MUSIC, TELEVISION, THEATER AND HORSES... SHE DOES IT ALL!
By NELSON A GARCIA
Although Betty Buckley is known mostly for her singing and acting, she is also a teacher and a cutting horse competitor. She’s won a Tony Award and has been nominated several times for a Grammy. In this exciting interview, she tells us how she was able to manage such a rich and exciting life. 55+ is very happy to bring you this article on this amazing woman. You can read much more and learn about her current projects on her website, www.bettybuckley.com
55+ You were discovered from your performance at the Miss America Pageant in 1969. Tell us how that happened?
BB I have been performing since I was 11 years old. I studied dance since I was 3 because my aunt was a dance teacher and my mother was a dancer as well. I was also involved in the church choir, my school chorus and the All City Chorus in Fort Worth, Texas. Then I became the runner up in the Miss Texas pageant and was invited to perform at the Miss America Pageant. I was so excited!
55+ We loved you in your role as Abby in ‘Eight is Enough’ from 1977 to 1981. Tell us about the experience of starring in this television show?
BB The kids in the show had only been television actors so they really believed that they were the characters they played. The show was a big hit and everyone was very protective of it. When I arrived to play the role of the stepmother, (after Diana Hyland’s death), I was really treated like one at first. The first two seasons were really rough but things settled down and it became a really great job. Things smoothed out and everyone adjusted. Being in a television series is like working in a factory, it is absolutely endless for 9 to 10 months out of the year. The one hour of film took a week and a half to shoot so it was really a hard schedule. Doing ‘Eight is Enough’ was like going to grad school in film acting where I could see myself in film every week to see what worked and didn’t work. It was a great education. I learned a lot in those 4 years.
55+ You have extensive experience in Theater. Can you tell us what has been your favorite role and why?
BB There were several key characters in my life that helped me fully express my talent and years of study. Grizabella, in ‘Cats’ and Dixie Scott, in ‘Tender Mercies,’ were the doorway to my potential as an actress and singer. It was amazing to work with Andrew Lloyd Weber, Trevor Nunn as director and Gillian Lynne as choreographer for Grizabella. Gillian also directed me in the production of ‘Dear World’ in London in Februar y and March 2013. She is really important to me, as a teacher, role model, friend and director. The character of Dixie Scott in my next fi lm, ‘Tender Mercies,’ was the kind of role that I had studied for and always wanted to play. This was a blessed gift. It was an incredible film, an American Classic, with these amazing artists that I was so lucky to work with. The next great part in musicals was Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd, which was a wonderful challenge. For me, it was the “big race.” It required everything I had to give and even more. It was an amazing two years.
55+ You were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in a ceremony on January 28, 2013. Since musical theater is one of your favorite projects, how did this make you feel?
BB I was so honored. I was in rehearsal for ‘Dear World’ and I could not fl y back to New York. My dear friend Ellen Burstyn accepted the award on my behalf and sent me photographs of the medallion. It is such an honor to be acknowledged by my peers, the critics, the writers and the theater community. It was an amazing moment in my life receiving this honor and being in London, working on this wonderful production of ‘Dear World.’
55+ How did you become interested in conducting workshops for students seeking careers in the theater?
BB I have been very fortunate to work with great teachers in my life. One of these teachers asked me if I would teach at his workshop when I was 24 years old. Other schools asked me to teach in New York also. I started teaching independently because I really love working with young people and with professionals. I teach because I feel it is my responsibility to pass on the great tools that have been given to me by my great teachers.
55+ Life must be much slower living on a ranch in Texas than in New York City. Was it a big adjustment for you?
BB I never really wanted to live in Texas because it’s so hot. I always knew that I wanted to be successful in show business so that I could have a ranch one day and be involved with horses. After 911, I realized that I had not done this. I was obsessed with finding a cutting horse and I connected with a top trainer in the sport. He helped me find this magnificent horse named Triple Badger. I wanted to be close to my horse so I bought this ranch and moved there.
55+ Tell us about your interest in the NCHA cutting horse competitions?
BB It is a two and a half minute competition. You ride your horse into a herd of cows and separate one cow from the herd. You have other riders that are your helpers. It is a very elegant sport where the breeding of the horses goes back to the Old West. In the days of the cattle drives, the cutting horse was the specialist in the rancher’s herd of horses. They used to help separate the one cow for branding or selling purposes. The competition started from cowboys bragging about their horses’ skill. It is very beautiful. You ride your horse into the herd and once the horse knows what cow you want, you let them do all the work to keep this cow separated. Watching the great riders and great cutting horses is like watching an amazing dance. You cannot believe that horses can move like that.
55+ Your singing reputation was firmly established with your performance of ‘Memory’ in ‘Cats’ about 30 years ago. How was winning the Tony Award for you?
BB It was amazing! Ever yone thought that I would win since we had so many nominations and wins in other categories. I was terrified with letting everyone down if I didn’t win. Thankfully, I received the Tony and it was a huge night for all of us in the cast.
55+ You have released 15 albums with your latest release last year, titled “Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway.” What is the meaning behind this title? How did it come to be?
BB Some years ago I did a show called the ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ in which I played a male impersonator. I was fascinated by the history in this British musical where young women played the boy’s parts. It was interesting to do these male characters. Many of my favorite songs are sung by men in musicals, so over time, I put them in my concert repertoire. So I just thought, well… ok, I will just do a whole evening of men songs and that was the idea. They are songs that I really, really love.
55+ I understand that you will be releasing another album this year titled ‘Ghostlight.’ What is the theme of this album?
BB This album was produced by T. Bone Burnett, a brilliant recording producer who has won many Grammys. He and I grew up together in Texas and have maintained our friendship. When we were both 19, he recorded the first recording of my voice using some of the songs that I had been singing dur ing this time period. We made this new recording and he hired a band with an amazing group of musicians featuring Bill Frisell, the brilliant jazz guitarist. It’s a new take on some Broadway tunes, some standards and some contemporary, singer/songwriter songs. It’s a beautiful, haunting and mesmerizing recording. They say there is a ghost in every theater so the ‘Ghostlight’ is a naked bulb of light left on the stage of the theater at night when everything is over, as the companion to the ghost.
55+ Our readers would like to know how you felt turning 60? Did you even notice, considering your busy life?
BB Oh yea, I noticed! I noticed! Numbers are just numbers. There are many illusions about growing older in our culture. I worked with Gillian Lynne in ‘Dear World’ this year, who is one of the great ladies of musical theater. She is 86 years old and she is awesome! It was such a blessing to spend this time with her. I watch her and it is a lot of work! She maintains an amazing body by eating healthy. She also has an amazing point of view. It is how you think about these things and the willingness to put it to work. A 21 year old, in order to be in prime condition, has to work hard at it also. We forget that. When you are 21 there is this desire to get out there and do things. As you get older, because of this foolishness that people put in your head, you feel like you are supposed to give up. You get lazy and apathetic for all kinds of complicated reasons. It’s harder to maintain your focus and keep being positive and do things for yourself. Share with the world the things you have to share. It takes work and commitment. For me, all those things come up, the laziness, the apathy, the desire to be a couch potato, it is always ever present. That is why I am so grateful to have these wonderful jobs like working for Gillian Lynne in ‘Dear World.’ The quality of her commitment inspires my own and then I feel so much better when I am at my best, because I must be at my best to do the work I do. The deal is, just don’t buy into the illusion of a culture that dismisses people beyond a certain age. It’s absurd, it’s absolutely absurd! It is all in the mind. For me the answer is meditation and prayer. •
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