On Sunday November 5th, a most legendary book signing, exhibit unveiling, and birthday celebration was in full swing at the opulent Max Factor building-turned-Hollywood museum. Yes, while you were all cursing the rush hour traffic only to remember it was merely a “Sunday night, so what the hell?!?”, channel surfing only to stumble across America’s Funniest Home Videos to mutterings of “Wait, what. This show’s still on the air? Oh my God, what happened to Bog Saget?!?”, then subsequently flipping over to an old M.A.S.H. rerun to much true and comedic relief: one of M.A.S.H.’s own was unveiling her latest book and career driven memorabilia to impending birthday surprise in the lobby of the marble-floored landmark wherein any Hollywood blonde worth her never-to-be salt and pepper hair adopted her signature look to the tune of Marilyn Magnificence and Jean Harlow allure! Noted Hollywood blonde in tow, Loretta Swit, just happened to follow in said footsteps, not so much in relation to finding that signature look, but by posting her signature in all her books! All this in the blonde room itself, just off the northeast corner of the majestic lobby.
To this, Swit could only exclaim, “I’m so very honored to be associated with a historic sight where the greats like Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball and Joan Crawford had their images defined by the genius of Max Factor. I’m literally signing my book in the ‘Blondes Only’ make-up room, where Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow became the platinum legends we now know and love!”
The momentous manuscript in question: Switheart: The Watercolour Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit, crafted in conjunction with Mies Hora. Featuring Swit’s wonderful talent for capturing animal stillness, the book is not only an entertainment piece but a healing force to be reckoned with! For not only is Swit an actress and artist but a seasoned activist to boot– as all proceeds from this majestic 65 painting hardcover go squarely to Switheart Animal Alliance (SSA). SSA, in turn, distributes the funds to other organization with the aim of putting an end to all manner of animal suffering and cruelty.
The related exhibit opening is just as arresting as the aforementioned archive in artistry: Both seemingly/symbolically punctuating the 45-year anniversary of M.A.S.H. The display itself showcasing watershed moments from Swit’s career, waxes nostalgic in all the most elegant and scrappy of places. Included in the exhibit, stage and screen memorabilia alike encompassing articles from Murder Among Friends, Miracle at Moreaux, Mame, Doubt, Eleanor (Roosevelt), The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Song of Singapore, and quite a few nostalgic looks at Swit in her role as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on M.A.S.H.” And as if that wasn’t enough, a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday broke out in all foreshadowing glory to the coffee table-sized cake (or at the very least, sizeable nightstand) festooned with flowers heralding Ms. Swit’s Earth Arrival Day on the morrow!
Hosted by Hollywood museum president and founder Donelle Dadigan, the event was abundant with more celebs than you could shake (or even throw-canine style) a stick at! Included in the mix: Anson Williams, Mike Farrell, Alice Amter, Jackie Joseph, Dawn Wells, Carolyn Hennesy, Kate Linder, Tracy Weisert, Christine Devine, Barbara Van Orden, Manhattan Transfer’s own, Erin Dickins, Laura Pursell, Connor Dean, Steven Wishnoff, Judy Tenuta, Savannah Liles, Casey Burke, Scott Mauro, Joey Luthman, Sean Ryan Petersen, and Alison Arngrim and each one had their own special words regarding the lovely and enterprising Ms. Swit!
According to singer Barbara Van Orden, “I enjoyed her for so many years on M.A.S.H.. she’s done a lot of other things too, a lot of plays…[and I’ve] enjoyed her in many things [especially] when she played a nun. That was really something! …She’s lasted so long. She looks wonderful and the cause that she [supports]… It’s for animals, and how nice to be not so into herself that she also takes time to help other people and animals. She’s a very lovely, lovely, lovely woman…and talented!”
“We never acted together but… Ron Howard and I met with her…years and years ago. We were trying to put a pilot together after M.A.S.H,” nostalgically confessed Anson Williams; best known in the public eye as Potsie Weber of Happy Days fame. “And that didn’t work out, but she was so lovely, and then…not that long ago, she came and helped me with Alert Drops (a revolutionary spray to keep you awake while driving, made of lemon juice; invented by Williams and Williams’ uncle Dr. Henry Heimlich). She tried it, she gave it to her friends and did a strong testimonial for the product, really helped me a lot. She’s a very generous, selfless, human being…she gives back so much like her book, it’s to help animals. It’spaying it forward. She’s constantly paying it forward. She’s a giver, not a taker and that’s the kind of celebrity I like!”
Hollywood Museum president and founder Donelle Dadigan presented the following rousing introduction prior to Swit’s momentous speech: “I never knew you were a woman of so many talents…an artist, a thespian…Everybody knows you from once upon a time in M.A.S.H…but the one thing I want to tell you about Ms. Swit is, she is one of the few actresses I know who has played two different nuns! And such a beautiful woman to boot!”
Swit’s speech commenced in all welcoming, yet unassuming, fashion: “For an actor of my–and I’m not being modest–limited stature, I’m sitting in a room where I’m going to sign my book and I’m surrounded by 100 pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford and it’s overwhelming to be here! …Thank you for coming.”
Concerning her book, her look into its inception was as endearing as it was actualizing: “I’d been painting, and sketching, and doodling since I was six. I know I was six because I won an art prize… I didn’t have plans to become an artist, but I kept doing it. I was on a private plane. A dear friend of mine, John who sponsored the book, had a friend of his with him. He was a publisher and John and I were looking at my art work on the computer and the publisher said, “That’s a book. That’s a book! …And I said, ‘Okay!’ So we did a book. And now I’m working on Book 2! It’s a labor of love; my other career has always been animals and their protection. So for me this is a wonderful experience. I’m vice president at Actors and Others for Animals. So what I’ve done is create my own foundation from the book: The Swithart Animal Alliance Foundation, Alliance being the operative word because the money/the proceeds go into the foundation and they go back out…”
“Gene Bauer is waving to me from the back… He founded a beautiful organization called The Farm Sanctuary where he rescues and cares for farm animals that have been abused or mistreated, lost: runaways… So the alliance will send Farm Sanctuary some money to sponsor some animals: a pig, a cow a goat etc… So I’ll do a painting of a goat if I’m commissioned to do it; somebody buys it. The money goes into the alliance and goes back to Farm Sanctuary… So it’s kind of a wonderful thing!… By the Week is [another] homeless shelter in Manhattan. …Somebody abandoned these adorable cats, so I took them to By the Week and they cleaned them, they gave them the shots, they were vetted, they were socialized, adopted out to a Furrever Home together because they were siblings…so Alliance sent them $200.00 because of what they did and that’s what I’m excited about …When you buy the book, even though it’s available on Amazon, I wish you would go to my website…people can write in…[ask for it to be signed]…We have these wonderful plaques that I’ll personalize and send to the person for the book… Amazon [also] keeps 55% of the profits if you buy through [them]…I don’t begrudge them that…however, that robs my animals of 55 %… So if you tell your friends to buy the book, tell them to go to Switheart.com.”
And of course, the other piece de résistance, second only to the care and preservation of our beloved animals via painting, centered around Swit’s signature role itself: “Just the M.A.S.H. family alone…[I feel so privileged] to have worked with those astonishing people. Mike [Farrell] is here. Jamie [Farr] was with me last night… We’re still a family. We just celebrated the 45th anniversary which is just astonishing [and the show has always had a family feel including that of our fans.] …We went into syndication in year three so you were getting a double whammy for 11 years… Imagine, if you will…that in ’71 a kid, maybe 11 years old, was watching M.A.S.H and probably getting a whole different feel from Jamie’s character Klinger than a kid who grew up at the end of the season in ’83… It can be passed down to the generations and it’s absolutely wonderful. …People ask me, do I mind being remembered for it? Why would I mind? … [And then-a thing I’ll never forget-on to the] last day of shooting where there was not an inch of space that wasn’t covered with some form of humanity with a camera… I mean you can’t imagine what it was like, and how I loved it. It was wonderful. How could I surrender having that experience–this once in a lifetime experience? [And] it didn’t [limit] me at all …I went from M.A.S.H. almost immediately into playing Shirley Valentine for maybe like 1500 performances, and you couldn’t get further a field from M.A.S.H. to a British woman who had children, and a bad marriage who broke out and went to Greece, and had an affair with a Greek. …And then I went on to do musicals [including] Mame!”
“When she talked about the children growing up watching M.A.S.H. and then growing up watching M.A.S.H. as an adult, [experiencing it as] a different show: Yeah, that would be me,” boasts Alison Arngrim who was not only watching TV as a child, but on TV during roughly the same time frame as the artist we have come to see! (Wait, how does that even work?!?…I mean, really, I may have to go consult an M.C. Escher painting and lie down!!!) “I did my homework in front of M.A.S.H. for years and [then when I grew up] I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a totally different show,’ and then yes, I have run into her at so many things for animals…and I know about her commitment to animals. She’s just an incredibly good person…and that’s one of the things I like about her!”
And as an avid cat lover, Arngrim should know! “We had our two very old cats who have since passed on: Hannibal Lecter lived to be 21. Clarice Starling made it to 20. Currently, the very young Morticia–her full name is Morticia Wigglesworth Schoonover: All black–and Wigglesworth because if you pick her up, she wants to be put down! She will get down no matter what! So yes I’m a big cat person!”
The stunning Alice Amter resembling nobody’s mom i.e. not your mother’s mother, was in attendance representing The Big Bang Theory, yet sometime Raj’s mom (on the aforementioned TV Series), had this wisdom to impart ending off any and all celebrity interviews with a related Bang!: “I do remember…catching episodes of M.A.S.H. when I was a kid and she just has a very iconic look…with the blonde hair and the big smile…and to know that she’s still going strong, that’s an inspiration for me as an actress!… It’s a tough business. So, to have heart, as well as talent; acting chops… I’m kind of amazed! She’s so good at so many things [and it’s really] sort of awe inspiring…”
All in all a very touching, colorful, and most of all inspirational evening!
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