A Great Actress Stands Up For Daytime!
TV By Day Magazine, June 1976
by Mary Jane Cahill
Article Provided By Wanda
"I'm on a platform against the word 'soap,'" Gale Sondergaard said firmly. "it's a cliche that doesn't mean anything but says an awful lot. I think it's a denigrating word." Her statement was strong and her words well-chosen, as befits one of America's premiere character actresses and winner of the first Academy Award in the Supporting Actress category. "Daytime serial, daytime drama would be better. I have great respect for the medium of daytime. People tend to put down these dramas without realizing it. And they shouldn't, because there's a lot of hard work that goes into them."
If Miss Sondergaard was up on her - pardon the expression - 'soap' box, she certainly didn't care who knew it. An actress of amazing reputation and acclaim, she had just been signed to portray Marguerite Beaulac in eight episodes of Ryan's Hope, and was on a one-woman campaign to get daytime television a little respect. What she may not realize is that her presence alone on afternoon TV was enough to guarantee prestige, for her 40 years-plus career on the stage, in film and on television has made her one of the most respected women in the business.
Miss Sondergaard was passing through New York, visiting with friends and playgoing, when Ryan's Hope insisted that she guest star. It would be for only eight performances, but the role was a pivotal one.
"The producer of the show talked me into doing one episode, then two, and then it was up to eight. I'm a push-over for a character that I like or enjoy doing. I played the mother of Dr. Beaulac, who came from Canada to visit her troubled son. His wife is fatally ill, and the only thing that is keeping her alive is a respirator. He's faced with the decision to keep her alive or not. It's a story right out of today's headlines." The first episode debuted February 17.
Miss Sondergaard is no newcomer to serial acting; she previously starred in the short-lived The Best of Everything in 1970 for ABC.
"It was a good show, and pulled in some good ratings. But unfortunately it didn't have enough commercials to sustain it. It lasted about six months. I had never watched daytime until I started on that show, but I didn't hesitate to go on. I was acting, and I was happy to act. It was such a challenge. I respect acting, in whatever medium I work. Serials are just as important as anything else."
Miss Sondergaard's own life is as fascinating as that of any of the women she has portrayed. Born in Litchfield, Minniesota, in what she typifies as "a very progressive family," she decided early on that acting was it for her. Her very first film role, as the scheming and ambitious Faith Peleoagus in Anthony Adverse, won her an Oscar. It also typecast her as the greatest essayist of "sinister women" on the screen. The Spider Woman, The Cat and the Canary, and especially her chilling portrayal as the woman Bette Davis done wrong in The Letter enhanced that belief.
"That's all people want to remember," the diminutive actress complains. "But I've played a variety of roles, more, in fact, than anyone else I know. People forget that I was nominated for another Oscar for my role as the King's first wife in Anna and the King of Siam, which starred Rex Harrison. That certainly wasn't a sinister part. Lady Thiang was a very dignified and noble woman. Oh, there were so many roles."
More than 30, in fact, in films alone. But Miss Sonergaard's career was cut short in the early 1950's when she became involved in House Un-American Activities committee hearings. Blacklisted for much of that decade, we were robbed of her enormous talents, as well as those of other great actors, writers and directors, when the powers-that-be haphazardly name-called and ruined lives. But Gale Sondergaard survived, and when the Blacklist finally rolled over and died, she resumed her professional life.
Her most recent project was The Return of a Man Called Horse, the sequel to A Man Called Horse, again starring Richard Harris. The film was shot in Mexico and Miss Sondergaard had just returned from location when we met her.
"They call the film Horse 2, but it's a very different picture from the original. My characer is new. I play an Indian woman in the 1830's who is very primitive and noble. It's much harder to play a simple, straight person like this, than a sophisticated type. You can cover up a lot with make-up and costumes."
In March she appeared in a public television drama entitled, Pleasantville, which added to her films, her work on the stage in Major Barbara, Faust, Red Dust and American Dream, and her appearances on nighttime in, Get Smart, Medical Center, It Takes A Thief and Night Gallery, makes for one of the most legendary careers in show business.
"In addition to this, the inexhaustible actress is working on a book. She has already finished 396 hand-written pages, but is reluctant to discuss it until it's all done and she's sure it's good. Somewhere in the midst of all this work she finds time to swim and go through her daily yoga exercises at her California beach house. "The important thing is to enjoy life," she said with a smile. "I'm happy that I've had a long life. I've enjoyed myself and I hope I will continue. The best tonic for me is to keep working as an actress. That's what keeps the juices flowing."
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