By Steve Allen

     It would have been a literal impossibility to produce the award-winning PBS "Meeting of Minds" series in the United States had I not been able to avail myself of the services of a particular actress, to whom I happen to be married, Jayne Meadows. After she had played Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette it occurred to me that there was no other American performer who could have undertaken both roles.
       Consider, for example, that Cleopatra was a mature, dominating intellectual possessed of enough vitality and sexual magnetism to captivate both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, among others, whereas Marie Antoinette was a frivolous, poorly educated young woman, a million miles away from Cleopatra in character and manner.
      On the second round of production Jayne played Florence Nightingale in her late 80's, in a wheel-chair. Even many of our friends who saw the show were not aware of her identity, so completely did Jayne submerge herself in the role.
     She further distinguished herself as the plain and prim American feminist Susan B. Anthony. What is noteworthy is the uniqueness of the four separate characterizations. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine four women with less in common in terms of voice, physical appearance and personality.
     Oddly enough, because Jayne can also handle the glamorous, show-biz, Carole Lombard sort of assignments, they have come to dominate her "image" in recent years rather than the roles in which she distinguished herself during her first years in motion pictures. When she was a teen-ager, for example, she played David Nivens' stern, domineering older sister -- British, of course -- in Sam Goldwyn's "Enchantment". Since the film is seen quite often on television I recommend careful study of Jayne's performance next time it's on. The viewer will find it difficult to believe that so young an American actress could be so convincing.
     She also played a psychotic murderess in the classic "Lady in the Lake" and was only recently reviewed by the New York Times for her brilliant performance. The film, which introduced the I-am-the-camera technique, was made over 40 years ago. Acting coaches and directors advise their students or other young players to see Jayne's performance in this Raymond Chandler thriller.
      Having worked with so many comedians in television, however, including myself, Jayne has, as I say, acquired a Lombardish sort of comedy image so that some very young directors and producers might be forgiven for not being aware that her primary gift is that of a serious dramatic actress.  -- Steve Allen


Jayne as Cleopatra with Steve

Jayne as Marie Antoinette

Florence Nightingale       Susan B. Anthony

Enchantment with David Niven