Marian Seldes: The Heart, the Soul, the Engine of "Follies of God"
Question from a Reader: Why is your book dedicated to Marian Seldes--the only actress in the book to earn this? Why have some reviewers referred to her as the heart of the book?
Answer: I considered an acting career when I was in high school, and on a drama-club trip to New York in November of 1978, the students of Baton Rouge High saw Marian in Ira Levin's Deathtrap at the Music Box Theater. Ads in the New York Times revealed that Marian had written her autobiography, so I went to Marlboro Books in Times Square and bought that book--The Bright Lights. After the performance I asked her to sign it and we began talking about the theatre and life and other things, and she asked me if I could come back and see her the next evening: Her character dies in the first act, so she could spend the second act visiting with me. The following night I left "Annie" at intermission and spent an hour or so with Marian in her dressing room. "Let's be friends," she said, and so we remained for more than three decades. Marian read every word I ever wrote, and we spoke on the phone far too often for the comfort of my parents, who got the phone bills. When I met Tennessee Williams in New Orleans in 1982, he began to dictate the names of those to whom I should run for advice and affirmation: Marian was one of those names. "Oh, I know her already," I said. "How?" Tenn asked in amusement. I told him the story. "Oh, so you are used to walking up to people and asking for help and friendship?" Tennessee called Marian after our visit--her exchange then was PLaza-3--and asked her if I was a "good character." Yes, Marian told him, after which Marian called me and asked what on earth was going on. "I don't know," I told her, "but I'll keep you posted."
After Tennessee Williams died, Marian asked me more questions about our visit, what was said, what was intended, and she began to gently but persistently goad me into doing something with the notes. "Start calling the women," she implored, but I didn't know how. Marian got me in touch with the first two women: Bette Davis and Ruth Gordon. I still didn't know what to do with the material. "You will," Marian told me.
When I moved to New York in 1989, Marian took me to lunch at the Coffee House Club and pulled from a bag all the notes I had been sending her over the years. "Bird," she told me, "this is a book. This is your assignment. Tennessee needs this."
And so I started. I wrote letters and knocked on doors. Marian made calls. The women began to show up.
Marian Seldes is the one link--other than my mother--to that incredible moment when Tennessee Williams asked me to be his witness. She read every word of the book. She helped me to edit it. She championed it to virtually everyone. She is not only the heart and soul of the book, but its engine.