Renée Taylor’s been on a diet since World War II, and, no, that’s not a misprint. The octogenarian actress, known to many for her role as Fran Drescher’s mother, Sylvia Fine, on the popular sitcom “The Nanny,” and for playing characters like Eva Braun in the original 1967 film “The Producers,” has been watching her weight since the Roosevelt administration. In 70 years of counting calories, she’s heard about and tried nearly every fad diet on earth, and now she’s taken those experiences and turned them into a humorous one-woman show, “My Life on a Diet,” now work-shopping at the Working Stage Theater in West Hollywood.
“I think I was on my first diet at, like, 8, because I wanted to be an actress, and [my mother] said if you want to be an actress, you’re going to have to be thin,” Taylor said on a recent Monday morning at the Beverly Hills home she shares with her husband, actor and writer Joe Bologna.
Taylor and Bologna bought their home in Beverly Hills in 1975 and have lived there ever since. The house is filled with quirky touches, colorful ceilings, warning signs to watch your step, a plaque commemorating their Academy Award nomination for “Lovers and Other Strangers,” which hangs in their kitchen, of all places. The house feels very alive, much like its owners, who display an energy and humor that belie their age.
“Should I tell him what diet I’m on?” Taylor asked Bologna during the interview. “No,” he replied, chuckling. “This is not kosher, Renée, I’m not sure he’s allowed to print it in the Jewish Journal.”
Despite Bologna’s warning, Taylor went on to explain that she’s currently having a certain bodily fluid from a pregnant woman injected into her own body. She claims to have lost 10 pounds, as a result. And that’s not the craziest diet she’s ever done. “I was on a diet that said you must have two glasses of Champagne before each meal,” she said.
“Cheap Champagne has more calories,” Bologna chimed in, “so it had to be Cristal. So, she became a Cristal drunk. If we went to a party, we would have to stop to get a bottle of Cristal, which she’d have in a paper bag ... because she didn’t want to go off her diet.”
The actress’ diet journey started with much simpler solutions for losing weight. “I ate what other people ate, because I thought that would get me where I wanted to go,” she recalled. “Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, whenever I met someone, I’d say, ‘What are you eating?’ Because I thought, well, this is what made them so great, what they were eating.”
It’s these celebrity interactions, as well as Taylor’s own stories of dieting that form the basis of her one-woman show, which Bologna co-wrote and directs. It’s loosely adapted from Taylor’s book of the same name, published 25 years ago. “It was Joe’s idea. He said, ‘You know, that would make a great one-woman show,’ ” Taylor said.
“We go to Vermont about once a year, and we like to write there, on a lake,” she said, adding that they started working on the play three years ago. (According to Bologna, it was more like one year ago.) The couple will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary this year, yet Bologna was quick to warn that “there was a recent study at Harvard and they ascertained that the first 48 years of marriage are the easiest.”
All jokes aside, Taylor and Bologna have found a way to collaborate in public and private for nearly five decades. Asked about their secret to staying happily married in Hollywood, Taylor was quick to answer: “I think working together ... particularly in comedy. Now, maybe if we were doing drama, we could be drug addicts.”
Over Taylor’s long and successful career, she’s seen attitudes about weight in Hollywood shift. “I’ve seen it get a lot worse,” she said. “I just did a movie with Kim Kardashian, and she was on the front page for how fat she was ... and she was pregnant, and they were attacking her.”
Bologna, for his part, is not as sure that things have changed. “They mythologized people,” he said of Hollywood’s past. And even Taylor admits that the classic stars had to deal with just as much trouble. “Esther Williams was a friend of ours, and she had a great sense of humor about it,” Taylor said of the recently deceased screen legend.
“It looks like the play’s about food and diet, but it’s really about being addicted,” Taylor said of “My Life on a Diet,” readily admitting, “I’m addicted to fame.”
She and Bologna are also developing two dating Web sites, boomerpremierdating.com and seniorpremierdating.com, and she recently appeared on-screen in Tyler Perry’s “Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” and is hoping to take “My Life on a Diet,” on tour, she said. “What I hope people get is that it doesn’t really matter what your weight is,” Taylor said. “It’s about looking for who you really are ... and the length you will go to in order to find yourself.”
“My Life on a Diet” is currently playing on weekends at the Working Stage Theater. For tickets and more information, visit this article at workingstage.com.