Dody Goodman doesn’t pull any punches:
“Until I became Martha Shumway,
no one gave a hoot about me!”
Although the plum role of Martha Shumway in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” wasn’t exactly handed to Dody Goodman on a silver platter, she nevertheless feels that Fate—if not exactly a hand—did have a finger in it.
“Had I not been on the Coast while they were auditioning, no one would have thought of me,” explained Dody. “But I was there, doing a talk show, and heard that the series was all set, except for the mother-in-law part. I guess they had trouble finding the right one, because many were auditioned before me. Anyway, along I went—and here I am.
“So, while no one pulled strings for me—because I read along with lots of others—I do feel the part had my name on it. Had I been West a week earlier or a week later, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”
Dody Goodman is the first to admit that her stock has improved since she was signed as Martha Shumway. Although she took the show business plunge in the early 50’s, it wasn’t until around 1957 that she made her mark on TV audiences as a regular on Jack Paar’s show, and nightly reduced her admirers to stitches with her hilarious routines.
“Let’s face it,” begins Dody’s honest evaluation, “you weren’t interested in interviewing me a year ago, were you? Until I became Martha Shumway, no one gave a hoot about Dody Goodman. Now you, and many others, do. Suddenly everyone wants to know everything about me. Magazine and newspaper curiosity rubs off; producers want to get on the bandwagon, too. So as a result, I’ve had lots of enticing offers. I can’t accept them, of course, because of my commitments with “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” But it’s encouraging and flattering, like having money in the bank.”
Very few programs have made as great an impact on viewers as this one. Within a couple of weeks, everyone was talking about it—and watching. Why does Dody feel the show is so popular?
“Hard to say,” answered Dody, “unless it’s because the characters discuss things about life that have never before been discussed so openly and candidly. They like its sincerity, plus the way it’s performed. Having been with the show so long, I still don’t know whether to categorize it as a spoof or a satire, soap or series. It’s a bit of each, but goes one step further.
“Of course, one never really knows why people accept things at any given time. Had this arrived last year, or next year, it might have flopped. Maybe it filled a need at this particular moment. Something like performers suddenly gaining popularity after having been around for years and years. Why? What made them dramatically come into their own? They’re exactly the same as they were before they became ‘hot.’ There’s no set reason.”
She went on: “I think the answer is that viewers identify with all of us. They put themselves into this or that situation, and they can see their mother or father or grandparents on the screen before them. They recognize someone in the older characters. Most women feel a kinship with a marriage set-up, regardless of age or station and say, ‘That’s a lot like me.’
“Although we play our roles seriously, there’s a great deal of comedy in the script and more human things that are not in other daytime shows. We have less suffering than they do (the one I watch, “All My Children,” is loaded down with tragedy upon tragedy, disaster upon disaster). Most of their characters are very rich and educated—they’re either lawyers or doctors. We’re middle class, and our husbands are factory workers. Maybe that’s another cause for people liking us. We’re more realistic.”
Does she think that Mary Hartman with her myriad of daily crises is “realistic”?
“Yes,” said Dody. “Perhaps her problems are exaggerated, but the way she plays the role, looks and dresses, isn’t. The daily issues that confront this woman are real. I know certain reviewers called Mary ‘befuddled.’ But isn’t that the way everyone behaves when they encounter problems? They’re startling and befuddling. They find themselves bogged down with problems and don’t know how to extricate themselves. Everyone gets befuddled when things go wrong.”
What about Louise Lasser? What’s she like as a person, and as a co-worker?
“If you’re looking for spicy gossip and scoops, I’m afraid I’m the wrong one,” laughed Dody. “The truth is, the only times I see her are on the set—never socially. We used to have lunch, if you could call it that. She’d have a few bites of something—usually tuna fish—and leave the rest because she is always in a hurry, learning her script or thinking about it. She never has time to eat; that’s why she’s so thin. When she goes out to dinner, she leaves before dessert and rushes home to bone up on her next day’s lines. Louise carries a heavy load in the show, heavier than the rest of us. She’s a dedicated worker.”
Dody put to rest some of the rumors of discord between Louise and her co-star Greg Mullavey. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I find it terribly hard to believe whatever it is, because Greg is so gentle. Probably some distortion over a little fact, such as working on a scene (which I didn’t see). Sometimes it’s hard to get things right. You use words you don’t mean—one talks loud—the other comes back even louder. I’ll never forget the time I had to do a scene with Phil (my husband). Either I couldn’t get it right, or he didn’t like the way I was doing it, because he tried to ‘direct’ me. I was annoyed with myself to begin with because I was holding things up, and even more annoyed at his ‘attitude.’ I yelled, ‘leave me alone to work it out—by myself.’ But this little incident doesn’t mean that we’re enemies; to the contrary, we’re the best of friends.”
Dody Goodman, who plays the mother-in-law so well, has never been a wife. She got to the brink of marriage once, then stepped back. “I’ve gotten as far as getting the license and having the blood test, then we both had second thoughts. It was a mutual decision. Maybe we both sensed it was not right. In retrospect, I think that had I been pushed, I probably would have gone through with it.”
Dody never lacks dates or male companionship and describes her ideal man as “one who is industrious and involved in his own work. I like an attentive man, but not one who hovers too much. I insist on courtesy, the same as I am courteous to others. Looks don’t matter, it’s what’s beneath the surface and inside that counts—the heart is attractive, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is for you. I enjoy a good sense of humor. It’s hard for me to be around someone who is humorless, because that means we can’t giggle together, and laughter and joy are an important part of my life. As for age, I know many people think it’s of great consequence. I don’t. Although I wouldn’t marry anyone young enough to be my grandson, my feeling is that one can still have a pleasant relationship with a ten-year difference either way.”
Everyone knows Dody Goodman now, and as we said, many more people remember her from her talk show appearances, starting with her debut on the Jack Paar show. But how many of you know that from the time she could walk, her life’s dream was to become a dancer—and that she was not disappointed in her ambition?
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Dody (a nickname given to her by her younger brother who couldn’t pronounce Dolores) took dancing lessons at age eight, dashed off to New York City after graduating from high school and, within three weeks, landed a job at Radio City Music Hall dancing in the chorus. She also worked at the Metropolitan Opera and in several hit Broadway musicals (High Button Shoes, Call Me Madam, Miss Liberty, Wonderful Town).
There was no magic moment when Dody stopped dancing and became a comedienne. While touring in Wonderful Town, Imogene Coca was instrumental in persuading Dody to forget her feet and concentrate on her mouth and head. In other words, she and the rest of the cast decided Dody would be better as a comedienne than she’d ever be as a dancer. “I’m glad I listened,” Dody said, “because dancers have limited career spans—after a certain age it’s not so easy to prance around the stage. Funny people can go on forever.”
Very soon—after Dody had been in several off-Broadway and Broadway revues and musicals—Dody came to the attention of Jack Paar. The rest is history…
Another thing you might not know about Dody Goodman is that she’s a writer. She authored the play, Mourning in a Funny Hat, the story of a widow’s struggle to become independent, which stared Shirley Booth in a stock company tour. She also wrote, produced and starred in a one-hour documentary film, Women, Women, Women! (it takes a comic look at womens’ struggles for emancipation), then put out a book version of the film, and was pleasantly surprised with the good sales it achieved.
Dody has experienced all kinds of success, not the least of which is her most recent venture with “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Like many other performers, Dody has become a household word, and overnight success—after twenty years of paying her dues!