- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The balancing act of motherhood vs. career is a familiar topic for Peri Gilpin, who plays single mom and career radio producer Roz Doyle in NBCs hit sitcom "Frasier."
Miss Gilpin also plays a female writer, whos married and pregnant, amid a group of male scribes in "Neil Simons Laughter on the 23rd Floor," Showtimes fictionalized memoir of the golden age of television in the 1950s.
The adaptation of Mr. Simons 1993 play about Sid Caesars pioneering variety series, "Your Show of Shows," which ran from 1950 to 1954, aired Saturday and will be repeated throughout June. Check local listings for time.
Nathan Lane stars as Max Prince, a self-destructive star of a sketch comedy show that is falling in the ratings. Mark Linn-Baker and Victor Garber also star.
The character Miss Gilpin plays is a composite figure based mainly on Lucille Kallen, whose maternity leave provided the opportunity for Mr. Simon, then a novice, to join the "Show of Shows" writing team. Other members included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin and Woody Allen.
Cast on short notice, Miss Gilpin had little time to research Mrs. Kallen, who died in 1999. She read about her in a Sid Caesar biography but was unable to find a picture of her anywhere even on the Internet.
She did know that Mrs. Kallen "loosely" inspired the role of comedy writer Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie) — a "lone female in a male world" — on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which was written and directed by Mr. Reiner. The sitcom ran from 1961 to 1966.
"I think in 1954 there were a different set of rules," Miss Gilpin says. "Here she was all day long in a room listening to (the men) swear and belch and carry on, and shed try to be a ladylike sweet wife and try not to take the dirty language home with her. But in the room, I think, it was just imperative that she be strong and one of the guys."
The costumes helped Miss Gilpin — who turned 40 Sunday — understand some of the rules of the 50s.
"I wore the bullet bra, and I wore a girdle sometimes," Miss Gilpin says. "The skirts were very body-hugging, down to the knee, and then youre in pumps, and its like 'How do you walk? How do you run? It was almost like a geisha all about presenting yourself to the world in a controlled way, but then really needing to be loose in the (writers) room."
Mr. Caesar and his writers created 90 minutes of live television a week, something Miss Gilpin finds amazing. The well-oiled "Frasier" only has to come up with 22 minutes and not live, although there is a live audience.
"The pressure must have been just enormous, and then there was this sort of political thing going on, as well," Miss Gilpin says, referring to Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Hollywoods anti-communist blacklist, which threatened the livelihood of liberal artists and kept edgy political humor off the air.
In adapting the play for the screen, Mr. Simon was able to make more of the climate of the times. For example, the conservative columnist Walter Winchell is shown wielding his influence against the emotionally self-destructive Prince, who struggles with personal demons and network pressure to boost the ratings.
"I wanted to show another side of Sid," says Mr. Simon, stressing that he never would have written "the truth as I knew it" without permission from Mr. Caesar, who is 78 and living in Beverly Hills.
As to whether humor is different now, Mr. Simon says firmly, "No. Humor is humor."
Miss Gilpin, a Texas native who grew up a fan of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "I Love Lucy," would agree. Yet she believes theres a difference between male and female humor, although she says she cant pinpoint what it is.
Texas humor, she says, is "very teasing, jokey, smart-alecky, dry. No one can say anything seriously there. We are hard on each other, but its good."
She was born in Waco and raised in Dallas, then studied at the University of Texas in Austin and at the British-American Academy in London. She was a makeup artist for a brief time but soon returned to honing her acting skills in repertory theater.
Miss Gilpin says she has worked hard to lose the "unintelligible" childhood accent she developed from talking a kind of rhythmic slang with her friends. "I cant even do it anymore. We said our Rs real hard. It was almost like Texan Valley Girls," she says.
An appealingly distinctive voice remains — complete with subtle remnants of those hard Rs.
Miss Gilpin can be heard on numerous TV and radio commercials, in the upcoming computer-generated movie "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," and in the pointed wit and wisdom of Dr. Frasier Cranes outspoken friend and producer.
"I really love everything about Roz," she says. "I love that she gets to say what everyone is thinking, and she gets away with it because shes smart."
With "Frasier" renewed until 2004, Miss Gilpin hopes shell be able to explore more facets of the character — but shes not complaining. "Id rather have a little bit of great than a lot of mediocre," she says, praising the rapport among the actors and the shows writing team.
Meanwhile, Miss Gilpin says her marriage to artist Christian Vincent has reached the point where "wed love to start a family."
How would that be written into the show? Its unlikely Roz as a single mom would have another baby. Its also unlikely she would just gain weight, which was the gimmick used this season to cover the pregnancy of Jane Leeves, who plays Daphne Moon.
"I dont know what they would do," says Miss Gilpin, who is the godmother of Miss Leeves daughter. "Im not (pregnant), I promise — but Ive been thinking about it so much."


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