Note: Betsy Gilbert is known to her legion of fans as "Tallulah."
An enormously talented lady, Ms. Gilbert is a regular contributor to Doc's
News whose features are notable for her keen eye for things that are worthy
Shaffer seems impossibly cool on a recent day in Arkansas that is so hot,
its sent local weathercasters into a frenzy of descriptive one-upmanship.
the air conditioned oasis of That Bookstore in Blytheville (yes, thats
really the name and it is worth remembering) for a book signing and reading
from her well-received novel THE THREE MISS MARGARETS, the actor-turned-author
appears impervious to the heat. She casually asks directions to the ladies
room, explaining that she spilled coffee on her white blouse and needs
some quick damage control. If people in the store were braced for an explosion
of diva tude, they quickly unclinched. She reappears, having simply
turned the blouse around.
is good at turning things around. She sees opportunities in experiences
that would send a lot of people running to the shrinks couch or
simply burying their heads under the covers. Three months after winning
an Emmy for her portrayal of the complicated character Rae Woodard on
ABCs popular soap Ryans Hope in the early 80s,
Shaffer got the axe.
I hadnt even gotten the engraved trophy delivered, she
recalls with a shrug. It seems that I had committed the ultimate
sin for a daytime actress: I turned forty.
setback to be sure, but the Yale Drama School-trained Shaffer, a big believer
in the theory that we all have a second life act in us, was hardly down
for the count. She soon added bulk to her already impressive acting resume--which
included Broadway roles--landing guest appearances on nighttime dramas
and re-entering the soap realm as Erica (Susan Lucci) Kanes memorable
stepmother on All My Children. But the rich roles were becoming
few and far between, so Shaffer stepped back and took stock. Who knew
the complexities of daytime drama better than she? So, really, who better
qualified to write soap scripts than she?
A new career was born. Shaffer wrote for All My Children.
She wrote for As the World Turns. She even wrote for former
castmates on Ryans Hope before that show was canceled
in 1989. And she got Emmy nominations for her efforts.
Writing for soaps is stressful, very stressful, she describes.
I was expected to churn out 30 to 40 page scripts every week and
that can get you a little crazy.
Throughout this period, Shaffer had the seeds of a novel in the back of
her mind. Having lived with her husband in Georgia for nine years, commuting
back and forth to New York for work, the Connecticut native got an insiders
look at life in a small Southern town. Fictional characters became clearer
and clearer, the story of the three Miss Margarets began telling itself
in her head and Shaffer finally came to the inevitable conclusion that
she had to fight any self-doubts and write this book. So she did, with
no paying gigs as safety nets, and two years later THE THREE MISS MARGARETS
was born as a completed manuscript.
Shaffers successful writing voyage from manuscript to published
hardback should give hope to every fledgling novelist out there whos
walking around clutching a dog-eared draft. While the publishing world
has changed drastically from the land of dreamy dreams that launched Faulkner
and Fitzgerald to a big-buck business too often dictated by bottom line
agendas, talent is still valued. Shaffer contacted a literary agent she
had known for several years, he read her manuscript and liked it - - so
much so that he wasted no time agreeing to represent her. Then he steered
THE THREE MISS MARGARETS into the offices of Random House and the rest
is, as they say oh, you dont need a cliché to know the
rest. Its a happy ending and a happy new beginning.
this hot Arkansas day finds author Louise Shaffer winding up the last
leg of a whirlwind book tour before heading back home to her husband and
menagerie of cats and dogs in New Yorks Lower Hudson Valley. As
she begins reading from THE THREE MISS MARGARETS, finely-tuned Southern
ears in the audience prick up. A Connecticut Yankee in King Cottons
Court is going to attempt an authentic Suthun accent, something thats
been done so badly by so many before. Any doubters are disappointed. Shaffers
Southern voice rings true as she delivers believable dialog from different
characters as only an accomplished actress could. When she finishes, newly-won
fans applaud enthusiastically, then queue up to have their books signed,
many asking the inevitable soap-related questions. Shaffer answers them
all with patience and good humor.
Life is good for this woman whos had a varied and volatile career
in the not always wonderful world of entertainment, but as Shaffer likes
to say, There are no lemons, only ingredients for lemonade.
Thats an eyebrow raiser for a cynic, but facts dont lie. Sales
of THE THREE MISS MARGARETS, now headed into its second printing, are
impressive. The glowing reviews are mounting. A sequel is in progress,
part of a three-book deal with Random House. There is talk of a movie
adaptation. And future acting gigs are not completely out of the question,
if the right part comes along.
So let the world take notice: Louise Shaffer is in the house with plenty
to say about lifes second acts and a great second career act as
proof of hers. As they say on the soaps, tune in for tomorrows episode.
After all, whos to say there arent third acts?