Barbara Bain, who’s about to open in Why We Have a Body at the Edgemar Center, probably will never top the excitement of her first premiere — her own entry into the world. She made her debut on Friday the 13th in the back seat of her uncle’s new car.Â “You’ve always been impatient,” her mother later told her.
“You messed up the back seat of my Buick,” her uncle said. Bain is a meticulous Virgo.Â If she could have, she would have cleaned up the car on the spot.
Buick played another role in her life, years later. She did a modeling gig as Miss Buick, one of those beautiful women who stood beside a new car to attract potential buyers at an auto show.Â “I wore a gold TrigÃ¨re gown, and they paid me large sums of money,” Bain says.Â “In real life I was a dancer, and this job paid for my classes with Martha Graham.”
Modeling is “a cutthroat, mindless business,” she continues.Â “You’re not supposed to look like anything human.”Â Touring with five other models left her “feeling very removed. I just couldn’t get absorbed into conversations about what kind of lipstick I wore or what my dress size was.”
She had received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Illinois, but she had moved to New York to pursue her dancing career.Â Soon, however, she began attending classes at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, and her interest turned to acting.
Her interest also turned to a fellow actor at the Studio — Martin Landau. They were married in 1957 and, a decade later, became co-stars in the hit television series Mission: Impossible.Â As Cinnamon Carter, a secret government agent in the Impossible Missions Force, she won Emmy Awards for best actress in a leading role in a dramatic series three consecutive years — in 1967, ’68, and ’69.
“Bruce Geller (writer/producer) created the part of Cinnamon specifically for me,” she says.Â “It was the best role in the universe, an actor’s dream…I have such a lot of dear feelings for Bruce.”
“For the pilot, John Alton (Painting with Light) came out of retirement to set the lights.Â I was so excited, I was sure the sound man could hear my heart beating.
“It was amazing,” Bain adds.Â “We didn’t kill people on the show.Â We didn’t even have weapons.Â We played mind games with the villains, tricking them into doing each other in.”
Bain and Landau left Mission: Impossible in 1969 and later starred together in the science fiction series Space: 1999. They divorced in 1993.
Their two daughters followed them into their profession. Juliet Landau is an actress who appears often with her mother, played opposite her father in Ed Wood and recently starred in Danny and The Deep Blue Sea at Crown City Theatre. She also played Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.Â Susan Landau Finch is a film producer who has worked extensively with Francis Ford Coppola at American Zoetrope.
The ever-busy Bain is ensconced with actress Tanna Frederick in a dressing room at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, waiting to go onstage to rehearse Claire Chafee’s 1993 comedy Why We Have A Body.Â It’s Frederick’s directing debut, and she and Bain are tossing verbal bouquets at each other.
“Tanna’s concept is just delicious,” Bain says.Â “She is incredibly creative.Â She has a wonderful vision and every element in the show is incredibly inventive.”
“She’s the wunderkind,” Frederick responds.Â “She’s the sexiest woman on the set — the Prom Queen of our play.”
Why We Have A Body deals with the adventures of a mother and her two daughters.Â Bain plays the mother, an archaeologist named Eleanor, who is continually gallivanting around the globe researching the female brain.Â The two daughters are Lili (Alex Sedrowski), a lesbian private investigator who specializes in tracking cheating husbands, and Mary (Frederick), who makes a career of holding up 7-Eleven stores at gunpoint.
The fourth member of the cast is Renee (Cathy Arden), who wasn’t a lesbian (or didn’t think she was) until she is pursued by Lili.
Chafee’s comedy premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre in 1993, ran six months, and was revived there last year. It also was produced Off-Broadway and in 1995 at the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood. It’s a tale about love in many permutations, from sibling love to lesbian love to family love.
An added fillip is a jazzy, funky, classical original score composed by Edward Auslender and rendered by a talented quintet.Â “The music goes with the story,” Frederick explains.Â “There is a special theme for every person.”
Frederick, who recently came off an extended run as the frisky puppy in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, suddenly found herself at loose ends when it closed. “That role was me,” she says, “and I really felt sad when it finished.Â I needed to do something new.”
She remembered Chafee’s play, which she had appeared in as a student at the University of Iowa in 1996.Â “In times of emotional crisis, lines from that play have come back to me,” she says.Â “It really affected my attitude toward life.
“I never wanted to direct,” she continues, “but I’ve done six plays with director Gary Imhoff and five films with Henry Jaglom, so that’s equal to the best university training.”
“This is a big production of a small play,” Bain adds.Â “But these women are confident, regal, strong risk-takers.Â They give people permission to do their own thing.”
“Very often there is tension between the actors and the director,” she continues.Â “When the director has a sour look, the actor thinks “˜You don’t love me any more, you’re sorry you cast me and you want me to go home.’Â The director should make you feel that they’re glad you’re here.Â That’s gold.”
In addition to their obvious affection for each other, Bain and Frederick have a mutual interest in doing meaningful work in the community.Â Frederick is the founder of Project Save Our Surf, an organization designed to help preserve oceans both locally and globally.Â One of the organization’s outreach programs is a two-day Surf-a-thon fundraiser that she hosts in Santa Monica and which features some of the world’s best surfers.Â They also have provided fresh water to children at an orphanage in South Africa.
Bain, who says she is “a reader who found my soul at the library,” founded the Screen Actors Guild club “Book Pals,” which has given some 100,000 children the opportunity to listen to Guild members reading cherished books aloud.Â Bain herself spent 15 years reading to kindergarteners and first graders in Watts.Â She tells about a skeptical student who confronted her by asking, “˜You got any stories about whales?’Â “Did I have a book for him!” Â she laughs.
The rehearsal is called, and the two women stroll arm-in-arm to the stage.
“My life is heaven right now,” Bain says in parting.Â “I should be arrested for having such a good time.”
Why We Have a Body, presented by the Rainbow Theatre Company and Edgemar Center for the Arts. Opens March 2.Â Plays Thur-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 5 pm through April 22. Tickets: $34.99. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 310-392-7327. www.edgemarcenter.org
***All Why We Have a Body production photos by Ron VignonePrint