I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Joan Steiger who is as gracious about her fame as she is in swooning about the great loves of her life. The conversation starts with inquiring as to what venue of performing she misses the most and the reason it plays such an important role in her life. The emphatic choice is theater because there is only “one chance” to get it right. Onstage acting allows participants to “feel electricity” Ms. Steiger likens to the experience of “going to church.” The reason behind the analogy is theater is spiritual in the sense there is a rawness in the performance where instant communication is received from the audience. She states stage work is more arduous than cinema but extremely rewarding. Film is less forgiving and more mechanical where gratification, for her, is diminished.
Joan Benedict Steiger has more than forty plays contributing to her body of credits which once came up in a moment with longtime partner, Jeremy Slate, before his passing. When going through scripts, a pile of papers fell to the floor and Slate remarked Joan should feel as accomplished as she believed he was for there she was, lying on the floor, in all the plays she had brought characterizations to the stage in. This is a woman who really underplays her own success simply enjoying the experience not the fame.
Although she has performed countless times on stage, the one play eluding her which she would like to do is “Sweet Bird of Youth” by Tennessee Williams. She is not, however, sitting still waiting for opportunities to fall in her lap. She discloses she is working on a new film which remains a guarded secret but talks about her involvement in writing her memoirs and the compiling a collection poems by her late husband, Rod Steiger, whom she gushes about repeatedly during the conversation.
The discussion about memoirs entails deciding what to keep as private moments and what to disclose about her life but is really more about the journey of revisiting the past as it is to be filled with numerous memories that are as painful as they are momentous. Speaking of momentous moments, I inquire as to her reaction on receiving the “Eternity Award” to which she states she flippantly asked if it was the “Casket Award” but continues to be overwhelmed by the recognition for theater at the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival four years ago.
Having seen many actors and actresses come and go throughout her career, she holds the highest regard for Barbara Stanwyck and Betty Davis as well as Jennifer Lawrence who, according to Ms. Steiger, is a true talent having studied the art and commands a presence in her performances. When asked who she would like to perform with, the immediate response from Joan is “Rod” because she, like many others, considers him the greatest actor of all time and being in the presence of such talent full of confidence permeates confidence in those they touch.
Ms. Steiger does not shy away from stating her opinion on the changes which have taken place in the world, especially in American society, where she feels the degradation is reflected in cinema with the pronounced disregard for the editing of language in addition to the extreme lack of manners she is accustomed to, such as the opening of doors for women. She states she watches people from her favorite restaurant perch at Tra Di Noi in Malibu, California and in the process, witnesses this consistent lack of social niceties.
Ms. Steiger discusses the difficulty behind the scenes of television soaps as she talks about her past appearances on General Hospital. She tells about the long scripts which are learned to be changed at the last minute on the sets without much time to adjust, often being given simple direction with high expectations of being able to quickly transition. I got the sense she has great respect for those actors, like Brad Pitt in Another World, who found their wings on television.
She attributes her happiness in life to the fabulous loves she has had. Although many times marriages in Hollywood fall apart because of the stress and conflicting schedules, Ms. Steiger reveals her personal preference for a partner from this lifestyle for the similarities make it easy to share in circumventing the pitfalls together. She believes her flexibility is a choice required of love and she never once regrets shifting focus, sometimes at the height of her own career, to follow the path of love as she did with first husband, John Myhers, leaving Broadway in New York to travel while he performed in The Sound of Music. She states Rod was with her “every single day” from the moment they were reconnected to the day he passed.
As for Joan Benedict Steiger, living is about enjoying every moment so as she continues to pursue opportunities in acting, she remains actively engaged in life, tap dancing three times a week. Keep dancing, Joan! I will be waiting for your triumphant return to entertainment!
Image courtesy of Lori De Waal of De Waal & Associates