Thursday, January 21, 2010

FLASHBACK: Maureen Garrett 1979

Maureen Garrett: A Gentle Crusader

By Joanne Douglas
Soap Opera Digest
December 18, 1979

Intuition is a powerful phenomenon—one that is rarely, if ever, misleading or deceptive. The moment I began watching Maureen Garrett's sensitive, compassionate portrayal of GUIDING LIGHT's beleaguered Holly, I instinctively knew the actress behind the TV fa├žade must be somebody very special. Someone very understanding. Maureen proved to embody precisely those qualities, plus a few surprises.

Dressed casually in sporty brown culottes, short-sleeved shirt and flat sandals, a huge tote bag slung over her shoulder, Maureen leaped out of a cab into the GUIDING LIGHT studio. Tall (5' 7") and slender (119 lbs.), with warm honey-brown eyes and glistening auburn hair, she reminded me of a fawn. Maureen exudes a peaceful, serene intensity...low-keyed self-assurance.

Yet for all her gentleness, she's a fighter too, a woman with staunch beliefs and values she holds close to her heart. She's confident of her abilities but not at all impressed with herself. In fact, Maureen is so totally without pretense that I had to consciously remind myself she's a popular soap star, not simply the girl next door.

A Leo, she was born August 18 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and is one of four children of an Army officer and his artist wife. Maureen's two brothers live in San Francisco; her older sister died tragically in a car crash at 18. Most of the actress' childhood was spent overseas, gallivanting from one place to another. Her family never lived in a country for more than three years.

Contrary to what one might think, Maureen didn't resent the regular uprootings. Instead, she learned to thrive on change. Today, she still needs frequent change. Instead, she learned to thrive on change — it is vital to her well-being. Maureen's peripatetic life reflects the desire from new and varied experiences.

She studied at Germany's Universitat Munchen and in the United States attended Temple and Villanova Universities. While living in Germany, Maureen edited an American newspaper. She's also been a freelance photographer, stage manager, school teacher in the Philadelphia ghettos, and was the assistant director of the Philadelphia International Film Festival.

From her mother, Maureen inherited a love for antiques. Last December, she and several pals set up an antique and framing store in Manhattan, but after laboring for months putting the shop together, it burned down only three weeks following the grand opening! Admittedly, Maureen was heartbroken. She doesn't dwell on the loss, though, and is grateful she had an opportunity to learn about business.

How did Maureen, this modern-day Renaissance woman of seemingly unlimited interests, finally settle on an acting career? "I always had my hand in acting because it was almost therapy for me in many ways all through high school and college," she reveals. "Other jobs I had became pretty routine—I need constant change because of growing up the way I did. It was hard for me to stay in one place."

Though for many years acting was just one of Maureen's numerous hobbies, she soon racked up an impressive list of repertory credits, including roles in "The Glass Menagerie," "Hedda Gabler," "Birthday Party," "The Royal Family," and "The Contrast." Additionally, she performed in showcase and stock productions and was associated with the Walnut Street Theatre Workshop in Philadelphia.

A solid theater background under her belt, Maureen ventured to the Big Apple, where she promptly got cast as an expectant mother for a Pampers commercial. It was her first and last commercial. Maureen hated having to extol the virtues of a product she couldn't have cared less about. Realizing her career future wasn't in TV ads, she auditioned three years ago, to replace Lynn Deerfield in the role of Holly.

"I'd never worked in front of a camera before," she recalls. "I'd just gotten to New York, and this whole thing was a bit much. I'd get the sensation that the camera was invading me instead of me presenting something to it. I had trouble holding my own against the camera and finally said, ‘Take it or leave it, this is me, and this is what I'm giving in this part.'"

"When I first got the role, the producers wanted me to frost my hair and cut it so I'd look more like Lynn Deerfield. I said, ‘That's ridiculous! I don't know her, and I can't possibly be her.' Over the years, they've changed the character quite a bit. I've enjoyed playing her."

Viewers will recall Holly as a selfish, shallow, immature girl who whiled away the hours pining over lost loves. Maureen has matured the character until she evolved into a courageous woman. Raped and savagely beaten by her malicious newlywed husband Roger, Holly pressed criminal charges against him. Prior to the outcome of the emotionally charge trial, Holly ended up shooting Roger when he threatened to abscond with their child. She's now serving time in prison for his "murder." As a result of the controversial rape plotline, Maureen became passionately committed to the women's movement.

"I got very involved in storyline," she says, an intense look crossing her delicate face. "Women would come up to me and say, 'It's so good what you're doing. It happened to a friend of mine.' Stanley Siegel was here at the studio interviewing me, and as he started to sign off her said, 'A nice girl like this shouldn't be raped.' I grabbed him and said, 'No, it's good she was raped because we're finally dealing with an issue here.' This storyline is real—it's something a lot of women can relate to."

"A woman who saw me on Stanley Siegel, Barbara Jupee (a cultural organizer and folk singer), called and told me about a new divorce law that was coming up in Albany," Maureen continues, warming to the subject. "This law recognizes the wife as an equal partner in marriage. Barbara put me in touch with Noreen Connell (past president of NOW—N.Y. chapter). They were looking for someone to reach women who don't read Ms. Magazine and thought I'd be the prefect spokesperson to reach many women who watch daytime drama."

This past summer, Maureen pushed for passage of the progressive divorce law at a press conference headed by Betty Friedan and Noreen Connell. When Maureen expressed interest in visiting a women's prison because Holly would be incarcerated, they put her in touch with Greenhope, an East Harlem halfway house run by a plainclothes nun.

"Twenty-five women live there," Maureen explains. "Some are there for probation. I saw all these ex-cons with hammers hanging off their belts. They told me about Bernadette Powell of Ithaca, New York, who has gone through the same thing as Holly."

Indeed, 27-year-old Bernadette's troubles read much like those of fictional Holly Thorpe. With one major difference: Ms. Powell is black. During her six-year marriage, Bernadette's husband frequently beat and abused her. One July evening he abducted her at gun, and as Bernadette tried to take away the weapon, she accidentally shot and killed him. She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15-years-to-life behind bars. Deeply moved by Bernadette's plight, Maureen feels a special affinity for her and is helping raise funds for her appeal.

Maureen also feels an affinity for homemakers who, amid the hype and hoopla of the women's lib movement, were somehow forgotten by the majority of feminists. Asked what she things are the most crucial issues currently facing women, Maureen replies eagerly: "Always equal pay—that's so basic. And pass the ERA! Because of my TV role and my introduction to NOW, I feel so strongly that housewives should be recognized as equal to their husbands. If their choice is to make a home and have children, that shouldn't be looked down upon. Some of these women feel excluded from the women's movement, and they must see what a vital function it is to raise children and how important it is."

"If a wife is recognized as an equal partner, should a marriage be dissolved, her contribution won't be ignored. In stead of alimony," Maureen elaborates, "she can get a maintenance fee so she can educate herself and have time to rejoin the job market. It's wrong to pay a woman alimony for the rest of her life. To me, it doesn't seem fair to the man, either. Of course, the maintenance fee would be separate from child support. A woman should be paid for the time she gave up other pursuits. Many women who once enjoyed a very rich life are now on welfare. With over half the marriages ending in divorce now, this is a real problem."

Unlike many of her peers who censor their political opinions in public for fear of hindering their careers, Maureen isn't afraid to speak out. However, she's always careful to set reporters straight that her views are her own, not those of GUIDING LIGHT, or CBS. And what if she were to lose an important role because of her outspokenness? "I don't fear that producers won't want to hire me," Maureen insists. "There are so many things to fear, especially if you're an actress. The worst thing for a performer is to get bound up by fears. I do try to remain aware of consequences, and I must be cautious to examine issues before I get involved."

Several times during our interview, I sensed Maureen was restless to move out of the soap opera genre and stroll down other creative avenues. Yet she renewed her contract with GUIDING LIGHT for another year. What then? "I don't limit myself," Maureen announces, eyes gleaming brightly. "There are other things I want to do. I feel my ambitions will carry me in other places. I might have a hand in running a store—help select things and throw in some taste and opinion. To be a silent partner is interesting to me."

Though she's quick to acknowledge the soap has offered her a wider range of emotions to play than primetime TV could, Maureen is nevertheless frustrated: "Because I've gone through so much theater before, I get hungry to play other roles. I always have to sit on Holly. She always has to be vulnerable. I would like to see her get more assertive. Her world was very small. But then something happened to burst her world wide open. Her consciousness has been cracked wide open since the rape. She's got to be more aware."

"I want to see her get out of prison and not go back into the same life. That would be such a waste of storyline! I think a woman on the show who is stronger and more aware of herself and where she stands in society. I want to see the woman in Holly emerge—to realize who she is and to grow up. She's got to leave that little world behind. I'm anxious to see her begin to articulate, maybe become political, and come out of the fog . . ."

Being physically attacked as Holly conjured up Maureen's painful memories of her own real-life assault on the street. Typical of so many women who are victims of physical abuse, Maureen buried the horrifying incident deep in her subconscious mind.

Portraying the aftermath of her alter ego's rape was cathartic for Maureen: "I remember one day sitting in the court and listening to Sara McIntyre (played by Millette Alexander) on the stand telling about the bruises. I started shaking. It was therapeutic and painful—a strange thing to go through. I'm glad it came across in my performance. It was valuable."

"Those times were very rich for me," she adds. "Sometimes I prefer being less glamorous. I've had action, so I'm the envy of the other actresses. So much has been happening. I've gotten the best of it—rape, murder, trial, prison. I feel much more like an actress..."

Pausing a moment to reflect, Maureen confesses it's a relief to leave Holly behind at day's end. Despite her TV success, she prefers leading an anonymous life and shies away from adulation and public recognition. Maureen maintains she's not seeking fame and clearly doesn't spend her days and nights dreaming of stardom and of seeing her face plastered on the covers of national magazines. In keeping with her modest nature, she vetoed an offer to have a fan club started in her honor.

When she's not acting her heart out on the set, Maureen retreats to a recently purchased uptown New York co-op, where her new cat buddy, a black Persian named Benny, keeps her company. Over the weekends, Maureen escapes to the country for much-needed fresh air. She unwinds by swimming, doing acrobatics, horseback riding, and playing tennis.

I ask Maureen if she's happy living in this tumultuous era, and her quick response came: "What's happening to the earth is so depressing. We live in such terrible times. It's disheartening. Perhaps that's why I get so much out of what I enjoy—art, antiques. I'd like to have lived at the turn-of-the-century. After the thirties, it was very exciting in this country, especially for women, because of the great changes. I would like the early times of exploring, too, when the world was so big, so wide open."

Maureen's world is still wide open—and you can be sure this explorer of sorts will savor every new adventure as she journeys down the path of life.

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