THE BRIGHT LIGHTS: A Theatre Life by Marian Seldes
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Actress Marian Seldes is the daughter of tastemaker Gilbert Seldes, but you won't hear much about him here, this being a strictly theatrical meditation/memoir rather than a conventional autobiography. Father Gilbert appears only as Marian's cautionary open-sesame (""He begged me not to become stage-struck"") to the world of such bright lights as Katherine Cornell and John Gielgud. Not that Marian didn't pay her dues. Having decided at age six to be an actress, she had done summer stock and had studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse before Gielgud gave her a Broadway debut (in the Chorus of Judith Anderson's Medea), which led to supporting roles with the likes of Kit Cornell, Audrey Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and (his last role) Zero Mostel. Yes--supporting roles. Seldes, very tall and angularly handsome, is an actor's actor, and so her book is not chronological, there being no climb to the top--just steady, serious work, shifting between leads in worthy commercial failures and featured roles in some misses and hits. Hits like Equus, which occupies nearly half the book (Seldes rather overestimates its ""important influence in the theatre"")--and Equus becomes, like Button's Hamlet in the late William Redfield's Letters from an Actor, the focus for discussions of such nitty-gritty actor concerns as salary negotiations, keeping a long run fresh, director-actor relations (Marian vs. notorious sadist John Dexter), the stage manager's role, the importance of a costume, acting with stars (Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Perkins), auditions, etc. When Seldes is being spedfic, she is marvelous--honest, anecdotal, thoughtful, funny, and illuminating. However, in her somewhat free-associational moves, she sometimes slips into pretentiousness about her Art, dragging in Kierkegaard or, worse, taking on an occasional, icky nun-like pose. Also, one misses a more direct discussion of the actor's balancing of an aU-consuming profession with a private life (Seldes has been a wife and mother). Still, Seldes reaffirms the fact that, for real feel of theater, an intelligent, gifted, un-glittered working actor's reflections are worth a dozen stars' life stories-and this is just about the best real-actor book since Redfield's indelible Letters.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin