In the 1988 play Love Letters, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, A.R. Gurney carefully examines the relationship between a stuffy W.A.S.P. and a free-spirited woman, as chronicled in the letters they write.
Those Letters have been reopened on Broadway, where the two-person play began Sept. 13 at the Brooks Atkinson. Five iconic actresses have been enlisted to give voice to the woman behind the ink. Rotating cast members Mia Farrow, Carol Burnett, Candice Bergen, Diana Rigg and Anjelica Huston chat with Playbill about their own love lives — from the letters they've saved to the loved ones they've lost.
Have you saved love letters you received?
Mia Farrow: I saved them all — even the ones that I cared a little bit about because they were so extreme. Not only that, but I saved them alphabetically. I have them on file!
Candice Bergen: Well, I saved all of the love letters that my late husband wrote me. I would never part with those.
Diana Rigg: No.
Anjelica Huston: Yes, I think I have saved every love letter ever written to me. Each one is special because of who wrote it.
Carol Burnett: No, I haven't saved anything, but I mean, I haven't really written love letters or received them.
What was the most outrageous gift you received from a valentine?
Carol Burnett: I can't remember who sent it to me, it was a joke — those heart-shaped candy [boxes] with chocolate in them… Each [chocolate] had a bite taken out of it, which is very funny!
What celebrity did you have a crush on growing up?
Diana Rigg: I fancied Gregory Peck.
Candice Bergen: Jack Lemmon and Tab Hunter. Go figure!
Mia Farrow: I think Robert Wagner when I was really little and I saw "Prince Valiant."
Carol Burnett: Peter Lawford. I just thought he was adorable, and I just loved all those MGM movies growing up, and what's wonderful is that I got to know him. He was a guest on my show, and I first met him when he was a guest on "The Garry Moore Show," and we worked together quite a bit, so it was kind of a kick for me — as a teenager who had a crush on him, and now to be working with him and doing love scenes!
Can you remember your first kiss?
Diana Rigg: Yes, it was revolting! He stuck his tongue in my mouth, and I hated every minute.
Mia Farrow: It would have been eighth grade in Spain, and it was spin the bottle, and I was only in school for like a week, so it was a guy I didn't know. He was just about to grow a mustache, so it was a little bit bristly, and it was not a pleasant thing at all.
Anjelica Huston: Vaguely. It was the second kiss that mattered.
Carol Burnett: Yes, it was from a dog!
What about onstage kiss?
Diana Rigg: I had several. I had one from George C. Scott in "Hospital" — absolutely sweet, sweet kiss. I had one from George Lazenby in that Bond film ["On Her Majesty's Secret Service"], and he accused me of purposefully eating garlic, which I hadn't purposefully eaten at all.
Mia Farrow: It was on screen in my first movie ["Guns at Batasi"], and it was Johnny Leyton. It was a movie with Richard Attenborough, Jack Hawkins and John Leyton, who played my boyfriend, and he kissed me, and I was also in bed with him — I'd never been in bed with anybody before! I mean, it was absolutely crazy. I didn't get naked or anything — I had undergarments [on] under the sheets, but still! It was plenty embarrassing. I'll tell you that. I cringe at the memory.
Carol Burnett: I don't remember the first, but one year I had [three] particularly terrific leading men. In one year, I did a play with Burt Reynolds, Same Time, Next Year — there was lots of kissing in that. I did another movie ["Health"] with Jimmy Garner, and there was lots of kissing in that. And then I did a movie ["The Four Seasons"] with Alan Alda, and there was lots of kissing… Three all in the same year. Wow. That's pretty neat, you know, with those three guys — Burt, Alan and James Garner — but it was always closed mouth. There was never any fooling around. No French kissing!
Anjelica Huston: Yeah. Not so hot.
How did you know the first time you fell in love? Carol Burnett: It was grammar school, and I was in love with a boy named Eddie. He was the sixth grade class president, and I just had a crush on him. One time he chased me and threw my sweater up a tree, and then I realized he loved me, too. That was his way of giving me attention. It was a very innocent time! I'm sure sixth graders are a lot more hip today.
Diana Rigg: There's a French word called bouleversé, and it means, "You're overcome." I was overcome with either lust or love.
Anjelica Huston: The sun came up when he walked into the room.
Do you recall your first heartbreak?
Candice Bergen: I was 16… And, I'm still bitter. Actually, I saw him soon after he broke up with me. I was in senior year in high school, and I wore the uniform and saddle shoes, and I saw him driving in a convertible with the top down with a very popular singer of the day named Jackie DeShannon, and she sure as hell was not wearing saddle shoes!
Have you ever been involved in a showmance?
Diana Rigg: Once, and I'm not about to talk about it because it was an utter failure. He was not good in bed. Shall I put it that way?
Anjelica Huston: It's inevitable in my business, though generally not an enduring choice!
Mia Farrow: Actually, yes. All of the Woody Allen movies. That counts!
What was your worst date? Diana Rigg: I was so bored with him that I left halfway through dinner.
Mia Farrow: The worst dates are the really, really boring ones, where you find yourself humming in your mind and trying not to check your watch too often. Then there's the sinking heart when the person orders an espresso after you think it's time to leave. Your heart just sinks when that espresso gets ordered because then they get really talkative, and you know you're in for another round!
Candice Bergen: In freshman year in college — I was at Penn — I went on a blind date. He picked me up, and he was wearing a burgundy, three-piece suit with matching burgundy boots, and we got into a burgundy limousine, and we had dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in Philadelphia. I was back in about 30 minutes. That was Donald Trump.
How do you know someone is "The One"?
Candice Bergen: The older you get, the quicker you know, and we don't always have a choice. These things get decided for us, I think, and I think you don't even look at anyone else when you meet "The One."
Carol Burnett: I think you have to get to know them over a period of time, and the main thing is if they have a sense of humor. That's really major — to have a sense of humor, make me laugh. And, also, that you're comfortable being silent around them.
Was your wedding day everything you'd dreamed it to be?
Candice Bergen: I was married rather late in like. I was 34, and my wedding day — until that point — [was] by far the happiest day in my life. It was at my husband's [Louis Malle] house in France, and my mother and my brother flew in from California for it. It was a tiny wedding, and we had lunch. We were married in our little, tiny village by the mayor of the village. They decorated the room with French and American flags, and we went back and had lunch in the garden. It was a perfect day.
Mia Farrow: Not at all. I didn't know I was getting married until like 12 hours before. I mean, I was engaged [to Frank Sinatra], but I was suddenly getting married, and my family wasn't there. The "dream thing"… that didn't happen. But it didn't really matter because I was with the person I wanted to be with, so in that sense, it was everything I could have hoped for. But if I could have set it up myself, maybe I would have had an aisle and people and not in a Las Vegas hotel, maybe! But it didn't matter because I was beside the guy I loved.
What have you experienced to be the best way to cope with the loss of a loved one?
Carol Burnett: Well, I lost my daughter [Carrie Hamilton] a few years ago. She died of cancer at the age of 38. How do you cope? You get up out of bed, and you go work. You keep busy. It doesn't mean you forget them. You have to do what they would want you to do. When she died, she and I were writing a play that was going to be directed by Hal Prince, and I didn't want to get out of bed. The play [Hollywood Arms] wasn't finished yet, and my husband said, "You've got to get up. You've got to finish the play. You owe it to Carrie and to Hal." We tried it out in Chicago, and then it did open on Broadway. It was a labor of love between Carrie and me.
What piece of advice have you given to a child or relative about love? Diana Rigg: Never have an affair with anybody that you wouldn't enjoy having lunch or dinner with in 25 years time.
Mia Farrow: I don't think other people could give you advice, honestly. Any advice anybody has given me with regard to love and relationships — and the obsession that accompanied that — has been absolutely forgotten and overridden and useless. Nobody's going to listen when they're really in love.
Carol Burnett: Every day, tell someone you love that you love them. If you think of somebody you haven't talked to in a long time, give them a call. Call them and say, "I'm thinking of you, and I love you."
Anjelica Huston: True love does not have to try. It just is.
(A version of this feature will appear in the October issue of Playbill magazine. Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)