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Interview with Peggy Dawson

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Item’s are ‘child’ level descriptions to ‘parent’ objects, (e.g. one page of a whole book).

  • Peggy Dawson, a student at Western Carolina University in the early 1970s, discusses her interactions with Josephina Niggli both in class and socially, her impressions of Niggli as a person, as her theater teacher, and as a writer.
  • Hilary Lindler: [laugh] This is Hilary Lindler and this is October 23rd 2009. I am meeting with ... Peggy Dawson: ... Peggy Dawson. HL: How did you know Josephina Niggli? PO: I was a student of hers shortly before her retirement. H L: Can you give me a year range? PO: Nineteen seventy-four is when I met her. HL: Ok. PO: Nineteen seventy- three, seventy-four. HL: Are you aware that you are being recorded? PO: Yes. HL: Alright. PO: and I don't mind. HL: And you don't mind. Well that's even better. Ok. You said that you had her before her retirement PD: Right. HL: Do you happen to remember what classes you had with her? If you don't remember names ... PD: Introduction to Iheater (that would be Theater 101). I had her for Period and Style which was my favorite favorite favorite course I've ever ... Shakespeare on Stage, and something something1 that I don't remember. HL: Well, since you really enjoyed the Scene and .~'tyle. PO: Period and Style. HL: Period and Style. PD: Yes. HL: Why don't I ask you about that first because that would be a really good icebreaker. I I have standardized this. but she said something closer to "summn. summn'' PO: Ok. HL: What I'm looking for, is I'm trying to figure out what her personality was like. Maybe how she related to students. How she related to you through the course. That would e a good starting point I guess. PD: Well first, let me tell you how I first met Josephina. HL: Ok. • PD: It was the Introduction to Theater and it I was in the Niggli Theater which used to be the Little Theater. I walked in ... I was a different kind of freshman because I was twenty-five, so I was sign?ficantly older than the other people in the room. When I walked into the theater, there was this small round person sitting on the apron ofthe stage, and she looked up and said "Come in darling,.:;' and I thought "Well Tellulah Bankhead lives. Alright." [laugh] So, because of where I am from and how I was raised, I introduced myself to her. I walked up to the stage and stuck my hand out and said, "My name is," at the time it was Peggy McNeil, and I said "My name I Peggy McNeil. It's very nice to meet you." She said,"Well it's just delightful to meet you darling. Walk me to my car after class." Alright. 3 [laugh] You know. That was just to me ... "So professors actually do that?" You know they would get you to walk them to their car? Fine. Whatever. So, after the first class I walked Josephina to her car and if she was my last class, or if I was in the last class that she was teaching that day, I always walked her to her car. Why? I don't know. We just ... that first day we fell into it and it was done. HL: Do you know if other people did that? PD: I don't know. I'm sure they did, because she was not going to open her bloody door. Ok? HL: [laugh) PD: It wasn't going to happen. Somebody was going to open the door for her, and if she was going to have to treat her students like little minions to get to the car, well ok. You know, she had chops and they didn't. She was good to go. So that was my first meeting with her. HL: Well what was your overall impression of her as a person. PD: At first? You know, your relationships build. At first I just had this blind adoration because she knew people. People I could only image. Tyrone Power. Do you know who that is? 2 When speaking as Josephina Niggli. Peggy Da\vson adopts an exaggerated ''lofty'' voice where she rounds out the vowels. and transforms "darling" into "dahlin'." I have chosen to translate the words in their proper fonn (i.e. "darling") but the spoken inflection is still present. Tlris stays true throughout the entire interview. 3 Pronounced "aighf' HL: I know the name. PO: Well, he was the first man I ever loved outside of my dad, because he was just so pretzv. He was a movie star and he was awesome. But then she knew Richard Boone and Errol Flynn who she called a "dirty man." [laugh] "He was just a dirty man." And again, Tyrone Powers. She had sort of crossed paths with all of these really really old movie stars, contract players in the studios in Hollywood which aren't even in existence today, so it was a different system and she knew it inside and out. HL: Now are you saying they don't do contract players anymore, or the studios aren't in existance. PO: No, the studios don't have that contract player system that they used to have. It was very structured and it was very rigid. They don't do that anymore because Bette Davis made her own films and said "I don't need you. I don't want you. You can't have me." You know, that sort of thing. And, Josephina was involved in Hollywood during that time when women really were making a difference. They just weren't getting the press. They weren't getting ... they were starting to make a difference and take their own power, and Josephina never understood that she didn't have power. She just assumed she did, so she did. I thought that was a hell of a life lesson. [laugh] Oh ok. I don't have to believe that I don't have power. Ifl believe that I have it, I have it. Not course work, but certainly friendship work. Then ... she was a little irritated that I was getting married. This was several years after I first met her. I didn't marry until '76, and she was a little irritated because she knew I wasn't going to act. I wasn't going to do that thing that I was supposed to do. She ... she wanted it for me. But, it worked out. She came to the wedding anyway. [laugh] I have this picture. I've searched high and low. I've got to find this picture. She was so small. She was so short, and she was coming out of the church after we got married. We had a little receiving line. It was just me, my husband, and my son from my first marriage. She was shaking Rod's hand, my son's hand. The kindness showed. 4 She was really really kind, and she thought he was so cute.5 Just a cute little kid, but she was very kind at the bottom of everything. Now I'm starting to miss her. [sniff] HL: If you happen to find the picture I'd like to see it. PD: Ok. Ok. Yeah. [sniff] HL: So I'm definitely getting that you had a really good relationship with her. 4- Peggy tears up here. 5 Shared laughter after she chuckles because she is tearing up. PO: I did It was kind oflike, I think I said this in another interview, that it went from being plain old professor-student to grasshopper-sensei. You know? I became involved with her, rather than taught by her. You know well ... well we just jumped the roof and got on the other side of student-teacher relationship. And that's something when I learned most from her was in the off hours. Although, she ruined me. She absolutely ruined me for unskilled, untrained actors ... writers, directors, whatever. You know, she ruined me for that. Because she insisted on not perfection. She said nothing is perfect and you can't expect it of yourself, but you can always expect quality and she expected quality. The best you had every time, not when you felt like when you felt you know like the "muse'' was with you, because they are undependable these muses. They are not dependable at all so you have to make your own quality product and if muse is helping? So much the better, but you know ... they are not dependable. [laugh] So undependable. Those are the things that until you get a personal relationship with somebody, you don't absorb. You know when you're a student there's always a line. In my experience I've watched students think they had the most brilliant teacher evet~ but they weren't goning to learn anymore than they wanted them to learn. [screen door repeatedly slams in the background] PO: How's that barn door working for you buddy? [shared laugh] [someone sneezes in the background] PO: Gazhundiet. [laugh] I'm sorry [laugh] HL: [laugh] That's fine. [laugh] PD: But you know anyway ... I don't even remember where we are in this now, but that's Josephina. I get really enthusiastic about remembering how ... I was just completely sucked in believed everything she said to be as true as it gets. HL: In retrospect do you still believe that everything she said is as true as it gets? PO: Yep. HL: So that definitely has not changed over time. PO: Not one iota. Well ok. Everything changes, but what I learned from Josephina is true knowledge as I still have it. I use it. Daily. HL: Even though you're not in the theater still. PD: E'ven though I'm not in the theater still. Ah, she did make it hard for me to go to a play, because I just want to shriek "Use your upstage hand! You don't lead with that foot! Are you insane!'7" But, I have to remember I'm not the director, and you knoe I am more an observer of technique than probably is fair to amateurs I'm sure. Now professionals? They get no slack. They're getting paid. They should do it on their own if they didn't get any college or wherever they came from. If they didn't get it there, than it's incumbent on them to do it, to do a better job than they were trained to do because people like Josephina aren't around much anymore. HL: They aren't around? PO: No. They are not around and there is a certain quality, and I'm not saying that everything new is horrible blah blah blah because it isn't, but I'm saying that there's a certain amount of grace that is not being taught. You have to teach people sometimes. I read somewhere a couple ~ of years ago that Keanu Reeves, who he has a career, he had to learn to wear a suit for a movie. You need to learn that before you get hired. That's called teaching yourself Just because "I'm cool, I have a band, and I can wear at-shirt, and the girls shriek and so somebody cast me in a movie"6 does not make an actor. It makes a star and a celerity, but it is a craft and that's what I learned was a craft. HL: Now how do you perceive her relationship, or the manner in which she related to other people, to other students that maybe didn't have the same relationship with her that you did. PD: Her interest was teaching. No she expected you to want to learn. She wasn't going to argue with you, and you know explain herself, but she truly expected that the people who were in her space were there to get as much as she could give them and she did. She gave what ... she gave more than she was paid for. You know? She could have been fantastically wealthy, but that was not what she wanted to do with her gift. So, uh teaching us was what she wanted to do, and she did. But ifyou didn't want to be in her class, uh [laugh] she had a couple offootball players [laugh] and they were there you know, they were there for the credits. It's a crip 7 I'm doing this, you know, Introduction to Theater. Every time she had an example [laugh] those boys was on stage with her. [laugh] It was not because she was mean, but because she just, she knew that they were taking advantage of the fact that they were taking advantage of the fact that she was supposed to be a "crip course." Those were air quotes8 . [shared laugh] But, just because they assumed that it was going to be easy, did not mean that Josephina was necessarily going to acquiesce to their assumption. [chuckle]. And she kept them engaged. Se kept them involved. Then they actually did learn things even though that was not their intent nor expectation. So, that's how she operated. HL: So they did not get the slid by course they were looking for. 6 Said in a stereotypical 1980sll990s mock surfer-esque accent. 7Cnp (Krlp)n.2. /·,'fang Something that is easily accomplished. especially an undemanding academic course. (http://www. thcfreedictionary. com/crip) 8 Said as an aside specifically to the recorder. PO: No no no no no no no. She was ... and she knew. You know, she had a real god sense of who is interested and who isn't interested. And I won't name any names, but she walked up to someone who was declaring their theater major and was just convinced absolutely convinced that she was going to be a star HL: The student was. PO: Yes. And I never heard the conversation. I do not know what words were used, but I'm pretty good at body language and basically what I got was that Josephina said, and I can hear it, • "Darling, you really are not suited." And that's what she thought you should be - suited. And, I can remember the girl just looking like "Uh uh. She didn't say that to me. "9 And I just remember thinking oh God. But by the same token I really admired Josephina's courage, because it takes a lot of courage to dash a hope you know? As it turns out the woman, who the story is about, ended up on the other side ofthe camera, and she is extremely successful. So but in front of the camera, on the stage, not so effective. So, Josephina did her a huge huge favor by nipping it in the bud the unrealistic expectation, and why don't you refocus. You can do this. You can't do that. And again, that was courageous, but by the same token kind. You don't let someone go Ia la la la la la la down the road when you know that's not their road. It's part of being a teacher. HL: So you would say she was a pretty good judge of character or people's temperaments? PO: Oh yeah. As a writer she had to be, and she was a very prolific writer. No writer worth their salt can't look at you and, as they say in theater, read your beans. You know? And pretty much know who they are talking to in the first ten minutes. And she was very good at that. She was very good at that. HL: Speaking of her writing, have you read any of her stuff? PO: Urn ... yes. And I will tel you, Josephina grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. She would tell me these incredible stories. Not incredible, but very complete. [laugh] Very actual stories of her youth. I would listen, you know I've been known to just sit and listen for hours. None of my friends would believe that because they believe that I'm constantly engaged, but I would site with Jo for just a very long time and listen to her tell stories. And, this was after she retired, and there was that incredible void when she retired. HL: In the theater department. PD: No. In her life, because she was not constantly surrounded by students. I think that if she had had any idea that it was going to be like that, that she wouldn't have retired. [laugh] They would have had to carry her out feet first. I'm serious. I think had she known that leisure was not all that it was cracked up to be [laugh] that she might have changed her mind a little, you 9 Said in a style akin to that of the stereotypical Valley Girl. know, stayed on a couple of more decades. But, I think that her health had interfered with that. But anyway, let's see. She died in '83. Is that right? Yeah. I think she died in '83. I didn't read, I guess it wasn't even in print then, Like Waterfor Choco/ate.10 Have you ever read that? HL: [I nodded yes.] PO: I read that simply because someone said "Oh you need to read this book." So I read it. It was for me, a trip down memory lane with Josephina. I mean she was not so madly in love that she spontaneously combusted. HL: (laugh] PO: However, the similarities between that era and that segment of society was so reflective of what Josephina had told me about her life. I really got a better feel for her after reading that book because she actually did have a dueilan and they did have servants and that kind of atmosphere that she was raised in. You know, and then the revolutionary spirit of Poncho Villa, of Mexican bandits and all that stuff. Of course, like all our childhoods, it impacted her adulthood. Those were things that I didn't understand about her until long after her death. What was the question? HL: Have you read any of her stuff? PO: Yes. [laugh] Yes. Mostly about writing rather than her flights of fancy. HL: So like the book of notes on playwriting? PO: The play. Yeah. HL: That one and there is one writing for radio I think. Did you read that one? PD: Urn .... God I haven't read anything of Josephina's in so many years I don't know I don't think I read, I am no Josephina scholar, but I did ... I did, I still do, use her how to write a play manual12 because it's succinct and it's correct. HL: So does that mean that you are actually writing now? 10 Like IFaterfbr Chocolate: A Novel in Month~v Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies by Laura Esquivez was first published in 1992. II Duei'ia (f.) is Spanish for owner. proprietor or landlord in the sense that Peggy is referring to. Alternately. it can mean "master." 12 Pointers on Playwriting. first published 1945 PD: Yes. Of course, but never printed a thing. I don't have that kind of ego. [laugh] I don't. I just don't have the humph. I can walk out on stage and be a character any day of the week, but stand up was hard for me because there was nothing to hide behind. So, the writing is the same thing you know. I'd have to find a really cool nom du plume and, you know, maybe try to publish under that. Because, I just couldn't do it on my ... I just don't have that, whatever "that" is. But yes, I do write, because that's way cheaper than therapy. [24:28- 24:54 removed by request of interviewee] ~ PD: That's another thing. That brings up an interesting memory. Now my dad raised e to understand the meaning of the word, but when Josephina and I were up at her house we had a cooking club after she retired. Josephina, Sue McDougal, Mim Madis, myself, and I can't remember Ann's last name, and Josephina; there was six of us. She didn't go out and she certainly didn't go to someone's home and have a late night at their home, but she was perfectly willing for you to come to her house so we just met at Josephina's house. We had one person that would make a dinner for all of us, in Jo's kitchen and she had every piece of equipment known to man, but then we would talk about food and how to prepare it and why you would prepare this and that, you know, and really just get to know our food, and she was terrific at that too. She was very very accomplished at cooking. And after everyone else had left, and I was still there, she said ... I guess maybe we were talking about writing a cookbook because I'm still writing a cookbook. I guess we were talking about writing a cookbook and I made some off hand remark that I don't remember, and she said, "Darling. You do understand the concept of perpetuity." And I hadn't heard that word since I was a kid. You know my dad used to say "Don't write it down if you don't want it remembered." And we got on this big long conversation about perpetuity and what you do you are responsible for. Of course nowadays does anybody understand what that word means? You cannot look in YouTube or any of those venues and believe that anybody in this country understands that that's forever! You're butt on tv is for-ever. You know, poor Madonna's children. Aie! Did no one teach this woman the meaning of the word? Josephina was very concerned about understanding where you take your art and where you allow your art to be. Because, once it is ... once you give it to the public, it belongs to the public and you can't take it back. You can "wait wait wait, I want to do this. Just Iemme get this one little smudge off" Doesn't work like that. Once it's out there, it's out there and you never ever recover it. So, that is another motivation for doing it absolutely right and well. And those are the things, you know, that I learned from her was the depth. She had depth. HL: Obviously she told you stories about when she was growing up. Did you ever hear her actually talk about her writing specifically outside of what we just talked about? PD: You mean the process? HL: Her process, yeah, especially since you are interested in writing as well. PD: She told me and this is true today. I'm sure this is not an original thought on her part, but she said the most terrifying thing is a blank sheet of paper. It's a terrifying thing. HL: Like a blank canvas for a painter. PD: Exactly. Exactly, because you don't even have the opportunity of reflection. You don't get to look at the paper and have it reflect anything for you. It's just there and you have to fill it. And she told me, this was later in her life, she said, "to this day I fear white paper," and I thought "Well ok. I may be crazy, but I'm in good company." [laugh] You know I'm willing to • say I'm nuts, but at least I was in good company because white paper scares me. Because [deep breath] because it's you. You know, it's not typing for someone else. It's actually you making your statement, and that's a pretty tough thing to do. And so, she had that vulnerability that we all have and especially, I think, artists. You know, we're not ever good enough. We're not ever smart enough. We're not ever ... oh Lord what if they find out that I'm not as talented as they say I am. You know, that really insecure ... I think what makes an artist is not being secure and needing to prove to ourselves and other people that "uh huh. I'm smart enough. I can do it." 1 l But, it was also good to know that Josephina was just as vulnerable as the rest ofus in terms of ... you know, her ego was much better developed than mine because, "uh huh you're going to ... you will publish this," 1 -+ "No no no darling. I do my own editing. You just publish." 1 ' I don't have that kind ofhutzpah. [chuckle]. HL: So she didn't equate ... How do I say this. You said earlier that she felt that she had power because she felt that she had power. Therefore she did. So, she felt it was ok to be vulnerable and insecure sometimes about her work even if she had this personal power? The vulnerability wasn't a weakness? PD: No. No, I don't think of vulnerability as a weakness. I think it's God's way of keeping us humble. HL: I'm not saying it is ... PD: Yeah, but her power came from the fact that she wasn't intimidated, and the vulnerability is hat we all suffer as artists. She had enough power to never be intimidated by any person. You know, Sam Goldwin? Forget about it. I would just feel sorry for someone who felt they could push Josephina around because she wasn't pushable. That was her power. The vulnerability came for the she might not have been pretty enough, cute enough, nice enough, smart enough, 13 Said in voice that imitated someone who might be stupid but is trying to deny the fact and instead insist that they are intelligent. 14 Speaking as Peggy 15 Speaking as Josephina whatever the criteria was when she was developing. There's no way ... you're never enough until you look at yourself and" Aight. That's enough. I'm good. I'm good." But, there's always those lingering insecurities about "[sucks in breath] Can I pull this off?" It didn't affect her end product, but I think at the beginning ofthe process she still, you know, she's afraid ofwhite paper. In the beginning of the process she had to literally take her deep breath and focus and push. I think we all have to do that and that's what makes Josephina so ... real. You know, she's not ethereal. [laugh] She actually was a real tech. You know, and she wasn't perfect16 Oh my God! Did I say that out loud? 17 [shared laugh] You're looking for [unintelligible]18 [laugh] I know what you're doing. [shared laugh]. Can we stop this? HL: Yes we can. [break] HL: And we're back. [laugh] Ok. I wanted to ask you earlier ... you mentioned earlier that you had taken a course called Period ami Style. PD: Yes. HL: That you had absolutely adored. PD: Yes. HL: Can you please tell me what that was about and why you liked it so much. PD: Well it's ... the name of the course is obviously pretty self explanatory. You understand what period you are acting in and the style of that period -the costuming and how to lrear the costume. How to act like Shakespearean actors. When you look at a show, I say show, she made me understand that Shakespeare is not for academics. He did not write or academics. He didn't know any professors, but it was for people for the common man. For the ones that sat, literally, in the, peanut gallery. These plays were directed to these people. People who understood what was going on, "forsooth" not withstanding. You know that's how they talked, so of course that's how he wrote it. Things were different in centuries other than our own. I know that just sounds ... well it's not graspable tor some people who have never seen anything but American television, because again 16 Pronounced "poifect" 17 Said in mock horor 18 Dirt? back to the comment I made about Keanu Reeves, they believe that he is giving them an honest and real reflection of a time period. No. He is taking Keanu Reeves and he is putting him in a situation but he is acting no different than Keanu Reeves would act in that situation. They can hang all the cloth they want to on him. Hes still going to walk, talk, and act the same way he always does. I don't mean this as a negative review ofKeanu's abilities, I'm just using him as an example H L: Nicholas Cage is a lot like that too. • PD: Yes. Yes. I respond to that as ill trained. It's simplybecause of the training that I got. Period and style was absolutely probably one of my favorite classes over all because I learned things like walking in a dress that has a bustle. Now you wouldn't think that you would have to do anything but walk. How to walk in Queen's robes. Well you wouldn't that that's a big deal at all! You just put the rag on and you walk. Well, this is not so because when they dress like this. When they were layer after layer after layer after layer of fabric on them, from the time they were children they learned how to kick the fabric out of the way. They learned how to used their feet to put the fabric out of the way. Otherwise, a lot ofbroken noses. [laugh] So they were trained as children to learn how to walk in these long dresses. Hand maidens were the only one that you know, and lower class women, were the only ones that actually gathered their dresses up to step down a step or up a step or cross the court yard. The upper crust, first of all they didn't do their own laundry. What do they care? Secondly, not to many people did laundry back then. So, there were differences in the year 1300. There were four or five castes of society, and each one of then had a manner in which they had been brought up, and a manner in which they functioned. It all has to be know, even if you don't use it in one production, it has to be known to you so that you can incorporate it in your character, so that your character really does know how to walk in that dress and you don't give the audience the impression that ... well ... imagine. A hippy from the '60s doing Shakespeare and saying "Juliet! Juliet! Come on out baby. Let's go on!" It isn't period, nor is it style. You know? That's not what ... that's what it would have sounded like to Shakespeare's contemporary audience, but that is not what your contemporary audience wants to hear of Shakespeare, you see? Period and Style really got to the root of me. HL: So did it address the period (the style and period) but did it discuss how you would have to approach it so that you don't alienate your audience? PD: Well yeah. I mean it's the sociology period. The funny thing about that class is that it taught all of us. I mean we all learned things like .... In that class, one of the exercises was I was playing a prostitute in this scene and I was to run across the stage to greet a man with whom I had ... well a man who had been serviced many times by my favors ok? [chuckle] God I sound like Josephina! But this was back in the 70s ok? So here I am. I'm thinking "ok, how do I do this scene? He's going to be on the other side of the stage. I'm going to have to dash across the stage and greet him. You know, 'hello I'm very happy to see you.' hoping he's coming for ... a few pence." I rush across the stage and I smooched him right on the lips, and from the dark of the theater I heard "Darling. A prostitute would never ever kiss a man."19 Ok ... urn ... could you 'splain me why? [laugh] You know. I didn't understand, and she said "Darling. In this period, that is a.fi1v01; and prostitutes have never been known to give away .favors." So, you have to understand that they would not have greeted anyone with a kiss. Those are the kinds of things that a well trained actress takes for granted once you've learned those things and you've taken them to be your own. We take them for granted, and yet even people who don't know period and style would mean there's an innate sense of something wrong yo know? Because, when you touch someone's art. When you touch that thing in them that put them in that theater seat. They know, whether they are trained or not, they know if you are doing it well. Period and ,Style for me was just [whew] a lot of work. Are you kidding me? I rode my bicycle ... that and kabuki in the mime course. HL: 1 didn't know they taught ... PO: ... oi! Oh yeah. Oh yeah. No education is complete until you die. [laugh] you know? And that is what she believed. You stop learning when you die. Maybe she wasn't so sure what went on afterwords, you know as aqualifier, maybe something. But, I rode my bicycle on campus. As a side note, I do not understand why this campus is not a pedestrian campus with towers to park in. Just the craziest thing I ever heard, and I've been on this since nineteen and seventy-two. Nobody listens to me, but anyway, oh God I lost my ... HL: You rode your bicycle ... PD: I rode my bicycle. I swam three to six miles a week. I took fencing. I fenced three times a week. I was incredibly physically active in order to survive the courses I was taking. I had to be fit. I've been to several productions over the years, since that core that I was involved with dispersed, and I've watched other professors turn out students, student productions and that sort of thing. You know I"m a harsh critic. I was given a ... [greets someone walking by our table.] Sorry. It's difficult for me to see the acceptance of mediocrity. Josephina didn't accept it. It was ... bah. HL: How would you compare the theater department when she was involved with it to ... have you been to any of the plays like the Spring plays here at Western since? PO: Since, yes. HL: How would you compare the plays that were produced when Josephina was here and what they are doing now. 19 Spoken as Josephina PO: I wiii say that I don't think Western is any different thatn anywhere in this country in that we have accepted mediocrity. It seems to me, and I don't know all these things. I'm pretty smart but I'm not a genius:cu ok? And it wouldn't do you any good if I were. I think the focus in the entire university system, but because I am more interested in it I see more in the theater and the arts, there's a monetary bottom line you know? This professor does this and this professor does this and we can get him a lot cheaper let's get him and I think the criteria for excellence has been diminished university wide. Shamefully so. HL: Just Western or thorough out the nation? PD: No, I think it's a social issue. My generation addressed it. Your generation gets to cot?front it, and if it's not confronted soon mad men win. [laugh] And I'm sorry. I'm sixty-one years old. I will not have my head cracked one more time [unintelligible]. The onus is on you. But it's just ... it's insisting on excellence. You do not have to be a hard-nose. You do not have to be a bully. You don't have to be any of those things. You have to have to mentor who expects it. HL: And Josephina did that. PO: Yes she did. HL: Real quick. Earlier you mentioned that she was disappointed that you did not continue ... PO: Right HL: ... with the theater. PD: Right. HL: Did she happen to have an opinion on you interest in writing? You write not whether it is published or not. PO: Right HL: Were you doing that then? Did she happen to have an opinion on that kind of thing since sh was also involved with the writing world. PD: Josephina had an opinion on everything. Sadly I never had the courage to show her anything I wrote. I just didn't. I did act and she did attend. HL: Were you involved in local theater? PD: At Western. 20 Purposefully pronounced ··geeneeus" with a hard ""g" HL: Outside of Western did you do anything in local theater like Flat Rock or anything? PD: mmm mmm21 Like l mentioned before, I've done stand-up. Now I just told you all this theater training that I have ok? And those things do incorporate, you know, they become art of you regardless of what's going on somehow that works into today. I remember the first time I did standup [laugh] it was more than just a little interesting. Most of it because I was a "C". I was, in my act, knew what I was going to do when the public appeared. Josephine wouldn't have had it any other way, and frankly I would have been to frightened not to have been completely and totally prepared. You know, I would have talked myself out of it. "Well I can't do that. I'm ~ not ready." So, I was totally prepared on that end. What I was not totally prepared for was my audience. [laugh] I got an invitation to ... and this is where improve comes in and this is where solid training in whatever you do good, solid, basic, ABC training can save your hiney. I got this invitation to the All Woman's Comedy Club at the Green Door in Asheville. "Cool. Ok." Called a girlfriend. Asked her to drive me 'cause I'd be too nervous and all that. So we get there ad it says on the front door "All Women's Comedy Night." We walk in and Im like "I thought the audience was going to be all women." You know? And I said, I don't know, "Well maybe the guys are going to leave ... gonna have a time ... " As it turns out, they were all women. There were no guys there. I was in a gay bar and completely unprepared for that audience. I'm sitting backstage going "Oh. My. God. Everything in my act has to do with relationships with my husband- you know me ad Phyllis Diller in Fang right?" [laugh] You don't know what 'm talking about but anyway. You know I have all this material that was completely inappropriate or my audience going though my note cards going "Not gonna work. Not gonna work. Not gonna work. Oh my God not gonna work."22 I went in with three inches worth of material on notecards. I walked out on stage with nothing in my hand and I thought "Well these women are just gonna dump me 'cause I got nothin'!" I walked out and I remember consciously saying this would just make Josephina laugh out loud. She would just laugh out loud. Fine. Fine. So I just went out and proceeded to ... it was just so .... It was like being sucked into an eddy, you know? It was like "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God no no no!" [laugh] And then I remember one little thing from an improv class. Keep it simple. Two topics. That's all you have to do. H L: Did you take that improv class with Josephina? PD: Yes. I believe it was called Improvisational Skill or something like that. [muttering] Anyway, boobs and chocolate. There's not a girl on the planet that doesn't understand those two things. [shared laugh] You know I don't care who you are and for fifteen minutes I did the best drugs"' of my life because I was not hiding behind any playwright's words, not hiding behind and characters, particular idiosyncrasies. It was Peggy Dawson looking at these girls in the eye and 21 A sound to the negative. 22 Pantomimes flipping through note cards and tossing them away one by one. talking to them and it was just ... it was critically liberating I must say. Since that incident I have not been fearful ofbeing caught short. I get caught short it's like "yeah well whatever" and I managed to get right on through it you know like [unintelligible] because I didn't fight her and l remembered my lessons. So, you know, this is years and years and years after I graduated. HL: I'm just going to pause this real quick. [End Audio File I] [Arrival of the Mad Batter's lunch crowd necessitated a change in location. We relocated to the WCU's Hunter Library.] [Begin Audio File 2] HL: Alright. We have now relocated and I have a couple of questions for you that are sort of unrelated to one another. We'll probably form son kind of relation, but at the moment one thing I wanted to ask you is there seems to be some kind of academic debate around what to classify her heritage as or what to classify her work as. You know Latino or PO: Latina. HL: Latina, I'm sorry, Latina. But there is a debate as to what category her work falls in and what category she falls in heritage wise as a person. Do you have any opinion one way or the other on that or what your impression of her was? PO: Oh I can see Josephina with a twinkle in her eye going "all of them." HL: [laugh] PD: l never viewed her as a Latina author and did not understand, until after I was her student and when I became her friend, then I started understanding where she came from and what her heritage was. I still didn't look at her as a Latina anything. What I have read, subsequently, I still view her as an American treasure. I think Mexico and her experiences in Mexico and the things that she related from her youth in Mexico only point to the internationality of Americans. So, I don't see her as a Latina author. I view her more as ... actually her writing for film and television really make her kind of a pop icon to me, because she wrote for iconic early tv shows. H L: Like The Twilight Zone. PD: And Have Gun Will Travel and Wagon Train and very iconic, you know back in the day, television when writers were really important to television. I think what ... the House U n- 23 At least it sounded like "drugs" as in the 15 minutes of standup gave her an emotional high. However. I am not I OO<% certain that was what she said. American Activities Committee2 -+ I think constrained Josephina because she didn't ... well she didn't agree with that business at all. You know, she had a much broader view and much more confidence in the intelligence of her audience than McCarthy had of his constituency. But I think of Josephina as ... I would call her more Pop American. Now your audience, you know people in your age group and even a little bit older than you, 25 are not going to view her as "pop" anything because "pop" for you didn't start until Michael Jackson- you're awareness of it. So, I do really think that she had a significant influence not only on things tht sh had her hand, or things that she pinned her name too, but the people that she know and the you know ... You know haw art gets done. A bunch of wacky people get together and go, "Hey what do you think about __ ," and all of a sudden art starts happening. I think the power of that influence that she had I don't think we'll ever know about, because I think everyone who she touched, in her contemporary circles, everyone who she touched and influenced they did that melding of art they're gone too. So we, 1 doubt very seriously if we will ever really know the extent of her impact. HL: So you would classify her not so much by the nationality of the things that she wrote book wise, but you associate her more with the poplar nature of the things she wrote in Hollywood and that kind of thing. PO: Right. Right. Right. That's all personal. HL: But that's what I'm looking for. PO: I'm hearing one of my [snort] compatriots who is still at Western going, "No no no no that's not right." 26 [laugh] Ha ha. He's not here. [shared laugh] So that's the answer to that. That's ... I would love to know who she actually [pause] who she hung with you know? Who her buds were. HL: She didn't talk about that kind of thing? PD: Oh she did. She rarely named names, except in me she found a gold mind, 27 a real gold mine because I knew who Tyrone Power was and Errol Flynn and Orson Wells, you know, and I knew all these people. I watched their movies, and these are even pre-cable days when you had to actually be up at two o'clock in the morning to watch an old movie. We didn't have art houses, 2~ Also House Committee on Un-American Activities which was active 1938-1975 25 Interviewer was 2~ at the time of this recording. 26 Said in a nasally, complaining type voice, the same type of voice that little children use to say "nab nah nah nab nab" when taunting their peers. 27 Said "mind" meant "mine'' or I wasn't allowed to go to them. We didn't have TCM2x and American Movie Classics29 any of that. 0, you had to actually seek it out, and I did. Bette Davis, you know I just thought she was just the bomb, and Josephina told me, "she's so small she makes me feel oafish." I'm looking at Josephina, this tiny little thing, going oh my God. My hero is an ity bitty little woman and she's so huge on stage. You know, on screen. So, I got a perspective. HL: [cough] PD: [unintelligible]30 [laugh] So I hope that answered ... HL: No that does answer the question. Did she ever talk about her experience with the Playmakers? PO: To me, not a whole bunch. I think, you know, in my memory, wistful allusion would I guess best describe what I know about Josephina and the Playmakers. Although, I overheard a few conversations. I am not adverse to eavesdropping, I"m sorry. That's how actors learn characters. But, with the head of our department. I can remember a few overheard conversations that were heated because Josephina knew what she was talking about and this was her . . . She developed this department. She firmly planted her imprint on the Theater Department and she stood up for what she knew was right. She didn't have any qualms at all of ... she wasn't wishy-washy and you just didn't push her around. You know, if she knew it, she knew it, and by damn she knew it and that was all you needed to know. I think she and Dr. Loeffler locked horns several times because he had the economic strategies to deal with also, and you know, Josephina did come from ... UNC's31 got what looks like, in Cullowhee, an unlimited budget. To Western, that's the big time because they have huge budgets and fly towers for their scenery and all the stuff that we don't still to this day have that she wanted. I think that she got out of the Business in time, the academic end of it, because shortly there after it did go to "it's all about the money" and nobody wanted to spend that money on arts. It's "well that's the stuff you do when you can't get ajob"32 attitude and that was not at all Josephina. Art in an of itself was enough, however it did produce income, it did produce lives, livelihoods and so it was inarguable to her "we don't have money." She didn't ... obviously she understood it, but it angered her on some level. It made her angry that that was a consideration that she had to make. 28 Tumer Classic Movies television channel 29 AlsoAMC JO Possibly some form of "Bless you'' in a different language? J 1 University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill 32 Speaking of a shift in attitude towards the arts. HL: The money part. PD: Yeah. So as far as the Playmakers, she didn't really ... what 1 overheard was more information than she actually shared with me. HL: Now what did you say the head of the department's name was? PD: His name was Donald Loeffler. H L: Loeffler. Do you know how you spell that? PD: L-0-A .... L-0-E-F-F-L-E-R. It's the "o" that makes it hard. HL: Now I mentioned it before, but I'll bring it up now. What color did you associate ... PD: Yellow. HL: ... And why? [laugh] You're very sure of that. Why do you associate yellow with her? PD: Because if you asked me what flower I associated with her, I would say sunflower and they're yellow. She just ... it wasn't that she was all bright and bubbly and, you know, Ia Ia Ia Ia Ia. She just had a light and I just think of Josephina in and as yellow. And the fact that she drove a yellow Jeep. HL: She drove a yellow Jeep. PD: Yeah. [shared laugh] she did. She bought a yellow Jeep for the horrendous weather around here she needed to be safe. She lived up behind Cullowhee Heights. She could have sat on a piece of cardboard and slid down the hill and been at work. But no she had to have that jeep. She went from a Cadillac to a Jeep so 1 was not happy about this because I had to wlk her to her car every day. [laugh] HL: Do you remember what color the Cadillac was? PD: Urn ... non-descript. I can't remember. I don't think it was yellow. But, the Jeep was yellow I remember. HL: So when you say she had a light, more like an internal light or she figuratively projected light or ... PD: She was not what you would call bubbly you know? She didn't have a bubbly personality. No ... it was just, it was just there. H L: A sort of radiance? PO: Yeah, up yeah, you know. Even in a room full of people who were all quiet, for some reason you noticed Josephina. You know? That quality is ... or course it's enviable because I can get lost in a crowd if they can shut me up. [laugh] If you let me talk, nobody looses me. But, she just had that thing ... "it" ... you know whatever it takes to be noticed without doing anything is what she had. She's a yaller gal. HL: !laugh] Now, you clearly were in the area after you graduated. PO: Only since 1971. • H L: Ok, so were you here then when she passed away? PO: Yes. Absolutley. HL: What impact ... or do you know if it had an impact on the university or on the local area when she passed away? PO: No. Shamefully it appeared that no one noticed. HL: Really? PO: It appeared that not one person noticed that Josephina was gone, and that had a lot to do with me continuing with the theater. HL: Really? How so? PD: Well, ticked me off. HL: So you ... PD: Well, greatness passed and no one knew. It's wrong. 33 Sorry. [pause] Ok. But really, you know it was ... that made me sadder than losing Jo. He fact that it was inconsequential. There was no big memorial service at the theater. They talked about it, they talked about it a lot, but ti was never followed through. That was a really [pause] very very busy time in my life, and I may have missed an invitation maybe. I don't know, but privately we really did want her. And, she put everything in her home up for auction to benefit the university. She had given me a book, years before she died, now I'm telling you that Josephina Niggli wrote she did blah she did blah blah blah blah ... She gave me a cookbook. [laugh] But, typically, it was a cooking course in a book. Typical Josephina. She culd not give you a book of recipes. That was simply inadequate. I was not an expert on cooking. Ergo, that was not going to be a valuable to me as this course. We did laugh because she asked me what the title of my book was and I told her First You Make a Roux. That's the name of my cookbook because you got to start with the basics and she understood that. :n Peggy begins to choke up and cry a little. HL: First you make a ... PO: Roux. R-0-U-X. That's what you use to make your gravies,and Lord knows, white sauces. That's a very basic skill that ever good cook has to have, otherwise you're handicapped. She laughed, she gave me this book, and I learned literally ... literally learned the business of my kitchen in that book. l value it, and no Hunter Library may not have it. Every once in a while she nags me and "you know Hunter Library could ... " No. You gave me that and I'm not giving it back. [laugh] Maybe I'll leave it to Western when I die, but not a minute before. [laugh] And I • have one little recipe card that she typed out for her Texas Custard Cornbread. Yeah, urn, because I was in my corn bread phase [laugh] I went through phases. I was in the cornbread phase and I had made, for our cooking class, I had made what I call Yankee Cornbread which basically is like cornbread pound cake. It is the sweet stuff. My family from Delaware- that's what they call cornbread. So, she gave me her recipe for Texas Custard Cornbread and her little note was "Don't try to think what you'll do with the leftovers. You won't have any." she always put a note of some sort on anything. Anyway, that didn't get anywhere near the answer to that question did it? HL: No no. You did. PD: [laugh] Ok. HL: You said that there was an auction ... PO: Oh right. HL: ... after. Did you go to it? PO: I did, and I and ... now ... in 1983, I'm pretty sure it was '83, I was poor as a church mouse. We were, you know, we were struggling not new newlyweds but you know we were getting on getting on, and my husband said "well why are you going to the auction? You don't want to buy anything, and you can't afford to buy anything." I had to think about the answer. All I knew was that I was going to the auction. I didn't know why and of course when somebody asks you why you have to come up with an answer. And, I think the answer was that I wanted to make sure that they were respectful, because I had no intention of buying anything of Josephi ... you know. Josephina's old stuff'? I don't think so. You know, love you. Mean it. Don't want to buy your old stuff. But, I just think it was because I wanted to make sure that they were respectful in her home. HL: And were they? PO: Everyone but one person, and can't relate the story but HL: Ok. PO: [laugh] I mean first of all it is neither slanderous nor liable because it is true, and I witnesses. But, it's unnecessary to relate so ... HL: Ok. PO: But a contact was made, words spoken, and it didn't happen again. [laugh] HL: But overall they were respectful. PD: Well overall it was business to most of the people there. You know it was about business, it • was about buying this stuff for whatever reason, and leaving. There were some people who were close to Josephina there, but mostly it was strangers. I guess that's why I went 'cause she didn't have a whole bunch of strangers in her home. HL: Now you mentioned that you had been in what you called your cooking club PD: Briefly HL: mmhmm3 "' with her and a number of other women. PO: Right. HL: If you don't mind me asking, did any ofy'all get together and do anything to remember Josephina since y'all had done stuff together when she was aline? PD: My friend Sue and I sat down to a fantastic meal that we had both labored over for days, not just the day. You know, did the prep work and all that stuff. Fed our selves elegantly and cried. HL: Sounds very appropriate. PD: Oh it is. HL: Do you remember then when the university named the Niggli Theater. PO: Yes I do. HL: What do you know about that? PD: Not much. HL: No much. PD: You know, honestly I believe I read it in the newspaper the Sylva Herald or ... wasn't in the Asheville paper. Might have been in the campus paper, but I remember reading about it and I called the theater to find out what the deal was and they had already dedicated it. That's why it 34 A sound to the affirmative was in the newspaper, but I didn't receive any notification or know that there was anything special going to ... batons handed or anything like that. I heard about it, and I was happy about it. I was happy. HL: You don't know if there was any kind of dedication ceremony or anything? PD: I have no idea. Probably Kathy Wright would be the one to ask, or ... no 'cause Carlisle wasn't here then I mean he ... I don't think he was around at that time. I think he was in Holland or something so he wasn't, but Kathy Wright would know. She was still a professor at that time. • And I will say that I think Josephina would be very happy to have that theater be hers. It's my favorite theater on campus.35 [laugh] It was. T's got great acoustics. It's actually got dressing rooms on the same floor as the stage. Hoey is an abomination, and I don't care who you are. Hoey is an abomination and they need to raze it and redo it the way Peggy Dawson told them to do it years ago [laugh] with the aforementioned fly towers and seats where average sized people can sit and not get bruises on their knees. You know, and a nosebleed in the back of the theater. That's crazed. [laugh] You know, but I think the Josephina would be very very happy with the Little Theater being her legacy. Being the thing ... and it hurts my feelings a little bit for people to go The Niggli Theater36 or The Niggli Theater and they have absolutely no idea that there was a person. You know? It's ... we don't pay attention to those kind of things in this country anyway, but I just can't imagine that anybody on this campus wouldn't know who she was and they should. I'm so happy about this project, because they need to know and they need to emulate. I really believe that. If they would emulate Josephina's commitment, and I'm talking about the professors on this campus. If they would emulate her commitment to excellence this university would have a name instead of Par-ty. But, the students don't need to make the commitment. Students aren't in charge. Uh huh, and the students don't come to impart wisdom. So, the onus is on the professors and any administration which ... that is a whole other interview you know about the top heavy administrations in all universities. It's just nuts. HL: Did you feel that there was any kind of ... that's a leading question. Ok ... How did it effect you to know that they had named a theater after her after the apparent lack of recognition that surrounded her death at the university? PO: To quote me, "Well itt's about damn time," and that's pretty much about what I said when I read it and that's pretty much how I felt about it. It's just about time. HL: So you felt that there was some kind of ... PO: Acknowledgment of the value of this woman to the university, yeah. 35 whispered 36 Pronounced "NTgglec'' HL: Well I think we have probably covered about everything 1 wanted to. I did want to find out ... you told me a lot of really great stories about her so far. It doens't have to be related to the theater or anything like that, but do you happen to have some kind of story about her or a memory about her that you especially cherish that you want to share? PO: I think I've pretty much done that. Everything in our relationship seems like it was geared toward today. HL: What do you mean by that? PO: I mean [long pause] I think today Josephina could probably make gegazillion dollars being a life coach, cause she had that ability to not see the artifice and go to the core. It's a gift. It's very difficult. I don't think you can train for that. Or if you think you can train for that, I think it's called the psychology department. [laugh] I think the story of Josephina being so kind to my child. The way she37 ... the way she looked at him and smiled. Just ... in my heart ... I'm . . . . I probably have a million stories, half ofthern'd be lies you know. [laugh] but, I think I've probably told you, except when I complained to her one time. I didn't know any better, and I complained to her that oh my God I was exhausted. I was in a production, I mean I was in a main stage production, I was in a one act ... I mean I was in two one acts. Two different student producers, and I was working two jobs. I was working work study physician, and I was working at the Pizza Hut when it was in Cullowhee, and I was a full-time student. I mean I carried a full load, and I was a morn. I'm sorry. I was just tired and I remember complaining, "Oh my God, this is just such hard work," and it was hat kabuki, because I only too half the course. I took half a mime course with her and I think ... yeah it was a scheduling conflict and the teacher let me off the hook because I remember taking the rest of that class with Steve Carr another, back then we were on quarters, so another quarter. I can't remember what happened, but anyway. I remember complaining that I was working too hard and the depth of her understanding was just stunning. She looked me dead in the eye and she said, "huh." So.[laugh] She wasn't impressed that I was working so hard. (laugh] She didn't want to give me one clue that I was the only one working that hard. You know? She just put me in my place. Boom. I was I my place and I didn't get out of it. I understood it. I can complain all I want to my husband, but Josephina's not listening to me. [laugh] She just rnrn rnm38 she was not playing that. That's a memory of Josephina, because I know sometime when I wah wah wah wah wah to myself "I just don't know where I'm going to get the strength,"39 I can hear Josephina go "huh." [laugh] Just like yeah right, whatever. 37 Starts to tear up 38 Said in a manner that equals "'nope" or "'no way" 39 Said in a voice that dramatically indicated mock crying and complaining But, that's about it for me today. Geez. I am emotionally wrenched out. H L: Well I definitely appreciate this. PO: Well I do too. l appreciate you doing this. I really do cause it's so important. So important. We forget the old people, doubt their value, and finally Josephina gets hers. But, I will never do my impression of Josephina Niggli again. l got busted for that. Oh, phew. Busted . • HL: When? PO: Oh it was in the Little Theater. Well I thought she was safely retired for goodness sake, and I have no idea what we were doing in that theater but we were doing something. I flopped down on the apron and suddenly it was like, "Woo l can channel Josephina." [chuckle] I sat on the edge, right on the apron, and l noticed from my peripheral vision that light happened. I assumed that someone had opened the side door, by the humors of youth I continued with my ... impression of Josephina Niggli. It's a long shot because there's a whole ... but anyway. l thought I had, you know ... that's another thing. She was clear that you read your audience. You stay in tune with your audience because if those lines aren't going well, you're the one that has to work it out so that the audience is re-engaged blah blah. I happened to notice that I had lost my audience [laugh] and l was doing very well. You know that hair on the back of you neck thing? It's like oh man, she's in the room right? [laugh] And there she was standing, because she thought something important was being said, she simply came in and stood as opposed to entering as she might have. She looked at me and she went, "Not very convincing." and I was like, "Ok, well I'll work on it." She said, "Oh you mustn't," [laugh] I didn't get to do Josephina again until after she died. It doesn't have anything to do with my respectfulness, it has to do with getting busted. If she caught me a second time, I was toast. It was fun. It really was fun between us, and she told me," you looked nothing like me." I was dead on. Dead on. I remember Karen Furnell.uJ laughed. lfyou ever speak to here she will deny it, but no she did. hated that job, that's why I quit doing the library. Books, books, books, do this. I liked working the desk. Well so, you're getting your Masters in History. HL: Yes, in Public History. PO: Public History. Is there a Private History course? HL: llaughl That's a really good question. [End Recording] 40 That I what the named sounded like. Date:23 October 2009 Begin Time File 1: 10:17 AM EST Begin Time File 2: 11:35 AM EST Length File 1: 57 minutes 8 seconds Length File 2: 40 minutes 25 seconds Location: The Mad Batter and The Media Room at WCU Hunter Library- Cullowhee, NC Equipment: Olympus Digital Voice Recorder VN-4IOOPC
Object
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Object’s are ‘parent’ level descriptions to ‘children’ items, (e.g. a book with pages).