"My Rival, The Sky," a military wife's memoir of a wartime homefront, had two happy endings: the end of World War II and the beginning of Swoosie Kurtz. On March 30, 1978, at Gallagher's opening night party for Christopher Durang's A History of the American Film, I met Swoosie — along with parents, Frank and Margo Kurtz.
Margo is the author of the book above and Frank was an Olympic-medalist high-diver who became World War II's most decorated Air Force pilot, flying the only surviving B-17D Flying Fortress. Now in the Smithsonian, the plane was dubbed The Swoozie after a popular Kay Kaiser ditty about Alexander the Swoose, a swan-goose hybrid and, thus, apt for a plane cobbled together from Pearl Harbor's battered B-17's. When the Kurtzes gave birth to a daughter, she had to be called Swoosie.
"There's an analogy in that name for me as an actress, which I never thought of until I was in my 40s: some original parts and then parts from other planes — that's like me and the characters that inhabit me," Swoosie notes — hence, her memoir: "Part Swan, Part Goose: An Uncommon Memoir of Womanhood, Work, and Family."
"I wasn't interested in going anywhere near a celebrity memoir," she admits. "I really was much more interested in telling the story of my parents. I wanted the world to know their story, through my life — their choices sorta juxtaposed to mine.
"My mother is quite a voice in the book, and one of my dreams was to get her book re-released — she wrote it when she was pregnant with me, and it was published in 1945 — with an introduction by me. That's how the dream started a few years ago."
The day Perigee published Swoosie's tome, that dream came true: "My Rival, The Sky" was released as an e-book with some amazing vintage photographs. "I re-read it at the time of the Iraq War, and it seemed contemporary in terms of emotions. She wrote him constantly but never knew if he was dead or alive, missing, or a prisoner. At a certain point, I realized, 'Wow! I was raised by two extraordinary people.'"
Frank, who died in 1996, did see his daughter win two Tonys (Fifth of July and The House of Blue Leaves). She was also nominated for Frozen, Heartbreak House and Tartuffe. During the run of the Heartbreak House in 2007, she noticed signs of her mother's dementia.
"Gradually, the tables were turned. The rock that I had depended on all my life needed me. We've always been each other's best friends, so it was my choice to have her be with me. It's really been the biggest blessing in my life because it brought out something that I never thought was there: the caregiver, the nurturer, the mother."
Reward for following The Fifth Commandment: "Pushing Daisies," which she did for two seasons, and "Mike & Molly," in which she starts her fifth season as Melissa McCarthy's pencil-thin mom, are shot at Warner Bros., four minutes from her home.