Susan Dansby: What was the process like when you got the role of Maureen? [Reardon] us guide light? Did you have to audition?
Ellen Dolan: Yes, of course I auditioned for that. That came out of nowhere. I was only in New York for about a year, and had tried out for another role in Another world. And I think I tried something on ryan’s hope.
Then this came up, and I was learning pretty early on: you go, you do it, you leave it at the door.
Susan Dansby: Good.
Ellen Dolan: But you never do. You tell yourself that, but you never do it. And I remember it was like the tenth day. They had ten days to warn people. And it was the tenth day. And it was also back when they had answering services, where you call every ten minutes and they say, “Nothing again, Ellen.”
So I stopped calling, because it was the last day.
And I came home that night, and the agent was staying late at the office, because he lived way, way up in the very top of Manhattan, and finally, they called me, tracked me down, and said, “You booked it.”
And I burst into tears, just because – it wasn’t like it was a relief. My next thought was, “Well, that was easy. What else do I have to do before I become a movie star?” It was that kind of young thinking.
And then it was just, ‘come and sign the contracts,’ and ‘come and get your measurements taken,’ and ‘we’re going to take you shopping.’
Now, granted, I hadn’t even traveled above ground in Manhattan, yet. I lived in Inwood [north of Manhattan], and I had my last five dollars left. And this came just in time. In fact, when it started, I had to borrow money from the casting director, Betty Rea.
Susan Dansby: Oh, I loved Betty Rea!
Ellen Dolan: He loved Betty Rea very much. And this is a good segue. Now, there were the great old women.
The other person who helped me tremendously when I first moved to New York was Shirley Rich. And she just passed away, I think, this past year. She was a casting director who did Kramer vs. Kramer – things of that ilk.
She was an alumnus, an Iowa alumnus. And she used to come back and do workshops with us. And she said, “When you get to New York, that’s how you do it. You read at a desk. And blah blah blah blah blah.” And so she was kind of prepared for all of that. And she said, “And when you get here, call me and I’ll tell you what to do.”
Well, I got to New York; and about 15 minutes after I got to New York, I got a phone call from the Milwaukee rep asking if I would come over and do Katrin in mother courage. And I said, “Oh, I can’t afford to go back to the Midwest. I just moved here.”
They had to call me back and they said, “Okay, you…”
It was so stupid. I’ve had stupid, dumb luck all my life. I really have. And starting during the day was a big part of it. Great, wonderful, stupid, dumb luck.
I had prepared myself for it. I wanted to do, not just during the day, but I wanted to do guide light. And I wanted to be a Reardon.
Susan Dansby: Wow.
Ellen Dolan: Because I thought it would probably be a good place for me and a good training ground. And in a year I got it.
So when I quit, I quit because I was like, ‘You know, I came here to do theater. So I really should stop doing TV and start doing theater.