While the path she followed to achieve her success was seldom an easy one, Marsha Mason never wavered in her determination. She wanted to be an actress -- that much she knew even as a young girl growing up in a modest neighborhood in St. Louis. For her, acting would be an escape, a chance to be someone other than the girl who seemed always to disappoint and anger her parents, the ticket that would take her out of their provincial, strict Catholic household and transport her to another world somewhere between reality and fantasy.
Now, in Journey, Marsha Mason retraces the path she followed out of her difficult childhood. She moved to New York City, where she worked as a waitress and go-go dancer before landing a role in the then popular daytime TV soap opera Love of Life. After that, her world started to change, as one success led to another.
The biggest change, however, came when she met Neil Simon, Broadway's most successful and powerful playwright, the creator of such long-running shows as Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. Cast in his play The Good Doctor, Mason found herself drawn to the charismatic Simon, who was still struggling with the pain of losing his wife, Joan, to cancer. After a brief, whirlwind courtship, they married, and nothing was ever the same. The couple moved to Hollywood so Mason could pursue film work, and Simon began writing a string of films to star his new wife. Her journey had indeed taken her far, as she realized an undreamed-of level of success. There was, however, a price to pay.
The marriage to Simon ended so abruptly, and left such a major void, that for quite some time afterward Marsha Mason seemed to have neither direction nor focus in her life. Finally deciding to leave Hollywood and to undertake an entirely different career raising herbs on a ranch in New Mexico, she began a new stage of her journey -- the one that frames this very personal and involving memoir -- by packing up a lifetime of memories and setting off with friends on an odyssey that finds her today a successful farmer with a still active career as an actress.
Marsha Mason's Journey is revealing of the demands and sacrifices of the life of a successful actress, and at the same time inspiring, as she traces a lifetime spent in search of an elusive happiness. As an adult child of alcoholics, she has come to understand the forces that shaped her life and propelled her along a path that was as inevitable as it was debilitating. And now, from her present vantage point, she is able to look back with a new understanding, one that enables her to take comfort in the success she has found and find joy in learning to celebrate life.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
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About the Author
Marsha Mason, a four-time Academy Award® nominee and a two-time winner of the Golden Globe award, has starred in movies such as The Goodbye Girl, Cinderella Liberty, and Nick of Time. Most recently she appeared opposite Richard Dreyfuss in a stage revival of The Prisoner of Second Avenue in London, in The Vagina Monologues in New York, and as Sherry on TV's Frasier. She now lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where she owns a successful medicinal herb farm. Journey is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 0ne:HITTING THE WALL
It's June 26, 1993. The day is fading and so am I. Twilight is coming on, "Magic Hour," they call it in movie jargon. My favorite time. On this seemingly ordinary California summer evening all is quiet on Turquesa Lane in the Pacific Palisades of West Los Angeles. Standing in the street, a cul-de-sac really, everything appears to be normal, but of course that isn't true at all. Everything is far from normal. I'm packing up my entire life and moving it far from here.
Artwork has been carefully crated and loaded into a temperature-controlled compartment right behind the driver's cab of a very large and very long semi with all my plants squished in there too. Twenty years of a California life packed up in just two days, and the moving men needed a second truck. Finally, just an hour or so ago, the semi and its slightly smaller brother trundled up Turquesa Lane and disappeared from view, already on the road, attempting to beat the torturous high noon heat of the Arizona desert, with the final destination Santa Fe, New Mexico. Everything that screamed chaos for days is packed up and gone. Now, tonight, there is nothing, not a single detail to let anyone know that I'm leaving. I decided not to say good-bye to my neighbors because I'd cry and feel some kind of hellacious pain. I have to spare myself so that everything gets done, this monumental move and everything it symbolizes. Get everything done, without feeling: that's been my mantra these days -- one of them anyway.
"Don't let yourself feel. Mustn't feel," commands my inner Critic. She's been on her high horse during these days, functioning in survival mode. So have all my internal voices, my other selves. There are a lot of them. There's G.A., my guardian angel; there's the Collapser, Gloria, named after the actress Gloria Grahame. There's the Pusher, who I've named Chuck Moses. There's lots of others. Every one of them up in arms. Well, why not? This is major change. I listen to my inner Critic tonight. I pay attention. I obey. Of course, I'm full of feeling, almost overrun with a torrent of feelings, but I can't let go right now. Can't unleash. There's too much to do.
The sky is a dusky blue with orange rays fanning a cloudless evening sky. The full, stately Ponderosa pines stand breathlessly still. The birds are silent. The family of deer has daintily made its way back down the hill, gracefully jumping the low back fence, seeking shelter and sleep under those stalwart pines behind the house. God, just thinking of the deer makes my throat constrict. Animals and parades always do that to me -- any parade, all animals, especially the ugly ones. I've never been able to figure out why. Some weird kind of identification I have with them, I guess. Go figure. I swallow hard to push the emotions back down, clear my head of the image of a whole family of deer gingerly appearing in the backyard a couple of years ago from far down the steep hill, nibbling here and there, then resting in the late afternoon on the grass, the bigger deer standing guard over the little ones, always alert and cautious. They remind me of a leaded glass scene on an old Russian chandelier that hung over my grandmother's dining table. I wonder if they'll miss me, even know I've gone, and gone for good.
"Don't think about that," comes the silent warning.
Taking a last look around, everything appears spotlessly normal and eerily quiet. No one would know I ever lived here, I muse, standing outside the front of my house, a home I built from plans that were serendipitously dropped into my lap some five years before. I take a last look at my beautiful house. "A proper home for me alone," I used to say. This search for home has been going on for a long time, almost ten years now.
"Hell, longer than that!" This interior voice is another "personality," the cute but irritating wiseass who whines at times, and who reminds me of Gloria Grahame. She always sashayed when she acted, I thought. I don't feel much like sashaying tonight though, as I gaze at my house and the neighborhood around me for the last time, knowing I mustn't hesitate too long for fear of cracking into a million pieces, fragmented forever with no hope of pulling myself back together. I mustn't give in to this swirling emotion roiling in the pit of my stomach. I'm leaving my past and consequently my identity behind, scurrying off to a new, unknown place, like an animal with its tail between its legs, head drooping. Hopefully, in a few days, weeks, whatever, I'll feel that I've found a new home and a new existence, a completely different life that makes sense and brings some kind of sustained peace and enjoyment.
"Lord, girl! You've never really experienced that, sustained peace! You're a woman who's known divine discontent most of her life." Right you are, G.A. Well, no, that's not totally true. There were some years when my life and career felt good, hopeful, and satisfying.
G.A. is with me most of the time now. She makes me smile. Of course, there have been moments, and years, of happiness. Besides, what does that mean exactly, "divine discontent"? But tonight I'm wired; I'm impatient.
"Divine in that you've always been a seeker, lookin' for the answers. So simple really," G.A. chides, "a seeker of answers to those plaguing questions, 'Why am I here?' 'What is my mission, my true vocation in life?'" G.A. is right, as usual.
My father, James "Jimbo" Joseph Mason of St. Louis, Missouri, used to belittle my philosophical questions. When I'd press him for an answer -- "Any answer!" -- he'd tell me I was stupid to ask such a question. "What does it matter? Who cares!" he'd snarl or dismiss it altogether getting up to make another drink. I didn't generally ask my mother because when I was a young girl I was sure she wouldn't answer directly anyway. "Go get your dinner, honey. Your Dad and I are relaxing." I didn't understand until later that she was probably trying to smooth things out. I guess I learned that from her, smoothing things out.
When I was much older and a wee bit wiser, I came to understand that my father was a deeply unhappy man who felt that life was against him, that he didn't have a real chance at happiness. He felt his parents hadn't loved him, especially his mother. He was sure she preferred my Uncle Murray, Dad's younger brother. I was eight years old when I first noticed my grandmother's bias. Later I asked my mother if this was true and she told me, "Yes. Nina's a funny bird."
I remember her vaguely, Nina. Her given name was Grace. I don't remember why my sister and I called her Nina. I do remember her dyed hair and powdered skin; and her pretty, manicured nails on slender fingers that shook as she smoked; and her wobbly voice, like someone invisible was always shaking her when she spoke. As a grandmother she was distant, not what you'd call loving or available. That must have been true for Pops as well, I suppose, my father's father, though I don't have any memory of him.
My father was a hurting man. He was hurt and he hurt in turn. He felt his father didn't love him or respect him. Pops had wanted my father to go into his printing business, Mason Printing, but he never told him the business was failing. Dad found out after his father died, when nothing could be done about it, when the business was failing, with no hope of recovery. Maybe Pops hadn't realized it. Maybe neither Pops nor Dad were smart businessmen.
"Wonder if that's why being a smart businesswoman is so important to you," G.A. muses.
Small businesses like my Dad's were being eaten up by big ones and the printing unions were making it difficult for him to make ends meet.
"They're taking more money home than I am," Dad bitterly confided about his workers one night over a drink. Everything was changing. Everything that was familiar was dying and a strange new order was taking its place. Just like now. My father felt Pops had set him up for failure in a business he really didn't want to be in. What Dad craved and needed, I believe, was for his father and his mother to love him, and to show that they loved him. What he got instead was failure and it scarred him. I saw it first when I was in high school, but didn't know then how sad he really was. Several years later, on a return trip home while performing in the national company of Cactus Flower, I was taken aback. His face was gray and sallow. Too much drinking and way too much smoking were apparent in the hard light of sunshine. His body was caved in, his shoulders stooped. And he wasn't at peace. He was sick and didn't know it. Or perhaps he did, but I didn't want to see it. He was young still, only forty-five or so.
Is that why I'm restless for peace? I wonder. But then, what is peace anyway? I ask myself.
"Who cares about this drivel anyway? What good does it get you!" Gloria Grahame whines. "All this internal stuff!" she huffs, her petulant voice pooh-poohing. I hear Gloria stamping her foot now. I pay her no mind.
Is that what I hope to achieve with this move? Peace? A new life, a new beginning? Or is it simply contentment? Is contentment really simple and is it really a possibility for me? For most of my life, I've felt like an outsider, a loner, a nomad, never truly "at home" wherever I've been. I've never felt as if I really "belonged" anywhere, even Hollywood. Well, maybe the ashram in India, although I haven't really tested that yet, not for longer than a month anyway. And I've certainly not felt truly content, ever.
"Well, that's not totally true, Marsha dear. There was a time when you felt a part of things. You felt like you belonged in New York City when you first went there, and you felt that you belonged in the theater, desperately wanted to belong to that community of struggling, talented actors; and you felt "at home" in the ashram at Baba Muktananda's feet." This voice, another inside my head, momentarily soothes me. She's right, I do feel at home when I think of Baba, my spiritual teacher, my guru. I feel at home with this voice too. I've named her Grace, the Goddess. She's a sound rather than a personality or a face. When she's around she holds all my hopes and dreams for myself as a mature woman.
"That was a long time ago," I say out loud, with a sigh. When? My first trip to India was...late 1970 something and the second trip was two years later. Yes, I felt I belonged there too. It's also true I felt I belonged with my first husband, Gary Dale Campbell, at least when we first married, but that changed, of course. And I felt when I married my second husband, Neil Simon, that I belonged with him forever, but that changed as well.
After our separation in 1983, but before moving here to the Pacific Palisades in 1987, I spent an awful lot of time on planes, traveling between New York, Europe, and California; a lot of time living in hotels, buying and renovating a New York apartment; and all the while renting houses in Los Angeles. I needed to be "on the move" following my second separation and divorce. Looking back, I was a whirling dervish, dancing out of control, but at the time I thought I knew what I was doing. However, contentment and peace were nowhere to be found, not around me.
Ten years married, ten years divorced. Married October 25, 1973. Separated April 4, 1983. Amicably divorced (if there is such a thing) April 1984. The thought "ten years married, ten years divorced" skips through my mind like a thrown stone, skimming across a pond. Why, I don't know. Like a mantra, it reverberates, seemingly apt, yet weird, all at the same time.
"Ten years married, ten years divorced." Divorced from a man with whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life. Suddenly a sickening wave of emotion starts from deep inside, gaining speed and size. Nope, can't go there, I tell myself. I rub my face brusquely with both hands, shaking the feeling away.
"Oh, you're ever so earnest, Miss Marsha! My, my, my. Ever so. This earnestness of yours is perhaps naively charming, but really now, at fifty? Come now! Some humor, some perspective is called for, don't you think?" Right you are, Miss Eccentricity. She is another voice, my own Billie Burke, the Good Witch Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. Thank you for those humbling but sage thoughts, Miss B.!
Honestly, these voices! Some of them are full-blown physical presences in my mind and some are not; some are merely voices from the void. Grace comes to me from this void while Miss Eccentricity, my eccentric self, sometimes appears as two distinct people, sisters if you will. The one that just spoke looks and sounds exactly like Billie Burke but sometimes I hear and see Martita Hunt as she appeared when playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (the original one), sitting by her wedding cake with all those cobwebs hanging about, living in the dust and the past. They are flip sides of the same coin. One fluttery and a bit of a ditz, the other all rational, to the point, and no nonsense.
What do the next ten years hold? I wonder, forcing myself to think ahead. Well, it's certainly going to be different, very, very different. Will the next ten years feel apt and weird too? Will my life ever not feel apt and weird? This time nobody speaks up.
I guess everything always feels apt, weird, scary, and strange to me. My childhood did; grade school and high school did. Certain times in college definitely did. Going to New York and marrying Gary, then divorcing Gary, then marrying Neil. Coming to Los Angeles in the late spring of 1975 as Mrs. Neil Simon was a pretty scary and strange situation. I was a stepmother of one year and some months to two wonderful daughters, Nancy and Ellen, ages twelve and seventeen, and bride to a world-famous husband, some sixteen years older than me. We'd only known each other three weeks before we became a family, yet scary and strange though it was, I soon came to feel ever so settled and stable and secure. We had a formal house all our own in Bel-Air, California, and we had tandem professional careers. I believed we'd live out our lives together and die an old married couple with tons of grandchildren, and maybe even a child of our own. I was sure of it. Now it's almost twenty years later and here I am, standing at the curb of my cul-de-sac, taking a last look at my "proper home for me alone," having "hit the wall," my explanation for this life in shards at my feet. And here I am again, starting out on another journey that feels apt and weird and scary and strange, leaving tomorrow for parts unknown just like I did when I married Neil Simon, beginning another journey through uncharted territory, and at fifty years of age no less.
Neil and I never had that child of our own, but the girls are grown and married with children. I haven't remarried. Neil has twice.
"No, three times. Once to you. Twice to Diane." Nevermind, G.A. He swore he'd never divorce again, no matter what, but he did. He still lives in the house that we lived in when we first came here from New York.
"Such is life, dear girl, such is life. It's about time you moved upward and onward!" This from Miss Havisham. I hate when she expounds with her maddening clichés.
"You never know what's around the corner, that's the spice of life!" Glinda the Good Witch warbles in tandem.
I rarely see Neil now, although we're always cordial and warm with each other when we do meet.
"Honey, you are a remarkably different person now, compared to the young woman who married him and came here to live. And that is a mother of a truth. You've come a long way, Baby, and I for one am mighty proud of you." I can't help but smile. Thanks, G.A.
"And while we're at it, let's not wallow, shall we?" she continues in her rueful tone.
G.A. got her initialed name during a therapy session several years ago. She appeared in a dream, and Marilyn Hershenson, my therapist at the time, asked me what she looked like, encouraging me to get to know her. Marilyn smiled as I described this guardian angel and asked if this unique voice had a name. "G.A." popped into my head. We're old friends now, and as I said, she always makes me smile. She's been there for me since that first meeting, always. Think of Rosalind Russell straight out of the movie His Girl Friday, wearing a tailored suit and jaunty hat, with that quick repartee Ms. Russell was famous for, and you get the picture.
Okay, okay, I sigh as I stretch my sore body, glancing again at the sunset. Those early years on Chalon Road in Bel-Air were heady and happy ones, though. I'd come from New York City with my new family, having already "won" an Oscar nomination for Cinderella Liberty, and my first Golden Globe for that movie, although in those days the Golden Globe Awards was a rather amusingly tarnished affair.
"Just like the statue you packed today, honey," G.A. quips. You're right, I think that poor old statue's awfully tarnished.
"Then get on with it!" booms the voice of my internal commander, the Pusher. This sonorous male voice generally gets my attention by issuing declarative statements or forceful commands, like now. I've never asked the Pusher if he has a name, but whenever he announces himself, I invariably envision him as Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, hence the name Chuck Moses.
There are other voices in my head as well. I suppose they are unique to me, and that other people have voices of their own. Each of mine has a personality, an attitude, even if they don't all have a specific appearance. Some have titles; some have names. They are the various aspects of myself I've come to know through a process called Voice Dialogue.
Some of these selves or aspects of my personality are "primary" selves, and some are or have been "disowned" selves. For example, since my primary self growing up was a Good Girl, the opposite of that was the Rebel. Being born and raised a Catholic in a very strict household, I disowned my Rebel self in order to be a Good Girl. Eventually though, a disowned self will command attention, and left unacknowledged will assert itself, often through relationships. The Rebel then becomes a primary self and the Good Girl probably gets disowned. In my case, I ran away from home in my senior year of college (for a week during Christmas vacation) and began to trade in my Good Girl self for my Rebel self. Of course, way back then I didn't know that was what was happening. I just knew that I had to get out of St. Louis and get to that great city.
When I moved to New York City in the early fall of 1964, after graduation, I quickly married, and in the process "hooked up" with that disowned aspect of myself, the Rebel. The man I chose was Gary Dale Campbell. He was my James Dean, my Rebel self. I loved James Dean, especially in Rebel Without a Cause, and I definitely identified with him. Gary, my first husband, reminded me of James Dean -- I thought he even looked like him. We were both young and scared, hungry for love, and in search of comfort and a sense of security. We married in February 1965, and even though we eventually divorced, we have stayed close -- very close as you shall see.
Yes, there are a lot of inner voices running through my mind. Perhaps it's a bit weird if you haven't had the pleasure, but I find it comforting to know that I -- the me of me -- am much bigger than I thought possible. Getting in touch with these inner voices has helped me to see myself and, consequently, other people with more compassion and has also helped me to understand and appreciate the relationships I have with friends and loved ones. Some of the voices or selves are more dominant than others. Some have appeared for special or limited occasions. Others, like G.A., Chuck Moses the Pusher, the inner Critic, the Sisters Eccentric, and Grace the goddess, stay around fairly frequently. Still others, that you haven't met yet, come and go depending on what is happening in my life. Men are often the catalyst for greater activity amongst them. Life is an ongoing process so there may be new voices that I haven't even met yet.
Disowned or primary, these are my "selves": the Critic; the Patriarch, sometimes benevolent, sometimes insane; the Pusher, Chuck Moses; the Artist/Inner Child, Anna and Ed. Anna is six years old and is me when I was six. She looks exactly like a picture my mother has of me. I was "introduced" to her in an early experience with the Voice Dialogue process. Ed is around nine years old and doesn't look like anybody I know. He just showed up one day during the run of Night of the Iguana at the Roundabout Theatre in New York. He's a great kid, my tomboy self, if you will. Then there's Gloria, the Collapser, who you've met, and the Goddess Grace, my integrated and realized self, who I hope will one day be a primary self, and G.A. my guardian angel and protector. There's the Good Girl, the Rebel, oh, and there's a nun self too, Sister Mary. Oh! And there's my Warrior self who showed up one day about six years ago in full tribal regalia prepared both to protect and do battle. I was having a difficult time getting rid of a very narcissistic and negative lover who shall remain nameless. I mentally conjured my Warrior that day while walking on the beach with Mr. Nameless. My Warrior appeared on my left (I actually saw him), walking just a bit away, a tall, beautiful, long-haired scout, with loincloth and spear, feather earrings, and strands of beads adorning his chest and arms. He was barefoot, and bronze in color, with startling blue eyes. Sensitive and strong. Think Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans and you've got the picture.
Now let's see, who else? There's my eccentric selves, Miss Havisham and Billie Burke as she appeared in The Wizard of Oz and there's also Mr. Olympus; you haven't met him yet. He's the "strictly business" tycoon who's recently come onboard. He helped me learn how to deal with the authoritative men I've come across in business. He helped me take a "hitting-the-wall" experience in my professional career and transmute that experience into a successful one while racing cars and being my own business manager.
I certainly wish I'd known or owned him sooner. I used to believe that success in business and being an artist were at odds with each other, but there you are. Mr. Olympus also helped me to learn when not to bring my Artist self (Anna and/or Ed) into those important first meetings with producers, or those important, sometimes confrontational discussions with the power boys who are in charge. Sometimes I've brought Mr. Olympus, Grace, and my Warrior self to a meeting and it can get pretty exciting. Over the years I've learned to listen to and engage all these voices inside my head. I've learned to own them, respect them, and love them. But it wasn't always that way. I used to be petrified of them.
During childhood, adolescence, and as a young woman in her twenties and thirties, I was afraid there was something seriously wrong with me. I felt high on the list of possible crazies because these voices sounded like whole, separate people from myself. They used to fight each other -- and me -- for control and for my attention. I used to feel that I was a lot of different people, schizophrenic, like a woman on the verge, so to speak. There was a time when I was frightened to death of abandonment, afraid to be left alone. Now those fears are gone. I love being alone and I'm never lonely. That's because of all the internal work and contemplation and meditation. In fact, I'm grateful for all the voices and for my spiritual teachers. They all taught me not to be afraid to be alone. Baba Muktananda told me that he would always be with me and he is. And how could I feel alone with all these various aspects of myself popping up all the time!
Have I wasted these five years here, I wonder, taking a last look around at my neighborhood? I was trying to cling to my past in this house, a past that doesn't exist anymore, thinking that was my identity, on top of my work being my identity, trying to hold on to that identity and finding myself slamming into those cement or thick brick walls, walls that are obviously saying, "You can't go back there." "You can't get through here." Me not listening, not getting the message, being brain dead or on automatic pilot, like a prizefighter who only knows how to fight the old way, even when he keeps getting beaten down. Trying to jump-start a stalled career, as if it were an obstinate engine and not a dead one. Trying to create a meaningful relationship with the wrong men, men who don't want or can't have a permanent relationship with me or perhaps with anyone else. Or thinking I want to create a meaningful relationship, then not wanting it when it actually presents itself. Foolishly thinking of myself as a thirty-year-old instead of what I am, fifty.
My disowned selves often manifest themselves in the men I'm attracted to or the women I like and admire. This Voice Dialogue process has given me such an interesting way to look at people, especially men. Men often hold what I've disowned. For example, when Hal Stone, the man who created the Voice Dialogue process, asked me to describe Neil, my second husband, I said, "Successful, funny, shy, patriarchal, demanding, controlling, sexy, intimidating, controlling, patriarchal, successful..." "Well," he interrupted, "then you must have a successful, funny, demanding, shy, patriarchal, controlling self in you." "Oh, no!" I cried, "I'm not at all like that, at all!" There's a reason that opposites attract. And if you find that you are often attracted to men who aren't good for you then it becomes imperative to get in touch with that disowned aspect of yourself they represent and break the destructive tendency of trying to own it through a relationship.
Sometimes I have to stop the voices by yelling "Not now!" although I know that ultimately I'll listen and eventually accept them. It's a bit awkward if I happen to be out in public! Thank God for cars! I do a lot of my screaming in cars.
My selves are sometimes quiet for periods of time, and sometimes vociferous when I'm about to do something important, something major, like now. I used to run from them but now realize they just get louder and more persistent if I don't listen. They sometimes have sent me warnings, that if gone unheeded, would have left me with a painful and humiliating lesson to learn. For example, drinking too much. If I don't stop and pay attention I can get into trouble. I might embarrass myself or embarrass someone else.
One of the best ways to "hear" my voices is to stop and pay attention, to listen for them, to meditate; give them time and some space to come forward. Meditating with mindfulness, that's the key. The voices help me understand myself, and the meditation helps me know my real Self. Even God is me, and the Goddess, and the Inner Child, and all the other selves that are manifest in the other human beings around us.
I think the Inner Child is operating in most of us. She (or he) comes out when I fall in love, when I'm creating, when I'm dreaming, when I'm playing. She or he, as the case may be, is just beneath the surface in all of us, even the most hardened businessman. When I first met Anna, my Inner Child, she wouldn't talk to me. She wouldn't even look at me; that's how shy and scared she was. It was a revelation to me that I was that shy and scared when I was a kid but upon reflection I realized it was true. I'd buried those feelings somewhere along the road of growing up. It was difficult recalling my early childhood in therapy. I didn't seem to have many memories.
I do remember being dressed in twin outfits with my sister and hating it. My mother made most of our clothes and made them beautifully. As babies (my sister and I are sixteen months apart) we wore hats and coats of matching wool in wintertime and often dressed in matching outfits for special occasions. I hated being a twin when I really wasn't one.
Another memory that has stayed with me is getting lost. My mother and I were in a very big department store. The aisles went on forever and there were great big bins holding articles to buy in the center of the aisles. I got lost somehow. Fear and panic overtook me. I couldn't find my mother anywhere for what seemed like a very long time. I didn't know what to do. If I kept moving she might never find me. On the other hand it occurred to me that she might leave the store and never come back for me. I started to wail. Somehow we were reunited and I was scolded for wandering off. My mother's solution to this problem was to get a leash with straps that went around the chest and over the shoulders and buckled in back. This was attached to the leash proper, like a dog's leash, with a loop at the end. My sister had one too. We were walked down the street on our white leashes summer and winter.
I don't have any memories of my own when I was a baby. Some people remember things that happened to them when they were two or three. My earliest recollections start around four or five, with one exception. I did have an unusual experience of myself as a baby when I was beginning therapy. Blanche Saia was my first therapist and a terrific woman. I'd been seeing her regularly for a couple of years. One afternoon I didn't think I had much to talk about and told her so. She suggested we try something a little different. "Why don't you lie down on the couch?" I'd never done that before; I always sat in a chair. The couch was against the opposite wall. I suddenly felt awkward getting up and going over there but I didn't say anything. Blanche's chair was behind my head. I was an adult in my mid-twenties, in serious therapy, not liking her couch much. I lay there with my eyes closed and waited. Why was I so nervous, anxious even? I wondered.
"What's happening?" "Nothing," I answered. Silence. "What do you see?" "A farm," I answered, "with a white silo and a white farm house." Silence. "What else?" Slowly an image started to come clear, black bars on a white background. The reflection of bars on a floor. A baby holding on to the bars, trying to stand, and suddenly screaming, but no sound came out and no one came. The next thing I know, I'm sitting up, screaming, "I'm going crazy! I'm going crazy!" Blanche, to my complete surprise, was seated at my side gently rubbing my back, telling me everything's okay. When did she get up from her chair? I wondered. How long had I been "out"? "What happened?" I cried, "what happened? I couldn't scream, nothing came out, but I heard the scream, nobody came, I feel so scared!" The words tumbled out as I sobbed and blew my nose, feeling all jangly and vulnerable. After Blanche calmed me down she suggested I ask my mother if anything unusual happened when I was two or three years old. "What do you mean, unusual?" I asked. "Well, something out of the ordinary...something maybe that never happened before?"
I called home one night shortly after that session and queried my mother. Mom thought about it and then said, "I do remember something. I left you with Momsie, your grandmother, to visit your dad before he shipped out." She told me that she had gone to see my father in Quantico, Virginia, where he was in Marine Officer School. He was to be shipped out because of the war. She had never left us before. "How long were you gone?" I asked. "Oh, six or seven weeks. Not long. I remember calling home and Momsie told me that you had been very upset and acting funny so I told her to put you on the phone so I could say hi. But when you heard my voice you became hysterical. I was going to come home but Momsie said not to, that you were all right. When I did get home Momsie brought you to the train station and you acted as if I'd never left. Does that count as unusual?"
My mother, Jacqueline Helena Rakowski Mason, of St. Louis, Missouri, thought I was rather unusual growing up. Perhaps she thought that because I often seemed to frustrate her. Perhaps it was just that she had two babies sixteen months apart to take care of without much help. I do remember feeling alone a lot. I don't know when I first noticed the voices but my mother tells me that as a very little girl, I used to sit on the floor in the living room of our apartment on Clarence Avenue, in North St. Louis, and quietly transfer pennies from one jar to another, pennies that my father "Jimbo" had collected in a big Mason jar that sat on the top of their tall bureau. I do have a recollection that sometimes I would notice a date on a coin and, for some inexplicable reason, I felt better when the dates were very old. While absorbed in this task, my imagination would take off to parts and places unknown. I can't imagine being entertained "for hours" by this activity even though my mother says I was.
My mother, called "Jackie" or "Jake," also told me I lied a great deal when I was young. I did it so much that she took me to a doctor. I used to wonder what she said to the doctor, "Doctor, my child lies! Do something!" I imagine her waving me at him much like a customer returning a defective appliance. When I asked her what the doctor did, she couldn't remember. Where exactly would he begin to examine me? I pondered. Images of fingers in my tush quickly ended my quest to remember.
My mother thought dressing us exactly alike was cute. She enjoyed people stopping her on the street saying, "What cute twins." I hated being presented as a twin when I wasn't. It bothered me enormously as I grew older because I had to suffer for both of us. For example, I wasn't allowed to go on a date with a boy until I was sixteen years old, but when I turned sixteen, my sister got to date too, even though she was only fourteen.
Another big impression I carried into my adult years was the fact that my mother hated to be called Ma. "Call me Sam. Call me Jake. Call me Jackie, just don't call me Ma!" "Well, what about Mom?" I asked. "I like Mother better but if you have to..." Perhaps this was because my mother was deeply concerned with propriety, with "good breeding." There was a time when she signed all her cards and notes to me, "Love, Philly and Jake" or "Sam and Philly." Philly was a name of a character my father played in one of my college productions. Then after Dad died, she'd sign Jake or Sam. But for the past several years she signs off as Mom and I call her Mom; but I never did call her Ma. My sister also hated her name, Mary Melinda. She insisted her name was Linda or Lin and that we all call her that. I called her Linny when we were young. Now I call her Lin and she has always signed her name as Linda.
I remember that at thirteen I desperately wanted to believe that I was adopted. I was sure of it at times. It mattered a great deal to me. Well, everything mattered a great deal to me as a thirteen-year-old and I began the lifelong habit of trying to be like someone else. If I met a new friend while on vacation, and she was from Alabama and spoke with a Southern drawl, then so did I. This habit of being someone else charmed my parents and sometimes came in handy.
My Alabama friend and I were swimming in the Gulf one summer in Sarasota, Florida. She suddenly panicked because she thought we had ventured out too far and couldn't make it back to shore. She was seriously scared. I instantly became calm and started talking to her quietly, telling her to swim on her back watching me the whole time. She did it while I calmly treaded water, gently nudging her feet, inching us back toward shore. When I felt the sand with my toes I told her she was safe, she could stand and bounce up and down till we reached shallow water, cooing to her in my best Alabaman Southern belle drawl that everything was fine. Privately, I surprised myself, feeling very grown-up, in charge. In my mind this feat proved it; I must have been adopted.
On this same trip my father became enraged at my sister and me for following some boys -- at a discreet distance, mind you -- down the beach one evening. He came into our room, took off his belt, and spanked...
"Back to the present, old girl," G.A. nudges. It's getting dark. Sugar! I look at my watch and the shifting sky. Still so much to do. I'm not going to get any sleep tonight, that's for sure.
Walking to the fountain in front of the house, I start to clean the small spigots that move water from one bowl to the other. The sky's reflection paints the water with color -- orange, blue, fuchsia, and here and there, midst the ripples, little trails of clouds.
As I poke the little spigots with a twig and watch the water push through I notice my hands shaking.
"So what else is new?" I murmur to the fountain. This tremor in my hands has come and gone over the years, ever since high school, I am sure, connected somehow to wanting my parents' approval, but always falling short, never quite getting there. Just like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Sometimes I thought I'd made it; but then something always happened, and I would lose it. I tried very hard to become the young lady my parents and teachers wanted me to be, especially my father. I became conscious of a continuous low-voltage anxiety that hummed in me. I woke up with it; I went to bed with it. There were some nights when I dreamed I wanted to fly but couldn't get off the ground, then I would wake up with a start, in a sweat, with my heart racing and my hands shaking.
These episodes led to private conversations with various saints, the Blessed Virgin, occasionally Jesus, and once in a while the Holy Ghost. Sometimes I'd pray out loud, pleading with God to make everything okay. This situation continued through college. If I was driving home later than expected and fearful I was in trouble, I'd pray, plead, and bargain with God, hoping against hope that all would be well when I got home.
As a young kid I was also expected to hear and heed the social voice of the late 1950s. "Being a lady of good breeding" was my mother's Holy Grail. Another favorite was, "What will the neighbors think?" I often found myself believing and saying things I hadn't thought through or even understood. Questioning and arriving at your own opinion wasn't encouraged at all in my house and not at all in the Catholic Church in which I grew up. I was taught I had to take a lot of life on blind faith and do what anyone in authority told me. The catchphrases included: "They know what's best for you." "Because I said so." "We're your parents, we know what's best."
And like the dutiful child my parents wanted, I'd repeat what I'd heard at home or in church without questioning its validity or prejudice. This parroting of unthought-out beliefs and aphorisms often led to my red-faced embarrassment, especially if an attractive boy questioned or called me on something I said and asked me to explain myself. I was totally unprepared, but trying to save my blushing face, I'd blunder my way into an even worse mess, then see derision and rejection light up his face. In those moments I wanted to die. Embarrassment became humiliation and shame.
I also became aware of being unconnected or disconnected to the outside world and to my peers. It felt as if I were born trying to get out of something, out of the confines of my family, the church and its hypocritical morality, out of St. Louis, Missouri. A deep restlessness, a constant uncomfortableness came over me, starting when we moved from North St. Louis to the suburb of Crestwood. I think I was in seventh or eighth grade, although it's difficult to remember exactly, because my sister and I were a grade apart, but treated the same. We were sent and went everywhere together, and I was responsible if anything happened to her.
"Turquesa Lane, Elmont Lane. Who cares! Get on with it! You have more important things to do," commands Chuck Moses in his megaphoned voice. Stop pushing! I answer back, but quickly burst out laughing. What do you expect from a pusher? I ask myself; he's just doing his job. Besides I'm prone to identify with petulant Gloria the Collapser. "Why even try?" she whines. "I can't do it. I'm a failure! Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. A has-been, second best." (She often gets her information from my inner Critic.)
Having finished with the fountain and moving on to my next task, I'm stopped by the fact that I still haven't heard any birds. They usually chatter until its totally dark. The trees are stationary and the colors in the sky are now muted, bleeding into each other like a soft watercolor.
"Maybe they're sad we're going away forever," Anna's soulful six-year-old voice pipes up and surprises me. It isn't often that I hear her, and when I do I pay attention. It's odd that my Inner Child should be so elusive these days.
"I miss the seasons," pipes up Ed, "when the trees are bright red in autumn, and you can play touch football. Then, when the trees are just sticks in the snow, I like watching them sleep. They look cool when they're covered in ice, and the sun comes out and makes them clink and shine."
"I especially like the spring, when you get to go out and play," Anna adds quietly.
I used to play touch football when I was a kid, until I was tackled by a boy and all the pearl buttons on my blouse popped open! When we lived on Elmont Lane, I used to go down to the end of the street to an African-American cemetery, or the "black" cemetery as it was known then. I loved walking there, watching the big trees signal the passing of seasons. There were lots of sunken graves and knocked down markers. It was said the cemetery was once a way station for runaway slaves heading north during the Civil War. After reading the dates on some of the tombstones, that may have been true. Once in a great while I'd see a small funeral gathering there, elderly people dressed in black, the women wearing hats and gloves and the men in suits and ties, and they'd kinda huddle together in the quiet brightly colored autumn, the trees all around the cemetery painted ocher and sunflower yellow and all shades of red.
I loved going there when I felt that familiar Sunday sad restlessness. I'd tramp around and silently talk to myself or the trees or the dead people. As the years passed I found myself feeling that familiar sadness on days of the week other than Sunday, behaving and thinking in ways that surprised and scared me. This realization made me feel even more "the outsider." By college, I felt like "the outsider" at home.
Deeply affected by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I hated the fact that my father didn't understand what all the "hoopla was about." He thought it ridiculous that bars should close and that the drama department canceled the remaining performances of the production we were doing. I told him I thought the whole world should stop -- everybody, for at least three days. Stop and take notice. How else would his death matter? But my father didn't believe in grieving. Neither did my mother.
Maybe Neil Simon suffered from not grieving the death of Joan, his first wife, at the appropriate time. I know Nancy, my stepdaughter, did. Unexpressed grief can lead to illnesses and depression, which Neil has experienced ever since I've known him. Nancy didn't grieve her mother's death when it happened; she was only nine years old at the time. When Neil and I separated Nancy was devastated, feeling all the unexpressed emotional pain, and grieving all the deaths in her young life, wearing only black for years and smoking way too many cigarettes. With help she learned to share her feelings and not fear losing our love, and I think this helped her to understand herself. She and her sister Ellen helped me to learn and grow as a mother and a woman. They still do. They are wonderful mothers in their own right, and both are gloriously beautiful women. I love them with all my heart and deeply respect their love and affection. I'm proud of the fact that we have maintained our relationship and watched it grow and deepen over the years.
I knew I needed to learn about life and relationships early on. In college, that was crystal clear. Life out there in the real world was where I belonged, needing to know why my world felt so foreign, so scary, so unjust. I didn't understand my parents, my sister, and most of all, myself. I desperately wanted to have some palpable sense of security about myself and my life. My emotions felt overwhelming to me, and I knew that my emotions and my actions overwhelmed my family. This need for understanding, for some kind of control, or freedom and security, led me into acting, beginning in high school at Nerinx Hall, and then at Webster College, and finally, thank God, in New York. And just look at me, I laughingly muse, as I study my trembling hands in the faint light of this summer night. I'm a bundle of stress and apprehension.
"Don't be hard on yourself, Marsha. You're much too hard on yourself. You're doing just fine." Grace's soothing voice makes me cry.
"You're crying because you're grieving, mourning the joy and sadness of the past with its accomplishments and mistakes, the pain you caused others, and the pain you experienced. Misunderstandings and misbeliefs. You're also mourning all the dear ones who are gone: Barbara Colby, Baba Muktananda, Fitzy, your father, your childhood, the children you didn't have, and your contemporaries who have died of AIDS. It's good to mourn. It's important." Grace truly is her name.
My daughter Ellen once remarked that I was "into everything," which is true to an extent. I've always searched for answers and explanations, always curious, wondering if I'm missing anything, trying to bring order and sense to my chaotic mind and my crazy life. Thank God for Siddha meditation, Baba, and now Gurumayi.
"But have you made sense of anything?" my inner Critic suddenly shrieks. "Who do you think you're kidding! You're a fool! And you're just fooling yourself, as usual!"
"Now," my insidious Patriarch voice intones, "do you honestly believe you've made sense of your life at all?" His question hangs in the air. No, probably not, I say to myself with a sigh. As young women we learn all about the patriarch as God from our mothers, and my Patriarch is often critical of women.
Taking a last look at this beautiful house designed by John Midyette III, a Santa Fe architect, I'm reminded of how life came along and dropped his plans into my lap. The plans of a dream house for a well-known builder in Santa Monica whose wife didn't want to move here. "Here" was then a barren, pie slice of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a spot that had miraculously never been built on. All the other houses in the neighborhood were twenty to twenty-five years old.
As my hand moves along the curve of rough stucco, I'm reminded that I didn't want to build this house. I'd never built a house from scratch before. I'd almost bought a couple of other houses but always got cold feet. My frustrated but very understanding friend and real estate maven, Cynthia Marin, patiently asked me, "What exactly are you looking for?"
I answered without thinking. "If I'm gonna continue to live in L.A., I want a Santa Fe adobe house with a spectacular view of the ocean." And that was exactly what she found for me. It was built in one year for exactly the amount I could afford, built by men who took great pride in their work. They'd never built a traditional Santa Fe home before. The beams and vigas and latillas were brought from New Mexico and so were the men to build the traditional fireplaces in all the rooms. When I made the decision to build here I had hoped that my life would have some of the charm and joy the house possessed, but that was not to be.
Turning the corner, I exclaim "Wow!" There in front of me is the view to end all views, in all its twinkling, twilight glory. To my left, in the distance, is the tail end of the Santa Monica mountains. Behind, and out from them, is Century City and behind that is downtown Los Angeles. Then sweeping to the right, all of the Los Angeles basin spreads itself before me as it meets the Pacific Ocean. Cynthia told me that the coastline is called The Queen's Necklace. It definitely is. The coastline loops in and out in a lacy design that gracefully curves toward Palos Verdes and the horizon, just like a Victorian woman's necklace. The rolling waves lap the shore as if they're attaching millions of seawater pearls to a filigree of platinum and gold. Also in the distance, dead ahead, is Long Beach, and in the sky lined up in perfect order are the planes above LAX as they begin their descent. It amazes me how evenly positioned they are as they wait for their final order to land. It's a clear evening so I can see the lights of Palos Verdes glimmering, and Catalina Island is a gray-blue shadow against the sky. Off in the distance to the far right, I can just make out the outline of the Santa Barbara Islands.
There have been many nights in the past five years that I sat at this edge of this steep hill dangling my feet over the side, with the pool at my back, or in the Jacuzzi with water twirling and steaming around me as I gazed at this sprawling city I've called home for twenty years.
The evening brings on the distant lights as they begin their winking. I watch the headlights of the cars down below as they slowly snake up Bienvenida Avenue going home to family and dinner in this quiet Leave It to Beaver refuge. They're going home and I'm leaving, for good. "Please God, make this all okay," I pray. Suddenly tears spring to my eyes and my chest feels heavy and bruised; a stringent-tasting saliva squeezes out from my clenched jaw.
"No wallowing, remember?" Grace gently prods. Yes, no sense to it, I agree.
But why? Why didn't this work? And when, when exactly, did I realize I needed to make such a big change, I wonder, looking out through shimmering tears at Westwood and Brentwood and Bel-Air as I stretch my tense and aching back and shoulders, slowly raising numb, tired arms over my head as I gently look heavenward for stars.
"Penny Marshall and Carrie Fisher's mutual birthday party," Grace quietly answers, "I remember because it took all of us to get you to go, and you almost didn't."
Penny Marshall and Carrie Fisher's mutual birthday parties were famous. I suppose I was invited that year because I was starring in an ABC series for Jim Brooks called Sibs that was directed by Ted Bessell. It wasn't a success. We shot twenty-six shows, I think, and the network showed maybe ten of them. I got a residual once from Malaysia. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Ted Bessell was in partnership with Penny, developing material through their company, Parkway Productions. Carrie Fisher and I had worked on a picture together, Drop Dead Fred, starring Phoebe Cates and Rik Mayall, a successful British television comedian. Ten-year-olds loved the picture.
I remember being glued to the seat of my car as I drove up Outpost Road to Penny's home, slowing down to view the house I first rented when Neil and I separated. Penny's street happened to be just to the right. I drove up and down those streets three or four times checking everything out, including the valet parking. There were a lot of cars everywhere. I finally felt I had to at least try to get out of the car. I'd spent hours getting up the courage to come, and hours more trying to decide what to wear. Having promised myself that if it didn't feel right I could leave, I parked where I knew I could get out quickly and walked back up the street to Penny's house. I had come alone, as usual, but tried to appear and feel as cool and sophisticated as possible. This was the kind of moment where trying to be someone else can come in handy. Think of Kathleen Turner, I suggested to myself. I'd met her a couple of times and she seemed enormously self-confident. Penny answered the door in her frazzled kind of way, which was somewhat comforting. I was relieved that she seemed as overwhelmed in her own home as I did. She welcomed me, "Oh, hi Marsha," then proceeded to mumble something about this being the last time she was ever going to do this. I immediately tried to put her at ease by saying something inane, "Don't worry about me, I'll just meander on through." She threw up her hands in a vague gesture of giving up or perhaps welcoming and continued muttering as she went down a hall in search of something or someone. I stood alone.
In the opposite direction of the hall was a large living room teeming with people. Nope. Can't go in there. Suddenly Ted appeared. "You're just getting here? I'm leaving. My girls are sick and Linnell is holding down the fort." With that he kissed me good-bye and whisked out the door. Great. Just great. The only person I know has just left. I stayed attached to the front door wondering if I should just bolt, when bang! from around another hallway came a stunning-looking woman dressed in black, with gorgeous blond hair and a perfectly made-up face and perfectly manicured hands.
"Marsha!" the deep-throated goddess announced, "you're not leaving? Did you just get here? Love the jacket! You know Tom Hanks and his lovely wife, Rita, don't you?" Thank God for my friend Dani Jansen, the Perle Mesta of Hollywood!
"Dani!" I exclaimed while I hugged her. At least I'm unglued from the door, I thought, as I turned to Rita and Tom.
"Of course I know Tom!" I said as I shook his hand. "We all met at your house, Dani! At one of your fabulous parties! Hello Tom, Rita!" I enthused. "I'm a big fan!" Everything I said had the ring of exclamation points with a panicked air. Careful girl, I warned myself, you're a little over the top.
"Of course I know Marsha," Tom gracefully countered. "I've been wanting to tell you for the longest time, I saw your Roxane in the production of Cyrano de Bergerac at A.C.T. You were fantastic. I knew I wanted to be an actor that night."
I was dumbfounded. "Oh, well...thank you....I don't know....I am a big fan of yours...." Great Marsha, just great. Thankfully Dani came to my rescue.
"Come on, I'm going to take you through the party, come on now, say goodnight to Tom and Rita, they're leaving." She took me by the hand, literally, and pulled me into the teeming room and began to introduce me to everyone. Maybe this wouldn't be too hard after all, I decided, hugging and kissing acquaintances, shaking hands with strangers. I perked right up. I'm so easy. Hand in hand, Dani led me to the pool area. It too was teeming with people, people who were hungry. I began to understand why Penny was muttering so much.
"You know Francis, don't you? Francis Ford Coppola?" Dani asked.
"Oh my heavens, of course I know Francis. He directed me in my first show with A.C.T., Private Lives!" Slow down girl, too many exclamation points. I hadn't seen Francis since that production in 1971. Francis proceeded to explain to those gathered round that he staged the show in some particular way that hadn't been done before, with a balcony or something facing the audience. Everyone oohed and ahhed. I couldn't for the life of me remember anything about the production design and had nothing to say to add to the conversation. Instead, I glanced to my right and found Gary Oldman looking at me intensely, and I couldn't look away. Staring back, I suddenly felt foolish. Why is he looking at me, that way? I thought. Do I look funny? I looked at Dani as she talked effortlessly with everyone around her. I could ask her if I look all right, I thought, but decided I hadn't the confidence to hear any answer. What if she faltered or spoke haltingly. Then what would I do? I mumbled my good-byes to Francis and told Dani I was going to get something to eat and drink. Please God, let me find a drink, fast! I made my way back into the house and asked where the bar was. As I headed in the direction of someone's pointing finger, I glanced up and into a wall mirror. I was stopped cold by what I saw.
Looking back at me was Mercedes McCambridge in Touch of Evil. I thought that instantly upon seeing myself with short hair and a black leather jacket with studs. Jesus, I had tried so hard to choose the "right" outfit, but what I saw in the mirror shocked me.
"Who the hell are you?" some inner self asked as I furtively looked away. My heart kicked in, but promptly sank to my feet. I hated what I saw in the mirror. I was a complete stranger to myself. I couldn't believe what I looked like! Totally panicked, feeling an anxiety attack coming on, I lost my bearing, or whatever you want to call it. I knew I had to bolt, or I'd probably die right there of heart failure and make an even bigger fool of myself. I managed to walk to the front door, inched myself out while no one was looking, and ran to my car. My heart raced right along with me. I buzzed down those Porsche windows and opened the sky window so I could get air and try to calm down. I was driving a 928, speeding through the streets of West Hollywood headed straight for the ocean. It was a miracle I didn't get a ticket. I fervently prayed: If I can just get home, get home, and close the door and never leave again...
I ran into the house and went straight for the wine bottle.
"Darling, isn't that just a teensy melodramatic?" G.A. chided gently. No, I thought; to me it felt tragic. It's not that I went to the party knowing I'd end up crashing!
Just like I hadn't known I'd end up crashing doing the series Sibs. When I made the decision to do the series I thought it would be great fun and exciting and the beginning of a whole new direction for my work, because the people involved were talented, powerful, and experienced. Jim Brooks was producing it, a man responsible for the success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons, for God's sake, as well as writing for other successes in television like Taxi. He won Academy Awards for adapting and directing Terms of Endearment. He had great people working with him: Polly Platt, Heidi Perlman, Ted Bessell, Sam Simon, and the great staff at Jim's company, Gracie Films.
Heidi Perlman created Sibs. She worked on a lot of successful shows of Jim's as well as Cheers. Everyone had worked together before. They appeared to be one very happy, -- if slightly dysfunctional -- successful company. This was a great group, for God's sake, mighty talented and extremely successful. Plus, as a producer, Jim was being paid the highest amount of money ever handed out by a network at the time.
What was unique, and a possible weakness, about the series was that we didn't shoot a pilot. The show was about three very different sisters, their sibling rivalries, and how their lives interconnect. I played the oldest sister, married to a very nice Italian guy, played by Alex Rocco, with a son in college, who inherits her boss's company and is suddenly the breadwinner in the family. Margaret Colin played the middle sister, a recovering alcoholic with acerbic wit, no money, no man in her life and hence a stress-filled but funny dame. Jami Gertz played our baby sister, a character who is a complete ditz with no skills at anything and is totally floundering in life. Dan Castellaneta played an accountant who thought he was going to head the company my character inherited and has stepped off the deep end because he didn't. Thus there was a stressful, hopefully comedic world for me to deal with and react to.
We had a guarantee of thirteen episodes on the air from ABC, which is not easy to get. I was told that Jim thought of me for the part after my friend Stockard Channing declined. There may have been others who declined as well. He read a valentine review that Frank Rich, then drama critic for The New York Times, had written when I opened in Michael Weller's play Lake No Bottom at The Second Stage in New York. Jim was a big supporter of The Second Stage. I'm a huge fan and supporter of Jim because he loves the theater, as well as film and television, and he's immensely talented in everything he does. He's also a hard worker who was involved with two other projects at the time we were working on Sibs. He was directing a new play by a young playwright at a theater in L.A., starring Glenn Close, Woody Harrelson, and Laura Dern, as well as writing and preparing a film with music starring Nick Nolte.
Practically everyone from Gracie Films and ICM, our mutual agency, came to woo me, offering a great deal. They told me the script was a work in progress, that we'd all work on it making it even better while we rehearsed. Michael Black, my then agent, now manager, and always dear friend, was supportive yet objective. ABC offered a terrific deal, so there I was, stymied. Something instinctual kept telling me "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage." No, no matter what, I didn't think this was going to work for me. But I needed to work, I thought, and all these good, good people were telling me it was all going to be great. I wanted it to work. I wanted it badly.
Good work with talented people was slow in coming my way. I was a mature woman, doncha know. The parts aren't out there for us. I needed to jump-start my career. The network -- hell, the world -- was gearing everything to teenyboppers.
The night before Ted Bessell was to come to this house to make a last pitch to join them, I walked to the edge of this hill and stood where I now stand and remembered my friend Barbara Colby. She and I worked together at A.C.T. (The American Conservatory Theater) in the 197071 season and again at Lincoln Center in New York in 1974 in a production of Richard III. It was during our run in that show that she introduced me to Siddha meditation and, most important, introduced me to my guru, Swami Muktananda. This woman, always in pursuit of the ideal when it came to her work and her life, was constantly searching for the most creative environment. She finally found it on a television series and couldn't have been more surprised. She appeared in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing a prostitute, and they loved her so much that they asked her back. When they were preparing a spin-off show for Cloris Leachman, they asked her to be a regular.
"Can you believe it?! Marsha, I've searched everywhere: Peter Brook, A.C.T., New York, you name it, I've looked. Of all places, I found it doing a half-hour sitcom, a little play every week, like repertory, with a wonderful company!" She was ecstatic. Unfortunately she was shot dead along with her boyfriend by unknown assailants coming out of her acting class one night. But that's another story.
I loved the idea of doing a little play every week too, so why hold back? I asked myself. These people want you. It's a great opportunity. Maybe this show will turn everything around. Maybe it will be a terrific experience. I said yes. By the fourth day of rehearsal I knew I was in trouble.
We were doing a run-through for all the writers and Heidi, Jim, Sam, and other people from Gracie Films. They were sitting or standing about six feet from us and they were talking loudly with each other while we were playing the scene. I was stunned at this behavior. I didn't know what to make of it. How could they possibly get what we were trying to do? How could any of us concentrate? I was nervous and tight, but how on earth could they really hear the material and see what we were doing with it if they were already talking about it and the set and our costumes? I stopped. They continued to talk. I managed to get their attention and began to speak.
"I know I'm new to this form and you all have been doing it for a long time but I would like to be able to do a scene, I don't mean the whole show, just each scene once, with you all not talking. Just so I can feel what it's like to get a run on these scenes. Perhaps eventually I'll be able to work the way you do, but for now I would just like to do the scene once, without any talking, and then we can do it again, as many times as you want, and you guys can talk." There was complete silence. Everyone looked to Jim. He was pissed. Thank God for the weekend.
On Monday we were all called to Jim's conference room. Lunch was served and we made small talk, then Jim began to speak. He had been giving my request serious thought and although he tried to appear calm, he seemed agitated. "I've worked this way for the last twenty-five years." He may have said thirty-five; I'm not sure, because I was calling on all the years of therapy to keep me calm and strong because anxiety was crawling all over my skin.
"Well, Jim," I ventured as I tried to breathe and appear calm, "I've been working my way for about as long, and I don't want to upset you, but perhaps it would be a good thing to try it my way for just a little while and I will try your way, I promise. But not with the first show." He interrupted with a slightly strident tone saying something like, "No, it's not a problem," but it was clear by the tone of his voice as it climbed higher and higher, that it was a problem. I guessed he was used to working in an environment in which the actors did as they were told and didn't give him a hard time, especially not right away. At the run-through that afternoon everyone lined up as usual, but they didn't make a sound the first time through. I thanked everyone for their patience, but the atmosphere was tense.
Several weeks later I managed to get into more trouble. I came to rehearsal one day and Margaret pulled me aside to alert me that Jami was in tears in her dressing room and Ted, our director, was angry. I went to Jami's dressing room and heard her side of the story and then went to Ted. Maybe because I've directed before, maybe because I was "in" my role of Nora, the lioness of the family, maybe because we couldn't talk to the writers and had to go through Ted all the time, maybe because I was scared silly and needed to act like I knew what the hell I was doing, I lectured Ted on what it takes to be a director. Oh my, my, my. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. It's a credit to Ted that he stood there and listened. A gentle man, in every sense of that word. He loved actors more than anything. Maybe he understood that I felt like the mother of our pack and nobody was messing with my loved ones.
Perhaps the truth for all of us, including Heidi and Jim, was that we weren't sure we could pull it off successfully. Maybe I counted too much on their taking care of me. It occurred to me that perhaps I wasn't any good at that kind of work. I certainly was running scared, unsure and insecure, seriously doubting my ability.
At the filming of the very first show, friends and loved ones came to cheer and root. Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Perlman, came and cheered us all on. Rhea loved the show and loved us and Danny told me, "This is the best job you'll ever have!" My face froze in a smile as I muttered something idiotic and walked quickly to my dressing room. He couldn't possibly have known that statement was the kiss of death for me. I had been told that exact same thing ten years or so before, on a famous project with very famous and powerful people, and that movie never finished filming!
Despite our first success, as the weeks went by everything -- including me -- kept unraveling. One week we'd decide that I had raised Jami after our mother died; another week the writers decided that our father and stepmother raised her. I didn't know which end was up and it was maddening not to be able to talk to any of the writers. I asked for a meeting with Jim and Heidi. Quite a to-do was made of my request, which made me feel even more nervous and isolated. I spent several sessions with Marilyn Hershenson, my therapist at that time, preparing for the meeting. We devised several visualizations to help me stay clear, calm, and present. Mr. Olympus hadn't yet made his appearance as one of my voices, so standing toe to toe, or sitting knee to knee for that matter, with a strong patriarchal character like Jim Brooks was not something that came easily to me.
What I hoped would be a small, friendly, low-key meeting turned into something else entirely. It had the look and feel of a summit conference. On the way over to the conference room, Jim and Heidi passed me in Jim's go-cart. He slowed down and told me he'd invited several people in his office to join us and asked if that was okay. I was taken by surprise and mumbled some kind of..."Sure, no problem" response. Ted escorted me to the meeting and was very supportive. We got there first and he suggested I sit in a certain chair. So I sat. I wound up facing a minimum of ten or twelve people, all sitting in a semicircle facing me; no one was smiling.
I accomplished an important task in maturation at that meeting. I stayed calm and didn't cry or get shrill. Instead I quietly argued for what I thought was right, keeping a calm voice and a quiet demeanor. At one point Jim raised the issue that I had let it be known that I wanted some funny material. Blushing, I took a breath and calmly said, "Well, yes, if I don't have a clear sense of my character and can't figure out my relationships to my family, then at the very least, I do want to be funny."
The meeting didn't help, unfortunately, because afterward things just got testier. I wish I could say that I handled it all like a grown-up, but I didn't. Being miserably unhappy and very scared, I took to going home after filming ended on Friday night and drinking wine or beer, sometimes in the car, I'm ashamed to say. There were some weekends I just plain checked out, didn't answer the phone, ate or didn't eat, slept or didn't sleep. I was a mess. I vegetated and drank too much, ultimately feeling like I was back in my own dysfunctional family drama. It all reminded me of my childhood, with drinking parents and crazy erratic behavior from everyone. I was scared that I would just succumb, thus letting the Collapser have the last word. I was afraid I'd started drinking seriously just to get through it.
Talking to Marilyn in her office one day, I whined, "Why is this happening to me? I've worked so hard to get clear of alcoholism. I've tried to understand it all. Now, why am I back where I began?" I pleaded and cried, "I don't understand. You've got to help me understand why I brought this painful experience into my life!"
Marilyn thought for a moment while I noisily and self-righteously blew my nose; then she began to speak. Sometimes we find ourselves in these situations so that we can see where we've been and how far we've come, she said. But now, you have the tools to change your old responses; you've learned how not to react in the old way. "Oh yeah?" I countered. "Then how come I drive home with open bottles of beer or wine in the car?!" She asked me to think about the meetings with Jim, how I handled myself, took care of myself, stayed calm, and spoke up for myself. "You couldn't do that with Neil," she said. I told her that it was sad that I was learning all this so late. It wasn't Jim's or Heidi's problem; they had problems of their own. This was my problem, my responsibility. I left her office feeling somewhat mollified with a better perspective. One thing I've learned and accepted over the years is that whatever's happened to me, whatever I'm feeling, it's my responsibility and my perception -- no one else's.
Despite a new resolve, the best of intentions, and a great amount of talent and effort on everyone's part, what was supposed to be the best job I could ever have wasn't. What should have worked didn't. It didn't help us that the network kept changing our timeslot from one week to the next. They tried to bring the series back the following year with Margaret and Jami and Dan but it still didn't fly.
Thinking back tonight on my miserable failure in situation comedy and remembering my inability to cope at Penny Marshall's party, all of it reminds me of why I wanted to flee from this place. No wonder I thought I needed to "get out of town." I felt as though I'd already been tarred and feathered. Now if somebody would just bring in the rail...I actually heard G.A. laugh as I took a last look at my gardening endeavors and the glorious view. The lot was totally barren when I built the house, and now, just five years later, it was a verdant landscape of fragrant roses, night blooming jasmine, live Christmas trees planted and growing, the hillside draped in white African daisies with winding, hand-laid pebble paths leading down the steep sloping hill to those statuesque pines the hawks and owls like to nest in. And at the end of one of the paths are the sweet smelling compost piles that helped make everything grow so bountifully. Well, at least I can garden, I think with a sigh.
"Let's please go down to the meditation spot," Anna says quietly. "Yeah, I'd like to go too," says Ed. My inner children's presence is a comfort tonight.
Walking down the path, I see dimly the outline of the wicker chair that's on a small redwood platform, nestled between the heavy, strong trunks of the great pines. I plop down on the platform's edge and look out at the ocean, which is now just a dark space. Looking to the west, the last hint of sunset faintly colors the darkening sky. Magic Hour is waning fast.
"Albert Finney watered this hill on the eve of a Fourth of July, two, or was it three, summers ago." I'm amazed that Anna knows this; why, I don't know, but I am amazed.
The year before Sibs, Albert and I were filming The Image for HBO, with a great cast of actors including Kathy Baker, John Mahoney, and Swoosie Kurtz. The film was directed by Peter Werner. Albert was playing a Peter Jennings type whose life is all about work and being a star television newscaster. I was playing his long-suffering wife who's fed up with their floundering marriage. We had a scene in the bathroom of our home, in which he discovers me in the shower. I hadn't been nude on film since 1973 in Cinderella Liberty and no man had seen my body for over a year because celibacy descended on me after a couple of very unhappy love affairs.
I'd become a couch potato basically, angry and frustrated that all those millions of hours of therapy seemed a waste, at least as far as my love life was concerned. I had "hit the wall" with men that year. It came to me that deciding to go cold turkey on romance was my only option. "Desperate times require desperate measures," was the pronouncement of my growing list of selves. It was time to "clean house." It became a game, counting the days I went without. It was not unlike giving up cigarettes, except giving up cigarettes was much much harder.
In my younger years, I'd always been dependent on a relationship with a man to make me feel complete, and that need continued after my divorce from Neil. I loved physical affection. In the past I managed to fall in love and involve myself in a man's life without taking a good hard look at who I was getting and what I was getting into. Finally, after some disastrous choices, I decided to stop. "Just stop," I commanded myself. "Face it, you don't know what the hell you're doing!" This was a humbling truth. Fortunately, premenopausal symptoms stepped in and my sexual urge took a dive anyway. So there I was, having been celibate for a year and liking it, acting up a storm with Albert Finney, naked as a jaybird.
Albert seems to have a great time with life; he's a flawless actor, a kind and terrific man who loves being social. He loves good food and great wine; he's deliciously funny, full of energy, and a great flirt. His joie de vivre became enormously appealing to Marsha, the Couch Potato Celibate. His love of life was charmingly contagious. Dammit, I decided, I want some of that! He made me laugh and I started to feel sexy again.
"I think it's time we try on a new pair of shoes, don't you?" I asked all my selves in the mirror one day. (I'm addicted to shoes too.) Surprisingly everyone was in agreement. He was the perfect person to lose my virginity with. Again. I've sometimes been rather straightforward when it comes to asking for what I want in the romance department. "Would you like to spend the Fourth of July weekend with me?" I asked straightforwardly, smiling all the while. If only I had some of that brazen quality when asking for what I needed in some other areas of my life.
"Why...I'd be charmed," he answered charmingly. "You take my breath away," he added, kissing my hand, being Tom Jones all over again. What a great adventure. I was definitely pleased. I told him I planned a big party on the Fourth for the whole cast and a bunch of my friends, that I had everything arranged and he could sit by the pool and relax.
"Nonsense, I'll help," he replied. And help he definitely did.
He brought coffee, juice, and toast to bed in the morning and patiently answered the zillion questions I asked him about his personal and professional life. I was way too earnest, but he was forever gracious. We spent the next day picking up food and drink and setting up tables under the portale by the pool.
Then, mysteriously, even to me, I became withdrawn. Personal growth, hitting walls, celibacy, and sudden intimacy were a bit too much for me, even though men and sex still made me a bit frivolous. Withdrawn, frivolous. Frivolous, withdrawn. Poor guy, I was hard to figure.
We finished all the preparations for the next day's party as the sun was setting and twilight was creating magic. Albert decided he wanted to water the grass and the hill so that everything would look perfect. I came down the hill, where I am now, and cut flowers for the tables. Looking back and seeing him watering everything so intently, I was struck by the domesticity of the scene and thought how nomadic the actor's life is, and how important it is to have some creature comforts in our lives when we're on the road, working hard. He was having as pleasurable a time watering the lawn at twilight as I was having surreptitiously watching him.
The following morning after coffee and more fun in bed, Albert left to return to his hotel, dress, and then come to the party with John Mahoney and a couple of guests. When he arrived we greeted each other as if he'd never been here. It was delicious having this secret together. Albert was the hit of the day, and as twilight darkened the sky, everyone stood at the edge of this hill and watched the various fireworks displays in Malibu, Long Beach, and a huge one right in front of us, at eye level. Watching the colorful explosions, I thought that this celebration was a glorious "stepping out," celebrating the end of celibacy with a grand display of fireworks no less.
"A resurrection after a very long sexual Lent," uttered G.A.
And on that note..., I chuckled to myself, it definitely was time to go in.
Copyright © 2000 by Marsha Mason
Table of Contents
1. HITTING THE WALL
2. ROOMS, EMPTY AND FULL
3. HEAD 'EM UP, MOVE 'EM OUT
4. HELLOS AND GOOD-BYES
5. ON THE ROAD AGAIN
6. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR
7. BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
8. DESTINY RIDES AGAIN
9. MEETING MR. HILTON
10. SAGES, SAINTS, AND SCALAWAGS
11. THE MOVIE THAT NEVER GOT MADE (AND THE ONES THAT DID)
12. JOURNEY TO RECOVERY
13. RESTING IN THE RIVER