Stories Behind the Stories
(In this column, I tell all of what went on during my interviews, coverage, and promotion of quite a few famous folks. Well, I mostly tell all. These stories took place during my two careers (1972 – 2007), first as a newspaper and magazine reporter and then as a higher education public relations director. We’re talking three U.S. presidents, at least two dozen movie & TV stars, Queen Elizabeth, accomplished musicians, and others. Some stories you may find amusing, perhaps revealing. Others not so much.)
For most of our hour-long chat, she sat on the floor propped up against a couch. I sat on a small couch just a couple of feet across from her. She was at the Globe to star in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She’d just finished five hours of rehearsal and had a two-hour break before resuming rehearsal.
During our discussion, Marsha repeatedly mentioned her desire to see the city’s major attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, the beaches, and Balboa Park’s museums. After all, she would be working at the Globe for the next several weeks.
Throughout the conversation, Marsha trifled with me. I certainly didn’t mind. On the other hand, flirting comes natural to showbiz types, and she was, and still is, one helluva’ actress. Plus, she no doubt wanted me to pen a flattering report. In any event, I developed a crush on the 40-year-old movie star. (I was 33 at the time.)
Nevertheless, I thought the actress with prom queen looks was hinting for me to show her around town. Of course, I choked and never did ask her out.
She lit a Vantage cigarette and confided “I haven’t smoked in seven or eight years, until now.”
What’s a guy to do? I also lit up a cig. Same brand. So much in common…Heavy sigh.
Ongoing divorce proceedings with superstar writer Neil Simon could have explained her behavior. The divorce was finalized about a month after our interview. The marriage had lasted ten years.
Taking the Old Globe gig could have been her getaway from reality. She accepted the starring role in Twelfth Night for only $420 a week, quite a departure from her lucrative film career. “I am fortunate that I can afford to do it for only four-twenty.”
While discussing soon-to-be ex-husband Simon, Marsha became philosophic. “Fear stops me a lot of times. When fear takes over, I am not really there. With acting, I have the opportunity to confront all of that.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Marsha invited me to pay her a dressing room visit after taking in one of her upcoming performances.
I did, and was quickly ushered passed a long line of well-wishers standing outside her dressing room. They all were bearing flowers and other goodies. Nieve me showed up empty-handed.
Within seconds, I was inside her dressing room. Boy was I in for a surprise. She was not the same mellow person I’d interviewed just a few days earlier. She was bouncing off the walls with post-performance energy and intensity. Not exactly Jekyll and Hyde, but overwhelming.
A few minutes later, as I was about to depart, Marsha moved in to kiss me goodbye. Instead of seizing the moment and accepting a kiss on the lips, self-conscious dummy that I was, I instinctively turned and took her kiss on the cheek. Regretted that ever since.
Back in the newsroom the next day, the guys wanted to know what happened. Suffice to say, they were disappointed and gave me a hard time because of my failure to ask her on a date.
Still, it begs the question: What would other journalists have done? Could’ve been construed as unprofessional. Not necessarily. After all, covering entertainment is considered soft news, unless a crime or serious scandal was an element of the story.
Turned out she had plenty of male companionship while in town. Duh! Cinderella Liberty and Chapter Two co-star James Caan came down from Tinsel Town to see the play and escort her around the city. And soon to be ex-husband Neil Simon journeyed south to San Diego to catch her opening night performance at the Globe. I took in the Shakespearean play a few days later.
Simon was married to Marsha for ten years (1973-83). While they were a couple, she starred in five films he penned:
- The Goodbye Girl (1977)
- The Cheap Detective (1978)
- Chapter Two (1979)
- Only When I Laugh (1981)
- Max Dugan Returns (1983)
Of those five films, Marsha garnered three Best Actress Oscar nominations. Can you guess which? (see below)
Marsha and Simon divorced was finalized in July 1983, while she was still performing at the Globe.
Although I knew about the split-up, I was unaware that it occurred so recently. If only I’d known, maybe I would have made a move. Well, at least I would have kissed her full on. Okay, okay, now I’m fantasizing. Moving on…
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she played the role of Viola, a woman posing as a man. Earlier, she’d portrayed a male, Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Marsha assured me that she is comfortable playing males because “when I was younger, I was a tomboy.”
Born in St. Louis, she attended parochial school and Webster College, where she studied speech and drama.
In the four years that followed the Marsha interview, we corresponded twice, both initiated by me. She was kind enough to respond both times, and her messages seemed heartfelt.
Marsha did not return to the Old Globe until 2015. Cast in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, Mason said she found the role of Catherine an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.
As it turned out, I was unaware that she was back performing in San Diego. Asleep at the wheel – once again.
Answer: Best Actress Oscars nominations for The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two, and Only When I Laugh. She won Best Actress Golden Globes for The Goodbye Girl and Cinderella Liberty.
Prison, political activism, punk rock’s The Clash, and a 1984 Baez concert in San Diego that benefited Sasway’s legal defense fund.
In 1980, the San Diego area resident refused to register for the draft and explained why in a candid, four-page letter to then President Carter.
“… I am obligated to protest even simple registration since I feel the spirit of this mandate, like actual conscription, is immoral and incompatible with a truly free society…
“…I love my country and would defend it in a time of crisis. Under the current circumstances, however … it seems equally important to the Pentagon that military forces also defend business interests abroad, an antiquated Soviet containment policy, the mythical American honor, and just generally the military status quo…”
After the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Carter reinstituted draft registration in 1980. Six months later, Sasway, then 21, was indicted for failing to register. The legal battle ensued.
As a San Diego newspaper reporter, I was all over this story.
Enter Baez, 43 at the time, who committed her first act of civil disobedience while in high school. Fast forward to ’84. She granted me a telephone interview about two weeks before the singer’s scheduled performance for young Ben at downtown San Diego’s Golden Hall.
When I told her that Sasway said to me that he preferred The Clash perform instead of her, she was a bit ticked off. Understandable, from my point of view.
During her concert for Sasway, she informed the audience that “a reporter told me Ben wanted The Clash instead of me…I’ll have to talk to Ben about that.”
Fortunately, I was sitting far enough from the stage that it was difficult for Baez to spot me. And Sasway was not on stage at the time. Nevertheless, I slinked down in my seat, eliciting a wide grin from my date.
Perhaps Sasway would have felt differently about Baez if the Humboldt State political science major had a clue about her decades of public protests and anti-war activism. In 1966, Baez was arrested twice for blocking an Armed Forces induction center in Oakland. This led to a month in prison.
Her résumé for demonstrating for social causes is extensive. From marching with Martin Luther King to delivering gifts to American POWs in Hanoi to recording an album at Sing Sing penitentiary.
Plus she married an anti-war activist – David Harris who did two years in prison for draft resistance during Vietnam.
Returning to the 1980s: Sasway ended up serving six months in a minimum-security California prison. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years and fined $10,000.
He was one of a half-million young men who decided to defy Carter’s registration policies, while about 7.5 million 19-and 20-year-olds complied with the order. Maybe none of the other guys wrote the President.
Sasway became the first American since the Vietnam War to be indicted and imprisoned for failing to register.
In 2011, Joan Baez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She still performs.
The Clash disbanded in 1986, some ten years after forming. They were elected to the Hall in 2011.