JAYNE MEADOWS: ACTRESS
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.
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.
for example, that Cleopatra was a mature, dominating intellectual possessed of enough
vitality and sexual magnetism to captivate both Julius Caesar and Marc
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
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
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
Nightingale Susan B. Anthony
Enchantment with David Niven