Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark Art Editor William Hopkins
England's greatest young actress is an unlikely, suburban housewife
People talk about Glenda Jackson only in uncompromising language. No one says, "I like her fairly well," or "I can't say why, but I don't like her much." For example, Ken Russell, the English director who made her famous as Gudrun Brangwen in Women in Love, can speak of her only in curt, unprintable insults. "I'd better not talk," he says. "I might say something both she and I would regret."
Oliver Reed, one of her costars in Women in Love, tried to have her replaced as the woman he loves in the film, on the grounds that it wouldn't be possible for him to make love to her. He failed, and the picture includes about three minutes of nude lovemaking by the two of them. Larry Kramer, who wrote the script, estimates that with rehearsals, takes and retakes, they were in close naked proximity for almost 24 hours. "I'm articulate on the subjects of houses, dogs, cats, actors, pissoirs--but not Glenda," Reed said later. "And remember: I wasn't in her picture. She was in mine."
Glenda's admirers are equally vehement, though their language is generally less outdoorsy. Oscar-winning John Schlesinger, who recently finished directing Glenda as a woman married to a homosexual doctor in Bloody Sunday, finds her funny, touching and feminine, with a kind of "no-holds-barred sexuality." He offered her the role the day after he saw Women in Love, in part, at least, because "a certain sort of maternal quality in her pops up to the surface."
The American actor, Richard Chamberlain, who plays the homosexual Tchaikovsky (she is his nymphomaniac wife) in The Music Lovers, uses the language of rhapsody to describe his favorite scene in the picture. Glenda, totally naked, drunk on champagne and a little mad, is trying to lure him into their bed in a glass-strewn compartment of a lurching train. As she is more and more aggressive, he becomes frightened and withdrawn, and the scene develops a horrifying and unearthly quality. "Only Glenda could have done it," Chamberlain concludes. He considers her “about the hottest actress in films."
Director John Schlesinger (left) trusted her to improvise in Bloody Sunday.
Out of the theater and off the screen, the object of these strong sentiments has the appearance of an unconcerned, middling good-looking housewife and mother, with skin that could use more care and a crooked front tooth that she's always forgetting to cap. The way Glenda tells it and she is convincing--acting is a very ordinary profession that she can take or leave. Her real loves are her husband, Roy Hodges, an ex-actor who now runs an art gallery in Greenwich; Daniel, their 2l-month-old baby; and the house they have just moved into in Blackheath, down the Thames from London. It takes a bit of time to realize that this agreeable thirtyish-year-old, who (in her husband's words) wouldn't take a glass of water without asking, is a woman of glowing sensibility, and an iron person as well. Her father, a builder in a small town near Liverpool, long ago abdicated his authority to (but not his affection for) an overwhelming wife and four strong-willed daughters, "They all pale next to Mum," says Roy Hodges.
Roy, whom Glenda describes as a rotten actor but a fine director, would be content to fit into the same groove as her father. But in fact, he is important as a sounding board for her; his is the only professional advice she listens to consistently and with respect. He would like their son to become a builder like his grandfather. The baby's grandmother has other ideas: Little Daniel will have a glorious future as a professional wrestler. The whole family has already decided the question of whether the baby should take up acting: NEVER!
While she was still poor and not very famous; Glenda used to hide behind a ton of makeup, says her husband, Roy Hodges. But now that everything's all smooth and she's confident, she doesn't wear any. Her home, her son, Daniel (lower left) and her husband are what count basically now. "Come between her and us," Roy says, "and she's the most ruthless person I know."
Glenda's love affair with acting began in her teens. Near Hoylake, in the North Country she comes from, there were three neighborhood cinemas, each showing two films a week. She hardly missed a one, and very quickly in her growing up, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford became her ideals.
They still are, and she longs to meet them. "They had incredible style and ability," she says. "They knew their medium and what they could do with it. They had a superb sort of arrogance. When they walked, they ground the poor beneath their heels." (When she was told of Glenda's devotion recently, Joan Crawford asked, "Who's Glenda Jackson?") Glenda remembers every film Joan Crawford made; and that she wore a different gown in every scene, no matter how humble the character she was playing. And, when her husband died, "the marvelous, tight-fitting black dress and widow's weeds she wore to the first board meeting of his company after the funeral."
For years, hunger was a commonplace in the lives of Roy and Glenda. They had five shillings (about 70 cents) between them when they were married 12 years ago. Their first flat was so inhospitable that they spent their nights in a "super four-poster," center stage in the London repertory theater where they were both working, and the bed was one of the props. An understanding carpenter would bring morning coffee when he awakened them. "It was the largest bedroom I ever slept in," says Roy.
When she was 21, Glenda opened in a play as a 75-year-old grandmother. Roy was stage manager. One day, the pleased author-theater owner told her she was the best gram who'd ever played the part, whereupon she quietly informed him that this was the worst play ever written. He fired her, and Roy resigned in sympathy. "She was so thin," he recalls. "She looked as though she'd snap." It was the beginning of two years in which the only steady work either of them could get was waiting on tables, working in factories and pubs, selling in shops, where Glenda would steal little things like food or packages of razor blades that she could hide under her skirt. They don't apologize for this now. "It kept us alive," Roy says. "The terrible part about hunger" says Glenda, "is that you can never see when it will end." Despite this hiatus in her career, Glenda has somehow managed to appear in about 200 productions, which could go far toward explaining why she is so skillful and adaptable as an actress. Often, when she was in repertory, she did a new play every week, seven shows plus morning and late-night rehearsals for next week. She would double as assistant stage manager, which meant sweeping out the theater at night, scrounging props and stage furniture, painting scenery. Small wonder she loathes the theater, neither wants to act in it or watch others. In The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, she was a mad woman playing the role of Charlotte Corday, an experience so unnerving that it took her hours each night to calm down. Her mother, who was perhaps not a typical member of the Marat/Sade audience, took the agony of Glenda's performance for granted, and commented only on Charlotte's bitter and plaintive little song. "When you started to sing," Mum said, "I started to cry and kept crying and didn't see much after that. You're not a very good singer, dear."
Roy (right) is a "great, gangling, ugly man," says a friend of Glenda, "and I go weak in the knees when he walks in." He enjoys his subordinate role in her matriarchy.
When she played in Hamlet, one critic called the play Ophelia.
This kind of part was not new to Glenda. In the Theater of Cruelty, a project of the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, she was, she says, the first actress in London to go on stage completely nude. It was a play in which, incredibly, she was both Christine Keeler on her way to jail, and Jacqueline Kennedy at the funeral of her husband. Christine's bathtub, overturned, became the President's coffin. The whole skit lasted only four minutes.
Since then she has been willing to act in the nude, "as long as the purpose is not spurious or sensational." Clothes, she feels, like stage sets, often only hamper and distract from the action. "You can't equate nudity and sex," she says. "Actually, the greatest intimacy between two people doesn't depend at all on whether they can lie together naked."
What does she regard, then, as a convincing way to evoke intimacy? "Maybe a couple cutting their toenails. No one ever does that in public." In any event, she is delighted that "the whole enormous hang-up about sex is well and truly smashed, and a much saner attitude is around."
The Royal Shakespeare production of Hamlet, was one play in which there was no nudity. Her performance was so overpowering that a critic suggested the title be changed to Ophelia. She approached it that way deliberately. "It's almost always the strong-minded people who go mad," she says. Glenda's mother and her aunt, who came up from home together to see Hamlet, reacted in different ways. After Ophelia's death, Mrs. Jackson dropped gently off to sleep. Aunt Esther, however, was convinced that her niece was really dead and started screaming. Hamlet may come up once again in Glenda's life. Tony Page, one of the directors of the Royal Court Theatre, recently suggested to her a production in Iran, where the political intrigue is said to parallel that of Elizabethan England. This time, Glenda would play the title role, which would remain Hamlet.
Women in Love is the only film Glenda has ever made that she can "sit back and enjoy as though I weren't even in it." D. H. Lawrence's book was a bore, she says, but the screenplay was fascinating--Ken Russell sliced out the long-winded, outdated, irrelevant philosophy. Normally, watching herself on the screen is agony. She finds herself "looking down all the time, doing terrible things with my mouth, grimacing peculiarly, sinking my chin back, wrinkling my nose." Fortunately, all this is not apparent to moviegoers. Most of them find her earthy look appealing, but she herself is indifferent to it. She hardly fussed at all when Ken Russell, who also directed The Music Lovers, made her cut off her hair for the final scenes in the madhouse.
The producers of Women in Love had some unkind thoughts when, a couple of weeks after the cameras started rolling, she announced she was pregnant. But Glenda radiated cheer. "Roy and I have been trying for ten years to have a baby," she explained. Actually it worked out to everybody's advantage: Her usually undersized breasts achieved an audience-pleasing roundness.
"Flat as a pancake, no makeup, lank unattractive hair," says Glenda's friend, Lyn Pinkney who was in Marat/Sade with her. "But an actress like Glenda makes you believe she's beautiful." "A strong face with extraordinary things hidden in it," says Peter Medak, who directed her in a strange and not very profitable film called Negatives. Glenda is not entirely convinced: "No one ever tried to pick me up," she says, almost boastfully. "No, that's not true. On my wedding day, my family had come to London for the first time. After the ceremony, Roy thought they should go on a tour of the city, and I would have gone along except that a friend was getting together a party for us. Roy thought I should help her out, so I got on a bus by myself to go to my friend's. Pretty soon, a Pakistani came up to me and asked if I was busy tonight. 'Oh, thank you, but I just got married two hours ago,' I told him. He bowed. 'Please--my congratulations; madam,' he said."
Whether men take a second look at Glenda, however, seems beside the point, for she spends a part of every day fending off playwrights and directors who say they have a film or play only she can do. By American standards, her price is certainly right. When she was playing the Christine Keeler-Jackie Kennedy character, she was being paid $33.60 a week. She went up to $196 a week for Marat/ Sade, and for the whole job in Women in Love, it was $9,600 (Elizabeth Taylor has done better than that in a single day). Her value skyrocketed to $48,000 for Bloody Sunday, close to the top in England. And now that she has made it, she has temporarily jettisoned films in favor of a series of six low-paying 90-minute TV plays about Elizabeth I.
Recently, she was offered the film role of Lady Macbeth, which even she might agree could have been written with her in mind. She turned it down. For the moment, she says, "I don't fancy six weeks on location, walking through that damned gorse for next to no money." The money, though, is not exactly what counts. As everyone knows, if Glenda really likes a part she'll smile and do it for next to nothing--or perhaps even for nothing.