TV Favorites Magazine
Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!
Is a Hit! Is a Hit!
Editor: Martin Grove
“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” has best been described as a “slightly bent soap opera.” The serial form of melodrama that began in the early 1930’s on radio has reached a new peak in terms of entertainment with “Mary Hartman.” The syndicated television program, in which Louise Lasser stars as the title character, may be the most recent soap opera success, but it differs significantly from previous successful soaps.
Whereas the soaps were intended to be taken seriously, “Mary Hartman” is intended to work on two levels. For those who love their soap operas “straight,” the program offers the traditional drama and pathos that are associated with the serial form. But for those who enjoy a slightly bent form of television entertainment, “Mary Hartman” is also laced with a wry sense of humor that is satirical, humanistic, and realistic.
As most of America knows by now, “Mary Hartman is set in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio, where life revolves around the local automobile assembly plant. Mary Hartman, our heroine, is a befuddled housewife whose life always seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. If she’s not having trouble with the “waxy yellow buildup” in her kitchen, she’s have trouble with her impotent husband in their bedroom. What makes it all so funny is that Mary attaches the same importance to each of these troubles!
Sharing Mary’s ups and downs in Fernwood are her husband Tom (Greg Mullavey), their daughter Heather (Claudia Lamb), her parents Martha and George Shumway (Dody Goodman and Philip Bruns), her grandfather Grandpa Larkin (Victor Kilian), and her good friends Loretta and Charlie Haggers (Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis).
Tom, who is the typical all-American boy, works on the assembly line like most residents of Fernwood. When the program first went on the air in January 1976, Tom had more than cars on his mind. He was worried about protecting his family from the mass murderer who had recently struck in the neighborhood, and he was also trying to Mary why they hadn’t had sex for weeks. The Hartmans’ twelve-year-old daughter, Heather, also had some problems to cope with. In addition to all the normal problems that adolescents face, Heather was involved, as viewers discovered, with some rather abnormal, if not bizarre occurrences.
Mary’s parents are also her neighbors. Martha, her mother, is a rather luckless woman who just can’t grasp what’s happening to people around her. Mary’s father, George, works on the assembly line, of course. The joy of his life is his flirtatious, boy-crazy younger daughter Cathy. The bane of his existence is his unpredictable father-in-law, affectionately known as Grandpa Larkin to everybody except the police, who take a very dim view of his geriatric hijinks.
As for the Hartmans’ best friends, the Haggers, Loretta is 22 and married to a middle-aged, balding Charlie, whose one redeeming virtue, apparently, is his virility. As aspiring country singer, Loretta is fortunate in having Charlie to attend to her needs in the bedroom as well as work himself to exhaustion to finance the making of a demonstration record he’s convinced will make her a star.
That was the jumping off point for “Mary Hartman.” Every episode since the series began has looked at these people and examined their loves, their hates, their gains, their losses, their ecstasies, and their agonies. Sometimes it makes you cry. And sometimes you just have to laugh. The trouble is you usually have to do both at the same time!
Some of the subjects that have surfaced in “Mary Hartman” are venereal disease, impotence, masturbation, exhibitionism, and mass murder. Balancing these concerns have been such other problems as cellulite, waxy yellow buildup, nail polish, and cake mixes. They’re all equally tragic to poor Mary.
For instance, when Mary’s impotent spouse remarks one night in bed that she looks cute with her head there on the pillow, she thanks God “for small favors.”
Tom Hartman’s response to pressure of any kind is to demand, “What do you want of me, huh?” It immediately puts him on the offensive, which makes him a lot more secure.
In one of the funniest bits the show has done, we were shown a reverend going to chat with a mass murderer in a Chinese laundry. The reverend is a bit uptight about the situation, and asks the crowd hanging around the laundry if anybody has a Valium? Several dozen people dig their hands into their pockets to help him out!
Another episode saw Cathy going to work in a massage parlor, where her first customer arrive with a meter maid’s uniform for her to wear and a length of rubber hose for her to use on him.
A neighbor of Mary’s drowned in a bowl of her chicken soup in another segment of the series. He was down with the flu and a bit over-sedated—having washed the drugs down with Jack Daniels! The sad result was that when left alone for too long in the kitchen, he slumped over his bowl of chicken soup and quietly drowned in it! How can you help but laugh?
Still another “funny” bit stirred up quite a fuss with the Anti-Defamation League. This one had to do with Loretta, who had cut a hit country-and-western record, but had her career cut short when she delivered a left-handed compliment to some Jewish talent agents while appearing on a television program. Thanking the men for aiding her career, she then confided, “They’re so nice, it’s hard to believe they’re the people that killed our Lord.”
The “Mary Hartman” writers must have realized that this one spelled nothing but trouble for them because the very next episode had Loretta pointing out that she knew plenty of terrific people who had also happened to be Jewish. She even went so far as to remind viewers that Christ, Himself, was Jewish!
Perhaps a little additional zing was supplied by the fact that the original episode was telecast on Good Friday. In any event, the Anti-Defamation League informed the “Mary Hartman” producers that it found the episode to be offensive and of dubious taste.
In response, T.A.T. Communications, which produces the show, screened both episodes for fifty members of the group. The purpose, according to a trade press account of remarks by Virginia Carter, A Vice President of the company, was, “to find out exactly what it was that was initiating their concern, to see what the points of view were. We didn’t want to hear through third parties what the League was thinking. We wanted to hear it in person. We do better shows when we’re smarter. We had a long talk and disagreed a lot, but we also got a major education, and I felt the exchange was extremely positive.”
What did the ADL think of the episodes? “They didn’t like the shows,” Ms. Carter was quoted as admitting. “Fundamentally their basic concern was whether or not it is possible or tasteful to deal with the question of deicide in a comedy format. Out position is that we choose to deal with the subjects that concern people, that matter to them, and so we search those subjects out on purpose and expend our best effort to deal with them tastefully.”
So there really was no consensus. The ADL left the screening room with one view, and the “Mary Hartman” people held to their original conception of their role. The viewers, presumably, decided for themselves if the episode was tasteless or funny.
No doubt, part of the problem with “Mary Hartman” is the speed with which the material must be written in order to supply the constantly active production team. Louise has said, “We do one half-hour show each day. That’s equal to doing five ‘All in the Families’ a week! And our standards are so high we may sit around and hash out one line for an hour to get it just right.”
As a result of this grind, Louise has insisted she’s, “physically and emotionally exhausted. You just can’t conceive you’re going to do this many shows. I get trapped feelings. It’s almost like dying.”
Debralee Scott has described the terrors of production, too. “It was so tiring. At one point I was anemic for about a month,” she once revealed. “You just can’t eat right on the kind of schedule we had. I’d get up at 7 in the morning, get to work by 8 and then it was all day into night. You rehearse and shoot the scene the same day. We started the show shooting in sequence, but now I might one day do three scenes for three different shows—and we never do anything again. There’s a lot of pressure.”
In its first season on the air, “Mary Hartman” turned out over 100 episodes. That’s the equivalent of five years of any basic prime time series. The typical weekly series produces twenty-two original episodes a season. Hence, it would take “Mary Tyler Moore” five years to equal the amount of footage turned out by “Mary Hartman.”
That kind of production pressure can’t be kept up forever, no matter how dedicated the cast and crew are. After its first season on television, “Mary Hartman” took a summer hiatus for 13 weeks. The breathing spell that provided was certainly welcomed by all concerned.
Viva Knight, who produces the series, has noted, “What we’re doing can’t be done, of course. You can’t turn out a half-hour comedy of prime-time quality every day. I keep expecting people to walk in with nets and take us away.” The backlog of prepared episodes is usually only about two weeks’ worth, which is a terribly slim margin.
Why all the pressure? Why five episodes a week? Why not a weekly segment like “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back, Kotter,” or any other big prime time hit? The answer to these questions requires some knowledge of the television business. Simply put, “Mary Hartman” is distributed to television stations on a syndicated basis rather than via a network feed. “Mary Hartman” is not shown in prime time on the networks because all three webs turned the program down in various stages of its development. When that happened, Norman Lear, who developed the program and is the executive producer, turned to syndication in order to get the show on the air.
Syndication involves selling television programs to independent stations throughout the country. These stations that do not have affiliations with ABC, CBS, or NBC, the three American television networks. In order to compete with the stations that do receive network programming, independent stations originate their own shows and purchase other programs from syndication companies.
Because the independent stations like to “strip” these program—that is, to run them five times a week at the same time each day—to keep as many viewers as possible from turning to other stations, the producers of syndicated shows have to have quite a few episodes to sell. Usually, this is no big problem since a successful network filmed series after being on the air for five years builds up a backlog of about 100 segments. When the show is canceled by the network, it is put into syndication. The episodes are already produced and available.
With “Mary Hartman,” things were a bit different. The episodes were neither written nor produced. Instead of being an old show going into syndicated reruns, “Mary Hartman” is a new show making the rounds for the very first time. While this has increased its appeal to stations tremendously, it has also resulted in the pressures felt by the cast and crew.
Norman Lear had originally conceived of “Mary Hartman” as a typical network series. The concept for the program was developed back in 1969. ABC was the first network to invest money in the idea. It financed the development of the project. To do this Lear brought in Al Burton, now Vice President and Director of New Projects for T.A.T., and author Gail Parent—who wrote the bestseller Shelia Levine is Dead and Living in New York to prepare a presentation to the network. ABC then financed the writing of two “Mary Hartman” scripts, which together would serve as the pilot for the program. Just as writers Ann Marcus, Jerry Adelman, and Daniel Gregory Browne finished this pilot script, there was a turnover at ABC’s management and the new executive group dropped the project. This is typical of the television industry, where the first tendency of any new management team is to write off everything acquired by their predecessors on the theory that if they knew what they were doing they would still be working there!
With ABC out of the picture, Lear turned next to CBS, where Fred Silverman was then in charge of programming. Today Silverman is President of ABC Entertainment and responsible for ABC’s programming. But at the time he was at CBS, and upon discovering the “Mary Hartman” project he used his influence to acquire $100,000 in CBS backing for the production of the two pilot scripts that ABC had originally financed.
With an okay to go into production, Lear had to come up with a cast. There were some unique problems involving casting since actor were needed who could be taken seriously and comically at the same time. Mary, for instance, was to be a completely believable person who was equally concerned with the waxy yellow buildup in her kitchen and the mass murders taking place down the street!
Louise Lasser was Lear’s first choice to play Mary, but when she was approached with the project she originally refused to become involved. “Not only did I think playing in soap opera was humiliating,” she once explained, “but I just didn’t get the material. It was too different.” Finally, she gave in and accepted the role that was to make her famous.
The other roles were cast, and Joan Darling was brought in to make her debut as a director. She had previously worked as an actress, writer, and acting coach, but had never directed. Jim Drake, who had an extensive technical production background, was set as her co-director.
Once produced, the “Mary Hartman” pilot was quickly turned down by all three networks. Silverman, then of CBS, has been quoted as saying the pilot was “too weird.” ABC had lost interest at the second script stage when its management changed. At NBC Lin Bolen, then in charge of daytime programming, felt the series was, “a spoof on the women who watch daytime TV. I couldn’t commit to a show that depicted my women as fools.”
Some of the network executives are said to have personally loved the show, but hey didn’t think the public would. They weren’t sure that the public was ready for such a series or that it was sophisticated enough to understand it. Lear had faced some of the same problems when he developed “All in the Family.” That project, too, had started out at ABC, and had gotten nowhere there. Later it went to CBS where Lear was able to convince Silverman that the show would be a hit. The rest, as they say, is history!
At the point where all three networks had passed on “Mary Hartman” Lear decided to take a chance and try to syndicate the show. He flew to Los Angeles some twenty-three presidents, owners, and station managers of independent and multi-owned television groups, representing more than 100 television stations throughout the U.S.
A get-acquainted candlelight dinner was held on the lawn of Lear’s home in the exclusive Brentwood section of Los Angeles. The following day both pilot episodes were screened for the visiting television executives. They liked what they saw, and within a couple weeks about fifty stations had agreed to telecast “Mary Hartman.”
The economics of television production being what they are these days, Lear knew the project would lose money with only those stations to depend on. Still, he decided to go ahead with production, hoping that additional stations would come on board. The lineup grew and by the end of the first season there were more than 80 stations airing the program. Over 100 stations are expected to carry “Mary Hartman” in its second television season.
The stations that carry the program are, in many cases, the weakest stations in their markets. The big stations, owned by the networks, all passed on the series. Lear has pointed out that, “There are 15 stations owned by the networks. These are probably the most important stations in the country. Not one of them has bought out show. Why?” There is some question as to whether or not the networks, having rejected the show at first, would enjoy seeing it forced out of business now that it’s a hit with viewers.
On the other hand, Lear has also had offers from larger stations in some of the “Mary Hartman” markets. These stations would like to get the series away from the local educational TV outlet, for instance, that had the guts to air it in the first place. Now the bigger stations are willing to pay bigger dollars for a proven hit. But Lear has steadfastly refused to go along with their game. The stations that stood behind “Mary Hartman” at first are not finding that the rug is being pulled from under them now that the show is an easily sold hit. There has even been talk that the networks have expressed some interest in picking up “Mary Hartman.” But Lear is not about to let them have the satisfaction of getting the show now that the independent stations have launched it successfully.
Despite the program’s success, in its first half-year on the air, “Mary Hartman” reportedly lost $1.2 million for Lear’s company. With that much loss up front, the second season looms importantly as a chance to at least break-even on the project. In advance of the announcement in mid-June that the show had been renewed for another season, Lear had confided to the press that, “We are going to renegotiate for sums that are reasonable to them (the stations) and to us.” Some of the stations are said to have bought it for as low as $500 a week, and are raking in stacks of advertising dollars now.
As Lear once put it, “We found out the hard way that this show cannot be produced for the money the stations are paying. We loved the property and the cast so much it was easy to make ourselves believe we would be able to do it on time and at cost.”
No one really expected the success that “Mary Hartman” has achieved. Certainly Lear and his associates believed in the project, and thought it would do well. But they never anticipated that “Mary Hartman” would become an instant addition to Americana. Louise has exclaimed, “The acceptance of the show proves to me that I do fit into society. I’m amazed that nay American family would take Mary Hartman into their home. And if they would take Mary in, they’d take Louise in.”
Louise identifies so closely with Mary that together they make one “person.” When Mary had a nervous breakdown at the end of the first season, it was because Louise had concluded that one was necessary for both Mary and Louise. After the episode was taped, Louise was asked by a reporter how she felt. “I felt wonderful,” she replied. “I’d had a nervous breakdown in playtime, with no consequences.”
Louise’s real-life arrest for possession of cocaine could have led to an actual breakdown, but she was lucky. Although she has denied being a user of cocaine, the law gives sentences of two to ten years to those convicted of possessing the stuff. Louise was fortunate in being sentenced to a six-month drug diversionary program, whose terms she satisfies by continuing to see her psychiatrist.
Not only Louise, but also her scores of fans throughout the country are grateful to the judge who handed down her sentence. After all, can you imagine having to wait ten more years to find out what happens in the next exciting episode of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?”
Why Louise Lasser’s Life Story Reads Like a Mary Hartman Script
I seriously doubt that “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” would have been a success if anyone other than Louise Lasser had been cast by Norman Lear in the title role. There aren’t too many television series about which that type of statement can be made. Most shows would be perfectly fine if somebody else played the lead. They’d come out being very different from what we know and expect, but they would still be acceptable. With “Mary Hartman” it’s another story. Louise Lasser is so much the character, herself, that it’s very hard to imagine that anyone else could have been cast without destroying the project.
Perhaps the most important quality that Louise has is the ability to make audiences laugh and cry—at the same time! She is able to do precisely what Norman Lear set out to accomplish. She functions on two levels at the same time.
The story of Louise’s own life sometimes reads like a “Mary Hartman” script. It has its ups and downs, its turbulent moments, its amazing crises, its horrible pitfalls, its brilliant peaks and its desperate hours.
It all started when Louise was born 37 years ago in New York, the only child of a well-known and well-to-do tax expert S. Jay Lasser. She grew up living in an impressive Fifth Avenue apartment, with all of the advantages that children of the rich usually enjoy. Louise spent her early school years attending a variety of private progressive schools. Her summers were occupied with camp, what else? She once recalled for a magazine writer that, “I went to every left-wing camp that ever existed. Whenever I got off the bus, Pete Seeger was standing there with a guitar.”
As a child, she told a reporter, “Whenever I was sick in bed, Mother would read me poetry and Father would bring me comic books to round things out.”
When it came time for college, Louise was enrolled at prestigious Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. There she studied political theory for three years before dropping out or taking what she has called “a psychological leave of absence.” At Brandeis, she first became involved in acting, playing roles in various student musical productions. One day, however, she decided she’d had enough with college and wanted to pursue an acting career in New York. She called her father and says she told him, “You an come and get me now. I’ve finished here.”
Back in New York, Louise studied a variety of subjects, including philosophy and literature at the New School for Social Research, acting under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner, and improvisational acting as a cast member of Elaine May’s revue “The Third Ear.”
Louise’s opinion, according to published reports, is that, “I made a terrible chorus member. I could never kick my foot at the same time as everyone else.”
Despite that problem, Louise’s career in the theatre began to develop. She landed roles on Broadway in productions of The Chinese and Doctor Fish and Henry, Sweet Henry. Neither play set the Great White Way on fire, but they did help Louise cut her teeth as an actress.
In 1964 Louise’s mother committed suicide. She’d been married to Jay Lasser for the past 30 years, and had, at first glance, had everything to live for. Lasser’s tax consulting business and his best-selling book Your Income Tax had made the family wealthy and independent. The Lassers had all the material goods that money can buy, but happiness wasn’t one of them. After her mother’s suicide, Louise started seeing an analyst.
“Avoiding is easier than facing. I’ve spent the last twelve years in analysis trying to learn to cope with myself, and the world around me. Do you know how difficult it is to be a survivor in a world which is not surviving?” she once asked a reporter.
She said she, “went into analysis because I wasn’t happy. I’m still not happy. I think I have a psychic malady. Woody and I were quite a pair. Both with this exaggerated fear of death, both running off to psychiatrists every day, both wondering what we were doing, who we were, what we were about. I’m surprised we were able to stay together as long as we did.”
Woody, of course, is comedian Woody Allen. Louise and Woody were married on Groundhog Day in 1966. As Louise has remembered it for the press, their life together was a bit on the crazy side. “We had a cook, a maid, and a chauffeur—and no cash,” she explained. “One weekend, when the servants were off, we completely ran out of money. We were stuck with television and tuna fish the entire weekend.”
The money came later, but happiness together never did follow. After four years, the Allens split up. There were some bumpy times ahead for them, with Louise once turning to the courts to stop Woody from joking about her on late-night television shows. Today, however, Louise and Woody are friends. She’s worked with him in three of his movies, and he thinks highly of her “Mary Hartman” success.
“He’s very excited about the show, and he loves the fact that I’m doing it,” according to Louise. “He can’t get over how much attention it has generated.” Louise labels Woody “a genius,” and Woody has declared that Louise is, “brighter than I am, funnier than I am…and the only person who can cheer me up.”
After the marriage broke up, Woody cast Louise in his motion picture Take the Money and Run. That was back in 1969. The role was small. It was followed by the usual promotion work when the picture opened. That brought Louise to Los Angeles, where she has said, “I felt everything was ahead of me, and I was protected because it was Woody’s picture, and I was just the actress, not the star. I didn’t know anything about this town or how it works. I was very innocent. Now I know it. It’s a mining town and everyone here is a miner. All they care about is ratings. If you found the cure for cancer here it wouldn’t matter unless it made the ratings go up.”
Those are harsh words, but not entirely uncalled for. Hollywood is not the nicest of places, and the natives do have little else on their minds other than success and achieving still more success.
After Take the Money and Run, Louise worked with Woody in his next picture, Bananas in 1971. Here she had more to do, but it was still Woody’s movie. Finally, she worked with Woody in his 1972 film, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. Here she was holding down an important role for the first time. Louise was becoming a capable performer.
Prior to “Mary Hartman,” Louise has also come into the public’s attention playing a very mixed-up housewife in the movie comedy Slither, and in a catchy but insane Nyquil television commercial in which she was told, “You’re a good wife, Mildred,” and responded, “I know, I know.” Louise also appeared on television in a production of Ingmar Bergman’s The Lie, and in a film called Isn’t It Shocking. She’d had considerable experience and had gotten to know her way around, but was still not a major star. She needed the right property to boost her to stardom.
Fortunately, Norman Lear came along at the right time with “Mary Hartman.” Louise was a natural for the role, but at first she wasn’t interested in signing on. “Not only did I think playing in a soap opera was humiliating, but I just didn’t get the material. It was too different,” according to Louise.
What changed her mind? Louise says, “Then I read the first script and I fell in love with ‘Mary.’ I called Lear and said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it.’ Then I agonized a year over whether he would be able to get it on the air.” Reportedly, Louise’s first contract paid her $5,000 weekly and allowed her to bail out of the series after its first year on the air if she chose to do so.
Needless to say, Louise is sticking with “Mary Hartman.” But why? The money’s very good, but certainly she’s not there only for the dough. The work is super intense, a real grind that allows no time for any type of relaxation. The reason Louise is there is that she needs “Mary Hartman” as much as the show needs her. For Louise has become so closely linked in her own mind with “Mary” that she might not be able to exist for long without her.
A good example of this is a remark Louise once made to a writer who was on the set when she was recording promotional announcements about the series. One radio station had asked that, “I do this in my Mary Hartman voice rather than the straight Louise Lasser voice, isn’t that hilarious? People don’t know there’s no difference!”
Elsewhere Louise has been quoted as saying, “Mary is me. I mean she’s the side of me that never emerged publicly before. There are times I’m more Mary Hartman than Louise Lasser and that shakes me up.”
Greg Mullavey has commented in print that Louise, “is consumed by Mary Hartman. Even when she’s not on camera, she says things that Mary would say. She admits that there are moments when she doesn’t know who the hell she is!”
Undoubtedly, the drug bust was humiliating to Louise. It burst her bubbly of privacy, and exposed her to the world. Interestingly, it was her fear of humiliation that originally caused her to question whether or not she ought to get involved with “Mary Hartman.” Louise has gone on record as saying that at the time Norman Lear offered her the role she thought, “A soap opera? There’s the humiliation factor! I spend a lot of time not working. There’s a lot of TV I won’t do, for instance. I’m against the humiliation factor, people saying to me later, “Yech, why’d you do that show?”
The way things have turned out, of course, Louise has no cause to worry about what people will think of her involvement with “Mary Hartman.” The series’ success in its first season resulted in a renewal for another year on the air. Louise and Mary have become increasingly popular, especially in big urban markets where they outrate the 11:00 p.m. news.
With all her success, Louise is still an unhappy person. “I still wonder what’s going on in my life. This is not what I thought it would be all about and when I dwell on that I cry,” she has confessed in print. “Last year, while I was waiting to hear about the show, I began to doubt that I have any talent at all. Then I would tell myself, ‘Of course you have talent. You’ve proven it in several movies.’ Now the show is doing terrific, and I’m still not happy. Maybe if I could have my nervous breakdown and get it over with, it would all be better.”
Will it all be better someday for Louise? Tune in tomorrow night and find out!
The Day Louise Shocked Hollywood
The truth about her drug arrest
On May 1, 1976, Louise was planning to give a party in honor of her wardrobe lady’s birthday. On Camden Drive, one of the smartest shopping streets in ultra-chic Beverly Hills, there is a non-profit boutique called the Rainbow, whose profits go towards Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s efforts to combat cancer. Louise dropped in at the Rainbow and discovered an antique doll house and six toy mice that seemed just right for birthday gifts.
The trouble started when Louise decided to pay for the items with her American Express card. Most Beverly Hills boutiques will take any credit card you happen to have—perhaps even one against a bank in Lima, Peru, if you look chic enough. But not the Rainbow. It’s cash on the line there. And Louise wasn’t about to fork over about $100 in cash for the presents.
It wasn’t that Louise didn’t have the cash with her. Unlike many stars who simply never carry cash and sponge off anybody who happens to be with them when they need money, Louise did have around $100 in her purse. But she refused to use that money at the Rainbow because she had to buy a birthday cake and some other party items later that afternoon.
Perhaps Louise was under the impression that everyone takes the American Express card. So many places do that it’s hard to blame her for thinking the Rainbow would automatically accept it, too. But the manager of the boutique refused to take anything but cash for the items Louise had selected. Moreover, she didn’t recognize Louse since she was dressed like an ordinary “civilian” and not a “star.”
Upset by the manager’s refusal to let her charge the merchandise, Louise reacted by, according to reports, creating a scene in the store. She is said to have threatened to sit in the store all day if she couldn’t charge the gifts. The Rainbow’s manager responded to this by calling the Beverly Hills Police.
Louise wasn’t feeling too well at the time, having just had some root canal work done by her dentist. When the police arrived, she probably felt even worse. They quickly discovered that there were two outstanding traffic warrants against Louise. One had been issued in 1974 and involved an illegal left turn. The other was for a recent jay-walking offense.
This was sufficient cause for the police to bring Louise to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, where they were entitled to search her purse. That is when they discovered the vial of white powder in Louise’s possession. The powder was chemically analyzed, and the police identified it as being cocaine.
The vial found in Louise’s purse contained 80 milligrams of cocaine. As a result, she was charged with one felony count of possession of cocaine. The television newscasts throughout the country that evening played up the drug arrest for all it was worth. The next day’s newspapers didn’t miss giving prominent treatment to the story, either. The headline in Daily Variety, the most important trade publication in Hollywood, stated: “LASSER CHARGED WITH POSSESSION OF COCAINE.” The story was buried on page eight, but everybody was talking about Louise’s misfortune.
Louise was released on $1,630 bail. Her arraignment was scheduled for May 12 in Beverly Hills Municipal Court. On June 9, Louise was sentenced by Beverly Hills Municipal Judge Leonard Wolf to participate in a “drug diversionary” program for six months. This participation is satisfied by Louise continuing to see her analyst. She was lucky. She could have gotten between two to ten years in prison for having cocaine in her possession.
What was the truth? Greg Mullavey was quoted as saying, “She’s a wonderful person. This whole thing is bizarre. It doesn’t seem like Louise at all.”
“It was a bum rap,” insisted one other “Mary Hartman” cast member, who remained anonymous. “The people at the boutique were very rude to her. They never told her they were going to call the police. The traffic violations which led to her being examined were supposed to have been paid by someone in production. Louise didn’t have time to take care of it. The show is filmed every day, and it takes all her time. She had to depend upon others in the organization to take care of the routine things in her life. But somebody goofed.”
The fan magazines had a field day with the story. One ran a picture of Louise on its front cover with the headline “THE LATEST ON MARY HARTMAN’S DRUG BUST.” Inside, the headline was “LOUISE LASSER BUSTED ON DRUG RAP—ARE ‘MARY HARTMAN’S’ PROBLEMS GETTING HER?” Another fan book’s front cover headline was “MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN—NO COMMENT, NO COMMENT!” The inside headline simply asked: “MAYR HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN IN THE ‘VALLEY OF THE DOLLS’?”
The news came too late for some of the fan books to break with full-scale articles. But a number of them managed to drop items into their late-closing gossip columns dealing with Louise’s predicament. Another publication caught its deadline and headlined the story: “NEWSFLASH! LOUISE LASSER BUSTED FOR DRUGS!—‘MARY HARTMAN’ STAR BEGINS OWN SOAP OPERA SERIAL!” It was too late for them to make the front cover, but splashed across the contents page was: “LOUISE LASSER ARRESTED FOR DRUGS!” Still another fan magazine could do nothing more than drop a long caption on a full page photo of Louise: “As we were going to press, Louise Lasser was free on bail after being arrested…”
By coincidence, Louise was pictured on the front cover of Newsweek’s May 3 issue. There was no way that the magazine could cover the drug bust, but a long cover story about “TV’S NEW CRAZE, MARY HARTMAN” was the feature article that week. Louise was also pictured on the front cover of the May issue of Ms. Magazine. The cover headline there declared: “I’M MARY HARTMAN…AND SO ARE YOU!” That story, too, had nothing to do with the drug arrest. But to a reader suddenly interested in finding out more about Louise Lasser, there was plenty to choose from on the newsstands in early May.
The July 5 issue of People magazine carried a picture of Louise on its cover, too. The headline was “LOUISE, MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN, LASSER HOW SHE SURVIVES DESPITE A GRUELING SHOW AND THE DRUG BUST.” A cover story about Louise also ran in the June 19 issue of TV Guide. Only one paragraph of the story was devoted to the drug problem, which may have been due to a lack of time in preparing changes in the scheduled article about the series.
In any event, if people were talking a lot about “Mary Hartman” prior to May 1, there was even more interest in the program and in its star after her big splash in the news media.
In most of the articles Louise never got to tell her side of the story. People did carry an explanation by Louise that, “I had a 102° temperature and a blood infection. I didn’t yell, but I said very quietly like a child, ‘I’m not leaving without my dollhouse’.” She was also quoted as saying, “I’m not a coke user, and I hadn’t used that stuff. But you can’t plead innocent if you’ve got it on you.”
All the publicity about Louise revealed to her thousands of fans that she was living in a rented house in Benedict Canyon, one of the mountain crossing roads that connect Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. Shortly thereafter, Louise rented a house in the posh Malibu Colony section, where the Pacific Ocean laps up on the backyard beaches of the wealthy celebrities who dwell there.
“And You Can Quote Me…”
What they say about Mary—and what they say about Louise!
“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is one of the most talked about television programs within recent times. Pick up a magazine and the chances are that somebody from the cast or production unit is talking about the program. For a time, the newspapers were filled with stories about Louise Lasser’s arrest on drug charges in Beverly Hills. The nightly television news programs, too, couldn’t stop talking about what had happened to her.
All of the quotes that follow, and which help explain the thinking behind the scenes at “Mary Hartman,” have been printed in a variety of previous interviews, and reportedly were said by the people to whom they are credited.
(1) Louise Lasser on Hollywood: “It’s a summer camp. People are getting away with murder—moral, ethical, emotional—and one day their parents are going to come and pick them up, with their clay ashtrays and their lanyards. I mean, they’re gonna get caught.”
Debralee Scott on her character, Mary’s wild younger sister
Cathy: “Next year the character has definitely gotta get better. The character
is just not well-developed in the writings and I’m a little upset about that.
Cathy was just used as a plot device; she didn’t really have definition. I want
to see the character get a job next season, show more development.
(3) Joan Darling, who directed the first 22 episodes of the program, on the reason for the show’s success: “It tells the truth. It is not like any other who on TV.”
(4) Al Burton, creative supervisor for the series, on complaints that have been received: “They didn’t object to the way we handled them (sensitive subjects like impotence or mass murder). They objected to the fact that we mentioned them at all.”
(5) Mary Kay Place on her character, Mary’s neighbor Loretta Haggers: “I’d like to think I’m a great deal more intelligent than Loretta—though she’s nicer than I am.”
(6) Ann Marcus, former head writer for the show, on Louise Lasser: “She’s so vulnerable herself, and has made Mary so vulnerable, that you just want to put your arms around her. I find myself saying, ‘Louise, you’re so thin—eat.’”
(7) Virginia Carter, a vice president of T.A.T. Communications, which produces “Mary Hartman,” on the title character: “Mary is struggling against something, but she’s part of the fabric of what she’s struggling against.”
(8) Norman Lear, executive producer and developer of the program, on what the show is all about: “We are simply taking a look at our life and times through another kind of prism. Of course, the prism may appear to have been fashioned by a drunken lens maker in a darkly wooded German forest.”
(9) Louise Lasser on her first reaction to being asked to play in “Mary Hartman”: “A soap opera? There’s the humiliation factor! I spend a lot of time not working. There’s a lot of TV I won’t do, for instance. I’m against the humiliation factor, people saying to me later, ‘Yech, why’d you do that show?’”
(10) Bruce Solomon, who plays Dennis the policeman, on Louise’s arrest on drug charges: “My God, that’s right out of ‘Mary Hartman.’”
(11) Louise Lasser on Los Angeles: “I feel very disoriented in Los Angeles. But then I also feel disoriented in New York, and that’s where I grew up. I remember the first time I came here. I came here with Woody (Allen, her ex-husband). That was my favorite time. I felt everything was ahead of me, and I was protected because it was Woody’s picture (Bananas) and I was just the actress, not the star. I didn’t know anything about the town or how it works. I was very innocent. Now I know it. It’s a mining town and everyone here is a miner. All they care about is ratings. If you found the cure for cancer here it wouldn’t matter unless it made the ratings go up.”
(12) Greg Mullavey, who plays Mary’s husband, Tom Hartman, on Louise Lasser: “How do I feel about Louise? It’s funny—I adore her, but sometimes I can hate her, too. As a person, I love her. She’s a wonderful person, a great person to work with. But like any ‘married’ couple, sometimes there are problems. Louise is something of a perfectionist, and I am, too. The problem is that sometimes our ideas of what is perfection aren’t exactly the same. So it’s a matter of give and take. I respect her opinions, and listen to what she has to say, and she does the same for me. But she is the star of the show. I mean, it is ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’.”
(13) Debralee Scott on Donny Osmond, whose show is taped next to the “Mary Hartman” studio: “You know what I’d like to do with that kid? I’d like to get him drunk and seduce him and show him what the real world is about!”
(14) Louise Lasser on the pressures of producing “Mary Hartman”: “Seeing friends or going out for dinner is impossible. Before going to bed I have to look over the script and get some ideas as to what is expected of me the next morning. I get up at 5 a.m. to beat traffic and finally arrive at the studio at 6:30. Then there’s learning the lines and make-up. I have to be ready because we shoot for an hour only now. We work under impossible pressure. And I’ve never had a day off. My contract says I get time off, but so far I haven’t exercised that provision because I’ve been on every show.”
(15) Woody Allen, Louise Lasser’s ex-husband, on Louise: “(She’s) brighter than I am, funnier than I am…and the only person who can cheer me up.”
(16) Louise Lasser on Woody Allen: “People assume that I must have resentment. But I like Woody. I came to see a lot of things through his eyes.”
(17) Mary Kay Place on her future ambitions: “Ultimately, I’m interested in directing.”
(18) Al Burton on why the stations airing “Mary Hartman” are sometimes the weakest in their markets: “When we started, they were the only ones who would have us.”
(19) Joan Darling on her style of directing “Mary Hartman”: “I took the technique from ‘The Young and the Restless’ soaper—the soft lighting, the gentle colors, a romantic look, and cast it with real people—not beautiful people.”
(20) Debralee Scott on her hopes for the future: “When ‘Mary Hartman’ is over, I’d like to get into film, where you have the time to work on a character and develop it. Everything in television is just so fast, just get it on…I don’t mind television, it’s a great learning medium. But it’s easy to cheat on television, do a little trick with your role to get a scene across, which really isn’t development of a character.”
(21) Louise Lasser on stardom: “When you are a celebrity you are totally a victim. There’s something great about success, and something horrifying.”
(22) Greg Mullavey on his character, Tom Hartman: “Tom is a bit of a rebel. Yeah, he’s like me in that respect, he’s a bit of a rebel. He wants more, but he doesn’t know what he can have. And it’s gnawing at him. He doesn’t know what life can give him—what he can hope to have, what he can expect to have, what he can get.”
(23) Louise Lasser on Mary Hartman: “Mary’s as sad as any person I’ve ever heard of in my life, unless they’re in a wheelchair somewhere. This is a person who gets up and dresses in pink and blue, thinking it’s all going to be fine—and it just falls down on her every single day. She has trouble with her daughter. She has a husband who doesn’t understand her. And she’s just trying to figure out what’s wrong with her. That’s not sad? She’s a total victim. But what’s sweet and sad about her is that she’s a survivor. She survives in a world that may not be worth surviving for.”
(24) Louise Lasser on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”: “The thing that makes the show so difficult is the time factor and the fact that we play it on two levels. We do one half-hour show each day. That’s equal to doing five ‘All in the Families’ a week! And our standards are so high we may sit around and has out one line for an hour to get it just right. Norman’s concept is that it must function on two levels at once. On one plane, it’s satire—and I think it’s hilarious. But on the other hand you can watch it as a straight soap opera drama. We get a lot of letters from viewers who don’t even know it’s satire.”
(25) Louise Lasser on personal problems: “I’m exhausted, mentally and physically exhausted…Last week I drove into a fence and smashed my rented car so they had to rent me another one. Someone broke in here and stole all the rented stereo equipment. One of my dogs, who was not rented, is missing. We had a fire in the hairdryer that burned the wigs I use in the show to a pile of gunk; my lips are chapped and the strap on my purse is broken…The truth is I’m having a nervous breakdown and my psychiatrist is in New York. I’m trying to talk Norman into letting ‘Mary’ have a nervous breakdown. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? We could get 13 weeks out of it and I could go ahead and have mine without feeling so guilty about it.”
“There’s a Lot of Difference Between My Two Marriages!”
A personal interview with Greg Mullavey, who plays Tom Hartman—Mary Hartman’s husband
Greg Mullavey, the handsome actor who plays husband to Louise Lasser’s dizzy Mary Hartman, can’t resist comparing his TV marriage to his real-life marriage to actress Meredith MacRae.
“There’s a lot of difference between the two marriages. I feel like I’m married to Louise by the way,” he grins. “Mary’s trying to grow in a particular way, and Tom’s not ready. But Meredith and I are growing together. We’re both in TM (transcendental meditation).” Expounding on his enthusiasm for this relaxation technique, Greg says, “It’s gotten me through the show, the sheer pressure of working 18 hours a day. I haven’t been sick. It’s effective.”
Back on the subject of the Hartman marriage, he says, “Mary and Tom have a typical American marriage. I’m very pro women’s lib and Tom’s not. I like very bright, articulate women, and Tom wouldn’t. But I see a change in Tom. He’s going to try to find his thing, too.”
The strenuous schedule of filming five shows a week did not leave Greg’s personal life unmarred. “It was a problem. At the beginning of the show, my marriage was in trouble and I didn’t even know it. I was working so hard I didn’t see my family for days. I guess that’s a parallel with Tom.”
What does Greg think about the other characters on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”? “I think they’re terrific. It’s hard to relate to them but I take them all very seriously. We play it dead serious but that’s the best way to play comedy, as Jack Lemmon has said. My wife and I have bickered and then said, ‘This ought to be on television—it’s absurd!” We’ve struck a chord in the American people. They can identify with us.”
Greg sees a bright future for the show and enthuses, “It can go on forever as long as they can keep pumping the words out. We have great writers. Because of the soap format, I think we can go on as long as the other soaps, as life and its problems are never-ending.”
Although “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is written in soap opera form, Greg doesn’t see it as a soap. “It doesn’t follow the soap opera rules. We see the humor in life. The fun of being alive is missed on the regular soaps. Life usually isn’t one big trauma after another. In that sense I think we’re more real than a soap. We deal with the absurd. If you don’t laugh at life, you cry yourself to death.”
Interestingly, he feels he is well-qualified to understand Tom Hartman’s problems. “I’ve worked in factories—making ball bearings, making furniture, making window frames. I feel that somehow people don’t believe I’m a working class guy. But I know them. They’re not all Archie Bunkers. They’re not educated but they’re not dumb. They often get stuck getting married right out of high school, and they have kids. They make good money right away in a factory, so they don’t go to college. This is where Tom Hartman is at. Tom is going to try to do something else. You get locked in the system and it’s awfully hard to get out. Especially when you have responsibilities.”
Greg has nothing but praise for his co-star and is very animated when talking about her. “I love all the people I work with, especially Louise. We’ve gotten amazingly close and have such respect for each other. We used to socialize a lot but now we’re so busy we can’t see each other as much. We’ve had some fights but we’ve been the better for it. Now we’re just sailing along. We’re really in tune and we want more of that.
“Louise is a very, very formidable woman. She knows what she’s doing. This show is her life’s work. She’s not a scatter-brained person in real life. She’s funny and acts crazy to be funny.”
When discussing the acting life, Greg stresses that it’s extremely hectic but it’s obvious he finds it the most rewarding work imaginable. His hazel eyes grow intense as he describes a recent typical day. “Bet at 1:00 a.m. Up at 5:00 a.m. I went through my lines which I had to know backwards and forwards. The words aren’t as important as the behavior, though, I worked all day and it went smashingly well. When we taped the scene, Louise wound up hitting me and it shocked the hell out of me. I was trying to kiss Louise. I surprised her and she surprised me. Afterwards, the rest of the cast applauded us.
“Acting is reacting. This wasn’t acted as written. This is the actor’s contribution. When you don’t know what you’re doing you’re at your best. When you lose awareness of yourself and just swing with what you’re doing, you’re doing your best work.”
Greg got his start in acting 12 years ago in New York in a rather strange way. “I was at a party and I was drunk. I was working at an agency at the time. An actress dared me to try out for a part in a play. I had made the promise that I would, so I tried out and got the part. It was in Ah, Wilderness. Well, I wanted to be an artist, and now I am. I was a big jock in college, captain of the baseball team. My father was a coach for the Dodgers!
“I came out here to do one of the last ‘Ben Caseys.’ Then I didn’t work for six months so I became a proofreader nights at the Los Angeles Times. Then I went for an audition with John Cassavetes. I was so nervous, I had coffee in my hand and when I went to shake hands with him I didn’t know what to do with it and spilled the coffee all over the rug. So there they were on the floor cleaning the rug. I didn’t get the part. After that whenever I saw him at a party he acted like he’d never met me. Ah, the famous coffee cup grudge!”
But it’s been uphill from there. Greg philosophizes, “I want to continue the growth process. If you grow inside you can’t help but influence and help other people.”
As for his role on the newest soap opera, “I love it, love it, love it. It’s the best thing in the world that ever happened to me.”
Dody’s No Bird-Brain!
A personal interview with Dody Goodman, who plays Martha Shumway—Mary Hartman’s mother
Is Dody Goodman as bird-brained as the woman she portrays on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”? No. But she is capable of doing some pretty silly things.
She has a “Weider Body Builder,” an exercise gadget you tie to your arms and legs and attach to a doorknob, and she looks a little strange using that. Then she describes a posture buzzer, a gadget you wear on your back that gives off a loud buzz if you start to slouch. Now and then during our interview in her dressing room, Dody slumps over, emits a loud buzz, and jerks straight up in her seat. All in imitation of this wondrous device.
She doesn’t need a posture buzzer because she looks great. It’s due to her former training as a ballerina. She grows nostalgic when discussing the early days of her career.
“I started out as a ballet dancer. I was in the Metropolitan Ballet in New York. I then worked for Jerry Robbins dancing in four of his shows. I was in Wonderful Town as a dancer and had my first speaking part in that. I did Shoestring Review with Bea Arthur, Arte Johnson, and Chita Rivera. From then on I did other reviews and from there I got on the ‘Paar’ show.
“Jack Paar went on the air and was looking for someone who could just sit and talk. I was called when Paar took over the ‘Tonight Show’ and I was supposed to go on every night. I had never done anything but scripted shows, I didn’t think I had enough material. I thought it’d be so dull. But it paid $750 a week so I said, “I’ll do it! It was really the beginning of the talk show form. Charlie Weaver, Jonathan Winters, and Joey Bishop all became nationally known from that show. Now people form the ‘Dinah’ show will call me and say, ‘Can you do talk shows? How soon they forget.”
Back on the subject of dance, Dody gives the impression she’s more than a little saddened at not having remained in ballet although she professes not to regret the switch into acting. “I was a very good ballet dancer. I love to dance. When I’m in New York, I go to classes at the Joffrey Ballet. I think they are the best dancers in the world.
“It would have been thrilling for me to be in a company like that. Ballet is constantly establishing new records. I’ve felt that each year dancers get better. We take from the past and go a step beyond.
“I’ve made more money being an actress and comedienne, but I miss the physical activity of dancing. At the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ Mary takes dance classes during lunch. That would be fun.”
The subject Dody like to talk about most is the Mary Hartman show. “I love it, it’s quite a challenge, it’s exciting, we have a great deal to do with formulating our characters. The director leaves us choice, which you’re usually not allowed to have. Situation comedies are usually cut and dried. They know what they want. We can create and that’s very exciting for an actor.
“I see the show as a soap opera with comedy. We do have serious moments and it’s not all ‘bang, bang, bang, joke, joke, joke.’ It’s fun for us to develop a serious moment. It’s closer to life than ordinary soap operas. There’s no situation in life so serious no comedy comes out of it. It’s very human and real.”
Dody doesn’t think the characters are cartoon-like, and she enjoys watching them develop. “The way some episodes are written you see only one dimension. Take Grandpa’s character, though, it’s developed different facets. Like Sgt. Foley—we saw one side of him and now he’s developing differently. At first he was a goody-goody and sweet, but now he’s turned into a real lady’s man.
“But Mary wears the same style of dress all the time, that’s cartoony. And those braids! The rest of us, who don’t have uniforms, seem more real. Once in a while Tom will break out of his, but people still remember the cap and dirty baseball jacket.”
Dody thinks it’s great that controversial subject matter is continually being brought into the show. And she now gets he chance to be more of an active participant. “A controversy in California going on now is whether to tell an adoptee who her real parents are. Grandpa tells me I’m adopted and I search for my real-life father, who turns out to be a full-blooded Indian. It’s very timely. And they had the sex therapist story, which is so big throughout the country. They keep up with everything.
“Dody’s a daytime soap opera watcher and compares the show she acts in to on of her favorites. “My favorite daytime soap is ‘All My Children.’ They do a lot of the same things we do but they’re so affluent; somehow it’s o.k. for them to do it in expensive clothes. When we do it, it seems sordid. Mary did it in a hospital bed, but at the Plaza it’s a little bit different.”
The mixed reactions the public have toward the show are somewhat puzzling to Dody who thinks controversy is great. In full TV make-up she flutters her false eyelashes and expressed her concern.
“I feel that ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’ has so much going for it. The people who don’t like it usually haven’t seen it enough to know what we’re trying to do. I’m from Ohio myself and I’ve heard a lot of rumblings there against the show. It is controversial and you hear things against us as well as for it, often in the same household. It’s held households at variance. Some people say we’re making fun of the middle class, but we’re really only making fun of human foibles. We even make fun of the clergy, but we’re not putting down real religion, just hypocrisy.”
As Dody gets ready to join other cast members for the afternoon taping, it’s easy to see that she loves her job. She adds, “Rather than the medium you’re doing, it’s the part that’s important. I love my part of Martha Shumway. Because of that, I love TV.”
“Mary Hartman Turned Me Into a Sex Symbol!”
A personal interview with Bruce Solomon, who plays Sgt. Dennis Foley—Mary Hartman’s lover
When Bruce Solomon steps out of his car on a quiet Los Angeles street at 9:30 in the morning, it takes about 15 seconds for the street to come alive and for Bruce to be mobbed by fans. He obligingly autographs notebooks, paper bags, arms, whatever is handy, and he doesn’t stop smiling his famous smile through it all.
He later says of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “It turned me into a sex symbol, which is very, very strange.”
Millions of American women don’t think it’s strange, though, and that special appeal of Bruce’s made the role of Sgt. Foley one of the largest on the show, although it was not intended to be. Bruce says, “My pilot was not supposed to be a recurring part. The part was originally for an elderly Irish desk sergeant. But when I played it with Louise a whole other thing happened. It was easy for me because I’ve always greatly admired this lady’s acting. When Norman Lear saw it he said, ‘Ooooh, yeah!’ So we turned a two-week part into one of the most popular characters on the show.”
He goes on to say, “The sexy quality in Dennis comes not from his lasciviousness but from his interest in Mary’s person. Dennis is the only one who sees the trouble Mary’s in her life. But if anything it confuses Mary even more. It’s a conventional American morality play. That’s why people want Mary and me to get together, they see she’s in trouble and that I can take care of her. That’s my idea of how people should relate to one another, out of a sense of their own pleasure and comfort instead of through another person’s problems. We spend a lot of time validating other peoples’ problems instead of solving them.”
His new status as a sex symbol isn’t the only change that’s come about due to Bruce’s success. With a twinkle in his eye he says, “I’m sending my laundry out! That’s been the biggest change in my life. I’m too busy to do it myself. And I spend a lot of time doing interviews for features. I want to do things that really interest me. Money is the least of my considerations. I don’t lead a very flamboyant lifestyle so I don’t need a lot of money. I don’t worry about paying the rent for the first time in my adult life.”
Bruce smiles as he describes his financially insecure history. It’s clear that while he enjoyed it, he much prefers his newly acquired sense of security. “Until I could work regularly as an actor, I worked as a speech therapist to support myself. I’d go from school to school, the University of Miami to Wayne State to Berkeley, acting on fellowships. Then I said, ‘Wait a second, that’s not what I want to do. I want to get paid for it in a professional atmosphere. It was interesting for me, but in a way I feel it was preparation for what I’m doing now. It gave me experience in acting and about the world in general. I couldn’t get into commercials. Now that I’m working I get commercial offers all the time but I don’t take them.
“I got a small part in The Candidate when I moved to Los Angeles. Then I toured with the Barbed Wire Theatre—all the actor were ex-convicts except me! I knocked on doors and studied acting. People started to see my work. I did some TV, ‘Tenafly,’ ‘Streets of San Francisco,’ ‘Harry O,’ ‘Barney Miller.’
“It’s so important for an actor to have people who have great confidence in you. I had a few at the beginning who were trying hard to help me. It gave me a better attitude toward myself.”
Now Bruce has made it big and he’s eager to discuss his vehicle to overnight stardom. “The form of Mary Hartman is very free. I tried to set up an ideal relationship between a man and a woman, for these two people at this point in their lives. The characters on the show are not untrue. I don’t think they’re always real, but nobody’s interested in sitting and watching what’s really real. They want something that’s a little special. I think it’s closer to real life than the shows that take themselves seriously, both the dramatic soaps and the nighttime detective series.
“People aren’t’ always sincere and concerned in life. In life you could be having a very heavy moment with someone while thinking, ‘Oh, no, I left my clothes in the dryer.’ But in Mary Hartman we say those things. There are realizations other than the serious ones. Our show has a lot of the other side of that, which is the most truthful.”
Bruce went to Springfield, Illinois, in May, to speak at a rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. He has been an ardent feminist for many years and is disappointed in the male chauvinistic character of the show he stars in. “I think that the image of men is treated very badly on the show. There isn’t a man on the show who isn’t a philanderer, who isn’t lying to the woman he’s involved with. I felt it very personally with my character.
“I had to fight every day not to lie. I have to change what they write so I don’t have to keep lying. They had my lying to everybody. In one scene Mrs. Shumway confronted me in my apartment. When she saw I was getting ready to go out, she asked if I were going to see a woman. Originally, I was supposed to say, ‘No, I’m going to a meeting of the Rotary Club,’ but I refused to lie to the women characters on the show, so I changed the line and said, ‘yes.’ The trouble is, I can’t take care of the scenes I’m not in.”
Bruce isn’t the only male star working hard for equal rights. “I met Alan Alda who’s really big in the feminist movement. When you’re in the business and you meet others in it you usually find you have nothing in common. But here I was with one of my favorite actors and we never once talked shop.”
He is happy to have the opportunity to be heard at the ERA rally and credits his stardom with giving him that clout. “I finally got to wield a little power. You should be responsible and use the power the media’s given you to support things that interest you. That’s been great.”
What does an actor do when on vacation from the Mary Hartman set? “I definitely want to do other things. The kind of acting that I like you don’t get much chance to do in TV, there’s not enough time. Episodic TV doesn’t interest me that much. I live the event of acting, coming up with the character. I like to have something truthful to say. It doesn’t have to [be] something important, just something that interests me.
“I’m putting my own company together called Second Artists. We have an idea for a play and a few movies. In this business, you always want to work with your friends. Who else do you want to spend that much time with?”