Marian Seldes: The Journey

From a conversation in 1998marianseldesjuilliard

I never wanted to train anyone for a career or a job: I wanted to train people to live well; to have a full life in which they respected themselves and others. I wanted to open hearts and minds. That was always my first objective.

People–students or not–come to you full of questions, including the one about your place in the life they are crafting. The world is competitive, and it will try to make you into things, units, that can be used and sold and traded. That is business, and we have to work and survive in the business of things, but the foundation of who and what we are needs to be somewhere else. This foundation is one of self-respect: I would tell students that they belonged in the world they had chosen, and they would remain in this world through their devotion, their good work, their kindness toward others who wanted to be in this world. If anything happens–a part, a career, money, an award–it came into the orbit of worth and kindness you had created. The core of your life is your soul, and it needs to learn and to share and to give.

Students would come to me asking about agents and producers and directors, and I spoke to them about people, regular people, who wanted the same things they did. There is no magic to working and loving: You give and you share, and you keep studying the wonders of literature and art and people. The magic is in the rewards of the work, done well and fully.

No one gives you a part or a life: They see you prepared and ready to act or work, and they invite you in to the experience they want to have. Be in the midst of the experience when they find you. It’s endless and beautiful, and I can wake up happy every day knowing that I’m getting back into the study and the living. I never thought I was superior to the students: I was just the older student, along for the same journey.


Willa Cather


That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.–Willa Cather (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)


Marian on Brando: Loved and Needed


When I began talking on the phone with Marlon Brando, he learned that Marian was an important part of my life. Marlon remembered Marian well: She was someone who always showed up to see him work, and she was someone who was always willing to listen to him, expecting nothing but his company in return. “She’s up to nothing but good,” Marlon said, and he asked me for her Marian’s phone number. Marlon and Marian spoke a few times, but Marian did not stay up late, and Marlon’s calls were most productive to him deep in the night. Nonetheless, Marian took the time to speak to him when he called, and when Marlon died in 2004, I asked her what the calls were about.

What did I say to Marlon [Brando]? Those calls came so suddenly, and they were so sad, a man–a boy, really–in the night, needing a friend. I never consoled him by telling him that he was a brilliant and beautiful actor, because I knew he would reject that. That would have been too easy, something a stranger would say. I loved him so: He was such an important part of my young life, and I watched him in everything, even if it was one of the late shows in the theatres we went to after our performances. All of us actors would do our plays and then head to a theatre to see films. It was like a dream. Walking home at two in the morning–we felt safe always then–thinking and talking about what he had done. Yes, we can all love him for that work, but I felt he was calling us–calling me–to see if he, as a man, was loved and mattered. The theatre is my life and my religion and my drug, yes, but it is people I love the most, and I embrace them and love them as I move about them. I want them to live well and be happy, and that is how I would talk to Marlon. I would remind him that he was loved and needed, and we always come back to that term Tennessee [Williams] gave you: to matter. I let him know that he mattered, and I let him know that I was here for him, we were here for him, listening and writing and remembering. They say he’s gone now, but he isn’t. We will continue to love him, and so he will continue to live.

Marian Seldes: No Excuse

There is no excuse for a bad day, a bad time, a bad experience. Do something with whatever life presents to you to make it work well for yourself and everyone else. Bad news for others should inspire you to rush to comfort someone else. We are not given burdens, but opportunities. There is so much to do. 


© Copyright 2007 Corbis Corporation

Marian Seldes: Surrounded By Love

We don’t make deals with ourselves or our lives. I don’t like that word. Deals is so…well, it’s not the word I want to use or think that you should use. We create, to a very large extent, the lives that we have, and we bring into our lives the people our thoughts invite, and I was influenced by a Utopian sense of the world and its people very early, and so I walk into the world expecting its beauty. I walk up and meet people and expect good people. I stand by my friends and my colleagues, and I am stronger for their company. My talent is strengthened by their talents. Nothing can be taken away from me by anything but time. When my book [The Bright Lights] was published, someone said to me, and I’m quoting, ‘It’s as though you never met a shit in your entire life.’ I smiled and told him he was funny, but the response is: No, I’ve never met a shit in my life. I may have met some people who didn’t behave as they should or as I thought they should, but I loved them anyway, and then I forgot about their behavior. People can change, and so can my attitudes about them. I don’t care if people think I’m dotty or unrealistic. I really don’t. I am surrounded by love.

From 2000


Marian Seldes in her dressing room at the Music Box. Captured by Rivka Katvan.