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An actress in the grand tradition -- who can laugh at herself

By Arthur Unger / February 9, 1981



New York

A tiny, innocuous mouse has grown into a . . . rat. Jane Seymour, whose first stage appearance, at the age of 13, was as a mouse in the ballet "Nutcracker" in her native England (and who is now playing the part of a sometimes mousy Mrs. Mozart in this year's most acclaimed Broadway drama, "Amadeus"), will shortly be seen as an absolute "rat" in her role as the insistently hateful Cathy in the miniseries remake of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" (NBC, Sunday, 8-11 p.m.; Monday, 9-11 p.m.; Wednesday, 8-11 p.m. -- check local times).

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I joined Miss Seymour for a pre-performance dinner at Sardi's, just across the street from the Broadhurst Theater where she is appearing. Dinner? Well, if you can call half a grapefruit and a bottle of Perrier water dinner.

Jane Seymour is a tiny woman with penetrating eyes which match her wit and intelligence. At moments, especially when her eyes (one brown, the other green, by the way) flash at the same time she throws back her head, she seems a great beauty in the grand tradition of theatrical beauties. But then, in repose, she is transformed into quietly pretty child-woman, with surprising insight into her own character as well as the difficult and often artificial world of the actor.

How did the name Jane Seymour come about?

"Well, Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg was just too long, too complicated, too 'foreign,' so I chose the first name, Jane, because it was a plain name that I could live with. When we chose Seymour I didn't instantly recognize her as the most obscure of Henry VIII's wives, but I just stuck with it."

Would she like to play the part of the real Jane Seymour in a play or film?

Jane shakes her head. "I would be miscast. She was the middle wife, the one that he really loved. She was quiet, drab, and noted for being quite ugly . . . ."

I agree quickly that, considering those standards, Miss Seymour would be miscast as the real Jane.

In looking over her official biography, which includes her American performances in "Captains and Kings," "Seventh Avenue," "The Awakening Land," and "Battlestar Galactica," I note that there is one memorable omission -- "The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders." She blushes and adds still another color -- pink -- to the Seymour spectrum. "It was like a passport to good TV parts. The advice given to me was that if I wanted to get to do something like Kate [as the character is sometimes called] in 'East of Eden' I had to have a high TVQ [ audience-recognition rating], and the only way to get that is to do a series or a highly rated special.

"Well, I prefer not to be caught in a series, and 'Dallas Cowboys' came up and proved to be one of the highest-rated specials ever. It was watched by 68 million people and it proved once and for all that I am able to play Americans. I'm proud of my part in that special -- but I don't necessarily think it was a great work of art."

In the Peter Schaffer play "Amadeus" Jane plays the part of Constanze Weber, the playful wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who tries to use her mousy wiles to persuade Antonio Salieri to improve the lot of her husband, then leaves Mozart, only to return at his demise. Did Miss Seymour have trouble getting the part, overcoming prejudice against her because of her previous roles in pop American TV series?

She laughs and the eyes sparkle with the memory: "No! Because the director had never heard of me or seen any of my work. I was just No. 637 who walked on stage to audition. When he asked me where I'd had my training, I told him, 'In my own form of repertory -- trying to survive in American television.'"

There have been various interpretations of the play. What does Mrs. Mozart think about it?

Jane turns solemn for a moment. The sparkle in the eyes turns cool. "I believe the play is about how everyone has to learn to live with the mediocrity that surrounds us all in a very large part of our lives. There will always be a genius, either in our own field or another field, that we would wish to be. But we must learn to settle for whatever it is that we have. That's the message Schaffer meant."