The playwright's latest feature opens in Pittsburgh.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
CANFIELD -- Misunderstood women bring out the playwright in Mark Hampton.
"Absolutely. Completely," Hampton said over lunch at his mother's home here. "I don't know what that's about. I don't ask a lot of questions."
Hampton's theme began with his play "Full Gallop," about the hyperbole-loving fashion maven Diana Vreeland. It continued with "The Boswell Sisters," a musical about an unsung sister act from the 1920s that set the standard for subsequent singers such as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. Connie Boswell's handicap hindered what might have been a brilliant career, in Hampton's view.
Latest installment: With his third play, "Paper Doll," Hampton and co-writer Barbara J. Zitwer have set their sights on the late Jacqueline Susann, the author of the popular pulp romance novels "The Valley of the Dolls" and "Once Is Not Enough."
"Paper Doll" is making its world debut this week at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. It stars Marlo Thomas -- yes, "That Girl" -- as Susann and F. Murray Abraham from the films "Amadeus" and "Mighty Aphrodite" as her husband, Irving Mansfield. The director is Leonard Foglia, who worked with Zoe Caldwell in the Broadway production of "Master Class," about opera singer Maria Callas.
Hampton, a Canfield native and alumnus of the Youngstown Playhouse, isn't surprised by the common thread in his work.
"I was raised by strong women. I like very strong, opinionated, funny women," Hampton said, glancing at his mother, Muriel.
Some of these stories have found him, he insists. Once you write something that fits a theme, people with similar stories will find you.
True, but it takes a sympathetic heart to see these projects to completion.
Hampton and Zitwer have been working on "Paper Doll" for about four years. Susann may have lived the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll life that she wrote about in her books, but many people didn't know about her "tremendous intelligence and sensitivity," Hampton said. She was also a self-made success, and her books had a liberating impact on many women's lives.
"This is not a camp fest about this trash queen," he stressed.
People believe that a story about Jacqueline Susann will be racy, Muriel Hampton interjected.
"It is, but not gratuitously racy," her son replied.
The future of "Paper Doll" will be in regional theaters for now, Hampton predicted. That pleases him, because he believes it will be more accessible to the public than if it went directly to Broadway.
"The Boswell Sisters," which Hampton wrote with "Forever Plaid" creator Stuart Ross, made its debut in August at Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. It's going back into production next year, he said.
New project: Hampton will be adding to his list of "unsung" women. He recently finished a script for a movie about Doris Wishman, who produced and distributed soft porn movies during the 1960s, beginning with "Hideout in the Sun."
"They aren't great movies," Hampton said of Wishman's work, but they always had a story line and met time standards for commercial feature film release -- even if that meant filling time with seemingly endless shots of fields.
Hampton's collaborator had interviewed Wishman for the HBO cable TV series "Real Sex." They began to discuss making a movie in which Wishman, now 75 and living in Florida, makes a comeback. Little did they know that Wishman had recently landed a $100,000 deal to make a new movie.
Hampton and his cohort are calling their movie "Porn Again."
That people think Wishman is beyond her moviemaking years is "ageism," Hampton said.