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Holland Taylor: A Class Act's Next Tough Dame

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Holland Taylor: A Class Act's Next Tough Dame

Arts & Life

Holland Taylor: A Class Act's Next Tough Dame

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Ann Richards made her national debut back in 1998; that's when she made the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. George H.W. Bush would soon be the Republican presidential nominee.

Ms. ANN RICHARDS (Democrat, Former Governor, Texas): I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

INSKEEP: Two years later, Ann Richards was elected governor of Texas, a job she later lost in a campaign against another George Bush.

Ann Richards died in 2006 from cancer. Now, a veteran actress has written a one-woman show about her.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg reports.

SUSAN STAMBERG: The name Holland Taylor is not that familiar, but you have seen her a lot, usually playing someone's mother. In "One Fine Day," Holland Taylor, trying to reach her daughter, Michelle Pfeiffer, gets George Clooney by mistake.

(Soundbite of film, "One Fine Day")

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Jack Taylor) Hello.

Ms. HOLLAND TAYLOR (Actress): (As Rita) Who's that?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Jack Taylor) Who's this?

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Rita) Who's this?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Jack Taylor) Who's this?

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Rita) Who's this? What are you doing with my daughter's phone?

STAMBERG: Holland Taylor was Tina Fey's mother in "Baby Mama."

(Soundbite of film, "Baby Mama")

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Rose Holbrook) You know, Kate, not everyone is as tolerant of your alternative lifestyle as we are.

Ms. TINA FEY (Actress): (As Kate Holbrook) Being single is not an alternative lifestyle.

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Rose Holbrook) It is when you're 37.

STAMBERG: And right now, on television, Holland Taylor is the mother of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer in "Two and a Half Men."

(Soundbite of sitcom, "Two and a Half Men"):

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Evelyn Harper) I think God gives us children so death won't come as such a disappointment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Her characters are smart, witty, patrician and so is Holland Taylor. She looks sort of like a short Katherine Hepburn, by the way. You can see photos at

Now, off-screen, she is developing another smart, witty character: Ann Richards who, was governor of Texas from 1991 to '95 - one term only. George W. Bush beat her in the '94 campaign.

Holland Taylor has become fascinated by the straight-talking Richards.

Ms. RICHARDS: We must be vigilant. We must insist that the freedom that exists in the nation exists for a reason.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

Ms. TAYLOR I mean, to get to be governor of Texas which was the ninth largest economy in the world, and it is a macho state, and it was a Republican state. And when she became governor, she had to effect a stance of strength even more than was her own. She had to be unshakable.

STAMBERG: Holland Taylor's devotion to this project seems pretty unshakable. She's turned a small guest room in her Hollywood Hills home into Ann's Room. It's jammed with books on Texas politics and history, text of Richards' speeches, newspaper clippings,...

What are these ring binders?

Ms. TAYLOR Well, this is just articles before governor, articles after governor. First, I did a huge effort of gathering. Im still gathering.

STAMBERG: Gathering, hunting, writing - now she has to become Ann Richards, which means taking it from the top. A Richards' signature was her beautiful, big crown of hair.

Taylor found a good wigmaker.

Ms. TAYLOR And can you in any way make it whiter, more snowy? Yes, and shorter. I know you can cut it.

Her hairdresser and others would say, in Texas, you kind of have - your hair has to match your rear end. And as your rear end gets smaller, the hair can kind of come down.

STAMBERG: Hear that little twang?

Ms. TAYLOR Your hair has to match your rear end.

STAMBERG: Texas - not so easy for an actress from Philadelphia. Her pal and one-time TV co-star, Tom Hanks - they were in "Bosom Buddies" in the 1980s -recommended the dialect coach he used on "Forrest Gump."

Ms. TAYLOR I just say whether, she goes hwhether(ph) or hwhat(ph). Oh, it's a very key sound. And when I do her, my mouth and my body is going to have to be in the habit of saying hwhy(ph), hwen(ph), hwaht(ph). I do not.

STAMBERG: Taylor is developing the habit by listening to lots of Richards' recordings.

Ms. RICHARDS: I feel very strongly about what the government is supposed to do, as opposed to what the politicians dont do.

STAMBERG: Holland Taylor says she's not really trying to imitate Ann Richards. She wants to evoke her, with that snowy hair, the sass, the spirit, her deep compassion.

Ms. RICHARDS: I was born in a little community just outside Waco. It was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems, and they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression.

STAMBERG: Ann Richards stood up for the poor, the rights of women, African-Americans, Hispanics. Holland Taylor says what really drew her to the Texas progressive was Richards' profound sense of fairness.

Ms. TAYLOR This was just her essence. She says, life isnt fair; I know that. We all know life isnt fair. But government should be.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Day Reagan Was Shot")

Ms. TAYLOR (As Nancy Reagan) All right.

(Soundbite of clicks and beeps)

Ms. TAYLOR (As Nancy Reagan) Smile, honey. Look here. Smile, honey. Smile.

STAMBERG: Political roles are not new to Holland Taylor. In 2001, she played Nancy Reagan in the made-for-TV movie "The Day Reagan Was Shot."

Ms. TAYLOR I enacted a loving wife, and you have to admire that aspect of who she was. And so, like when they're trying to take his picture and he's being propped up in bed, and she both wants that picture taken because she knows that the nation needs to see it. On the other hand, she can't stand her husband being manhandled.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Day Reagan Was Shot")

Ms. TAYLOR (As Nancy Reagan) Honey, here I am. Smile. Hello, darling. Stop. Stop it. Thats it. Mike, this is not going to work.

Mr. MICHAEL MURPHY (Actor): (As Michael Deaver) We were going to take a lot of pictures.

Ms. TAYLOR (As Nancy Reagan) No, what about the ...

STAMBERG: Strong, gutsy women are Holland Taylor's trademark. In 1999, she won an Emmy as the provocative, sexy judge in "The Practice."

Ms. TAYLOR (As Judge Bonnie Rose) This isnt about you getting a job, Kevin. It's about getting me.

Mr. ELLIS WILLIAMS (Actor): (As Kevin Beal) Excuse me?

Ms. TAYLOR (As Judge Bonnie Rose) You're obsessed with me. Does your lawyer not know that? Probably getting aroused right now - stand up, Kevin.

STAMBERG: The thing that I loved so much, is that you can be sexy at that age and you can show a woman on screen...

Ms. TAYLOR It was fun.

STAMBERG: ...being like that.

Ms. TAYLOR It was fun. Yeah, I must say, at my age - I just turned 67 - and it is a real - I mean, aging is ugh. It's, what a trip. As I say, ain't no going back.

STAMBERG: Meanwhile, Holland Taylor is going fast-forward to channel, on stage, a feisty, former Texas governor.

Ms. RICHARDS: Thank you very much. You did a good job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Taylor's play about Ann Richards is called "Money, Marbles and Chalk," an old Texas expression for going all out. Holland Taylor thinks that defines Ann Richards. Her one-woman show debuts next month in the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, Texas.

Im Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you can watch a no-nonsense lecture from Holland Taylor in "Legally Blonde," at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

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