Monday, January 13, 2014

Clippings: Grayson Hall goes OUT OF THE SHADOWS, 1971

A visit with the complicated Miss Grayson Hall
By Edith Efron,
TV Guide, Jan. 23, 1971

The freckle-faced, sharp-featured woman is lampooning Katharine Hepburn recklessly -- stretching her neck like a young giraffe and flinging her arms into the air in satiric anguish. The sedate waiters in a chic new York restaurant stare in astonishment. "Hepburn is an amateur!" she exclaims, amid a running fire of witticisms. "She's always been an amateur."

It is not every soap-opera actress who has the audacity to abuse Katharine Hepburn so roundly, but Grayson Hall, of ABC's Dark Shadows, expects to get away with it. She may be spending her own days as the mysterious Dr. Hoffman -- the one who suffers from unrequited love for a vampire -- but she has one of the classiest acting pasts to be found in the soaps.

Nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie version of "The Night of the Iguana," the Philadelphia-born, Cornell-educated actress has had a distinguished stage career as well. She starred in Tyrone Guthrie's "Six Characters in Search of an Author"; in Jess Gregg's "Shout from the Rooftops"; and Jose Quintero's production of Genet's "The Balcony." She's also done TV -- Chrysler Theatre, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as well as Dark Shadows, on which she's been a staple for three years.

One of the directors of Dark Shadows, Henry Kaplan, says this about her acting: "Her talent is astounding. One of her most striking features as an actress is stillness. There's a kind of inner stillness when she's on. All the external stuff goes. She projects through this screen of inner stillness."

The externally wisecracking Grayson, with the "still" inner self, is both awe-inspiring and startling to the younger performers in Dark Shadows. Says Michael Stroka, the friendly neighborhood psychopathic killer in the series: "She's one of the biggest cutups on the set. She's forever clowning, making jokes, wandering around. If you were watching her, you'd never think she was taking anything seriously. And yet, by dress rehearsal somehow it's all there! I don't know how she does it."

All of which is very well ... but what is an Academy Award nominee and an "astounding talent" doing, laying Katharine Hepburn low at lunch, clowning around a soap-opera set, and killing off two years of her creative life by feigning passion for a vampire?

Grayson Hall explains: "I'm no longer ambitious. When you're young, 24, 25, you're committed to a kind of drive. When you get to the point where I am, and have a family ... well, I just love the work. That's all I care about.
Grayson Hall is unamused by Bill Murray Richard Burton in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA.
"I have the best of all possible worlds. I'm a wife, a mother, a housewife. And I work when I want to. So I'm fulfilled on all levels."

On level one, Grayson, wife, lives with writer Sam Hall in "a big, old funny apartment" in Manhattan, crammed to the gills with heavy conversation-piece antiques. Biedermeier chairs, a porcelain bidet, gigantic 15th-century Corsican cupids, and grotesque Ming dogs ornament the dark red living room.

Somewhere in the deeps of the apartment, there are roars of laughter. Grayson leads us to the roars -- to the kitchen, where a stout, bald, jovial man sits at a table covered with sheets of paper and scribbles. Husband Sam Hall is a writer of Dark Shadows -- which is written, daily, on Grayson's kitchen table -- and he's in conference with two other writers. Sam, too, has had an unusually distinguished career. He's written for the Theatre Guild, U.S. Steel Hour, Playhouse 90. Why is he churning out stuff about vampires? "If you want to stay in New York today," he says, "all there is is the soaps. Or move to California."

We visit the next level and give Grayson, mother, a whirl. We can't see her in action, because her child, Matthew, is not at home. But Grayson is full of funny talk about her precocious "12-year-old here." Matt, it seems, reprimands Grayson for her excessive comic exaggeration. He recently threatened to "curb her extravagance of language." "You come home from Bloomingdale's and say 'There were 8,000,000 people there.' You know there weren't 8,000,000 people there! You come home from the studio and say 'This was the worst day of my life You know it wasn't the worst day of your life!"

We move on the the last "level," that of Grayson, housewife. She's Domesticity Incarnate, it appears: "I'm a committed cook. Basically I'm a French cook. But I've also taken a course in Chinese cooking and in Mexican cooking. Most recently I've taken Yucatan cooking." Grayson labors three days to turn out an exotic meal for a few friends. Then they talk about it for weeks.

All "levels" have now been displayed and, after a parting flurry of jokes, the brief visit comes to an end.

Can this be the "best of all possible worlds"? Is this domesticated, wisecracking Academy Award nominee and lampooner of Katharine Hepburn "fulfilled," as she says? Unsurprisingly, many think not.

One Dark Shadows colleague says: "She's as neurotic as hell. Some kind of anxiety eats at her. She's a compulsive gossip. There's that compulsive need to be 'on' -- that constant barrage of jokes, and quips, and exaggeration. She's got the talent. She could have a far greater career. I think she knows she hasn't done with herself what she could have. I think frustration eats at her."

On the other hand, some believe it is not quite so "black and white" as all that. Director Henry Kaplan says:

"Actors are very strange people, and Grayson is a strange woman. I certainly think she'd like to be more successful. Even though part of her is fulfilled, she's still reaching out for that part that isn't. But Grayson's family is important and fulfilling to her. It's not a cop-out."

(NOTE: Thanks to Bill Branch for the scans!)


Stacey E. Lemmon said...

For years as a child we had the pages of this article...
Thanks for this long forgotten memory....

Unknown said...

Beautiful lady, inside and out!

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