the MIRREN LEE

The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Escape to Australia

Posted by themirrenlee on 02/12/2012

“Insanity doesn’t just run in my family, it fairly gallops.”   Arsenic and Old Lace (Film)

I don’t know how exactly I’m going to put all this together, but I’ve decided for now to just do free form writing on events that happened as I remember them. Those last three words are very important, because everyone sees experiences from their own perspective, which can be totally different than that of someone else. Just reading about the unreliability of eye witnesses proves that!

In my family there were seven children, three girls and four boys. My parents were not Catholic. We used to joke that they were sexy Protestants, but the truth is they were agnostic, and the last two children were considered accidents by my mother. The first five? My father had a great fear of death, and thought somehow that a lot of children to carry on his name would somehow prevent his mortality. Which also explains why the boys were considered more important in his eyes, since they would always be sure to carry on his name. So he pushed for children, and my mother gave in. Neither were suited to parenthood. However, they WERE a perfect match in that he was a sadist and she was a masochist.

I am the oldest. During therapy, I remembered what my mother said to me once: “We wanted a girl first so she could look after all the others.” No wonder I saw myself as a human doing instead of a human being.

But back to perspectives. The youngest, a boy, came ten years after me, so he either remembers things differently than I do, or doesn’t know about years of my experiences at all. We left California for Australia (my mother was an Australian war bride) in 1969, leaving my father behind, supposedly to follow us, which never happened. When we left, all of us older children knew my father as an alcoholic. When we started going back for visits in the early ’70s, it was to find a man who had stopped drinking pretty much right after we left. In Transactional Analysis this is called The Alcoholic Game, where the player stops drinking because he no longer has an excuse for it. He can’t say he’s weighed down by his responsibilities – they were all in Australia.

My mother’s issues involved regular bouts of depression, followed by manic episodes, and a need for co-dependency. Luckily for us, while she lacked as a caregiver in major ways, at least she showed us love as best she could. There are reasons for problems, which I’ll go into later, but one thing is for sure: if there had been anti depressants when I was growing up, I would have had an entirely different childhood. I have a very soft spot in my heart for drugs, especially since they also helped me to start breathing at the age of twelve, when Ventolin for asthma became available. I was a severe asthmatic from the age of five, but unfortunately it was considered to be “all in your head”, and a psychiatrist was the prescribed method of treatment. Australia was way ahead on asthma management.

So what happens in a large, spread out family is that the experiences of one child can come as a complete surprise to the others. I accept that. What I’ve always had trouble with is when the one child is not believed, or no one cares about what s/he experienced, as happened in Joan Crawford’s family. Her daughter and son recite terrible experiences, while two other children say they’re crazy. The victim gets doubly hurt.

I will leave this light introduction with the way we managed to get to Australia, after trying for years.

I won the money on a game show!

I was going to drama school in Hollywood, and we students were always attending tapings of game shows. At one, I was approached to audition for a show called “Funny You Should Ask”. I passed the audition and was waiting in the green room to go on when a contract was pushed in front of me to sign. Ooops. I was supposed to be 18 to sign it, and I was a month away from that. Fate saved me when one of the other contestants stepped in and offered to co-sign for me. I really have no idea what that meant, even to this day. I think it was about protecting the show for insurance purposes.

I was SO incredibly nervous when I finally got onto the set that, to this day, I have no recollection of what happened during the filming. When I saw it replayed on TV months later it was like it had happened to someone else. But the really weird thing is that my sister met me afterwards (she’d been in the audience) and was excitedly telling me that I was the champion! It seems I’d won all sorts of things: carpeting for the house, wall panelling (I know, weird), a piano, money and luggage. The last two were all I cared about – I could finally escape to Australia!

Why I wanted to go to Australia, and why my mother ended up going first with half the children, while I followed a few months later with the other half, and my 22 month old son, is another post …

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