Movie Mirror Magazine
The Shameful Act That Still Haunts Louise Lasser
More Shocking Than Her Drug Rap!
The ex-Mrs. Woody Allen sits there, looking like she’s just stepped out of the soap opera suds of your living room TV screen…little girl pigtails neatly combed, mouth set in a mile-wide smile, smoothing her puffed sleeve flowery print smock and sipping at vodka laced with grapefruit juice.
“I’m proud of everything I did with Woody,” muses actress Louise Lasser. “But I’m not proud at all that our marriage didn’t work out.
“Why didn’t it? I don’t know…” the voice trails off sadly, and one is almost shocked that the woman who appears to be so unconventional, actually seems to feel shame, seems to be almost haunted, by her divorce.
As a matter of fact, Louise seems more troubled, more shamed by this act, than she does by her recent run-in with the law. Louise was taken to jail in early May after staging a mini sit-in when a Beverly Hills boutique refused to accept her American Express credit card. Louise wouldn’t leave…the owners called police…and while they were doing a routine check, they discovered Ms. Lasser was wanted for two outstanding traffic warrants totaling $65.
TV’s latest darling was booked because of the outstanding warrants, and when police did another routine check—of Ms. Lasser’s purse—they found a vial that, in laboratory tests, revealed she was in possession of a very small amount of cocaine. She was rebooked for this offense.
Louise was let out on $1,631 bail. California District Attorney Marvyn Kay said, “the charge carries a 2-to-10 year penalty for the first conviction, but when there is no prior record, the law provides for a defendant to get a noncriminal probationary period.”
Louise has never been in trouble before, so it may be assumed her life will not be really drastically disturbed by what just happened to her. She’s not going to land behind bars, she’s not going to lose her show. But her divorce from Woody Allen has disturbed her—did radically disturb her existence.
“I’m not at all proud our marriage didn’t work out.” She says again, the shame till there.
“Why didn’t it? I don’t know…” the voice trails off sadly again…
“But I do know that if it hadn’t been for Woody, I would never have become the star of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” on TV. I probably would have been Mary Hartman in real life instead. She’s exactly the person I would have been if I’d grown up in a small town and married my high school sweetheart and been a housewife. Instead, I grew up in the city and married a genius and became an actress.
Those three wild and wonderful years with Woody may have left their mark on Louise Lasser—may still haunt her –but there’s still more than a little of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in that enigmatic make-up. Her supporting cast on that smash hit but controversial soap opera will testify to that.
“Sometimes,” says of her constant co-workers, “it’s hard to know where Mary leaves off and Louise begins. At times, Louise can be as detached and vague as Mary, but then she’ll turn right around and it’s like trying to move a rock. She’s not always easy to work with. She has definite ideas about how things should be done. But it’s hard to fault that, because the one thing Louise wants—above all else—is for the show to be done right. She’s ambitious, and there’s a reserve about her that’s sometimes hard to get through—even though she’s basically honest. Sometimes, in fact, too honest for her own good.”
From what Louise says about her life with Woody, her ex-husband is probably responsible for helping formulate that part of her character.
“Before I met Woody,” she tells interviewers, “I always felt like girls were supposed to be stupid, that it was unfeminine to be too smart. I played so dumb I even believed it myself.
“But even when I was acting dumb, the smart boys must have seen through me. Smart boys always liked me. All the way up to Woody,” she says proudly. “Woody taught me a woman doesn’t have to play dumb. No woman who’s dumb could ever have married a genius like Woody.
“And he is a genius, you know,” she warmed to a glow as she considered the accomplishments of her ex-mate. “I see him now, using himself and his philosophy to do all these marvelous things. He’s getting into the area of what life and death is really all about in his latest movies, and he’s doing just what he should be doing—making fine films.
“And I,” she sighed, “am also doing what I must do.”
In the first flush of instant love that blazed up when Woody and Louise met at a party in 1966, they visualized their life as a happily-ever-after storybook romance.
They set up housekeeping in a New York City old brownstone, and Manhattan—from Broadway to the corridors of the Museum of Modern Art—was their private preserve. Woody was on his way up, and taking Louise with him. So they romped around like a couple of kids, Louse recalls, dreaming of the day when they’d be famous as one of the “great couples,” a latter-day edition, perhaps, of those darlings of the intellectual and literary set author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his tragic Zelda.
“Eventually, though,” Louise admits, “we found we had to separate to make it possible to work together to get on with our lives in this business.”
Inevitably, the split widened. And when their marriage ended, soon Woody found himself a new leading lady, Diane Keaton.
Louise is even understanding about that. “We see each other from time to time and we’re always nice to each other,” she insists. “I don’t resent seeing her in his movies. She’s fulfilling the same role I did in his work. Nobody in Woody’s films is a star but Woody. Anybody else is simply servicing his concept.”
And even though they no longer work together, it pleases Louise that Woody takes time to let her know he approves of her current TV assignment.
“Woody is very supportive of me,” she reports proudly. “He called me after “Mary Hartman” started and told me he thinks I’m terrific in it. That made me feel marvelous.”
The teeth that dentists would die for flash again, the famous “Mary Hartman” grin.
“No,” she addresses the next question, “he did not call it a soap opera. And that’s because “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” most certainly is not a soap opera.
“There is, furthermore, nothing funny about this show. And despite what everybody thinks, it is not a spoof. It is dead serious, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t believe that with all my heart.
“’Mary Hartman’ is a story, a continuing story based on a real town, a real family, and their real friends. It is life, with all the humor and tragedy intact. And if you don’t think it is, I suggest that right this minute somebody out there is getting raped and there are people being mugged. We didn’t just pull a mass murder storyline out of the air. Those things happen in this not-so-snug little world.”
She straightened in her chair, preparing to make a point. “It is not my purpose to enlighten America, but if people out there aren’t adult enough to handle such things, then that’s their problem,” she declares firmly. “It’s time the TV public grew up.
“We’re not dealing with raw sex on this show, either. What we do deal with in the Mary-Tom story is a failing marriage, the kind of relationship that often causes impotence, and of a woman’s need to know why her husband doesn’t want to touch her anymore. Good heavens, there are married couples all over with those kinds of problems, and anybody who says they’re not out there is just scared to face facts.”
She paused, but only momentarily, for breath.
What is “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” really like?
“She is a product of our society today,” Louise analyzes firmly.
Are Louise and Mary really sisters under the skin?
“Of course I’m partly Mary myself,” Louise retorts. “I’m the kind who cries over “The Waltons” on TV because they’re such a beautiful family and I always feel like an orphan. And I love Mary Tyler Moore because on her show adults seem like children, which they really are. Aren’t all of us children—and aren’t all of us Mary? Aren’t we all expected to live right, do right? That’s where all our problems start—when we don’t live up to what’s expected.
“The only difference between Mary and me,” Louise confides, “is that I’ve always been more rebellious.”
In Louise’s life, rebellion took the form of doing the unexpected.
The daughter of a famous New York tax expert, Louise grew up with a background of plenty of money and the best progressive school education it could buy.
She studied philosophy and literature at the New School for Social Research and went on to major in political science at Brandeis University, but a taste of acting whetted her appetite, and she left after three years to study with acting coach Sanford Meisner.
A tour in Elaine May’s improvisational company came next, and then the breaks on Broadway in The Chinese and Doctor Fish and Henry, Sweet Henry, and those great movies with Woody—Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. The famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman added another credit when he signed her for his TV movie, The Lie.
And when Hollywood’s king of sitcom producers, Norman Lear, saw her in Slither, he saw “Mary Hartman” in the flesh.
Since that show started, Louise hasn’t had much time to do anything else. “This is damn hard work. I’m exhausted, working longer hours for less money than ever before. At the end of the day I collapse. How long can I keep it up? I don’t know.”
But still she manages somehow to seclude herself in her ranch-style house in the Hollywood hills and write.
“Writing is my insurance,” she confides. “I’ve just finished a screenplay.”
With “Mary Hartman” clobbering even the nightly TV news in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, why should Louise Lasser need insurance?
“For the day the quality of our show goes down,” Louise smiles, but her eyes have a steely look that means she means it.
“For me, this show is like entering a personal relationship. As long as it’s fulfilling, I’ll stay. If it isn’t—if I’m not satisfied with it—then I don’t care if the show is a hit or not, I’m splitting.”
“Mary Hartman,” as Louise likes to say, “is a damned survivor.”
So is Louise Lasser But she does it her way.
“I’ll never compromise on the quality of that show,” Louise declares firmly. “I’d far rather sit in my house all by myself and write than be involved in something that’s wrong.”
When she said that, Louise Lasser wasn’t smiling at all.