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An Evening with Glenda Jackson at the 92nd Street Y

Surely one of the most enjoyable and engaging onstage interviews of the current season was that with the celebrated actress Glenda Jackson—now appearing on Broadway in the title role of Sam Gold’s production of King Lear—at the the 92nd Street Y on the evening of Monday, April 29th, conducted by the alluring author and film professor from Columbia University, Annette Insdorf. (The actress received a Tony award last year for her appearance in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.)
The program began with a screening of clips from films and television featuring Jackson, beginning with Peter Brook’s adaptation of his Royal Shakespeare Company stage version of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade,in which the actress portrayed the assassin of the French revolutionary, Jean Marat. Jackson’s important collaborations with the undervalued Ken Russell were represented by two remarkable excerpts from his first D.H. Lawrence adaptation, Women in Love, for which she won her first Academy Award for the role of Gudrun. (Insdorf was unfortunately unable to obtain a clip from Russell’s extraordinary biography of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers, in which the actress was memorable as the composer’s wife.) Jackson later played Gudrun’s mother in Russell’s adaptation of The Rainbow.
Jackson’s relatively unsung comic talents were on display in a clip from British television’s The Morecambe & Wise Show,which led to her casting opposite George Segal by director Melvin Frank—best remembered for the classic Danny Kaye vehicle, The Court Jester—in the film comedy, A Touch of Class—for which she secured her second Oscar—seen here in two amusing excerpts.
The 82-year-old actress said that “quite a bit” of her characterization in Women in Love came from the novel, noting that the script was written by two Americans, including Larry Kramer. About her stage performance in Marat/Sade, she said that British “audiences sat in total silence” while New York audiences laughed, commenting that “you want us to know you’re there.”
She added interestingly that “the really bad directors always know what they want” while “the really good directors always know what they don’t want and tell you in no uncertain terms.” Praising Segal in A Touch of Class, she noted that he was the first American actor with whom she had worked.
More clips followed beginning with her turn as Queen Elizabeth in Mary, Queen of Scots, directed by Charles Jarrott, who has attracted some interest from auteurists. (She had also portrayed the monarch in the BBC television serial, Elizabeth R, for which she received two Emmy awards.) Also on view were scenes from Sunday, Bloody Sunday by John Schlesinger, Hopscotch by Ronald Neame—opposite Walter Matthau—and The Return of the Soldier by Alan Bridges. She averred that comic roles are harder than dramatic ones and remarked about Walter Matthau—with whom she also appeared in Howard Zieff’s House Calls—“what a joy it was to work with him.”
Insdorf then screened a final set of clips, including Jackson’s hilarious turn in Robert Altman’s adaptation of Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, Gavin Millar’s John Le Carré adaptation, A Murder of Quality, and a scene from the 1988 Business as Usual. In response to a question from the audience, the actress said that her appearance onThe Muppet Show“was one of the most fascinating experiences” she’s ever had, highlighting the immense skill of the puppeteers.
She spoke about her twenty-three years as a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party as prompted by her intense hostility toward the government of Margaret Thatcher. Asked if she would talk about current American politics, she replied,
“Well, I would but I’m a guest in your country.” After an enthusiastic ovation, Jackson said that Americans are “the most generous, friendly, kindly, giving people in the world.”

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