She Frequents Hotel Rooms . . . And Calls Them Home!
Actress Mariette Hartley is a talker. Not that she rattles. She really does have a lot to say. She said quite a bit in her 1990 best-selling autobiography, Breaking the Silence. But there's much more. Like, "When I was asked to be born—and I do believe that we are all those creatures wandering around in this universe saying, 'OK, it's time now'—I don't know why I chose that family, but I must have had one helluva karma before."
"But I sure did choose 'em and tried to disengage from them on a daily basis," she continues, "which is not always easy. But the book was certainly an attempt to do that."
Hartley's grandfather was John Watson, the founder of "behaviorism," a concept that maintained all behavior was reflex action—stimulus and response. In her book, Hartley explains, "To cry when you left someone you loved was a 'conditioned emotional' reflex. Stimulus: the loved one left. Response: the lover cried. And the reflex could be changed. . . . [Watson] claimed that the reason mothers indulged in baby-loving was sexual. Otherwise, why would they kiss their children on the lips? . . . Children should never be kissed, hugged, or allowed to sit on their laps."
Hartley's mother grew up in a home ruled by Watson's beliefs. "I think I always knew that my mother was very ill," Hartley says, "and I tried to make her not ill so that she would be there for herself. But this woman was deeply wounded by that man. I don't know how you could be that man's daughter and NOT be wounded."
At least one other member of her family grew beyond their oppressive childhoods. "I have a wonderful uncle who has transcended that man, bless his heart, through deep therapy," she says. "It was a deafening path that man created for people, and the only way you could stop what he was spreading was to get help."
"Did your mother try to get help?" I ask.
"My mother was never willing to do that," Hartley responds. "Not only that, she defended him to the day she died! My mother never got that she was an emotionally deprived woman."
Hartley, however, did get that she was emotionally deprived. "At least if you know it, you can try to do something about it," I say.
"Well, you can try," she interjects, "and I do think that you can to some degree be successful. I think I have been."
The Emmy Award-winning actress sees parallels in Myra Anderson, the character she plays in Deathtrap. "Even on the limited canvas on which I am playing her," Hartley says, "this lady is also [to some degree successful]. This is a lady who is defending a man's life and creativity at her loss, at her terrible, terrible heart sacrifice. The interesting thing about her is that it's all about cracking through denial. Who cracks through this denial? At what point does this woman realize what the hell is happening? You keep wanting to shake her and say, 'Don't you see what's happening?!' The problem is the audience doesn't know what's happening, and they don't know the truth until the truth surfaces. And what is that if not life?"
Though her question is rhetorical, Hartley's question to me about my life isn't. "I always felt like I was an alien," I reply; to which she responds, "I felt like a ripe peach in a family of dried-up bananas."
Hartley and I somehow segue into a conversation about the holidays. Because she'll be in Houston both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day performing Deathtrap, Hartley probably won't be able to have Christmas with her two children. "It's about staying flexible and making Christmas wherever you are," she says. "Actually, it's a fascinating kind of psychological and psychic phenomenon that I'm going through now—the idea of traveling and going from one hotel room to another hotel room and not having it get you.
"I was having a conversation with a woman before I started this tour," she continues. "I was absolutely terrified of this change and this adjustment in my life; didn't know where it was taking me, blah, blah, blah, blah. She said she had traveled with Ram Dass, and he talks about living in the present and concentrating on the now. And he said that he would go into hotel rooms, saying, 'In three months, I'm gonna be home.' 'In two months, I'm gonna be home.' And he said, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. There's something wrong with this picture. How do I change this whole mental concept?' So now he goes into hotel rooms, and the first words out of his mouth are, 'Hi, honey, I'm home.'
"You know what—can we talk about life? If there's any mystic lesson that I'm to learn in this, it's that Christmas is every friggin' day. I am home base, and the requirement for me is to stay there—to stay, as my wonderful acting teacher says, in my creative energy and not put that any place else, because it belongs inside of me. The battles that are to be fought outside are not my business right now. Stay in that creative energy," Hartley concludes, "in the now."
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