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September 11, 1992 - Image 75

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-09-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ENTERTAINMENT

>

Q

t
_

One Life Of
Happiness

0

Soap actress Marilyn Chris is
.something Wanda-ful.

ALICE BURDICK SCHWEIGER

Special to The Jewish News

ne
in
"One
hLene
Life Life" tune
to watch their popu-
lar soap, they find actress
Marilyn Chris, who plays the
- wise and wonderful Wanda
Wolek, speaking English with
no hint of an accent. What
. they don't know is that Ms.
Chris is just as comfortable
speaking Yiddish, her fami-
ly's primary language when
she was a child.
Ow"I was raised by my mother
and maternal grandparents
in Brooklyn and we only
spoke Yiddish at home, since
neither of my grandparents
spoke English," Ms. Chris
recalls during lunch at one of
New York's trendy Upper
West Side restaurants, lo-
_ cated around the block from
- the studio. "When I was
i : younger, I was even a trans-
lator in public school for the
Jewish immigrants who came
to the United States. It was
with such pride that I was
able to speak Yiddish and
communicate with them."
,„ Growing up in a Jewish
n neighborhood, she was never
confronted with anti-
Semitism. "I grew up feeling
- very Jewish," says Ms. Chris,
whose maiden name was
- Marilyn Miller. "I used to
wear a big marcasite Star of
David on a black-velvet rib-
bon around my neck."
rBut Ms. Chris was bothered
by a painful, early loss. Her
father, an English, Scottish
Mennonite from Virginia,
moved out when she was 2

oc,

i

W

years old. His weekly Sunday
visits diminished over the
years, and when she was 11
they ended altogether. She
never saw him again. To this
day, Ms. Chris laments, she
has no idea if he is even alive.
Ms. Chris' religious roots
proved to be a comforting,
stable force, and have con-
tinued to be throughout her
life. Her first husband, whose
surname was Christopoulos
(thus her stage name Chris)
was not Jewish, but her se-
cond husband, actor Lee
Wallace, -is.
"We don't belong to a tem-
ple, but I still feel very
Jewish," she says. "Lee and I
were married in a synagogue
and we are both very Jewish
in our hearts. As a matter of
fact, Lee and I speak Yiddish
to each other. There are times
when I search for a word that
can better be expressed in
Yiddish!'
Indeed, her ethnic back-
ground reflects her work.
Along with starring on the
ABC daytime soap, Ms. Chris
takes an active role at the
Jewish Repertoire Theater in
New York City, where she has
directed and starred in
several productions.
"One of the plays that I
directed at the Jewish Rep.
was The Sunshine Boys, and
my husband Lee was one of
the actors," says Ms. Chris,
who has won an Obie, Drama
Desk and Outer Critics Circle
Award. "I do a lot of readings
there, too, and we go there all
the time, even when we are
not working on a project!'
Unlike most thespians, Ms.
Chris traveled a relatively

0

(

smooth road to success. After
attending the Performing
Arts High School in Manhat-
tan, and studying for a short
time at City College of New
York, her professional stage
career was launched as a
charter member of the Living
Theater.
Some of the plays in which
she showed off her talent in-
cluded Alan Ginsberg's off-
Broadway production of Kad-
dish, where she played the
mother, and the Broadway
hits Lenny, The Seven
Descents of Myrtle, and

Brighton Beach Memoirs.

"I was the first Jewish per-
son to be in Brighton Beach
Memoirs, she says. "If you
look at the original casting,
the lead roles were played by
people like Joyce Van Patten.
As a matter of fact, a funny
thing happened while I was
doing Brighton Beach. A com-
mittee from Equity came to
me and said they wanted to
bring charges because there
were no Jewish people in the
Neil Simon plays — and I told
them I couldn't help them
because I was Jewish !"

The New York stage is not
the only place where Ms.

Chris has gained audience
approval. Her resume in-
cludes hit films and television
shows like Rocky II, Looking
Up and Love with the Proper
Stranger, and the critically ac-
claimed TV docudramas
"Kent State," "Backstairs- at
the White House" and "Bless-
ings."
In 1972 Ms. Chris landed
the plum role of Wanda on
"One Life to Live." While per-
forming in Kaddish the
casting director of "One Life"
spotted Chris and hired her
for a three-time shot.
"They were looking for an
off-beat, younger woman to be
in a storyline to bring back
Lee Patterson," she remem-
bers. "I came on and worked
with Erica Slezak (who won a
Daytime Emmy Award re-
cently for best actress) and Al
Freeman. The part evolved in-
to a contract part, which
evolved into a lifetime job."
Ms. Chris, who is in her ear-
ly 50s, says she has grown
with her character.
"Wanda was pretty terrific
to begin with, but in the
beginning it was just comic
relief!" says Ms. Chris, who
not only continues to perform
in plays while on the soap but

at one point was starring on
Broadway and working on
"One Life" at the same time.
"Over the years, Wanda has
become a real person who has
sutained real losses — a hus-
band, businesses, and now I
think she represents a certain
strata of older women."
Fans have been able to see
more of her trials and tribula-
tions in recent months and in
the future there is a new love
interest brewing for Wanda. If
Ms. Chris had her druthers,
she would like to see Wanda
encounter typical problems of
the middle years and perhaps
even try to have a child or
remarry a man with a ready-
made family.
As for her future, Ms. Chris
wants to keep doing what
she's been doing — theater —
major story lines on "One
Life," and more free time with
husband Lee and son Paul,
who lives in California.
"One of my dreams for the
future is to be a grand-
mother," Ms. Chris laughs.
"And I want to do more
Broadway and stay with the
soap as long as it lasts. I guess
I'm just lucky to be a working
actress and do what I love
best." ❑

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

75

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