Jeffrey Hayden has directed dozens of classic television series, from the late 1950s' Leave It to Beaver and 77 Sunset Strip through 1988's In the Heat of the Night. But his newest and perhaps most fulfilling work is in helming a concert reading of Randy Myers' Touch the Names, about the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's being performed by an ensemble from the Actor's Studio that includes his wife. She of course is Eva Marie Saint, the Oscar-winning lead actress for On the Waterfront, Emmy winner for People Like Us, and star of North by Northwest and Exodus. Among her many theatre roles, on Broadway she starred in The Trip to Bountiful (Drama Critics Award, Outer-Circle Critics Award). Among dozens of TV roles, she is well-remembered for her role as Cybill Shepherd's mother on Moonlighting.
This is only the latest of many collaborations during their 53-year marriage. Back Stage West found them during their lunch break, discussing working with one's spouse, their current project, and the demands of glamour.
Eva Marie Saint: I think part of it is because we're both artists—the actor and the director; the actor needs the director, the director needs the actor. The best of [all] worlds is when I'm working with you. The plays that we've done, the summer stock that we've done.
Jeffrey Hayden: And we're both basically from the same school of acting. We do have a wonderful shorthand, a back and forth between one another based, No. 1, on the fact that we have worked at the Actor's Studio for so many years. No. 2, since we know one another as well as we do, it's relatively simple to communicate as opposed to meeting new actors all the time and having to sort of deal with a vocabulary and a language back and forth. For us, that comes pretty easily. Even though we work a lot, and we sort of never quite stop, our lives are made up of downtime and work time and enjoying time. Living time. We do a Willa Cather reading, and that takes us all over the world. We travel to cities in the U.S., take cruises occasionally, and work.
Saint: It's amazing how many people know Willa Cather. And it's amazing how many people don't know. And then after they hear the reading they say, "What other book should we read?" We've done it a few times when there have been terrible things happening in the world. We were in Waco. And it happened that day we arrived. So we were supposed to have press in the morning, and everything was canceled, they were all out there. So we just didn't know what to do, if people would show up that night. And they did. And you, spur of the moment, made this really intelligent, heartwarming, insightful speech to the audience. You came out and said, "We're thankful that you're here. It would have been easier to stay home. It's been a terrible day in your city. We empathize."
Hayden: It was unbelievable. The city was black all day through the embers and fire. And we had a full house, thank goodness. And I just made this little speech about what has come before us, etc., and how Cather fitted into this kind of thing. But the best time where something happened [was when] we were in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center doing a play together, and Nixon was leaving the White House. The cast so wanted to see the last speech, so Roger Stevens at the Kennedy Center allowed me, at the end of the second act, to just stop when the second act ended. We announced to the audience we would pipe in on the radio Nixon's speech and just hold the third act until after the speech. So that's what we did after the second act, put the radio into the speakers, and the cast sat backstage around the TV set, and we continued after that for the third act.
Saint: Every time we book something I say, "God, I hope nothing is going to happen." How many speeches have you made to keep us all together?
Hayden: Sadly it happens only too often.
Hitting the Wall
Hayden: I heard that [playwright] Randy Myers had done this work, from his experience of being at the [Vietnam Memorial] Wall in Washington and seeing people leaving things, including letters, at the Wall. He subsequently asked the National Park people what happens to these letters, and they said, "Well, they're stored in the archives," and he asked for the address and, given the address, he went down and read some of the letters and got [so] interested and excited and absorbed in them that he went through hundreds and hundreds of letters and decided to put them together for a theatre piece. He did this in New York, Off-Broadway. I read the review of the theatre piece that he did, and it was a wonderful review, and to my great surprise and delight I then noticed that it was done by my friend Randy Myers, so I called him immediately and said, "This sounds so timely, and it seems to be, from the review, so moving. Is there a chance we can do it in L.A.?" And he thought about it and said, "Yes, if you do it I'll give you the rights to do it in L.A." When I read it and realized how moving and how beautiful and how great the loss I said, "We just have to do this."
Saint: I was there. You were filming in Washington the first day the Wall opened. I was there with my camera to take a few shots, and I was there the whole day. I do believe it was raining, wasn't it, Jeff? It made such an impression on me, the vets who were there, the people searching and searching, then finding the name. I never forgot that. Then we saw a wonderful documentary by Freida Mock called Maya Lin. That's the woman who designed it. And the process of getting it done…. There were vets who said, "We don't want it. We don't want a black wall in the ground." They wanted statues, which they finally had to do, some soldiers up on top which she did not design, but that was kind of a compromise. My dad had been in the First World War and never talked about it. I don't think vets ever have an easy time, and they never really get over it. He was a lieutenant; he lost a lot of his men. He wouldn't talk about it. I think that's all part of it.
That Touch of Glamour
Saint: Hitchcock saw me [as glamorous, in North by Northwest]. When he casts you, you have the feeling that you're the only one who can play that part. He just instills it. He didn't really give that much direction. And he treated you that way. I went to get a cup of coffee, and I came back with a Styrofoam cup, and he says, "Eva Marie, I don't want you walking around with a Styrofoam cup. You're dressed in that beautiful dress. You should drink your coffee in a china cup." So he made somebody go get another cup of coffee. It was the auction scene, and there were a lot of extras, and he just didn't want to see his glamorous leading lady [that way]. And he was right. It kept you in that mode.
Hayden: You're as much that woman as you are Edie in On the Waterfront. I see from morning to night both those women every day of my life, as well as Alma in Summer and Smoke and a lot of other roles, and some of them surface occasionally. If you stop and think, we've done so many plays together and all the different characters that you've played, and you're a part of all of them and they're a part of you.
Saint: When I get up in the morning, I don't feel that I have to put on my lipstick for you. You love women without makeup.
Hayden: Well you happen to be a good-looking woman. That helps. BSW
Touch the Names, at the Actor's Studio's Millenium, 8532 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Fri.-Sat. 7:30 pm, Sun. 5 pm. Jan. 14-23. $10-15 suggested donation. (310) 712-7099.