Actress Patty McCormack surely needs no introduction. An Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for 1956's The Bad Seed, she has worked on stage, in film and on television to great acclaim for over 60 years. Now she is onstage once more in a hilarious world premiere dark comedy Miserable with an Ocean View playing Saturdays only at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. She recently sat down to chat about the play and about highlights of her long career.
Miserable with an Ocean View sounds very funny and your role as the mother from hell seems different for you as you have no dialogue. Talk about this and your other challenges in playing her.
The fact that I have no dialogue, in addition to being the Mother from hell, combines two of my favorite childhood roles. No dialogue as Helen Keller in the playhouse 90 production of Miracle Worker and child from hell, Rhoda Penmark in Bad Seed! The challenge in this role was how to make Rhoda Shapiro as real as possible, while fulfilling her reputation!! I figured, being a Mother myself, that she couldn’t be all bad! And I have one moment , I believe, that shows that. The other scenes are so much fun being so incredibly “miserable."
How did you get involved in the project? Did you like the script from the start?
Howie (Skora) developed the play at Bobby Moresco’s Actor’s Gym, and although I wasn’t around for that stretch of time, I have been a member for some time.As the play was getting cast, Bobby recommended me to Howie, and that started everything. After some phone calls, and loving what he wrote, I was sure that it was the perfect time to break the long spell of not being on stage. The feeling of fear which becomes greater the longer you are away, began to subside, and I remembered the joy I had always experienced in front of a live audience.
Everyone remembers you from The Bad Seed. Talk briefly about that experience and what it was like as a young child to work in that company of actors.
I remember you as well from TV's I Remember Mama, the series. What kind of experience was that? Are the memories fond ones?
I began I Remember Mama before getting Bad Seed, and like most TV back then, it was “live” when I was on it, and much like doing theatre. I worked with Dick Van Patten, who was the most fun on the set. He really liked kids and so he brought a sort of normalcy to me and Kevin Coughlin, who was the young boy on the show.
Kevin and I made a “club” house in the empty rehearsal hall, attached to our main one at Grand Central Station where we rehearsed, and it was a great place to play, when we weren’t needed.
My Nephew, Fred Cerullo, is now the President and CEO of the Grand Central Partnership. He runs that Business Improvement District in NY.
Talk a little about your soap experiences and other TV work. Do you have a favorite show?
I know that my first experience on a soap was when I just turned 7. You weren’t allowed to work on television until you were 7. I can’t remember the name of it because it is so long ago, and I think missing from Imdb. The others are Young Doctor Malone,The Best of Everything, and As The World Turns. My most vivid memories were from The Best of Everything because I was carrying my Daughter Danielle all through the run, and met my “Best friend” in life! Julie Von Zerneck, who worked as Julie Mannix at that time. We were working with Gale Sondergaard, who won the first Best Supporting actress award, and Geraldine Fitzgerald!
Tell us something funny that happened - any unexpected or embarrassing moments?
I am going back in time to remember one of my favorite shows to do, which was Playhouse 90. I did 5 of them, and the embarrassing moment occurred during the one in which I was perched on a piano, singing “Oh, My Man” in French, with Lee J. Cobb, accompanying on the piano, and a room filled with “party guests." I didn’t speak French, so I learned it phonetically. Did it perfectly, all through rehearsals and dress, but when we went live, I went blank! All the actors in the room, including Mr. Cobb, began La-la-ing, and saved the day! But I was horrified and so embarrassed!!! That had never happened to me before!
I loved you as Sister Woman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Taper. Is that production a fond memory? How? If not, why?
Any one who has had the good fortune to work with Jose Quintero will tell you what an incredible experience it was. It was a highlight for me!
Is there a favorite stage role that you have played? Why that particular one?
I think that I had the most fun being “cookie” in Rumors, because I was directed by Avery Schreiber and we played at a theatre in Jupiter, Florida.
We had so many good times during rehearsals because of Avery and his wonderful sense of the absurd, and also fun because I had already played a different role in the same play, previously! It made it very interesting to see the story through a different character’s eyes.
Is there a role you yearn to play? Which one and why that particular role?
I don’t have an answer, but when I do, I will tell you!
Did you find being a popular child actor and then having work decline as you got older depressing? What is it like for child actors when work on stage or in front of the camera is scarce? Is there adequate support for child actors in Hollywood?
I can remember early on wondering why there were gaps in my working and that was before changes began to be visible, so I always questioned not working more! I am still doing it! I think that today with people more awake to those issues, and the organization that Paul Peterson began, has helped so many former kid actors transition into adult actors,
or in some cases, different careers altogether.
Tell me about the cast you are working with in Miserable and your director.
I love each and every one. It feels like we are on active duty together, and we all have each other’s backs . Please list: Elizabeth (Regen), Paul (Elia), Alex (Skuby) and Drew (Droege), and lastly and most importantly, Jim (Fall) our leader through it all! We are truly a company, and I am so happy to be a part of it.
Anything you care to add?
I am so glad that in my 70th year, I can still work at what I will always love, with such talented people, while also enjoying the other aspects of my life. Being a Grandma changes everything! (ask any Grandma or Grandpa!) So, this time of life is the best yet, and I am very grateful to be around to enjoy it!
Don't miss the resilient Patty McCormack in Miserable with an Ocean View every Saturday through July 18 at the Whitefire Theatre!