When Renee Taylor was growing up in the Bronx, her relatives described packaging matzah for Palestine with Golda Meir in the 1920s. "That made an impression on me," said Taylor, best known as "The Nanny's" Jewish mom, Sylvia Fine.
Today the actress is hoping to make an impression with her monologue, "An Evening With Golda Meir," which traces the late prime minister's life from her pogrom-riddled childhood to her controversial term during the Yom Kippur War. Taylor describes her turbulent marriage, her extramarital affairs ("You wouldn't believe it now, but I was pretty," she says) and wicked wit. When Henry Kissinger says he's "an American first, a secretary of state second and a Jew third," Meir retorts, "That's good -- because in my country, we read right to left."
The piece is less critical and more laudatory than William Gibson's play, "Golda's Balcony," now in Manhattan; it began when Gibson asked Taylor to star in a previous version of "Balcony" several years ago.
"I had to turn him down," she said, looking more like Sylvia Fine than Meir in a platinum hairdo. "I had cried while reading her autobiography, and I didn't want to just show Golda, the warrior. I wanted to celebrate her life."
With Gibson's blessing, she began researching her own play, interviewing Meir's daughter, Sarah, and reading the biographies. "The one about her sex life shocked me," Taylor said. "But when I tried out the material, the audience said they were happy she had some pleasure along with the sacrifice."
While Newsday has noted that "Golda" isn't the "vehicle you'd imagine for an actress who reached her widest audience on ... 'The Nanny,'" Taylor's husband, Joe Bologna -- the play's director and co-star with Taylor of several semi-autobiographical romantic comedies -- points out she began her career as a serious dramatic actress.
And Taylor is serious about Golda.
"I've admired her since childhood," she said.
"Golda" opens May 6 at the Canon Theatre, 209 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills. (310) 859-2830.