by dick kerekes
Given the opportunity to interview Loretta Swit prior to her arrival from California to star in the August 11th opening of Amorous Crossing, a brand-new comedy at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining, I jumped at the chance.
Throughout its history, the Alhambra has frequently featured celebrity guest performers, including Morgan Fairchild, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable and Bob Denver. Because I’m such a fan, I figured I was qualified to interview this two-time Emmy Award winning star of M*A*S*H, who played “Hot Lips” Houlihan, the most famous nurse in television history, for eleven seasons.
Most of our readers probably know Swit thanks to the wonders of syndication, but you may not be aware of her extensive background in theatre, so I focused on that aspect of her career.
EU: Have you been to Jacksonville before?
Loretta Swit: No, but I have been to Florida. I performed in Miami in the American premiere of “Passionate Woman” with Billy Green.
EU: You are well known for television, but you actually began as a stage actress, didn’t you?
LS: I am from the East Coast and trained as an actor and singer at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. TV opportunities were limited in those days. In 1967 I toured with the national company of “Any Wednesday.”
EU: Is there one particular theatre experience that you enjoyed most?
LS: More than one and I could not really narrow it down to one. My signature piece right after M*A*S*H was “Shirley Valentine” which I performed over 1,000 times. I received the Sara Siddons Award for this in Chicago. [This award is given annually to one actor for an outstanding performance in Chicago Theatre and Ms. Swit won in 1991. Past winners include a Who’s Who of great performers with, among others, Myrna Loy, Bette Davis, Jessica Tandy, Brian Dennehy, and Liza Minnelli] I really loved Shirley Valentine, a one-woman play that is very challenging since you are alone on the stage and playing several characters. I also loved Mame and sort of grew up in it. I did Agnes Gooch in Las Vegas. I had beautiful Mames. My first was Celeste Holm and my second Susan Hayward. Susan and I became great friends and she was a lovely woman. As I matured I got to play the title role Mame and loved the part, the music, and adored its creator Jerry Herman. “Same Time Next Year” was my Broadway debut and very challenging because you had to age five years in every scene, so there were costume and wig changes. Recently I did a stage reading for a show we are going to mount next year called One November Yankee. Wow! That will also have me playing three characters.
EU: Have you ever done any dinner theatre?
LS: Yes, but many of them are no longer operating. There was one in St. Charles, Illinois I did a long time ago. The play was “Any Wednesday” and I understudied Sandy Dennis for the role. She had replaced me in “Same Time Next Year”. Sandy and I finally did a movie together. Just recently I was in “Cactus Flower” for three months at a wonderful dinner theatre in Overland Park Kansas called The New Theatre.
EU: I read that in 1986 you wrote a book on needlepoint. Do you still needlepoint?
LS: I was approached by Doubleday to do a how-to book on needlepoint. I used to do needlepoint to have a function to raise funds for various charities. I am especially into the humane world. You are always trying to find ways to raise money and that was a super way for me to be creative and auction off an item to raise funds for all of my charities.
EU: Do you go to the theatre to see shows?
LS: I do go to New York to see plays. I have a lot of friends in the theatre and go out of way to cheer them on. Angela Lansbury is a very dear friend of mine and I recently went to see her in “A Little Night Music.” I am a good audience, no, a great audience! I know how difficult theatre work is and I appreciate it, so I laugh and sing with all of them.
EU: You have the script for “Amorous Crossing,” so tell us, are we going to enjoy it?
LS: I think that “Amorous Crossing” will put smiles on the faces of audience all evening long. It is not a slapstick comedy like say “Noises Off” but is light, breezy, charming and a lot of fun.
EU: Do you like friendly people? Then you are going to love Jacksonville folks; I know you have a lot of fans in this city.
LS: Oh, I know I will. You know that we are in control of that, you and I. We get up every morning and we have two decisions to make. We can have a wonderful adventure and a lot of fun or we can let things get to us and be negative. It is our choice. I am going to Jacksonville and the Alhambra with the attitude that this is going to be fabulous… and that is what will happen.
Thank you, Loretta, for sharing your thoughts with our readers. We are looking forward to the premier of “Amorous Crossing” directed by Tod Booth and on stage at Alhambra Theater and Dining beginning August 11th, for 6 weeks.
Loretta Swit interview
by dick kerekes