St. John's Confidential File
MSJ: How did you prepare yourself for a future as an actress with the determination to ultimately come to
RL: To begin with, Life’s experiences prepared me. Like many actor’s, it was a deprived childhood and emotionally turbulent. I look back and realize this honed me to understand the un-numbered emotions that can occur in one’s psyche, and though difficult to experience in the soul of a sensitive child, I am now grateful, for it gave me the foundation, the basic tools to take up the craft of acting.
Of course, I gravitated to the theatre locally in
After graduating from N.I.D.A., in between work, I was very fortunate to do advanced study under the astute Alice Crowther, who was a past student of the great spiritual scientist/philosopher, Rudolph Steiner. He was a great Master in many fields including the theatre, set design, the value of color, eurhythmy, agriculture and a great many other subjects. In her time, Alice Crowther had coached well-knowns like Yul Brynner, the English actor Paul Rogers, and the Australian actor John Bell.
Parts played included “Celia” in Shakespeare’s “As you like It.” Titania in “Midsummer’s Night Dream”, Ophelia in “Hamlet,” and Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” That was one of a number of times I worked with Barry Creyton. He played “Malvolio.” Though only 19 years old at the time, he was already revealing his superb talent as a character actor, and though I have seen the best of the best of English actors playing that part, none captured the superficial grandeur and ultimate poignancy he displayed when tricked into his inevitable humiliation.
I was guided to study parts in Shakespeare, and also Shaw, and truly, I believe it to be absolutely true, if an actor is trained to bring Shakespeare’s archaic words to life and bring joyous energy to Shaw’s verbosity, and give their characters flesh and blood, then that actor can rise to the challenge of playing anything, be it comedy or drama.
I studied the Southern accent, preparing for “Maggie” in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, and was thrust unexpectedly to play “Anisya” in Tolstoy’s “Power of Darkness”, a terrifying, powerfully evil part to master in a gloomy play. I understand Marilyn Monroe would have liked to play Anisya. As Michael Redgrave revealed in an interview, playing Macbeth is exhausting. I certainly discovered it to be so when I played Anisya. It was a challenge to master the quick changes, as The Girl Upstairs (Marilyn’s part in the movie) in “Seven Year Itch.” And of course, there were a number of wonderful English comedies and dramas, great stuff!
MSJ: What determined your decision the most to take a chance leaving everything you knew best for a place which would be quite a gamble?
RL: I am not proud of the fact I broke off two engagements to marry, because I just could not see myself settling down in
MSJ: Did you make your professional debut in
RL: Yes, I began my professional career in
By the way, though we never met, due gratitude must go to the late Billie Burke, the Good Witch in “Wizard of Oz.” She co-authored her delightful auto-biography, “With a Feather on My Nose.” I was prompted to learn the first page and a half as an audition piece, and that darling got me three jobs!
A stint followed with Australian Elizabethan Players, touring
It was with Melbourne Repertory that I encountered Frank Thring, who was also a member of the Company. He had gained international fame in the English theatre, rubbing shoulders with Laurence Olivier and Vivienne Leigh, ultimately cast in films playing arch villains, as he was in “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, and of course, his most famous role was as Pontius Pilate in Cecil B. de Mille’s “Ben Hur”, when he drops the handkerchief that begins the great Chariot Race. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I was cast in the
And I had a great time playing the cockney ingénue in “Breath of Spring” with Anna Russell as leading lady. For a number of years I had enjoyed being a fan of that great British comedienne, Anna Russell. She did a one woman show, being fabulously funny the way she parodied classical opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, and her piece de resistance, Wagner’s “Ring”. And she wrote all her own material, sat at the piano accompanying herself, making audiences helpless with laughter. For years, she toured the world, doing her hilarious, and very brilliant send up, and would literally play all the parts, adjusting the pitch to sing soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass. Part of her program was arriving on stage with a set of bagpipes, all in pieces, which she put together, peppering with her delightful comments and repartee. When she had finished assembling it, she would proceed to pump it up and then marched around in a circle playing it quite effectively, much to the delight and approving applause as she exited triumphantly. Frankly, I think she was infinitely more talented and funnier than Victor Borge.
In “Breath of Spring” she said she wanted to break out of her comedic mould and try something else for a change. Imagine my joy in working with someone I had admired since my childhood! And this brilliantly talented lady was no prima donna, no diva. She was an unassuming down to earth, fun-filled darling. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity of working with her.
MSJ: What was your first professional job away from home? And who was responsible?
RL: I believe I have covered much of that in the previous paragraphs. But I am remembering, I was a bit naughty accepting on the quiet the part of a Viennese court lady in the T.V. production of Franz Lehar’s “Land of Smiles” before the end of my first year at N.I.D.A. We were not supposed to do such a thing, but it was a great opportunity, and I dared to do it. And I was enchanted with Lehar’s music. It was a joy to be part of the production.
MSJ: Who were some of the memorable actors who impacted your love for the theatre and acting and why?
RL: Unquestionably it was Googie Withers, known for being “one of the five great English stage actresses” of her day. When I was 17 years old, I was taken to see her in “The Deep Blue Sea” playing opposite her husband John MacCallum. They are both gone now, sad to say. When Googie passed on recently, Barry Creyton and I both agreed it was the end of a wonderful era in the British Theatre. I had the great good fortune of touring
Certainly, the late Lord Laurence Olivier captivated me first in his Shakespeare films and everything else I could see of him on film and television ever since. I was tickled to hear him in an interview on radio, with Kenneth Tynan I think, when he was asked, “Who was the greatest Director” he had ever worked with, and his prompt reply was Tony Guthrie. The reason being that Tony (the late Sir Tyrone Guthrie) was graced with the most superb command of the English vocabulary he had ever encountered, thereby having the perfect words to stimulate the perfect reaction from the actor. Olivier’s comment brought me much joy, for that was exactly my observation when I watched the Great Guthrie directing us all in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Here I feel I must share how Guthrie was an amazing Master when handling crowd scenes. On stage, we had three, various-levelled acting areas, that could only be reached by descending and ascending stairs. For us ladies, this was a formidable achievement, considering we were carrying 30lbs. of panniers under our crinoline skirts. But, God Bless him! Sir Tyrone encouraged us, with utmost kindness, to practice mastering those terrifying steps and stairs, without tripping, and visually it was a masterpiece, for he got us to swirl gracefully in eddies, up and down, never in a straight line, in and around those three acting areas.
MSJ: Has your passion for the theatre affected your personal life or did it force you to make numerable sacrifices as a woman and actress?
RL: Oh, My! Yes! Separations of long periods, because of one’s profession, are disastrous to a relationship. Two divorces. And yes, I would have loved to have had babies. ‘Nough said.
MSJ: What has been the most positive experience in becoming an actress? How has it changed your life as a human being?
RL: Certainly, playing a variety of parts, gives one a greater understanding of the frailty of being a human being…particularly when one plays an evil character. An evil character does not regard him/herself as evil. The actor discovers that the character has very good reasons for making the choices he/she does.
Having understood the cause and effect of re-embodiment since I was about 5 years, simply put, individuals are where they are on Life’s pathway and that pathway is a continual school room of experience, many times having to deal with the boomerang reaction to the choices we have made.
As time has passed in my life, I have come to the realization, it is such a waste of time and the gift of life’s precious energy to hang on to the past, to hold grudges, to hate, resent and worry and fret. We have a choice to look at life positively or negatively. Rather than looking at a formidable experience as bad luck, how much better to regard it as a test of character, how best to handle it, so that we are inevitably strengthened by it. Chinese medicine warns that every time we are upset, we burn our liver, the filter of our blood! Why on earth would we choose to make our blood so toxic that it poisons us? And that can be cumulative.
One of the most positive realizations in my life is to have no opinion about what others choose to do in their lives, even when it affects me. Each and every one of us is endowed with the gift of Free Will, and we need to respect that with each other. Giving each other that freedom, withdrawing one’s self from all judgment, is an aspect of that divine kind of unconditional Love we are all destined to achieve.
Footnotes:- I am proud of Geoffrey Rush’s talent and success. We were both born in Toowoomba, just 87 miles west of
Highlight of 1968..James Mason and Helen Mirren came to
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