"I've played a lot of real people on TV," said Lee Remick. "Jenny Jerome (Churchill's mother). Ike's driver Kay Summersby. Margaret Sullavan. Eleanor Roosevelt. But they've all been dead. This is the first live one for me--and she's in prison."
For three evenings, starting March 22, Remick will be seen as Frances Bradshaw Schreuder in NBC-TV's "Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder."
Schreuder is the New York socialite and patron of the arts who nine years ago persuaded her 17-year-old son Marc to kill her multimillionaire father before he could cut her out of his will. She was imprisoned for life in 1982.
The idea of a mother coercing her son to kill his grandfather was so bizarre that it motivated two authors to write books about the subject, and two networks to make movies of them. Jonathan Coleman's "At Mother's Request," with Stephanie Powers as Schreuder, aired in January as a four-hour presentation on CBS.
"Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder," based on Shana Alexander's best seller, runs two hours longer.
"So we really have time to build up the characters," Remick said the other day. "Frances is such a relentlessly awful person. They all were--her parents were awful, she was awful, her children were awful. Each generation seemed to pass it on.
"It's easily the best role I've ever had on TV. Usually in miniseries, events just happen to the character. In this story, she is the center of the drama; she's the one who makes things happen. A truly terrible person."
Veteran actress Remick, who has enjoyed success on stage, in movies and on TV (her one-woman show about Eleanor Roosevelt, "Eleanor: In Her Own Words," will be broadcast on PBS Monday), read the book when it was first published in hardcover. (The late Tommy Thompson did the initial research; when he died, Alexander took over the project.)
"I didn't see how it could be filmed," Remick said. "So when they sent me the script (by William Hanley), I wasn't enthusiastic. But when I read it, I was fascinated.
"It's full of great character studies. You see the children from the time they were born, the way the mother influenced them. And I play her from the time she was in college until her trial."
Before filming began, Remick watched a tape of an interview that Schreuder gave in prison.
"She hated the book. She made that clear. And she hates Shana Alexander for writing it. Now she'll probably hate me. She's sure to watch the show."
Remick can't say the same for herself. When "Nutcracker" is broadcast, she will be in London, preparing for a BBC project, "The Vision" in which she will star with Dirk Bogarde. In this she plays the head of a multimillion-dollar religious network in the U.S. who seeks to blanket Europe with her programs.
"That's a great part too," she said. "A woman obsessed with power. But nothing beats Frances Bradshaw Schreuder. That woman is really evil. . . . "
ON THE MOVE: "We don't want to move," Lynn Redgrave said on the phone from New York. "But we have to."
For four months, she and Mary Tyler Moore have been appearing in A. R. Gurney's play "Sweet Sue" at the Music Box. Now they are being forced to find another theater because a new British import, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," is moving in.
"It's a shame," said Redgrave, who has just three more months to go on her contract. "This is such a gorgeous theater. But we've been assured we'll definitely transfer."
While in New York, Redgrave has been working on a one-woman show for herself--"all I can tell is that one of the characters is a child actress who's grown old but whose voice has not changed"--and completing some more Weight Watchers TV commercials.
She has also been hoping that audiences will react better than the critics to her first movie in five years, "Morgan Stewart's Coming Home," which opened to lukewarm reviews.
Redgrave's $10-million lawsuit against Universal, alleging wrongful discharge from her TV series "House Calls" in 1981, is due to come to trial shortly, she said. The case stemmed from the brouhaha over whether she could breast-feed her then 3-week-old daughter Annabel at the studio.
QUOTE--FROM ZSA ZSA GABOR: "I've been married most of my life. And when you're married, you don't have sex. . . . "