Towards the end of my stay at home this summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with the one and only âDidi Picklesâ. Well, don’t really sit down, while we were talking about Zoom, and not really Didi Pickles, but his super talented voice actress Melanie Chartoff.
I was first fascinated by Melanie Chartoff when she played one of George Costanza’s rotating girlfriends in the TV comedy. Seinfeld. Before reading his recently published memoirs “Strange woman outside,âI realized that I knew very little about it.
Melanie Chartoff has been a full-time actress for almost 50 years, and, coming of age in the theater of the 60s and 70s, it was no small feat.
In the 34 essays she writes in Odd Woman Out, she found much of her success in the theater and later on television playing the female ingenuous, valued for her sexuality before her talent.
In his essay Gray areas, Chartoff describes his 1980 television appearance alongside his father’s comedic idol, Henny Youngman, in which he “put his arm around me.” But Henny’s hand didn’t stop at my back. No no. His fingers crawled forward, landing on the side of my left breast, two inches from my armpit but a world far from normal – and he knew it.
She continues in the same essay to describe a meeting with Ed Asner at a charity gala to raise funds for homeless single mothers in which she “hugged him and congratulated him on a recent TV tour as a coward, and for winning the Helping Hands Humanitarian Award that night. And as we posed for press photos, he put one of his helping hands on my behind. “
As she admits, these were small irregularities in the context of the âMe Tooâ movement. She nicknames them “We Too” and draws inspiration in her essays from a lifetime of experience defending and sometimes encouraging many male advances.
Chartoff describes how the world of theater she adored, and the world of television and film in which she lived, was in many ways a microcosm of the family in which she was raised. Her father, the de facto breadwinner, dominated his wife and two daughters in a traditionally humiliating way, appreciating the attention his friends would pay to his newly pubescent daughters.
She describes in an essay how her father once pushed her naked mother out into the icy snow by locking the door behind her.
âI also felt like we were naked in the cold,â Chartoff writes. “If I couldn’t save my mother, how could she ever save us?” â¦ I looked out the side window. Mom was shaking in the DeSoto with a blanket.
Chartoff doesn’t hold back, especially when she talks about her own romantic escapades. She recounts being photographed leaving a sex shop, her romantic escapades with her acquisition of a sex shop that she calls Tyrone; the male model who attracted him until he took off his hairpiece; George, the Greek American who discovered that the secret code for his bed was not beauty, reason, or even marginal success, but being funny. In fact, Chartoff admits that humor has always been a necessary prerequisite for any potential suitor, and sometimes the only one.
Chartoff reveals both in her essays and in our conversation her personal journey of growth, from ingenuous to becoming the main actor in her own life, aided by twenty years of therapy and the influence of the powerful female roles she has. play.
âI have had many teachers and everyone teaches me, even people who make horrible mistakes. Chartoff explains. âI think these characters helped me create a self. I chose three qualities of character one, four qualities of character two, six qualities of character three. I played Portia for a long time in The Merchant of Venice one summer, and the boy gave me power, conviction, a clear mind and a very articulate position. Portia has never left me, which is one of the deepest layers of my character.
After a lifetime of dating on several occasions, Melanie married the love of her life in her 60s, teaching young and old that it’s never too late for love.
She tells the story in her essay love bath of how at his ugliest moment, after she had just got into a fight with his elderly mother, ruminating in the tub with self-loathing and regret for showing her boyfriend the worst side of herself, he Sank into the tub with her and asked him to marry him.
And she told me about the cathartic role writing played in her self-realization. âI had reached a certain middle age where I didn’t look grandmother enough to be a grandmother. I didn’t look young enough to be a wife and a mom, and I felt lost. So I signed up [a writing] class and I started to listen to other people’s stories and realize that I was not that strange. So many people had a biased, different, and unique way of looking at the world and themselves. And my writing started to teach me.
Hollywood has rarely been kind to the signs of aging. Even her beloved role as the voice of Didi Pickles has been recast for the new Rugrats 2021 incarnation.
Yet Melanie Chartoff has found other vehicles to flourish. She continues to do readings of her work, one-woman shows, and occasionally attends acting auditions when a script calls out a 72-year-old woman. Of course, relearning to audition again under Covid protocols requires a host of new skills for the veteran actor.
Chartoff’s frankness and humor could make anyone’s face blush, especially his own. Yet in her seventies, she is far beyond apologizing for who she is or pretending to be someone else.
I asked her what she wanted her readers to walk away with, to which I replied, “have the courage to accept yourself, your weaknesses and everything, because you are all you have.” And of course, the dedication of my book to my mother who taught me âit’s never too late to learn to love yourself. And maybe if you’re lucky, someone else will too.
Is Melanie Chartoff Still The Strange Woman? “No,” my namesake Melanie tells me. “I am now the only woman.”