Mariette Hartley's Playboy Interview

This is from the August 1982 interview with Mariette Hartley, in the playboy "20 Questions" section.

Mariette Hartley has appeared in at least ten motion pictures and more than 150 television shows, but she is best known, and most lusted after, as the sarcastic beauty who steals the last frames from James Garner in their popular commercials for Polaroid. Free-lance writer Dick Lochte met with her at her home just outside Hollywood. He reports: "She has an answer for any question. I had wondered if it had been Laurence Olivier who had finally legitimized commercials. Without missing a beat, she smiled sweetly and replied, 'Actually, it was Ricardo Montalban.' No wonder Garner doesn't stand a chance."

1. PLAYBOY: What was your first commercial?

HARTLEY: Safeguard soap. I was Martie in the drugstore. Procter & Gamble had a 15-page bio on this lady who has lost her husband and whose kid has been run over by a car. She walks out one day and almost gets killed herself. Anyway, she ends up at this drugstore, selling Safeguard. Honest to God, this is the truth. I had to read the whole bio. I told the producers, "Yes, I think I can handle it. 'Hi! Do you want Safeguard soap? 'Cause you sure stink."' That was in 1966, it seems to me.

2. PLAYBOY: How did you get into focus with James Garner on the Polaroid spots?

HARTLEY: That was the result of a very classy call. I arrived to find several beautiful ladies waiting. I get intimidated by youthful beauty. Not in an aging, menopausal-actress way but in a how-can-we-be-up-for-the-same-commercial? manner. You know, ladies with their hair down to their bottoms and those great blue eyes. I had a boyfriend who used to say that my eyes were like two piss holes in the snow, so I've always been conscious of my little slanted eyes. And I'm big and tall, and the minute I see these ladies, I get bigger and taller, with slantier eyes and shorter hair. I end up with a hunchback, and it's just awful. So I got in there, and all of this venom that I was feeling spewed out on the screen and I got the part. Actually, I'd been putting men down for years. And not getting paid as much for it.

3. PLAYBOY: Did you get a lot of money for snapping at Garner?

HARTLEY: I was paid scale for the first six or seven commercials. Then, when they continued to call me back, I began to realize it was sort of a campaign. Jimmy's contract was up by then, and one of the stipulations in his new con-tract, he says, was that I was to be paid more, because my being paid scale was embarrassing. In any case, I'm being paid more now. A lot more. Polaroid has been very generous with me and with my charities, such as the California Child Study Foundation. Because of the Polaroids, I can literally work 16 days a year and then do anything else I want to, such as appear in a play for little or no money.

4. PLAYBOY: Are you and Garner supposed to he married in the commercials? Or are we seeing a more modern arrange-met? Most male viewers probably hope that that's the case.

HARTLEY: Me, too. I would much prefer to play his mistress. But she's really too nasty to be his mistress. Mistresses have a tendency to try to keep the status quo. She takes real risks with some of the things she says. She seems quite real to me. They're kind of old shoes together.

5. PLAYBOY: The Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial has been turned into a TV movie. Is there any chance that the Polaroid pair might wind up in their own movie?

HARTLEY: Oh, I've tried. A friend of mine wrote a wonderful script for us. But Jimmy said no. He's a fascinating, very talented man, but he has specific ideas about what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. I think he's a little afraid that we'll become too much of a team. I don't think that will happen. I'd love to do a full-length feature with him. I think it would be successful. But he doesn't seem to agree.

6. PLAYBOY: You made your film debut in Ride the High Country. What was it like for a very young, stage-trained actress to suddenly find herself directed by a wild man like Sam Peckinpah?

HARTLEY: I didn't know who he was. I didn't even know who Joel McCrea was, or Randolph Scott. I met with Sam. He had his feet up on his desk and he had his hat on. And I fell in love and he fell in love. So I tested for him. They put me in a dress that was at least a size 12. Sam kept taking the wardrobe people aside and telling them something. All I know is that I kept getting more and more top-heavy and they stuck one of Deborah Kerr's old wigs on my head. I walked around-only by that time, I'd forgotten how to walk-pretending that I'd been built all my life. And, by God, I got the part. I have absolutely no idea why, except that I was so built.

7. PLAYBOY: Was film acting different from stage acting?

HARTLEY: Oh, yes. I remember asking Joel McCrea for advice. And he said, "There are two really important things. First, always read the scene before the one you're doing. And, second, make sure you suck in your stomach."

8. PLAYBOY: Alfred Hitchcock, who often said that actors should be treated like cattle, was another of your early directors. Did you like being herded by him in Marnie?

HARTLEY: At first, he was very sweet to me. We had a repartee that was nice and light. Then we did one scene and he didn't talk to me again for the rest of the film. I took it personally. Now I wonder if he weren't so concerned with the rest of the film that he just forgot I was there. He tended to like ladies who seemed graceful and feminine and not like a big puppy in a glass shop-which is what I was. I'm still that way, but somehow it's more becoming now. Any-way, I felt it turned him off. When I tried asking him about it, he said, "You have a lot of trouble with men, don't you, Miss Hartley?" I'm not sure what he was getting at. Men in this town some-times have odd concepts of women.

9. PLAYBOY: Can you give us another example of a man's having an odd concept of you?

HARTLY: I auditioned for the part in Peyton Place of Claire Morton, a doctor who was frigid. I -dressed for the part- - wore my Connecticut suit, had my little black-alligator shoes, my black bag and my little silk blouse. The producer and the directors were doing three shows a week, which was murder. I'd come on -the set every day -and they would say, "Don't forget. She's frigid." And I'd say, 'I know! You keep telling me that. Is there something I'm not doing? I'm crossing my legs a lot. I'm not smiling. What else should I be doing?" They just persisted in reminding me. Thirty-four episodes later, I flew off to the Andes with Leslie Nielsen and never went back to Peyton Place again. Not only that, I didn't work for the producer for a long time. And I couldn't figure out why. I asked somebody who knew him to find out, and the answer came back that he thought I was frigid. And, by God, he did hire me again-to play a frigid schoolteacher in Judd, for the Defense. I don't understand any of it.

10. PLAYBOY: In Addition to having been oddly typecast, 'you've also managed to land some peculiar roles. Care to de-scribe some of them for us?

HARTLEY : I played a girl with two navels in, the TV movie Genesis II. I thought it was going to make me the sex symbol -of Los Angeles. It didn't work out that way. I remember, though, I was going 'with a guy who really got turned on by those two navels. I was glad they could be applied very quickly.

I also was the bride of The Incredible Hulk-which sounds so awful and science-fiction. But the episode turned out to be very sensitively written and directed, I won an Emmy for it, but, as -one of the judges informed me, there was not a lot of competition that year.

11. PLAYBOY, You even managed to lure Mr. Spock into the sack on a Star Trek episode. How did you seduce him, by 'appealing to his - logic?

HARTLEY: No. I taught him how to eat meat. Before he met me, he had been a vegetarian. That's nicer way to say it.

12. PLAYBOY: You decided to give up acting for a while. What happened?

HARTLEY: I said, "The heck with this; what I really want to do with my life is sell budget dresses." Seriously, things 'weren't working well. I'd been acting every single, solitary day for 16 years, -and I was just wiped out. I had lost confidence. So I went to I. Magnin's and worked in budget dresses-which was next to better dresses-which was fun because all the ladies with their blue hair and their little white collars had been there for 86 years. I was selling like crazy. People felt sorry for me. "I remember you from that commercial," they'd say. "Isn't it too bad you're here now? I'll buy this and this and this." One day, I needed an alterationist and went through the circuitous route of fancy dressing rooms, where Miss Betty was. I passed Greer Garson, who was trying on a sequined red gown. I was calling for Miss Rosie, the alterationist. Miss Betty rushed through the curtains and said, "What're you doing here, kid? What is that, a $36 dress? Honey, this is -where the minks and the diamonds are. You want to wreck a sale?" I said, "Gee, no,, but is Rosie in there?" "Not only is she not in here, I wouldn't' t send her out to you if she were." She added, "I'll see you later," and I said, "Gosh, I don't think so-" And I quit. I went into the store the other day and Miss Betty was still wearing her white collar. It's such fun now to say, "I don't want that dress, Miss Betty. I don't like it at all."

13. PLAYBOY: Didn't you -And your husband meet over a commercial?

HARTLEY: I Was sent to New York to test with 250 ladies to play this extremely important part that would have made me the youngest Mrs. Olson in the business: Margaret, the town greeting lady. And the 250 ladies couldn't cut it. So they got me, because Patrick [Boyriven], -who was the producer of the econometrically, sold me as the epitome of sunshine. He's French and didn't know how to pronounce epitome. So I got the part and flew to New York shortly after kill-in my sister with a wrench on Barnaby Jones. I went immediately into selling Orange Plus. Since Patrick was the pro-duce, I asked him to produce tickets for a play I wanted to see. Then, because I didn't know anybody in New York who hadn't seen the play, I asked him to go with me. We were living together a week later.

14. PLAYBOY: Have you always asked men out?

HARTLEY: Yes, I did that at the Bounty Ball at Staples High in Westport and ended up going steady with the guy. Whenever I waited for them to ask me, I never knew how to react. If somebody asked me to go to the submarine races, for example, I was such a schmuck that I'd say yes and there we'd he and I'd ask, "Well, where are the submarines?" That's the story of my life. When I was six, I was absolutely in love with a boy named Keith, and I remember a picnic at the beach, with parents and teachers and all the kids. Keith came up. I looked in his eyes and he looked in my eyes, and he handed me this thing. I didn't even see what it was. He asked me to carry it the rest of the day. It was a dead fish, and I literally went through the entire day toting Keith's dead fish. It was always like that, until Patrick turned my luck. Finally, I asked the right guy out on a date.

15. PLAYBOY: What convinced you that be was the right guy?

HARTLEY: Well, he had a terrific-looking left thigh. I loved his lest thigh. And then I fell in love with his after-shave lotion. But I didn't fall in love with him right away. I told myself, He's so good-looking and he has such neat left thigh and he's so bright. But he has no sense of humor. How can I marry him and have all his kids? This was, oh, the second day we worked together. Men don't know the fantasies that surround them. So we took a fateful ride up to Syracuse to see my brother, and that was when I made pig noises in his ear. I'd done pig noises all my life. You just do that kind of thing in Connecticut. But they're so silly, you usually do them to kids or to other women. Well, we were parked there, and I don't know, I needed to let off steam or something. so I did pig noises. He turned around and I thought it was all over. Then he did his pig noise, which was like a male pig in heat, and I almost fell out of the car laughing. And at that moment, I knew I was in love.

16. PLAYBOY: Didn't you almost become a regular on the Today show?

HARTLEY: I went on the show for three weeks, while Jane Pauley was on her honeymoon. It was a comedy of errors, but I wasn't laughing. Initially, the net-work was not terribly straight with Jane. They were wooing me for a take-over. I told them I was not that interested, but the deal they offered was difficult to turn down. So I did the show and got hardly any support at all. The producer didn't know how to take me. Even the secretaries didn't know how to take me. They were all very protective of Jane-as well they should have been. I was an outsider. But there was more. First, I came from California, which meant I didn't read a lot. Second, it's tough enough to be a man from California. He just wears gold chains and never looks at news-papers. But a woman from California! Definitely not to be trusted. And I wasn't a news person. I was an actress person. Mornings, I felt as if I were in Dressed to Kill. I'd come in, get into the elevator. The reviews had started to appear. The secretaries would greet me with, "Have you read the paper? Oh, you should." By the time I got to the seventh floor, I was huddled against the back of the elevator, bloodstained, one arm out-stretched. Then I'd crawl forth and be-gin saying, "Good morning, Phoenix, Arizona." Willard Scott was wonderful. He'd plaster down his toupee, stick a flower in his hole, so to speak, and tell dirty jokes at 6:59 in the morning to get my heart started. But regardless of every-thing, by the end of the third week, I really began getting into it. Still, I decided against staying on because of the hours. There is no way for me to wake up at four in the morning and be vomited out of Rockefeller Plaza at nine A.M., when everybody else is coming to work, and be a wife and mother.

17. PLAYBOY: Is it true that you were madly in love with E. L. Doctorow?

HARTLEY: Oh, yes. I hope he reads this. We were with Sam Jaffe in a play called Noah at The White Barn Theater in Connecticut. I was a bear and Ed Doctorow, this very attractive 23- or 24-year-old guy, who was just out of college and very cocky and bright, played a lion. Well, the two of us crawled across the stage one night and he asked me if I'd like to go outside. We sat on a balcony and looked at the moon and he started coming on to me and asking me questions. Finally, he got to "How old are you?" I said, "Don't ask me that. That always spoils it." He said, "Come on. You can't be that old and you can't be that young. Tell me." Since I have always been honest when confronted, I said, "I'm 12." 1 thought he was going to pass out. His eyes just went ga-wong. He pulled himself together in his lion suit and said, "Thanks very much. Real nice meeting you." Then Joe College left. I pined for him all summer long. And when I saw his face on the back cover of Ragtime, the whole event flashed in front of me. I wanted to write him a letter saying, "Do you remember the girl who played the bear?"

18. PLAYBOY: We heard that Ed Asner was another of your early sex gods. Really?

HARTLEY: I would go panting into his dressing room every day of the Shake-spear Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. I was all of 16. He'd look at me and shake his head and say, "Mariette, you're too old to be riding bicycles. It's turning you on too much. You'll wind up in trouble. Better knock it off with the bicycle, huh?" And I'd say, "OK-pant, pant, pant-Ed-pant, pant, pant."

19. PLAYBOY: Wasn't Keir Dullea a major factor in keeping your marriage alive and well?

HARTLEY: It's a true story. I was doing a necking scene with Keir for the TV movie No Place to Hide. We necked the whole day. I was so turned on by the end of the afternoon that I rushed home to my poor husband. He was like one of those cartoon characters who get flattened by a door-didn't know what hit him. Then, the next week, the same thing happened. Keir and I necked all day, and by the time I was off the free-way, whammo! When filming ended, Patrick-thank God he's as secure as he is-turned to me and said, "You know, I'm really going to miss Keir."

20. PLAYBOY: Has your husband ever been upset by any of the things you've said on The Tonight Show?

HARTLEY: The only time he got annoyed was when I made the comment "I'm a mother, and that's only half a word." He said later, in that accent of his, "That was absolutely disgusting. That's really.... I mean, for 'eaven's sake. That's hawful! You make me hangry. It's so forced." Maybe he was right. But that's the chance you take on The Tonight Show.


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