The life of stage-film-TV star Eileen Heckart recalled in a series of delightful war stories.
As a child, Yankee savored the times when his mother, Eileen Heckart, cigarette in one hand, scotch in the other, regaled her friends—Vivian Vance, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ethel Merman—with stories of adventures and misadventures encountered during a lifetime of acting. As an adult, Yankee, an actor, put many of his mother’s anecdotes into a one-man show, Diva Dish, which he here presents as a full-fledged biography. Heckart had “the actor’s childhood”—her mother was cold and distant, lost in her own problems. Heckart, of course, escaped through acting; after training at Ohio State, she headed to New York in the early ’50s and moved rather steadily from bit parts to critically acclaimed performances in Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Butterflies Are Free (reprising her role in the latter on film, she copped an Oscar). The stories she passed on to her son reveal a witty, direct, forceful and generous performer. She asked Arthur Miller to rewrite one of her lines. She told Goldie Hawn her Haight-Asbury hippie clothes looked ridiculous. She conspired with Bette Davis to give a break to a nervous actor having trouble with a scene. As Yankee matured, he turned to acting and directing. Mother could be his Auntie Mame, dazzling him with lunch at Sardi’s, and his most forceful critic. “What the fuck are you doing?” she blurted out, interrupting his work on a scene. He kept going until he got it right. Her stories had taught him that.
The author himself knows a thing or two about telling stories. These form an entertaining, touching, valuable chapter in the history of Broadway’s golden age.