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Actor Marsha Mason returns to her life's Chapter One: St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 28, 2013: By the time Marsha Mason starred in “The Goodbye Girl,”more than a decade had passed since she’d bid farewell to St. Louis. On June 9, Mason makes a rare trip home to help out a pal from her days at Webster University.

The four-time Academy Award nominee is returning to St. Louis for a fundraiser for local Insight Theatre.The event involves Insight’s presentation of “Chapter Two,” Neil Simon’s comedic play (and later, movie) inspired by his whirlwind courtship and marriage to Mason. But there’s another story here: one about two friends who took different paths.

Mason, 71, and Insight founder Maggie Ryan were both theater majors at Webster, graduating in the mid-1960s. “When she played Electra, I was in the chorus, and when she played Pegeen in ‘Playboy of the Western World,’ I was the stage manager. My present husband was also in that show,” Ryan wrote in an email.

After graduation, Ryan studied in London, Oregan and Massachusetts, acted, directed more than 100 plays, and eventually founded Insight. Mason headed to New York City and was soon cast in a lesser-known film, “Hot Rod Hullabaloo,” and landed a role in “Dark Shadows.” After Simon chose her for his play “The Good Doctor” in 1973, the playwright and the actor fell in love. She helped raise the two daughters he had with his late wife.

Through the years, Mason and Ryan kept up through letters and short visits. They met when Mason came through St. Louis in the tour of “Cactus Flower.” Ryan heard Mason speak to a Webster University graduating class, and attended a book signing of Mason’s 2000 memoir, “Journey.”

Mason’s upcoming St. Louis appearance begins with a luncheon for 40 guests in a private home, followed by a presentation of “Chapter Two,” a Talk Back and a reception. She’s also teaching a master acting class for Insight interns.

As Mason told the St. Louis Beacon, this visit benefiting Insight Theatre evolved over a series of conversations.

St. Louis Beacon: How did the idea come about?

Marsha Mason: When this came up, I was doing “All’s Well That Ends Well” with a Shakespeare company in Washington, D.C., and Maggie came to see the show and we talked afterward. So I said maybe I could do something for the company.

We had talked about my doing a solo performance piece or something else. But it was very difficult to schedule together, and I really had a tough time figuring out how to make a commitment as far as a full production of something.

Do you get back to St. Louis often?

Mason: No not too often, actually. That’s another reason I thought this could be kind of wonderful. I’m going to see my nieces and their children, and my sister and her husband. And I’m going to see some old school chums. And I’m going to be having lunch with president of Webster University.

I’m very excited to go back and touch base with St. Louis again. I have very positive memories of all the teachers at Webster and at Nerinx Hall. So it makes me really feel good to go back and give back a little.

Recently, you performed in the off-Broadway “Celebrity Autobiography,” and currently, you’re a regular on ABC’s “The Middle.” What else would you like to do, professionally?

Mason: I think I want to concentrate a little more on theater. And I want to travel and I might write another book. I especially want to be able to do as much theater as I possibly can.

I shot a pilot for TNT with Geena Davis and we’re waiting to hear if that’ll be picked up. Then in the month of August I’ll be at the Bucks County Playhouse doing “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” by Charles Busch. 

Off-stage, you’ve spent time raising children, racing cars and growing organic herbs. Now, you’re selling your New Mexico farm to move back to the East Coast. What chapter would you say sums up your life right now?

Mason: Well it’s kind of hard to say. The last 15 years in New Mexico could be Chapter Three, I suppose. So once the farm sells, I’ll be in my fourth chapter.

Maybe you’ll be like a cat and have nine lives.

Mason: Of course! I do intend to live a long time, but you never know.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.