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Photo Show Captures The Actresses Of Yore

April 04, 1986|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

Her "Moving Pictures" photographic show at the BC Space Gallery deals with the career and off-screen personality of one veteran actress--her mother, Jeanette Nolan, whose career dates back to radio's golden age and whose roles have ranged from Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles' "Macbeth" film to a part in television's "Dirty Sally" frontier series.

(Also at the BC Space is Wright's 44-foot-long "Audience," a room-size montage depicting 28 members of a theater audience, including McIntire and Nolan.)

"My particular interest is role playing and self-images, what is real and what is authentic faking," Wright said by phone from Charlottesville, Va., where she and her husband--the award-winning poet Charles Wright--are on the University of Virginia faculty.

Her photographic career started in the early 1970s, after she and Charles, then a UC Irvine professor, had settled in Laguna Beach (they have a son, Luke).

"I came to realize I was never really happy in front of the camera. I love being behind the camera, where each production, so to speak, is my own creation from beginning to end," said Holly Wright, 44, who earned a UCLA degree in English after quitting acting, and who later took graduate studies in photography at the University of Iowa.

Her photography is highly personal and psychologically probing, with projects that have included a modern-dress version of biblical characters and a series of life-size portraits of persons lying as if in a coffin. In addition to Orange County group and one-woman exhibitions, Wright's works have also been seen in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico City.

In the "Moving Pictures" series on her mother, Wright uses then-and-now depictions of Nolan:

--The "then" are black-and-white studio stills, including Nolan as an ingenue in 1933, as a member of Richard Boone's television repertory in 1963 and as television's "Dirty Sally" in 1974.

--The "now" are color shots of Nolan--in situations roughly similar to the publicity stills, from gun-toting to cooking. These off-screen photographs were taken in 1984 by Wright at the family's rustic retreat in Montana.

"I have to be frank--I wasn't too aware of what my daughter's conception was of this series. I just did what she told me," said Nolan, 74, during a visit to the BC Space Gallery. She added with parental pride, "She's a marvelously gifted artist."

The photographs display some of Nolan's versatility as an actress and her seemingly boundless personal vivacity. (Not shown among the publicity shots is her Lady Macbeth film role of 1948 or her appearances with husband McIntire in television's "The Virginian" and "Wagon Train" series of the 1960s.)

Wright said: "What's so fascinating about professionals like Mama is that the two images overlap--the person on the screen and the person at home. In a sense, there is no line between the two.

"In either case, Mama is utterly natural, totally convincing in whatever feelings she chooses to project. That is what comes across, I believe, in this whole show."

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