At a performance of Side Show that I attended with my sister Nita, we were seated not far from James Lipton. This was not too long after the launch of my website nytheatre[dot]com, and Nita felt that we should tell Mr. Lipton about it. (We were both fans of Inside the Actors Studio, by the way.)
So she did and while Mr. Lipton was probably not at all interested, he was polite enough to invite me to a taping of his show. My mother and I were thrilled to go, not least because the subject that night was Jack Lemmon. A fun, fascinating, full evening; it was great to get to see Mr. Lemmon in person.
The early seasons of Inside the Actors Studio were important to me because they were links to the rarefied world of theater and theater history, so absent from my life before I moved to NYC. When the talk stayed focused on technique and professional nuts-and-bolts it was riveting. And on almost every show the artists being interviewed were disarmed and charming and honest. Lipton was good at what he did.
I feel that someone should compile a book of all the interviewee answers to the questionnaire that Lipton would close each of the shows with (adapted from Bernard Pivot, as he unfailingly reminded us). I would absolutely buy that book.
I still remember my all-time favorite response. To the question, "What is your favorite sound?" Shelley Winters replied, immediately, "The sound of my grandchildren laughing."
As it now seems definite that I will never appear on Inside the Actors Studio, herewith are my replies to those 10 questions:
JL: What is your favorite word?
MDD: So. It's such a useful flexible word. Read anything I write, you'll see.
JL: What is your least favorite word?
MDD: Anything that's obfuscatory jargon. Like most of the words Bloomberg radio commentators use when they're talking about the economy.
JL: What turns you on?
MDD: A great puzzle, a great mystery, a great mesmerizing performer on stage.
JL: What turns you off?
JL: What sound or noise do you love?
MDD: Percussion. Like when the woodblocks kick in near the end of "Someone in a Tree" from Pacific Overtures; or the drum near the end of "The Rhythm of Life" from Sweet Charity.
JL: What sound or noise do you hate?
MDD: A child crying.
JL: What is your favorite curse word?
MDD: Mercy, I don't have one. Never really picked up the habit.
JL: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
MDD: I have so much admiration for people who can make up stories: like a mystery novel, or a play. But I don't expect I'd be any good at it.
JL: What profession would you not like to do?
MDD: Having to answer phone calls from customers where you're forced to stay on the script. ("I am so sorry, yes, I can help you with that.") Not a knock against those who do it, but at what the job seems to be.
JL: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
MDD: Follow me, your father is right over here.