Irene Worth on Maureen Stapleton: Always Sweet and Open
|Irene Worth captured by Cecil Beaton in 1960|
Interview with Irene Worth
Conducted by James Grissom
There are always games or tests to help us understand ourselves and others. We move from astrology to asking the question What is the first thing you say upon awakening? or What is the word that flies from your mouth if your hand is struck by a hammer? Silly things, but these silly things were being asked during the time we were rehearsing Toys in the Attic, and it was fascinating to watch and to listen to Maureen [Stapleton] as these flew about the air. Maureen did not reply to the queries, as the rest of us foolishly and openly did: Instead, she wanted to know who was interested in what anyone had to say upon awakening, and why wasn't help being offered when the hammer struck? I have taken the time to tell you these things to illustrate the complete purity and honest intelligence that Maureen possessed, and she brought it to everything she did, every part she played. People are told in acting to watch their resting face--it may be too angry or too happy and it might not be appropriate for the part assigned to it. Maureen had a resting face that was always sweet and open, and a resting heart and a resting mind that were always so intuitive and open and unafraid to be confused. What I mean to say is that Maureen was unafraid to tell people she didn't understand what was being said or implied or asked, and she would ask questions and push things within herself until she got to the bare and perfect truth of a character. I used to think of Maureen as jumping deep into a river or ocean and going deeper and deeper until she came to the surface with the perfect specimen--a pearl or a perfect fish or lost treasure--that was necessary for her understanding of a part or a friend.
She was--in her work and as a friend--fearless. What she faced on her own time, on her own terms, I can't say.
She sat next to me one day in rehearsal. I tend to be a loner, off to myself, thinking, testing myself and the waters in which I'm about to swim. I suppose I looked lost. Maureen came and sat next to me. "You need a friend?" she asked, and it was not a facile question; it was not meant to be cute. It was genuine. I replied that I could always use a friend, and Maureen promised to be mine, and she was there for me, and she was a true friend. She cared deeply and knew when to stop talking, to stop asking questions, to be a presence. You have quotes from others about the beauty and the peace that came from being hugged by Maureen. That is true--those were great hugs. But I have a memory of Maureen looking at me across a stage when rehearsal wasn't going well, and I wasn't doing well, and I felt beaten up and lost, and the decorum of the room, of the place, kept her from running to me immediately, but I could see that she wanted to be there for me, and she was ready, and the moment we were released, she ran to me and hugged me and told me to ignore the nonsense. I was going to be okay.
I could get through things--so many people could get through things--because of Maureen. She gave me her friendship. I would like for that to be known.
© 2014 James Grissom