The Remarkable Loretta Swit is Coming to Houston!
Column: The Naked Critic
The Remarkable Loretta Swit is Coming to Houston in 42nd Street!
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Loretta Swit?
To associate Loretta Swit with Hot Lips is to touch the tip of the iceberg of this prolific, passionate, and deeply spiritual award-winning actress.
Did you know...
...that Loretta Swit and Alan Alda were the only two actors to have made the M*A*S*H journey from pilot to final episode from 1972 to 1983?
...that before Loretta Swit achieved legendary status as Hot Lips on M*A*S*H and during its run, she became an accomplished stage actress, studying with the infamous acting teacher Gene Frankel?
In fact, she and fellow student and actor
F. Murray Abraham were guest lecturers at many of Frankel's classes, giving tips to aspiring young students about the acting profession.
Long before Swit became Hot Lips and won two Emmy awards for her brilliant portrayal of her character, Major Margaret Houlihan, she performed multiple roles on Gunsmoke,
Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, and Mannix.
Swit was the original Cagney in the TV movie pilot of Cagney and Lacey but was precluded by contractual obligations from continuing the role.
Sharon Gless replaced her when the show was picked up.
In 1967, Swit toured with the national company of Any Wednesday, starring Gardner McKay.
She was cast as one of the Pigeon sisters in a Los Angeles run of The Odd Couple, starring Don Rickles and Ernest Borgnine.
In 1975, she stepped into Ellen Burstyn's shoes on Broadway opposite Ted Bessell in Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year.
She succeeded Cleo Laine in The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Broadway.
She played Agnes Gooch in the Las Vegas version of Mame, starring Susan Hayward and, later, Celeste Holm.
Swit starred in The Vagina Monologues
Off-Broadway and has toured with the show.
She has played the lead in Mame.
She did the national tour in 1995 of Willy Russell's one-woman show, Shirley Valentine.
And her resume goes on and on and on...
Loretta Swit is one of our most prominent, versatile, and hardest working actors and, rightfully so, received her star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989.
We have a chance to witness the amazing Loretta Swit in all of her glory right here in Houston, Texas, at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Thursday-Tuesday, July 9-14, at 8:15 p.m., in Theatre Under the Stars' free summer musical offering, the nostalgic and classic tap-dancing extravaganza, 42nd Street.
Swit is portraying Dorothy Brock, a Prima Donna past her prime, who is rehearsing for another starring vehicle on Broadway.
On Monday, June 29, 2009, Loretta Swit and I begin a wonderful telephone conversation.
She is in a rehearsal studio in Manhattan.
As she is handed the cell phone by the PSM of 42nd Street, she vocalizes with a few impressively solid notes.
Oh my gosh, you have a gorgeous voice!
(Laughing) What's the buzz, Buzz?!
(She assures me that I can call her Lorette.)
The principals start today!
The ensemble has been rehearsing for quite awhile now.
(She has never done the show before.)
It's great fun for me---a brand new role---I'm having alot of fun.
Tammy Grimes, Christine Ebersole, and Shirley Jones have all have done this role before.
Those are the only kind of roles to do, right?
(I related to her how I watched the last show of M*A*S*H with one of her co-stars Harry Morgan's son, Dan Morgan.)
(Dan died of AIDS in 1989.)
What is the best stage performance you have ever seen?
Can I narrow it down to musicals?
Film. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music without question.
The most exquisite voice---like a bell chime and she looked so fresh and beautiful.
It was so divine and inspiring.
It could not have been done better.
Angela Lansbury in Mame.
I was in rehearsal to play Agnes Gooch in Mame and our director, Gene Saks, gave us carte blanche to go and watch Mame with Angela which was on Broadway at the Wintergarden Theatre.
When you watch a performer carry a show like Mame and you see how she does it every single show with no lows---I mean---Tuesdays are a bummer. You're coming back from Sunday night and all day Monday and Tuesday.
Even audiences are reluctant to go to Tuesday performances because they know you are gearing up again.
She was there.
Full out there.
One of two fan letters I have ever written in my life I wrote to Angela Lansbury.
And I just saw her recently on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in Blithe Spirit.
She can do anything.
She is my inspriration.
What other shows have you seen in New York?
I caught my lovely friend, Debbie Reynolds, at the Carlisle. Her last show was Saturday.
What's the best stage performance you've ever given?
As you know, performers are the worst judge. We're not watching.
We are doing the work and, hopefully, having a ball on that stage.
I figure if I'm having alot of fun, then the audience must be as well!
There are roles that I love and when you love them that much then, probably, you are good.
I think a prerequisite to doing well in a role is that you must be in love with that character and that show.
And then you get fickle.
You go on to the next show and you fall in love with the next character.
My favorite character is always the one that I am playing at the time.
So I'm now in love with Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street.
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I loved doing Shirley Valentine.
It is a beautifully written play.
I loved being alone onstage and relying on the wonderful script and direction.
I am a long run performer.
I like staying with a show.
I like learning more and more about the character.
What was the most valuable thing you learned from Gene Frankel?
Getting inside of yourself.
Pulling out what you've got to give to the character.
He taught me how to use myself as an instrument to create a character.
What actor, living or dead, do you idolize?
Ingrid Bergman rings my bell.
These women set standards.
Especially for film acting.
Bette Davis was the first actress to refuse to wear makeup in a scene that she was playing in bed.
She thought, This is absurd. I don't believe it. Why should the audience?
And she went out there with messy hair and a naked face---this is what people look like in the morning.
Up until then, the movie actresses were wearing false eyelashes and eyeshadow and waking up looking beautiful.
She really tore down alot of walls.
Why do theatre versus film and tv?
Oh, they are not at war.
It's all one beautiful acting thing.
It's just different requirements and challenges. Different schedules.
You have more of a life when you are shooting a series because you have your evenings and your weekends.
The work is everything. Like Shakespeare says.
If you have a great script, you can do it anywhere.
If the script isn't any good, you shouldn't do it anywhere!
What's the worst theatre exerience you've ever had?
I don't know about worst.
It was interesting...
We had a small fire backstage during Same Time, Next Year on Broadway.
And the stage manager asked me to go out and talk to the audience and tell them that everything was okay and that I was staying and so should they and that we would be back with them in a second.
That was difficult because in the middle of the play I came out of character and I was Loretta Swit talking to the audience.
And then I was back in character---not so difficult for me but for the audience---and they had seen backstage suddenly.
I could sense that it took them awhile to get back into where we had been before the fire.
They gave us a standing ovation.
Another time, I think I was in Alabama or Arkansas.
I was doing Shirley Valentine and there was a cyclone warning and the house lights in the theatre suddenly went up and the firemen came down the aisle and I didn't know what was happening.
So I stopped.
And they said, "Come with us, Miss Swit."
And I thought, What have I done?!
And they took the audience and me into a bomb shelter.
And we waited until everything was clear.
There wasn't a cyclone.
And there were seven minutes left until the finale.
And the audience said, "Miss Swit, we would like you to finish the play down here."
And so I did!!!
I am sure that they are still talking about that.
And they gave me a standing ovation!
Another difficult time was after 9/11.
I was doing The Vagina Monologues
Off-Broadway and we went back to work after a two-day layoff and they asked me to address the audience before we started.
What I did was share with the audience---I welcomed them---and I said,
There are alot of reasons we come to the theatre and this in one of them.
We come to heal.
We come to share.
We come to reach out and join hands and be one.
And really make the phrase, "the brotherhood of man," come to life.
That's why you are here.
That's why we are here.
It was a small house---65 or so.
It was beautiful.
It was part of a healing process.
You just gave me goose bumps.
It did us all.
And it is affecting me now as I recount this story to you.
What's your worst pet peeve?
That doesn't count, because I am nobody's judge.
How do you want people to remember you?
Fans come to me and tell me they love me and they love my work and they love what I bring to the work.
My ensemble has always told me how they admire my work ethic.
Maybe that I am a hard worker.
I am a people person.
I guess because I love them back.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
When we were healing after 9/11 during the first days, the first weeks or so, I have never seen such unity through tragedy.
If we could achieve that kind of unity without having a disaster---a tragedy---that's what I would love to see.
There were no strangers.
Everyone was connected.
Everyone wanted to help.
Everyone was related.
It was amazing.
If I could somehow help bring this about without the tragedy, that would be heaven on earth.
What's your highest score on Ms. Pac Man?
(Rolling on the floor laughing.)
I almost hit 400,000!
Actually it was 398,000.
I will be doing Cactus Flower January to April next year.
Thank you for caring so much about the theatre.
I will see you next week in Houston!
Yes, you will, Lorette.
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Published: 30 Jun 2009