Lesley Ann Warren: From Cinderella to Sex Symbol to Actress With
Staying Power!

Lesley Ann Warren in May 2008 © AP

“You know, I’ve been into Chinese medicine
for about 20 years. And that, along with eating right and exercise, has helped
me face up to aging with a certain amount of acceptance. I wanted to age with
grace and, most of all, dignity. I mean, I think it’s an important message for
young women now, who are rushing off to plastic surgeons when they’re
still young.”

That’s Lesley Ann Warren, who began her career as
the pristine “Cinderella” (the 1967 TV version) and who
has come to establish herself as one of Hollywood’s finer, still alluring,
character actresses. 


I met Lesley Ann a few
weeks ago in New York, as her new TV series “In Plain
Sight” was rocketing off to a great start on the USA
network. (It has just been picked up for a second season.) She plays Jinx, the
maddening, often tipsy, poignantly frustrated mother of witness protection
detective Mary McCormack. The season finale airs this Sunday, with a significant
emphasis on Jinx. If Lesley Ann doesn’t eventually end up with an Emmy nod,
there’s no justice in TV land!

Lesley Ann is slim
and pale. Her skin has an almost translucent quality. She gives off a fragile
vulnerability that reminds me of Marilyn Monroe or Natalie Wood. I say this, and
she is overwhelmed. “Oh, God. You just mentioned my two favorites. I can’t get
over your saying that. You know, years ago, there was supposed to be a musical
version of ‘Bus Stop.’ It was going to be called ‘Cherie,’ her character’s name.
I went up for it, and got it, but the show never happened.”

One show that
did happen was a musical version of “Gone With the Wind.” It closed before
reaching Broadway, but Lesley Ann was thrilled to be interpreting a role
originally played by another of her idols, Vivien Leigh. (Singing and dancing in
a tightly laced corset was another matter.)


actress has done lots of TV. She enlivened “Will class=amp>& Grace” a few seasons back, and recently came off a stint
on “Desperate Housewives,” appearing as Terri Hatcher’s mom. Movie fans probably
know her best from her Oscar-nominated turn in “Victor Victoria,” as the brassy
Harlow-esque showgirl who loses James Garner to Julie Andrews in drag. And her
quirky 1984 movie “Choose Me,” co-starring Keith Carradine and Geneviève Bujold,
is beloved by many. She says of “Choose Me”: “I’m crazy about that movie, and it
ushered in a new phase. I was maturing physically, and that was commented on. I
feel lucky that my transition began with such a good film.”

But she
started off as a Disney star in wholesome movies like “The Happiest Millionaire”
and “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.” However, as the Swinging
Sixties evolved, the actress feared her career would not. The Disney
organization had its strictures. She laughs, remembering the studio’s
consternation when she married hairdresser Jon Peters (later of Barbra Streisand
fame.) “He had long hair. Well, long for that time, and you know — they wouldn’t
let him into Disneyland!” (She is now married to Ronald Taft. She has a son by
her wedlock with Peters.)

“Times were changing, and my image didn’t
work.  I didn’t necessarily want it to work. I had to leave Disney
and regroup. It took a while, but I did!”


Slowly, she
reestablished herself. She has perfected a specific type — been around but not
used up, a bit cynical but still optimistic, smart in a dumb way, or dumb in a
smart way. Wildly wacky or slightly tragic. She is always appealing and always
recognizably Lesley Ann Warren. Talking again about the youth culture, she says,
“After a while, if you are lucky enough to have lasted and if your work has been
meaningful, you have to protect yourself. You have to be willing not to
work, rather than become something you are not. When I show up onscreen, I want
people to know, that’s Lesley Ann Warren, and take it from there.”

what was it that attracted her to TV’s “In Plain Sight?”
She says, “The writing, the writing, the writing! When I sat down with them, and
I saw the arc of my character, what she really was; all her demons, and how she
was going to be revealed, I was hooked. I had to do it!”

In last week’s
episode, Jinx — a would-be actress — auditions for the lead role in a local
company version of “Sweet Charity” although, as Lesley Ann says, “Jinx is about
20 years too old!” The audition scene is riveting — she is singing, plaintively,
when she spots her daughter (McCormack) who has followed her into the audition,
not realizing what her mother was up to. They have a contentious relationship,
and Jinx does hit the bottle. She breaks off the song and flies into a
desperate, humiliated rage, confronting her daughter and fleeing. It is a
spectacular transition of emotions.

And by the way, her co-star, Ms.
McCormack, is terrific as the policewoman — sexy, tough, conflicted and
all-too-human. She joins Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter as one of class=caps>TV’s most complex crime-fighting women.

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