San Francisco Examiner, Fri., Oct. 6, 1995; Cynthia Robins of the Examiner Staff
It was marvy in Marin for the opening of the 18th annual Mill valley Film Festival Thursday night. the moon was getting fat and bright. The weather stayed fairly balmy. and under the big white tent that ate up a chunk of a downtown parking lot. The opening night film was an adaption of Truman Capote's evocative and sweet "The Grass Harp," directed by Charles Matthau, son of Walter and Carol Matthau, a long, skinny drink of a guy who walks just like his dad- head forward, get set, shamble- shared the festival spotlight with one of his co-stars, Piper Laurie, whose portrayal of Miss Dolly, the evanescently dingy aunt may just win her an Oscar nomination. (Glenn- unfortunately not.)
Laurie, whose real name, Matthau announced, is Rosetta Jacobs Morgenstern, arrived shortly before the screening from a film set in Utah. Wearing her version of the Annie Hall look- white bowler hat over her red hair, wire-rim glasses and a red Indian blanket patterned coat- she seemed rather press shy and diffident. (My comment- I think this is exactly what she wanted to achieve)
Unlike some of his cast members, namely his dad, Walter, and Walter's buddy Jack Lemmon, Charlie Matthau didn't meet Laurie until 10 days before they began filming in Alabama. "He claims I was always one of the two people he wanted for the part," she says. a role which she says, "was not easy, Truman's work requires real dedication."
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, October 13, 1995, Teresa Strasser writer
At 17 years old, Rosetta Jacobs traded in a prized possession for a chance at stardom. When Universal signed the red-headed Jewish girl from Los Angeles as a contract player, the studio gave her a Hollywood name, Piper Laurie. More than 40 years and three Academy Award nominations later, the actress still misses her real name. "Back then, everyone was Lana and Rock. No one had ethnic names. I would love to still be using my name. I've always felt robbed of something by people not knowing I was a Jew. But I was so young, and not assertive enough to say no," said Lauie, who was in the Bay Area last week for the screening of her new film, "The Grass Harp," at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Laurie, who continues to live in Southern California, said she was "extremely shy" growing up, a condition her parents hoped to cure by sending her to weekly elocution lessions. In addition to attending Hebrew school, she spent summer mornings taking lessons at a local acting school, which eventually led to her work with Universal and her first film, "Louisa", in which she starred with Ronald Ragan in 1950. In an interview, shades of Laurie's shy beginnings are apparent. She speaks in quiet, measured and perfectly enunciated tones. Her green eyes are soft behind large black sunglasses, and her presence seems as fragile as her alabaster skin. "I'm sorry, I'm completely allergic to the sun," (Glenn- this explains a lot) said the 63 year-old actress, when a film publicist suggesting conducting this interview outdoors. In her best known films, however, Laurie is more than an extrovert, she's an emotional powerhouse, playing heaty-hitting, raw characters like Paul Newman's disabled girlfriend in "The Hustler," or Sissy Spacek's fanatic mother in the 1976 thriller "Carrie."
In her most recent film, however, Laurie plays Dolly, a romantic, delicate and timid soul who listens to the wind in the reeds - what she calls the "Grass Harp" - to hear the green blades whisper lifes secrets. For this film, based on a novel by Truman Caposte and directed by co-star Walter Matthau's son, Charles, Laurie uses a high, lilting voice audiences won't recognize. Ever her breath seems hesitant, ethereal. The actress spoke about her approach to creating believable characters, which often begins with perfecting the externals, or as she says, "working from the outside in." In the British style made famous in this country by Sir Laurence Olivier, Laurie uses a character's physicality and voice as passages into their inner life. She also said that after hair, makeup and wardrobe people created Dolly's flowing gowns, cinnamon-colored ringlets and veiled hats, she felt the role seep even more deeply into her skin. "If you can see what the outside is like, it stimulates the imagination, it frees you in a way, to think and feel the way a character might," she said. "When they'd get me ready in the morning, I'd look, and there was Dolly. The crew, everyone treated me differently. I loved it. I loved playing Dolly. This will be among my most favorite roles."
In this film, Laurie gets a second opportunity to play opposite Spacek, who is Dolly's rigid, proper sister. Playing Spacek's religion-crazed mother in "Carrie" was one of her most memorable roles. "For just the joy of playing her, though I didn't admire her, the mother in "Carrie" was a favorite. She was just so outrageous." There was a time when Laurie couldn't choose her roles as carefully as she does now - or at all. As a contract player in the '50's, she relinquished more than her name. Studio executives forced her into a string of cute ingenue roles in mediocre comedies. Finally, she received a script for a Western, to play another "silly part in a silly movie." That was the end of Lauie's first career as a contract player for Universal. "I dropped the script in the fireplace, called my agent and said, they can jail me, sue me, but I'm never acting again, unless I can do something worthwhile," said Laurie. "People thought I was crazy, but the money meant nothing to me."
That was when Laurie embarked on the second of what she calls "my three careers." She moved to New York, working in live television and theater before making "The Hustler" in 1961. She followed up the huge hit and resulting Academy-Award nomination, by taking a 15 year hiatus from show business to raise her daugher, Anna. (Glenn- not exactly true- Anne was born in 1971, 10 years after The Hustler, and was only 5 years old when PL starred in Carrie)
Just when she thought returning to acting might be "fun, and not the life -and-death struggle to be perfect it had always been," Laurie was offered the role in "Carrie," and thus began the third phase of her career. The current phase, like the last, has been marked by edgy performances in challenging roles. She not only won an Academy Award nomination in 1986 for "Children of a Lesser God," but also distinguished herself on David Lynch's dark television drama "Twin Peaks," in which whe played both a brassy lumber company executive and a Japanese businessman. Recently, actor Sean Pean asked her to paly a cameo in his new film, "The Crossing Guard," with Jack Nicholson.
As for playing a Jewish character, Laurie says it hasn't happened. Her Irish looks prevent directors from casting her in ethnic roles. She came close, however, when playwright Neil Simon cast her in his play "Brighton Beach Memoirs," 15 years ago. He fired her after only two weeks of rehearsals, saying he didn't think she was progressing fast enough. (Glenn- Neil Simon, a jew, only hired non-jews for the main parts- I wonder why?) Laurie says she was relieved, because she sensed she "wasn't pleasing him,: but disappointed to lose a chance to act in a play about a Jewish family life. "I would love to play a Jewish role." she said. If any casting directors are on the lookout -- Rosetta Jacobs is waiting."
One more article for now: A Piper Laurie White Christmas, San Francisco Examiner, Thursday, Dec. 17, 1998, by Edvins Beitiks
It's Castro in excelsis, and Piper Laurie is looking forward to every minute of it. Friday night, Laurie will be the guset of honor at "A Carrie White Christmas" at the Castro Theatre. In addition to a showing of "Carrie." the 1976 horror classic, the Castro offers "a cock-eyed medley of kooky Christmas carols," the coronation of a Carrie look-alike, and an autograph session with Laurie on the mezzanine. (Glenn- I wish I had known about this before it was over, I would have driven or flown there to see her.)
Laurie, who received an Academy Award nomination as best actress for "The Hustler," two supporting actress Oscar nominations and was also up for an Emmy, said she likes the idea of "Carrie" becoming a centerpiece for Christmas. "It just makes sense to me. I don't know why," she said. "The movie has a life of its own. It sort of bounces." (Glenn- it doesn't make any sense to me.)
The hi-jinks surrounding Friday's showing strikes her as "bubbling fun," said Laurie, who added, "I've been looking forward to this since I was invited." Friday's showing will mark only the second time Laurie has seen "Carrie: in a theater, the first being the night the movie premiered at the Crest Theater in Westwood. "If you had asked me if I'd be going to a showing like this 20 years ago, I wouldn't have believed it." said Laurie in a phone interview from her North Hollywood home. "But I've gotten used to the idea that people think the movie is special." (Glenn- is North Hollywood the same as Santa Monica, or has she moved again?) Laurie's portrayal of Carrie's religion-crazed mother earned her an Academy Award nomination, one of three in a career that has spanned 30 films. (Glenn- I counted more than 60 feature films or miniseries and many more TV appearances) In 1976, she lost to Beatrice Straight in "Network." Her "Hustler" role lost to Sophia Loren's "Two Women" in 1961, and in 1986 Dianne Wiest won as best supporting actress for "Hannah and Her Sisters: over Laurie in "Children of a Lesser God."
Laurie, who also received an Emmy nomination for the TV series, "Twin Peaks," didn't expect to win any of those awards. "It never entered my mind," she said. Laurie's favorite role may have been in a 1996 Christmastime movie that disappeared without a trace. "I really liked a movie that didn't get much play, "The Grass Harp," she said. "I thought it was a really lovely movie, and I had a wonderful part in it, but the timing was bad in every respect." (Glenn- I totally agree- timing is critical, and that type of sentimental movie is not "in" now.) Laurie, born Rosetta Jacobs in Detroit in 1932, has had a movie career spanning 48 years, with a self-imposed 15-year hiatus between "The Hustler: and "Carrie." She and her husband, film critic, Joseph Morgenstern, opted for more family life and less Hollywood.
As a teenager thrown into the Hollywood ring, Laurie started out with movies like "The Milkman," "Francis Goes to the Races" and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" Described as an ingenue actress - Life magazine said her part in"Hustler" was the first serious one "after a series of syrupy roles as flower-nibbling enchantress" - Laurie tired of the movie scene. "I had highfalutin ideas about being a serious actress when I was 16, 17, and first signed at Universal," she said. "I was so flattered to be asked to be in the movies - the idea of being paid to act was heady stuff. But then I became so disillusioned. ...I had very little life experience and certainly no technique to deal with comedy with any flair. I was very handicapped, and very sensitive to being criticized for being bad," said Laurie, tossing out one of her signature, deep-throated laughs. "I wanted out as almost as soon as I signed my contract." (Glenn- I thought so.)
Laurie was finally taken seriously after "The Hustler," and she can't help smiling when she sees co-star Paul Newman nowadays. They did a steamy scene together in "The Hustler," amd watching Newman slowly age "seems very natural" to Laurie. He was qauite a leading man, she said, adding with a smile in her voice, "I've had quite a few." But soon after "The Hustler" debut, Laurie pulled herself out of movies. "I know I lost ground in many respects," she said. "I started sort of from ground zero when I came back. But I needed it. It was necessary. If felt right."
Since coming back with "Carrie", Laurie has done 16 films, including Robert Rodriguez' "The Faculty," due out this Christmas. Sometimes she choses films for the fun of it and sometimes just to be acting again - keeping in the back of her mind the way Bette Davis ended a stellar career with a series of scare-you postboilers. Davis may have closed out her career with some second-rate movies, Laurie acknowledged, "but Bette Davis did such a great body of work, so many wonderful things, that she had a right to take jobs just to keep working. She was a human being, and it show in her work. I don't hold it against her for not having a fairy-tale end to her life or career. As Davis' career worked down, she was making a statement about how human she was, said Laurie, "And I hope I can say the same."
Coming to the Castro for "A Carrie White Christmas" could be one more way of saying that. A "Carrie White Christmas", which begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the Castro Theatre, will feature MC Varla Jean Merman, singer Esmeralda, a medley of Christmas carols, a question-and-answer session between Laurie and film critic Michael Sragow, A Carrie look-alike contest, a taped greeting from "Carrie: star Sissy Spacek and an autograph session on the mezzanine following the film. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained through A Different Light Bookstore, by calling (415) 863-0611 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets for a separate showing of "Carrie," at 10:45 p.m, are $7. (Glenn- I wonder if they will repeat this, this December, with PL attending. I will try to remember to email the above in a few months to check it out, or perhaps someone can remind me.)
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