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FOR SENIORS : LINDA FELDMAN : For Herta Ware, Acting Is a Family Affair

July 17, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN

She's a sprite, a petite package of a woman with rosy cheeks and smart, pale-green eyes. Only her snow-white hair and her admission that she's 77 give away her calendar age because Herta Ware can, like any effective actress, persuade you that she's ageless.

But to understand her is to look at the company she keeps. Ware is the matriarch of an acting family whose members perform at and operate the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon.

Her four children--three from her marriage to Will Geer--and nine grandchildren are very much her inspiration and triumph, she says.

"I'm the most fortunate woman in the world to see my children all the time and watch them develop beauty and grace," she said.

Born into a family of musicians in Wilmington, Del., Ware said she always knew she wanted to be an actress and remembers that her mother had no choice but to "send me to New York at the age of 17 because she knew there was no stopping me."

She met Will Geer, who was 17 years her senior, shortly after her arrival, fell in love and married him four years later.

They spent their early years together on a farm in Upstate New York, where two children were born.

When Geer won a role in a film titled "Fight for Life," they moved to California.

The Botanicum began in the early 1950s as a haven for performers, musicians and artists. It was not unusual to see Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Della Reese and Burl Ives in concert.

When the marriage was over in 1955, they remained friends, Ware said.

After Geer died in 1978, the family formed a repertory theater and created educational programs that have evolved into the Academy of the Classics.

This season, Ware plays one of the witches in "Macbeth," directed by her daughter Ellen Geer.

She received the Ace Award for best supporting actress last year for her role in "Crazy in Love," a TNT movie special.

"I've only just learned to trust my instincts," she said. "I've learned that it's never too late and that ultimately a person can go back to what they wanted to do in the first place."

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The Will Geer Botanicum Summer Repertory Season will feature Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." Information: (310) 455-3723.

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