Marsha Mason: A Conversation for Women's History Month
Last in a three-part series.
From 1973 to 1981, no actress was nominated for more Academy Awards than Marsha Mason, who earned Best Actress nods for Cinderella Liberty, The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two and Only When I Laugh. But Hollywood turned out to be just a temporary detour for Marsha Mason, stage actress. She started out in the theater—acting on and off Broadway in such plays as Happy Birthday, Wanda June, The Indian Wants the Bronx and Richard III in the early ’70s—and has been working primarily in theater since the mid ’90s, when she packed up and left southern California altogether. Mason is currently performing in New York in the Keen Company’s revival of I Never Sang for My Father, starring Keir Dullea and Matt Servitto.
In addition to acting, Mason has had a whole other profession since leaving L.A.: proprietor of an organic/biodynamic herb farm and of its retail line of bath and body products. Mason’s New Mexico farm, Resting in the River, grows medicinal herbs, which are used in lotions and sprays that heal, refresh and soothe. The products are sold in stores nationwide, including some Whole Foods.
Mason’s farm and home are in Abiquiu, a town on the Chama River in northern New Mexico, about 50 miles from Santa Fe. She was in New York last spring in the cast of Impressionism on Broadway, and had roles in the recent off-Broadway productions A Feminine Ending and Wintertime. She’s also worked repeatedly with L.A. Theatre Works, which stages well-known comedies and dramas as radio plays. Her latest project with them, California Suite (by Neil Simon, Mason’s ex-husband), was recorded during a five-performance run in February for broadcast on public radio and the LATW website.
Mason and Simon met when she was in the 1973 Broadway production of his The Good Doctor and married just months after his first wife, Joan, died (his daughters Ellen and Nancy were adolescents at the time). He wrote several movies that Mason made in the ’70s and ’80s, including three of her Oscar nominations. The biggest hit was The Goodbye Girl, which won an Academy Award for Mason’s costar Richard Dreyfuss and Golden Globes for both of them. She’s made only a handful of movies since the 1980s, but has had a number of guest roles on TV series, most notably her hilarious turn as John Mahoney’s brassy girlfriend Sherry on two seasons of Frasier. More recently, Mason played Kim Delaney’s mother on Army Wives and filmed a part on an upcoming episode of the ABC sitcom The Middle.
Mason, who turns 68 next week, has not remarried since divorcing Simon, her second husband, in 1984. We spoke one afternoon last week at the Clurman Theater on 42nd Street, the day after the first preview performance of I Never Sang for My Father (it opens April 4).
Did you get disillusioned with Hollywood?
I wouldn’t say disillusioned. It’s just that the business changed, and it wasn’t as interesting or challenging in terms of the kinds of roles that I was being offered. Also, at that time—it was around 1993—I’d been divorced from Neil and I didn’t really feel comfortable in Los Angeles, so I began to think maybe I could live somewhere else and continue to work when they called me.
Why weren’t you “comfortable” there?
I think it’s just my own personal journey, or odyssey, if you will. Also, the business had changed dramatically from the time when I was shooting a lot of movies in the ’70s and early ’80s. It had become much more youth-oriented, there were less roles. So I just decided that maybe the best thing for me would be to sort of throw up the pieces of my life like a kaleidoscope and see how the pattern would come down. Too, I think, because I had worked so much for an intense period of time, when the work stopped, I realized a lot of my own personal sense was wrapped up in my work, so without work I was feeling very insecure as far as a kind of understanding of my own identity. I thought it was important for me to see work as work and find out...you know...I mean, my identity has to be bigger than my work.