It would seem Kate Mulgrew has it made. She's young, pretty and talented. Her career is off to an auspicious start-and she's in love. What more could a girl want? Well, if like Kate, she's a spirited, spunky Irish lass, she may want all this-and heaven too!
Kate is in love with a young director, Ben Levit, who is currently working at Princeton's McCarter Theater. But he and Kate met this past summer when she played Emily in a production of Our Town at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.
"At first, Ben hated me," she confesses. "He called me `the Glitz'-short for glamour queen. I didn't care for him either. Then we got to know each other better and our feelings changed.
"This other actress and I rented a house in the country while we were working at the Festival. We needed someone to help with the expenses. Ben needed a place to live, heard about the vacancy and decided to move in. He didn't know I'd be living there and I didn't know he'd be our boarder until he showed up with his luggage. Then he looked at me and said, `You!'; I looked at him and said, `You!' But there was nothing for us to do at that point except grin and bear it.
"Actually, we were attracted to each other from the start. He's very handsome and his depth was attractive to me. Even though we're from different ethnic backgrounds, we share the same melancholy. As I say to him all the time,' I love the face on your nose.'
Kate maintains she's a "sloppy Catholic" but "a good Christian." Still, she goes along completely with the Catholic right-to-life dictum.
"I'm very much against abortion," she states unequivocally. "Legalizing abortion has made society very lazy. Fifty years ago we didn't have the alternative of abortion-not legally. When you start messing around like that, you minimize the value of human life-and consequently, the value of human love.
"I believe in love-any kind of love-as the supreme value. Love is the only thing we're here for. To deny yourself that commitment to life is to deny yourself the one chance you were given to really live it.
"I've reevaluated my standards since I saw Tessie die. She was my sister and she died a short time ago of a brain tumor. She was only 13. When I saw her progress through her sickness-and cancer really is a vulgar sickness. But it made me realize that death is no big deal. We all die. If that child, who was so blissfully ignorant of corruption, could die of such a corrupt disease, then we can all go at the drop of a hat. But before we go, life can and should he heightened, exalted-lived without the fear of loving.
"I believe man continually underestimates his capacities for loving, giving, taking, feeling. And his capacity for tenderness. A little patience never hurts; a little courtesy and sensitivity. I admit, I don't always practice what I preach but I'm working on it."
From a big family herself, Kate hopes to raise a big family of her own one day. "I was meant to have children," she says. "I suppose a great deal of it was my conditioning, but I'd love to have babies-lots of babies.
"We were eight children in all but there are only six of us left. Maggie died of pneumonia when she was still a baby and then there was Tessie. Now there are three boys and three girls left. Tom is the eldest and I'm next. Tom recently graduated from McGill University and he's trying to publish a children's book he wrote on geography. He's a geographical whiz.
"I'm very close to my family although I don't get home as much as I'd like." Home for Kate is Dubuque, Iowa. Her father, Thomas James Mulgrew, is a construction contractor (roads, bridges, etc.). Her mother, Joan Virginia Mulgrew, is a painter ("a painter who sells").
"I'm particularly close to my mother. She's a great intellectual, and a woman of extraordinary character. She was raised in the East and went to the best schools there. She’s really very cosmopolitan, and she's always encouraged me in my efforts to do something with my life. She's the ideal mother for a daughter like me. She told me to go, go, go and do, do, do. Dad on the other hand was a little apprehensive at my decision to pursue a theatrical career."
That didn't stop Kate however. She'd made up her mind while still attending a parochial high school that she was going to be an actress. Graduating at the end of her sophomore year with full high school credits, she went on to an Iowa girls' college. She only stayed there a short time before switching to New York University. After a year she left N.Y.U. to study drama. She has since trained at the University of Minnesota, the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, and the Tyrone Guthrie Theater.
Just turned 21, Kate has been acting professionally for less than a year. But that has been long enough for her father to adjust to having an actress in the family. He’s resigned to it,” she told me with a mischievous twinkle in her smiling Irish eyes. "Now he says, `As long as you're successful.'
"My mother came to visit me in New York a few months ago-but under very unpleasant circumstances. The week before Christmas I was visiting some friends in South Jersey. I don't get a chance to ride horses much in New York so when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it. I'm not too good a rider-more of a thrill seeker-and the horse threw me. I wound up with a herniated disc and a pinched sciaic nerve. I couldn't walk for a month.”
“Foolishly, I tried to return to the serial after two weeks but I was out again-flat on my back-for another two weeks. The trauma of the accident caused me to lose my appetite completely-and as a result, I also lost 20 lbs. I loved the weight loss but I had to start eating again. My mother came in from Iowa to feed me-actually more to enlighten than to feed me.
"My mother doesn't put up with nonsense. She doesn't put up with sickness. That's an Irish thing-not giving in to sickness. If you do, the slightest ailment can get blown out of proportion and the next thing you know, you're a hypochondriac. I was raised on that philosophy. I've never stayed home because I've had the flu or anything like that. But this was different. This was legitimate. The pinched sciatic nerve is still pretty painful on occasion. But I was lucky at that.
"I didn't lose any more weight after my mother arrived but the 20 lbs. stayed off-until I got back to the show at least-and I was delighted.”
"I feel better when I'm thin. I feel better because I look better. A woman is at her best when she's taut from head to toe. She's more feminine.”
"You know what's good about being Irish. Your stomach always lets you know when you're getting fat. It's a perfect physical barometer. It blows up. I have a girlfriend not Irish, who can gain more weight than I and her stomach stays flat. Some people say the bloat comes from drinking, but I don't drink much-and only wine. I don't like hard liquor."
Taut from head to toe or full-blown, Kate Mulgrew is a refreshing bundle of vitality-- full of ideals, and intense passions.
"I feel I must avoid mediocrity at all costs," she says. "My mother always told me, `If you find yourself in a mediocre stream-drown yourself before you go with the tide.' As far as my work is concerned, what actor doesn't want to be great-or doesn't want to receive recognition for his efforts? No one would be in this business if he-or she-didn't like being in the spotlight. I love it. My career is very important to me. But that doesn't mean other things aren't equally so.
Kate doesn't put any time limitation on the fulfillment of her all-encompassing ambition. "I'm very young," she says. "And sometimes I think I don't really know my own mind yet. But I'm getting older every day."
Aren't we all? And not quite as gracefully as the multifaceted Miss Mulgrew.