Soap Opera People
January 1977

“Don’t Marry A Man You Love”
Kate Mulgrew’s Surprising And Wonderful
Talk About Men And Marriage And More…
Many THANKS! to a Totally Kate! contributor for this article!
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By Lynn Bloom

Like the small town heroine in one of those 1930’s Late Show movies (which we all get hooked on occasionally) Kate Mulgrew came to New York to conquer it.

Although the small town in this case is Dubuque, Iowa and although Kate’s dream is not yet fully realised, there is a similarity in scenarios.

Kate came to New York when she was still in her teens, equipped with refined good looks, a deep craving to be an actress and almost no training. She’s now 21. To get her academic schooling, she enrolled at New York University. To pursue her true goal, she studied with famed acting coach Stella Adler, whom she describes as “nothing but a fount of inspiration.”

With her acting classes underway, it was soon clear to her that any other studies were “a waste of time.” She left NYU without claiming a degree, in fact, she “couldn’t wait to get out.” Single-minded… that’s how Kate has been all of her life. Because she hated math in high school, she recalls, “I did a book inside a book – everytime a question was asked of me, my Bronte novel fell on the floor.”

So, with school out of the way, Kate could pour all of her energies into realizing her ambition. “I came to New York to be on the stage,” she says. “That’s what I have dreamed of since I was little.” In a very short time, her mission was accomplished. She starred as Emily in Our Town at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Connecticut. It was this portrayal that led to her being cast as Mary Ryan.

Since Kate tends to react strongly to things, it’s fortunate that her immediate response to New York was so positive. “You’re born with a temperament which is either suited to solitude or the city,” she explains. “And I have a good temperament for chaos. So I instantly felt at home. The pulse was right. It seems to me that almost everyone in New York is aspiring to something great or, at least, interesting. Where I came from, the people who aspired did so at a much calmer sort of level – you know, tomorrow is tomorrow.”

When Kate talks about calm, she definitely doesn’t have family life in mind. She is one of eight children. And it was, understandably, not a tranquil household.

“My father,” says Kate, “is a complete chauvinist. And I love that whole thing. And that’s what I love in a man now, I like a chauvinist, because I’m a chauvinistic woman. I’m strong enough by nature that I don’t have to assert myself politically about it. A real chauvinist is a mensch. He can let you do your own thing… be a woman. But he doesn’t want to give you the freedom to be a man, because he’s a man.

“I’m really quite angry with Erica Jong for writing that trash, Fear Of Flying. It’s a direct insult to every young woman. Times may change but human nature doesn’t. What we aspire to today is the same as we’ve always aspired to – it’s romance. As regards the whole feminist thing, the whole male-female thing, in my view, it hasn’t changed. A real man and a real woman understand that that’s the way it is. I certainly do not have to stand up on a table in dirty blue jeans with long, greasy, unkempt hair and tell every man to go to hell in order to let the world know I’m a free agent. I’m woman enough so that people should know that by looking at me.”

Kate, a practicing Catholic, is also unhappy about another sociologic trend – the booming divorce rate and the casual attitude toward it. “I’m anti-divorce,” she says emphatically. “I think that’s a quick and easy way to call it quits because you didn’t want it to work. Can you imagine, in a marriage like my parents’ and the kind of marriages I was exposed to as a young girl – with eight, ten, and fourteen kids – if someone wanted to get out of that? Ugh, can you imagine? There must have been a million times when either my father or my mother wanted to quit, get the hell out of the house. But you don’t, because that’s the most valuable thing. People have got to get their values straight. I mean, what’s important?

“You see I believe anything is possible – even if you are mismatched. And no couple’s perfectly matched – we’re individuals. Of course, the trick is not to be in love, that’s the trick. My mother told me something I agree with. She said ‘for God’s sake, don’t marry a man you fall in love with – marry a friend.’”

Although she’s “crazy about babies and sure I’ll marry someday,” at the moment, Kate enjoys her solitude, “I love to live alone,” she says. “I love having that space to myself. I love feeling isolated. And I like feeling lonely. It’s very hard to be alone. But I realize that it’s important, isn’t it? We are alone. There’s no amount of distracting oneself from that.”

There’s another advantage to living alone. It gives her the time she needs to concentrate on her career. Because, like the movie heroine on the Late Show, Kate came to New York with a purpose. She wants to be a star, she wants to climb to the top of her chosen profession. And if it can’t happen on Broadway, then films will do very nicely. “I think film is really an extraordinary medium,” she says. “It’s a fine art form, and I want to be part of that action.”

“I have an incredible desire to do so much more,” she says with fervor. “It’s very important to break through early. Very important. I’m the youngest member of the Ryan’s Hope cast, and I feel like it’s got to be now. I don’t want to be forty-five and saying ‘ah, yes, the soap is going very well.’ For some people it’s plenty. It’s fine. And I envy that, and I think that’s great.

“But I audition constantly – sometimes for as many as six or seven things a week. The response is always good.” So good, in fact, that Kate reports she has landed the role of Eve in  a New York production of Absurd Person Singular. But, she adds, “It’s gruelling. And it’s so hard on your spirits.

 “But I can’t really afford to get discouraged, because it’s the love of my life. That’s the hard part. You just don’t give up on a love affair like this. I’ve got to win.”