A supplement to the Toronto (Canada) Saturday Star
December 20 to 27, 1980
by Pat Sellers
It was proving to be a particularly difficult scene for Kate Mulgrew. They had done six or seven takes, and A Time For Miracles’ director, Michael 0’Herlihy, had called for prints, but his star begged him to hold off and give her just 10 minutes alone. She went outside, knelt down, and prayed to the saint whose life she was portraying.
“I said, ‘Mother Seton, this is probably the most important scene in the movie. Please help me to understand it — give me the insight. I don’t want them to print something that’s lousy.’ I was talking to her like she was the president of the network.”
Kate was blessed to star as the American saint
Back inside, a casual gesture from the actress she was playing with unleashed memories of a tragedy in Mulgrew’s own life — the death of her younger sister from a brain tumor — and “it all just came out of me.” They had their print.
That wasn’t the only time the presence of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American ever to be canonized a saint, was felt on the location shooting in Georgia.
According to Mulgrew: “We all kept votive candles, blessed in the name of Mother Seton, in our rooms, and the very day we finished shooting, mine went out.” And when they were visited by a nun writing a book about her, she told Mulgrew she believed her to be Mother Seton and that she had been blessed to do the part.
It was some sort of miracle that Mulgrew, best known for her work in Mrs. Columbo and Kate Loves a Mystery, got the role in the ABC telefilm.
“They must have seen 300 actresses — all dying to do it,” she explains.
“The network wanted another actress — Kate Jackson or somebody — and O’Herlihy told them, ‘Fine, get another director. I want Kate Mulgrew.’”
He’s not the only one in TV land to want her — but in some cases it’s more like: wanted dead or alive — because of her tendency to speak her mind about what she feels are the shortcomings of the networks, based on her series experience.
“But what am I supposed to do,” she asks, “sacrifice my character? Keep my mouth shut forever so I can work for NBC? I have my integrity as an actor, believe it or not, and I want to be able to say what is fact. And the fact is that I’m embittered because they are all tough, manipulative people. All scared to death and walking on eggshells, as afraid of losing their jobs as I am.”
The callousness of the executives is one reason she’s sworn off any future series. Another is what she considers the outlandish emphasis on physical perfection for actresses on the West Coast.
“But, if you’re out there, you’re forced to care about your looks. It happened to me. Can you imagine me having two manicures a week? My hair done every day? And waxings and facials? And not eating?”
She cites what she refers to as “the big conference about my five pounds.”
“That was my favorite one. I’d had a vacation and gained five pounds, and when I walked in, everyone said, ‘Kate! Tsk-tsk-tsk.’ And I said, ‘The audience is going to like me with the five pounds or not. And if you don’t, well, I think you’re going to have to fire me because I have no intention of losing those five pounds to speed or Bl2 or caffeine.’
“But there are people out there who actually live like that— a little cocaine, don’t eat, take a little speed, go home, kill a bottle of brandy, go to bed. They don’t dream of cracking a book — they might lose an hour of exercise time. They won’t have a baby — they might get stretch marks or gain weight. But when you’re 50 and it all falls apart, where are you? And when you’re 85, and you have no children or grandchildren and you’ve been divorced eight times……? My heart just bleeds for them.”
Recently, Mulgrew contemplated publishing her autobiography. She actually had a conference with an editor at McGraw-Hill and had completed 250 pages when she abandoned the project because: “I’m very young (25), and I don’t want to offend too many people.”
A very out-of-character decision for this most forthright of women, but perhaps when she’s 85 and surrounded by her children and grandchildren and one-and-only husband, she’ll get the rest of what she has to say off her chest. Then again, she may only be able to hold off another six months.
Many Thanks to a Totally Kate! contributor for the article
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