Zoe Caldwell once was a bottler in a pickle factory. She’s still packing them in, but now as one of the world’s best actresses, a seductive Cleo doing the unheard of: turning Stratford sexy

JON RUDDY July 1 1967


Zoe Caldwell once was a bottler in a pickle factory. She’s still packing them in, but now as one of the world’s best actresses, a seductive Cleo doing the unheard of: turning Stratford sexy

JON RUDDY July 1 1967



Zoe Caldwell once was a bottler in a pickle factory. She’s still packing them in, but now as one of the world’s best actresses, a seductive Cleo doing the unheard of: turning Stratford sexy

A woman is a dish for the gods.

— Antony and Cleopatra

HER MOUTH IS too wide and her nose is bumpy but she is quintessentially attractive. She is also, according to a whole company of critics, producers and directors, one of the 10 best actresses in the English-speaking world. And when Zoe Caldwell, an Australian plumber's daughter with the spirit of a burst water main, opens as Cleopatra July 31 at Stratford, it should be a bad day for the Philistines.

She is not your stereotype Serpent of the Nile. Sitting there now, for instance, in a nasty little rented house in Stratford, nine pounds overweight, wearing a half-acre sweater, she looks as if she might have made a good Ophelia for Franco Zeffirelli, the Italian director whose beatnik Hamlet once intoned, “To be or not to be — what the hell?"

Zoe (rhymes with Flo. not Joey) has played Ophelia in a more conventional Hantlet: also Mother Courage and almost everything in between, including Orinthia. a Shaw heroine of such bewitching beauty that every man who secs her is badly smitten. Actor William Hutt has said that she projects more sex appeal than almost any actress he has ever seen. Directors have discovered that her flawed, fabulous face seems to rearrange itself for every role she plays, while her softest murmur carries like a party line to the farthest balconies: she is a dish for those gods. too. As for the critics, par pie their prose, and so perfumed that / the readers were sick with it.

In New York. Walter Kerr gushed: “She flatters a man at nightingale pitch, then drops her voice four or five registers to cut his heart out." A Canadian critic wrote that she had “gorgeous creative juices."

On the subject of her own seductiveness, Stratford's first Cleopatra is the Serpent of Denial. “I u'as never an ingenue. I never had a pretty face. Fm not crying about it. 1 always knew that I had to grow up and learn to work. I always thought that when I was in my 30s 1 would be equipped." She's 33.

She was born in the Depression in a slum area of Melbourne to a dad who was a theatre buff and a mum who had been an actress ol sorts and ol musical comedy. She pranced in a dancing concert at two years 10 months, took tap. ballet and voice lessons. "I was lucky to get a scholarship with a voice teacher who taught me how to read, not how. to say. 'How now br-r-r-rown cow.' 1 got into radio as a child. Eater 1 became an entertainer. I entertained, ah. not gentleman callers, but birthday pahties and all that stuff."

For a short time she worked as a bottler in a pickle factory — a fact that will come in handy when Hollywood gets around to doing The Zoe Caldwell Story. Her break came at 18 when she got a job with the Union Repertory of Melbourne, Australia’s first professional rep company. Before she turned 21 she won an Erik award, Australia's answer to the Tony, for her performance in Shaw's The Heiress. In 1955 she joined the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and soon won a scholarship to England’s Stratford to work with Sir Tyrone Guthrie. She first appeared at Canada's Stratford in 1961. She has played at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, with the Canadian Players, at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. and twice on Broadway, where she won a Tony as best supporting actress last year as Polly in Tennessee Williams' Slapstick i raped y. Next year on Broadway she'll play the role made famous in London by Vanessa Redgrave in 7he Crime Of Miss Jean Urodey.

During some of this time Zoe was appearing infrequently on the CBC. Most of the shows were forgettable but she was not. At least one was pretty wonderful television. 1 was a daily TV critic for five years, and a C BC production of Dear Liar, a collection of letters between Shaw and a famous lady of the theatre, was one of the five or six shows 1 saw in all that time that I don't want to forget. Barry Morse played Shaw and Zoe Caldwell played Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

Although she professes not to be aware of it. there is a lot riding on Zoe this summer, in the first place, Antony And / continued on pape 35 Cleopatra is the only great play by Shakespeare that hasn't already been done at Stratford. In the second place, the 1967 season marks the last and climactic act of Michael Langham as artistic director of the Festival. And in the third place, the much-trumpeted '66 season got bad reviews — Dr. Nathan Cohen, Canada's only drama critic, took it in his snide — and disappointing receipts.

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A lady-killer, higgary and peckery, then the old curly eye

Nobody know's quite what Zoe is going to do about all this. But everyone assumes, at this stage, that Antony And Cleopatra is the play of the year, and that Christopher Plummer, who plays Antony, and Zoe are the players to w'atch. Especially Zoe. She hasn't revealed much about how she’s going to play Cleopatra. “She was very much a woooman — not this . . .” (here she makes a sharp gesture of vertical lines). "She was the only woman in all of Shakespeare who could not be played by a man.” Last fall Zoe told a reporter that her Cleo would he “all belly and breasts." Now she doesn't think that was a very felicitous phrase. “I received a letter from a man in Ontario who said that he hoped I w'ould play her. not with belly and breasts, but with brains and —.” Here she uses Henry Miller's favorite obscenity.

The first thing you notice about Zoe. after her eyes, which seem to burn like Lucas fog lamps, is her funny way of talking. She has acquired a lot of Australian and English slang which hardly anybody over here can make out —“They think I am a hit jolly hockey stick because I arrived in this country wearing a fedora,” she will say. or, describing an evening she spent with a lady-killing Toronto publisher. “There was a lot of higgary and peckery when I phoned his secretary to find out what he was like, and later at the banquet I noticed everybody giving me the old curly eye.” She also delves frequently into a regular Blue Book of words and phrases which nice young ladies are not supposed to utter in mixed company.

Still, her indelicacies seem to drop as the gentle rain from heaven. Perhaps it is because she is so forthright about everything else, including her love life. "I have to be in love or I can't work. I am very orderly about it because I am a Virgo. Each of my five affairs has lasted two years. I suppose that if I'd married five times I would have had five divorces. But when I am with a man it is exactly as if we were married.”

Her lovers have included several famous men of the theatre and an Australian guitar-maker. The current one is a Canadian-born producer who w'orks in New York. Zoe has bought a Jeep, yellow with a red-cloth top, to commute between his apartment opposite Central Park and his 75-acre estate in Pennsylvania. This affair may last. "I really thought 1 had an actor's footloose life. For the first time 1 can see another kind of future. My only unfulfilled ambition is to have a child.”

She is a very superstitious person. On this day. a beautiful day in April at the beginning of rehearsals, walking down the street toward the Queen's Hotel in Stratford, she is talking about the difficulties of playing Cleopatra. “Actresses who have failed, they say. although not totally, include Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Cornell. Colleen Dewhurst and Vivien Leigh. There has never been a real success in the — " She sees something in the gutter and runs over and picks it up. It looks like one of those little metal cleats off somebody's heel. She closes her eyes. “Protector, protector, bring me luck." Her eyes are squidged shut like a little girl s. “Protector, protector, bring me luck." She throws the cleat or whatever it is over her left shoulder. It hits the pavement somewhere with a tiny clinking sound.