Their lives, their legacies and their North Carolina connections.
by Eddie Carmichael
Locals who love to laugh have a treat in store when Sally Struthers and Kim Coles appear in Judson Theatre Company’s production of Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s contemporary comedy Love, Loss, and What I Wore from October 18-21. These performances at the Hannah Center Theater in Southern Pines mark the Sandhills area debut of the play, which ran for more than two years in New York.
From TV series like All in the Family and Gilmore Girls, films like Five Easy Pieces and The Getaway, and Broadway triumphs in The Female Odd Couple and Grease, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Struthers has had a distinguished career. Coles appeared on Living Single and In Living Color and is also a favorite with reality audiences from appearances on The Mole and VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club. On top of that, Coles is an acclaimed motivational speaker.
OutreachNC had a blast chatting with these talented actresses for this special two-for-one Carolina Conversations.
ONC: People may not know this, but you’ve both spent a bit of time in North Carolina.
Kim Coles: I’ve been going to Raleigh all my life. My mom is from Raleigh, my dad is from Brooklyn. They met in line during registration first day of school at Shaw University in Raleigh. He got a GI Bill scholarship and a little money to go to college. Being this New York kid, [he and his friends] were making fun of the girls, “You’ve got a funny accent, why do you talk like that?” And my mom said, “You better not tease me! You may just marry a girl like me.” Dad replied, “I’m never going to marry a country girl.” Anyway, they married and moved to New York City. [Years later] after they divorced, they each separately returned to North Carolina. I’m in Raleigh four to five times a year. I did a brief stint at NCCU in Durham in the 80s—they still claim me! Also, I met my husband in South Carolina, when I was doing a speaking event. So the Carolinas are special to me.
Sally Struthers: My overall view of traveling is that when I meet people wherever I go, they’re so nice – whether it’s in North Carolina or Montana. They’ve seen me on TV forever, or in movies, or maybe on the Broadway stage; they feel like I’m a member of the family. [And there’s] the genteelness of people in the south – you can double the niceness when you’re below the Mason-Dixon line.
ONC: At the age you are now, at the place you are now, what are you looking forward to in life?
SS: Figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.
KC: I’m 56, I have more time behind me than ahead of me. I’m really tapping into the question – what’s the legacy I’ll leave? Part of my legacy is teaching – there’s a Zig Ziglar quote I heard at a really dark time in my life. I was busy being blue about not being on a TV show anymore. Paraphrased, he said, “you can have everything in life you want if you help enough people get what they want.” That shifted my energy, it changed everything. How can I use my gifts and talents to serve the world? Laughter is something I do—I can help people be happy. Now, when young people ask me questions or seek mentorship, I think, “I know some stuff I can tell you to do!”
ONC: Speaking of happiness, what was the happiest time in your life thus far?
SS: My childhood in Portland, Oregon around my loving family, in my sweet neighborhood. [That was] an idyllic time in America’s history. [As for the happiest time in my career], I don’t think I can pinpoint it, but there’s an overall feeling of happiness whenever I’m allowed to ply my trade … when I’m working, period! So many actors have long times of unemployment, and I haven’t had to experience that. I’m very fortunate.
KC: I find joy a lot everywhere, but being on the set of Living Single was a perfect thing. I call it the sparkling jewel of my career. It was this coming together of amazing, talented people. We became family.
ONC: Tell us more about your respective TV series work. Sally, All in the Family was so groundbreaking – what comes to mind when you look back on the show today?
SS: God, was I young and naïve! The writing was the star of the show – we were secondary to great writing. They cast actors who were perfect for their roles. Nothing had ever been written like that before. No one had had the nerve, the gumption to write a series that would make people’s mouths hang agape.
ONC: The Gilmore Girls is treasured by audiences in a different way, it’s a different type of show.
SS: Gilmore Girls was also written very well; I was thrilled to do that seven years. [Executive Producer] Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote many of the episodes and also directed – and I thought her writing was phenomenal.
ONC: Living Single was groundbreaking too. What was a typical week like on the set?
KC: We’d read the script on a Wednesday, to tape the following Tuesday. The scripts changed during the week, and they cycled through pink, blue, yellow and chartreuse pages [as the script changes came]. On set, we’d always tease, “when the chartreuse pages come, you’re in trouble!” But we did network run-throughs, production company run-throughs and sometimes on Monday, they’d go back to the original jokes. Sometimes they’d say, “Don’t even rehearse it, go home and we have to make the script better.” We did a four-camera shoot, which is my favorite, because it’s all caught [on camera] at once.
ONC: What do you love about live theater, and specifically the work of Nora Ephron (one of the authors of Love, Loss, and What I Wore)?
KC: I love funny women who write. I speak of Nora Ephron in the present tense because she still lives for me [through her work]. When Harry Met Sally I could watch 855,000 times and never get sick of it. It’s a brilliant, perfect thing. She knows how to do that relationship thing so beautifully. Even though she’s passed on, her legacy lives on.
SS: I’m totally comfortable with [performing in live theater]. I started on stage in elementary school. I always had zero fear … it was already there. I do not mind making a horse’s ass of myself, or looking unattractive. Neil Simon wrote me a love letter on opening night of The Female Odd Couple on Broadway that said “until I met you, I never thought blondes could be funny onstage.”
There are other actors in the industry who would consider me fearless – there’s not enough money in the world to get them onstage [because] it frightens the hell out of them. On a movie, you may shoot three pages a day; onstage you have to know all 100 pages of the script and do it without stopping. I’m as comfy [onstage doing live theater] as on a soundstage or doing a TV series.
KC: The thing about live theater is that it combines the best of everything. It’s the original form of entertainment. It’s live, so I get my “standup jollies,” and I get to play with other people, like a sitcom. For Love, Loss, and What I Wore, I can’t wait to meet and play with Sally Struthers! She’s a legend.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore
Hannah Center Theater at the O’Neal School
Buy tickets at JudsonTheatre.com (limited quantities of tickets also available at The Country Bookshop, Arts Council of Moore County and Given Memorial Library)