New York After 45 Years

I am on the Delta flight to New York with Tulea. It was weird leaving my Atlanta loft for 5 months. This is a first. A Hollywood feature film takes, on average, 3 months. An Indy film takes maybe 5-7 weeks, But 5 months! Yikes.

The last time I did a Broadway play I lived in New York. In fact I lived in NY for a decade from age 13 (early 50’s) to my early twenties around 1963. I did four Broadway plays during that time. Then I went to France to do a film and fell in love with the French/ Russian filmmaker, Roger Vadim, father of my daughter Vanessa. I lived there 8 years, coming back from time to time to do films like “Cat Ballou,” “The Chase,” “Barefoot in the Park,” and others. It was Vadim who directed “Barbarella” among other films with me. That was 1967-68. I haven’t lived in New York since.

Back then, there were about 4 billion fewer people in the world and you could feel the difference everywhere, not just in New York. The traffic you see everyday in NY now you only found around major holidays like Christmas back in the 1950s. Sundays you could just about roll a bowling ball down Fifth Ave. One of my favorite places to go and be solitary and meditative was the Frick Museum on Fifth Ave with its beautiful court yard. Last year when I went back to the museum, it was packed with people and not conducive to meditation at all. I will give it another try soon.

The whole pace and tenor of the city has changed as a result of more people and more stuff. Having TVs in taxis feels like an unwelcome intrusion. Can’t we ever just be, without added stimulation. Is contemplation so scary? I realized the other day that I can simply turn them off. Whew! Still five months will be an adventure.. That’s how I choose to think of it. I could be real scared. I mean 8 shows a week after 45 years!!! But I am choosing to think of it as an adventure, a challenge. A friend of mine who is 76 says that at this age you’re supposed to be retired, not looking for new adventures and that I and my friends are unusual.

I don’t agree. Random House, pleased with the response to my memoirs, “My Life So Far,” asked me to write another book about aging. As of now, I’m calling it “The Third Act: Entering Prime Time.” What do you think of this title? So far I’ve written 9 or 10 chapters but haven’t done much writing these last 6 months cause family ‘issues’ got in the way….and now, with the play, I will be even later getting it done. I won’t know for awhile whether or not I can write during the days when I don’t have a matinee. We’ll see. I hope so. Anyway, while doing research for this new book, I’ve seen how many older people in their third acts are not looking to retire. Many—so many—are still up for change and adventure and making a difference. Some are wanting to start new careers, fulfill early dreams they never got around too during their second acts. Some are wanting to continue work but under more flexible conditions (and, it turns out, companies that allow this to happen for their older workers reap the benefits).

Back to the play, “33 Variations”: I play a musicologist of today who is obsessed with figuring out why Beethoven, at the height of his powers, spent 3 years writing 33 variations on a mediocre waltz written by a music publisher in 1819. My character is passionate in her quest for understanding and it’s a race against time for her to get a paper written on the topic and delivered to a conference because she is sick. Beethoven (who is also a character in the play) is also obsessed with finishing the variations because he is becoming deaf. Obsession, passion…these are things I love in life– the fact that people can grow old and become sick and yet their passions remain undimmed. Some of the greatest artistic works and achievements throughout the ages, have been done by people late in life—Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Albert Schweitzer and many others. Age and infirmities are as important as we allow them to be.  No question that things change as we age. There are the aches and pains. Like jalopies, hub caps fall off, fenders get bent, and we keep on, making a life inspite of it….a life that, as Beethoven and others showed us, can be enriched by these corporal challenges. This play I’m entering touches on this.

I have met people who’ve seen “33 Variations” performed at the Arena Theatre in DC and the La Jolla playhouse in California and say it is very, very powerful. It is certainly unusual in its style, with the past and present interweaving the way they do. Another wonderful aspect of the play that I am just beginning to appreciate is how music is also interwoven. There is a concert pianist as part of the play that performs the variations as they are being talked about and this adds a unique richness and depth.

The first week of December I spent a week in New York rehearsing. Most of the time, the other actors were not there and our writer/director, Moises Kaufman, brought in actor friends and people from his Tectonic Theatre to read the other parts. This is when I realized how unusual the play is.

Moises was wonderful. I was so nervous at the start, afraid I wouldn’t be good enough. But one thing happened that made me realize how much progress I have made in the confidence department over these 45 years: Moises told us that there would be an hour-long production meeting in the rehearsal room during the lunch break and that we should wait outside in the foyer before coming back in. Well, the hour went by and then 20 more minutes. 45 years ago, I would have assumed the producers and director had realized I wasn’t right for the part and the meeting was running over because they were trying to figure out how to tell me that I was fired. This time, though, I didn’t jump to negative conclusions. I knew they needed me as much as I needed them. Whew!

Not that I knew I had a lock on the character, however. Quite the opposite. It isn’t an easy play to read. The humor (there’s actually a lot of it!) and emotion doesn’t “jump off the page.” Several weeks before, though, I was on a flight somewhere to make a speech. The coach section wasn’t full and I had empty seats on both sides of me so I took advantage of this to rehearse…not exactly out loud but whispering. Still, people coming and going down the aisle thought I was out of my mind. The flight attendant admitted this to me later. I found a way to bring a lot of emotion to some of my long speeches. I couldn’t wait to bring my discoveries about the character into rehearsal. When I did, however, I realized right away that I was on the wrong track. I’m a musicologist…fairly academic, All the emotion wasn’t appropriate. If Moises hadn’t been so gentle, hadn’t let me discover on my own that my take wasn’t quite right, I would have dissolved. But he was so generous and kind and open, that it all went well. He is also very collaborative, allowing everyone, even the non-actors, to give their opinions and ideas. And he really listens. I think his unique style has been what’s responsible for the good, creative work of the Tectonic Theatre which he and his partner, Jeff Lahoste, founded a number of years ago.

The actor Samantha Mathis will play my daughter and Colin Hanks will play a male nurse who falls in love with her. It will be fun to get to know these two who, like me, come from actor parents. There are 7 characters total, 4 exist in present time and three are from the past, including Beethoven.

Since I began this blog I have moved into my NY apartment. It’s a one bedroom affair with a splendid view down Manhattan. If I squint I can see the Statue of Liberty. When I visited the apartment in early December, Kristin Scott Thomas was living here during her run in Chekov’s “The Seagull.” What an extraordinary actor she is! Have you seen her in the film “I’ve Loved You So Long“? Whew! She’ll be one of my nominees for Best Actor for an Oscar for that role….and with almost no words, just subtle changes in expression, she tells a whole story of emotional transformation.

I am going to see “South Pacific” tonight with my friend, Patti Bosworth. I knew Patti back in the Actor Studio days. She has been an actor but now has become a highly regarded biographer and is currently writing a bio about me. I look forward to it. Finally a woman writing my bio. There have been 5 or 6 of them, all by men. Some okay but superficial. A few downright hostile. This is one reason I decided to write my own. And now Patty’s doing one. Hmm.

Seeing “South Pacific” will be an interesting experience tonight. I was at the opening of the original back in the 1950’s and loved it so much I knew every word to every song—still do. I didn’t know it at the time, but my father was in love with Oscar Hammerstein’s daughter, Susan. Ockie (that’s what friends called him) wrote the lyrics to “South Pacific” and later, when my dad married Susan, Ockie became my step-grandfather and I got to know him. What a kind, good, generous man he was. You can tell from his lyrics. Especially “You’ve Got to be Taught” about how people aren’t born racist, they have to be taught. I wrote a chapter called “Susan” in my memoirs about this stepmother who my brother and I adored.

So that’s it. My first day in NY. I gotta walk Tulea and get ready for tonight.

See you next time.

Share This Post
  1. That is the cutest dog ever! Do you have an assistant to watch your dog while your working?

  2. You wrote that you’d finished 9 or 10 chapters of “The Third Act” by the time you posted this. I hope you won’t be offended when I say…it feels like THIS (blog) is your book. What an extraordinary experience to be documenting.

  3. I think you and I are about the same age. I also approach some of those “new” things in my life as an adventure. It makes for so much more fun! Thanks for this glimpse into your life. I look forward to getting to know you better.

  4. Your blog is so interesting. I am the same age as you are and still working (husband & I have small business). I have been a fan for a long time. Any time “Cat Ballou” is on TV I watch it. I probably have seen it 20 times. I just wish the old movie channel would run your “Period of Adjustment” movie. I loved it and remember laughing so hard at you and your “little blue bag”. At least I think it was blue. Maybe you could talk to Ted T about running it on one of his channels. Anyway, you go girl, we out here in the hinterlands are rooting for you.

  5. May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His face shine upon you.
    His grace is new everyday.

  6. Thank you!! Yes, I’m always telling people (I’m a 45 year old queer who with his partner had to leave the States) how lucky I feel to have gotten another year. For one thing, so many of my peers haven’t made it, right? Everyone has their journey but to erase the possibilities of life with premature judgments about aging…. My goodness, what’s the alternative? There are so many amazing adventures emerging every day that to write them all off with “I’m too old”, “I can’t”, etc. seems so, I don’t know, like we’re not recognizing the truth or the magnificence of our presence. You’re such a light, much peace

  7. I am loving reading through your blog posts, starting from the first of the year.

    I especially love reading about your years in NYC. I was living there (13 years) when you were living in France. I went to Paul McGregor for my “shag” cut because we all knew that he was the best, just as you did. (…”she flies him to Paris, First Class, to cut her hair.”) He was worth it. Best haircut ever for that time.

    Will keep reading. As I said on Twitter, you really should consider trying my all natural, magic whole food juice.

    Read some of the stories:
    I didn’t want to like it, but this stuff is terrific. Gives you energy and just makes you feel good.

    Thanks for being so generous in sharing with your fans. You write beautifully. And you look fabulous in that photo on the plane.

    Warm regards,
    Lana in SFO,


  8. Jane, I hope you won’t be offended by my saying that this picture of you looks a lot like Elizabeth Montgomery.

  9. Jane,
    It is such an unusual treat for you to share your personal thoughts in this blog. Your new play sounds fantastic.

    My wife and I recently vacationed at Squam Lake in New Hampshire (the filming location of “On Golden Pond”). Our tour guide, Cindy, gave us a guided boat tour of the filming locations on the lake. The old cabin is still there along with the gazebo. The marina still looks the same (where Norman gasses up the old Chris Craft).
    Cindy said that she was a little girl growing up on the lake and saw you practicing your back flips for the movie.
    On Golden Pond is one of my favorites along with Electric Horseman and China Syndrome.


  10. Thank you for being such a wonderful role model by staying engaged all the way through Act 3. Your life seems to only get more interesting, exciting and inspiring as you choose to be fully engaged each and every day. I truly believe that that is God’s intention for all of us (and we’re all God’s children).

    I discovered your blog this afternoon and honestly hope that God will grant me the experience of being in the audience of 33 Variations Thursday night at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. I’ve never been to New York and while I’ve seen several Broadway productions, I’ve always dreamed of being in the audience of a New York theatre watching a live play on Broadway.

    33 variations sounds brilliant with the intertwining sounds of Bethoven’s 33 musical variations with the dialogue of the play. I hope I get to witness your appearance in the final performance of the first run of such a unique production.

    I was deeply moved by your biography – thank you for sharing your story with such candor and honesty. I look forward to reading about the next Act.

    Best of luck at the Tony Awards – I really hope you win!


  11. It must be wonderful to keep going in such a exciting world at your “age”! Of course, You have always lived in that world, still. Good luck!

  12. With today’s tragic news about Levon Helm’s death I can’t help, but remember so fondly my friends and I hitching all over in the early 70’s to see The Band play. Our precious memories of our own crazy adventures with “The Band” as the soundtrack, just shows how our lives were touched so personally by someone we only met when the needle hit the record. I got married to the music of The Last Waltz in France and it sounded like home to me . I’ve been to the Ramble at his house up in Woodstock and was so taken by how he made the drums sound so unique, like no one else! We will never hear drums sound quite like that again. When we stand our ground and step up to the microphone ourselves it’s because of the joy guys like Levon gave us. Gotta pass it on.

Leave a Reply