Act­ing her rage

Ev­ery­body loves Doris Roberts, but it’s a bat­tle for recog­ni­tion when you’re get­ting old, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

DON’T as­sume age has doused the fire in the belly of out­spo­ken ac­tor Doris Roberts. Roberts, one of TV sit­com’s most recog­nis­able faces through her nineyear run as med­dling mum Marie Barone on Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond, seems as softly spo­ken and sweet.

Any men­tion of ageism and its ef­fect on ac­tors and view­ers, how­ever, prompts her to lash out at the TV and ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­tries she says are ob­sessed with youth.

Roberts, 77, is fired up by a re­cent Guide story ex­plain­ing the role ad­ver­tis­ers play in what we watch and how ad­ver­tis­ers fight for view­ers deemed the big­gest spenders.

In Chan­nel 10’s case, that means view­ers aged 18-49; for Nine and Seven, view­ers aged 25-54.

Though net­works ar­gue the casts of City Homi­cide, All Saints and Neigh­bours, for in­stance, fea­ture older char­ac­ters, there is no es­cap­ing the fact TV has an overtly youth­ful skew.

Roberts, in Melbourne on a short hol­i­day, be­lieves she speaks for many ma­ture-age ac­tors and view­ers in be­ing made to feel re­dun­dant.

It’s out­ra­geous, she says, that ad­ver­tis­ers and net­works think the way they do when over-55s watch more TV — more than four hours a day — than any other de­mo­graphic.

‘‘Ageism is ram­pant and it’s wrong,’’ Roberts says. ‘‘There is no rea­son (for the ma­ture) not to be work­ing. We are liv­ing longer, tak­ing bet­ter care of our­selves. We are hav­ing more sex than in the his­tory of the world and that’s a good thing . . . in fact, it’s a great thing. And I look this good be­cause of it.

‘‘But ageism ... it’s the last bas­tion of big­otry. No­body pro­tects older peo­ple.

‘‘I’ve been do­ing a lot of com­edy (she won four Emmy awards for her role in Ray­mond) but I also won an Emmy for play­ing a bag lady (on St Else­where) and I’d love to do more drama. But no­body is writ­ing it for older peo­ple. They seem to air­brush us out of so­ci­ety. I’d like ‘old’ struck from the vo­cab­u­lary and the word ‘older’ used in­stead be­cause from the mo­ment you are born you are get­ting older. So call me older, but don’t call me old.’’

Roberts has long been renowned as some­one who stands up for her rights. Never was this more ap­par­ent than in 2003 when a pay dis­pute rocked the Ray­mond cast.

Though star Ray Ro­mano made up to $2.8 mil­lion an episode, his costars were on con­sid­er­ably less.

Roberts, Brad Gar­rett (Robert), Pa­tri­cia Heaton (De­bra) and Peter Boyle (Frank) played hard­ball with the CBS net­work and cut a ‘‘back­end’’ profit deal that could earn each of them $15-20 mil­lion.

Les Moonves, pres­i­dent of CBS, de­scribed deal­ing with Roberts as like ne­go­ti­at­ing with your mother, con­ced­ing she was the ‘‘cen­tre of the wheel’’ on Ray­mond and that the show couldn’t func­tion with­out her.

‘‘I knew they couldn’t do the show with­out me, so the one ne­go­ti­a­tion I had (with Moonves) was fab­u­lous,’’ Roberts says.

‘‘He listed all the peo­ple who’d been fired from TV for ask­ing for money. When he fin­ished I said, ‘I’m grate­ful to you for­ever for giv­ing me this part be­cause it’s moved my ca­reer to the top. I’ll love you for­ever and good­bye’.

‘‘So I guess we ne­go­ti­ated. But you have to know when you say that to some­one (threaten to quit) that you are pre­pared to let it go.

‘‘The first run of syn­di­ca­tion of Ray­mond gave CBS $1 bil­lion, so you have to share the money around a lit­tle, right?’’

Pay dis­pute aside, Roberts has noth­ing but praise for the cast.

Tears well in her eyes when she con­sid­ers the bond she shared with screen hus­band Boyle, who lost a bat­tle with can­cer 15 months ago.

‘‘We trusted each other, ad­mired each other’s work,’’ Roberts says of Boyle. ‘‘It was as if we’d been mar­ried 45 years. I’m a close friend of his wife (Lo­raine).

‘‘Three years be­fore we fin­ished on the show he came to me and told me he had bone can­cer.

‘‘He asked if he should tell them (pro­duc­ers) and I said, ‘Do not tell them be­cause they will treat you like a dy­ing man and you’re not. They won’t write for you, they’ll be wor­ried if you’ll have the strength to do the job’. So for three years we kept this se­cret. He shared this with me only (not other cast and crew). I was for­tu­nate enough to be in New York when he was dy­ing.

‘‘All of us on that show were grown-ups. We came to work well pre­pared, knew our lines, we didn’t fool around.

‘‘For four years I worked on Rem­ing­ton Steele. There were three of us and Pierce Bros­nan and Stephanie Zim­bal­ist did not speak to each other. Oh my God,’’ she adds sar­cas­ti­cally, ‘‘that was fun.’’

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