Photo by Jeremy Daniel
A storied acting life with much laughter
With an amazing steady career that spans several decades and is still going strong, actress Renee Taylor is bringing her held-over Off-Broadway show, “My Life on a Diet: Confessions of a Hollywood Diet Junkie,” to The Gateway this Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, March 16 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Her collaboration with husband Joseph Bologna, who died in 2017, includes this play, as well as a stellar list that began with “Lovers and Other Strangers” in 1968; it received an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay for the 1970 movie and was the beginning of a prolific collaboration: 22 plays, four film screenplays, nine TV movies and series. But her career included many other roles, including Sylvia Fine in the TV series, “The Nanny,” with Fran Drescher. Her recent films include the Netflix movie, “The Do-Over” with Adam Sandler in 2016 and the 2017 film, “How To Be a Latin Lover.”
Suffolk County News: Your one-woman Off-Broadway show was based on your 1986 memoir, “My Life on a Diet: Confessions of a Hollywood Diet Junkie.” When did you decide to write the show?
Renee Taylor: I was in Vermont with Joe [Bologna] and he said, ‘why don’t you make a one-woman show out of your book?’ I said, ‘oh no, who would be interested in my diets?’ and Joe said, ‘I think everyone has an interest in diets and weight.’ So we wrote it together and we had a lot of fun. When he passed away, I was able to do it Off-Broadway; out of 46 reviews, I got 46 raves. I had performed it in different forms before that and it just kept evolving. There’s video, some music and film clips that weren’t there before. It is about growing and aging and having fun. I break myself up standing in the wings that people will laugh during the show and it makes me feel good. What I’m telling people is don’t do what I did.
SCN: It sounds like you talk about the best things in your life — your husband, friends you know, food. Will you also discuss diet tips of the movie stars? I laughed out loud about the ones in the book: Rockefeller Spaghetti Diet, Royal Queen Mother’s Diet, Joan Crawford’s Kelp, Vinegar, B-6 Diet and Joan Collins’ Le Regime Parisien.
RT: I was in Nora Ephron’s play, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” (The play revolves around women’s relationships and their wardrobes at the time.) I remember my life on what I ate and what everyone else was eating at the time. I talk about some of the diets. Lanie Kazan and I did the Last Chance Diet together. It was 6 ounces of liquid protein every day. We would ask each other, ‘how much did you lose?’ We lost 30 pounds. Then I told her I had just read the New York Times and somebody died and went off it.
SCN: Among your showbiz friends, who are you still in touch with? You played Bon Soir with Barbra Streisand opening for you. Does that include Barbra?
RT: I still see Connie Stevens, Diane Ladd. Lanie [Kazan] has been my friend for over 50 years. And I always go to Barbra’s shows and go backstage to see her. She remembers the act I did at the Bon Soir and she always says, ‘oh, here’s Renee’ and she does some of my act for me.
SCN: You had a beautiful marriage, God bless. You co-wrote “Lovers and other Strangers” and “Made for Each Other,” among the four films, 22 plays and nine TV movies. How did your collaboration work? Did you bounce ideas off each other and write them down at 11 a.m. or at night and then follow each other around the house with ideas?
RT: It was actually something like that. Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘hey Joe, do you think this is funny?
SCN: Where are you taking your show next?
After Long Island, I’m going to Beverly Hills to the Wallis Theatre, then Chicago and New Brunswick for the opening of the new performing arts complex. And we’re going to Palm Beach, Florida, and Palm Desert in California. I have bookings for the next two years. I feel like I’m just starting out again. The show is an hour and a half and has little scenes from movies and TV shows like Perry Como and Dinah Shore and the movie I did with Jerry Lewis and how I met him on the Jack Parr Show. When I first met him, he said, ‘You’re very talented. Call me if you’re ever in California.’ I flew there the next day and called him. He told me he had nothing for me then in the movies. I told him to rip out five pages of the script he was working on and I would write something. That’s when I did, “The Errand Boy,” with him; he ripped out the five pages.
SCN: You were raised in the Bronx and Jamaica, Queens.
RT: I graduated from Jamaica High. Fran Drescher (of “The Nanny,” the TV series Taylor starred in for several years) is from Queens. My father was an extra in silent movies; my mom named me after Renee Adoree, who was in a movie called “The Big Parade.” She has a star on Hollywood Boulevard. A lot have stars and people say, ‘who’s this?’
SCN: But there are a lot of young people along with older ones who are fans of classic movies and silent films including Turner Classic Movies.
RT: Robert Osborne [the former Turner Classic Movies host] was a friend. He came to my 20th wedding anniversary with Barbara Rush and Joan Collins when we renewed our vows. Joe was in a movie with Joan.
SCN: I suspect you touch a lot of people with your personal accounts. What are some of the things theatregoers say after your performance?
RT: They say they never laughed so much or they say they were inspired or did I really know all those famous people when I did the show. With the show Joe and did based on our relationship, people said, ‘are you really married?’ I had a friend who was a psychiatrist who would get asked, ‘I know you know Renee and Joe — are they really happy or is that an act?’ I talk about our love story, how I met him and how we fell in love. The truth was he liked me the way I was. The only thing he asked was, ‘don’t get too heavy, I can’t dip you while we’re dancing.’”
SCN: I understand you lecture on comedy.
RT: I do a lecture at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, “Can Comedy Timing Be Taught?” I’m living in New York right now, but I spent 43 years in Beverly Hills and just came back from six weeks in Florida. I played at the Kravis Center in December. I’m looking forward to Long Island. A lot of my friends live in Great Neck or Oyster Bay. I’ll be happy to see them so they can tell me what diet they’re on.
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