Actress Doris Roberts has played the role of mother
to Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Tony Danza and Marlo Thomas, to name
just a few. Her favorite mother role is as real-life mother to son Michael,
but her favorite television mother role is her Emmy award-winning personification
as the meddlesome Marie Barone in the prime time CBS comedy Everybody
What type of mother is Marie Barone? She is based on
a combination of series star Ray Romanos mother, who is Italian,
and series producer Phil Rosenthals mother, whos German-Jewish.
Roberts combined the personalities of both mothers and came up with
her own twist. They are different rhythms, different personas.
I meld them together, Roberts explains.
Her contribution, in creating the character of Marie
Barone, is a very important one. This woman could be a harridan.
She really is more than meddlesome. She justifies Maries
actions, and makes them more palatable. Everything I do, I do
it because I want them (the other characters) to make a better life,
a better home. It all comes from love. Thats why Im very
pleased and excited that I have that much of a contribution for that
character that makes everyone laugh, because if you laugh at me, you
can laugh at your own parents. I really am proud to say, that nothing
is dishonest. When I act, I am as pure as you can get in that character.
I am having a grand time.
Doris May Roberts made her entrance onto the worlds
stage on November 4, in St. Louis, Missouri. An only child growing up
during the Depression, Doris was raised by her mother, Anne, after her
father deserted the family. Her grandparents had an apartment in the
South Bronx, New York, and raised her while her mother worked to support
them. Roberts was influenced both by her mothers resoluteness
and by her Uncle Willie, her mothers brother. He came to
stay with my mother and then I came to stay with my mother. He taught
me about love. He loved me unconditionally.
Roberts first displayed thespian talents with a debut
at the age of 6 in a kindergarten play. She proudly warbled, Im
Patrick Potato. This is my cousin, Mrs. Tomato. Everyone laughed
and Doris was hooked on performing. She entered the Hearns Amateur
Hour radio talent contest and although singing Winter Wonderland
with a lisp got her a brisk rejection, she, like her mother, persevered.
It was, in fact, her mother who supported her efforts and took her to
see Broadway matinees.
Her early schooling was handled by the New York City
public school system, followed by a brief enrollment at New York University,
with a major in journalism. However, her natural flair and love of the
dramatic led her to switch to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater.
In 1955, her dream of acting on stage came true. Doris
debuted on Broadway in William Saroyans classic play, The Time
of Your Life, at City Center. In spite of her innate acting abilities,
she decided to join the famed Actors Studio, to fine tune her techniques.
Roberts first TV role came in 1952, with a guest part on the television
series Studio One. Other guest roles included parts on Ben Casey, Naked
City, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and more.
But in her personal life, things were not all that
rosy. Although her first marriage to Michael Cannata eventually ended
in divorce, her proudest creation was from that union, their son Michael
Cannata, Jr., born in 1957.
Continuing to conquer new venues, Roberts made her
film debut in 1961 in Something Wild. A steady stream of movie roles
followed, with parts in Barefoot in the Park (1967), No Way to Treat
a Lady (1968), and more than 30 appearances in film and TV movies during
the next 20 years. She also continued to pursue stage roles. In 1973-74,
she won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best actress for the off-Broadway
play, Bad Habits. One of her favorite movie roles was in Hester Street
(1975), a film about turn of the century Russian-Jewish immigrants,
starring Carol Kane.
But acting on stage remained Roberts first career
love. And, it happened that stage work was instrumental in bringing
another love into her life. In the late 1950s, (Charles) William Goyen
was primarily a novelist. After he began writing dramatic works and
six of his plays were produced, he had the good fortune to be introduced
to Doris Roberts. They married in 1963. They remained married until
his death in 1983. He was her love, her partner, her friend. Recalling
their last month, Roberts still gets very emotional.
She says, He was a wonderful writer and novelist.
He was dying, and he looked at me and said, I just worry about
you, I wonder how... Then he stopped in the middle of the sentence.
He looked me in the face and said, You know, on second thought,
that will be your problem. We both laughed and got through a difficult
After Goyen died, she appeared on talk shows and talked
about his books. People would ask me how can I go on? I said,
You have a choice. You can either lie down and die with that person,
or you can go on. There is a time for mourning. That is very important.
Get it out of your body, and then move on. Put the coffee cup down,
and get up and get out of the house.
In 1983, she won her first Emmy as Outstanding Supporting
Actress in a Drama Series for St. Elsewhere, a role that re-introduced
her to actor James Coco. Roberts and Coco had worked together in three
films: A New Leaf (1971), Such Good Friends (1971), and the television
film, The Diary of Anne Frank (1980). Also in 1983, she signed on as
the character Mildred Krebs for the second season of the Remington Steele
NBC television series (1982-1987), for which she was nominated for an
Emmy in 1985. She received subsequent nominations for Perfect Strangers
(1989) and The Sunset Gang (1991).
As she aged gracefully, Roberts became more and more
aware that although she had been working steadily, roles for actresses
over 40 were not in abundance. On September 4, 2002, she testified before
a U.S. Congressional panel how the entertainment industry has made aging
a detriment to hiring. When she auditioned for the part of Marie Barone
on Raymond in 1996, for instance, there were about 100 women trying
out for the one part. She testified that age discrimination is prevalent
in Hollywood, advocating that such discrimination be treated on par
with biases against race and gender.
I did a research project before I spoke to the
Senate. In the last hundred years, the average age of a Nobel prize
winner was 65. Do you tell Picasso he cant paint any longer because
hes over 40? In October of 2002, Women In Film sponsored a Conference
On Ageism entitled, Its Time We All Grow Up! Writers, Directors
& Producers Look at Hollywood. Roberts was keynote speaker
and provided statistics and descriptive commentary on how women on television
are perceived by television writers and producers. (In fact, attorney
Daniel Wolf has organized a class action suit on age discrimination
on behalf of television writers over 40.)
Since Everybody Loves Raymond debuted in 1996, Roberts has won the
American Comedy Award (1999) as funniest supporting female performer
in a TV series. In 2001, she won the TV Guide award for best supporting
actress. In 2001 and 2002, she won an Emmy award for Best Supporting
Actress in a Comedy Series. She was nominated in the same category in
2000 and 1999. In addition, she has won the Q award, from the Viewers
for Quality Television three years in a row (1998-2000.) In 2003, the
cast of Raymond won an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble
in a Comedy Series. The show has just been renewed for its eighth season.
Her television schedule keeps her hopping. We
do it in four days. We rehearse Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and we film
on Thursday in front of an audience. They cut stuff out and transfer
things, put in new stuff. Thats the stressful part. It changes
while youre doing it. I did 21 years on Broadway; you dont
ever want to make a mistake in front of an audience. Film (movies) is
just tedious, in that you do it over and over, from different angles,
back of your head, over your shoulder and a close-up and all that. There
is no one around, except the crew, and you can make all the mistakes
you want. You cant do that on the set of Raymond. I hate it if
I make a mistake.
Acting has taught Doris important values. Its
taught me patience, certainly more than Ive ever had. Its
taught me commitment. Its taught me to be generous, to be honest,
and to listen.
Doris really cooks, as they say. On the show, her
character is always cooking for her TV sons. Roberts herself was the
spokesperson for the ConAgra Foods Home Food Safety initiative, a national
educational campaign to emphasize proper food preparation and handling.
This year, Roberts has created a new way to cook, with love and humor.
Roberts new book, Are You Hungry, Dear? Life,
Laughs, and Lasagna, written with Danelle Morton, has just come out,
published by St. Martins Press. Its about sharing
things Ive learned that have changed my life.
She was a little surprised by the writing process.
Im not a writer, Im a storyteller. These are all stories
and experiences that I have had in my life. Im just telling you
a story and sharing with you. Some of them so helped me as a human being
and made my life so much better. I hope you pick up on it, and I hope
So where should an inspirational, humorous book with
recipes be kept in the home? In the kitchen? In the library?
I think in the library. There is a recipe after
each chapter, but thats the fun part. Its an added fun thing.
As for the food part, she says, My mother was
a terrible cook. I really didnt learn how to cook until I married
my first husband. His mother was a wonderful Italian cook. First I learned
from watching her, and then later on I would improvise.
There have been a few other perks in Roberts career recently.
Last year she was featured on Lifetime Televisions Womens
Intimate Portrait. The show chronicled her life and career in their
one-hour special. In 2003, Roberts got her name on a star on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame.
These days, Roberts portrays another mother in the Paramount Pictures
film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. She has also just completed
two films for television: A Time to Remember for the Hallmark Channel
and Raising Waylon for CBSboth to be shown in November.
A long-time dog lover and owner, Roberts has worked with a group called
Puppies Behind Bars. Inmates learn to train puppies as a preliminary
step, before the dogs can get final training to become seeing-eye dogs.
Through her being involved with the group, she stays connected with
her passion for animals. One of the dogs she named Raymond. Hes
sired over 87 puppies, she says.
She is also active in an organization called the Children Affected
by AIDS Foundation. Ive been chairperson for that for nine
years now; were now going into our tenth year. It really is incredible
what weve done. Recently Roberts brought in the talents
of Ray Romano, Kevin James, Wayne Brady and Kathy Griffin to headline
an evening fundraiser.
Foremost in her life is her family. She kvells over
her son Michael, who is also her manager, her daughter-in-law Jane,
and three grandchildren, Kelsey, Andrew and Devon. She had an opportunity
to share her love of traveling with them recently when Raymond went
on location to Italy, and they visited Florence and went to the Uffizi
I took my family when Everybody Loves Raymond
went there to film. We had the best time. We got a wonderful translator
and I told her to pick out two paintings in each gallery. She picked
Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden (The Expulsion
from Eden). My grandson Andrew, who was then 9 years old, said,
Eve gave Adam the apple, then God should have thrown her out and
given Adam a time out! She laughs.
Roberts is content. Her perseverance and belief in herself has brought
her joy and fulfillment. Although she keeps learning more and more about
herself, shes pleased. Im comfortable in my own skin.
The business of wanting, or thinking, or dreaming that someone else
will fulfill your dreams is wrong. You make yourself a better person.
This is my time. I am in control of my life. I am fearless. I love what
I do. Im blessed. I pray that everybody can find something they
do that they love. Then its not work, its really a profession.
Its a joy to do it. Youre scared by it, and youre
challenged by it. That is what keeps you alive.
At the 2003 Emmy Awards, Roberts won her second Emmy in a row
for her role on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Sources: Lifestyles Magazine