TUESDAY WELD: 'I DIDN'T
HAVE TO PLAY LOLITA--I WAS LOLITA'
I interviewed Tuesday Weld
for The New York Times in 1971 and found her ravishing, articulate,
funny and more than a little sad. And I wish now, as I did then,
that Tuesday had not turned down those starring roles in "Bonnie & Clyde," "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"
and, above all, "Lolita." --Guy Flatley
I have hard feelings toward my mother?" Tuesday Weld opens
her beautiful eyes wide, repeats the question and then flashes a
radiant child-woman smile. "I hate my mother!"
the frisky teen-age sex-kitten of the fifties has blossomed into
an actress of depth and delicacy - a darling of the critics
and an authentic cult figure of the seventies. There have even been
Tuesday Weld festivals highlighted by her haunting portraits of
deadly-delicious nymphets in such eccentric, uncommercial films
as "Lord Love a Duck," "The Cincinnati Kid,"
"I Walk the Line" and "Pretty Poison."
at 28, the baby-faced, erotically angelic blonde who has periodically
flirted with professional suicide by spurning roles in "Lolita"
- "I didnt have to play it; I was Lolita"
- "Bonnie & Clyde," "True Grit," "Cactus
Flower" and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,"
has delivered what may be the definitive Tuesday Weld Performance
in "A Safe Place," Henry Jagloms mystifying cinematic
collage that may well turn out to be the definitive box-office dud
of 1971. But even those who feel compelled to hiss the movie itself
agree that Tuesday is anything but hissable as a dreamy dish who
coolly conducts simultaneous love affairs with two men but, in the
end, falls prey to tragic fantasies stemming from memories of her
Tuesdays in town to plug her new movie, but her mind is not
so much on the memory-world of "A Safe Place" as it is
on the unsafe place and time of her own bizarre childhood. Tuesday
remembers it all - the painful auditions, the backstage tantrums,
the hot lights, the fear of failure, the mobs and the loneliness.
But, most of all, Tuesday remembers Mama. She remembers, at the
age of 3, the pressure of getting on out there and landing that
job. "My mother tried to turn my brothers and sisters into models,
too, but they preferred swimming. But me, I was the backward child,
and I took to modeling immediately. Anything to escape."
One of the reasons that Tuesday had to hustle at such a tender age
is that her father had died, leaving her mother bitter and broke
in hardhearted Manhattan. "My fathers family came from
Tuxedo Park, and they offered to take us kids and pay for our education,
on the condition that my mother never see us again. She was an orphan
who had come here from London, but so far as my fathers family
was concerned, she was strictly from the gutter. I have to give
her credit - she refused to give us up.
"So I became the supporter of the family, and I had to take
my fathers place in many, many ways. I was expected to make
up for everything that had ever gone wrong in my mothers life.
She became obsessed with me, pouring out her pent-up love -
her alleged love - on me, and its been heavy on my shoulders
ever since. To this day, she thinks I owe everything to her.
"When I was 9, I had a breakdown, which disappointed my mother a
great deal," Tuesday says, tugging at her black stockings as
she snuggles up on a sofa in a semi-chic East Side hotel. "But
I made a comeback when I was 10."
Around that same time, events more crucial than a comeback were
taking place in Tuesdays topsy-turvy life. "I was in
and out of several schools, but I never really went. There were
no rules in New York then protecting working children. I was doing
television shows as well as modeling, and instead of going to school,
I used to do what they called correspondence, which meant that if
I was working, Id just write in and say I had jobs. Even when
I didnt have jobs, Id get up in the morning and say,
Goodbye, Im going to school, and then Id
head for the Village and get drunk. Sometimes Id drink at
bars, sometimes at parties, and sometimes Id just stay home
Hitting the bottle was just one way Tuesday had of saying she was
all grown up. "I made my first suicide attempt when I was 12.
I had fallen in love with a homosexual and when it didnt work
out, I felt hurt."
There is a slight pause. "I have a strange feeling you dont
believe a word Im saying," Tuesday says, running her
fingers through her long, thick hair and smiling in her special
Well, just how serious was this attempted suicide?
"A bottle of aspirin, a bottle of sleeping pills, and a bottle
of gin. I was sure that would do the trick, but my mother came in and
found me. I was in a coma for a long time and I lost my hearing,
my vision and several other things. When I recovered, I decided
that I should try to get some help, but my mother didnt think I
needed analysis. She thought that might look funny; after all, there
was nothing wrong with her little girl. I ask you, whos the
Tuesday sought peace through suicide, through psychiatry and through
booze many times in her life, but she only tried God once. "When
I was 14, I was in dire need of something to hold on to. So I went
to look for God. It was four in the morning and it was raining and
I was quite drunk. I climbed the steps of one church after another,
but all the doors were locked. How can there be a God,
I asked myself, when they say, Oh, yes, hes there,
but you cant go in if youre going to steal from him.'
Since then, I dont believe in God."
For a short period in 1958, Tuesday understudied two ingenue roles
on Broadway in William Inges "The Dark at the Top of
the Stairs," and not long afterward she very nearly became
a member of the Actors Studio. "I was about 14, and my mother tried
to slip me in as an 18-year-old, but it didnt work. They told
me there are certain things you just cant know when youre
a little girl. My mother was very upset-Ive caused her
great distress through the years."
Her mother was so distressed that she bundled up Tuesday and the
rest of the Welds and went West. There Tuesday proved sufficiently
ripe to play rambunctious teeny-boppers in "Sex Kittens Go
to College," "The Private Lives of Adam and Eve"
and "Rally Round the Flag, Boys," as well as Danny Kayes
sweet, invalid daughter in "Five Pennies." She was also
ripe enough to participate in amorous off-camera activities with
men double-and triple - her age, a scandalous fact
that did not go unnoticed by Louella, Hedda and at least one smoldering
movie queen whose husband wasnt afraid to run the risk of
being called a cradle-snatcher. And Tuesdays mother noticed,
"When she complained, I said, If you dont leave
me alone, Ill quit being an actress-which means there
aint gonna be no more money for you.' Finally,
when I was 16, I left home. I just went out the door and bought
my own house."
years, Tuesdays image was that of a feather-brained man-chaser,
a predatory pubescent, a dizzy blonde who did her bubbly best to
bring a little pizzazz to otherwise stale movies starring Bob Hope
or Bing Crosby or Mickey
Rooney or Fabian. Or Elvis Presley, who also managed
to keep Tuesday swiveling in real life and who is still breathlessly
described by her as "dynamite, real dynamite."
There were those alert starlet-gazers who quickly labeled Tuesday
as the girl most likely to wind up a total lush. "I drank steadily
for 10 years," she says. "At the time, it seemed a pleasure,
not a problem. But now I realize that some of my friends didnt
think I was ever going to pull out of it. One of the things I am
most grateful for is that I am not an alcoholic."
In 1963, Tuesday played a pathetically dimwitted tramp who steals
the heart of Jackie Gleason in "Soldier in the Rain."
What she actually stole was the movie itself, and for the first
time she was taken seriously by the critics. She was also taken
seriously by Claude Harz, a young screenwriter, and they were married
in 1965, when Tuesday was 22.
"My mother hated my husband-shes a jealous lover,
you know. Shes hated all the men Ive ever been involved
with. But I really felt that what I had been doing up to that time
with my life was probably wrong, that maybe what I should be was
a housewife. Our marriage lasted 5 years; it was just another one
of my mistakes. Except that I have Natasha, whos five now,
and Im more proud of her than anything else in the world."
Tuesdays divorce became final within the past year. "I
didnt ask Claude for alimony. Part of my reason was liberation
- Im all for Womens Lib. But its mens
liberation as much as womens. I dont see any reason
for Claude to have that hanging over his head. I dont expect
anything from him. Hes young and hes just getting started.
If he has the money, Im sure hell give it to me.
"Its been quite a year. Everything has really fallen
apart for me. I got a divorce, my car disintegrated, and my house
burned down. There was absolutely nothing left of my house. Nothing.
Not even a picture of Natasha. All the paintings Id done are
lost, as well as five years of journals I had been keeping. I enjoy
writing so much. In fact, Ive begun on my novel again. Its
going to be a good book, but I may have to wait until my ex-husband
and my mother die before I publish it."
Last year was also the year Tuesday tried to patch up things with
her mother. "We fought a great deal over the years, but I said
to myself, Im older now, and she's a grandmother.
Shell be happy to live in the guest house and spend a lot
of time with Natasha. Well, it was impossible! I had to move
Now that shes moved out, taking Natasha with her, where will
she move next?
"I dont know. From here, I go to Paris, but I feel so
misplaced everywhere. Sometimes I just walk the streets at night,
for hours and hours. Im incredibly restless; I guess maybe
its time for my renaissance."
would hope that Tuesdays renaissance might include a movie
worthy of her talent. "Youre crazy! Do you think I want
success? I refused to do Bonnie & Clyde because
I was nursing at the time, but also because down deep I knew that
it was going to be a huge success. The same was true of Bob
& Carol & Fred & Sue, or whatever it was called.
It reeked of success. I may be self-destructive, but I like taking
chances with movies. I like challenges, and I also like the particular
position Ive been in all these years, with people wanting
to save me from the awful films Ive been in. Im happy
being a legend. I think the Tuesday Weld cult is a very nice thing."
But wouldnt it be a relief to get away from all those child-woman
roles and tackle some mature parts for a change?
"No. That will all happen as soon as I grow up." She smiles,
but her voice is tinged with sadness. "Half of me feels so
incredibly old and tired, and the other half hasnt even begun,
hasnt touched the good, whole part of life. Thats why
Im wandering around a lot. Im suspended, floating. Im
not happy, and Im not sad. But, for the first time, I feel
really free. Free from my husband, free from my mother."
Although Tuesday has every intention of remaining a free soul, she
has by no means sworn off the opposite sex. "I adore men,"
she says with a tiny squeal. "I like being around them, and
I fall in love a lot." The man she likes being around most
these days is comedian David Steinberg.
One parting question: is it possible to dig up pictures of Tuesday
as a child model?
"I dont have any," she answers thoughtfully, "but
I think I could make a call and get some for you."
Whom would she have to call?
"My mother," says Tuesday, showing no trace of emotion. "She
has saved all my pictures and kept them in scrapbooks."
HERE TO READ GUY FLATLEY'S ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS WITH
LIZA MINNELLI, RICHARD PRYOR, SUSAN SARANDON, JACK NICHOLSON, AMANDA
PEET, ROBERT De NIRO, BUTTERFLY McQUEEN, VINCE VAUGHN, JEAN ARTHUR,
ALFRED HITCHCOCK, VIVA, JEAN-LUC GODARD AND MANY OTHER TOP MOVIE