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)

BO DEREK (actress, March 2019)

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)

JULIE FLANDERS (actress & musician, Jan. 1995)


JANE FONDA (actress, March 2020)


JOE FRANKLIN (entertainer, May 1989)


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)

STEVE GUTTENBERG (actor, April 1991)


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)

ANNIE POTTS (actress, Dec. 2019)


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)

INDEX – Feature Stories: Interviews & Profiles: https://wp.me/pzvIo-ak

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by David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published in Long Island Woman magazine, March 2020.)

Does Jane Fonda contradict herself? Very well, she contradicts herself. After all, this is an actress who began her career with a Tony-winning turn on Broadway but then gained stardom playing hookers and babes in such films as Walk on the Wild Side, Circle of Love, and Barbarella. This is also a woman who championed exercise as the best way to stave off aging but later succumbed to Hollywood’s plastic-surgery siren call. A woman who bought into her famous dad’s patriotic values and yet committed diplomatic acts that bordered on treason. A woman who became a feminist symbol but was frequently and willingly caught in the spell of powerful men. Oh, and a woman who renounced the trappings of L.A. and materialism only to marry billionaire mogul Ted Turner. 

She is also a woman who has made a career—in the notoriously amnesic entertainment industry—last six full decades and counting. If you didn’t know Jane Fonda as the vivacious newlywed smooching Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park, you knew her as the scarified prostitute in Klute. You cried when she interacted with papa Henry in On Golden Pond and laughed watching her gain office empowerment in 9 to 5. And if you missed her arc on The Newsroom, surely you’ve seen her camaraderie with Lily Tomlin on Grace and Frankie, now airing its sixth season (and shooting its seventh) on Netflix.

Shapeshifting plus longevity equals an endlessly fascinating personality, one that Fonda herself delved into in her 2005 memoir, My Life So Far and that HBO recounted in its recent documentary, Jane Fonda: A Life in Five Acts. Having reached the age of 82, the actress is readier than ever to offer frank assessments of her life choices, career cul-de-sacs, and political stances. She even tours occasionally, doing live Q&A/life-overview concerts (though a December 2019 stint at Westbury’s NYCB Theater was canceled without explanation). Fonda has taken hits, sometimes deservedly, for thoughtless public gestures, but her five arrests for protesting climate change attest to a decades-long yearning to make her celebrity voice count for something.

To be sure, she knows well the double standard often placed on women who speak their minds versus men who do the same. As she notes in her book, when husband Turner opined, the press would call him passionate. When she’d do it, she was branded as “strident and shrill”—as evidenced by a Life Magazine article about her that was titled “Non-Stop Activist: Nag, Nag Nag.” Of course, to modern eyes, that sounds more like a badge of honor than a knock.

“I’m an open-upper,” she told Long Island Woman in our late autumn conversation. “I’ve done a lot of the public speaking by now, and it tends to be a lot of fun—often revelatory. I think it’s fair to say the audiences always leave having had a very good time and maybe having learned a few things. I try to be helpful; I think being honest is being helpful. I mean, why talk about yourself if you’re not gonna open up and be real? All of us women have had the same struggle, the same challenges—and many men, as well. So you have to tell the truth.”

Even those who see hypocrisy in Fonda’s actions—be it promoting peace by riding a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun or having work done despite being the icon of video exercise—will likely be disarmed by her frankness and confessional style. She has long apologized for the horrid optics of the Hanoi Jane photo, and in 2018 she told Vanity Fair that, like it or not, plastic surgery gave her “a decade more to survive in the business” of Hollywood. To this, she added, “I have a fake hip and a fake knee and a fake thumb. Just call me the Bionic Woman!” 

Asked by Long Island Woman what she has learned about herself by doing the documentary and speaking tours, Fonda deadpans, “Nothing. When I wrote my memoirs, that was where I really uncovered things about myself that I hadn’t realized. I had turned 60 and was looking at my last act, so I spent time studying the past.”

In directing her film about Fonda, Susan Lacy chose to partition the actress’s life into five acts—four of them marked by her being under the sway of a powerful man, be it father Henry Fonda or ex-husbands Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, and mogul Ted Turner. But now that she’s in her most independent era, Fonda chafes at the movie’s structure. “Personally, I divide my life into three acts: The first 30 years, the second 30 years, and the last 30 years. I couldn’t know how to live my last 30 years if I hadn’t known what I had done in the first 30 years. So I spent five years researching my life, my parents, my grandparents. And that process taught me a great deal. So when it came time to do the documentary or the speaking, no, I’m not learning during that time. I’m teaching.”

As the movie makes clear, for all her manning of political and feminist barricades, Fonda often defined herself in terms of powerful men: pleasing an unreachable dad, fitting into Vadim’s hedonistic lifestyle, pouring her time and money into Hayden’s campaigning, and being swept off her feet by Turner’s bonhomie. Yet whether by Lacy’s conception or Fonda’s own, the last segment is about the actress alone. “Because of the work I did to write my book,” Fonda says, “I certainly understand myself better at this age. I have had two other important relationships [since her divorce from Turner], but I realize that’s no longer for me. I have a whole lot more time to devote to other things now that I’m not in a relationship and know that I never will be in a relationship again with a man.

I have lots of relationships but they’re not romantic, they’re friendships.”

No question, Fonda is entitled to have complicated feelings about the male-female dynamic. Her mother, a victim of sexual abuse, committed suicide when Fonda was 12, and the actress herself experienced both childhood sexual trauma and rape as an adult. For her, the “Woke” era is long overdue, and she offers a snarky laugh when I suggest that the era has become so sensitive to harassment, men must be super-careful in their interactions with women. “Super-careful?,” she chortles, “No, men just have to behave like decent human beings. If that means being super-careful, that’s very interesting because it says a lot about men. Hopefully, the `Time’s Up’/`Me Too’ movement will help men regain their humanity and realize that they’re not entitled to treat women however they want. More women are speaking up—which helps other people to realize how pervasive sexism—including violent sexual assault—is, and that’s all to the good.

We are human beings together on this planet, and we have to respect each other. The movements are a good, important step forward in the journey to that goal.”

It is this idea of looking backward and inward, of figuring out how you arrived where you are and how best to get wherever you might be going, that seems to be most crucial to Fonda’s psyche these days. As she told NPR, “You don’t become wise by having a lot of experience; you become wise by reflecting deeply on the experiences that you’ve had.”

Put another way, having newly embraced Christianity and her own efficacy as a woman, Fonda ends her 2005 autobiography by owning and appreciating, “Every earned line on my skin and scar on my heart . . . I can affirm every imperfection as my share of our mutual, flawed, fragile humanity.”

Those who have seen the HBO documentary know that the actress is not above giving herself the occasional pep talk, addressing herself by her last name and dispensing no-nonsense self-recommendations. It is what she does when I ask what she would tell her 20-year-old self if given the opportunity to go back and advise young Jane. “It’s gonna be a tough road, Fonda!” comes the reply. “Keep your head up and your eyes open, and know that if you are intentional about getting better and braver and stronger, then you can. So don’t give up.”



David Lefkowitz hosts the Dave’s Gone By show Saturday mornings live on Facebook (facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz). He is co-author of musical comedy Shalom Dammit!



This one was a grind, not because Fonda was in any way difficult, but I had only 10 minutes with her on the telephone, of which the first minute was introduction and two other minutes were fairly specific about her upcoming gig at Westbury—which was canceled a week later. In other words, my job was to spin 1500 words out of seven minutes. Eat your heart out, Cameron Crowe.

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Exclusive Interview with ANNIE POTTS:

Design for Living: Sheldon’s Meemaw on Learning to Walk . . . and Stand Up

(c) 2019 by David Lefkowitz. This article was first published in Long Island Woman magazine, Dec. 2019.)

The South is nothing if not complicated. A veneer of gentility can hide dark undercurrents and steely resolves. As a girl born in Tennessee and growing up in Kentucky, Annie Potts experienced the full range of Southernness, which means her memories are tinged with both fondness and disbelief, alongside an appreciation for telling stories and an ability to power through the worst of times.

Of course, current times could not be better for the diminutive star, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for her film debut in 1978’s Corvette Summer, became a household name thanks to her roles as Mary Jo Shively on TV’s Designing Women and grouchy receptionist Janine Melnitz in Ghostbusters, and retains her place in popular comedy by playing Meemaw on Young Sheldon, the sequel to The Big Bang Theory that is now in its third of at least four seasons. She’s also reaching a whole new generation—at least vocally—as Bo Peep, a character absent from Toy Story 3 but very much central to the recent box-office smash, Toy Story 4. It doesn’t hurt that, in keeping with the times, Bo is, as Potts told MTV News, a character who has shifted from a Damsel in Distress to “a Dame in Charge.”

With her full schedule, three sons, and two-decade marriage to fourth husband, television director James Hayman, Potts is grateful to be charging ahead in her career, noting in our late-summer conversation that—as happens for many ingenues-turned-character actresses, “30 to 40 was was pretty good. 50-to-60 was fallow. I think it’s getting a little better, but there still aren’t as many roles for women. And, of course, they don’t pay equally.” Which is why, at 66, Potts is glad to be a Meemaw: “Although I don’t have any grandchildren, I’m certainly of an age where I could have them. And what else would I play? I’m just thrilled to be working. I’m having a pretty fantastic couple of years here, which I don’t think can be said of a lot of my peers. But I’m as busy as I can be right now!”

Lucky for her, Potts has been preparing for a wide range of roles since her happy years at Stephens College, a private, all-women’s institution in Missouri. “That school had, and has, the oldest master-apprentice program in the country,” she explains. “Professional actors come in to work with the women. So I got to work with wonderful actors and actresses early on. I don’t remember any classes at all; I just remember being onstage. But they had and still have a fantastic program for theater. I’ve been forever grateful for it. They recognized me and gave me a lot of opportunities there.”

Potts admits she was “the golden girl in college who snagged all the great roles,” but she was blindsided, literally, by what came next. “Right after I graduated, I was in a catastrophic car accident. Drunk drivers hit me, and I was thrown from the car, which broke every bone below my waist but one. I very nearly lost my life. I didn’t know for quite awhile if I would ever be able to walk again well enough to be an actor. I mean, it’s not a desk job; you gotta be able to move.

“So I didn’t have the usual, `Oh, God, if I’m not a star by the time I’m 30, I’m gonna give it up’ feeling,” chuckles Potts. “It was more, `Oh, my God. If I can make it out of this, nothing’s gonna stop me!’ But tragic as it was and continues to be, it made me. It steeled me to all of it, really. I was more determined than ever. I loved acting so much that quitting was never an option for me. I didn’t wanna do anything else.”

Lest readers think Potts’s pain is all past history, the unfortunate truth is that the actress will always suffer after-effects of the calamity. “I’ve had 19 surgeries now,” she says, “and I probably have more in store. It’s a long story—I don’t know if your magazine is big enough! It’s just that everything was obliterated. In the beginning they were just trying to save my life, so there were things they did to put me back together that they had to redo later. I had my knee replaced, but the knee replacement wasn’t good. Everything was crooked!” Potts laughs and draws a breath. “It’s been…it’s been. It’s been an interesting journey with my broken bones.”

And yet the SAG and Emmy-nominated actress was able to draw on that Southern resolve five years ago when she appeared on Broadway in Pippin—on a trapeze. “Of course, I was up there with very wonderful athletes from Cirque du Soleil,” she acknowledges. “Still, at 62 to get up on a trapeze with no net and no harness and 17 broken bones—I have to say, that was ballsy. And, oh my God, it was the most fun.”

Echoing the sentiments of many performers, Potts feels that her best, most satisfying work, has been onstage: “Sometimes when I’m in people’s living rooms or on the big screen, I don’t know who I’m connecting to. But when you’re in the theater, you feel connected to the 800-900 people who are there. You pick up that energy from them with an alchemy that you just can’t make up anyplace else.”

That said, while acknowledging that Designing Women took on big issues and that, if rumors of a revamp are true, “it would be very nice to have those women’s voices back,” Potts seems proudest of her role in the television drama series, Any Day Now, which followed a bi-racial friendship in the 1960s and twenty years later. “Some episodes were spectacularly written,” Potts kvells. “And that character was probably the closest to myself of any I’ve played. She was allowed to carry out emotional tasks that were complicated and interesting. I loved it.”

Certainly, the mixed blessing of growing up in the pre-integrated South helped Potts understand what it means to challenge injustice but also be forced to live within its parameters. “I was born in 1952, so I remember segregation vividly,” says the actress. “My father was from North Carolina. So every summer we’d drive down to North Carolina from Kentucky, and we usually took our cook with us who lived with us on the farm. Of course, at that time, the South was totally Jim Crow. But when I was really little—three or so—I didn’t understand. It was a 16-hour drive, so my father would get us up at three in the morning and put us in the car. When we took our maid with us, we couldn’t stop because there wasn’t a hotel that would have her. There wasn’t even a place where we could eat. We’d stop at a diner, and my father would go in and try to make an arrangement if they were up to it, and they’d let her through the kitchen. But I remember very well that the bathrooms were segregated. When we’d stop for gas, there’d be Men, Women, and Colored. And that was when it was worded in a nice way; there was worse. And it made an enormous impression on me.”

Although the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 mandated that Southern states desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” it wasn’t until she was in seventh grade that Potts’s school paid attention. “I remember my parents called us to the table to say, `Well, you know, you’re gonna be going to school with the Coloreds. Are you okay with that?’ And kids always are. They’re so far into the future. So we were like, `Sure. That’s fine.’

“Still,” adds Potts, “I can’t believe I actually lived through that in my lifetime. And I also can hardly believe what we’re living through now—because that was so long ago, and I kinda believed we were done. Or, at least, on a righteous path forward. I don’t think there’s any doubt our President is a racist. He’s made it very clear. He’s the chief of the country, and his words have struck a chord with a lot of people—like that shooter in El Paso. So we’re at a time in our country when you have to stand up and say, `This is wrong. This has got to stop.’ There are children being detained, people being killed. If this many people were being killed by Muslims or Al Qaeda, they would have turned the country upside down, but instead, they’re just letting it happen. So you have to stand up.”

That is just what Powell Potts did on one particular occasion that has forever left its mark on his daughter’s conscience. “In one of our travels to the Carolinas when I was a kid,” she recalls, “we were with our housekeeper. My father had arranged for her to eat in the kitchen of this little diner. Now, we had been traveling a long time and waiting to eat because there weren’t a lot of places that would serve. And it was important to my father that our housekeeper be able to have a meal.

“So we stopped, and we were starving and cranky. The housekeeper was taken into the kitchen in the back door. Us kids were sitting in the diner with our mother. We ordered but hadn’t been there very long. Then we saw the housekeeper coming around the front and going to the car with her head in her hands. She clearly was crying. My father left the table to go out and talk to her for a minute in the car. Then he came back in. Now, my father was a gentle person and didn’t have a temper. But this time he was furious in a way that I’d never seen him before. He came through the door like Rock Hudson in Giant saying, `Come on. We’re leaving!’, just as they were putting our food down. Us little girls looked at each other and were like, `We’re hungry, daddy!’ But he just said, `We don’t give out business to places like THIS.’ He yanked us all out of there.

“We drove for a few hundred more miles in utter silence except for the housekeeper sobbing. I never heard what was said or what went down, but I knew that it was big and that it was hurtful. I couldn’t understand how anybody could be mean to her. She was beloved of me and vice versa. I remember every bit of that like it was yesterday.”

If experiences like that led the adult Annie Potts be politically outspoken, they also nourished her need to share meaningful narratives. “We are a region of storytellers,” she explains. “And that was not lost on me as a child. My parents and sisters were great at it.  A lot of importance was given over to being able to tell a good story. And it was best if you could make it funny. If there were dramatic points, it was good to make those, too. So that was baked into the cake early on.”

Potts adds that the South’s patriarchal social structure influenced her, too—notably the women who muscled past it. “A lot of women down there made an impression on me,” the actress notes. “Everyday women, and people of color, people like Ann Richards. Writers. Everybody. I used to be embarrassed to be where I was from, but that was when I was young and didn’t understand quite the fullness of what my upbringing has given me. I was raised on an isolated little farm, nine miles out of town, in Kentucky. So we had imaginations and used them. And I’ve been employing them ever since.”

Asked if she could ever imagine she’d be married for a fourth time, Potts admits that had she not had a young child in tow, she might have made a different choice, “but it seemed like the right thing to do. And it was the right thing to do. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful family life together for a long time. In fact, we’ve been  apart for seven years now.”

Huh? “He produces and directs NCIS: New Orleans, so he lives in New Orleans. And his hours are impossible: he works 16 hours a day and most weekends. 

I joined him for a year, but then I got Sheldon and came back. And I was also in New York for a year doing Pippin, so the last time we actually lived together was seven years ago. But we have a long history of supporting each other’s work. And we do have epic vacations when we’re on hiatus and take our kids with us when we can. So maybe it’s that `opposites’ thing, or the Southern girl/Jewish boy thing—like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But whatever it is, it’s working.”





It’s an island in the Caribbean where I’ve been going for thirty years: Anguilla.


Stephen Sondheim’s “No One is Alone” (from Into the Woods)


There are so many. Dodsworth with Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor. Apollo 13, Gladiator, The Godfather. I also love a rom-com.


None at all! No, that’s not true. Whatever I can make look good on top of my Pilates outfit. Just layers on top of that.


Any meal with my family.


Key lime pie. Or peach cobbler.


The sweetest, loveliest, smartest, kindest, and most fantastic actor. He’s all of that.


Everything I remember about him is just how unbelievably sweet he was. 


Bill is . . . special. I adore him, but he’s a handful. He’s like a firefly before he perches long enough to do his magic. Or an abstract painting. A very abstract painting.


Honey, I haven’t been listening to anything except CNN and NBC! I have to see if we’re going to have a country, a planet, that is going to support living human beings in the future. If we can go forward with kindness and generosity.


The Muller Report!



David Lefkowitz hosts the Dave’s Gone By show Saturday mornings live on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz). He also co-authored the upcoming comedy, Shalom Dammit! An Evening with Rabbi Sol Solomon.


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KATEY SAGAL: Marriage, Children, and Muscling Through

by David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published in the September 2019 edition of Long Island Woman magazine)

Not every actress is sufficiently versatile to play a foulmouthed housewife, school nurse, one-eyed space pilot, Chicago cop, motorcycle mama, and psycho girlfriend. Yet the woman who has played all of those roles and more never wanted to be an actress in the first place. Music came first for Katey Sagal, and it was only at her father’s prodding that she found the career that has kept her on small screens for more than 30 years. 

After debuting as a hard-bitten Chicago journalist and colleague of Mary Tyler Moore in the one-season flop, Mary, Sagal, with high hair and loud prints, became the iconic Peg Bundy in Married with Children, a show whose defiant crudeness, however maligned in some corners, forever changed the boundaries of American sitcoms. After eleven seasons of Bundy family dysfunction, Sagal would go on to play such other strong-willed wives and moms as the solid, responsible nurse in 8 Simple Rules and the manipulative matriarch in Sons of Anarchy. Her other roles have included a veteran police officer in Superior Donuts, a mentally unstable girlfriend on Showtime’s still-running Shameless,

and, of course, the voice of monocular Leela, captain of the Planet Express, on Futurama.

In other words, life could hardly be going better for the 65-year-old Catherine Louise Sagal, who is 15 years into a happy third marriage and still a busy mom raising her daughter, Esmé, born via surrogacy in 2007. With ex-husband Jack White (a musician but not the White Stripes guy), Sagal has also raised a daughter, Sarah Grace, 25, and son, Jackson, 24, both performers. So whether it’s playing a mother on TV or being one in real life, Katey Sagal appreciates the bonds of family life.

“When I first met my wonderful husband Kurt [Sutter],” Sagal tells Long Island Woman, “I said to him, `You know, I have about five minutes left of fertility. So if you’re serious and thinking about kids, you’d better decide now.’ He spent about five years step-parenting when we realized we wanted to have one together. But by this point, I was in my fifties and not able to carry. I’d also had an early hysterectomy. So we decided to either adopt or go the surrogate route. We looked at both at the same time thinking we’d do whatever the universe planned or desired.”

Surrogacy turned out to be the “much easier” option. Though more expensive, for working mom Sagal it was a no-brainer. “I find my life is more fulfilling and better,” she says, “and I’m a better parent if I’m also doing what I love.” That said, the actress credits “a village of people” who have helped with all three kids. “That’s the only way I could have done it,” she notes. “Having children is fantastic, but it’s a lot more than people bargain for.”

The daughter of film and television director Boris Sagal and TV writer and producer Sara Zwilling (who were introduced to each other by Sagal’s godfather, Norman Lear), Sagal was not surprised when 23 and Me told her she was “50 percent Ashkenazic Jew” from her Russian-born dad’s line, alongside other French and German ancestry. The shocker? “I’m Amish!” she laughs. “Not just Amish but Amish royalty—from a family called the Hochstetlers that traces back eight generations. They were in the very hierarchy of Amish settlers before they came over.”

Not exactly the background you’d expect for a punk-era musician who spent fifteen years in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction. Though she didn’t start until her late teens, young Sagal did become accustomed to seeing the Hollywood lifestyle all around her. For example, at 12, she befriended neighbor Lorna Luft, so it was no biggie to see the girl’s mom, Judy Garland, sleeping until noon and surrounded by a medley of prescription medications on her nightstand.

By high school, Sagal herself—like a lot of normal high schoolers, she notes—was dabbling with booze and substances. It was when she dove further into the music business that experimentation became addiction. “I don’t know know if I was alcoholic from the jump or just became alcoholic,” she says. “I was just not in control of that part of my life.”

There were extenuating factors, however. Sagal’s mother, who battled mental illness, died of heart disease when Katey was just 21. Five years later, father Boris, while filming the miniseries World War III, was killed when he accidentally walked into whirring helicopter blades. As recounted in her autobiography, Grace Notes: My Recollections, Sagal had trouble coping with losing both parents before her mid-twenties, and her addictions escalated.

Rather than the hitting-bottom wake-up calls or interventions that rescue some addicts, salvation came slowly for Sagal. “It was a long process,” she admits. “It took a couple of years to convince myself that I could manage myself and control my drinking. At the same time, I was already working on the Mary show. TV was a new world for me, and I was not sober during that experience. I’d been living the night life of a musician, and all of a sudden, I had to show up on the set at seven in the morning! It just became clear to me that I had a problem and that things wouldn’t go well.

“It was after that job,” continues Sagal, “that I got clean and sober. It took me a minute of thinking `maybe I can handle this.’ And by the time Married with Children came along, I was two months sober. If you know anything about early sobriety, you know it’s not that easy. But it all came together at one time: this great part of my life and the sober part of my life. And I’ve been clean and sober since 1986. I stopped getting in my own way.”

She’s also grateful to be healthy, considering her mom’s ailments. “She had heart disease from the time she was 35 died at 47,” says Sagal. “But my sisters and brothers believe that was a genetic flaw, just a quirk, and that we have not carried that with us. Knock wood. In terms of her depression and what she went through, I’m not prone to that. I had some years of self-destruction, but would I say that’s mental illness? No. I’m just prone to big emotions.”

Staying on an even keel was especially important during the saddest time in Sagal’s adulthood: when her first daughter with Jack White was stillborn at seven months. The private tragedy was exacerbated by the weeks on Married with Children that Peg, like Katey, was visibly pregnant. Says Sagal, “Having a stillborn child was really, really hard. And honestly, being in public with it all was secondary to what I was going through. I feel like I kind of blanked out.” Sagal was pleased with the way the writers handled the fictional pregnancy—it was all just a dream—but returning to the show was daunting. “I would go to work and just go home. It was a big loss, and I attended group therapy for it.

“Eventually,” she sighs, “I had to look at it as just an act of God. There was no physical reason for that baby to not have made it. I finally got to a place where I realized that little soul had done her work and was gone. It was kind of a Buddhist thing for me.” Sagal’s song, “Can’t Hurry the Harvest,” from her 1994 album “Well,” deals with the aftermath of that tragedy.

Not surprisingly, Sagal was “paranoid and terrified” when she and White tried again. “When I got pregnant [with Sarah], i would go to the doctor almost every day,” she recalls. “Finally, they put me in the hospital and made me sit there and wait—which was actually a great relief to me. But, you know, things happen in life, and we muscle through. So those were muscle-through times for me.”

That kind of toughness also came in handy early in Sagal’s career, when her first love, music, wasn’t panning out financially. Even though she hadn’t done much acting except in high school shows and “six months of drama school my dad strong-armed me into,” as she put it in Grace Notes, she appeared in a musical written by her friend. “It was in a 99-seat theater in L.A.,” she remembers, “and I was approached by an agent who asked if I wanted to act seriously. I was like, `Well, I don’t know,’ but I needed to say `yes’ to anything because I didn’t want to live hand-to-mouth always. So I signed on, and within six months, I got a big theatrical production—a rock opera called The Beautiful Lady. I won a local award for it, and casting people from CBS came and asked me to read for a sitcom—which I thought was crazy because the play was very dramatic. It was about Russian poets before the revolution! But I went in, and I got the job on the Mary show.

“Really, I had no idea what I was doing,” Sagal laughs. “But soon after, Married with Children happened, and it took me about five years on that show before I went, `Oh, I can do this!’ I always felt, `this could go away; I’d better keep my real gig: being a singer.’ But eventually, I learned on the job.”

That job included warbling with such notables as Bette Midler (“She was so disciplined and theater based. I’ve never been with anybody who worked that hard, ever.”) and Bob Dylan. Alas, she merely rehearsed with the latter. “I still put that on my resume,” she notes, “because it was one of the most exciting, exceptional experiences of my life. I’m not a starstruck person, but I was very starstruck. I rehearsed with him for two or three months before he fired me and half the band.

“He didn’t speak much,” recollects Sagal, “and that was a little bit scary. After rehearsals, we’d all get together in the back room, the whole band, all the singers. He’d have recorded the rehearsal, and then he’d play it back while we were all sitting there. If you made a mistake, he wouldn’t say anything, but he’d look at you. And when he did that to me, I wanted to sink into my shoes. It was an intimidating look.”

Much friendlier was Sagal’s pal during her half-year sojourn at the California Institute of the Arts, Paul Reubens—a would-be comedian the world would soon come to love as Pee-wee Herman. “He was so sweet,” Sagal remembers. “And he’s still so lovely and thoughtful. He sends birthday and Christmas cards to me and my family every year. And back in college, his dorm room looked like Pee-wee’s Playhouse! He was very into decorating and kitsch, so it was a fun place to go hang out. In acting school, my favorite thing to do was sneak off to the music room at night. Paul would come with me, and he’d just sit there and listen while I’d play the piano and sing songs.”

Also appreciating her music—and her—back in the day was KISS legend Gene Simmons. “I was working in a restaurant in Los Angeles called The Great American Food & Beverage Company,” Sagal explains. “In order to work there, you had to have a talent—sing, juggle, play guitar. And thank God I could perform because I was a terrible waitress! The worst! I had no tolerance for anybody. But I made really good tips because I could sing to people.

“So one time,” continues Sagal, “Gene and KISS, the whole band, came in. I sang them a song, one thing led to another, and I’m hanging out with Gene, even taking him to band practice. Turned out, he’d gone to college with one of the guys in my band. Before I knew it, Gene took us to Casablanca Records, and we got signed. Gene was really instrumental in getting some stuff going for me. He was really great, and I was very smitten with him. We hung for a little bit.”

Another hunky alumnus during Sagal’s brief tenure at Cal Arts: David Hasselhoff. “I didn’t know him that well, but he was very green and wide-eyed, midwestern and enthusiastic. I grew up in L.A., and my parents were in show business, so I had sort of an understanding of what it was. It’s a hard job, hardworking and not really glamorous.”

Sagal chalks up her career longevity, as well as the success of her marriage to Sons of Anarchy writer-producer Kurt Sutter, to simple maturity. “My first marriage was a starter marriage; I was 22. I loved him, but I was way too young to get married. I don’t think anybody in their early 20s is suited to get married! My second marriage was a baby-making marriage. We were put together to have these wonderful children, Sarah and Jackson. My third marriage works because we’re both self-actualized and well-grounded human beings who just wanted to be together.”

Concludes Sagal, “They say when you lose your parents young, or whenever you lose your parents, is when you actually grow up. I lost my mother and father, and then I crashed and burned for about five years. But once I got my feet back under me, I’ve always been very responsible and mature for my age. Confronting mortality at a younger age gives you anxiety and also a great appreciation for the moment. Not that I walk around happy all the time, but I do have a strong awareness of time. The older I get, I just know that things are finite. Life is precious. I’m always amazed that not everybody knows that.”




When Santa Claus came through the chimney on the Christmas show.


Meet the Beatles.


“Can’t Hurry the Harvest.”




There’s this place that makes banana cake and Earl Grey tea.

Florence, Italy or Big Island in Hawaii.


I did a couple of good episodes of The Shield.


All these Israeli shows! Shtisel is a family drama in the Chassidic community. I’m not a practicing Jewish person, but I was fascinated. Also Hostages is really great.


Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.


My kids turn me on to music that I listen to with them. Also the Beach Boys, old Tom Petty. I really like playing The Black Keys while I’m cooking. I just like good songwriting.



David Lefkowitz hosts the Dave’s Gone By show Saturday mornings live on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/davesgoneby). He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider theater journal and edits TotalTheater.com.



I was impressed at how candid and down-to-earth Katey Sagal came across in our phone interview. I think I got that across in the article.

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CHAKA KHAN: A Journey from Something Good to Happiness

(c)2019 by David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of Long Island Woman magazine.)

Not many people in this world have their name become a song lyric, an invocation, and a meme all in one. But the moment you saw this month’s front cover, I’ll bet this went through your head:

Chaka, Chaka, Chaka, Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan, let me rock you

Let me rock you, Chaka Khan.

That’s because Yvette Marie Stevens, later to be known as “Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan, has been rocking since the early 1970s and continues touring to this day. In fact, not only is she bringing her patented mix of soul, funk, R&B, disco, and pop to Westbury’s NYCB Theater on Friday, June 28, but after a 12-year drought, she has released a new album, Hello Happiness. It’s a dance-oriented collection, leaning heavily on the talents of producer Switch (sic) who has worked with Beyoncé, Santigold, and M.I.A.

Reviews have been mixed, with the UK Guardian lauding the “consistently impressive” collection’s “seven paeans to the consoling powers of love and music,” while the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot complained that only “Too Hot” and the “hip-shaking” “Sugar” pull the songstress out of an over-produced swirl that too often pushes her into the background.

Still, for fans of Khan’s early band, Rufus (“Sweet Thing,” “You Got the Love,” and the forever-great “Tell Me Something Good”), and those of her solo smashes (“I Feel for You,” “I’m Every Woman”), Chaka being back in a studio and on the road is an opportunity to catch a legendary diva still giving her all. For Khan, it’s a way to put a lot of messy years behind her and concentrate on being a healthier person, a businesswoman, and an artist.

Penned with Tonya Bolding, Khan’s 2003 autobiography, Through the Fire, is an honest, if somewhat cursory, overview of the singer’s peaks and valleys, both personal and professional. She quotes reviews of concert performances and press interviews that were so drug-addled, she could barely get through them. She also recalls pinballing between the men who became the husbands in her two troubled marriages and the difficulties of being a pop star and single mother, tussling with the Warner Brothers label over royalties and creative control, and joining a Purification Program to purge the underlying feeling that, “I never had a lot of love for myself.” In fact, sobriety wouldn’t arrive until a rehab stint in 2016, and Fire was written three years before her son, Damien Holland, was accused of murder. (Later acquitted but forced to pay $1.3 million in a civil suit, Holland then experienced further brushes with the law and struggles with substances. “Prayers for my son,” Khan tweeted in 2018, “as he is embarking on his new and positive journey.”)

Topics stay mostly positive when Khan and I chat by phone in early spring, though the singer does display her well-documented “get to the point” attitude. She can be abrupt but steers clear of rudeness. When I offer some details about the interview and this publication’s readership, she interrupts to remind me that she’s done a zillion of these and that, “I’m in Tokyo, so let’s try and get this while I’m still awake. First question.” Somehow, the honesty—and the chuckle that often punctuates her dialogue—takes the edge off. And besides, she is a world-famous diva on an international tour so, yes, I laugh back, “let’s get right to it!”

Twelve years can be an eon in the music business. You’ve been working on new music the whole time, but you chose now to release a new record. What was that impetus?

I’m not obligated to any [record] label. I just recorded and put stuff out when I felt it was ready to be done. Now, mind you, the past few years, I wasn’t doing nothing. I was touring a great deal, feeding the hungry. All manner of things. I don’t just make albums and cds; my life is very full. But I got together with Switch, and we decided this would be a good thing to do. Simple as that.

So in making the songs, did you sit down with a pen and paper? Compose at a keyboard? Create the song almost from scratch in the studio? 

All of that and more. Or actually, less. This is one of the easiest musical undertakings that I’ve done in a long, long, time. Because I did it with a deejay. So he had tracks already prepared. I set out with a pad and pencils in the studio, got the words, put `em down, then he mixed them. It was a very freestyle way of doing music, and I really enjoyed it.

So is it better or worse to be in the post-mega-label era?

It’s different. I am ready to go along with whatever is happening. As a free agent, I’m able to happily live my life and make music and do multiple things, as well. In fact, I like it the way it is right now, much more than I did before.

But what about trying to reach a younger demographic with your music. Without a Warner Brothers or Sony, has that grown much tougher?

The people that love me as an artist or an individual or whatever have nothing to do with labels, and that’s a beautiful thing. I can go straight to my audience without the middle people. That makes it a much more joyous experience. And because of the web, we now have a whole new way of communicating, which makes it easier.

What about touring? That can’t be easier at 65 than it was when you were 25.

It is easier because I’m working smarter, not harder. You see what I mean? I’m picking my battles. I’m picking my gigs, and where I go, when I wanna be there, how much I make, how long I’m gonna tour at any given time. It’s a lot more fulfilling to do it this way.

It’s been said that one reason you waited so long to release new music was that you were really rocked by your friend Prince’s death.

Whoever said it rocked me so much? I think I have a really healthy understanding of life and death. They’re both part of life. I know that we’re not here forever. And I don’t see death as the end; I see it as another beginning—to another part of life. So I don’t take it as hard as most people do. Prince’s death wasn’t the only death that made me evaluate my life and career. There were deaths before his that had done the same—I just hadn’t shared that with anybody.

What really impressed me about Prince’s death is that I was with him often, and I had no idea. That’s what really hit me the hardest with him. I had no idea he was in the shape that he was in.

Well, all those years when you were wildly abusing substances, did you also try to hide your true condition? Or even the more recent rehab for opioid issues that you and your sister attended?

I was doing what a doctor told me to do, okay? He told me to go to a pain specialist.

At this point, Khan’s trusty assistant interrupts the conversation, to which Khan adds: I don’t really want to discuss that. I’ve talked enough about that.  

So….are you still a vegan?

Sometimes, sometimes not. I listen to my body and am in tune with it. Whatever it tells me to do, I do. If it says, “Lay off this,” I lay off. I fast a lot, and I haven’t had diabetes for a very long time.

Your daughter, Milini, is a musician in her own right. What advice did you give her, if any, based on your experience in the business?

Milini started working on gigs back with Rufus—taking my place, my part, all over the world. She wanted advice about everything, and I gave it to her. I don’t offer up stuff; I just wait till she needs it. She’ll be offered something and ask what it is, and I’ll give her my take on it. But I think it’s best that she make her own decisions.

Speaking of decision-making, in the old days the record label, rather than the artist, would decide which cuts were released as singles and promoted. Are there songs that weren’t chart-toppers that you wish were as big as “Tell Me Something Good” (which you once called “one of the songs I can’t leave out of my show unless I want to get jumped”) and “Ain’t Nobody“?

That has happened all the time since the beginning of my career. I’ve never been able to pick what is a so-called “hit,” or what people would like. For instance, when I was with Rufus, “Papillon,” “Earth Song,” “Egyptian Song.” “Some Love,” and “What am I Missing?” (which my brother and I wrote). There’s lots of songs I’d love to have seen get more airplay. But when I was recording them, I was with a label. So they got to pick what was released.

Your collaborative friendships with Stevie Wonder and Prince are pretty well documented, but please tell us about some other musical relationships you’ve had. For example, Miles Davis?

What I can tell you about Miles is that I loved him very deeply. We were great friends, and we made great music together. In fact, I’m the only female singer who ever sang with Miles, actually. It was at Montreaux, and we sang together on “Human Nature,” by Michael Jackson. That was our song. You can pull that up on youtube—just search under Chaka Khan and Miles Davis. That was a proud moment. I miss him a lot—even though he would be honest, brutally honest. No filters.

Staying in the jazz realm, you were also friends with Dizzy Gillespie?

Well, I would see a lot of jazz when I was in New York. Dizzy was just a great friend. I was honored to work with him and a myriad of other jazz musicians in the 80s, when I was with [producer] Arif Mardin. I grew up listening to a lot of the jazz musicians that I later got to work with, so my life came full circle there.

In 1975, Rufus toured as an opening act with The Rolling Stones. You must have some stories about that!

Well, no, it’s vague. That was at the very beginning of Rufus’s career. I recall that we did three gigs in one day! We did one gig, flew to another one, and then flew to another one! (she laughs) But that was a great tour.

So what other events would be among your proudest moments?

Thousands of them! Most recently, it was when I received the award from the Black Enterprise Summit for Women of Power. But proud moments happen to me almost daily with my career, my family, my children, my grandkids, and my friends. 




What’s the first record you ever bought?

Led Zeppelin’s first album. It was in my second year of high school.

What music do you listen to now?

I have different genres of music that I play when I have company, but I don’t play music in the house when I’m home resting or between gigs.

Favorite all-time movies?

The Natural. Anything by Clint Eastwood. I like to watch a lot of old movies, like the Turner Classic station.

Are you a TV binge watcher?

I do Netflix a bit. Stranger Things—I love that. Black Mirror. And a lot of documentaries and nature stuff. I love Nat Geo.

What about TV shows when you were growing up?

I used to watch Ed Sullivan, Green Acres, Hogan’s Heroes, Alfred Hitchcock, and Twilight Zone.

Favorite meal?

I love curry, especially vegetable curry. Bok choy. Chicken salad. And I love sauerkraut. I like exotic, healthy, good stuff, for the most part.

And for dessert?

I don’t have a big sweet tooth. Maybe cheese and biscuits or cheese with grapes. Something like that.

Your hopes for the future?

More of the same! In a much bigger and better way. And I’m also gonna start selling products. I have a clothes line and a hair line coming out.

Have you been dating anyone?

No. Music is my man.



David Lefkowitz hosts the Dave’s Gone By show Saturday mornings live on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz). He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider and publishes TotalTheater.com. You are invited to read his collected works at davelefkowitz.org.



Not one of my favorite interviews, nor my best work, but I got some good quotes. I did steer clear of mentioning that Hello Happiness was not well received by reviewers and stalled at #48 on the Billboard charts (though it did reach #10 in Scotland. Slàinte!).

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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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BO DEREK: JUMP BEFORE YOU’RE THROWN . . . and Other Horse Sense

(c)2019 by David Lefkowitz

(This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of Long Island Woman magazine.)

As America lurches from righteous indignation to politically correct overreaction to well-intended confusion, one person who appears to represent everything the women’s empowerment movement isn’t would be Bo Derek. Born Mary Cathleen Collins, the blonde beauty ditched high school to go sunbathing. At 16, she allowed a married 46-year-old filmmaker to whisk her off to Greece where, at 17, she became his lover, muse, and, some would say, willing but captive plaything. At 21, sex-symbol superstardom beckoned, and the prime years of Derek’s acting career were spent in movies that were little more than excuses for her to disrobe and be objectified. Posing nude in Playboy and serving as ground zero for a scale that rates females from 1 to 10 doesn’t exactly put Bo Derek in the same room as Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.

And yet, any woman who lives through four decades of fame, bad reviews, and “how does she look now?” curiosity has to be accorded some respect. When said woman maintains a public attitude that couldn’t care less what you think of her choices, that shows an admirable resiliency, too. And since her life post-John Derek has comprised activism, world travel, wealth, prize horses, and a 17-year romance with Northern Exposure and Sex and the City heartthrob John Corbett, the three-time Golden Raspberry Worst Actress winner is obviously having a decades-long last laugh.

And as for her looks? “I’ve never made that a priority for me,” the 62-year-old says in our late-winter conversation. “I have a body type that’s fashionable right now because I’m thin. Some of my friends are trying to go against their natural body type, which isn’t good. My whole family is thin, so I take no credit for that. I make an effort, but not a huge one.”

Derek doesn’t even go to the gym to maintain her lissomeness—but don’t be too jealous. All her years of riding horses abused her body to the point where she needed back surgery. Since then, she’s taken up swimming because “it feels right and suits me. It’s low impact but burns more calories than almost any other exercise. I like to eat, and if you swim, you can eat almost anything you want. Plus, I have a girlfriend who started swimming when I did, and we’ve promised each other that we’d do an open-water swim race in a beautiful spot every year and make it a girls’ trip.”

Okay, so go back to being jealous—especially since Derek’s health has otherwise been remarkably good. “I travel a lot to exotic places. I was special envoy at the State Department for wildlife trafficking, so I’ve had a couple of exotic maladies. Just weird things. I caught a blood infection in China, an esophageal problem in India. But they’re gone now. And it takes a lot for me to leave my farm nowadays, so my travel is now generally related to some kind of project.”

The farm to which Derek refers is ten acres near Santa Barbara that house “three dogs, five horses, and a donkey.” A donkey? “I had a stallion who was very hot and nervous,” she explains. “So I got a donkey to be a companion for him and keep him calm, which worked perfectly.”

Horses have been a staple of Derek’s life since early childhood, when she would “just go for hours” on a toy rocking horse. “My parents bought me a retired rental horse when I was eleven,” recalls the actress, “and I spent a couple of summers with that horse. The first time I made money, after the movie 10, I put a downpayment on a small farm and bought a horse. Which led to many horses.”

Derek laughs, but she also knows taking care of animals is serious business—so she turned it into a serious business: Bo Derek Pet Care, which offers gentle, high-quality shampoos and washes for dogs. “At one point, I had 12 dogs living in my house,” she remembers, “and my house smelled like a kennel. But most ingredients [in commercial grooming brands] are very harsh. No wonder our dogs have skin problems now. So I came up with a patented fragrance that neutralizes bad pet odors for weeks and keeps the dogs soft and wonderful to touch. It was really fun developing the line, sharing it with people, and getting rave testimonials. And I learned a lot about de-tangling from my Andalusian horses.”

Land animals are not the only creatures getting Derek’s protective attention; she has also spent time safeguarding aquatic life. In fact, four years ago, she was on “a very remote island doing marine conservation” when she received something of a career-resuscitating email. “They asked if I wanted to be in Sharknado,” she laughs. “And I was like, `No, absolutely not! I’m here working on shark conservation!’ But my expert friends said, `No, no, no! Sharknado has been great for conservation!’ We have a new generation of young people who care about wildlife, and, funnily enough, they can separate reality from fiction. So I did Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, and it was fun.”

And say what you will about the movies Derek made in her early prime—Tarzan the Ape Man, Bolero, and Ghosts Can’t Do It—she had fun doing them. It didn’t hurt that she got to work with a couple of acting legends, notably Anthony Quinn (“He  was childish in his need for attention, but charming and wonderful to work with. I loved his storytelling!”) and Richard Harris, with whom she did 1977’s Orca and later hired for Tarzan. “He was a very sexy, sensual man. I had a crush on him.” Asked if her husband minded, Derek said on the contrary: “If anything, John had a man-crush on Richard. My husband was a great photographer and cinematographer, and he loved Richard’s face. We both had a crush on him.”

Bo did not have a crush on a young, good-looking Donald Trump, but they did become friends and, in one case, scene partners. “I first met him on my first trip to New York after doing the movie 10,” she recalls. “I came out to do the Today show with Gene Shalit—my very first interview. And I was down in Trump Tower buying something, and he came out to say hello. From then on, it wasn’t a close relationship, but every time I was in New York, I’d stop in to his office to say hello.”

No, The Donald didn’t make a move on Mrs. Derek, but he did have a proposition in mind. “Through a mutual friend,” continues Bo, “I heard he wanted to do cameos in movies. So we wrote a little fun scene for him in Ghosts Can’t Do It.”  The result? Trump won his own Golden Raspberry Award for the sequence.

Friendship with the current president aside, Derek has often voted for, and even stumped for, Republican candidates (both Bushes!)—making her somewhat anomalous in Lib-Dem Hollywood. “Honestly,” says the actress. “I vote for who I think will do the best job. Although I don’t speak publicly now, I still feel passionately, and I’ve voted for both sides.”

Asked if casting a vote for Obama made up for helping bring America a dozen years of Bush and Shrub, Derek turns defensive. “First of all, nobody knows how I voted. I don’t know where Wiki got that I voted for Obama.” [Actually, they got it from a January 2012 video interview with The Hollywood Reporter where she said, “People think I’m Republican, but I’m Independent. I voted for Obama.”] More generally, though, she notes that “in terms of going public with politics, it was a fascinating experience to get involved in a campaign and care about things. It was an introduction to my own country. I was born and raised in Southern California, which is a bit isolated and removed from the rest of the United States, and a bit independent! So I loved seeing how diverse we are. We’re separate people, but we all share this passion and commitment to freedom and democracy. That was a wonderful experience.”

Understandably, Derek turns more guarded when asked about what her life might represent to feminists in this third-wave, post-#MeToo era. After all, many actresses do nudity, but her films often had a deliberately soft-core, sex-object focus. “I didn’t plan to have that career,” she counters. “It just came to me. So my decisions weren’t always calculated and weren’t always the best. But it’s how I came into the industry—being objectified. I mean, I was in 10 for less than 10 minutes! But at least I was in charge of being objectified. I produced my own films and was in control of how my image was used. But my priorities were different, and for my personal life, I really did make the right decision.”

Another long-standing knock against Bo is that not only did she steal John Derek away from wife Linda Evans, but once she came under his Svengali spell, Bo’s life was hardly her own. The actress’s response? “At the time I was swept up into it,” she says. “As a rule, is it the correct way to have a relationship? Obviously not. But in my case, yes. He was a fabulous, wonderful man. I had my freedoms, and I was certainly not abused! I flourished. We were together 25 years until he died. For us it was meant to be.” [As for Linda Evans, she and Bo have been on good terms for decades. In her 2012 interview for this publication, the Big Valley star noted, “I don’t think [Bo] went after John. I think John went after her, and that was his choice. And since I liked Bo, we just became friends.”]

If Bo goes on cheerful autopilot when fending off questions about her movies and marriage, she does bristle at the idea that posing for Playboy, as she did throughout the 1980s, is somehow unsavory when viewed through a contemporary lens. “The magazine had its time,” she avows. “It was very revolutionary and important for our First Amendment rights. People are getting the wrong impression of what it was in our culture.” Though she scoffs at the notion that Hef’s lifestyle, Bill Cosby’s proclivities, and reports of non-consensual grotto grapplings have rendered Playboy not just passé but something ugly, Derek declines to discuss the issue further, noting, “I’m not going to defend anyone’s behavior or get into that. This isn’t the place.”

The actress does brighten when reminded how she defended Kim Kardashian last year over a fashion choice. Sporting corn-row braids a la 10, the reality star was bashed for misappropriating an ethnic look—i.e., crediting Derek rather than Fulani black culture from whence the hairstyle presumably emerged. Laughs Bo, “That was a crazy Pandora’s Box! I was surprised how worked up people got over it! It’s strange when someone does a sort of tribute to you and what you were in your past. But I thought it looked beautiful on her. I never expected anybody to get upset and call me a `culture vulture.’ But that hairstyle goes back to ancient Greece and maybe beyond. I even put up online a picture of a mummified queen of Egypt and said, `We all copied from her.’”

So whether one chooses to view Bo Derek as an opportunistic and privileged clothes horse (and horse rider), or as a lucky, likable, and philanthropic activist who has made the most of her good fortune, it’s all the same to her: she lives the life she chooses. Asked if that life might eventually include marriage to boyfriend John Corbett, she answers, “Our relationship is happy. We don’t have children and aren’t going to have children, so it’s fine. Work sometimes keeps us away from each other, but we love it here with our horses and dogs and good friends in the neighborhood. This is home.”



Do you diet?

I don’t have hard rules on eating, but I try to eat a vegetable-based diet as much as I can. I’m not rigid, though. I won’t ruin a dinner party with my preferences!

Your favorite meal?

Good pizza is so hard to find. I love pasta, but only the way I make it—with tomatoes from my garden. Nothing like it unless you’re in Italy. They make good pasta there!

And for dessert?

Ice cream.

Do you binge-watch TV?

I’m a big binger! I love On Demand and think streaming is the best thing to have happened to entertainment. My taste varies from Vikings to Band of Brothers.

What about TV shows you watched growing up?

I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie.

Your favorite movies?

It changes. Probably Apocalypse Now; it’s so visually moving. And Empire of the Sun.

What do you listen to?

Right now, mostly audible books. I like to swim to Jack Reacher.

Do you have a hidden talent that would surprise fans?

I’m a handyman. I’m very practical.

If you could invent something, what would it be?

I travel so much, I want it faster! I’m all about Richard Branson and high-altitude travel. And space travel!

Is your motto still, “jump before you’re thrown?”

Did I say that? I like that quote! It’ll save your life on a horse, and it’s probably good life advice in general.


David Lefkowitz hosts the Dave’s Gone By show Saturday mornings live on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/radiodavelefkowitz). He also co-publishes Performing Arts Insider and publishes TotalTheater.com. Full disclosure: He once worked for Playboy but never posed, no matter how much they begged.

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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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