TV By Day
Louise Lasser “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”
By Jack Connors
EDITORS NOTE: “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” may be an unfamiliar title to some of you. This new soap opera, created by Norman Lear, who brought you “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude,” is being syndicated on many stations across the country. Check your local listings to see if this new program is being shown in your area. It is a soap opera with a difference—the emphasis is on laughter. The title role is being played by comedienne Louise Lasser, and our story about Louise will introduce you to this gifted actress.
Tune in to “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and let us know how you like it. It should prove to be interesting and fun!
Louise Lasser lives with a label that clings to her constantly. No matter where she turns, she’s frequently referred to as “that comedy actress who used to be married to Woody Allen.” There was a time when Louise would cringe each time she heard the comment, or read it, but today, as the star of her own show, she’s gaining her own identity. As TV’s new serial heroine in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Louise is discovering an entire new life, primarily through the character she portrays.
“Mary is an attitude more than anything else,” Louise offers as she sits on the floor in front of the fireplace of her Hollywood Hills home.
“She’s the dark side of me in a rather funny way. I mean, we have to be somewhat like our characters or we can’t play them. She’s sideways, she’s an avoider, and yet I think she’s also very healthy. She avoids what she wants to avoid and all this craziness that goes on around her, and the audience relates to her because she’s always the one who’s saying, ‘What?’
“The biggest difference between us,” Louise adds earnestly, “is that in many areas where she’s passive, I choose to be aggressive. But I really understand the side of her that is passive because that’s a side of me that anyone who knows me well will recognize.
“It’s that kind of humor that slides in from under. I think Mary is pretty smart about certain things but she’s not at all educated, especially about worldly affairs. But when it comes to stuff that’s going on around her, she’s the one who goes down to pick up her grandfather who’s been picked up for streaking and she can probably absorb it better than anybody. There’s an understanding that she has, as wisdom in her for whatever is going on, and if she doesn’t like it, she avoids it.”
In admitting that much of Mary Hartman is a self-portrayal, Louise is not at all concerned about being completely locked-into the character as perhaps Carroll O’Connor has as Archie Bunker.
“I really like Mary,” Louise says frankly, “and in terms of my career as a whole I just think we’re living in a day and age where you can’t plan a career. If you sit and try to plan a career, you probably will never work.
“But see,” she adds, “there’s a lot of ways in which you’re pegged in your life, as I well know. You get pegged as someone’s wife, you get pegged as a comedy actress and when you get pegged you just have to wait your chance to change that. I look back and I’m not sorry that I was married. I’m just delighted. I’m aware of the repeated use of ‘Woody Allen’s ex-wife,’ but in truth, I’m crazy about Woody so it doesn’t bother me. It’d have been awful had I married somebody I didn’t like, or married someone I thought was an idiot, and I had to live with that association. But I read things and they say ‘Woody Allen’s ex-wife,’ or ‘Allen’s leading lady,’ it’s so funny because it seems so long ago.
“When Woody and I started working together (Louise has starred in four of Allen’s films) we were already divorced. We weren’t working together when we were married, so that does shed a little different light on it. But we have a very good relationship for two people who have been married and then decided not to maintain that arrangement. It’s really no problem. In fact, I’m proud of him. I think he’s done terrific things, and I just think he’s an out-and-out genius.”
Still, as the star of her own show, Louise is gaining her own identity and it’s given her a desire for the very things Mary Hartman already has in her life.
“I’m taking one step at a time right now,” she says. “Right now this is good. I’m really glad about it. I’m working, and I can look back and tell you about times in which there were nothing but complaints about my career. All I had going for me was a solid reputation, but I wasn’t actually getting up in the morning and going to work.
“Still, my career does not come first. My life is number one, and in doing this show I’ve learned that Mary Hartman has a lot of things I really want. I’d really like to have a family, to be married. I really do believe that if you are successful in a marriage you can fulfill all your hopes and dreams.
“See I believe that as you get older, as you have more stability in your life, you pass that goal-oriented attitude. With a good marriage you’d have the chance to do things you sometimes only hope you’ll do. I’d like to be content enough so that I’d not be racing around all the time. I’d like to be with a family—settled in.
“That’s where Mary Hartman has it all over us. She’s pretty happy. She has a husband, a child, a nice home, and while there’s a lot of craziness going on around her, she understands it all. Or at least she isn’t affected by it because she is secure within herself. I’d like to have grasp of things around me as well as she does.”
There’s a certain wistful expression in Louise’s comments and on her face, as well as a special excitement she conveys about “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Clearly she’s hopeful of achieving success, both in her career and in her search for marriage and domestic happiness.