Tag Archives: shelley duvall

An Interview with Director and Actress Joan Darling, Pioneer of the 70’s

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Joan Darling (bottom left), part of the cast of Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (1971-1973)

Joan Darling entered show business as an actress on the New York theater scene in the 1960s, then became a fixture of early 70’s television. In 1974, she made the leap from acting to directing and quickly made history as one of the first and most successful women directors in television. She had an instant knack for it—her debut, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a soap opera parody, has become an enduring cult classic for its dark-edged humor and deep understanding of the desperation and sadness of the American home.

Highlights of her career include a Mary Tyler Moore episode, Chuckles Bites the Dust, which, for its deft tightrope-walk between comedy and pathos, TV Guide calls the greatest television episode ever; a classic M*A*S*H episode, The Nurses, which  revolutionized the way the show portrayed women; and a leading role in an episode of The Psychiatrist, directed by a pre-Jaws, pre-Duel Spielberg.

These days, Joan teaches acting and directing classes at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. She agreed to a phone interview, and in about an hour, I learned more about the arts of acting and directing than I ever thought possible:
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Shelley Duvall: And All At Once I Knew

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By and large, the film community has a frustrating habit of undervaluing some of our less conventional actresses. Great talents like Viveca Lindfors, Alfre Woodard, and Catherine Burns tend to promise more than they’re ever really allowed to deliver. We embrace the hell out of our oddball actors like Walken, Goldblum, and Buscemi (and with good reason, what a harvest of incredible parts those three yield), but it seems to me that things are tougher out there for a woman who’s not conventional enough to be a romantic lead.

So, I’d like to take a moment here and profess my appreciation for one of the rare talents of all of cinema, a woman who, despite major criticism, consistently gave some of the best and most memorable performances in film history.
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