Back Stage with Marsha Mason

 Stories Behind the Stories

(In this column, I tell all of what went on during my interviews, coverage, and promotion of quite a few famous folks. Well, I mostly tell all. These stories took place during my two careers (1972 – 2007),  first as a newspaper and magazine reporter and then as a higher education public relations director. We’re talking three U.S. presidents, Queen Elizabeth, at least two dozen movie & TV stars, accomplished musicians, and others. Some stories you may find amusing, perhaps revealing. Others not so much.)

Top tier actress Marsha Mason is perhaps my favorite celebrity interview. The one-on-one took place in June 1983 backstage at San Diego’s internationally-renown Old Globe Theater.

For most of our hour-long chat, she sat on the floor propped up against a couch. I sat on a small couch just a couple of feet across from her. She was at the Globe to star in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She’d just finished five hours of rehearsal and had a two-hour break before resuming rehearsal.

During our discussion, Marsha repeatedly mentioned her desire to see the city’s major attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, the beaches, and Balboa Park’s museums. After all, she would be working at the Globe for the next several weeks.
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Throughout the conversation, Marsha trifled with me. I certainly didn’t mind. On the other hand, flirting comes natural to showbiz types, and she was, and still is, one helluva’ actress. Plus, she no doubt wanted me to pen a flattering report. In any event, I developed a crush on the 40-year-old movie star. (I was 33 at the time.)

I was an easy sell, having become smitten by her Oscar-nominated performance in The Goodbye Girl (1977) and starring role in Cinderella Liberty (1973) that netted her a Best Actress Golden Globe.marsha-dreyfuss

Nevertheless, I thought the actress with prom queen looks was hinting for me to show her around town. Of course, I choked and never did ask her out.

She lit a Vantage cigarette and confided “I haven’t smoked in seven or eight years, until now.”

What’s a guy to do? I also lit up a cig. Same brand. So much in common…Heavy sigh.

Ongoing divorce proceedings with superstar writer Neil Simon could have explained her behavior. The divorce was finalized about a month after our interview. The marriage had lasted ten years.

Taking the Old Globe gig could have been her getaway from reality. She accepted the starring role in Twelfth Night for only $420 a week, quite a departure from her lucrative film career. “I am fortunate that I can afford to do it for only four-twenty.”

While discussing soon-to-be ex-husband Simon, Marsha became philosophic. “Fear stops me a lot of times. When fear takes over, I am not really there. With acting, I have the opportunity to confront all of that.”

At the conclusion of the interview, Marsha invited me to pay her a dressing room visit after taking in one of her upcoming performances.

I did, and was quickly ushered passed a long line of well-wishers standing outside her dressing room. They all were bearing flowers and other goodies. Nieve me showed up empty-handed.

Within seconds, I was inside her dressing room. Boy was I in for a surprise. She was not the same mellow person I’d interviewed just a few days earlier. She was bouncing off the walls with post-performance energy and intensity. Not exactly Jekyll and Hyde, but overwhelming.

A few minutes later, as I was about to depart, Marsha moved in to kiss me goodbye. Instead of seizing the moment and accepting a kiss on the lips, self-conscious dummy that I was, I instinctively turned and took her kiss on the cheek. Regretted that ever since.

Back in the newsroom the next day, the guys wanted to know what happened. Suffice to say, they were disappointed and gave me a hard time because of my failure to ask her on a date.

Still, it begs the question:  What would other journalists have done? Could’ve been construed as unprofessional. Not necessarily. After all, covering entertainment is considered soft news, unless a crime or serious scandal was an element of the story.

Turned out she had plenty of male companionship while in town. Duh! Cinderella Liberty and Chapter Two co-star James Caan came down from Tinsel Town to see the play and escort her around the city. And soon to be ex-husband Neil Simon journeyed south to San Diego to catch her opening night performance at the Globe.  I took in the Shakespearean play a few days later.

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Simon was married to Marsha for ten years (1973-83). While they were a couple, she starred in five films he penned:

Of those five films, Marsha garnered three Best Actress Oscar nominations. Can you guess which? (see below)

Marsha and Simon divorced was finalized in July 1983, while she was still performing at the Globe.

Although I knew about the split-up, I was unaware that it occurred so recently. If only I’d known, maybe I would have made a move. Well, at least I would have kissed her full on. Okay, okay, now I’m fantasizing. Moving on…

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she played the role of Viola, a woman posing as a man. Earlier, she’d portrayed a male, Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Marsha assured me that she is comfortable playing males because “when I was younger, I was a tomboy.”

Born in St. Louis, she attended parochial school and Webster College, where she studied speech and drama.

In the four years that followed the Marsha interview, we corresponded twice, both initiated by me. She was kind enough to respond both times, and her messages seemed heartfelt.

Marsha did not return to the Old Globe until 2015. Cast in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, Mason said she found the role of Catherine an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.

As it turned out, I was unaware that she was back performing in San Diego. Asleep at the wheel – once again.

Answer: Best Actress Oscars nominations for The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two, and Only When I Laugh. She won Best Actress Golden Globes for The Goodbye Girl and Cinderella Liberty.

Coming: Cesar Chavez, Michael Parks, Ray Bradbury, Tony Gwynn, Abbie Hoffman, Julie Walters, Ingrid Croce.

Posted:

President Jimmy Carter,

President Ronald Reagan,

Governor Jerry Brown,

Legendary baseball player Ted Williams,

Folk singer/anti-war activist Joan Baez.

Watergate felon & Nixon’s right-hand man John Ehrlichman.

Oscar-nominated/Golden Globe Best Actress winner Marsha Mason,

Chief Justice Warren Berger,

Legendary performer Tony Bennett,

Superman co-creator Joe Shuster,

1984 National League Champ San Diego Padres locker room interviews.

Two hours with Hall of Fame Dodger Duke Snider.

 

Haunted by Artist Interviewed 36 Years Ago: Superman’s Co-Creator

Deceased illustrator Joe Shuster has been haunting me this summer—in a good way. Felt his presence in a movie theater while watching Man of Steel and later at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con.

How can you not love a guy who, while just a teenager, created the most iconic superhero to ever fight for truth, justice, and the American Way along with high school buddy Jerry Siegel.

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Heady times for the boys from Cleveland. They managed to sell their superhero to D.C. Comics. The powerhouse comic book publisher hired them to write and illustrate Superman. For the next ten years, illustrator Shuster and writer Siegel cranked out Superman tales from D.C. headquarters in Manhattan. One major catch, however. They had to sell all rights to their superhero. The selling price? A paltry $130, but they were very young and naive, and this took place during the Great Depression.

After D.C. Comics replaced Shuster and Siegel, the pair spent the rest of their long lives in court trying to right that awful wrong.

In 1977, I had the privilege of interviewing Shuster. It took place in Shuster’s modest apartment in Escondido, CA, some 30 miles north of San Diego. Even though I was a newspaper reporter who had met many accomplished people, I remember feeling a bit giddy while driving to meet him.

To talk at length with one of the men who gave birth to Superman brought me back to treasured childhood and early teenage moments, devouring Superman and other superhero comics.

Shuster, 63 at the time, greeted me at the door with a warm smile. We sat in the small living room of his modest apartment along with his wife. Retired and just married for the first time, he had recently moved from a San Diego beach community.

The short, timid artist told me that best friend Jerry conjured up Superman in a dream in 1933.

“I just learned after all these years that Jerry got the idea in a dream,” but Jerry was “afraid to admit it,” he said, nestled in a recliner in the small living room. “Superman is everything that Jerry and I wanted to be—our alter ego. Jerry and I are both shy and introverted.”

The quote may appear rehearsed, but Shuster sounded sincere.

When I queried him about the copyright lawsuit, Shuster was critical of DC and not happy about how long the litigation continued to drag on.

Fortunately, Joe did have good news, too. Just two years earlier (1975), a court awarded each of them a $20,000 per year pension, cost of living increases, medical coverage, and published credits in all Superman comics and movies. The ruling came a long 28 years after Shuster and Siegel originally sued D.C.

Two years after our interview (1979), I went to see the first Superman movie ever produced. The Christopher Reeve movie mesmerized this Baby Boomer. And sure enough, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel received film credits as creators of the beloved Kryptonian.

The next day, I phoned Shuster to get his take on the movie. However, the person who answered told me that Joe had moved back to Manhattan.

Fast forward to July 2013.  That’s when I discovered that my 36–year-old interview, published by the Escondido Times-Advocate, played a small role in piecing together the brand-new non-fiction book chronicling the lives of Shuster and Siegel.

Superboys, the Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, is considered the most comprehensive account of these two extraordinary men. Author Brad Ricca was promoting his book during the final day of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

After I introduced myself as a former San Diego-area newspaper reporter who interviewed Shuster in the late Seventies, Ricca asked, “which newspaper?”

I told him the Escondido paper (now part of the North County Times), to which Ricca beamed and said, “Your article was of immense help.”

Of course, I purchased Superboys on the spot. Ricca signed the book, “For John, You’re a part of this story!”

A gratifying moment that was completely unexpected. Writers, you see, write to be heard. Writers also keep copies of published material that have special meaning. I kept a hard copy of the 1977 Shuster article.

When a journalist interviews accomplished people of special note, memories of those moments often stick.

In 1992, Joe Shuster passed away of natural causes. In tribute, I wrote a guest editorial for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Shuster had died in such obscurity that his death was not reported until several days later by the Los Angeles County coroner.

Ironically, Joe Shuster died just a few months before his co- creation’s demise. After 54 years of defending earth, Superman was killed off in his comic book. That’s more than a half-century of reaping major bucks for D.C. Comics and long-time parent company Warner Brothers Entertainment.

To no one’s surprise, Superman’s comic book death was nothing more than a clever marketing ploy to resuscitate the superhero’s waning popularity. Eventually, the man from Krypton was revived through the now infamous creative vehicle popularly known as “reimagining.”

Four years after Joe died, co-creator Jerry Siegel passed, also of natural causes.

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A few weeks before the July 2013 Comic-Con, I feasted on the newest Superman movie, Man of Steel. Enjoyed the darker, controversial Superman depicted. Especially appreciated the considerable amount spent on Krypton before infant Kal-El was placed by his parents in rocket ship bound for Earth just before Krypton implodes.

The weakest element in Steel: too many fight scenes between Superman and General Zod. Half of the punch outs could have been cut without sacrificing the integrity of the story.

I wondered if Joe Shuster would agree.

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