An Interview With Mary Kay Place
By Margy Rochlin
Winning an Emmy for her role as Loretta Haggers on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Mary Kay place has since added a Grammy nomination for Tonite! At the Capri Lounge and an Emmy nomination for the authoring of a “M*A*S*H” script.
Though keeping a deceptively low profile for the past few years, Mary Kay has not been idle. Surfacing for a few cameo roles in Starting Over, New York, New York, and Bound for Glory, she is currently putting the finishing touches on a feature length screenplay and can be seen in the upcoming film Pvt. Benjamin, with Goldie Hawn.
The measure of her downhome sensibilities have proven themselves even in the face of obstacles and setbacks. In some unusual sense, Mary Kay Place still charts her own course.
REVUE: Let’s get personal. What do you look for in relationships?
PLACE: I just like people that are right out there—a basic honesty that comes barreling forth even if they have a schtick or persona. I don’t like sleazos. I don’t care about the exterior stuff. I want to know when push comes to shove, how they will really behave. But I am also big on intelligence and humor—a good heart comes third.
REVUE: What about inspired conversationalists?
PLACE: They are usually married or living with someone—snatched up long ago.
REVUE: Do you mind not being married?
REVUE: Do you think that if you were born of a different time that you would mind?
PLACE: I think I was born at the right time for me. It’s interesting, I recently went to my college sorority’s ten year reunion and came away feeling very happy. I don’t think my life is perfect by any means. It’s not romantic and fabulous all the time, but I do realize that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. If I ever meet someone that I would like to marry, then I will do that; but marriage for marriage’s sake doesn’t appeal to me.
REVUE: Would you like to have children?
PLACE: I’ve always imagined that I would, but I haven’t fallen in love with anyone that I would want…wait, that’s not true. I was in love with someone that I would have had children with, but it wouldn’t have been right because of the relationship. I am constantly concerned with how I would handle it if I did have a child. I would obviously have to cut out a lot of my career.
REVUE: Did your parents counsel you well?
PLACE: My mother told me, “Mary Kay, yew kin do whatever yew want to, if yew want to hard enough.” I think that’s pretty good advice. My mother also used to say, “Everything works out for the best.”
REVUE: Do you still believe that to be true?
PLACE: In the sense that if something doesn’t work out, then something else will. I’ve had a very successful two years on one level and a very unsuccessful two years on another. I’ve had more inward than outward successes.
REVUE: But in a sense, don’t you feel that’s what comes from taking risks?
PLACE: An example is my music. In the very beginning, I refused to do an album. I didn’t want to do Laverne and Shirley Do the Fifties Hits. But when Emmylou Harris, Brian Ahern, and the Hot Band got involved, it became a whole other proposition. If somebody offers you the chance, it is ridiculous to refuse because of ego or vanity or fear of failure. The thing is that even though failing can be humiliating on one level, it always makes reality exist.
REVUE: What happened to the album?
PLACE: It’s never been released. We shot the album cover three times, and I went on vacation for two weeks. During this period, Columbia Records experienced the worst financial crisis in the history of the company. I came back and suddenly they weren’t putting the album out; they couldn’t even tell me because they knew what I had been through. Another company called to buy it, but I couldn’t deal with it because I had been so emotionally immersed. It had been a real crummy year anyway. I had this concert with Willie Nelson and got sick. I broke up with my boyfriend. It was awful. I just said, “Hey, what more can happen to me?”
REVUE: Do you think that your experience will keep your from braving the waters again?
PLACE: I won’t do this again until I have a new manager, and I have no one that I am interested in at this point. I have trouble with managers—they make me nuts. It’s very hard to find someone whose tastes and sensibilities are ones that in sync with yours. The problem before was that I was immediately thrust into this media deal. Whatever for, I don’t know. But it was all about that and not the singing.
REVUE: Would you also like to play bigger parts in film?
PLACE: The lead roles that have been offered to me have been shitty, or parts similar to Loretta Haggers, the character I played in “Mary Hartman.” I certainly didn’t want to play that type of character again. I was sick up to here with that sort of attitude.
REVUE: But with small roles, don’t you find your scenes more precious?
PLACE: In Starting Over, I had a love scene with Burt Reynolds that was cut out. It’s almost the same scene as in Kramer vs. Kramer, but my child walks in on us. It was very difficult to do a nude scene and appear intimate with someone that you don’t even know. It’s the kind of thing I would never do again, unless I had time to get to know the person. Besides, my grandmother would not have appreciated it. Why bug her?
REVUE: Why do you think you are cast so often as dizzy girls?
PLACE: I think I know how to play them funny. I like playing “bimbettes”—I think they’re hysterical. It’s the inconsistencies in their character.
REVUE: What did you like about the character in Starting Over?
PLACE: She was a divorced woman with two kids who had suffered really bad dates for a long time. When she sees Burt Reynolds walk through the door, she can’t believe her eyes. What good fortune! She wants to do anything to make him a part of her permanent life.
REVUE: Why did you decide to write a feature length script?
PLACE: I was sick to death of writing sitcoms. But before, I really didn’t know that much about writing feature films. That is the reason why now, I am just coming back to this project. Also, the story deals with certain psychological changes that I was curious about; changes that I hadn’t resolved within myself, so it was difficult to finish. I want to do a movie about growing up and the “coming of age” issues involved. I think a lot of these kind of movies written about girls are done by 58-year-old men from New York who don’t have kids. I don’t want to get too arty here, but I want it to be a movie that a cross section can relate to. It’s about touching emotions and those certain things that everyone goes through; I don’t care who it is. Life is not about only the good—how boring! You cannot eat that pie everyday. After a while even your favorite pie will not be your favorite pie anymore.
REVUE: Which of your careers to you feel closest to?
PLACE: Hon, I am just trying to figure out that very question. Writing is much more fulfilling to me than acting or singing, but it is lonely and difficult. I can’t take it for long periods of time—I feel too alone. I now vacillate between careers. I would love to do everything. I would love to write movies and then either direct or act in them. But acting is like a social break for me to get out in the world again. When I was offered the part as the soldier in Pvt. Benjamin, I had either been in the recording studio or in my office at Paramount writing for months. The thought of getting into army fatigues, running through quicksand, and doing this totally silly stuff with a bunch of funny girls appealed to me. It was like summer camp.
REVUE: Do you go through periods when you don’t work?
PLACE: I’m always working on something. I was working on an album and a script last year, but people kept asking me why I wasn’t working. It’s hard for me to be idle. There was a period this last year when I literally couldn’t do anything. But that was to big lesson I learned from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”—I learned that you can’t do everything. It took its toll. I needed a rest period after that. In this business, everyone tries to talk you into doing everything. They try and make you believe that you can do all these projects at once. There was a time when people were saying, “Mary Kay, come here, do that, go here, go there.” It was push and pull. I couldn’t even move. I was exhausted.
REVUE: What happened with “Mary Hartman?”
PLACE: I think we all flipped out. I don’t think that anyone escaped a certain reaction from the show. Mine, in fact, was delayed; but a lot of people experienced their’s right on the show.
REVUE: Did the pace and the pressure cause problems?
PLACE: There was a lot of tension on the set. Grips, cameramen, gofers—everybody experienced it. You cannot be in an atmosphere of tension like that and not have it affect you. What it did was crate a pressure filled situation that brought a lot of things to the surface. Ultimately, it was a life changing occurrence. You could see the faces of the actors go from bright and enthusiastic to haggard and tired. It was all out there. I don’t think that in my life I will ever experience anything like that again. As good and instructive as it was, it also depleted me. It took away youth.
REVUE: If you are speaking of a loss of innocence, then it doesn’t show.
PLACE: You didn’t know me before. It’s okay though; it’s not
like you can’t have fun anymore. You don’t have to be a hard-ass, cynical,
son-of-a-bitch—you don’t. I am speaking of another kind of awareness—I mean I
thought I was real wise and mature and up on things.
REVUE: Do you look to people for advice?
PLACE: Oh always, to people I respect! In one sense, my friends play the devil’s advocate. What I really know in my heart is that the right decision will become apparent. But if you mean advice about my work, there is a big network of people, and we really help each other. Most people whose work I respect a lot are always doubting themselves. I think that people who really want to do good work are never quite satisfied. Sometimes I end up having to talk to twenty people about every possible facet.
REVUE: Where did you get the guts to do all the things you do?
PLACE: I have enormous fear about all the things I do, but they interest me. The most guts I’ve had to muster was for the music. In a way, I had no business doing it. But I said to myself, “When you are eighty-five or ninety, in a rest home, with your teeth beside you in a glass jar, what will it have mattered if you did it and maybe weren’t great?” When you’re ninety, I’m sure you think, “God, why didn’t I just go ahead and do it!” I mean, what the hell!