TV Sirens: A Tantalizing Look at Prime Time’s Fabulous Females
Mary Kay Place (p. 62)
There’s a wonderful, wry warmth to Mary Kay Place. In The Big Chill she was the only character who wasn’t twisted, stupid, sullen, vain, smug, obnoxious, or suicidal. All she wanted was a baby, so she merrily hopped into bed with her best friend’s husband. Place doesn’t make go-getting seem pushy – she’s too nice. At the same time she subverts the decency of her characters with an open-eyed lustiness. Her Loretta Haggers in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is a campy cartoon – an “SCTV” send-up of a country-and-western diva – but Place gives Loretta unexpected shadings. She’s almost less a Lear Lady than a Henning Honey, combining the loony logic of Gracie Allen, the corn-pone confidence of Irene Ryan, and the self-effacing sexuality of Donna Douglas. But if Place is less dynamic than any of these divas, it’s because she had so few costars on “MH, MH” to charge up her feelings. I always looked forward to Loretta dropping by Mary’s kitchen, if only to block Louise Lasser’s stares into space. Place liked Loretta. She admired her ambition, delighted in her defiance, even envied her sensibility. Maybe the density of Place’s portrayal stems from her writing background: she won an Emmy nomination for a “M*A*S*H” episode and worked on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” But the struggle of her acting will be to reconcile the sharp (“MTM”) and mushy (“M*A*S*H”) sides of her personality. In 1986's The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, Place tearfully applauded a Cambodian refugee’s spelling-bee victory. Maybe a Lear Lady lurks in her after all. But Place’s aces in the hole are witty asides in lovefests (Big Chill) and lyrical touches in lampoons (“Mary Hartman”). She ought to have a long talk with Loretta over a cup of coffee.