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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  WHUT  September 29, 2013 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT

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it became gwen verdon. talk about a dream, she was always my idol, so sweet to me. her little girl was on the set, who was quite a bit younger than i am. we talked, i talked to nicole, her daughter, she was so gracious and sweet and i sort of -- that's who i wanted to be. that was the idea. >> did the move from houston to los angeles happen because your family thought you needed an opportunity to try this out? >> yes, that's a crazy thing. >> why, that's great. i think that's fantastic. >> it's incredibly generous. my cousin also wanted to go to art school in los angeles. so my mother was the -- was elected to take us out the and be the den mother. it was an amazing experience because i wasn't successful. i did the danny kay show. mostly i studied. and i got a lot of experience in classes and things and then i started when i was 18 i started working. >> so it was really not
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until you wer of age essentially. >> because then it wasn't like it is now where they really need all of the shows are about kids and young people. then it was they really wanted you to be 18 so you could walk as an adult and not have to have a social worker or a teacher on the set. >> so much of the episodic television that i alluded to, those old martin shows, barn bee jones and all of that, really see to have run the gamut but you work the -- >> i did. once i turned 18. in the meantime i was doing a lot of dancing, i did chorus work. worked on a show called that's life, a robert morris show, a new musical every week. it followed a couple meeting, dating then getting engaged and married. ej peeker is the woman on the show. they started the show out in los angeles. so i was on that bobby morris was so sweet to me. knew that ias under age. when i auditioned i think that i was 16. they just kind of hired me even though they knew i wasn't really 18.
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but my mother was there all the time. >> probably not the first time that happened. >> right. it was wonderful. i got a lot of experience, on-the-job training. and studying and then when i was 18 i was sort -- >> was your thought at the time, this is what i want to do with my life. >> absolutely. >> that was your mom's thought as well, if she wants to do this, we're going to support her. >> i remember the day that i was nine years old when i decided it was what i wanted to do. i was at the dancing school and watched this girl who is now a sort of houston entrepreneur, karen romano, she has a cosmetics business. she was my inspiration, i said how do i get to be as good as you are, she said just come every day and work. >> the old cliche, practice, practice, practice. >> that's what i did. i never with wavered in it. if anything it's stronger. it's kind of wonderful. i have two daughters, one of whom is an actress always had that same drive to do it. the other one, of everybody in the family, we're all
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kind of, my husband as well, all artists, actress, singers, my daughter anna is probably the most talented of all of us, she played juliet when she was 11. she can do pretty much anything. and doesn't have tha need to -- >> no -- >> she does have an interest, but not enough to commit to what you have to go through. >> with the daughter who is involved, are you essentially playing the role that -- >> i don't have to anymore. she is a professional actress at the oregon shakespeare festival, just opene as kate in taming of the shrew, in rehearsals to play stella in street car. she's the real deal. she's my inspiration. >> does she have any interest in doing television or film? i understand for some people that's all that they want to do, that kind of real serious acting. >> i think she would if the business were the way it was when i started out where it was all about the acting. it was how good, how committed you were, you know, the okay time, all of the things that you have to
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be. >> i want to know what you mean by that, clearly you are talking about an evoluton that the business that you were in. >> i don't think that i could do it now. i don't think she's cut out for that now where you have to be the -- the face of, you know, prada or the face of some perfume or and g go to the red carpet and talk about stuff and be cool and on all the time. i don't -- i just couldn't do it. doing this is great because we're talking about things that matter to me. but just doing a lot of tv, you know, promoting. >> not your interest, yeah. >> never was. and i think it's the reason why i -- also, i moved away. i moved to oregon when i was kind of at the height of what little fame i had. i just didn't care enough about that part of it. >> right. >> i wasn't ambitious enough. and so what i'm saying is maybe why i wasn't a bigger star -- >> there are a lot of people
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watching this who say god i would kill to have the opportunity to not be on television. they want me to be on tv, red carpet. we live in a culture of celebrity where that's supposed to be the pinnacle. >> i can't tell you how much it gives me chills like having to do it. like last night -- >> texas film hall of fame. >> it was wonderful. but the thought of it, it's so hard. getting up in front of people and not knowing what i'm supposed to say is a nightmare. that's why earlier when we were talking about my early career in the theater, it's why i left it. i couldn't -- i -- auditioning, especially musical auditioning became so different for me it was torture. i started really studying acting in earnest. i loved it. i fell in love with it. because i thought if i'm injured as a dancer, tha-- that puts a stop on your career or if you have to start choreographing or giving it up. acting i thought that i can do this until the day i die. i hope i do do it until the day i die. >> the kind of work that you did when you were coming
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along in the '70s and '80 as an actress, television, films that you did opposite people like gary busey. >> oh, my god. >> these seem to be more conventional acting jobs. you get them, do them, you're done and that's the end and on to the next thing. >> right. >> life was obviously appealing enough for you for a while. >> oh, no, i loved doing that. that was great. being in movies and working with jack lemmon was maybe the highlight. >> the question that you always ask, who was it -- >> oh, my god he was amazing. >> [indiscernible] >> we did something together called the entertainer, an american united stated, musicalized version of the john osborne play and movie. and it was a dream. it was ray bolger was in it, jack, [indiscnible] amy in once in love with amy, tind daly, zeta thompson, michael
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[indiscernible] who was doing a little play writing thing on the side that i didn't even know about, he was just acting and mitchell ryan and i played the part of the girl, shirley fields role and he meets me at a beauty contest and sings to me and marvin hamish wrote the music of. he wrote a song called pretty flower. >> i don't know if you can e that. >> it might be preyoutube. >> it was produced by mobile, donald rye was the director. we would rehearse it every day at a place called the lynndie oprah house in los angeles, used to be there, gone. >> you mentioned that you have done a lot of stage work in the last few years, can you talk about that? was that a conscious decision on your part? is that the thing that you always loved, wanted to do more of, you decided -- >> i decided it, it doesn't mean that it's going to happen because i didn't know
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how i would be accepted in new york or around, people opened their arms to me. >> you are a friend. in truth. people know you, know your history of working, probably thrilled to have the opportunity to work with you. >> i don't know, but thank you. >> your humility is refreshing. i don't see much of it in people in your line of work. >> oh, really. >> it was interesting anthony rath was there being honored for dazed and confused. his brother, the amazing adam rath, now acting on broadway, getting ready to open in some py, i can't remember the name of it. adam, i did a production of the sea gull at classic stage company in new york with diane weist and allan cummings and i played pauline in a. adam rath came to see the play and offered me a role in his play kindness, which they did at play rights horizon. it kind of snow balled. a playwright or director would see me, offer me
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something else. i have been hungry for this kind of work because in television and film, specially now when you are older there's -- >> that's the cliche, they say women of a certain age has a very hard time getting cast in the kind of roles she wants. especially for a serious actress. i think about the way cable has revolutionized television where all of the action is not just on paid cable but sometimes basic cable, new series where it's the homelands of the world or go back to the sopraninos and six feet under and kind of the evolution of those kind of shows forward. you would think that the serious work that you do might have a home on television and non-traditional roles might be available. >> it hasn't happened that way for me very much. people who are much more famous than i am, sissy spasek, christine laudew, people like that, are all vying for those roles, too, they will be offeredhose roles. so people like me, you know,
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i was just did a gray's anatomy, very happy to do a guest star role on that because it was actually a really interesting role. >> you are still doing some of it. >> yeah here and there. enough to keep my little pension going. although i'm on my husband's pension so it's fine, you know, for your medical all of that stuff. >> but if the opportunity came up, someone came to you said we have a role that we think it's exactly right for you, serious role, meaty role, episodic, you would consider doing it? >> absolutely. that would be nice. i did a cable show in 13 years ago now huntress for u.s.a. cable. but when you are a lead in a dramatic television show that's all that you do. i don't know how you survive. it w that thing, on the phone with the producer, having a meeting with the writers, this isn't going to work. you are on lobby. exciting and nice to look back on but almost killed
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us. >> happy you did it. >> yeah. i learned a lot from that. i don't think that i would have the stamina to do that again. because you have to -- you have to be good. it has to be right. and i wouldn't want to do it any other way. >> you get more calls than you take? for these kind of parts? >> no. >> no. >> huh-uh. not at all. >> you are happy to be -- >> i'm getting ready to go to new york to direct a play. so my time. >> wow. if you don't mind talking about that. >> i love talking about it. there's a wonderful playwright named jeffrey sweet who wrote a play when i was 19 that was a musical called hitch which was a -- never got done. but beau bridges directed it and we did it in lloyd bridges living room to get somebody to back it and they didn't bite. but it was another great experience. marsha strawsman was in it. i have all of these people who i love. >> over the years you've had an opportunity to work with.
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every story has names. >> i know, yeah. >> so anyway jeffrey sweet and i kept in contact over the years. he's a teacher, a writer, he -- he wrote a book about second city in chicago. so he's well known for that. so he's written a play about william cumfler. >> first amendment. >> yeah, 60s and 70s, chicago seven, thousands of very well known trials. and my -- a friend of mine named jeff mccarthy an amazing actor is playing william, so it's kind of an incestuous group. we're all coming together, a two hander play. it's fascinating. i hope that i'm up to you. >> have you directed before? >> i have directed readings, and i have directed a production of cats for my daughter's school, little school. [laughter]. >> that should be at the top of the list. >> absolutely, if i have to hear memory one more time, i
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may kill myself. >> that puts you in the same category as the rest of us. >> if [indiscernible] sings it. >> okay. >> i directed a production of love letters. >> this is really something a little bit different. >> it's very different. thank goodness i'm doing it at a lovely space sort of this at hudson space company, it's at pace in briarcliff new york, 30 minutes north of the city. so we are all some people up there to see it. >> even the way the world has changed there's certainly an audience in briarcliff. >> absolutely. it's selling out really well it's cumfer territory and that's where he lived. >> hometown crowd. >> you have alluded to your husband who unname. it's michael mckean, great actor, writing, musician, comedian, background that's diverse. >> much, much more than i. >> how is that?
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you are both so established in your own ways, if you are up in briarcliff, he's doing hbo overseas, your lives will occasionally be joined but also sometimes divergent. >> yeah, we enjoy every aspect of it. working with him is -- he's so brilliant, funny, it's so much fun, we have been writing a musical for about 12 years now. >> the rumors of that are true? >> yes, they are true. the problem is that we like being together so much that it's really hard to sit down and get work done. >> drizzle tracting. >> we will sit down, say let's go have lunch, play cards, go to the movies, it's hard to write. it's the hardest thing in the world. >> 12 years later still working. >> still working. doing better, you know. we will get like a good three-month chunk of work done, something will happen. we keep getting other work. but working with him is --
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is a great gift. just being around him has -- has changed me so much. we have didn't together 15 years. >> how has it changed you? >> i'm not petrified of anything anymore. like i told you, i would give up things because it was too scary to do it. it's just part of our lives. our work and our who we are, it's all mixed up together. and he's just such a wonderful person to be around. he's such a -- you know, an angel of light. and i'm sorry i'm getting teary. >> it's okay. it's nice for people to feel -- >> i just admire him so much. >> this is genuine, that's rare in the world for people to get emotional -- >> it's like i said about my work, i love it more now than ever. you love somebody when you get together, it's that exciting new like oh, my god how did i find this person, how did this come to me? and then you live with that person every day for 15 years, then you know what love is. >> then the answer becomes clear. you all collaborated
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successfully, i alluded to your oscar nomination on this song kiss atmosphere the end of the rainbow which was performed at the end of a mighty wind by eugene levitt. i actually until the last couple of days i didn't know that you all co-wrote it. can you tell that story. >> of that. >> of that and of your work on this other film. >> he was writing all of the music with chris and eugene and various other combinations of people for the movie. i was on the show called smallville. and our -- right in i think our second episode, 9/11 happened. and i just wanted -- we were shooting in vancouver, i just wanted to be home with my family. i got in a car and i drove because there were no planes. and, you know, at that time who knew i thought well los angeles may be next. i want to be with everybody. if we're going to get
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smacked. so i drove home and they called me and said we need you on the set tomorrow. i said i can't get there tomorrow, but i'll get back. so michael got in the car with me, we drove back to vancouver together. >> from new york? >> los angeles. >> not quite as far but far. >> 21 hours. so on the way, i had this tune in my head, i said what is this tune that i've got in my head? am i making this up, or is this some old song? he is the authority on every kind of music. i said dah-dah-dah, he said you are making that up. so we started his word, which i never knew before, mnemonic device, we just said potatoes in the paddy wagon, we started making up lyrics to this ridiculous little song. by the time we got to vancouver, we didn't have a recording device, i don't know how we did it. i don't know how we remembered it. but anyway he'll know, he'll
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tell you. we wrote this whole song called potatoes in the paddy wagon. i said that's good, but potato has to be the girl's name. okay. anyway, we wrote this whole song, he said you know i think chris can use this in the movie, he'll love this. so we sang it for chris or he did, i don't know and he said yeah, that's great. he gave it to the new main street singers, the group that jane linch is part of. he gave michael the task of writing this signature song for mitch and nikki, eugene and catherine to see at the end. he said it's got to be a song with a kiss in it. kiss has to be in the title. yes, so michael said do you want to write this song with me? i have this title kiss at the end of the rainbow. i said oh, yeah. so we wrote it. we wrote in two nights walking our dog and sitting at the piano at home. and it just came so quick to us. we went over to chris' house to sing it for him and he
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didn't want to use it's. he says that's too good, too straight of a song. he said it's not funny enough. we thought that was the idea. well, luckily for us, jaime lee curtis, his wife was sitting there, hearing it, too, she said oh, no youre wrong, that's the song. she was weeping hearing this song. another thing about the song is that when michael and i sing it, i sing the lead and make kel sings the harmony. they reversed it in the movie, it sounds more comedic in the movie. >> almost anything eugene does sounds comedic. then they sang it at the academy awards. michael wrote tons of music for it. but we wrote another sea shty song, called oh, god the wylie whale. i can't remember the title of the song, michael will tell. and so then we just started writing and we started writing -- after he said
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because kiss at the end of the rainbow was too good, we wrote another song more like leaving on a jet plane, closer to tomorrow, which we do in our little cabaret act. so that started our nice little -- >> a nice little feather in your cap. >> i joined ascap, i'm the real deal. >> they can't take oscar away. >> i never thought that i would be in another category other than acting. now i get to vote. >> did you vote for addle. >> i did. i'm not supposed to say who i voted for but i did. >> i think that it's a wonderful song. i really do. not only is a wonderful song it really does what a movie song is supposed to do which is about that beautiful opening sequence, it is it is movie, it's great. well, annette, academy voter, it's an honor to hear
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your story, i wish you great continued success. annette o'toole thank you. >> we would love to have you join us in the studio, visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q and a's with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the mattson mchale foundation, in support of public television. also by mfi foundation. improving the quality of life within our community.
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and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected and tested. also by hilco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global health care consulting business unit hilco health. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and viewers like you. thank you.
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>> riedel: coming up on "theater talk"... >> ♪ there no business like show business like no business i know ♪ ♪ even with a turkey that you know will fold ♪ ♪ you may be stranded out in the cold ♪ ♪ but still you wouldn't change it for a sack of gold ♪ ♪ let's go
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on with the show ♪ >> "theater talk" is made possible in part by... >> from new york city, this is "theater talk." i'm the producer, susan haskins. >> and i'm michael riedel the new york post. >> so, michael, as you know, time out new york released a list of the top 25 divas of all time -- >> and number one, after all these years, without a doubt, is ethel merman. she was born ethel zimmerman in queens. she studied stenography, but she had a voice that was bigger than the canadian brass band. she became famous, of course, on broadway in "annie get your gun" and most memorably in "gypsy." and we're going to talk about ethel merman tonight with two people who were very, very close to her for much of her life. we are joined tonight by our
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friend tony cointreau and jim russo. welcome, guys. when did ethel merman come into your life? >> she came into my life in 1959, when she was doing "gypsy," and i was 18 years old. now, you do the math, and you're dead meat. >> [ riedel laughs ] >> i met her -- i went to a teenage cls at the neighborhood playhouse for teenagers who wanted to study acting, and it was just a summer thing. and i was sitting next to this girl, and she said, "my name's patty -- what's yours?" and at that time, my name was jacques. jacquehenri robert antoine mercier-cointreau. after the, you know, i survived that -- >> that's why you fell in love with him. >> took "tony" -- right. 45 years later. but we [laughs] we -- the girl, patty, next to me, she heard "jacques," and she went, "eww." and there was this sweet girl on the other side of her with big
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dark brown eyes and slick pixie haircut, and she leaned over, and she looked at me, and she said, "oh, i think 'jacques' is a beautiful name." well, we that. great pals. a week later, she comes to me. she says, "jacques," she said, "you want to go see mom's play?" i said, "yeah! what's she doing?" she said, "gypsy." mom's ethel merman. >> [ riedel laughs ] >> i thought, "i can do that." so...that friday night, we were at "gypsy." and afterwards, 'miss merman' to me, then, took us to sardi's. >> riedel: of course. >> and i met -- an 18-year-old, you know, theater enthusiast, meeting all of show business heaven -- it was terrific. and then billy rose, the great producer, drove us home in his,
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uh...rolls-royce. >> riedel: [laughs] not bad. >> but on the way home -- 'cause we dropped the two ethels off at the park lane hotel -- >> we should say that ethel's daughter was "little ethel." >> little ethel. >> riedel: she named her daughter after herself. >> first there was ethel agnes zimmerman, her mother. became ethel merman. and then ethel merman levitt, her daughter. >> riedel: anyway, you were saying -- >> mr. rose was driving -- we dropped them off, and he was driving me up to 79th and park, anthe most wonderful thing of it was that he was on in years, especially compared to me, and he was talking to me like -- as he would a peer. and he said, you know, that he had known the real mama rose, and he said, "what you see on that stage doesn't even come near the real mama rose." he said, "she was truly psychotic." well, that's mr. ros