Riding the Second Wave of Success: Tyne Daly
McCall's, April 1990.
She's proved her power to make us love two imperfect characters. What about the real woman inside the roles?
If you passed her on the street, you'd never know she was a television star, let alone "the toast of Broadway," as she puts it with a wicked grin-an accolade that conjures up visions of sequins and furs, the bearing of a grande dame and makeup you can see from 500 feet.
Not Tyne Daly. Wearing baggy pants, a jacket she ordered from a catalog, and a beat-up backpack, she could pass for a schoolgirl (a lucky one with the kind of glowing, peaches-and-cream complexion that doesn't even need cosmetic improvement). She's got pink socks on her feet and a pink ribbon in her hair, and like a kid, she can't quite keep still. Daly bursts into a room like an explosion, and she seems to remain in perpetual motion; even when she's sitting down, she perches at the edge of the sofa, poised to jump up at any moment to stride around, demonstrate a point or let off excess energy. Acting out an anecdote, she suddenly rips off her hand-knit sweater, leaving only a wisp of ruffled camisole underneath; disrobing in front of a stranger, she is startlingly unselfconscious, as well as slimmer than she appears.
Indeed, Daly isn't really what you'd expect at all. Until recently she was best known for Cagney & Lacey, the highly acclaimed television series in which she starred as Mary Beth Lacey. A working class detective who talked like a truck driver and looked like a fireplug, Lacey juggled a household, children and crises ranging from criminals to cancer in weekly episodes that won Tyne Daly four Emmy Awards in six years.
After Cagney & Lacey ended, the actress took a year off to spend time with her youngest child and then amazed everyone by signing up to star in a production of Gypsy, the classic 1959 musical that opened with Ethel Merman and then, in a 1974 revival, featured Angela Lansbury.
The role requires both an emotional range and a Broadway belter's voice that few would have guessed Tyne Daly could command, but after a six-month, 14-city national tour, she took New York by storm, earning rave reviews and standing ovations for her stunning portrayal of Rose, the ultimate stage mother. Ferociously ambitious, Rose pushes her daughters relentlessly to become stars, only to see her favorite child reject her and elope while the ugly duckling turns into the celebrated stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Mama Rose is a powerhouse, a woman you'd just as soon argue with as face down an oncoming tank. In Daly's hands, Rose is a monster who ends up breaking your heart; like so many other mothers, she tries to live through her children, and her rage and anguish when they grow up and leave her behind are harrowing to behold.
"That's why the play still works," Daly says. "It worked in 1959, and it worked in 1974, and it works in 1990. It works because it's about big stuff-mothers and daughters and men and women and ambition and love and sex and death-huge subjects. As my dresser said, 'Everybody's got a mother' "
Mothers and daughters are much on Daly's mind these days; glory in the theater hasn't come without a price. While she turns in eight performances a week on Broadway, her four year-old daughter is home with her daddy in California. The separation is a source of endless angst. "The guilt rock is the size of Gibraltar," Daly says. "I didn't even get home for her birthday. Papa is real good, but Papa's not Mama. I haven't figured it out. His work is there, and he hates New York. Trying to make it fair, to make it work-" She throws up her hands and sighs. "We're married, and yet we're separated. The emotional and physical burdens are really real."
In Manhattan, Daly says, "I have an apartment that has a bed and a TV in it, and a table." Not that such a spartan existence doesn't have a certain appeal; for a woman who has been married her entire adult life and has already raised two older daughters, camping out alone for a while has been an interesting experience. "I went right from my father's house to my husband's house when I was 19 years old, and I've never lived alone before," Daly explains.
"I hate sleeping alone," she says, "but there's a certain amount of relief, after 25 years of being married, in not wondering what anybody else wants to eat or when you have to be there to get them or are they late and do you have to worry and did they get murdered on the bus and did anybody return the library books and do they have anything to wear? The habit of my life is being surrounded by concern for other people, and now I get up and I think, 'What do I want for breakfast's tuna fish sandwich?'-and it's all up to me. There's a delicious kind of freedom about it. Aside from your work obligations, your free time is free. There's a part of that that's really fine for a while and there's part that's loaded with loneliness and guilt for not being able to do all the things you're used to doing for somebody. I suppose it's like an empty-nest syndrome-and yet I have a small child and a husband." She sighs again. "But the telephone won't do it, and mail won't do it. It can't be replaced by anything, even being the toast of Broadway, which is what you wanted and worked for, even though people rush up, weep on your neck and say you are the hottest thing since sliced bread ' " She makes a wry face, as if bemused by the whole idea.
In fact, however, Daly's entire life history seems to point to this moment. "I went into the family business:' she says with a shrug.
"To me, it was the norm and not the exception." Both of her parents were actors, and some of her earliest memories revolve around the theaters where her mother and father worked. "I was fascinated by their beauty and their glamour, by going to work with them and being handed over to an usher and seeing them come onstage-a version of them in different clothes and different hair-and after the theater my mom and dad would pick me up and we would come home," recalls Daly, the second of four children. "We were fascinated by that. How did they do that? They were real people-and then they got up and pretended to be kings and servants. I thought that was the neatest trick, and I wanted in on it. I trained to be in the musical theater, because to me that was the most fun. I wanted in on their club."
Her father, the late James Daly, was best known for such credits as Medical Center and Period of Adjustment. Her mother is Hope Newell, and the youngest of the four Daly children is Timothy, who has also made a name for himself in the theater. The family moved around a lot until Tyne was nine, when they settled in Suffern, New York. There Tyne began to act in community theaters and other local productions.
After a stint at Brandeis, she went on to study at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy where she met a young black actor named Georg Stanford Brown, who was working his way through school as the academy's janitor. She found him irresistible. "When I first met Georg, he looked sort of like a Mississippi riverboat gambler; he'd wear ruffled shirts, string ties and carry this cane," she recalls fondly. "People used to say, 'Why do you carry the cane?' He'd say, 'Affectation."'
They were married in 1966 and had their first two daughters early on; these days Alisabeth, 22, and Kathryne, 19, are in college in New England. Daly takes a humorous attitude toward long-term connubial bliss: "Marriage is an unnatural thing-two people who are totally mad for each other on one level and who on another level complain about each other's driving skills," she says, shaking her head.
Motherhood enthralled her, and several years ago she decided she wanted another child. The idea was inspired when little brother Timothy had a child. "I saw this baby and it was the baby of my baby, and I got this grandmotherly thrill, and I said, 'Holy moly! I'm only 35! I'm not ready for this grandmother thing!'l said, 'Empty nest-hell, watch this!"' she exclaims, jumping up and defiantly planting her hands on her hips. "It took me a couple of years to talk Brown into it-he made all these noises about being old-but I wanted her like crazy. Wanting another baby was wanting something real in a situation that had gotten unreal-the work, the status, the three Emmys in a row' " (Those three Emmys were eventually followed by a fourth.)
Watching Alyxandra grow up has been a wrench. "When I took her to day school for the first time, I thought, 'There goes my last baby,' and it was visceral, physical pain," Daly says. "Everything hurt. You know what it was like? It was like this line from Sylvia Plath :'It is as if my heart put on a face and walked into the world."' Daly leaps up again and begins to pace, averting her face. "I can't even say it without crying," she says, brushing fiercely at her eyes.
In addition to their daughters, Daly and her husband have launched another joint project, an independent production company whose luck has not been terrific thus far. Last fall Nexus Productions proudly unveiled a television movie called Stuck With Each Other, whose air date turned out to be the night of the San Francisco earthquake. However, Brown is successful in his own right, not only as an actor but as a producer and director; he even won an Emmy Award in 1986 for his direction of a Cagney & Lacey episode.
At the moment Daly is too busy with Gypsy to worry much about other work. Her triumph on Broadway may have caused a painful separation from her husband and child, but it certainly makes her the antithesis of the voracious Rose; with no achievements of her own to feel good about, Rose had to live vicariously through her children, whereas Daly has made a determined effort to lead her own life despite the concomitant sacrifices. "Some people have a sense of ownership about their children, as if the way this child goes through life is going to be a reflection on me," Daly says. "I do not believe I own my children, or that they owe me anything but a certain amount of respect and good behavior. I wanted my babies to be nice children who knew how to say hello and not pick their noses, because I think unruly children are unhappy children. As my brother-in law says, 'You've got to give them rules so they've got something to break. 'How have my choices affected my kids? There's always somebody telling you you're doing it wrong, you raised them wrong, you warped them for life. I think there's a great mystery in being lent this totally individual soul to protect. Each individual is so amazingly different, and they're only in your care for a while."
Daly is aggressively proud of the work she has done, not only in the theater but in television as well. In the final days of 1989, she was aggrieved to pick up a magazine's list of the most important things that happened during the 1980s and discover that Cagney & Lacey hadn't been picked. Daly still believes the show accomplished something important.
"We told stories about women, mostly from their point of view," she says. "They weren't on the periphery. It was about them and the things that happened to them. It wasn't just comedy, it wasn't just laughs-it wasn't The Mary Tyler Moore Show or I Love Lucy or Golden Girls. It was serious, expensive one-hour stories about women, not for women only but for everyone. Our stories were about these two broads who were living these lives, who had these feelings, who lost these loved ones, who had these diseases.
"There had never been a buddy movie with two women in the history of the movies," she adds indignantly.
Whether the future holds more television or another foray into theater, Daly doesn't yet know; she's under contract to Gypsy until early spring, but after that nothing is settled. "I've given up trying to decide what's going to happen next:' she says. "I have something to offer, and I offer it, and somebody or other will hire me to do something.'
At the moment she has every reason for such confidence, but there are other things on her mind. She shoulders her backpack, pulls up her socks and heads home to the little apartment she now occupies alone. She is going to spend the afternoon making cookies for the children in the cast of Gypsy, in the hopes that they her read them stories that night.
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