Articles & Profiles
GALE ZOE GARNETT
STODDART PUBLISHING CO.
PROFILE BY BRAD FRASER
Gale Zoe Garnett strides into Toronto's tony Bistro 990 and every eye in the restaurant follows her to our table. She is a mass of black hair, tits, ass and teeth. She's dressed smartly in a flattering black ensemble that matches her hair. Her smile is radiant as she takes her seat and shows me the first printed copy of her new novel, Visible Amazement, published in Canada by Stoddart Publishing. The book is to be published in America next year by Simon and Schuster under the editorial charge of Micheal Korda. She's like a mother with her newborn child, alternately proud and frightened by her new charge. Throughout the interview the book will be held in her lap or set beside her on the table, allowing her to touch the glossy cover from time to time, as if she's not quite able to believe what's happening to her.
It's been a protracted journey for Ms. Garnett from actress, singer, songwriter, newspaper columnist and book reviewer to first-time novelist.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand she spent her childhood in England before immigrating to Canada at age eleven. Like many artists Gale had a strange and rather turbulent family life. Her father whom she describes as a "man who tried many things and succeeded at few" died of a heart attack at age thirty-eight. An older brother was killed in an accident. Her mother was a cold, withholding secret alcoholic. The alcoholism worsened an already dangerous asthma condition and four months after her brother died Gale's mother choked to death while Gale was out of the country. At fifteen Ms. Garnett found herself orphaned. This subject, like a number of others I broach in the course of our excellent meal, is not something she is comfortable talking about.
Gale started acting at age eight in England, doing a number of amateur and professional shows as well as appearing in adverts as a Pears Soap child. She loved acting but her parents felt she was too young for show biz and, for a time, kept her off the stage. At age ten she auditioned for, and got, the part of a twelve-year old in a London production of Tennessee Williams This Property Is Condemned. From that point on there was no holding her back. After resettling in Canada and losing her father Gale left home and went to New York with two older friends to break into the big time.
While investigating the Big Apple, Gale met a much older man who became something of a friend and protector to her. The man, a large bearded publicist who owned a pet ostrich, found Gale work in a touring production of The World of Suzie Wong. The tour allowed her to escape New York and her mother's potential interest. The publicist also procured false I.D., which turned Gale Garnett into Donna Lynn Reed from Tupelo Mississippi, six years older than Gale. When asked about how convincing a thirteen-year old girl is as a nineteen-year old woman Gale is blunt in her response. "I got my first period at nine and a half. I came into puberty very early. A couple years earlier than most other girls. My family was terrified. My father went a little funny because up until then I was allowed to sit on his lap. After that it seemed to send him into a panic attack. I didn't understand it then, but I do now." Gale was also aided in her age deception by her husky, foghorn voice that even then sounded like a cross between Lauren Bacall and Tom Waits.
The tour eventually led Gale to California where she settled for a most of the sixties, dividing her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. She has a special affinity to Big Sur and the ocean. "I'd rather be around water than not be around water." About LA she says, "If you know anything about California you know that no one is more popular than a thirteen-year old because everyone there wishes they were thirteen." When asked about the dangers and temptations to a girl of that age living and traveling on her own in tinsel town Gale responds, "I was very popular." When I ask her if she was still a virgin at that time all she will say is, "Let's just say somewhere between thirteen and fourteen I wasn't (A virgin.) anymore."
Although she doesn't care to elaborate on the details of being a young woman in such a shark infested industry Ms. Garnett will say, "Adults behave much better than boys do. Adults are more trustworthy. If you live through your teens it's mostly luck. I believe that children and teenagers are preyed upon by adults. But most adults are capable of feeling a level of shame and guilt that can be appealed to. I'm not sure that children and teens have that same quality. So called intergenerational sex is actually, if you're going to have sex, a far safer choice, in my mind, than peer sex."
Gale spent five years working in Los Angeles and Europe, doing episodic television and voice over work. She is Claudia Cardinale's voice in The Pink Panther. It was also during this time that her singing career was launched, albeit reluctantly, with the chart topping, and perennial hit We'll Sing in the Sunshine. Garnett doesn't like to dwell on her musical career too much, despite the fact she recorded eight albums and even had a second minor hit. She has nothing good to say about the music business or its effects on her life other than a certain grudging gratitude for the royalty cheques she still receives regularly. Mostly though, the singing interfered with her life as an actor.
Now nineteen in reality and fed up with recording and the Vietnam war, Gale returned to Toronto with an education she concedes came from life, books and gay men. Of the gay community she says, "Gay men were my collective mother. I was raised by them as a teen-ager." She's a strong supporter of equal rights and AIDS related causes.
In 1970 Gale did a star turn as Sheila (Easy To Be Hard.) in a production of Hair at the Royal Alexander Theatre. This lead to a season at Toronto's Centre Stage as well as a number of plays at the city's then burgeoning alternative theatre scene. At one point she even designed costumes for Theatre Passe Muraille's production of Carol Bolt's Buffalo Jump. She worked off-Broadway and for a time commuted between Toronto and New York. Her first one-woman show Gale Garnett and Company played to great acclaim across the country.
In the late seventies an unfortunate situation with an overzealous fan forced Ms. Garnett to temporarily curtail her Toronto stage appearances. She concentrated more on regional work, film and television. She's appeared in somewhere between sixty-five and seventy television dramas and has made eight feature films. Her most cherished appearances are in Tribute, with Jack Lemmon, for which she received a Genie nomination, Mr. and Mrs. Bridges, with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glen Gould. Her second one-woman show, Life After Latex, enjoyed a successful run- particularly in Edmonton- Ms. Garnett's favourite Canadian city for live theatre.
Gale Zoe Garnett knows a lot of people. She counts actor/director Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral.), playwright Martin Sherman (Bent.), actresses Patricia Neal and the late Melina Mercouri and many other stellar names as friends. Her recently added second name, Zoe, was given to her by the late Prime Minister of Greece, Andreas Papandreou, in 1983 after a near fatal bout of meningitis. Zoe means life in Greek. Gale promptly adopted the name and the Papandreou family as her own. She says both have brought her nothing but luck since. Gale Zoe Garnett also knows a lot of dead people. Like anyone with any connection to the gay community through the last decade AIDS has decimated her circle of friends. One of the people her novel is dedicated to is her compatriot, deceased Globe and Mail film critic Jay Scott. Scott died of AIDS related causes in 1993.
Gale recently turned fifty. She doesn't hide her age and she isn't ashamed of it. She easily looks ten years younger than she is. When asked why she's never married Ms. Garnett shrugs philosophically. Even though she's not a believer in relationships that are validated by a contract, she admits to having three marriage proposals from men who were sober. "Men like me," she says. "They like me a lot. But always as the other woman. Although I will say I have never slept with the husband of a woman I know personally." And that's all she'll say.
Gale has always been a writer of some sort. She wrote songs, she wrote newspaper columns, she still writes book reviews. She's been working on Visible Amazement for seven years. She says the story came to her through the voice of Roanne Chappell, her highly advanced and highly amusing fourteen-year old protagonist. "I just started to hear her voice in my head and started listening to what she had to say." Ms. Garnett approached the creation of the characters in her novel from an actor's point of view. She put them in scenes together, filled in their past lives in order to reveal them in their present situation." When ever I'd be writing and not know where something was going I'd just stand up and play all the parts."
Other parts that Gale Zoe Garnett the actress covets are Blanche Dubois, Hedda Gabler and Maria Callas in Master Class. "If there are any directors reading this- I want to play those parts." Whether or not those parts will come remains to be seen. In the meantime Gale Zoe Garnett is about to play a new part, but one she seems to have spent her entire life preparing for. The part of a successful lady author. After receiving a healthy advance, an American publishing deal, some generous jacket copy from some very impressive names and with a new book of short stories in the works, successful lady author just might be that leading role Gale finally makes all her own. She certainly has all of the credentials.