"I'm a Big Believer in Family Life"
Daytime TV Magazine, July 1978
by Paul Denis
Article Provided By Wanda
Mary Carney, one of nine children born to a doctor and a nurse, remembers small-town life in Ilion, New York (population 12,000). She recalls lovingly what it means to have five sisters and three brothers and grow up in a a tree-lined town where everybody knows almost everybody else.
“I’m grateful that I come from a large family....and lived a normal, conventional life,” says the reddish brown-haired actress who recently became Mary Fenelli on Ryan's Hope.
“Big families mean lots of fights...you’re never lonely...you always have somebody to talk to and to fight with. You don’t get away with anything....you can’t get away with anything...you can’t be self-centered....and your brothers and sisters make you aware of your faults....You discover that you can’t be passive in a crowd, if you want to survive. If you’re not fast, you lose out, like at the dining table. Family life keeps you alert and it surrounds you with love. ....”
She recalls sadly that her dad, Dr. Theodore Carney, died in 1967 when the youngest child, Teddy, was 3 and the oldest was in college. Mary’s mother had been a nurse who met her dad when they were both working in a Syracuse, N.Y. hospital. After the marriage, they returned to the doctor’s home town, Ilion, and Mary Margaret Carney devoted herself to raising the 9 children.
When Mrs. Carney became a widow, she decided she ought to go back to college. She did and earned her B.S. in Oneanta, N.Y. Now she’s in charge of nursing education at Mohawk Valley General Hospital. And during their lunch break, she watches Ryan's Hope, of course. She’s proud of her daughter’s success.
“Mother wanted me to teach Speech and Dramatic Arts,” Mary says. “But when she realized I wanted to be a professional actress, she was very supportive. She did not oppose my ambition; she had seen me in school plays and had met some of my teachers. And she was excited over my going on the road.”
Mary went to London to continue studying acting after getting her B.A. in Theatre Arts at the State University of New York at Albany. She managed by using student loans, working during summers, and winning scholarships. She stayed on at Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1974.
While auditioning for a play in Washington, she met an actor and their romance is leading to marriage in June. Then, back in New York, she did a flurry of auditions, including one for Ryan's Hope and one for the Roundabout Theatre Production of Othello. On December 12, she was told she had been chosen to play Desdemona to Earl Hyman’s Othello. And two days later, her agent told her she had won Kate Mulgrew’s role on Ryan's Hope.
She admits she had never watched Ryan's Hope nor met Kate Mulgrew. “But on the day I auditioned for Kate’s role, I met her in the studio building. Oddly enough, I was all set for Othello and Kate had also signed to play Desdemona in Othello in Stamford, Conn.”
She admits she was nervous when she joined Ryan's Hope on January 6. “After all, I had never done TV except for commercials. But I soon relaxed. They’re so wonderful at the studio, and the people I work with are so supportive.”
When she marries, she and her husband will stay in New York. “And someday, hopefully, we’ll have a place in the country....and children, too. I don’t want to sacrifice everything for a career. I’m a big believer in the strength that comes with family life. If I wasn’t an actress, I’d have many children...not nine...but many!”
If she had her life to live over again, would she do the same things? “Yes, except I would have stayed with my piano lessons. I’m going to buy a piano and start playing it again. My fiance wants to learn the piano, too. We have so many interests together, like Shakespeare and the classics.”
Soon, she hopes to bring her fiance (she won’t reveal his name) to Ilion, to meet her mother and the five kids who are still living at home. And at the wedding, they’ll also have his folks from Chicago.
When she mentions her widowed mom, her eyes glow “My mother...she kept a cool head when dad died...she’s terrific...a very strong person!”
Then she smiles when she recalls her grandmother. “She used to sit in a chair, with her arms locked across the chest. Mother does it, and so do I.” She crosses her arms across her chest to illustrate the Carney family trait.
It’s all in the family.
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