|Meg Bennett's one of a kind career|
By Rita Keith Richards, Daily TV, 1985
Bennett is padding about her mountain aerie in the hills of Westwood. Bright
sunlight pours in from the east and south-facing windows, total testimony to a
self-assured lady. Anyone less confident of her looks would drape the windows.
It's a one-of-a-kind apartment, she agrees, just as hers is a one-of-a-kind
career. She is, after all, the only actress in town who also writes a script a
week for her own series.
She cuddles her knees in their perfect-fitting black tights as she sits on a pearl-gray couch. Her eyes are tremendous in her tiny face. Her hair is tousled – she blames it on the weather. Great Santa Ana winds have been blowing for days, causing static electricity. Women in general can't do a thing with their hair in that kind of climatic condition.
"Let's see, it's been three years since they wrote my character, Julia Newman, off the show. Julia was going to leave Victor and Bill Bell (the creator and always head honcho on The Young and the Restless) called and asked if I had any interest in writing, because he didn't want me to leave the show." She had no interest in writing, never had, but she also remembered going to auditions, waiting for the phone to ring to say she had or didn't have the job. Writing seemed an interesting alternative. "It wasn't that my parents put up obstacles in the way of my wanting to be an actress," she recalls, "but they did suggest I try for a teaching credential to fall back on, just in case." She had her just-in-case alternative route, as it were. She went to Chicago where Bill and his wife, Lee, live, having first written a sample script. She was invited to apprentice for six weeks. "I had a knack for it," she knows now. "My acting agent had said I should do it, too."
She stayed in an apartment three blocks from the Bell home and started out by writing scenes for Lorie and Leslie. "I could actually hear the dialogue in my head. And Bill gave me critiques. He told me how to build scenes. He is very accessible, very supportive. He's also very un-Hollywood," she adds appreciatively. "I'd been acting on the show for almost two years when this happened, so I knew the characters." It was agreed from the outset that Meg would never write for Julia, her character. That would have to be too self-serving. She averages a script a week, although when she takes a hiatus from the series, which happened earlier this year, she was writing two shows a week. "I guess I've done about 150 altogether," she estimates. "They were stacked up so high, I had to put them in storage. There wasn't room for them here."
"Here" is perhaps one of the most desirable apartments in town. Meg's apartment occupies the third and top floor of the building. The architect fashioned if for himself. She has total privacy because there are no other three-story buildings in the area. Outside the living room is a large patio where she breakfasts (tea and yogurt) on nice mornings. A small hallway from the living room opens onto her bedroom-cum-office. Half the room is occupied by her white desk, typewriter, with a hand-made white cover created by a set designer friend, and up a step is her kingsize bed. There are build-in closets on one wall, more built-ins in the large, blue-carpeted bathroom. "I just lucked into this place," Meg explains. "I had been mugged in the building I'd been living in, so I was looking for a place to move to. When I was working on the Special Olympics here at UCLA last summer, I saw an ad in the paper. The vacancy was in this building, and I thought how great if would be to walk to the Special Olympics. When I got here, someone had just given notice on this unit. It had been available for about five minutes," she laughs. "I think it was my reward for working with the kids (on the Olympics)." So she has lived here happily ever after, admitting, "My life is more balanced now. I used to feel I was running in place. Good therapy helps," she says honestly. "I grew up as an over-achiever."
She recently took a three-month hiatus from the soap, so she could put some writing projects in development. There is a novel she wants to option and produce as a mini-series. And she is writing a screenplay. "I'm not sure which is more gratifying - writing or acting and fortunately I don't have to make a decision to opt for either. I wonder if doing just one or the other would be enough. I'll admit, acting makes me a little crazy sometimes : you wait to audition. You wait for the part. When you're writing, you're in control. I can initiate things on my own when I'm writing. When I started my hiatus, I decided to keep a journal, and I filled one in three weeks. I guess that says there's a lot in me that needs to come out," she flashes that wide infectious grin as she sips a crystal goblet filled with - oh glamorous Hollywood - ice water.
It's hard to believe that she's changed much from that self-described non-stop workaholic she was two years ago. She's still running on a fast track. She has her own production company, which she has whimsically named Thidwick Productions. What does it mean ? "It's a book by Dr. Seuss," she says, "The Big Headed Moose. It was my favorite book when I was a little kid, because he had dedicated it like this : "With Extra Moose Moss for Helen." Helen is my real first name, and I believed he'd written the book just for me," she fantasized even as a youngster. She's never met Dr. Seuss, but a move is under way to get her his address, so she can write and let him know what a profound influence he's had on her life.
She had to change her name from Helen to Meg, because there was another Helen Bennett in Hollywood. "She was a Vogue model who never made if as an actress, but she was on record as having that name at Screen Actors Guild. There couldn't have been two of us. And Margaret Bennett is my mother's name, so I became Meg," she explains. All that happened after her graduation from Northwestern, where Shelley Long was one of her classmates and Peter Strauss was two years ahead of her. She appeared in Godspell, was Marty for two and a half years in Grease on Broadway and auditioned along with Morgan Fairchild for the role of Jennifer on Search for Tomorrow. "Morgan got the part, because she was witchier, but they called me three months later for the part of Liza." There were and are no hard feelings towards Morgan. The two haven't seen each other for some time, but Meg still regards her as a close friend. "She taught me so much about makeup," she enthuses. "I still use Elizabeth Arden mascara, because Morgan says it's the best made. And she knows about all those things."
She returned to Hollywood - nearby Pasadena is her hometown - because she had aspirations to do nighttime television. Fate, in the form of a severe case of hepatitis, intervened, and she couldn't work for almost two years. She's slim now, 108 pounds on her 5'8" frame, but when she'd recovered from the illness, she was clown to 98 pounds. That's when she got the call from producer John Conboy, telling her Young and Restless was going to an hour in length and would she like to come work for him. A job is a job is a job, and she's been in daytime ever since.
Stuck ? Pigeonholed ? In a rut ? If she feels that way, and many daytime performers do, she won't admit it. It's a living. A good one. And in a profession where its participants are at leisure more than they're at work, some ruts are mink-lined. But there's little time for a private life. There is no special man in her life. Prominent space on the bookshelves in her living room is given over to her baby blonde niece. Fine photos, some of which Meg bas shot herself. She would like to marry and have children, she has said, but evidently there are no immediate prospects.
For sure, she doesn't wish to emulate the lifestyle set by her soap persona, Julia. In case you haven't been paying attention, she returned to Paris with her baby, to her boutique and life of modeling. "She wants to be a single parent," Meg says. "Myself, I'd rather have the father around. Yes, it is hard playing the same character year after year - Julia and Liza on Search for Tomorrow are pretty similar, characters like me. The frustration comes from some of the other actors' storylines. That's why the writing is enjoyable." "l love writing those bitchy things for Jill to say to Mrs. Chancellor, it's not as much fun writing for Ashley; she's so much like Julia. Lauren Fenmore is fun to write for, and so is Beth Maitland. I enjoy speaking from the heart. That's one of the reasons I'm not part of the Hollywood hot life. I don't like big gatherings and parties. Intelligence is very high on my list when it comes to men," is all she'll say about actors.
About the only regret she has in her life to date is that she was offered an opportunity to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her parents prevailed upon her to go to Northwestern instead, for at least the first two years. Instead, she stayed the full four, and never made it to London. "I often wonder how my life might have changed if I'd gone," she says wistfully. The mood lasts but seconds, for the constantly-ringing phone summons her again. Maybe there's no one special man but there are certainly a lot of fellas phoning.