Marge Redmond never figured she was marrying the Last of the Red Hot Lovers—to name just one of the plays she and husband Jack Weston have starred in together. After all, Jack looks like a cherubic bulldog. His voice rasps like a metal file. His body sags with more odd lumps and bumps than a potato sack. Marge despairs of ever teaching him not to roll up his socks in his shorts before putting them in the hamper. But at 56, Jack is a consummately comic actor who is, for once, having the last laugh this summer. On Broadway, he was nominated for a Tony award for his show-stealing role in Woody Allen’s play The Floating Light Bulb. Onscreen, his bittersweet performance in Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons has helped make it the rare grown-up film to survive the summer. Perhaps the sweetest vindication came when Alan Alda gave Jack the only nude scene of his 44-year-career, a skinny-dip romp with Rita Moreno. “I think Jack couldn’t wait,” jokes Alda. “He loved it.”
Marge is not in the least threatened by her husband’s putative conversion from character actor to leading man. Their marriage of 31 years is granitic by showbiz standards. The reason may be that Marge, 50ish, is a formidable actress in her own right and a veteran of countless movies, plays and television roles (including three seasons on The Flying Nun with Sally Field). Her most recent was this spring’s off-Broadway part in Hunting Scenes From Lower Bavaria, a gritty German drama at the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club. But Redmond is best known for her eight-year run as Sara Tucker, the genial proprietress of a country inn in Cool Whip’s TV ads. “It’s almost like being subsidized,” Marge says of her lucrative commercials.
The couple’s recent successes in New York come after what Jack calls “18 miserable years” in California—a plight reminiscent of their 1977 roles as conventional Philadelphians in Broadway’s California Suite. “Do you know what it’s like to be living somewhere you hate?” he asks. “To wake up and say, ‘Ugh, the same old sun?’ And those parties! Everyone is always talking about making $1 mill five or $2 mill six. I never felt rich or handsome enough.”
Marge was likewise wretched in L.A. “All they were making were Westerns and gangster shows and the women were all 16 or 60. I’m glad I got out when the jiggle started. TV is for those girls with the big boobs.”
Now they happily share a spacious seven-room pad on Central Park West. There Jack wages his losing battle of the bulge. “I love the celebration of eating out,” Weston explains. “I reward myself when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Maybe it comes from my youth. My mother was always saying ‘Eat, bubeleh. Eat, bubeleh.’ ” His current weight: “somewhere between 200 and 300 pounds.” To shed poundage, he and Marge retreat periodically to the Palm-Aire, a celebrity health spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I was there before Liz Taylor,” Jack cracks.
Naturally, Weston is a therapist’s dream. He goes two times a week to sessions with Mildred Newman, who co-authored the best-seller How to Be Your Own Best Friend. “I worry about everything,” Weston says of his neuroses. “Now with all this success, I worry about worrying.”
Marge helps. “She understands me,” says Weston. “We read each other’s scripts and go to each other’s first dress rehearsals and give detailed notes. There is not one bit of competition between us.” Neither has regretted their decision, made early on, not to have children. “We always thought we were too self-involved,” says Jack.
His childhood in Cleveland did not leave happy memories. His father, a shoe repairman, died when Jack was 16. “My mother was always nudzhing me and made me think I couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t tie my shoes until I was 14,” he says.
To compensate, he escaped to W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy films. At 12, he joined the children’s theater at the Cleveland Playhouse. Four years later, dreaming of being an actor, he quit high school in the 11th grade, ushered in movie theaters and continued to perform. After two years as a machine gunner in World War II and a brief, unsuccessful period trying to get acting jobs in New York, he slunk home, broke, to Cleveland. By this time Jack had dropped his family name, Weinstein. “I didn’t want to get just ethnic roles,” he explains.
Enter Marge. The young redhead who dazzled Weston was the eldest child of a local Irish Catholic fire chief. “I was the weirdo in my family,” she says of her staid upbringing. “We were very traditional and Midwestern. We had franks and beans every Saturday night and chicken on Sunday.” Her escape from the tedium was her high school drama department. After graduation, Marge became a regular in Ohio theater productions and on local TV and radio.
They met in 1948 when both were performing in a civic production of Anything Goes in Cleveland. “I thought he was a swell fella, sensitive and cuddly,” says Redmond. “I loved her joy and laughter,” remembers Jack, who proposed, more or less, on their first date. “Want to get married and have some kicks?” he asked. Two weeks later they were formally engaged. “Jack was neurotic even then, I suppose,” Marge reflects. “But we didn’t know what neurosis meant.”
She and Jack climbed on a Greyhound bus with $200 between them and headed East. While Jack auditioned, Marge worked as a temporary typist and once tested games for TV’s Beat the Clock. “I thought his career came first,” she says. “That’s the way I was brought up.” Since marriage, too, was in her upbringing, she and Jack splurged $2 on a license one day in 1950 and went to City Hall. For their honeymoon, they taxied to a mid-town hotel and took a bus home the next day.
The newlyweds lived in a one-room flat and scraped by. Just as Jack was reduced to selling his blood ($7 a pint in those days), he got a walk-on as a Fire Island homosexual in a Broadway play. Then came a part in Judy Holliday’s hit show Bells Are Ringing. Marge landed the role of Holliday’s standby. “She had very bad bursitis in her shoulders,” Marge recalls. “When she came in with different colored slings to match all her costumes, I knew I’d never get on.”
Hollywood sounded more promising. Marge and Jack decided to drive West in a Volkswagen they had purchased with a loan from Chase. (The bank officer, remembering Jack’s Bells Are Ringing review in the New York Times, figured they were a safe risk.) En route, in Marshalltown, Iowa, the VW rolled over three times at a bad curve. Jack was unscathed. Marge needed stitches. They then put their fate in the flip of a coin. Three times it came up heads (California) and they traveled on…by plane. For the next 18 years Jack never stopped working. “There was no selling blood in California,” he says.
When the Four Seasons part of a hypochondriac dentist hit his desk, Weston recognized a fellow sufferer. “I am that man,” he admits. “I’m paranoid and afraid of death. I’m Everyman, on screen and off. I have the shlumpiness of not being able to do anything right. I could be somebody’s father. I could be Uncle Louie.”
Director Alda is appreciative. “Jack’s comic gift is emotional,” he says. “He has that rare capacity to be funny and feeling at the same time.” The normally reticent Woody Allen is just as emphatic: “Jack’s one of the funniest men I’ve ever worked with, perhaps the funniest.”
Now both Jack and Marge are enjoying the freedom and the spending opportunities of their mellow middle age. “I want everything I see,” says Jack, who has splurged on cameras (which he can’t work), cars (a pumpkin-hued Porsche), shirts (he owns “hundreds”) and sunglasses. “He spent $98 on a pair of aviator glasses 10 years ago, just because Steve McQueen had them,” reports Marge. “They were prescription,” harrumphs Jack. From their current vantage point, both remember an early dream. “I used to tell Marge that all I wanted out of life was to earn $80 a week acting so we could get a modest little place and eat Chinese once a week,” Weston says, leaning contentedly against a wall filled with posters of their many successes. “Dissolve…to today.”