Since I think of her as simply my friend, I keep forgetting that she's one of the world's greatest actresses. She really is. If you ever stumble across one of her movies while channel surfing, you just marvel at her presence.
Piper, at the age of 15, she lied her way into acting classes, and when she was signed to a studio contract, she was appalled at the fact their only interest was in picturing her as an empty headed bimbo with big tits who ate flowers and was princess-like delicate.
(Of course, all of us who love movies love those old images of her in the tight sweaters, looking lustily into the camera. They always painted her as being slightly other-worldly, but with big bazongas in a time when big bazongas were all the rage. What the studios wanted were variations of Marilyn Monroe, of course.)
It pissed her off so much, she tried for a juicy theater part, but was rejected because the producer felt it would ruin the play to, essentially, stick an empty-headed bimbo in the part. She says...
"I was devastated. I flew back to L.A. and decided I had to change the meaning of what Piper Laurie stood for."Next thing you know, she was making out with Paul Newman and nominated for an Academy Award for her work in "The Hustler."
Laurie's first major break—and she says she had to "fight for it"—was in a General Electric Theater drama, "The Road That Led Afar," "a beautiful script that someone had stolen for me," Laurie says. "The directors and producers would not meet with me. They said I was not an actress but a sexy bimbo. I pushed my agent to set up a meeting, and they finally did."
Laurie violated all the standards of the era by arriving for her audition with messy hair and no makeup. Indeed, she came dressed for the role—a young hillbilly—instead of sporting the high heels and white gloves that women almost always wore to auditions. "I said I had just come back from horseback riding and didn't have time to change," she recalls. "I put on quite a performance, and when I got home I got a call from my agent, who said the producers changed their mind and I got the part."
There's something marvelous about her ability to be absolutely still in a scene. Her husky voice -- it was always husky, and even when they dolled her up in all that 50s movie star tight sweater babe splendor, when she said something, it laid heavy in the air.
But that's acting. In real life, she giggles.
Listening to her work with Jim was something I'll treasure always. She always seems to know how to zoom in on the truth of a scene.
The cool thing about "Zero Hour" is that people constantly tell us they forget they're watching a play. Even Don Myers, our stage manager, said, one night as Jim, in character, was going on about knowing certain dead actors, he thought to himself, "Is Jim old enough to have known those people?" completely forgetting it was just the play. It all feels so real. Like you're actually spending a couple of hours with Zero Mostel.
Jim has the natural qualities of the vaudevillian like Zero and Jim's mentor, David Burns. Piper seems to come from a more Actors Studio technique. (At least, that's how I perceived it. Jim has a natural talent that I don't think can be taught. He doesn't play Zero. He simply becomes Zero. Lynn Lane said she was never so nervous before a show, and was relieved that Jim really brought back her friend, Zero).
Madeleine Gilford, after watching Jim in "Zero Hour" in Norwich at the Spirit of Broadway Theatre, whispered in his ear, "You're a better actor than Zero." Jim would never say that about himself, of course.
The other night, another friend of Jim's sent him a list of things he remembered David Burns used to say while they all sat in Burns' dressing room after Forum. One of them was, "The kid's young, but he's got talent."
Piper and we became friends because she attended, and said she loved, "The Last Session" in Los Angeles, which featured Michele Mais, who's now on Broadway in "Rock of Ages," as Tryshia.
Speaking of that, I'm going to have a big announcement on Monday. We're going to issue a real press release, the whole nine yards.
Just mark down January 13.
Theatre at St. Clement's.
Pay what you can at the door.