Texas has always had its supersized souls. From Sam Houston to Lyndon Johnson, from Molly Ivins to the Bushes, it seems to savor larger-than-life people.
And Ann Richards fit in neatly. “She was a very positive person,” Holland Taylor said. “She believed the world rolls forward.”
Taylor wrote and starred in “Ann,” a one-woman show. Now it’s part of a two-Friday package – “Ann” at 9 p.m. June 19 (check local listings), Christine Lahti as Gloria Steinem on June 26 – in a PBS summer that leads to Aug. 26, the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.
Put those Friday shows together and you’ll see that the women’s movement has drawn opposite people. Verbally, Richards was easy, breezy and outgoing; Steinem is not.
“Gloria has a phobia, still to this day, about public speaking,” Lahti said. “She was this sort of reluctant activist, because that’s not what she did. She was a writer; she was a journalist.”
And Richards? “She’s really the polar opposite of Gloria,” Taylor said. “She was always the life of any party. She was a convivial person who wanted to be amongst people.”
In that way, she more resembled George W. Bush … who defeated her when she sought re-election to governor. Bush was a people person whose life didn’t really take hold until he quit drinking at 40; Richards was 46 when her family had an intervention and she went to alcohol rehabilitation.
By then, she was already encased in politics. She and her husband were married at 19; he became a civil-rights lawyer, a cause she was passionate about.
“Their marriage was built on political activities,” Taylor said. “Other people would go dancing; they would be pounding campaign signs to telephone poles.”
Still, that 1980 rehab stint helped, Taylor said. Richards “was not a good drinker … She became more herself and more free and more confident and more true when she quit drinking.”
She had been a teacher, had raised four children and was elected county commissioner in 1977; in ‘82, she became Texas treasurer, the first woman elected to Texas state office in more than 50 years. And in ‘88 (four years after her divorce), she was keynote speaker at the Democratic national convention.
This was Richards in her prime. She expounded on President George H.W. Bush (“he can’t help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth”) and on women: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
Two years later, Richards was elected governor of Texas. It was only a single, four-year term, but she had made a national impact. Afterward, she was on boards and worked for a public-relations firm, even moving to New York. She died of cancer in 2006, at 73.
Taylor, 77, had met her only once. It was “a private lunch with her and one other person and I fell in love with her. But I was already in love with her from her persona in our culture.”
Later, Taylor would spend three years writing her “first and last” play. She’s had plenty of long-running TV roles, from being Tom Hanks’ boss in “Bosom Buddies” to Charlie Sheen’s eccentric mom in “Two and a Half Men,” but this was something different. She listened to 300 hours of Richards interviews, worked with a dialog coach and kept adjusting the show’s length.
“The first one was very long,” she said. “We did it in Galveston; they would have been happy to have it be four hours long. But for Broadway, it had to be two hours.”
Actually, many TV viewers might have preferred 90 minutes or less. Two hours is a long stretch to listen to one very distinctive voice – albeit, a voice rippling with humor and passion