BWW Interview: Renée Taylor's MY LIFE ON A DIET Is a Tasty Delight
Renée Taylor, comedy writer and actor, knows from diets.
A Hollywood maven and Emmy winner (playing Sylvia Fine on THE NANNY), Taylor culled diet tips from the likes of Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Marilyn Monroe. She's eaten her way through scores of weight-loss regimens: Atkins, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, South Beach and a Taylor-made original that called for eating just one category of food a day.
Taylor's strategic approach to all things edible inspired her 1986 tome, My Life on a Diet, which was co-written by her late husband Joe Bologna (who died last year) and soon turned into a theatrical production that he directed. Performances of a new Off Broadway production begin July 12 at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
In it, Taylor hilariously details her travails growing up with a wacky mother and a love/hate affair with calories.
"We were living in Vermont at the time," Taylor said, "and Joe and I were laughing because he thought it was so funny I saw everything in terms of what I was eating at the time.
"He said 'Why not do a show about it? Everybody's a dieter.' So I said, Okay,'" Taylor said with her trademark New York accent. "So I started working on it and had a good time doing it. The people who came to see it loved it because they could all relate to what I was going through."
Taylor remembers being teased as a child for being plump. "People weren't saying to me, 'Fat, fat the water rat, but there were plenty of bullies. Women still lose parts if they're not an 'ideal' weight," said Taylor.
"It's not politically correct to point these things out anymore. The size of your bosom and hips should not be important."
The Lee Strasberg-taught actor credits him for inspiring her to greatness. "I was in his class three times a week for eight years. I went to school with Marilyn Monroe," she recalled. Taylor didn't feel she was ready for important stage roles, but Strasberg wouldn't have it.
"He said, 'You're ready' and recommended me for Chekhov's THREE SISTERS Off Broadway. I can still hear his voice," she said.
The diet maven both delights and shudders when she finds photos of herself when she was svelte and uh, not-so-svelte.
"I keep finding different photos and diets. Lainie Kazan and I were on The Last Chance diet, where you just have four ounces of protein a day, and we were both losing the weight. But it was getting dangerous," she said.
"The Vogue Champagne Diet included two glasses of good champagne, so I went around carrying Cristal in a paper bag," she said with an infectious laugh. "My life has always been about what I ate. What can I tell you?"
Taylor still runs into people who dipped into her recommended diets. "I met someone who said, 'We were on the South Hampton or Beverly Hills diet together,'" she said. "It never ends."
Taylor hopes women now value character traits more than what a scale reads.
"I think not feeling good makes people think that if they lose weight they'll feel better. But it's a control issue," she explained. "I remember getting up in the middle of the night to weigh myself."
In the play Taylor shares childhood memories, her life with her husband of 53 years (until his death in August 2017), and what she's eating today to stay in shape.
"Remember the pineapple and watermelon diets? Tried them. There's a lot of water in those fruits," she added. "I once asked Marilyn Monroe what diet gave her skin that unbelievable dewy glow and she said she took hot baths in Vaseline but then kept slipping in the tub," she said laughing.
Grace Kelly was fond of yogurt, but Taylor shies from dairy. "I ask whoever I meet what their diet is and found out Jane Fonda takes little tiny portions of everything. I also did the chew and spit diet. Classy," she said.
Taylor's childhood gave her plenty of fodder. "I was a natural comedian even when I was young. I remember when I was little my mother was quite wacky and I thought 'I'm going to write about my mother one day.'"
Taylor's mother was not so big on eating healthy.
"My mother would overcook everything and put canned string beans in a pot and burn it all."
Taylor credits her spouse with keeping her spirit positive. "I feel very lucky because I was lucky in love and in life and career. I am very fortunate to have had Joe and couldn't have done the show without him," she said. "I feel his presence."
"I was madly in love with him, he was madly in love with me," she said. "Even when we were in a fight we would tell a joke. I'd say, 'I never want to see you again.' And he'd say, okay, where do you want to have dinner?'"
Taylor remembers something Bea Arthur once said to her. "You should see the way he looks and listens to you. That's adoration," Arthur told her. "He meant everything to me," Taylor said.
The show is a welcome tonic for the funny lady.
"It's very healing for me to talk about my life and what we ate together," she said. "That's why I fell in love with him. He'd say things like, 'this clam sauce-I could have sex with it,'" Taylor said laughing. "He was a sensualist; he appreciated a good cigar and good glass of wine."
Taylor hopes audiences will weigh themselves less and nurture themselves more.
"Nobody should tell you what your weight should be," Taylor said. "You have to be in control of your own body."
What would be her last meal?
"I'd have a Margherita pizza with all the cheese and truffles," she said. "I'm also a big fan of French fries and spaghetti. I'm addicted to pumpernickel bagels and once in a while I'd like to have a steak.
"This morning I had tofu cheese with smoked salmon," she added. Taylor credits a healthy diet and not eating after four with keeping her in shape. She swims three times a week, which has increased her stamina and energy enough to tackle her high-voltage show.
"Audiences all over are my favorite part. People tell me what diet they're on and I feel very honored," said Taylor. "It's like you're family."
My Life on a Diet will be performed at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Previews begin July 12. It opens July 25 and runs through August 19. Julian Schlossberg and Morris S. Levy are producers.