The space under my byline usually contains my random musings on the theater industry. But I believe in mixing things up.
I have long wanted to do fun interview features where the actor is asked not the same old questions, but ones very specifically geared towards a given show. I start this series today with Michele Lee. Best known for her work on the now-defunct nighttime soap Knots Landing, Lee is a two-time Tony nominee who always brings her own vivacious personality to her roles. Through January 31, she is putting her stamp on Gingy, the narrator, in my favorite off-Broadway show, Love, Loss, and What I Wore. The play is all about women's relationships with fashion and each other, meaning I had good material to question Lee about.
Did your mother impart any fashion-related advice to you?
Not really. My mother said, in her own words, "Be careful what you are wearing because a bus might run you over." But the one thing I really remember in terms of clothing and my parents is a time, after I came to Broadway, when it was their anniversary. I really wanted to get my mother a fur. I called my father and asked if he would mind if I bought my mother a mink coat. In the minds of so many women, the mink coat was the thing that you bought and wore to say, 'I've made it.' So many women couldn't afford it. It was a class statement. It was all of those things we run and hide from today. Anyway, the next thing I remember is my mother calling to say she wanted me to buy the coat for me, because I was earning my own money and it was my own success. They wanted me to make my own statement. So I got myself the fur and them crystal wine glasses.
Do you have a piece of clothing or an outfit that is particularly special to you?
In terms of a full outfit, there was a brown suede dress, white blouse and Jackie Kennedy pill hat that I purposely wore to walk by the window of a restaurant that I knew James Farentino would be inside. He soon became my first husband.
For an individual item, I have a Snoopy sweater that was given to me by Charles Schulz. It's like Linus' blanket--I just can't throw it out. Charles Schulz was such an amazing man. He handed me this sweater, off this shelf, and autographed it. I don't wear it all the time. It's the kind of thing that I've put on to walk around the house, but I have to be careful with it. The ribbing is already gone, but I will never get rid of it.
What was your first bra-buying experience?
I was one of those flat girls who suddenly became the voluptuous me--with no doctoring in between. I remember buying a bra that was just there, on me. Why was it there? It was covering almost nothing. But it's probably because my mother and father saw little buds coming and they were afraid, god forbid, I would turn on one of the boys on the block.
Are you a high heels girl?
When you think of heels, they are torture chambers. I love the way they make you look, no question about it. But I am at the point in my life where I will wear them for the entrance and put them under the table inside. Then I will walk out with my heels, hopefully not in my hands.
In the show, Gingy talks about her grandmother saying it is as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one. Gingy doesn't believe that. Do you?
I think, especially when you're young, and first trying to understand what love is--which takes a little bit of time--psychologically you're just attracted to someone, whatever amount of money he has in his pockets. It's easier to just fall in love with the attitude and demeanor of the man. When you are older, it is easier to handpick if you have your mind set on something. You understand that there are so many things incorporated into what a relationship is that you might as well pick rich.
Do you have any fashion rules?
I try never to wear red lipstick, which they are making me wear in the show. Red lipstick always makes your mouth look harsher and your eyes smaller. When the makeup artist told me I was lucky because I got to wear flashy red lipstick onstage, I thought, 'oy.' But, in general, I think there are no fashion rules today. And I love that there are no fashion rules today. I heard one of the Olsens was wearing a tiara, hospital gown and stiletto heels--it was incredible.
What's in your purse?
Oh my god! I hate purses. I schlep one black bag and I throw everything in it. I am always on the floor outside my front door looking for my keys. I toss in my credit card in there and it's forever before I see it again. It is eaten up by the leather and the pockets and the eye glass cases which are way too big for the glasses and the script and the phone and whatever else. In LA, I take the big, black hole purse in addition to the purse I think goes with my outfit. I put them both in my car. Then, at every red light, I start going through the black hole and try to pick what I actually need with me.
What are your feelings about wearing black?
Love black. Now people are saying black is boring. If you live in New York City and you have the kind of closet space people have in New York City, black is so beautiful. You just throw on a colored scarf and you have a new outfit. You can fit your entire wardrobe in a 3-foot closet.
This show really comes out of women sharing moments of their lives. Are there any moments in your life where you've thought, "I need to write this down?"
A long time ago I was in a show called Seesaw. I was brought in by Michael Bennett when it was in trouble before Broadway. I was on the Broadway stage two-and-a-half weeks after I started in the show. Literally. It was such a Herculean task that I thought, 'Everything is possible.' Just when you think your brain is going to fry, it shows up. It was just a lesson learned. I wrote an essay about it. So I did write that down.