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Renée Taylor looks back on her life and her love, Joseph Bologna, in her solo memoir My Life on a Diet
After more than a half century of working on projects with her husband, actor-writer Joseph Bologna, Renée Taylor didn't let his death stand in the way of their continued collaboration. Although Bologna passed away last summer, he's credited as the cowriter and director of My Life on a Diet, Taylor's autobiographical solo show, which is currently running at Theatre at St.Clement's. And why not? He was her costar both personally and professionally (Lovers and Other Strangers, Made for Each Other, It Had to Be You, Love Is All There Is, to name a handful of their movies) since 1965, and his presence is palpable throughout this witty and touching stage memoir.
Best known for her stint as Fran Drescher's outspoken and constantly noshing mother on the sitcom The Nanny, Taylor has been working on My Life on a Diet for a number of years. Inspired by her humorous self-help book of the same name, the show was actually Bologna's idea. "When The Nanny went off the air he said, 'Why don't we do a one-woman play based on your book?" she recalls. "And I said, 'Oh, I don't know if people will relate to a show business story about a woman who was always worried about her weight.' And he said, 'You know, that's every woman, and every guy, too. Everybody is worried about their image!'"
Though the show is absolutely a comedy, filled with old-school one-liners ("I'm 85, but I can play older") and laugh-out-loud stories about her dysfunctional childhood and the crazy eating habits of certain Hollywood stars, it's also surprisingly moving. So many of the people Taylor loved most in life -- her parents, her husband, and famous friends such as Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly -- are no longer with us. She resurrects them via vintage photographs and lively anecdotes, but it's evident she feels their loss as she talks about them. "It's been very healing for me," she says about doing the play. "I really want to share with the audience, otherwise it's just, 'blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' It's much different now than when we started -- much deeper."
The "we" she refers to includes Bologna as well as their son, Gabriel, who's a writer, performer and film director. (He's currently in post-production on Tango Shalom, his parents' final movie together.) He offered his mother informal advice as she readied the show for its New York run. "He told me, 'I'll just give you one direction: See how much you can engage the audience," Taylor recalls, chuckling. "That was a wonderful direction!"
As much as Taylor enjoys doing the show, her favorite part is greeting her audience afterward, which she does at most performances. "I love to hear what their experiences were, and what they know me or Joe from," she says. Recently, she reconnected with two actresses she knew from studying at the Actors Studio in the '50s, and a family of strangers gave her a big surprise. "They said, 'Listen to the ringtone on our phones," she says. "And guess what it was? My mother's voice in Made for Each Other [a romantic comedy about a therapy group in which Taylor's mother, Freeda Wexler, had a small role]. I couldn't believe it! They thought she was funny."
In addition to touring My Life on a Diet throughout the country, Taylor is working on two new projects for herself: one about Mae West, the other about her life with Bologna. "I'm writing a play about my relationship with Joe, which continues even after his death," she says. "And of course, I'm going to keep doing My Life on a Diet for the rest of my life because I can never be too old to do my own story. I just keep adding on at the end!"
To read about a student's experience at My Life on a Diet, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
Top image: Renée Taylor in My Life on a Diet. Photos by Jeremy Daniel.