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Doris Roberts


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 Loves Raymond.

What type of mother is Marie Barone? She is based on a combination of series star Ray Romano’s mother, who is Italian, and series producer Phil Rosenthal’s mother, who’s 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 Marie’s 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. That’s why I’m 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 world’s 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 mother’s resoluteness and by her Uncle Willie, her mother’s 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, “I’m Patrick Potato. This is my cousin, Mrs. Tomato.” Everyone laughed and Doris was hooked on performing. She entered the Hearn’s 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 Saroyan’s 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 moment.”

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 can’t paint any longer because he’s over 40? In October of 2002, Women In Film sponsored a Conference On Ageism entitled, “It’s 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. That’s the stressful part. It changes while you’re doing it. I did 21 years on Broadway; you don’t 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 can’t do that on the set of Raymond. I hate it if I make a mistake.”

Acting has taught Doris important values. “It’s taught me patience, certainly more than I’ve ever had. It’s taught me commitment. It’s 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. Martin’s Press. “It’s about sharing things I’ve learned that have changed my life.”

She was a little surprised by the writing process. “I’m not a writer, I’m a storyteller. These are all stories and experiences that I have had in my life. I’m 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 you laugh.”

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 that’s the fun part. It’s an added fun thing.“

As for the food part, she says, “My mother was a terrible cook. I really didn’t 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 Television’s Women’s 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 CBS—both 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. “He’s sired over 87 puppies,” she says.

She is also active in an organization called the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation. “I’ve been chairperson for that for nine years now; we’re now going into our tenth year. It really is incredible what we’ve 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 Museum.

“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, she’s pleased. “I’m 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. I’m blessed. I pray that everybody can find something they do that they love. Then it’s not work, it’s really a profession. It’s a joy to do it. You’re scared by it, and you’re 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