Guess Who’s For The ERA? Bruce Solomon and Mary Kay Place.
By Elizabeth Wheeler
The success story of Bruce Solomon is the stuff of which movies are made. A struggling actor and erstwhile graduate student, he worked unrecognized for 10 years until he was cast as Sergeant Dennis Foley in the television series “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” With a couple of boyish grins and soulful glances, Foley gained Mary Hartman’s affections, while Solomon accomplished the same feat with the show’s audience.
Now he’s starring with Art Carney in a television series on NBC called “Lanigan’s Rabbi.” The rabbi, as played by Solomon, has a more equal relationship with his wife than the sexy but sexist Sergeant Foley had with Mary.
May television fans were surprised to hear Solomon speaking out for the Equal Rights Amendment in a national rally at Springfield, Illinois, last spring. He explains: “Aside from acting, I have to try to be as responsible as I can be. And one thing I can do is speak out for the ERA.
“As a child, I had always assumed that women were equal. It never occurred to me that women did not have the same choices I had in jobs or lifestyles. As a matter of fact, I thought that all people were equal, and that this applied to race, too. And – because I was white and male – I never slipped on any banana peels. I was shocked when I realized that the ERA wasn’t already the law.
“I became aware of discrimination against women when women I knew were discriminated against. The incidents were very specific: credit, bank loans, jobs. I remember going to buy a sailboat. The woman I was with had been sailing for years; she was much more competent than I was. And her credit rating was better than mine. But the salesman explained everything to me. The guy just presumed that I was buying the boat and that I was the sailor. There was no connection between that encounter and the real situation.
“The ERA will serve notice that equality is the law of the land; it will broaden the choices women have available to them. But the full effects of the ERA won’t be felt for a number of years. Eventually roles will change. I really expect equality for women will make my life a lot easier, because I can give up having to pretend that I am really in charge, that I know what I’m doing. For me a relationship is something two people are involved in. On a work level, I want whoever is my boss to be the person best qualified, not the man best qualified. Every time a more qualified woman is passed up for a man, I suffer.
“People oppose the ERA because it represents change, and change is always difficult. At the Springfield rally, I saw a skit in which a Phyllis Schlafly-type character concluded her argument against the ERA with the remark, “Besides it would be a demotion.” True, it would be a demotion for someone who gets turned on by the appearance of being taken care of. But to be dependent is to relegate an awful lot of responsibility onto another person in a very unstable world. A person who can’t make it on her or his own is in a very precarious position. A provider can disappear very quickly.”
“Loretta’s nicer than I am,” concedes actress Mary Kay Place, who plays country-western singer Loretta Haggers on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” “But,” Place adds, “I’m a lot smarter than Loretta and I’m not as naïve.” Place, an Oklahoma-born graduate of the University of Tulsa, shares with Loretta a rural background, strong faith in God, and a love of country music. In fact, she wrote the music for all of Loretta’s songs on “Mary Hartman,” the lyrics for several of them, and she has completed her first album, “Tonight: Appearing at the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers.” In addition, she has co-written episodes of “M*A*S*H” and the “Mary Tyler Moore” show, and is now working on a screenplay. She’s a feminist and an active supporter of the ERA.
“I’m for the ERA because I believe in equality for all. The ERA may affect areas we don’t even think about now, but there’s no way that being equal can hurt anyone. You just can’t get any more practical than equality.
“The most basic issue is equal pay for equal work. I can’t tell you how many women I know back home in Oklahoma who work for practically nothing, and they are bright ladies.
“All the stupid credit laws will have to be changed with ERA and the Social Security system would have to give equal benefits to widows and widowers. Nonetheless, some women are frightened that the ERA might destroy the institution of the family, or that they might be drafted. And they’re bound to be frightened unless they are educated about the Amendment.
“The argument that the ERA will destroy the family is a very weak one. People are people. An amendment to the Constitution is not going to change anyone’s personality. Some women will still stay at home and some will still go out to work. If any woman marries a man who would desert her just because a law gets changed, she simply married the wrong man. When marriage is what it should be, a law won’t change it at all.
“If men have to be drafted, I don’t know why women shouldn’t be as well. If called, I’m sure my gut reaction would be to try to get out of it. But why should my brother go and not me, when he doesn’t want to go any more than I do.
“With the ERA, there is a possibility that ultimately – though God only knows how long it will take – things will equalize out. We live in a country where everybody is supposed to be free. So let us have equality under the law. It’s a good start.”