Marian Seldes on Julie Harris: Sharing

Julie Harris, 1952

I remember a beautiful time with Julie [Harris]. She came, as she so often did, to see me and other friends in a play, at Stratford, and it was a happy time for me. It was my first time working with John Dexter, and it was Chekhov–The Three Sisters.

I felt happy and strong in that time. I felt, as I rarely did, that I had sought out a part, an opportunity, and I was really working at it. I felt unafraid.

A friend had made a gift to me of a book–a book on the theatre–and when I was resting in my dressing room or at the house they had provided for us, I would read from it. I was finding it fascinating, and then I saw my name, and then I read how I was a problem in the theatre. I was homely; I was gawky; I had no place in a particular sort of commercial theatre. I was devastated. [The book was William Goldman’s The Season.]

I gave a matinee performance, and I was sitting in my dressing room, hurt, embarrassed, and that is when Julie came in to greet me, to talk about the performance. She was so helpful and dear, but she knew immediately that something was wrong. I described what I had read.

I cannot tell you the words she used with me that afternoon: I can only tell you that I was fine once she left, and I can tell you that she corrected what the writer of that book had stated without criticizing him or demeaning him, and she didn’t lie to me or flatter me. She told me the truth in such a loving way.

This is my memory always of Julie, but it is not just a memory: It is the reality of her moving and being among us. She is always there for me, and always so full of love and ready to share it.

I told her once that my students felt I lived in another time, and I think I still do. I want the happy memory of certain places and people, and I re-create feelings and times. And Julie told me that I wasn’t nostalgic, which was, to her, a sort of sickness, a longing, a weakness. Julie said it was right to go back to or manufacture a time of great happiness in your life and to then share it with others–through acting or living or teaching or just sharing.

One of her many gifts to me: The bounty of sharing.

From a conversation in 1991

 

 

Marian Seldes: The Revolutionary Act To Care

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Nothing the world has presented to me was able to shake my belief in people, particularly in regard to their efforts to bring us together. We can all be so cynical about so many things, but I know that I can be held up by being in the presence of people who want to communicate, who open the circle of sharing for all of us to enter.

I used to tell my students that there were so many who would peel away, or who would choose to do something else with their lives–this was true at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where I studied–but I believed that their lives were improved by their study of acting, of literature, of others.

Everything that we try to achieve in the art of acting is what we need to do in the art of living: Communion.

The revolutionary act is to care.

 

From a conversation in 2007

Marian Seldes: Make A Better Planet

 

DINNER AT EIGHT, from left, Marian Seldes, Christine Ebersole, Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York,

Marian Seldes and Christine Ebersole in Dinner at Eight at the Beaumont, 2002. (Joan Marcus)

I always believed, as I think you do, in various realities. I know what is happening in the world: I read; I keep up. I don’t let what I read color or destroy what I believe about the people in my life. Call me juvenile or deluded, but I refuse to believe in the evil in people. I think when it does exist, it is an aberration, and our acceptance and love of that person could help him.

Do not ignore the pain and the cruelty in the world, but do not ingest it and make it the reality that dominates your thought. Take this information and use it to alter your thinking and the world in which you live. Refuse to have cruelty in your orbit; refuse to be rude to anyone in your orbit. Make a better planet around yourself, then take it to the streets, to work, to others.

I refuse to think badly of others.

 

From a conversation in 2004

 

 

Marian Seldes: Build The Proper Temple

 

 

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Marian Seldes, Terrence McNally, and Angela Lansbury, 2007.

Fate decides where you’re born and how you look–all the biological markers. That is fate, and you find ways to work with it. Fate, however, bends to our minds. I believe this. I’m not talking about miracles: I cannot make myself Duse or will myself into having the beauty of Katharine Cornell. But my mind, my heart engaged in thought, can create a world and a home and a room in which I can be fulfilled, and in which I can fulfill others.

Decide today how you feel about yourself and others. If it is positive and generous and patient, your world will change, and the perception people have of you will improve. You can then go confidently toward any goal you might have.

We look for teachers all our lives. I know I do. We need them. But the great change comes from within. We are the architects of the raw material fate has left for us. Build the proper temple.

 

From a conversation in 2004

 

 

Marian Seldes: Full Living

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I used to hear students talking about their lives as if life was something, like a train or a bus, that hadn’t arrived yet. It was coming; it was down the way, waiting. I know that they felt that life hadn’t begun–couldn’t begin–until they were working as actors, until they had been recognized. But their lives had begun long ago, and what we’re living today, every day, is everything. I can’t sleep all day and then get up and go to the theatre, and then go home again. That wouldn’t be living to me. You move among people and events and then you use it all in your work. That is what I would call full living. What you see as you walk about and live is what fuels what you do, whatever it is. The answers are out there.

 

From a conversation in 2002

Marian Seldes on Happiness

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I have experienced happiness many times. People ask me what I mean by happiness, and for me, I am happy in that period of exhaustion that arrives after I’ve done something important for someone or something I love. Happiness arrives to comfort and renew the generous, exhausted people.

 

From a conversation in 2001

Marian Seldes: A Bridge To Build

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We all walk on bridges that have been built by the good wishes and good will of others. Parents, friends, teachers, lovers. The bridges are built of love and encouragement. I want to build bridges for others, and I’m never discouraged because I know that I have work to do. I know that someone needs me. I know that I have a bridge to build.

 

From a conversation in 2007

Everything Happens From Love

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Marian with a student at Fordham.

 

I never say or think something of others that I wouldn’t want said or thought of me or of anyone I love. I try to love everyone as a family member when I come to know them or work with them. I absolutely believe that when people we love and admire succeed, we rise with them, and I am happy when they are happy. I’m now invested in a new group of people who are now in my family, or more firmly in my family. I’m going to be doing whatever I can to see that they succeed; that they are happy; that they have love of the theatre in their lives. If I have a creed or a motto it is this: Everything happens and grows from love.

 

From a conversation in 2002, during the time Marian was appearing in Ellen McLaughlin’s Helen at the Public Theater.

Marian Seldes: Out Into The World

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Marian Seldes with Charles Busch, with whom she shared a birthday.

If I ever did anything intelligent or bold, it was to go into the day, into the world, expecting people to surprise and change and delight me. And they always did. They always will. I cannot wait to get out into the world.

 

 

Marian Seldes: Magical Lives

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Marian Seldes in The Royal Family at the Ahmanson, in Los Angeles, 2004.

More than anything–anything at all–I wanted my students, my friends, to be full human beings. I wanted them to be curious and eager to fill the curiosity; I wanted them to read and watch and listen and share; I wanted them to seek and cultivate friendship; I wanted them to love the ground on which they and their friends and families walked; I wanted them to know, always, that they mattered. And from that, from that perspective, pursue their work, do their work, love their work. Nothing begins with work: Work is the reward and the fulfillment of all you’ve loved and thought and done. I wanted and I want magical lives for everyone, and I want everyone to know it is possible to have one.

 

From a conversation in 2006