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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

 

"Do 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!"

Tuesday Weld, 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."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, at 28, the baby-faced, erotically angelic blonde who has periodically flirted with professional suicide by spurning roles in "Lolita" -– "I didn’t 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 Jaglom’s 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 tormented childhood.

Tuesday’s 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 father’s 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 father’s 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 father’s place in many, many ways. I was expected to make up for everything that had ever gone wrong in my mother’s life. She became obsessed with me, pouring out her pent-up love –- her alleged love –- on me, and it’s 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 Tuesday’s 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, I’d just write in and say I had jobs. Even when I didn’t have jobs, I’d get up in the morning and say, ‘Goodbye, I’m going to school,’ and then I’d head for the Village and get drunk. Sometimes I’d drink at bars, sometimes at parties, and sometimes I’d just stay home and drink."

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 didn’t work out, I felt hurt."

There is a slight pause. "I have a strange feeling you don’t believe a word I’m saying," Tuesday says, running her fingers through her long, thick hair and smiling in her special big-little-girl fashion.

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 didn’t think I needed analysis. She thought that might look funny; after all, there was nothing wrong with her little girl. I ask you, who’s the crazy one?"

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, he’s there, but you can’t go in if you’re going to steal from him.' Since then, I don’t believe in God."

For a short period in 1958, Tuesday understudied two ingenue roles on Broadway in William Inge’s "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 didn’t work. They told me there are certain things you just can’t know when you’re a little girl. My mother was very upset–-I’ve 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 Kaye’s 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 wasn’t afraid to run the risk of being called a cradle-snatcher. And Tuesday’s mother noticed, too.

"When she complained, I said, ‘If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll quit being an actress–-which means there ain’t 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."


For years, Tuesday’s 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 didn’t 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–-she’s a jealous lover, you know. She’s hated all the men I’ve 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, who’s five now, and I’m more proud of her than anything else in the world."

Tuesday’s divorce became final within the past year. "I didn’t ask Claude for alimony. Part of my reason was liberation –- I’m all for Women’s Lib. But it’s men’s liberation as much as women’s. I don’t see any reason for Claude to have that hanging over his head. I don’t expect anything from him. He’s young and he’s just getting started. If he has the money, I’m sure he’ll give it to me.

"It’s 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 I’d done are lost, as well as five years of journals I had been keeping. I enjoy writing so much. In fact, I’ve begun on my novel again. It’s 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, ‘I’m older now, and she's a grandmother. She’ll be happy to live in the guest house and spend a lot of time with Natasha.’ Well, it was impossible! I had to move out!"

Now that she’s moved out, taking Natasha with her, where will she move next?

"I don’t 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. I’m incredibly restless; I guess maybe it’s time for my renaissance."

One would hope that Tuesday’s renaissance might include a movie worthy of her talent. "You’re 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 I’ve been in all these years, with people wanting to save me from the awful films I’ve been in. I’m happy being a legend. I think the Tuesday Weld cult is a very nice thing."

But wouldn’t 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 hasn’t even begun, hasn’t touched the good, whole part of life. That’s why I’m wandering around a lot. I’m suspended, floating. I’m not happy, and I’m 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 don’t 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."

 

CLICK 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 FIGURES.