I am streaming on HBO Max the entire six-season run of 90 episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, the sitcom about a fictional talk show during which celebrities play exaggerated, often neurotic, versions of themselves.
The show ran aired until 1998. It started in 1992. That’s 31 years ago for anyone keeping track.
Because The Larry Sanders Show featured celebrities playing themselves, as you watch it in the way Hollywood shows also turn into time capsules, you find yourself constantly thinking, “I wonder where that person is now?”
The episode I watched last night featured Elizabeth Ashley, the gravel-voiced aging sex symbol of the era who was once married to actors George Peppard and James Farentino, two other superstars of their time.
Her exes are long dead, but Ashley has still been kicking around live theater, as this New York Times article notes:
ONE thing is clear as Elizabeth Ashley makes her entrance, taking over a nearly bare apartment-hotel suite here for an interview. She is going to be a fabulous old lady.
At 68, Ms. Ashley puts herself in that category already, professing to find it quite comfortable. “One gets to be as difficult and cranky and heretical and iconoclastic and out of order” as one pleases, she says in her familiar husky voice, tossing in an expletive.
“If you’re an old woman, we live in a culture that assumes you’re a whipped dog,” she adds, sitting cross-legged on the sofa. “But an old woman who is not a whipped dog can be right dangerous.”
Ms. Ashley looks singularly unwhipped in black Chinese pajamas and tinted glasses, smoking Carltons and drinking a mixture of peach schnapps and vodka. She is accompanied by her pug, Che, a gift from her son, Christian Peppard.
She declares herself “brain-dead at the moment,” exhausted after a day of rehearsals for “Zerline’s Tale,” a German one-act play, at Hartford Stage. (Jan. 19 was opening night.)
“There are some parts,” she says, that “by the time you’re old enough to play them, you’re just too old.” In terms of “the physical energy, the vocal energy, the mental energy, the emotional energy and the psychological energy,” that is.
“Zerline’s Tale,” Ms. Ashley stresses, is not a one-woman show. It is a two-character drama, but she is onstage throughout the play and is talking most of the time.
Her character is a former servant in an affluent late-19th-century household, making a confession decades later. It is crucial, Ms. Ashley explains without really explaining, that Zerline hold the other person’s attention. That should not be difficult, considering this particular actress’s intense stage persona, well known to audiences at Hartford Stage, where she has made at least four appearances.
“I love the theater itself. I like that stage,” she says. “I like the people that work there. There’s a kind of spirit about the place. And for the most part I like the stuff that I get to do here.”
I was fascinated with Ashley growing up. I had a crush on her in the ways that little gay boys have crushes on strong female role models. And that’s what Ashley was for me. Intelligent and strong and funny. Everything the female trailer trash I was growing up around were not.
Ashley might have been in thrall of the men whom she loved — who hasn’t that weakness? — but she did not suffer other male fools gladly.
Ashley hit a rough patch in the early ’90s when she ended up doing commercials for SlimFast and other companies, but she bounced back. (see below).
I found this short interview with her from just last year when she was 83. She is still kicking around Hollywood, mostly on Netflix in the show Russian Doll. (In that interview about the time in 1962 when she won a Tony Award, she says, “I remember Charles Nelson Reilly won also that night, and I remember he and I sort of walking out together and Charles grabbed my hand as we were trying to cross Park Avenue and he said, ‘Well look at us, we’re the newest stars around here’.”)
I hope the years have been kind to her. She lives in Ocala, Fla.