Actress Mariette Hartley survives past tragedies to thrive in her life and career

Fri, Sep 5, 1997 (10:42 a.m.)

Mariette Hartley offered a greeting despite being interrupted during a recent rehearsal.

She was most pleasant under the circumstance, wearing a loose-fitting, long smock, minus makeup. Her conversation was easy and warm.

Hartley stars in "Silver Buckles On His Knee," an original play written and directed by veteran actor/director Don Taylor. Produced by Mike Merrick, the show premiered Thursday and continues for another eight performances at UNLV's Judy Bayley Theatre over this weekend and next, opening the school's 1997-1998 season (See "It Happened Last Night" review on page 2C).

In "Silver Buckles On His Knee," Hartley -- who stepped in when Piper Laurie withdrew from the production -- plays Edwina Stewart, matriarch in a Western Pennsylvania household dealing with the trauma that gripped this country at the start of World War II. She is a wife and mother who manages to be caustic, churlish, but occasionally charming. She cares deeply about her son and daughter.

Playwright Taylor writes from personal experience, having grown up in that area of the state, a blue-collar, mostly industrial community. Watching a scene between mother and daughter, you can tell there is truth, more reality than fiction in the mother-daughter confrontation.

Taylor's copious credits include the World War II stage hit, "Winged Victory." He also gave Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in "Father Of The Bride," which also starred Spencer Tracy.

And Taylor has also acted with John Wayne, William Holden, Susan Hayward and Robert Taylor, among others. He has been a successful director of many movies for the big screen and TV films.

Television audiences will immediately recognize Hartley, a six-time Emmy winner, from her leading roles in "Peyton Place," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Rockford Files," and "Caroline In The City." Even more people will relate to the award-winning Polaroid commercials with James Garner in the 1980s.

Hartley's stage credits include everything from Shakespeare to musicals ("The King And I," "Mame" and "A Little Night Music") to a one-woman show. Most recently she has been touring with Elliott Gould in "Deathtrap" and Wendy Wasserman's Tony Award-winning play, "The Sisters Rosenzweig."

Her more than a dozen film credits cover the gamut from Sam Peckinpah's "Ride The High Country" to Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie" to something as light as "Encino Man." Hartley trained with the famed Eva Le Galienne and was still a teenager when she was performing on stage at Shakespeare festivals in New York and Connecticut.

You can't help but respect Mariette Hartley. Her struggles with an alcoholic parent and the resulting suicide was detailed in her moving autobiography, "Breaking The Silence."

"Our deepest wounds when integrated become our greatest power," she told Living Fit magazine. "That's what a good friend told me and I believe it." For years, she recoiled from her own deepest wound -- the suicide of her father. She was 23 years old, under contract to MGM, and on the verge of a major movie career.

She finally was able to put her life in reasonable order but the memory still haunted her. She was in another room when it happened, she heard the shot and witnessed the aftermath.

A professional breakthrough came when she was offered a part in 'Silence Of The Heart," a made-for-TV movie about suicide. This led to her co-founding the American Suicide Foundation and, four years later, the publication of her best-selling book. She had managed to confront herself.

In 1995, she survived the breakup of her 20-year marriage to French producer Patrick Boyriven. But she has once again learned to play, to hike, scuba dive and become a participant. When not on the road, she paints and spends quality time with her son Sean, 22, and daughter Justine, 19.

Hartley is definitely a participant, not a spectator in life. She's looking forward to finding a new place to live, taking her furniture out of storage, and settling once again among her personal belongings, of which she can give new meaning. Active with several suicide prevention agencies, she is busy holding seminars on the subject and fighting handgun violence.

As she told Living Fit magazine: "Integrating our wounds is the key. Once we make the commitment to help ourselves, we are able to help others -- and the universe supports our commitments. When we commit to this path, we find angels everywhere."


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