Saturday, May 5, 2012

Peggy Pope!

You better keep going!
-Peggy Pope

Happy Cinco de Mayo and Kentucky Derby Day!

It is so appropriate that I am writing about Peggy Pope today. She played one of the greatest lushes ever in film, in 9 to 5 and she is a thoroughbred.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Peggy Pope: 'Bewitched' Season 4, Episode 26 'Playmates'
She has run the race in show business and has been able to sustain a career that most people dream of. That is to be a working actress. She is what is called a "journeyman" actor. She is one of the last of the great character actresses. I think the earlist memory I have of Peggy is when she played the mother of the boy who was turned into a dog by Tabitha in Bewitched. Then whenever I saw her name in TV Guide, FREQUENTLY, I watched whatever she was on because she made me laugh out loud. Pope is most recognizable as "the office lush" (and later, recovered alcoholic) Margaret Foster in the 1980 movie 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.

A familiar face to television, she has guest starred on numerous high-profile series, including Bewitched, Hart to Hart, Eight is Enough, Barney Miller, Soap, The Golden Girls, Hope and Faith and Law and Order.

When I received a press release from Beck Lee, her publicist, about her new book, "Atta Girl" (referring to her catch phrase in 9 to 5), I immediately got a copy and could not put it down.
It captures the hilarity and pathos of the real Peggy Pope. I immediately called Barnes and Noble to see if we could do a book signing. They agreed! So on Friday night, Peggy and I are sitting to discuss her amazing career. Here are the details: May 11
7-9pm
BARNES AND NOBLE UPPER EAST SIDE, 150 East 86th Street
RICHARD SKIPPER CELEBRATES PEGGY POPE
In her new acting memoir, "Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business", the Obie-winning actress Peggy Pope details an eventful life in the theater, film and television spanning over five decades. But unlike most celebrity tell-alls, this thoughtful and deeply personal account brings to light the trials and experiences of the vast majority of actors, those who either flirt with stardom or play supporting roles throughout their careers.
Richard Skipper and Peggy Pope are sitting down for an exploration of Peggy's incredible career in show business. Email Richard at Richard@RichardSkipper.com for more info

Before sitting down and sharing Peggy with family, fans, and friends (The 3 F's of Cabaret). I had her to myself as we sat down for lunch on Monday at Joe Allen's. I don't know when I laughed so much. Like my late great friend, Dody Goodman (with whom she has often been confused for), Peggy is the only other person I know who can break up a room with a simple "Hello".

Last year, there was a documentary in New York about an older actress who keeps working. Hats Off!,
Ms. Mimi Weddell's, the subject of the film,  philosophy, similar to Peggy's, is "You Gotta Get up."
Maureen Stapleton
I asked Peggy to name who she considered to be the most iconic person she ever met and whether or not that person lived up to her expectations. That person, for Peggy, was Maureen Stapleton.  Peggy writes about this in her book. She says she was fabulous. She saw her for the first time when she was in high school. Maureen was studying with Herbert Berghof. She was always falling asleep in class because she worked all day. Peggy says she was already a legend then. They ended up doing The Rose Tattoo together. It was the revival and Peggy went in and read for it. It was Gus Sherman that she auditioned for. He was very temperamental. At one point, he even threw his watch at Peggy. They were playing the party game, present, present, present, where presents are passed around and you want to get the best present. Peggy got the present he wanted and threw his watch at her. Peggy and Maureen never became "close" friends. Maureen was battling her own demons as she publicly admitted. Once Maureen was in a cab and saw her "boyfriend" walking down the street arm and arm with another woman and it sent her into a tailspin. She had a long romance with George Abbott, the longtime Broadway director who also wrote or co-wrote such stage stalwarts as Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She was 43 and he was 81 when their affair started, and ten years later Abbott dropped her for a younger woman. Maureen ended up in, as she called it, the "funny farm".

I asked Peggy if she ever lost her concentration on stage and if so, how did she "reel herself back in". It was when she was sharing the stage with Brian Bedford in in The School for Wives. He wanted everyone to be focused on him and look at him at all times. She said it was really boring to be on stage with him. You couldn't move and your back was to the audience ALWAYS putting the focus on him. Peggy fell asleep one night WHILE she was talking! She snapped to hearing herself saying the lines. He had the next line. That's what got her back on track. 


I asked Peggy what she has learned about keeping her relationships in this business lasting and resourceful. She says once again to keep on going. Send out notes. One thing leads to another. 

When I asked about her thoughts in Arts in Education. She said, first people need to get an education. She then suggested I read Freakonomics.

Joyce Van Patten
I asked if there was any one role that she wanted in her career that she wanted that she didn't get. She said there were lots of them! She said everything Joyce Van Patten ever played. (I'm hoping to interview her!) They are friends but they were constantly seeing each other at the same auditions. The role that Joyce created in Rumors, Peggy ended up doing out on the West Coast. 

I asked Peggy what life lessons she learned from her parents: Fear, Guilt, and "Watch Out". I think we had the same parents! 

As we moved our conversation to the Kennedy Center Honors and Carol Channing, Peggy asked "Why not? She was wonderful. She lasted. She was always there." 

Peggy too! Her "secret" is that she went up for everything. She very rarely turned down an audition. She had an agent that kept her fairly busy in California. She didn't like California. You could not make "rounds" there like you used to be able to do here. 

Peggy Pope as Margaret Foster in 'Nine to Five'
To most people, they would probably consider Peggy's turn in 9 to 5 to be her biggest success. It is what she is most recognized for and it baffles her. She almost didn't go up for it. She thought it was a "nothing" part. But look what she did with it! Being on the set was like being in a real office. It was rather boring.


I asked her if she could say anything to "25 year-old" Peggy Pope, what would she say. She said "Dump him!" That was the year she got married. She knew leading up to the marriage that he was "bad news". She said she had not learned a lot. She doesn't feel that she had an "original thought" until she was 25. In those days, there was incredible pressure to get married by the time you were 25. She was already an actress, but her brothers were telling her, "You better watch out. You'll end up on the shelf." There was a pantry in their kitchen and every time her brother said that, she pictured herself sitting up there with the oatmeal. In those days, "every body had to get married." 

I asked what one change she would like to see in today's industry. She told me she has not seen television in twenty years. When she was on the left coast, she used to watch it all the time. When she moved back to New York, she didn't even hook it up. Her life is very full without it. She said the only way she could stop herself from watching it was to not even hook it up! She reads a lot and writes. 
It used to be that when you auditioned for a show, you would be seen by the creative team. Nowadays, there is a YOUNG 12 year old girl with a flip camera trying to tell you how to act. There is nothing going on there. Her last appearance was in a movie with the Coen Brothers. 

Marilynn Wick of Costume World in Florida gave me this question. Do you consider what you wear on stage "clothing" or  a "costume"? Peggy says its her character that is wearing "her" clothing.

I asked Peggy if she is happy at this point in her life and she says she still finds it interesting. What makes her unhappy? She makes herself unhappy. She mourns too much for those that have moved on. Peggy's sister passed on a little over two years ago and she still hasn't gotten over it. They were very close and she was also Peggy's only close relative. There were periods where they did not get along. Peggy says that makes it even harder. 


If a genie popped out of a bottle and granted Peggy three wishes. Her first wish would be that she wouldn't accept doubt in her life. That would cover just about everything in her life. 
Peggy Pope and Indie Film Attorney Jonathan Gray. (Credit: Michael Rose)


She loves being a writer now. She is in charge. Right now, she is writing something for a YouTube video, a RAP song! It's a promo to help sell her book. It's about two or three minutes. 


Starting out in this business, Peggy's goal was to work all the time. It never occurred to her to be famous. Although, that would have helped, according to her. I consider her famous! 


I asked her what she does to prepare for a performance. Since it takes a lot of energy, she says you've gotta rest. When you're doing eight shows a week, there isn't time for much more. 


When she first started out, she played Elvira in Blithe Spirit in summer stock. She also has played Madame Arcardi in two productions. She considers Madame Arcardi one of the best roles she ever played.


Myles Savage, of the Platters, gives me this question. Peggy, have you shared any love today? This was Monday. She said, "You're the first person I'm seeing in. I'm very fond of you." I'm very fond of Peggy! 

One of Peggy's favorite memories in her career occurred when she was playing Agnes Gooch opposite Ann Miller's Mame in stock. There is a moment when Agnes returns home after learning to "Live! Live! Live!". She tries to sit on the low low low Japanese sofa. Even though it had been staged one way, Peggy thought, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if Agnes missed the sofa." She could never quite get that to work. One night, it did! She missed, hit the floor, and the audience was howling. The musicians in the pit were laughing. Everyone was laughing! That is, everyone but Ann Miller. She didn't know what to do. She was used to the movies. You never deviated from what was on the written page. She was so upset she called Peg Murray at four in the morning and asked her if Peggy Pope was going to do that again. Peg Murray told her, "I hope so." The stage manager, at Ann Miller's request, asked her to cut it out. Ann did not get the laugh. She didn't understand it. 


Gary Beach, The Producers
When I interviewed Gary Beach, he told me to ask the next person I interviewed to ask if they had worked with him. Gary, this is for you! Peggy says you are an absolute joy yo work with! She loves you as everybody does. They did Lend Me a Tenor together. 


When Billy Crystal when on a talk show once, he was asked what he does to prepare. He said "I mull". So, Peggy, until Friday night, I'm going to mull.


Check out this incredible blog on Peggy Pope at Simply-Showbiz.com by Mark Dundas Wood


Buy Peggy Pope's Atta Girl at Barnes and Noble


Thank you, Peggy Pope, for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world!

Your devoted fan,



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Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

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