Don’t Mess With Texas: Holland Taylor Takes on the Lone Star State’s Late Feisty Governor

‘I was thrown into this pirate ship, the Good Ship Ann’

On opening night, her blackout line resulted in disaster. “It was only mildly funny, but I said it, and the lights did not go out, and the curtain did not come down. As I realized that the worst possible thing that could happen—other than dying of a heart attack on stage—had indeed happened, I saw the others in the cast trying to slink offstage. I said, ‘Come back here!’ All of them came back, we took hands, and I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, that is our play.’ So, yes, I guess I have a funny memory.”

The show, she said, “was hard to do, but I think, by God, I showed the industry that I had some grit.”

To say nothing of some class, which elevated her above the whole situation. This quality came into sharper focus three months later, when she and Keith Charles moved their Off Broadway comedy Breakfast With Les and Bess, into the Lamb’s Theatre and, as a celebrity radio couple, made bright, sparkling banter together.

She has returned several times to Off Broadway—The Vagina Monologues and such—and done some theater in Los Angeles, most notably Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected Man with Christopher Lloyd and director Gil Cates, but her major inroads have been in television and features. She has been nominated for seven Emmys—for The Practice (2), The Lot (1)
and Two and a Half Men (4)—and won one for The Practice, hoisting it high in the air and declaring to one and all, “Overnight!”

At 70, Ms. Taylor has evolved from Moose Murders into our own Eve Arden—a classy comedienne hurling quips from on high, smart, sexy and sophisticated. And her regal bearing is for real, too: she’s from Tracy Lord country—Philadelphia’s Main Line.

“You could not say anything grander to me,” she said of the Arden comparison. “I adored her. She had cards made—Christmas cards, I think—a cartoon drawing of a moose head on a wall, with holly on it, and in the face of the moose was Eve’s own face. On the inside, her message to me was, ‘Thanks for taking the heat. Love, Eve.’

“Everybody gets typecast. You are thought of as doing such-and-such a thing well, so you’re asked to do it a lot. The thing that pleases me most about the way Ann has unfolded is that in no way did I have any intention of writing this play. I tell you, I feel like I had a bag thrown over my head and I was thrown into this pirate ship, the Good Ship Ann, and I was swept away by it. In fact, Ann answers something quite important for me as an actress, which is how they always cast me as these brittle, showy or surface-light witches, always a cold kind of woman—as I often have been, like in The Practice, which was an important role for me and one I adored.

“Ann is the heat of a million suns. Ann is warm, really warm and connected to people—and that’s not the kind of role I’m asked to play. When I’m waiting to go out for the second act, I’m eager to get back out there, and the audience is eager to get back, too—because we all want is to get out in that glow, and the glow is Ann.”

Don’t Mess With Texas: Holland Taylor Takes on the Lone Star State’s Late Feisty Governor