Tuesday, February 28, 2012

San Diego Notables #2 - Marion Ross - "Mrs. C"

One of the nice things about volunteer ushering at the Globe Theater in San Diego is, of course, seeing some amazing theater; the other thing is occasionally getting to meet some of the actors.

Recently, I noticed Marion Ross of Happy Days fame in the theater as a patron rather than an actress. Marion holds an Associate Artists status at the Globe for her many years of dedicated service to the theater.

Over the years, I've seen her perform in several Globe productions, and I've seen her in Balboa Park, most notably at the Prado restaurant, where many of the Globe actors go to eat between performances.

When I first arrived in San Diego thirty-five years ago, the Old Globe theater had burned to the ground like its more famous predecessor had over four hundred years before.

Our local theater survived the wrecking ball after the Pan American Exposition in the 1930's, when the local community players raised the $200 to save the building. During World War II, the Navy took over the park for the war effort, and many radio stars, Bob Hope among them, broadcast and performed for the troops on the Globe's stage.

In 1978, disaster struck the Globe; a transient trying to warm himself or maybe an arsonist, no one ever found out who, built a fire next to the cheap wooden structure and the worst happened. The building burned to the ground. The community pulled together to raise money for the rebuilding of a far grander theater.

This is when I fell in love with Marion Ross. She was appearing on a local telethon to raise money for the new theater and the phones were barely ringing. She took her position in front of the camera and made her teary appeal.

Marion is a local San Diego State graduate and long time resident, so she started calling people out who she knew in town. She talked about what this theater meant to her and this community, and the phones lit up and the tote board went wild. She stayed with it for the rest of the telethon. I tear up just thinking about it.

Fast forward thirty-five years later. I see Marion Ross sitting with her personal assistant during intermission on a bench in the theater's lobby a couple of weeks ago. I gently walked up to her and said politely, "Miss Ross?" she looked up at me. "You really freaked me out a few weeks ago."

She must have been thinking, "Where's security?"

"I saw you on an episode of Showtime's Nurse Jackie," I told her and rolled my eyeballs in disbelief. She had played a bag lady of shocking decrepitude about to die in the hospital emergency room.

Her defenses immediately went down. She reached out and touched my forearm and her eyes lit up, "I sat in a makeup chair for four hours," she told me, "and when they gave me a mirror to see myself, I was shocked and cried." Marion Ross was barely perceptible under all of that masterful makeup. I went back to work and was thrilled that I finally got to talk to her after all these years.

I've been a fan of Marion Ross for a long time, since I saw her in a supporting role in Operation Petticoat with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. To see Miss Ross in one of her early roles and compare her with her most recent Showtime appearance brings to mind what Macduff says in Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Two extremes - too difficult to comprehend at once."