Holland Taylor brings Ann Richards to life

In Texas, feeling proud of politicians is a rarity. I mean, just as Dubya slinks out of office (to a neighborhood far too close to me), our seemingly eternal governor starts talking secession. At such times, I only know to do one thing, put on an Ann Richards T-shirt and try to remember that once upon a time, Texas got it right.

Ann’s influence reached far beyond Texas, however, and I know many of us harbored the dream that she would be the one to break through the glass ceiling with that immovable hair of hers to become the nation’s first female president.

When Richards died in 2006, friends and admirers needed three funerals to say goodbye. But one of her friends, Holland Taylor is doing her best to make sure we remember what Ann was all about.

For more than a year, Taylor (a.k.a. Peggy Peabody) has been working on a one-woman show based on Richards’ life. She’s spent a good portion of her time away from the Two and a Half Men set in Austin, talking to Ann’s friends and wading through boxes of her archives.

Taylor said that she met Richards years ago at a fundraiser at which Liz Smith introduced them. “I came to know her as a living breathing person who was a mother and a wife, then a divorced wife and a boss and a fun friend.”

What she didn’t know was that Richards could be difficult — her temper was the stuff of legend: “Every person I interviewed started out with some terrible story about some unbelievably difficult moment or some terrible time when they got dressed down, when they ran from her bawling and hid in a broom closet. Whenever they were telling this story about how she was mean as a snake to them, their faces beamed with beautiful smiles and their eyes were full of tears. Because they just loved her so much.”

They also knew that as much as Ann expected from them, she expected even more from herself. “She drove everyone, but they all knew she was working harder,” Taylor says. “They also knew that her core values were so central, her core sense of fair play. Her lifelong dream was of a fair and just society … as far as civil rights were concerned; she believed she had to help right a great wrong.”

Taylor found so much rich material that she found herself grieving about how much of Ann’s story won’t make it into the show. “I came into the room where I mostly work, which was the guest room; now it’s Ann’s room. All of her (stuff) is in there. Stacks and stacks and stacks of DVDs, papers, files, notes, reprints, references, books. I came in one night and I had just sent off a big chunk of the play out to my agent. Tears started to well in my eyes, and I became so sad. I realized: All the things I know. I know so many wonderful details. And God is in the details. I can’t put them in the play! I can’t get them in! It’s 100 minutes.”

But Taylor’s intention is not to be Ann’s biographer, but her voice. And she feels like she has some guidance in finding it.

“I think of her so often. I don’t have a profound belief in the spirit world or our connections after life. I think I’m sort of like Ann in that way. She was generally practical and so am I. But every so often, I’ve felt her presence. She has really altered my life, lifted me up to a more meaningful plane.”

Taylor plans a workshop production of the play before Christmas and, if all goes well, the commercial production will debut next spring.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of Holland Taylor as Ann Richards makes me a little giddy. And if I am anywhere near New York when the play runs, I’ll be there to see it. I bet Ann will, too.

What do you think about this project? Is Taylor the right woman for the job?

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