Country Music Magazine
Mary Kay Place Feels Right At Home Playing
COUNTRY GIRL NEXT DOOR
Honey-haired Mary Kay Place has come a long way since the days when she played a dog on a children’s educational TV show. Mary Kay is currently sugar-lipped Loretta Haggers on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,”-the satirical soap opera currently rivaling CB’s as the nation's hottest craze. The Oklahoma-born actress feels she was a natural for the part of the country singing housewife with Nashville ambitions.
“I’d reckoned I’d been doing Loretta since I was five,” she drawls. Born and raised in Tulsa, Mary Kay spent summers with relatives in Rule and Port Arthur, Texas as a child. “It’s a good thing I spent so much time in Texas. An Oklahoma accent is much thicker.”
Mary Kay journeyed west to Los Angeles upon graduation from the University of Tulsa where she majored in radio-television/production and drama. Like many would-be young actresses, she landed a job as a clerk-typist at CBS, where she met Tim Conway, who asked her to be his secretary. She got to do some acting on Tim's TV show, then did a stint as associate producer at a local TV station. It was there she got her first big acting job, playing Fleegle the Dog, on the station's “ecology-oriented” children’s game show. “I made the most money I'd ever made. I think I made something like $30 a week as associate producer, but by playing the dog I made $200 a week. I felt rich. Rich!”
After Fleegle was cancelled, Mary went to work for comedian David Steinberg who let her do some comedy on his TV show. Falling prey to Steinberg's funny bug, Mary went on to write scripts for episodes of such top-rated series as “Maude,” “Rhoda,” “Phyllis,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “M*A*S*H.” She also put in some time developing pilots for Warner Brothers Television and comedy genius Norman Lear's TAT Communications. When TAT first approached her to audition for “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” it was for the part of Mary’s forever lovesick younger sister, Cathy. But when she saw the part of Loretta in the script, she knew she’d come home.
Much of Loretta’s dialogue is, in fact, spiked with the down-home expressions that Mary Kay was raised on in Tulsa. “I love them-the cornier they are, the more I love them.” As for Loretta’s singing-which more than occasionally goes off key: “Essentially my voice and Loretta’s voice is the same voice. I’ve made Loretta sing better since those early shows, and she’ll get better as she goes along because it’s really a one-time joke for somebody not to be able to sing.” On the matter of songwriting, however, Loretta and Mary Kay part company. “Loretta writes bad lyrics. Hopefully Mary Kay Place-when she has the time-can write good lyrics.”
Mary Kay, whose taste in country music runs from the traditional favorites (“I would've loved to have written Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall to Pieces’”) to the Outlaws (“Waylon Jennings’ song about Hank Williams-love that song”) has actually written Loretta's TV “hit,” “Baby Boy” and co-written several of the other songs she sings on the show.
The youthful actress now divides her time between acting and writing, but acting seems to have a definite edge:
“Writing is just so lonely, in this little room by yourself, acting is just such fun by comparison.” Millions of TV fans are glad she feels that way.