst Advice you ever got?

Lose weight and get a nose job!


David Lefkowitz hosts the long-running comedy program Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) live on Saturday mornings (facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz). He is also an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado and serves as editor in chief of Performing Arts Insider and TotalTheater.com.


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In Bloom: Marcia Gay Harden Writes a Memoir for her Mother

by David Lefkowitz

(This article was published in the Nov. 2018 issue of Long Island Woman)


“How is your mom doing?”

That is the central question—the one everyone who reads Marcia Gay Harden’s book, The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers, will want to ask her. It’s also the question she considers daily.

Beverly Bushfield Harden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has been deteriorating, bit by bit, ever since. Watching the woman who raised her slowly disappear has turned Marcia into an advocate for Alzheimer’s research, as well as a reflective and lyrical writer as she shares her own story intertwined with her mom’s best years and later decline. In fact, Seasons was originally going to be a mother-daughter collaboration on a coffee-table volume celebrating Mrs. Harden’s mastery of ikebana, the delicate arrangements of flowers. Instead, it turned into the daughter’s autobiography, covering her years as a budding actress, her success in such projects as Miller’s Crossing, Meet Joe Black, and Pollock (Supporting Actress Oscar); the landmark original Broadway production of Angels in America; TV’s Law & Order:SVU and Code Black; her marriage and divorce from film location scout and prop master Thaddaeus Scheel, the loss of her niece and nephew in a 2004 fire, and the raising of her children as a single parent while balancing a full slate of film and television work.

And yet, we return to the simple question, “How is your mom doing?”

“I wanna say she’s the same,” replies the actress, chatting by cell phone as she is on her way to take her actress daughter, Julitta, out for a celebratory dinner on the occasion of the 14-year-old having wrapped shooting on a new Jim Carrey TV project. “I can’t say anything good about Alzheimer’s. It’s a progressive disease that has robbed her. She’s still pleasant; she’ll always be kind and pleasant. But it’s only a nod towards her tenacious spirit that she is still those things. And I’d be lying if I said, `Oh, that makes me feel comforted. At least there’s the essence of mom.’ There’s just the essence, not the actions, the communication. When you talk to a person who has Alzheimer’s at the late stage she does, it’s a fairly one-way conversation, and it’s sad.”

Asked what she wishes more people knew about the disease, Harden points to Seth Rogan’s “Hilarity for Charity” organization and his Senate testimony before the Senate four years ago. “He said, `First you think—not that Alzheimer’s is charming, but it’s small.’ You think, `Ehh, they forget where they put their keys. They forgot a couple of faces.’ But the diagnosis is really like an avalanche. It’s a snowball tumbling down the hill creating devastation in its path.”

That said, Harden agrees with many experts that lifestyle choices can affect or impede the onset of dementia. “From what I understand from the research, they’re the common-sense things: exercise to the point that you sweat, eat well, and avoid or cut out sugar and carbohydrates—which has completely changed the line-up of my pantry!” she laughs.

More seriously, the actress, though acknowledging the complicated nature of Alzheimer’s and the failure of drugs to help, ascribes to the “gut-brain connection” theory, which again points to lifestyle: “There’s a reason some call the disease `Diabetes 3,’” she notes. “We need less inflammation in our bodies and, therefore, less in the brain. Initially, people talked about tau and tangles, but we all have tangles. Something’s blocking the ability to empty them. And at this point, I’ll do whatever I can to stave it off, because as I watch what happened to my mother and to other people, `exercise’ for them is playing with scarves, so to speak, and they completely lose the ability to control their bodily functions. So anything we can do, we should do.”

Which, of course, leads her to call for more research—especially in relation to Alzheimer’s and women: “Why are two-thirds of the people getting it women? Maybe if we study women, we can understand what occurs hormonally at a certain age. Anything we can study, we need to study to find a cure.”

Granted, unlike other grown children faced with similar parental health crises, Harden’s acting success has allowed her, for the time being, to keep her mother at home rather than in a facility. Even so, coordinating caregiving is always a challenge. “I have two sisters who go down and visit,” Harden explains. “My brother visits occasionally, and I visit when I can.”

All three siblings have read Harden’s book, “respect it, and are thrilled that it’s this love story to our mother,” Harden adds, “but they do they different responses and don’t always remember things the same way I do. We’ve had a few conversations on the order of `no, that wasn’t the car she drove’ or `mom would never have liked that.’ And I’ve just had to say that I understand we all have different stories and memories. I mean, when police interview people who’ve witnessed a crime, there are 15 different perspectives. It’s the same way in a family. But my family is proud of it and hopes the book will make a difference in Alzheimer’s awareness—especially the stigma.

“In fact, the last chapter, `Star Navigator,’ talks about when I was doing Angels in America,” Harden recalls. “During that time, the AIDS community was just breaking the bubble of shrouding who had AIDS in shame. By doing that, they really galvanized and showed us a way to lead in research and in conquering a disease. We must do that with the Alzheimer’s community because they can’t speak for themselves. My mom can’t be a spokesperson. But now, more and more, people living with Alzheimer’s are being voices and faces for the disease. They’re helping change the tide of how we talk about it.”

Asked if writing the memoir gave her perspective on her own life, Harden points to “maturity” as the biggest takeaway. “Going through the many different things I’ve gone through in the last 20, 30 years changed me. At the time, I was a bit green and raw. But, of course, in life, we grow up, we change, we control. Things that bothered me then or that I’d stand on a soapbox for, or my desire to be right—those wane, to a degree, with maturity. You choose your battles. Even the passions of life. I’m still incredibly passionate about the things I do. But the passionate expression changes as we get older. Perspective is a very interesting educator. It certainly educated me.”

Also teaching Harden—in terms of her first literary effort—was her friend, screenwriter Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Julia). “Early on,” the actress explains, “my publisher, Atria, recognized that I write in a way that they say is “lyric” and told me I should just listen to that voice. Alvin would say, `stop thinking about it and let it go! Let your brain go where your thoughts are taking you.’ That was really helpful to allow myself to move forward. I mean, I know enough not to put too many adjectives in the same sentence—anybody who’s taken writing in college knows that. But it was a pleasure to discover my voice, and I wonder if I wrote something different, would I write in a different style? That will be interesting to find out for me because actors often get dismissed as being vain, uneducated people whose opinions don’t count. But when you write a book, maybe you can’t be dismissed as readily. That remains to be seen!”

Although Seasons of My Mother changed from a glossy how-to volume about flower arranging to a personal narrative, Harden chose to keep to a floral theme: “I’d think, in January, what were the flowers mom would use? But rather than linear—January, February, etc.—it became seasonal. And the flowers were always there because they were always there for her.”

 What has always been there for Marcia, from her first appearances in Kojak and Simon & Simon episodes thirty years ago through her role as Grace Grey in all three Fifty Shades movies, is the work. “It’s been a wonderful life for me,” acknowledges. “But I tell my daughter, `don’t be a red-carpet actress. If you’re gonna act, be a real actress.’ My son Hudson, also an actor, loves musical theater, while Julitta loves film and television. But I want her to do theater, too, because that’s where you really hone a lot of skills. Theater actors can be film actors, but film actors can have a very tough time going into theater.”

Harden’s last Broadway role was her Tony-winning turn in God of Carnage nearly a decade ago, but Hollywood still beckons. “After three seasons, Code Black was cancelled,” she says, “so I recently booked an action movie called Point Blank. It’s a kind of character I’ve never played before—a very complicated cop—so I’m excited. I’m also working on some projects of my own because I love television. I love the daily-ness of it, the stories where you don’t know where it’s going, and all of a sudden it changes and the character grows—even if it’s sometimes tough not being in charge of your character. It makes me think of when I was playing Claire in Damages. You assume you know your character, but then the writer gets a whim and wants to up the stakes. So you start as an innocent flower girl, and now you’re a mass murderer!”

Harden is a big believer in researching roles, especially since some of her best known parts—Lee Krasner in Pollock, Ava Gardner in 1992’s telepic Sinatra—were real people. “You want to research the times they lived in, the customs, their mental processes,” she notes. “And that’s a gift because the accent, the stride, the behavior, the attitude—those have to be so specific. And yet, you still bring yourself into it. There’s only one you. Watch the greats—like Meryl Streep, who transforms in everything she does, yet there’s a core of Streepness about it. Actresses like her—Judi Dench, Ellen Burstyn, Nicole Kidman—always bring their touch of humanity to the work.”

Since she brings up acting superstars and legends, it’s only fair to ask Harden about some of the notables with whom she has shared the screen. For example, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler in 1996’s The First Wives Club. “Oh, that was so long ago,” Harden sighs. “I mostly worked with Diane Keaton. She always wore headphones and was listening to music to get herself in the mood. I will tell you that the moment in the film when she hit me in the head was a mistake; she wasn’t supposed to actually hit me. But she blasted me—100 percent real! Still, back then I was really just a girl sitting in a chair and watching the greats work.”

A year later, Harden would co-star with Robin Williams in Flubber—a memory that instantly makes her laugh. “Loudest set you’ll ever be on in your life!,” she recalls. “Robin was always entertaining the crew and making jokes. You were thrilled when the director called `Cut!’ because that’s when Robin would begin his one-man show. And when they’d say `Action!’ again, he’d be so inventive and bringing what wasn’t on the page to the page. It was really buoyant for me.”

Not surprisingly, back then there was little hint of the demons that would surface for Williams two decades hence. “He was shy in certain ways and incredibly generous,” Harden continues. “And when he was quiet, he was quiet. In those times, you want to make sure that everything’s okay, but really they’re resting. You don’t disturb that. And Robin and I did have one-on-one, deep conversations. But mostly it was seeing his mind working; that was so exciting.”

Harden felt excitement of a different kind appearing with Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black.

“He was so beautiful!” she gushes. “Couldn’t take my eyes off him. I was thrilled when he noticed my cleavage in one scene! But I found him to be an incredibly classy person. He was going through different things in his private life at the time and breaking up with Gwyneth, but he was just very classy, and his family was there—including his mother—so he was just all-American and respectful of the process of acting and bringing his work to the plate.”

Romance taking a back seat to work has also been Harden’s story the past few years. She’s still single and not exactly looking. “There’s not a lot of interest or great candidates at the moment,” she confesses. “Plus, I’ve got a lot going on, so I’m not really around and available. Now, if the right person came along, great. But I’m deliriously satisfied and incredibly content with the rich, beautiful life I lead. My friends are great, and romance could be fun, but I’m okay at the moment not sharing a sink with anybody!”




Since flowers are so integral to Marcia Gay Harden’s book, we thought we’d get her quickie impressions of various blooming beauties:


I think of English gardens and Valentine’s Day. I like wild roses. Store-bought roses are beautiful, but they wilt so damn quickly.


The aroma is heavenly. They’re an early bloomer. It’s like a jiggling lady.

Daffodils / Jonquils

I’ll always think of them as “a little lady wearing a perky bonnet,” as my mother described them. Or Katharine Hepburn. They grow wild in Vermont, and my ex put hundreds of jonquils on my car when he was first courting me. When I told my mother this story, she said, “Oh, daffodils. The happiest flower in the garden.” I was thrilled that she made the connection that daffodils and jonquils are the same flower.


They’re fantastic. They’re spring to me. One can’t help but think of Holland and the fields and fields and fields of them.


They’re like a piece of thin, thin, paper. Very delicate.


A lakeside lover. Little purple ones that bloom by the lake. They make me think of a dark night because they’re purple and edged in black, but then they get lighter until the center is yellow. They’re a dramatic sunset. Like when you look at one side of the sky and you see the sun setting, but the other side is already night.


There’s an odd sterility about an orchid. It’s very exotic and delicate and enticing, but without an aroma. You put a white orchid in a home, and it’s immediately elegant.


Very sexual.

Stargazer Lilies

It’s big and white and aromatic. It’s often in hotel lobbies, so you walk in and you get this beautiful, fresh smell. Instant elegance. My favorite flower.



David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) live on Saturday mornings (facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz).

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Riding the Waves: Christine Lahti on the Feminist Path

by David Lefkowitz

(Note: This article was first published in Long Island Woman, July 2018)


With fourth-wave feminism inspiring marches, activism, and hashtags against violence and harassment, women are once again feeling pressured to decide where they “fit” in terms of society’s demands on them. If you are a proud housewife and mother, are you a throwback? If you are militantly unisex in dress and style, are you denying your natural muliebrity? If you use your body and sexual power as a facet of your career, are you falling into the traps of male-constructed desires and stereotypes?

Though these socio-political questions are constantly debated on a macro level, every woman, of course, has her own beliefs, boundaries, and experiences that shape her response to society’s shifting mores. Going back to look at your choices along the way can be painful but also edifying and satisfying. To quote the Talking Heads, “You may ask yourself: how did I get here?”

Someone who rose to that challenge—and lived to write about it—is award-winning actress Christine Lahti. Since landing the plum role of Al Pacino’s girlfriend in 1979’s And Justice for All, the actress has worked steadily—never quiet reaching a mega-hit status but giving memorable performances in such respected films as Swing Shift and Housekeeping, and holding the spotlight as a rival surgeon on Chicago Hope and a sobriety-challenged ADA on Law & Order: SVU. Along the way came stints on Broadway, an endearingly embarrassing moment at the Golden Globes, an Oscar for directing a short film, marriage, motherhood, and a lot of anecdotes about what it meant to be an aspiring actress in the pre-#MeToo era of casting couches and offhanded cruelty disguised as career advice.

The result is her newly published memoir, true stories from an unreliable witness: A Feminist Coming of Age, which is as much about Lahti finding herself as an empowered woman as it is about her mostly charmed life as an actress. Memories range from her mother breaking through a suffocating Stepford Wife-Meets-June-Cleaver persona to become a professional artist, to Lahti being hired as a dinner date for a rich gentleman (and being too naïve to realize that dinner meant, well, more than dinner), to auditioning for a casting director who said she didn’t possess the looks or talent to succeed it unless she slept with the men who could give her jobs.

“He didn’t assault me or try to rape me,” Lahti recalls in our late-winter conversation, “but he devastated me by trying to convince me that my work was only in my sexuality, that I would never make it unless I `slept my way to the top’—which was how he put it. Part of me believed he might be right. An internalized misogyny made me think, `Oh my God. All my training, my intelligence, my education, my heart—everything about me was dismissed in that room when he said, `the only way your dreams will ever come true is if you become a prostitute.’

“That was the day I became a feminist in my bones,” she adds, “although the scars of this kind of treatment are lifelong. So you just have to be mindful and work on the distrust you develop about male aggression. You hopefully move on and treat everybody as individuals and not assume that you’ll be harassed or mistreated.”

For all her residual anger and disbelief, Lahti doesn’t call out the bad guys in her book by name. She didn’t even report the casting director back then because “I felt wouldn’t be believed and it wouldn’t do anything. And as I said, I thought, `Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m just new at this and naïve.’”

Lahti has traveled a long way since then, and she says that by reexamining her life “through the sexism of show business, and now navigating through the ageism of show business, it’s all through the lens of being a feminist, which I define simply as a person who believes men and women should have equal rights. I saw my mom being treated like a second-class citizen, and I saw the mothers of all my friends being treated that way. So I was determined not to be like that.”

As such, Lahti has generally been careful to take roles that feature complex, vulnerable, but multi-faceted women, be it Wendy Wasserstein’s consciousness-building Heidi on Broadway, or playing a former Sixties radical still on the run in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty. In fact, her rare career regrets included doing, in her pre-fame days, a Joy dishwashing liquid commercial (not exactly ground zero for women’s lib), and a 1995 horror movie called Hideaway: “Over the years, I tried to be really selective about what films I did, but sometimes it just depends on how long it’s been since I’ve worked or how much I need to pay the rent. So I hadn’t worked in a long time, and the director was able to convince me somehow that Hideaway was a feminist thriller, a psychological thriller. And it’s so not! It’s a horror movie! And not a movie I put on my resume.”

Missteps aside, unlike other actresses forced to decide between being a role model or fashion model, Lahti doesn’t feel the need to justify her nude scenes . . . because she hasn’t done any. “Saying `no’ was a typical, second-wave feminist reaction, I guess,” she explains. “If I was in a movie, and if I was nude, or partially nude, I thought I would not be taken seriously as an actress. At the time, we felt the only power we were given was in our sexuality. So that by denying it, at least externally to the world (by dressing down, not wearing a lot of makeup, not dressing in a sexual way), we would force men to take us more seriously.

“What’s different now is that younger women tend to be pro-sex feminists. They get to be as sexual as they want—which doesn’t mean they want to fuck you. If men objectify them, that’s the men’s problem. These women are empowered and love their sexuality, they celebrate it. So if I were 25 now, would I make different choices? Maybe. But no matter what, it’s always about doing good work and choosing projects that portray women in a three-dimensional way.”

To demonstrate, Lahti proudly lists such credits as the Bill Forsyth film, Housekeeping (“a little gem of a movie”), her off-Broadway turn last fall in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Fucking A, and a short-lived series on the WB Network, Jack and Bobbie. “That show had a small but devoted, passionate fan base. It was on the wrong network, so it lasted only one season, but it was really smart, and I loved the character. She was a very flawed professor and mom who smoked dope and was insecure about her boys’ rebellion. The show was from the teenagers’ point of view but also explored how a parent hurts when a teenager rebels or is disrespectful.”

Lahti’s own three children with husband Thomas Schlamme are doing just fine. “One’s an abstract painter,” she notes, “one’s a composer-musician, and one’s a singer-songwriter-actress. They’re all finding their paths. My advice to them? Just work your ass off. If you love it and work really, really hard, the sky’s the limit. I was told that by my parents—even though I was `just a girl.’ That was a great gift that they gave me, so I wanted to impart that to our children.”

And yes, feminism is also a component of that parenting paradigm. Lahti recalls, “When she was 11 years old, I took my daughter to a march in Washington for reproductive freedom. Millions were there, and she got a big taste of activism. So that was the day she became a feminist in her own way, for a younger generation.

“My sons are also feminists,” she notes. “My husband and I want to model for them that parents can be equal partners with mutual respect. Also, my sons must respect women and not treat them as sex objects or objectify them. My sons truly are respectful men—and they just couldn’t be any other way because they grew up with this in their faces every day. They also learned from their father and me how it is so limiting when you narrow gender definitions. For men, if you’re living by a classic, patriarchal model, you don’t get to be nurturing or cry or be celebrated in the home the way women are. As Gloria Steinem said, `Women will never have power outside the home until men have power in the home.’ I think that’s what feminism gives to men and women: it broadens all our human potential and doesn’t limit us to some patriarchal gender definitions.”

Lahti adds that although she began writing true stories two years before the so-called Weinstein effect, she dreamed about this movement her whole life and is thrilled to be living through “such a heartening reckoning in our culture. Women are finally being heard and believed, and there are actual repercussions for their poor treatment. Yes, it’s definitely complicated, and there needs to be lots of nuanced conversation, but it’s unbelievably thrilling.”

Married life, too, has proved to be “fantastic” for Lahti. Asked the secret to her 35 years of bliss, the actress replies, “Don’t see each other that much. Really. Tommy and I both have careers we love, so we spend a lot of time away or on location. It’s so great because we both bring back tales of our adventures and share what we learned. That’s helped us a lot: having a partnership of mutual respect, and both of us loving what we do.”

In her book, Lahti also points to honesty as the best way to keep a marriage solid. One time, she and a handsome co-star found themselves getting particularly playful off camera. Though a full-on affair was averted, Lahti nevertheless confessed the flirtation to her husband, which led to constructive discussions about how they’d been taking each other a bit too for granted.

Readers paging through true stories for juicy name-dropping about Lahti’s days as a single woman will likely be disappointed, however. She spends less than a paragraph on her three-year “on and off” relationship with And Justice for All co-star Al Pacino. Asked to elaborate, the actress admits, “I fell madly in love with him—or at least at the time, I thought I was in love with him, and it was intense for me, but it just didn’t work out. I guess we weren’t meant for each other. But he’s an incredible actor and a great, great guy. I wouldn’t say we’re close friends, but we’re still friendly, and it was all good.”

Even better are Lahti’s self-deprecating stories about nearly missing her Golden Globe moment because she was in the bathroom, and her worst night playing Maggie in a 1985 Long Wharf Theater staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It’s a laugh-out-loud tale worth reading in full, but the short version is that Maggie’s ineffectual husband Brick, fed up with her relentless need, hurls his crutch at her. On this night, however, Brick’s throw proved errant, and Lahti noticed the crutch being held by a woman in the front row. A tug of war ensued, with the actress trying to stay in character as the older lady resolutely clutched the prop. Needless to say, the audience began seeing the humor in the situation—especially when they noticed what Lahti didn’t: that the prop crutch had landed elsewhere on the stage, and Lahti was trying to pry a real crutch from an old woman with a broken leg.

“No, I did not laugh,” Lahti recalls of the incident. “I was such a serious, Uta Hagen student and still in character. I just gave a little shrug that said, `Well, I don’t need your crutch anyway.’ Meanwhile, Brick was not looking the entire time and had no idea what was going on. After the curtain came down, Peter Weller came up to me and said, `God, the audience was going crazy! What did I do that was so funny?’”

In her youth, Lahti did laugh at, and admire, actresses like Marlo Thomas (in That Girl) and Mary Tyler Moore, for being funny and vulnerable yet independent. “I had never seen a woman be able to have her own apartment and, apart from a few boyfriends, not have a particular man in her life,” Lahti says of the Mary Richards character. “She had a career, and she was fine with that. That was really informative and influential for me. I even ended up working with Mary Tyler Moore in a movie called Just Between Friends, and I got to tell her that!”

Now 68, Lahti is at the point where she can serve as the role model for younger generations, which she’s doing by telling her stories and continuing to seek worthy roles. “I got into my fifties and was hit by a tsunami of ageism,” she admits. “I’m still battling that, and it’s been the primary motivation for writing the book. I wasn’t gonna shut up—no way! I needed to stay creative, and my daughter, who’s a kick-ass feminist, said, `Go write yourself a one-woman show or a screenplay. You have so many stories, mom. Why aren’t you writing them down?’ So I took it to heart and started writing about three years ago. I developed the stories as monologues at first and did a workshop at [NYC’s] Cornelia Street Café.

“My only regret is that I didn’t start this in my thirties. Back then, when people used to say, `Don’t you have a production company?’, I would say, `Oh, no, I’m just an actress. I’m not entrepreneurial like that.’ Now, however, I’m feeling so empowered and not listening to all the ageist crap about women. I just want to produce and direct and write. I feel so liberated from that dependency of being `just an actress’—which is part of my journey as a feminist. I don’t have to listen to those casting directors or anybody who diminishes me. All of you can just shut up and let me go about my business, do the work that I love, and help other women by telling stories about women that aren’t being told.”



How do you stay in shape?

I love exercise and the endorphins I get from it. I just bought a Peloton bike, and I’ve been going to spin classes forever. Before SoulCycle, I was spinning.

Are your eating habits healthy, as well?

Sometimes I’m really bad, but most of the time I try to stick to low-sugar, low-carbs, and lots of vegetables. Still, I love ice cream and burgers and fries. So I don’t deny myself anything. Being tall may help. It distributes the weight over more surface!

Favorite Meal?

Thanksgiving. I like all those carbs and the care. I don’t cook much, but I love the cooking of that.

Favorite Dessert?

Hot fudge sundae with walnuts.

What books have you been reading?

I’m in love with Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts, Bluets), who is a wonderful feminist writer. Also, Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Faraway Nearby.

What music have you been listening to?

Cardi B. I like to work out to her. Because I’ve got a 24-year-old daughter, I know some of these younger performers. But I still love and listen to Joni Mitchell constantly.

Favorite Vacation Spot?

Torch Lake in Northern Michigan. My parents had a cottage there, and I think it’s still my favorite spot. Recently, we’ve been renting a house in Sag Harbor for a week in the summer, and that’s pretty remarkable.

Favorite Movies?

Recently, I liked Three Billboards and Lady Bird. All-time: Gone with the Wind was lifechanging. I don’t know why, and not sure I’d still feel the same about it, but back then… Also, Sidney Lumet’s version of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Both films left me gutted; something changed in me after seeing them.




David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts Dave’s Gone By (davesgoneby.com) live on Facebook on Saturday mornings (facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz).


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PRIDE AND JOY: Entrepreneur Joy Mangano Celebrates New Book and Old Values

(Note: This article was first published in Long Island Woman magazine, May 2018)

The world may still be awaiting the invention of a better mousetrap, self-cleaning toaster, and 3-D food printer, but improved mops, coat hangers, and luggage wheels? Been done. And they’ve been done by Joy Mangano. The entrepreneur whose self-wringing floor mop sparked a multi-million dollar empire has lost none of her can-do optimism. If anything, thirty years of success through hard work and television has made her only more eager to share her story and, just as importantly, her advice to anyone struggling to bring an idea to fruition or simply persevere through a tough time.

Mangano did both when, as a divorced and struggling mother of three, she tired of cleaning filthy mops by hand and built her own solution. With financial help (and hindrances) from her dad and his fiancé, Mangano was able to make molds, and then mops, which sold well enough to get the attention of TV. Despite an initial setback, wherein a male QVC host bungled the product’s debut (yet still sold 500 of them), Mangano rebounded in a huge way to become a mainstay of home shopping. Millions of Piatto bakery boxes and huggable hangers later, the President of Ingenious Designs LLC and founder of the Joy Mangano Foundation remains one of the top sellers on HSN and an object lesson in David beating Goliath—that is, a lone woman with an idea and sense of fair play who conquered all the manufacturing obstacles, legal hassles, and outright fraud thrown in her way.

The leap from cult figure to mainstream icon came when director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) chose to semi-fictionalize Mangano’s biography in the 2015 film, Joy. Playing the protagonist was none other than Russell’s artistic muse, Jennifer Lawrence, who notched an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for her performance. Although the movie takes numerous dramatic liberties small and large (the real Mangano, 62, has three children, not two; and she doesn’t have any siblings, let alone a seethingly jealous half-sister), Mangano doesn’t mind the fictions. After all, Joy the movie is a Hollywood fairy tale, complete with Bradley Cooper as its prince-(mostly)-charming and Robert De Niro as its complicated villain. If some scenes deliberately eschew literal truth for melodrama, the overall effect is still Mangano-esque: stick to your core principles, never quit, and success is just around the corner.

To hammer that resourcefulness home even further, Joy the person has now penned a memoir. If anything, the book, co-written by Alex Tresniowski, treats Mangano’s life with a lighter touch and less gritty detail than the film—which is just how the author wants it. The point of Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life is not to rehash Mangano’s rise to riches but to turn each event in her herstory into a teachable moment. Nearly ever chapter begins with the next twist in her biography, quickly followed by what she learned from that setback and how fans could benefit from that example. “I wanted readers,” Mangano explains in our chat, “not only to say `Wow!’ but to transfer that touchpoint into their lives. I truly believe we are all alike. That’s why I hear so often, `my life has changed. I didn’t do this for 30 years, and now I’m finally doing it!’

“We all have ability,” she continues. “I know brilliant people, but I am not brilliant. And there are no `experts.’ You do not have to be good to get started in anything. You want to start a nursery school? You want to be the best nurse that America has to offer? You want to start a coffee shop or invent a product? I say that everybody has the ability, and you make your luck. You just have to get started and then keep putting one foot in front of the other. And you can’t stop, because if you do, 100 percent—nothing will happen. But if you don’t stop, your path may change.”

Mangano adds that the worst mistake a would-be inventor can make is simply not inventing. Being scared of failure. “As children we’ll build a bicycle ramp, and if we fall, we’ll build it better,” she explains. “We’ll build the swing hanging off the tree, and if it’s not strong enough, we’ll make it stronger. Children fail, but they just get back up and try again. As adults, we have a million reasons to talk ourselves out of things that seem a little beyond the envelope. We should not do that.”

Certainly, naysayers can claim that Mangano is a one-in-a-million combination of talent, gumption, and just plain luck, but the inventor of the fluorescent pet collar notes that a successful journey tends to be circuitous rather than a straight line to glory: “I began with a picture of `success’ in my mind, and the result is completely nothing like I started out thinking. But it put me on the road. I kept going and kept absorbing, no matter what was thrown my way. Therefore, I ended up in a different world, but it was the one I was meant to be on. The one I loved and was good at.”

Speaking of love, Mangano’s parents—portrayed so unflatteringly in the film and more sympathetically in the book—are still very much alive and, says Mangano, “proud of everything. My father, who is now 86 years old, focused on the fact that Robert De Niro was playing him. That’s all he thinks about!”

It is true that Mangano’s ex-husband remains a trusted friend and executive at her company, and that since her brand took off, she has had little time and energy for any further romantic entanglements. “I would have to invent more time in a day to include, with realistic caring and attention, another person in my life,” Mangano says. “I would love ten, twenty years down the line—being the age I am—to meet someone; that would be fabulous. But I will tell you that as a result of the movie and the book and the world I’m in, I can’t work fast enough. The velocity of what I do has increased so much. I manage thousands of people and am part of a major company, and I’m fortunate to love every aspect of what I do. But when you’re doing that, there just isn’t enough time in the day.”

There is always time, however, for family—especially since all three of Mangano’s children are in the business. Her son Robert, a Columbia Law School grad, ditched his associate slot at the uber-presitigious Cravath, Swaine & Moore to become Executive Vice President of Ingenious Designs. “At the law firm, he was working seven days a week, twenty hours a day—we didn’t see him for six years,” recalls Mangano. “So I started noodging him because I needed his brilliant mind. Eventually, his wife tells him, `You want to help people so much? Your mother needs help.’ And now he runs all my business strategy and retail roll out.” Christie Miranne, Mangano’s oldest daughter, left a public relations firm to work in IDL’s product development, while daughter Jackie serves as the company’s fashion expert. Even Mangano’s son-in-law is part of the team: “He was a producer for me before he married my daughter,” chuckles the entrepreneur-turned-matchmaker. “I won’t say I had a lot to do with that, but I did have something to do with it!”

For thirty years a specialist at creating handy items that make life easier, Mangano is nonetheless thinking bigger these days. Although she’s not ready to divulge specifics, the inventor of Forever Fragrant odor neutralizers and Clothes it All luggage has spent the last ten years developing a new product line that “will impact lives, universally, in such a positive way. I’m very excited because it will be one of the broadest things I’ve ever done.”

That said, she makes no apologies for championing the small triumphs. “There’s a cute little saying: you don’t have to re-invent the wheel,” she explains. “I don’t know if you’ve seen my luggage, but I re-invented the wheel. It took almost four years and many, many patents. It’s the most amazing luggage, with 20 percent more packing space. You know, 97 percent of all luggage damage is the wheels breaking off. But you can’t break these wheels! Still, I don’t just innovate for innovation’s sake. It has to be meaningful innovation that really matters. The customer is the most important person in my life, so I try to do the best quality at the best possible price. That probably takes me almost as long as inventing or designing. I can build luggage that costs $1,000, but when you can offer it for $99, that opens the universe to so many more people, which makes me so proud.”

Regarding the wide world of inventors bellying up to the “Shark Tank” crew with their own billion-dollar brainstorms, Mangano admits she rarely watches the program. “They asked me to be on it as a judge back when the movie was getting underway, and I chose not to be.” She regards with some dismay the show’s ethos that unless you’re willing to spend five years living on ramen and three hours of sleep, you’re not truly serious about your invention. “You don’t have to jump off a cliff!,” she contends. “You don’t have to mortgage your house or give up your career. If you’re an accountant, but you love surfing, and you want to open a surf shop one day, then be an accountant in a surf shop! Go into the arena. Start learning about what you don’t know, and wiggle your way in gradually to follow what you love.”

Long Islanders will be proud to know that East Meadow native Mangano still loves her hometown—loves it enough, in fact, to keep living here, even though she must regularly commute to Clearwater, Florida for her HSN hosting duties. “I grew up on Long Island, and raised my family here,” she recalls. “I took classes at Stony Brook and later took the Long Island Rail Road—it’s not that bad!—to a side job. And then I started my business on Long Island. The first place I went to hire people was the local church. And when they started, some of them were literally riding bicycles to come to work. I still have certain people with me from almost 30 years ago; now they’re driving beautiful cars. And when I moved my business ten years ago, I moved it only a couple of miles away in consideration of the people who work for me. I’m very conscious of loyalty: business, family, friends, so I’m thrilled. Long Island is home for me, and I don’t see that changing.”

Nor does Mangano see her lifestyle changing anytime soon—and why should it? “I’ve never been healthier,” she says. “I exercise and I’m conscious of healthy eating. But then again, as a young woman, I tried to do everything, every day, all the time. I was a box-checker, checking off every box. And now I look at these young girls who work for me. They walk in my office for a meeting; they look amazing, they’re totally prepared with a presentation. So I say to them, `What did you do this morning?’ And they say, `I started the presentation at five; at six o’clock, the kids got up. I got them dressed, I fed them. I took them—one to my mom’s, one to daycare—came in here, finished the presentation . . .’ So I’m like, `What do you do when you get home?’ `I’ll pick them up, and I’ll bring one to soccer, and I’ll feed them dinner, I’ll bathe them and . . .’ So I tell them—and this is the best advice I could give any young mom or young woman with family and a career trying to do it all: you can’t, and you don’t have to.”

What you do have to be is your best self; that’s what people respond to. Mangano recalls the time Gayle King told her, `Joy, you are not selling; you are informing me. You’re telling me everything I need to know about your product, so I can make the decision as to whether I want or need it.’ That made me feel really good. When I stand up onstage, it feels very organic. I’m their neighbor, I’m their best friend. If I go through an airport, people feel totally comfortable coming up to me, hugging me and kissing me and saying, `I watch you all the time, and I feel like you live next door to me!’ That’s a wonderful thing. But there’s work involved to get there, because I was there before there was a product. It’s not about achieving financial success; it’s about success at all different kinds of levels.”



More Mangano

Favorite Vacation Spot?
That’s an easy one for me: East Hampton. That’s where I used to take my children on vacation. My father had a boat out there, and I still go there for a week at a time.

Favorite Website to Surf?

It would be the fashion sites. I get very addicted to the Net-a-Portes and things like that.

What’s on Your Playlist?

Keith Urban—I design guitars with him, and I absolutely love him and think he’s amazing. Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, Zac Brown, and Neil Diamond. That’s probably who I listen to 99.9 percent of the time.

Favorite All-Time Book?

The Godfather, which shouldn’t surprise you.

Favorite Movie?

The Godfather, and equally, the movie Joy. Jennifer and I still have a beautiful relationship; we do a lot of philanthropic things together.

Favorite Meal?

Pasta and arugula salad, especially at [my restaurant] Jema in Huntington. They make the best Long Island duck that you will ever eat.

Favorite TV Shows?

I watch very little TV, but when I put it on, it’s HSN and QVC, because that’s my business. But I also love M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Laverne and Shirley, Will and Grace. I love comedy.



David Lefkowitz is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider (TotalTheater.com) and hosts the long-running show, Dave’s Gone By, which recently began videostreaming live at http://www.davesgoneby.com.


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