has faced many challenges during her acting career She's fought the "pod
people" in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," battled the creature in
"Alien" and, as a child performer, even gave Beaver Cleaver his first
kiss. And for the past few years she has been tackling another new
challenge — the theater. Currently, she's working at the Matrix Theatre in
Nina Shengold's "Homesteaders," the first local theater entry in the
Olympic Arts Festival to receive real critical acclaim.
This is not Cartwright's first foray into theater.
She appeared "a long time ago" in "Butterflies Are Free," co-starred
with Judd Hirsch in "Talley's Folley" at Eltich Gardens in Denver and
appeared locally at Stages in "lonesco Tales." She was signed to star
opposite Gregory Harrison in the Catalina production of "The
Hasty-Heart." until she broke her leg in a car accident. But as
Cartwright says, "mostly, I've been involved in movies and television."
Friendly, though somewhat nervous, the petite, blonde
Cartwright is sitting in an upstairs room at the Matrix nursing a mug of
"The play takes place in 1979 and is about two
brothers who dropped out in 1968 and came up to live in Alaska," she
"The characters are complex and there is some
wonderfully funny stuff in it. It is an ensemble piece. It is really
nice and a real good group of people."
Cartwright, now in her mid-30s, is a rarity. She's
one of the few former child actresses who has successfully made the
transition to adult roles. She and her younger sister, Angela ("Make
Room for Daddy," "Lost in Space"), were two of the busiest child stars
in Hollywood during the '50s and '60s. Cartwright started out modeling
when she was 7, appeared as the Beav's girlfriend, Violet, in "Leave It
to Beaver" and, in 1958 at the age of 9, made her film debut in the
Korean War drama "In Love and War."
It wasn't until 1961, when she played a kleptomaniac
in "The Children's Hour," that she decided she wanted to make acting her
life's career. "I have to put it down to Shirley MacLaine (who
co-starred in the film with Audrey Hepburn and James Garner)," says
Cartwright. "She was so incredible. I didn't realize what a major
influence she had had on me. I've never run into her since but I think
she's really the reason I got inspired to do this."
During her adolescence. Cartwright was always
working. She appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "The Birds" and
starred from 1964-66 as Jemima Boone in the NBC series "Daniel Boone."
Trouble soon set in, however; "When I hit 18, I
didn't look old enough to play older parts, and I didn't look young
enough anymore to play the younger pans, so I went through a bad
period," she says.
Cartwright studied acting, moved to England, worked
for a year there and then moved back, but her career just didn't take
fire again until she was cast in "Inserts."
That X-rated movie starring Richard Dreyfuss as a
once-famous Hollywood director reduced to making porno films set her
floundering career on course. "Things started happening again." she
says. "It sort of has been on a roll ever since."
Cartwright credits her parents for making her and
Angela's life as well-adjusted and normal as possible. "They were always
around," she notes. "When I did 'The Children's Hour,' my father came
and stayed with me because of the subject matter (lesbianism). They were
always pretty .open, if you asked questions about what was going on."
She also points out that though there were things she
missed in her childhood she "also had an experience that a lot of people
don't get." Cartwright admits that the years she didn't work were
difficult for her. "You expect to continue working and that's what the
hardship is," she says. "I figured I had to place my energies someplace
so I might as well study some technique. I felt as long as I wasn't
working I should redefine and find out what the hell I was doing. In a
sense it was a real good period for me I grew up a lot and realized that
there are a lot of hard knocks. You have to really want it or you're not
going to pet it."
Last year. Cartwright appeared as Betty Grissom, the
wife of Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom. in the highly touted "The Right
Stuff." Adapted and directed by Phil Kaufman (who also directed
Cartwright in "Body Snatchers") from Tom Wolfe's best seller, the film
died at the box office and Kaufman failed to receive an Oscar nomination
for his direction or screenplay.
Cartwright thinks the film failed to go into orbit
because "let's face it. the kids who go to the movies today have no idea
what the space program is about. People who went to see it went back and
saw it a second time. People absolutely loved it, but the kids who go to
pay their money for something that is three hours long would rather see
She also thinks "as far as Phil goes. he got the
shaft. He's such a wonderful director to work with. I think that may be
because Phil lives up in San Francisco and he doesn't play the games (of
Hollywood). He gets out there and does his work I don't know what it
Cartwright never met Betty because Kaufman felt that
the "character might get a little jaded. I can understand, with what she
has been through with the death of Gus." She's also never met Ethel
Kennedy, whom she plays in the CBS miniseries "RFK and His Times," which
is scheduled to air this fall. (Brad Davis of "Midnight Express" fame
plays Robert Kennedy.)
"The producers spent a lot of time with her and I saw
a lot of documentary footage and I read as much as I could," she
explains. "It's scary," she says about playing a real person. "You have
to take a big deep breath. You have to make that character as real as
possible and take the circumstances at hand and go with it. Hopefully
they'll be pleased."
Cartwright also worked with actor John Belushi in his
first film, "Goin' South," directed by Jack Nicholson. Though she hasn't
read Bob Woodward's book, "Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John
Belushi," she thinks the whole affair is "so sad. He was very hyper, but
he was also warm and so funny. He was absolutely terrific. I like Judy (Belushi's
wife) and I think Judy was a very calming influence on him. He was like
a different person when she was around."
She admits, with a broad smile, that things got kind
of wild while on location in Durango, Mexico, for the film. "It was a
fun shoot. Let's face it. we'd all hit the bar afterwards," she
says with a laugh "You were in the middle of Durango. Mexico, and there
was nothing. We would have a little hi-fi down there and we would
just sit down and party. I mean, what were you going to do?"