Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Molly Ivins: New Bio, New Play

I just finished Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (Public Affairs Books), a biography of one of America’s greatest journalists and social critics, released in November. I heartily recommend it. This is not a funny book, though its subject was also a humorist with a rapier wit. This book illuminates the contradictions in life: as Dolly Parton has famously said, “you’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap” -- in Ivins’ case, it took a lot of heartache for her to be that funny.

The Molly persona, a down-home plain speaker with a Texas drawl, was created by a brilliant young woman, a daughter of privilege. Mary Tyler Ivins grew up in a tony neighborhood of Houston, went to private schools, including Smith College, and studied abroad in France. Her father was a top executive at Tenneco and his devotion to capitalism, and his domineering personality and conservative politics, were things that Mary, nicknamed Molly, pushed back against her entire life. Admiring many things about Texas’s self-made citizens, but repelled by the crass deal-making she overheard in her parents’ living room -- including talk of controlling oil prices to boost Tenneco’s profits – Ivins developed her considerable gifts as a reporter, writer and blunt observer of political life and societal fragmentation, tweaking the high and mighty (and many of her editors) in the process, and standing up for the little guy and gal.

She had legions of friends and was generous to a fault. She could hold her own with the best of the good ole boys and drink most of them under the table to get a story. Alcohol and tobacco were serious addictions and contributed to her health’s decline in her 50s. Breast cancer and heart disease finally took the life of this indomitable spirit.

But we have her many books, and now, this new biography. Happily, there’s more: Philadelphia Theatre Company will premiere Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel, to feature Tony Award nominee Kathleen Turner as Ivins. The Engels are twin sisters and journalists.

The new one-woman show will be directed David Esbjornson and will run March 19-April 18, 2010.

"We are thrilled at the happy and unexpected opportunity to produce this new play that celebrates the life of one of journalism's most colorful and iconic figures," Sara Garonzik, PTC's producing artistic director, said in a statement. "We are especially delighted to be working with the brilliant Kathleen Turner.”

Molly would probably be delighted, too.

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