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Noting the Passing of John Raitt

Singer John Raitt died over the weekend at age 88. He was a legend on Broadway, starring in the original 1945 production of Carousel. He starred in both the stage and screen versions of The Pajama Game. His daughter is singer Bonnie Raitt.

19:11

Other segments from the episode on February 22, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 22, 2005: Interview with Annette Bening; Obituary for John Raitt.

Transcript

DATE February 22, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Annette Bening discusses her acting career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Annette Bening is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in the
new film "Being Julia." It's her second nomination; the first was for her
performance in "American Beauty." Her other memorable roles include the
president's girlfriend in "The American President" and the femme fatale in
"Bugsy," the movie where she met her husband Warren Beatty.

In her new movie, "Being Julia," Bening stars as a celebrated British stage
actress in 1938. To her fans, her life appears full and quite elegant, but
the truth is her relationship with her husband, who is also her producer, has
become platonic, and she's worried that she's grown too old for the kind of
leading lady parts that made her famous. Things start looking up when she has
an affair with a much younger man. Their relationship even gives her an idea
for her next play. Here she is with her friend Lord Charles at a museum,
viewing a portrait of herself. Lord Charles, played by Bruce Greenwood, is
about to leave on a long trip. He figures she'll be busy reading scripts,
looking for new plays to perform.

(Soundbite of "Being Julia")

Ms. ANNETTE BENING: (As Julia Lambert) As a matter of fact, there is a play
that interests me. It's about an older woman who has an affair with a younger
man.

Mr. BRUCE GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) Oh, a farce.

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) Why do you say that?

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) Well, because everyone laughs at the older
woman.

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) No, not in this play. It's rather serious.
The (unintelligible) comes as a shock to her.

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) What does?

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) That she's fallen in love with the boy, and it
happens just when everything seemed to her so dull and unpromising, as if her
life was over. She finds the affair exhilarating, and everyone keeps telling
her she looks 10 years younger.

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) I trust she doesn't confess to the boy that
she loves him. That's always fatal.

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) Does it sound like something for me?

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) Oh, don't be ridiculous, Julia. You know,
your public would never stand for it. If such a woman asked me, I know what
advice I would give her.

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) What?

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) Break it off at once; it'll only end in
tears.

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert): But, Charles, she can't do that.

Mr. GREENWOOD: (As Lord Charles) Why ever not?

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) Because she's fallen in love with him, that's
why. She's helpless.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BENING: (As Julia Lambert) The character in the play.

GROSS: Annette Bening, welcome to FRESH AIR. What are some of the
interesting aspects of playing an actress so that we see you onstage and we
see you offstage, so, you know, sometimes you're in character for your
character and sometimes you're just (technical difficulties) your character.
How much more confusing can I make this?

Ms. BENING: (Laughs) I don't know if I have a good way of addressing that. I
think the fun part and the part that, when I looked at the script, I was just
so excited by was that it does take place in the theater; it's kind of where I
started as an actor. It's why I wanted to be an actor. And that combined
with the fact that you see so many private moments--I think that's one thing
that movies have over just about anything else in terms of trying to show us
ourselves as these kinds of private moments that a camera can sneak into. So
not only is this woman, you know, this incredible diva, she's on the stage,
she's acting her heart out, but also you just see her when she's kind of
stripped down to nothing.

GROSS: Some actors are always on. I mean, some people become performers
because they see life as theater and they're always on and they always want
to be on stage and at the center of attention. But I think other performers
are actually kind of shy and when they're not on stage, they're just
different. I mean, they're not necessarily larger than life when they're off
stage. I think for your character in the movie, she sees life as theater.
She is usually on even when she's offstage. What about you?

Ms. BENING: No, I don't see myself as someone who's always on. Maybe it's
because I also have a life where I have so many responsibilities and things
that I do that are outside of working and acting. But I agree with you about
actors, and I find it very interesting that some actors are much more
introverted and shy. I know I feel much more comfortable and always have when
I'm working. If I'm working, acting, doing--on a stage or if I'm on a set and
I'm working and I'm the center of attention, that, to me, feels normal and
comfortable or, you know, appropriate, I guess, is the word. In life, just
being me, being the center of attention, sometimes I find very uncomfortable.

GROSS: Can you explain that difference, why you're uncomfortable having
attention offstage?

Ms. BENING: Yeah, I don't know. It's funny, 'cause I can remember when I
first started, I was doing only theater for a number of years and I was in--I
started getting interested in movies, 'cause I would see a good movie, then I
would think, `Oh, God, that's so powerful, and someone has to be in them, and
maybe someday I could.' But I had been working as an actress on the stage; I
didn't have an agent; I didn't know how to go to interviews. And I remember
coming to Los Angeles for the first time, and I didn't even stay, but I sort
of came and visited and met a few people, and they would say, `Well, just go
in and be yourself.' And I would find that very intimidating.

I felt like, `Well, if you give me a script, I know what to do.' I know how
to do that. That I'm comfortable doing. But just chatting with people, I
didn't understand why that was important. I do understand why it's important
now, especially in front of a camera, why it's important to just have a
conversation with someone and see what they sound like, how they move, what
are their rhythms, what is their kind of nature. But I didn't really even
understand that then.

GROSS: You made your first movie when you were 30, which is comparatively
late for an actress who is really well-known for her movie career. Why was it
so comparatively late that you made your movie debut?

Ms. BENING: I wanted to be a classical actress. That's why I started. I
really knew nothing about the theater or acting when I started. I just went
to a play in San Diego, where I was growing up. My English teacher took our
class to a play at the Old Globe Theatre, and I fell in love with the kind of
marriage of ideas and emotion that seemed to be going on. And I loved
watching the actors, and I liked the sweat on their faces and the sound of
their voices. And it was Shakespeare, and the whole thing just kind of seemed
very exciting.

So I began to get interested in it, and I began to do plays when I was in
junior high and high school, and that's how it sort of started. So coming
around to movies--I didn't watch movies thinking about being a movie star or a
movie actor. I just thought about being on the stage, and my heroes were
people like Eva LaGallienne and Eleanora Duse, and those were the people that
I would read about. And then a lot of the English actresses, Judi Dench and
Maggie Smith and people that were on the stage in England who came from
repertory.

And so I went to San Francisco State, I got a theater degree, and then I went
to conservatory in San Francisco at a theater there called the American
Conservatory Theater. Out of college, I went there. And in between, I was
doing Shakespeare festivals. So that's sort of where I got my start. That's
what I wanted to do. And it wasn't until later that I began seriously
thinking about, well, maybe trying to go to LA or New York and trying to get
an agent and trying to start doing movies.

GROSS: So how did you engineer your transition into movies?

Ms. BENING: When I was in acting school, they had auditions which they would
hold at the end of the year, and they would take the graduating class from
what they called the professional theater training programs across the
country, and they would do a showcase in New York. So there were four of us
in my class from ACT; we were about to go into the company, so we'd had two
years of training; we were about to go into our third year, which is basically
when you get your Equity Card, your stage union card, and you get to be in the
company.

But at that point, we were all taken to New York and we did, like, a 20-minute
showcase along with all these other schools where they invite casting
directors and agents and anybody else who wants to come to come and look at
these--you know, the graduating classes of all the acting schools. So I met a
bunch of agents and I met a gentleman named David Gersh who, at the end of the
day--and by that time, I'd met so many people and I was so exhausted that I
didn't sort of have the energy to pretend to do what I thought I was supposed
to do. And I met people and I just sort of talked to him and he said, you
know, `I'd like to represent you.' And I said, `Well, you know, I've now been
asked to be a part of this company, this theater company in San Francisco,
being asked to do great roles, and I want to do that. So someday I'd like to
come to New York, but I don't know exactly when, but not now.' And he said,
`Well, keep in touch with me.'

So that's what I did, and I would call him, like, once a year. And I was then
at ACT doing roles, and he would--I would just check in with him. I did a
couple more seasons there, and then I did a season at the Denver Center
Theater Company, another regional theater. And then I called him up and I
said, `I'm ready to come to New York,' and he said, `OK.' And he kept his
word and he signed me when I went to New York, so that's--I just started going
out on auditions.

GROSS: Let's talk about one of your early films, and this is "The Grifters,"
which you made in 1990. And this is a film--John Cusack is a small-time con
man and he's caught between his mother, who's a real scam artist, and then he
meets you and you're a con artist, too. So he's kind of, in a way, trapped
between these two women, his mother and you. And I want to play a scene from
the film. And this is--at this point you're telling Cusack that you have a
new scheme and you want him to be a partner in it.

(Soundbite of "The Grifters")

Ms. BENING: (As Myra Langtry) Hon, guess what? I have to tell you right
away. I called a fellow I know in Tulsa, the one who plays my chauffeur. He
says that there's a sucker there that's made for us. There's a broker that
just shut down. We can use their office, not change a thing. Now I can
scrape up 10 grand if I try, but I got a couple of aces in the hole, some
markers I can call on for something real. That leaves 15 or 20 for your end.
We can start this weekend, get the sucker into position.

Mr. JOHN CUSACK: (As Roy Dillon) Hold it. You're talking some pretty tall
figures. What makes you think I've got that kind of money?

Ms. BENING: (As Myra Langtry) Well, you must have. Now you know you do, Roy.

Mr. CUSACK: (As Roy Dillon) Maybe I like it where I am.

Ms. BENING: (As Myra Langtry) Well, maybe I don't. I had 10 good years with
Cole, and I want him back. I gotta have a partner. I loved him, I loved him.
Believe me, brother, I kissed a lot of (censored) frogs, and you're my prince.

Mr. CUSACK: (As Roy Dillon) Do I get any say in this?

Ms. BENING: (As Myra Langtry) No, because...

Mr. CUSACK: (As Roy Dillon) That's what I say. What I say is no. We don't
do partners.

GROSS: That's a scene from "The Grifters."

Annette Bening, did you go back and watch a lot of film noir before performing
in "The Grifters"?

Ms. BENING: I did watch some. Stephen Frears, who directed the picture, gave
me some ideas. He also had me watch a lot of Gloria Grahame, and she was a
wonderful actress who did a number of those film noirs. And there was
something particular about her that her liked and then I began to kind of fall
in love with. She's a very interesting person as well, her own personal life.

But I also felt that in that particular character in that picture, the style
of it was really influenced by the costume designer. His name was Richard
Hornung. He's passed away, but he was a great designer, and I just--every
once in a while, you go into a fitting for a film especially and you feel like
the designer hands you the character. And in a way, I think Hornung did that,
because he had such a specific eye and a specific idea, for Anjelica as well.
I mean, Anjelica looked incredible in the picture. So those costumes--and
also I completely changed the way I looked. I cut my hair, I dyed it and I
did all this stuff. So that helps.

GROSS: You know, you said that the clothing really gave you a sense of the
character. Of course, there's one scene in which you're wearing absolutely
nothing. And this is a scene where your landlord wants the rent, you're
really behind and you kind of invite him into your apartment. He walks in;
you're laying there naked in bed, waiting for him. And he says, `I need the
money,' and you say, `Oh, it's over there,' and you point to the far end of
the room where the money is. And you basically offer him the choice of, you
know, the rent money or you. And you know, it's a very seductive scene, one
of several seductive scenes in it.

And it made me wonder, before you became an actress, were you familiar with
that sense of using your body in such an overtly seductive way? It's
something you see all the time in the movies, but I always wonder if the
actresses who know how to do that in movies really have lived any of their
life that way.

Ms. BENING: (Laughs) No, Terry, I have to say I probably could say pretty
safely, no, I had never experienced anything like that. I thought that the
comedic nature of the moments in which Myra, if I remember her name right,
Myra in "The Grifters," was naked--it seemed right. And because it was
comedic, it seemed particularly appropriate. And so doing it actually was
pretty liberating. That moment, though, when that guy--the guy actually
ended up jumping on top of me. (Laughs) That was not my favorite moment.

But there's another moment--there's another scene where John's actually
chasing me around. I'd forgotten about it, and then I saw it recently and
thought, `Wow.' Yeah, he sort of chases me around the room, throws me over
his shoulder and everything.

No, it was actually very liberating at the time. Yeah.

GROSS: Liberating in what sense?

Ms. BENING: I--taking your clothes off, running around. It was. It was
liberating. It's like, `What's the big deal?' you know.

GROSS: Right, right.

My guest is Annette Bening. She's nominated for an Oscar for her starring
role in "Being Julia." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Annette Bening. She's nominated for an Oscar for her
starring role in "Being Julia."

Let's talk about "Bugsy." And this is the movie in which you met your
husband, Warren Beatty. And he plays, you know, Ben Siegel, Bugsy Siegel, who
builds up a lot of Vegas. And you play Virginia Hill, who, you know, becomes
his lover. Now this is a scene from where you first meet, and he's just met
you, he's very interested in you. You've walked away. He's just found out
from his friend that you are actually the girlfriend of Joey Adonis, and
he--you know, Bugsy walks back in your direction and has this conversation
with you.

(Soundbite of "Bugsy")

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Look, you're Ben Siegel and I'm Virginia Hill,
OK?

Mr. WARREN BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Yeah.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Now why are you so interested in a gal who's
going with your friend?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) What friend? Joey A? He's no friend of mine.
He's an associate of an associate. You still going with him?

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) If it were New Year's Eve, he would be my
date. Who would your date be?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Wife.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Wife?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Esta.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Esther?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Esta, E-S-T-A.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Good. Let me guess. I bet Esta lives her
life faithful to her one and only Ben, who plays around like a jackrabbit on
the side and lies about it through his teeth.

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) I don't lie to Esta.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) That's noble. What do you do, confess your
sins three times a day? Now exactly does Mr. Esta want from Ms. Virginia?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Right now Mr. Esta is having a tremendous amount
of difficulty imagining anything he doesn't want from Ms. Virginia.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Are you ready for a divorce, Mr. Siegel?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Never.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) Well, my, oh, my, you're pretty ferocious for
a mom's concern, aren't you?

Mr. BEATTY: (As Ben Siegel) Yeah.

Ms. BENING: (As Virginia Hill) The rest of the time you're just another
good-looking, sweet-talking, charm-using, (censored)-happy fellow with nothing
to offer but some dialogue. Dialogue's cheap in Hollywood, Ben. Why don't
you run outside and jerk yourself a soda?

GROSS: That's a scene from "Bugsy." My guest is Annette Bening.

When you auditioned for this movie, did you have any sense that by the time
the movie was over that you would be soon to marry Warren Beatty?

Ms. BENING: (Laughs)

GROSS: Did you have a sense that this was going to be that kind of chemistry?

Ms. BENING: Actually, by the time I was meeting people--at this point in the
work, I was actually--I didn't audition. So I went and met with Barry
Levinson...

GROSS: Oh, you were past that.

Ms. BENING: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. BENING: Yeah, exactly. At that point, I was just, like, meeting with
people and I didn't have to read, although I would have, I'm sure, if they'd
asked me. Anyway, so I just met with Barry Levinson first; I had a drink with
him. And then I met Warren for lunch, so then I guess it was after that that
they asked me to do the picture. No. The answer is, no, I wouldn't have
guessed that.

GROSS: Is it ever confusing when you're doing a role with someone and it's a
role where the two characters fall in love--is it ever confusing what emotions
you're feeling, like, from the character and what emotions are real?

Ms. BENING: A friend of mine, I remember, when I was working in the theater
called it `scene spill.'

GROSS: (Laughs) Scene spill? I like that.

Ms. BENING: Scene spill. I know, it's a great expression. Let's see. No, I
don't think so. I think really down deep, no, I think you kind of know you're
pretending or you know it's real life. And what's interesting, too, about
chemistry on screen--I don't think there's any way of knowing when chemistry
will work and when it won't work and what that is. It's a very intangible
quality when you're watching something and you see two people and there's a
magical thing happening between them on screen, because I've done pictures
that that, you know, wasn't necessarily going on between me and the other
actor at all, not that we weren't friendly, but it wasn't like there was any
kind of romance going on. And it seems like it kind of sparkles and works,
and then other times it doesn't. So it's a funny quality to try to capture.

GROSS: Were you willing to admit to yourself that you actually felt something
for him before the film was over? Because I could see how, like, real
feelings could interfere with the making of a movie, 'cause real feelings
could also end; real feelings could be combustible. And you don't--I mean, if
you're serious about making a movie, you don't want that to intrude on the
reality of the movie.

Ms. BENING: Yeah. What if it ends before the movie ends, right?

GROSS: Exactly. Well--no, exactly.

Ms. BENING: No, it's a problem. No--yeah, I began to know as we were making
the picture that there was something going on between us, for sure. I mean,
we were discreet about it and we were--you know, kept quiet about it. But,
yeah, you know, we started to fall in love. So, yeah, that was going on. But
I think in general, people--you know, all of us are very careful about those
relationships and having to, you know, draw the line and draw a distinction
between what is pretend and what isn't.

GROSS: Annette Bening is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in
"Being Julia." She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

Here's music by Elmer Bernstein from the score for "The Grifters."

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, Annette Bening talks about her performance in "American
Beauty." Also, we listen back to an interview with John Raitt. The Broadway
star and father of Bonnie Raitt died Sunday at the age of 88.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Annette Bening. She's
nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Being Julia." It's her
second nomination. Her first was for her performance in "American Beauty,"
for which she also won a Golden Globe nomination and a Screen Actors Guild
Award.

Let's talk about another movie that you made, "American Beauty," and you were
nominated for an Oscar for your role in this. And this movie is kind of part
comedy, part drama. Your character is very unhappy, but I don't think she
recognizes how unhappy she is. It's like she's protecting herself from her
own unhappiness. And she's the kind of character who wants everything
ordered, everything in place, everything cheerful, but there's no way she can
fulfill that ambition in her marriage, in her home anymore. And this is a
scene where you, your husband, played by Kevin Spacey, and your teen-age
daughter are at the dinner table. There's a real chill in the air.

(Soundbite of "American Beauty")

Ms. THORA BIRCH: (As Jane Burnham) Sorry I'm late.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) No, no, that's quite all right, dear. Your
father and I were just discussing his day at work. Why don't you tell our
daughter about it, honey?

Mr. KEVIN SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) Janie, today I quit my job.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) (Laughs)

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) And then I told my boss to go (censored)
himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) Your father seems to think this kind of
behavior is something to be proud of.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) And your mother seems to prefer that I go
through life like a (censored) prisoner while she keeps my (censored) in a
Mason jar under the sink.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) How dare you speak to me that way in front
of her. And I marvel that you can be so contemptuous of me on the same day
that you lose your job.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) Lose it? I didn't lose it. It's not, like,
`Whoops! Where'd my job go?' I quit. Someone pass the asparagus.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) Oh, oh, oh, oh! And I want to thank you for
putting me under the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner now.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) I already have a job.

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) No, no! Don't give a second thought as to
who's going to pay the mortgage. `We'll just leave it all up to Carolyn. You
know you've gotta take care of everything now, Carolyn?' Yes, I don't mind.
I really don't. `You mean everything? You don't mind having the sole
responsibility? Your husband feels he can just quit his job, and you don't
have...'

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) Will someone please pass...

Ms. BENING: (As Carolyn Burnham) `...(unintelligible) who's going to back
down.'

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) ...me the (censored) asparagus?

Ms. BIRCH: (As Jane Burnham) I'm not going to be a part of this.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Lester Burnham) Sit down!

GROSS: That's a scene from "American Beauty." My guest is Annette Bening.

What was it like to figure out how to play this character and how sympathetic
to make her? You know, because we're seeing a lot of the movie through the
eyes of Kevin Spacey because, you know, he narrates the movie. So you tend to
see the movie through the eyes of the narrator, which would mean that when
he's really annoyed with you, we're annoyed with you. So what was it like to
figure out how sympathetic to play her?

Ms. BENING: That's really interesting. I guess it's one of the pleasures of
acting--is that once you take a character on, you are their advocate, in a
way; you are their defender, and that's your job. And I love that about the
work, especially with someone like Carolyn Burnham, who's not completely
sympathetic to the world. And a lot of people really disliked her and
disliked the character; I know because they'll say things to me--people will
say, you know, that she was a villain or whatever. So I took a lot of
pleasure in her because I did feel, as you mentioned before, that she was
really fighting for her life. She was fighting for what she wanted. She
wasn't always very good at it and didn't use effective ways of getting what
she wanted, but she was trying.

And I did fall in love with her, and I still feel that sympathy for her. That
is, you know--and that love that you feel for your character, it does become
that. It becomes--and so it does become hard to explain because it has that
nature of just being kind of deep in your gut, that you feel for them, you are
fighting for their point of view, you're fighting for their side. And all
good actors do that, and that's what makes good movies. If everybody's in
there fighting and it's well-written and the characters are all in there
fighting for what they want and those things clash, then you've got
interesting, dramatic problems.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Annette Bening. She's
nominated for an Oscar for her leading role in "Being Julia."

You are now the mother of four, so you have your hands full in private life.
Your children age from--What?--age four to 13 or something like that?

Ms. BENING: Mm-hmm. That's right.

GROSS: So what balance do you think you want in your life between, you know,
being a mother and having your career?

Ms. BENING: I think balance is really--it makes sense, but in a way I think
it's kind of overrated. Actually creativity, I think, comes from excess, and
that's probably the trickiest part of wanting to have a life with children,
where you have this responsibility and you want to be there for them and take
care of them in the way that they need. But then you also want to find a way
to keep track of what's going on inside of you creatively and your own
separate, creative evolution. And that--you need excess in a way for that.
So I feel lucky because I can do it and I can do both. I get to do movies and
also have my life with my children. I don't think I'd be good at only
working, going from project to project or play to movie or whatever. I think,
for me, it makes much more sense and works much better to have all of these
responsibilities.

So I feel lucky that I can do that. You know, having spent a lot of time when
I was in a position where I was just trying to get work to be in a position
where I can choose to work or not work feels like a privilege. And with
film--then when I do go, like I made a movie about a year ago and I'm about to
start a film in March--then when I do go in to shoot a picture, I feel like I
can really focus on it because it's been a year again since I was actually
shooting every day. And that becomes an incredible experience for me and a
real joy and a real challenge. And I don't feel like I'm doing the wrong
thing because I'm not always doing it.

GROSS: I really like what you said about people are always talking about
balance, but, you know, in some lines of work, it's not about moderation.
It's really about throwing yourself into it.

Ms. BENING: Yeah, and that's important. And that's what's tricky because, as
a mom, you do want to be balanced to a degree, right? You want to be
consistent, and you want to be there for your children in a way that they can
feel safe and predictable. And that's important for children, and they
deserve that. But that--there's a dichotomy there between that and what
you're trying to do, you know, in your creative life.

GROSS: A couple like you and Warren Beatty are probably, you know, as close
as it gets in America to royalty. Do you know what I mean? Because the level
of celebrity is kind of on a par with what royalty might be in another
country. And I--it seems to me that that must be a blessing and a curse at
the same time. So...

Ms. BENING: Yeah, I think you're right. I think that's a perfect way of
putting it. It is. The part where, you know, people say `royalty,' I mean,
that's something--it's a story that people kind of make up because it doesn't
really have anything to do with us personally or the way we live our lives or
any of that. So I guess that's the tricky part of becoming known on any
degree; that you deal with people's ideas of you and projections that people
have about you. I'm sure you deal with that on the radio, how people conceive
of you vs. how you really are or how you see yourself. So I do think a
certain amount of sorting through that helps when you can kind of say, `OK,
that's someone's idea of me vs. who I really am.'

GROSS: Well, Annette Bening, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us. And I wish you good luck at the Oscars.

Ms. BENING: Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Annette Bening is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in
"Being Julia."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, we listen back to an interview with John Raitt, a star of
Broadway musicals and the father of Bonnie Raitt. He died Sunday at the age
of 88. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: John Raitt discusses his life and career
TERRY GROSS, host:

It was 60 years ago that John Raitt launched his Broadway career, originating
the role of Billy Bigelow in "Carousel." In his signature song, "Soliloquy,"
he sang about his hopes and fears for the child he's just learned he's going
to have. Some people consider Raitt his era's quintessential musical leading
man. He starred in the original Broadway production of "Pajama Game" and
starred with Mary Martin in the TV production of "Annie Get Your Gun." He
toured the country in such musicals as "Oklahoma," "The Most Happy Fella,"
"South Pacific" and "Kismet." Raitt died on Sunday at the age of 88.

I spoke with him in 1995. He had just released the CD "Broadway Legend," his
first album of new recordings in 25 years. It featured several duets with his
daughter, the famous blues and pop singer Bonnie Raitt. We'll hear a couple
of those duets a little later. Let's start with "Surrey With a Fringe On Top"
from a 1964 studio cast recording of "Oklahoma."

(Soundbite of "Surrey With a Fringe On Top")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHN RAITT: (Singing) When I take you out tonight with me, honey, here's
the way it's gonna be. You will sit behind a team of snow-white horses in the
slickest gig you ever seen. Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry when I
take you out in the surrey, when I take you out in the surrey with the fringe
on top. Watch that fringe and see how it flutters, when I drive them
high-steppin' strutters. Nosy folks will peek through their shutters and
their eyes will pop. The wheels are yellow. The upholstery's brown. The
dashboard's genuine leather. With isinglass curtains you can roll right down
in case there's a change in the weather. Two bright sidelights a-winking and
blinking, ain't no finer rig, I'm a-thinking. You can keep your rig if you're
thinking that I'd care to swap for that shiny little surrey with the fringe on
the top.

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Would you say the fringe was made...

GROSS: What's the longest run that you did on Broadway?

Mr. RAITT: "Pajama Game," 1,060 performances.

GROSS: How many years was that?

Mr. RAITT: That's two and a half years. I missed about one performance. I
hoped to say I could do--I did them all but I didn't. I had one week on a
Wednesday, I had such a bad cold that the doctor told me if I did both the
shows that day, I'd be out the rest of the week, but if I didn't do the
matinee, he could probably get me through the week.

GROSS: Do you do exercises to keep your voice in shape?

Mr. RAITT: No, because I'm a natural singer. I'm--I just have to go from
right when I'm talking to you know to oh, what a beautiful morn--it's right
there, you know. So there's no problem.

GROSS: So your singing range is the same as your speaking range and you can
go right into that?

Mr. RAITT: Right, because I'm a highly ...(unintelligible) baritone which is
the most flexible of all the voices for Broadway musicals. I have a long
range. I have a, you know, big, big upper register which helped me a lot
with these big long songs. Like in the "Soliloquy," for instance, you start
off down below and you finish up in an operatic aria, finish, to speak. And
not only do you have to have the stamina but you have to your knowledge about
you of what you can do.

GROSS: Have you lost any of your range?

Mr. RAITT: A little bit, a little bit, I think on the top. I used to have
an amazing--I could sing high Cs and baritones are not supposed to sing high
Cs, you know, but I think I possibly still could some, but I've noticed it a
little bit up on the top.

GROSS: Now, John Raitt, you sang opera before going to Broadway.

Mr. RAITT: Well, sort of. I was luckily in California. We had a group
called the American Music Theatre and we were doing operas in English and that
gave me great training to do the Broadway shows, especially "Carousel," and I
think Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the "Soliloquy" because they had heard me
sing the Figaro for "The Barber of Seville," and they knew that I had this
operatic upper register, especially, and it's certainly evident in the
"Soliloquy." I call it a one-act opera anyway when I sing it.

GROSS: Now where did they hear you sing?

Mr. RAITT: I came to audition. So being very cocky in those days, I thought
I would dazzle them with the audition by singing the Figaro for "The Barber of
Seville" and that did it. That prompted the writing of this wonderful legacy
that Rodgers and Hammerstein left for me.

GROSS: Now if I'm familiar with John Raitt lore, I think the way the story
goes is that you were actually auditioning for "Oklahoma."

Mr. RAITT: I was. I was brought on to take over the lead of Alfred Drake
and they decided I might be a good bet for their new musical adaptation of
Ferenc Molnar's "Lilium" and shipped me off to Chicago where I got my feet
wet, so to speak, and played for about 10 months in that show before they
brought me right in to do "Carousel."

GROSS: So you were doing the road company of "Oklahoma" while Rodgers and
Hammerstein were writing...

Mr. RAITT: Right.

GROSS: ..."Carousel," and they wrote the "Soliloquy" for you, also known as
"My Boy Bill." Why don't we hear it?

(Soundbite of "My Boy Bill")

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) My boy Bill, I will see that he's named after me. I
will. My boy Bill, he'll be tall and as tough as a tree. Will Bill, like a
tree he'll grow with his head held high and his feet planted firm on the
ground and you won't see nobody dare to try to boss him or toss him around.
No pot-bellied, baggy-eyed bully will toss him around.

GROSS: John Raitt from the original cast recording of "Carousel." I believe
you were singing the role of Billy Bigelow, you know, on the road or in summer
stock even into your 60s. Did it ever get to feel like, `Well, I'm really too
old for this part'?

Mr. RAITT: Well, I think I was--I felt 'cause I had--I've had some arthritic
problems and I was having trouble with my left hip, and when I see the tape
that we did, amateur tape, of course, I was a little bit set back by the fact
that I wasn't agile and as young looking as I had hoped--feel that I am. You
know, we feel inside that we're just the same, but when you look at yourself
in the mirror, you say, `Hey, buddy, you're getting along there,' you know.

GROSS: Now you did the Broadway and film versions of "Pajama Game?"

Mr. RAITT: Yeah, I was very fortunate because my big competitor all through
the years, Howard Keel, had done "Calamity Jane" with Doris Day and very much
contention to do it but George Abbott wanted as many of the original people as
he could, and when Jack Warner was able to get a star of the magnitude of
Doris Day, then he said you can have all the rest of your people, you know.

GROSS: Now why don't I play "Hey There," which I think is the loveliest song
from "Pajama Game."

Mr. RAITT: OK. Which one you want to play?

GROSS: Which one would you like to hear? We have the original and we have
the one that you recorded as a duet...

Mr. RAITT: I want you to do it with Bonnie. I think it would be kind of fun
to have the people hear...

GROSS: OK.

Mr. RAITT: ...what daughter can do with one of dad's songs.

GROSS: OK. So here we go. This is John Raitt and Bonnie Raitt singing "Hey
There" from "Pajama Game."

(Soundbite of "Hey There")

Ms. BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes.
Love never made a fool of you. You used to be too wise. Hey there, you are
that high-flying cloud. Though she won't throw a crumb to you, you think some
day she'll come to you. Better forget her...

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Forget her...

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) ...her with her nose in the air.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) ...her with her nose in the air.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) She has you dancing on a string.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) A puppet on a string.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Break it and she won't care.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) She won't care for me.

Ms. RAITT and Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Won't you take this advice I hand you
like a brother.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Or am I not seeing things to clear?

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Are you too much in love to hear?

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Is it all going in one ear...

Ms. RAITT and Mr. RAITT: (Singing) ...and out the other?

GROSS: That's John Raitt and his daughter Bonnie Raitt recorded in 1995.
We'll hear more of our 1995 interview with the late John Raitt after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're remembering John Raitt. He originated starring roles in the
musicals "Carousel" and "Pajama Game." He died Sunday at the age of 88.
Here's another duet that he recorded in 1995 with his daughter Bonnie Raitt.
The song is "Anything You Can Do" from "Annie Get Your Gun." He starred in
the TV production of the musical.

(Soundbite of "Anything You Can Do")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do
anything better than you.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I can.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I can.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) No, you can't

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I can. Yes, I can.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Anything you can be, I can be greater. Sooner or
later, I'm greater than you.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) No, you're not.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I am.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) No, you're not.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I am.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) No, you're not.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I am. Yes, I am. I can shoot a partridge with a
single cartridge.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) I can get a sparrow with a bow and arrow.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) I can live on bread and cheese.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) And only on that?

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Yes.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) So can a rat. Anything you can buy, I can buy cheaper.
I can buy anything cheaper than you.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Fifty cents?

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Forty cents.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Thirty cents.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Twenty cents.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Yes, I can. Yes, I can.

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) Anything you can say, I can say...

GROSS: Now since she's performed your material with you and you've sang a
little bit of her material with her, what kind of advice have you given each
other on how to do each other's songs?

Mr. RAITT: Well, I've basically said we are storytellers and the best way
you tell a story is whatever--if you need to speak the lines or sing the
lines. And she didn't realize, I don't think, that she had such a good
legitimate soprano voice and I knew it all the time and she has blossomed so
that it's just tremendous gratification to me to be able to sing with her just
as a singer. I mean, she sounds a lot like Mary Martin, as you can tell even
in the song that we just played, and it's just been a great joy for me to be
able--I'm not conscious in some ways when we get going that it's the father
and daughter bit. I just--it's another great performer that I'm singing with.

GROSS: Now has she given you any advice about how to sound when you're
performing with her on her song?

Mr. RAITT: Oh, well, she's--yeah, she's told me a little bit on some of the
things because it's a different style of singing, but it's good, a good
challenge.

GROSS: So what did she tell you?

Mr. RAITT: Well, I just have to loosen up a little bit, you know, have a
little more feeling for the song.

GROSS: So do you use a different voice when you sing with her on her stuff?

Mr. RAITT: No, I always sing with one voice. That's what I've got. You
know, I don't think you have to make that change. The style a little bit,
possibly, is a little bit looser, but even that doesn't change because, you
know, they're all songs, and as you interpret it in your own way, you don't
try to copy anybody.

GROSS: Now I think it was about--What did you say?--14 years ago that you
married the woman who had actually been your childhood sweetheart.

Mr. RAITT: Yeah. Rosemary Kreamer was her name and she was Scotch--no, I
was Scotch. She was a Spanish land grant Catholic in the area in Orange
County. In fact, her family goes back to 1769. She's eighth-generation
Californian and an only child and she had one of those mothers that had bigger
aspirations for her son-in-law than a guy--I at that time was going to be an
athletic instructor or a coach. So they sep--I was Scotch-Presbyterian, so
they separated on the religious grounds. Today, of course, you wouldn't
listen to them. You would just take off.

GROSS: So they refused to let you get married?

Mr. RAITT: Yeah. Forty-one years later, we finally--after her second
marriage, after my second marriage. Of course, we were both free and
available and it was a marvelous experience and we've been having a great time
making up for it for 14 years.

GROSS: Had you kept in touch over the years?

Mr. RAITT: No. The only time I saw her, I came back as a local boy makes
good after "Carousel" to do a concert in Fullerton, California, in Orange
County, and in the reception line was Rosemary and her mother. And her mother
was one of these beautiful ladies that--with her long eyelashes and the blue
eye shadow. She took me aside at the reception and said, `We made a mistake.
You were always our favorite,' you know.

GROSS: Oh, yeah, sure, too late for that.

Mr. RAITT: That's right.

GROSS: So...

Mr. RAITT: That's the only time I saw her in the 41 years.

GROSS: ...you weren't going to be good enough. You weren't going to be good
enough professionally. If you don't mind my asking, what did your wife's
first husband do professionally?

Mr. RAITT: He was an attorney. She...

GROSS: Well, he probably made money.

Mr. RAITT: ...her mother picked out her husband for her. She was in such a
state of shock. We fin--you know, because we had a really serious love
affair. She would always come see me sing when I did--I did eight shows for
the Civic Light Opera out in Los Angeles and she probably saw them all, but it
was such a traumatic experience for her that she doesn't remember it too well.

GROSS: So she would come and see you sing but not tell you she was in the
audience?

Mr. RAITT: No. No, I did never--I never--I called up when I got her
telephone number and this lovely voice answers and I said, `This is your first
love.' This is 41 years later, right? And she says, `Who is this?' thinking
I'm a nut, of course, and I told her and she says, `Well, you're right. You
were my first love.' And then I went over to pick her up because I had
invited her immediately for dinner. I was always strong with Rosemary, not
too with the other two wives. And she stuck her head out the door and says,
`What do you see?' to me and I said the best ad-lib line I ever gave, on or
off stage, by saying, `I see the same eyes I saw 41 years ago,' which is
pretty romantic, I guess.

GROSS: So did you ever ask yourself if you think the marriage would have
stayed together if...

Mr. RAITT: Oh, yeah, we've talked about it a lot and Bonnie's awful happy
that we didn't get married, of course.

GROSS: That's right. She wouldn't have been born. Well, I guess things work
out for the best.

Mr. RAITT: Oh, no, they work out, you know. We're still friendly with my
two wives. My second wife is--Kathy, still has the name, and she's the
executive secretary for Jim Nederlander, the Nederlander Theater, so whenever
I need Broadway tickets, I call up Kathy and she gets tickets for us.

GROSS: That sounds handy.

Mr. RAITT: Yeah, why not?

GROSS: John Raitt recorded in 1995. He died Sunday at the age of 88. Here
he is on the original cast recording of "Carousel" from 1945.

(Soundbite of "Carousel")

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) If I loved you, time and again I would try to say all
I'd want you to know. If I loved you, words wouldn't come in an easy way.
Round in circles I'd go. Longin' to tell you but afraid and shy, I'd let
my golden...

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Carousel")

Mr. RAITT: (Singing) ...never, never...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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