I loved the film version of Bye, Bye Birdie as a child, & I still do. Maureen Stapleton played Dick Van Dykes mother, & was Oscar nominated, even though, at 36 years old, she was only half year older than Van Dyke. At the finish of filming there was a wrap party, & the director, producers & the cast including Van Dyke & Janet Leigh, gave speeches extolling the extraordinary talents of newcomer Ann-Margret. When it was her turn, Stapleton announced: "I guess I'm the only person in the room who doesn't want to fuck Ann-Margret."
Stapleton had many great successes on Broadway, from Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo (Tony award), The Glass Menagerie & Orpheus Descending to Neil Simon's Plaza Suite. In 1971 she won another Tony Award for The Gingerbread Lady. Neil Simon reportedly used parts of Stapleton's own life in his play about an alcoholic actor in recovery.
I only saw Stapleton once on the stage, in Juno & The Paycock with Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau at the Mark Taper in LA. A memorable night at the theatre. Jaw- dropping talent. I remain inspired by her work in that Sean O’ Casey play, proof that you don't have to be pretty to be a star.
My favorite Stapleton role on film is in Woody Allen's very unfunny Interiors, a fascinating but excruciating study of a very dysfunctional family in NYC, led by the humorless E.G. Marshall & Geraldine Page, both wearing various shades of beige. In saunters saucy Stapleton in a bright red dress to steal patriarch E.G. Marshall away, much to the horror the very beige daughters- Diane Keaton & Mary Beth Hurt.
She is heartbreaking in the 1975 TV film musical- Queen Of The Stardust Ballroom with Charles Durning.
When she won the Academy Award for her small but powerful role as Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty's Reds in 1981, she gave what I consider the best acceptance speech ever: "I want to thank everybody I ever met in my entire life."
Minutes after winning the Oscar, a reporter asked her how it felt to be recognized as one of the greatest actresses in the world. Stapleton: "Not nearly as exciting as it would be if I were acknowledged as one of the greatest lays in the world." When they asked her if she had expected to win, she answered: "Yes, because I'm old & tired & I lost 3 times before."
I cannot recall another actor with such a down-to-earth personality, completely devoid of pretension. When asked what was the key to good acting, Stapleton stated: "As far as I'm concerned… the main thing is to keep the audience awake."