The Feminist is a Lady!
Afternoon TV Magazine, October 1978
by Merrill Cherlin
Article Provided By Wanda
When we visited Louise Shaffer at her gorgeous Manhattan apartment at 7:00 P.M. one evening recently, she informed us it was nearly her bedtime! This lady is a real day person and in order to get up at 5:00 A.M., which she likes to do, she must get to bed at about 9:00 the night before.
In keeping with this Spartan lifestyle, Louise is a super hard worker. In addition to being one of daytime’s busiest actresses, she writes television screenplays! When we talked with her, she was working on one about the problems of contemporary marriages and we had quite a spirited discussion on the subject. Of course, Louise is somewhat of an authority on this herself.
She was married to a fellow actor several years ago, and is now divorced. She says it was one of the friendlier divorces she’s heard of, but it still shows how difficult it is for two actors to hold a marriage together.
Louise was born in a small town near New Haven, Connecticut, 30-odd years ago, to a family with two other girls and one boy. After high school, she attended Connecticut College for Women, then Yale Drama School. But all of the Shaffer kids were career-oriented. One of Louise’s sisters is a psychiatric social worker; the other runs an exchange program among networks of schools in Massachusetts; and her brother is now in Chicago getting his PhD. degree.
“As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to act,” she says. I never wanted to do anything else. My parents always felt obligated to pay lip service to the saying, “Acting is a difficult life,’ but they were proud of me for doing it.
"Last year, I was on the Norman Lear show, All That Glitters. That was as close to expecting to be in a hit as anything I can think of, but, of course, it wasn’t. Before that, there was a play in the Chelsea Theater, a year of touring with Two Gentlemen of Verona, and a year on Broadway in The Women. Before that, I was on Where the Heart Is, which, incidentially, was written by the writers of Ryan’s Hope - that’s how they know me. I took a year off to do opera and actually appeared in La Boheme. I loved it, but I decided I was really an actress. I do love it, though, and am still quite serious about it.”
“I love to sing. I always seem to get involved with something I don’t know how to do. Right now, it’s writing. I’ve never done it and I like to learn to do things. It’s very time-consuming though, and I work an awful lot.”
How did she get into writing? “Good actors tend to fill in the gaps in their characters, and I always wanted to write, so in seven weeks I wrote my first screenplay. The people I sent it to liked it and wanted to see further work on contemporary women.”
Louise doesn’t know if any of her screenplays will actually wind up on TV, but the subject of contemporary women is one she’s very interested in. A staunch feminist, she’s still trying to work out the mixed feelings she has about being aggressive and feminine at the same time.
“Women in their mid-20’s now,” she says, “expect to have careers, but there’s a huge generation gap between them and women now in their mid-30’s. I feel ashamed about being ambitious, yet at the same time I’m ashamed because I’m not ambitious enough. You apologize for being militant, unladylike.”
“The woman’s movement has the unfortunate image of being anti-homemaker - that’s a pity. There’s a whole new set of options now in terms of how people set up their lives.”
But she can’t help wondering, “How will families work out with all these new choices? Now, one person in a relationship has the job of making it work. She’s supportive, aware, sensitive. What happens when two people need support and concern at the end of a long, hard day? What does happen in two-career families? Who makes sacrifices? I guess if you decide it’s going to work, it will.”
She feels the career she has picked is probably one of the most arduous. “I wonder how many ladies who stay home and clean house would want to get up at dawn, memorize lines and schlep into a studio? Or spend months being unemployed? The pressure! The strain! You gotta be a little nuts to do what I do. I love it, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a relaxing profession.” But despite the hassles and the heavy workload on Ryan’s Hope, Louise says she’ll soon begin auditioning for theater work as well.
Is Louise Shaffer like Rae Woodard? The answer is, maybe - just a little. They’re both strong, excting women. But Louise in real life is younger looking, less pushy, and generally nicer. In discussing her role, she says, “I’ll stay on Ryan’s Hope for
as long as they want me. It’s the one soap I’d want to be on. I’ve had some speeches that are of theatre caliber, better than nighttime TV or even movies. The cast is smashing!
Rae Woodard is a wonderful role and I’m having a lot of fun with her. The problem is I enjoy being her, walking onto that million dollar set wearing gorgeous clothes. I guess she’s a 'bad guy,' but she’s very competent and feels she can organize everyone else’s life better than they can.
“She has problems but I don’t see them. I see her as a golden girl. I have to remind myself she’s manipulative and selfish. She doesn’t have the ambivalences I do in real life.
“I can walk onto that set and feel that I, as Rae, would be a far better partner for a young, ambitious politician than anyone else around. Rae’s perfect for him! The bad part about her is she doesn’t stop to think about other people. But then, there isn’t a very clear committment betwen Jill and Frank.
“I myself wouldn’t do what she does, but I can relate to her.
“I like doing soaps. If you only do films, they’re shot in two and three line takes, out of order, and you can never sustain a character. It’s bad for your head. Soaps keep your concentration tuned.”
“And where else can women get good roles these days, anyway? There’s Julia and the Turning Point - wow! four entire roles - and only 45 million actresses!"
“Soap opera is a women’s medium. On nighttime TV you get to play a rape victim, the mother of a disturbed child, or possibly the girlfriend of Starsky or Hutch!”
Besides soaps, though, Louise does have some other goals, although she says she’s had so many ambitions she’s learned to rest a bit and not have so many.
“The best things that have happened to me, I’ve never conceived of. And those I’ve really worked at getting, I’ve later thought, ‘why did I do this?’ Being a major star is not something I’d be terribly comfortable with. Doing public relations tours, I found out I’m shy, or at least reserved.”
“I have my dreams, though”, she laughs. “To be an opera singer who writes Emmy Award-winning teleplays and stars in Hedda Gabler on Broadway! But, realistically, I’d like to keep writing, do a musical, and use my singing voice.”
We have a feeling Louise will be able to do it all.
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