January 31, 1977
Mary Kay’s Place in the Sun
Loretta Haggers’ Stardream
by Joel Sharon
You’re a star, Mary Kay Place.
Suddenly, the blonde country-singin’ waif on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” has become a national sensation. Loretta Haggers, her character on MH, is in terrible shape: a marriage on the rocks, country-singing superstardom delayed, her best friend in and out of insane asylums. But for the thirtyish Mary Kay Place, things have never been better – or busier.
“It’s been pretty crazy lately,” she admitted during a break from shooting on the “Mary Hartman” set. “Besides doing the show, I’ve got an album out (with plans to do a second one), and a big part in an upcoming movie. I’m also writing a screenplay. The biggest problem in my life is that there’s not enough hours in the day,” says Ms. Place, speaking in her own accent – a softer, but related version of Loretta’s Okie tones.
Mary Kay’s album – “Tonight! [sic] At the Capri Lounge” (Columbia Records) is a fun, good-listening album, where she’s joined by some pretty proficient musicians, like Emmylou Harris and her hot band, Dolly Parton, and noted producer Brian Ahern. Among the songs on the album are two Mary Hartman tongue-in-cheek hits, “Vitamin L” and “Baby Boy,” a Dolly Parton cut (“All I Can Do”) and a spiritual, “Have A Little Talk with Jesus,” which Mary Kay sings with friend Patty Weaver.
Mary Kay’s movie is New York, New York, a 1940’s film about the Big Band era, in which she says, “I sing four songs, wear this curly Betty Grable hair-do, and get totally out of Loretta.” It also stars Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli, and is due at theaters this spring. And the screenplay is “Something I’ve been carrying around in my head for the past two years, a ‘coming of age’ story something like Last Picture Show and American Graffiti, except told from the female point of view.”
Now what’s going on here? Is she an actress who sings, a singer who acts, or a writer who performs? Who is this sudden star, what is she, and where does she come from?
Well, Mary started as a writer, she’s a talented and funny woman, and she comes from Oklahoma. Or rather, she was born and grew up in Tulsa, where her father is a professor of art and her mother is an elementary school teacher. She’s been a bundle of energy from the start. “In high school,” Mary Kay remembers, “I was as crazily busy as I am today. It was cheerleading then,” she laughs, “I had to make up the cheers. The energy was the same, only the projects were different.” She took that energy, graduated with a major in drama, and set off for Hollywood.
Unlike lots of other young actresses, Mary Kay came without illusions. “I never doubted I would somehow be involved in this business,” she says, but in the meantime the Okie from Tulsa came willing to take whatever work she could find.
The first acting job she found was as “Fleegle the Dog” on a kids’ show, which was quickly followed by a decision to drive for success some other way. Ms. Place wound up as a secretary on Norman Lear’s TV show, “Maude.” After typing up a bunch of scripts that left her unimpressed, Mary Kay decided she could do as well. She submitted one, and soon after was writing for “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” and the “Mary Tyler Moore” Show.
Then came a crazy, very Loretta-like first break. Mary Kay and friend Patty Weaver sang sitcom champ Lear a song that Mary had written just for kicks. “Norman laughed, and liked it enough to put us on “All in the Family,” she recalls. “We sang it on the show–a sweet number called ‘If Communism Comes Knocking at Your Door, Don’t Answer It.’” That memorable performance led to an audition for “Mary Hartman”... and the rest is more or less history.
With a few twists and turns, that might have been the success story of Loretta Haggers, the sweet-as-sugar country girl whose heart is set on being a bi-i-i-i-g superstar. She’s got a bouffant hairdo, and a deep Okie accent, and she’s bits and pieces of a whole bunch of people Mary Kay knew at home. Is she also Mary Kay?
“Well, I love the character of Loretta a lot, and there’s lots of me in her, but there’s real big differences, too,” she says. “Like my albums – the first was a Loretta Haggers; the next one will be just Mary Kay Place.”
What’s the difference?
“Loretta writes like Loretta talks. There’s a certain language she uses. She writes lyrics like, ‘Had no hair on his head, but a lot above his lip.’ She’s not profound...she doesn’t say things profoundly, she says them funny.”
And how does Mary Kay Place say things?
“I’m not gonna turn around and get super-profound or start pontificating.” (Loretta would never, never have heard that word, let alone have used it). “But as Mary Kay, I’ve got some flexibility. There may be songs I’ve written that are Loretta songs, but as Mary Kay I’ve got a choice.”
She also chooses not to spend the rest of her life as Loretta. “I don’t want to do the role forever... maybe one more year. It’s just not interesting after a while; I’m an advocate of leaving the party while you’re still having a good time.”
That’s one thing Mary Kay seems quite capable of doing. In spite of her hectic schedule, she remains one of the friendliest and least pretentious people in show business today. All the attention she’s been getting lately seems to have done little to change her: “I guess I’ve been raised so pragmatically that I really take it all with a grain of salt,” she says. “I’m aware of the changing tides of this business...that tomorrow I could be selling shoes at Kinney. “I mean, I’m thrilled by all of it, but I’m so busy I don’t have the time to sit around and say, ‘Aren’t I neat?”
Instead, she keeps hard at work on new projects. Which is most important: singing? Writing? Acting?
“There’s so many things for me to do. Offers are coming in for lots of different things. I love to sing, and I intend to keep on doing that. I enjoy acting, but it’s not my goal in life, to be acting all the time. And writing...”
“Writing is the hardest thing. I love writing, but I can’t do it all the time because it’s too hard. But I’m really serious about my screenplay, and several people have shown an incredible amount of interest in it.”
In any case, you’re a star now, Mary Kay. How’s it feel?
“I’m not aware of a lot of it. I go to work, I come home, and the only thing I see is that I’m busier now...and that sometimes, people recognize me when I’m out jogging near my home (in West Hollywood). But even that’s not dependable.”
“When you most need people to recognize you, they don’t. Y’see, one day I was in my car, on the way to the Dinah Shore show, and my car stalled, and I needed a ride, and...”
Isn’t this a “Mary Hartman” routine?
“No, it’s true, it’s true!” She protests. “So we tried flagging down cars, and no one would stop – this is in Beverly Hills, ya know? And no one would even let us in their homes to use their phone. So that’s how good bein’ famous is – when you need to be recognized, no one knows you.”
Loretta would sympathize, hon.