Remembrances of 2014

by Lynn on January 3, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

images.jpg MarianLooking back at 2014.

There must be an easy way of seeing 291 shows, as I did in 2014, and being able to write about them in a timely fashion. That resolution will occupy my time in 2015. In the meantime, for the next several postings, I’m remembering shows and people that affected me in 2014.

A Remembrance and Appreciation of Marian Seldes.

Marian Seldes, a stalwart of the American theatre, died on Monday, Oct. 6. She was 86 years old. She lived, breathed, ate and slept the theatre. She did have forays into film and television, but the theatre was her spiritual home.

The various obituaries covered all the usual details. She was born into a notable literary family. Her father was Gilbert Seldes, a celebrated critic, author and editor. Her uncle George Seldes was a journalist. A who’s who of the arts visited her parents’ home when she was growing up. Over her long career, Marian acted with a who’s who of the theatre, Katharine Cornell being one.

Initially she wanted to be a dancer but she was too tall. Fortunately the theatre got her (where statuesque grace is an asset), that, and eyebrows that looked like Olympic ski-slopes.

I can’t remember when I first saw her on a stage or when we formally met. It seems she was always in my life. I saw her in the audience occasionally when I went to New York. A Marian Seldes sighting in the theatre made it an occasion.  She always brought a small pair of binoculars which she used frequently, not because she couldn’t see well, but because she wanted to see moments better. In 1998 when I saw the Broadway production of Cabaret  with Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming, Marian and her husband Garson Kanin sat at the next table to mine (part of the configuration of the theatre was set like a night club). He was very frail and she was very attentive. She tapped out the rhythm of the music delicately on his knee. At the beginning of Act II Alan Cumming came into the audience looking for someone to take on stage with whom to dance. He came down our ‘aisle’. I was sure he would pick Marian. Instead he picked a very reluctant, mortified ME! I wanted to shout, “Why me? You have royalty right there (indicating Marian). Pick her!”

Marian and I did meet—was it a friend of a friend who introduced us? Can’t remember. But I heard she was going to make a film in Toronto in November of 2000 and gave her my telephone number. Perhaps if she had time I could take her to the theatre.  Well it was the theatre, right? Of course she had time. She called and I took her to the theatre, twice.

The first time was to the Tarragon Theatre—can’t remember the play. The audience was on either side of the playing space.  I saw her out of the corner of my eye raising her binoculars quietly to gaze through to get a better look. Just as quietly she lowered them. At intermission a local director came over to introduce himself to her. He said that he spent the whole first act watching Marian (on the other side of the stage) watching the play. Then I took her to VidoCabaret to see New France. I had no idea how she would take that one, it’s so typically Canadian, and so particularly in the style of VideoCabaret (black box set; exaggerated costumes and props; short scenes like television and cheesy background music for effect). She loved it.

Marian wrote a wonderful memoir called “The Bright Lights”  (A Theatre Life). I had read it but didn’t have my own copy. On the way to VideoCabaret we stopped into a second hand bookstore looking for it. As luck would have it there was a copy of it on the shelf just before George Bernard Shaw (fitting, that).  I bought the ‘treasure’ and once seated in that tiny backroom of the Cameron House Tavern, Marian signed my book:

“To my new friend


lover of the theatre—




How right it is that we are sitting in a

theatre as I inscribe this book to you.

It is my home, as it is yours.

You can read my words– and I can read

yours. “Every so often, like rhymes.”



She was theatrical, but never grand. Marian wore purple because she liked the colour—scarves, capes, coats, dresses, all purple. Julie Harris told me that she met Marian in the street one day, and Marian curtseyed deeply to her—one theatre icon showing reverence for another. When Marian greeted me, or anyone for that matter, her eyes would glisten, those majestic eye-brows would go up with delight and she would envelope you with those long arms as if embracing a butterfly, it was that delicate.

Marian was a woman of contradictions. She was tall and statuesque but had the smallest handwriting I have ever seen. At times it looked like you needed a magnifying glass to read it. It was almost as if she didn’t want to be noticed, and of course she was. Her signature, “Marian” was written with a flourish—a long slightly curved line slid across the page and then did some bumps and a zig-zag and stopped. Then she seemed to think that was enough flourish and “Seldes” went right back to being writ small and proper. She seemed to spend a lot of her time correcting people’s pronunciation of that last name. (It was pronounced Seldis not Seldeeees).

While she could fill a theatre with her voice, off stage she talked in hushed tones, almost a whisper. On the phone it was a whisper. She always answered the phone on the second ring. “This is Lynn Slotkin speaking,” was always met with a slight silence from her and then the subtlest of laughs followed by, “Well of course it is.” When she left a message on my answering machine, it was without hello or introduction. She just got right into it, almost in the middle of a thought, finished by, “Good-bye, darling. See you soon, darling. Marian, darling.” As if there was any doubt as to who it was.

Marian taught at Juilliard for years and was a revered teacher. She taught Robin Williams, Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Laura Linney and Kevin Spacey to name a few. And according to a remembrance from Spacey, she would always turn up to see her students and former students act, no matter how small and squalid the theatre. There she would be, binoculars in hand, no matter how close she was to the stage, supporting and encouraging.

I can appreciate her students’ great love and respect for her. But it carried further. In 2003 Marian was in the Julia Roberts’ film, “Mona Lisa Smile.” So was Juliet Stevenson. They had one terrific scene together. I thought Juliet would appreciate Marian’s book. I bought it; had Marian sign it when I was in New York on a trip, then sent it to Juliet in London.  Juliet sent me an e-mail after she got it telling me how much getting the book and the inscription meant to her. And how she loved Marian. “Mona Lisa Smile” was Juliet’s first big Hollywood movie. She came to it after filming started and she felt intimidated, insecure and felt no one really knew who she was. Then Marian came over, told her how much she loved her work and was so full of open-hearted grace that Juliet felt transformed by her. She was now confident, relaxed and sure of her place in that film. They only had one scene together but for Juliet it was the high point of the filming. Wonderful.

Marian’s memoir “The Bright Lights” stopped in 1983. I was not alone in thinking there should be at least two more instalments, but Marian wasn’t biting, even when I brought her a package of the necessary supplies, each one individually wrapped: notepad for notes (if it was good enough for Chekhov….) a pencil for jotting thoughts, an eraser for those “uh oh” moments, a pen for the keepers, a ream of paper for the finished product and a bottle of Rolaids when I nagged too much.  She carefully unwrapped each item and laughed after every one.

While I can’t remember the first time I saw Marian in a play, I sure remember the other times. I went to see her in Three Tall Women in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre when it was touring (I had already seen it in New York with her). It was an interesting experience because I went with the three actresses who had played it in Edmonton—Martha Henry, Fiona Reid and Jennifer Wigmore—along with their director, Diana Leblanc. I looked up the row to my left and saw three very attentive actresses and their equally attentive director, in profile watching the stage. Loved that.

I also saw Marian in Albee’s Ivanov at Lincoln Center with Kevin Kline, The Play About the Baby in which she looked regal in a maroon dress, Dinner at Eight at Lincoln Center Theater on a set that looked like it was made of crystal and Deuce with Angela Lansbury, The joy at being on a stage poured out of her. At times she would say a line and almost seem to smack her lips—she made the words sound delicious because to her they were.

The last time I saw her in New York she was running across Eighth Avenue, with the grace of a gazelle, to catch her bus to go uptown. She must have been eighty. We kept in touch with cards and phone calls, but that last vision of Marian running with tremendous grace for the bus, will stick with me forever.

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