Joanne Woodward: A Dream Is A Directive

New Orleans

Joanne and I share a common Southern background and way of looking at things: We believe in history and manners and a culture of kindness and erudition that move at a leisurely pace and keeps its eye equally on the past and on the present. What I am trying to say is that we loved so many aspects of our Southern heritage, but we both could not wait to escape from it, to find ourselves, to be whatever it is we had dreamed we might become. We both recognized the worth of the Southern ways and means, although Joanne came by hers naturally--hers was an intelligent, upper-middle-class family--while mine was forged through fantasy and stories--fabulous stories--crafted by my mother as she created the woman she once was or might have become.

I do not know of anyone who has not felt at ease in Joanne's company: She has that extraordinary gift--which my mother claimed was the earmark of a person of character--of being able to speak to, work, and bond with any person she meets. She will find something, or a series of things, they both love and need and care about, and a conversation will ensue. Joanne is very private and reserved initially, but always genuine, and when she feels safe enough to offer her unconditional and hefty generosity, you have a friend for life.

I have been the recipient of this generosity--this rich friendship--for many years now.

Joanne and Carrie Nye are the most voracious readers of the women to whom I will send you: Their minds are rich and full of literature, quotes, history. Their richest assets are their minds and their hearts; only later do you remember that they also possess deep and rare talents as actresses. Both Joanne and Carrie present themselves as glorious people before the actress appears.

This is very rare.

You can give anything at all to Joanne and it will then be sifted through her vast intelligence, curiosity, and humor and something genuine and unique will appear. Her take on Carol [in Orpheus Descending, which was filmed as The Fugitive Kind] was entirely different from what I had imagined and what had been conceived by Harold Clurman and Lois [Smith] and yet marvelous, odd, real, vivid. She owned it, re-shaped it, made it a gift to me and anyone watching the film.

Her dream, she tells me, is to play Amanda, and like all Southern friends, she believes that Amanda is her mother. Of course she is: Amanda is all the mothers of the world, with a few accessories that are unique to my own mother, but there is a universality to her that bonds her to so many people--well, those honest enough to admit to an experience such as one finds in that play. I have had many deep conversations with Joanne where she discusses what she would like to do with Amanda.

I wait and I hope. [Joanne would appear, under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman, in a film version of The Glass Menagerie. It was released in 1987.]

Some things I have discussed with Joanne for happy hours on end: [Clifford] Odets; Chekhov; Charlie Chaplin; Ingmar Bergman; the correct way of cooking a breakfast of ham and grits; children's literature and its effect on all of us; meditation and prayer; the use of nightmare and surrealism in ballet; the superiority of chocolate over diplomacy.

That might have been one afternoon. I could never compile a list of all the things we've discussed. She is gentle in discussion--never assuming she is right or injured. She gives, as always, freely, and retains everything.

Joanne understands the need to remember and husband and honor the past: She is so hungry to try and to have felt as if she lived during the times of Moscow and Stanislavsky or the Depression and the Group Theatre. She loves those stories and she shares them, but she is adamant--at least with me--that we do not descend into the amber snare of nostalgia and become rigid with a deification of the past and an inability to move forward. There is a tendency among so many of us to find arts and artists of a certain, distant past and to believe that they owned a better, clearer way of doing things, leading us to condemn all subsequent attempts, and to consign ourselves to a degraded station. This is suicidal, Joanne will tell me--will tell anyone. We have been given gifts by all of these people she studies and honors, but we must share and pass on all that they have given us.

A dream is a directive. It is a call to order. It is a command. Whatever you have come to love is a message--supernal, if you wish--to follow it, to care for it, to share it.

This Joanne gave me.

Joanne Woodward as Amanda.

She teases me because I told her she was the greatest actress I had known since Miriam Hopkins. She thinks that I think of Miriam Hopkins as this insufferable bitch who fought and cajoled to be her best. That was not the truth about Miriam Hopkins, and that is not the woman to whom I was comparing Joanne: I remember and love the extraordinarily kind and smart and gentle Miriam Hopkins who rescued me many, many times, and who made many things clear.

Joanne shares her clarity of purpose.

And she shares it with me whenever I may need it.


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