"Theatre is where I am confident and happy," says Marian Seldes. "I love the other people, and I learn from them all the time. It's never disappointed me. I love it as much now in my 80s as I did when I was six and decided to be an actress."
The "other people" adore Seldes too. She is one of the stage's most admired performers. A member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, she has appeared on Broadway for more than 60 years, receiving five Tony nominations and winning the first time, as Best Featured Actress, for Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance in 1967. She has also earned renown as an acting teacher; at the Juilliard School from 1967 to 1991 her students included Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Kevin Spacey and Laura Linney.
Seldes grew up in Manhattan, and her ardor for the stage ran in the family. Her father was the respected critic Gilbert Seldes. "My father took me to theatre, and it seemed magic. My school, Dalton, made students constantly aware of what was happening in theatre. The first and most important play I remember seeing was done by older students — Euripides' Trojan Women."
She studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, with, among others, the legendary teacher Sanford Meisner. "He taught me that it's never what you are doing. It's what your partner is doing that is interesting. It sounds so simple. It isn't." Her first Broadway play, in 1947, was Medea with Judith Anderson and John Gielgud. She portrayed an attendant to Medea. "It was wonderful. In a way, it spoiled me for everything else."
She has collaborated often with Albee, on Three Tall Women, The Play About the Baby, Tiny Alice, Counting the Ways, as well as A Delicate Balance. "He has become such a dear friend. I would recommend him as a friend, because he's thoughtful and kind and caring. I think a lot of people are afraid of Edward Albee because he's so brilliant. They take for granted he'll be difficult or thorny. He's not."
Her appearance in Ira Levin's Deathtrap on Broadway (for which she got a Tony nomination) became legendary when she didn't miss even one of the play's nearly 1,800 performances from February 1978 to June 1982. "That was an extraordinary play. Everything worked. The audience was fascinated by it, and I was too."
But not a day off, or a vacation? "Where would I go? What would I do? I'm not interested in that. I'm not a good tourist. I don't like walking around and looking at things. I like being in a city and working and finding out how other people live."
Of her teaching, at Juilliard and later at Fordham, she says: "My students taught me how to be a teacher. There's no trick of teaching acting. Either someone wants to do it and is gifted, or not. All these students wanted it to be their lives, the way I did as a little girl. They gave me as much as I could possibly give them."
Is there something she hasn't done that she would still love to do? "A new play. A new part — that I could in a sense create."
At times, she, like almost every actor, has been "humiliated and hurt by the theatre," by the audition process. "You bring yourself to an audition, and if they don't want you, it hurts.
"But I don't have any regrets. I would not change a day, or a play, or a part. I still love it."