She Plays Updike's Adultress, but Blythe Banner's Marriage Has Survived Even California
Indeed, Blythe's granitic nine-year marriage to Bruce Paltrow, 35, producer-director-writer of CBS' underrated basketball series, The White Shadow, has flourished despite two centrifugal careers. "We're harassed and crazed and have our ups and downs," says Blythe. "But my interest in life is not pushing for stardom. The family is the most important thing to me."
Yet stardom has come, too, because of a gift as luminous as her looks. "She has enormous intelligence, discipline and as much talent as any actress I've worked with," says Moriarty. Ken Howard, who's starred with Danner in TV's A dam's Rib and for Paltrow in White Shadow, considers her "the best actress in her age group anywhere." Blythe, generously, thanks her husband. "When we first got married, Bruce was doing diapers because I was working. We've always switched off, because we've recognized each other's needs. I didn't intend to work at all when my children were born," she continues. "Then I realized that if I didn't work I wouldn't be a good mother." So Bruce and grandparents pitched in with the kids—Gwyneth, now 6, and Jake, 3—while Blythe completed such films as Hearts of the West and TV movies like The Lou Gehrig Story. She hated the weekly pressure of Adam's Rib and says now: "We drank champagne when it was canceled."
Blythe got her name from her father, who presciently thought it would look good in lights. He was a Philadelphia banker, while her mother stayed home on the Main Line despite a concert-quality singing voice. "I think my mother would have had a career if it had been another time," says Blythe, who herself wanted at first to be a nurse. During a year as a high school exchange student in Berlin, she recounts, "I used to put my hair in pigtails and go to East Berlin without my passport. I guess I always had a sense of drama."
Enrollment at artsy Bard College, north of New York City, heightened it. "When I first pulled up I had on my little white gloves, my hair in a bun, and everybody had hair down to their waist and was playing the guitar," she says. "I'm indebted to that place for saving me from a boring life." A drama major and soon a jazz group singer herself, she graduated in 1965 and got a job in upstate New York. "I made $60 a week playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie," Blythe remembers, "and I found I could earn a living acting." Indeed, after rep-company stints, in Providence and Boston where she met Robert Duvall and Dustin Hoffman, she moved to Manhattan in 1968. The following year, in her Broadway debut, she won a Tony for Butterflies Are Free.
She had already met Paltrow when he cast her in an off-Broadway production. "It was humor at first sight," Bruce remembers. "We had the same unemployment days." "My mother always said that Jewish boys make great husbands," Blythe says. "She was right." Now she takes the kids to Quaker meeting for a "very spiritual, silent worship. Then we come home and have a Seder at Passover."
Career realities forced a move to L.A. five years ago, but both still miss the East. The whole family spends summers at the Williamstown, Mass. theater festival, where she plays the classics. To make their spacious Santa Monica home more "Eastern," Bruce spent a year remodeling—adding 26 windows and four sets of French doors to the two-story, four-bedroom spread that includes maid's quarters, guest house and swimming pool. Most of their friends are transplanted Easterners like Ken Howard and Frank Langella, but Blythe and Bruce are now assimilating. She's for recycling, women's rights, solar energy and against smog and nuclear arms. Otherwise, Blythe's life these days seems as upbeat as her name. "I think I've found a good balance. The night I won my Tony, I remember thinking, 'This is so fickle. Nobody was applauding the night before. It's not real to me and I can't trust it,' " says Danner. Then she looks fondly at her husband and children and adds: "But I can trust all this a lot."