Originally Published in Soap Opera Digest
(April 1, 1980)
It has been my experience that more often than not, the change is temporary. The person finds a job, but it isn't what he really had in mind, so he quits. The "idea" of marriage was nice, but the reality?? And the ten pounds? They may have been lost, but suddenly, 'and I don't know why,' they're back.
Sometimes an announcement of change makes me think that the person metamorphosing is really trying to convince the rest of us that it's so.
The last time I saw Julia was three years ago. She had that cute kewpie-doll look, but tension was clouding her face. Something was not right in her life. She explained her husband was away and she didn't much like being alone. She was quiet, uncomfortable; something was off. Although we had just met, I couldn't help but sense an aura of sadness around her . . . .
That was not the Julia Barr who came bouncing into the "Soap Opera Digest" offices. She still has that kewpie-doll face, but now there is something more interesting. She is not so perfect-looking. Instead, she's human; tousled, every hair is not in place. As a result, she's a lot more fun to look at. Wearing non-designer blue jeans and a plaid shirt, she looks very young. There is nothing in her appearance (petite, wide-eyed, casual) to suggest her thirty years. Only the wisdom of not pretending to have all the answers and the ease that comes with getting to like yourself, lets one know she's grown up.
Julia and my work-mates were gathered in my office to eat lunch and watch "All My Children." Because there was a lot of talking and laughing, one of the "AMC" addicts didn't catch what was happening on the show. In one quick bluster of words, both mocking and enjoying what she saw, Julia said, "Nina stopped eating because she's sick over Cliff and Myra told Palmer that if he didn't stop butting into Nina's life she was going to find out what he's been up to and tell Nina and Cliff so Nina and Cliff can live happily ever after." Everyone burst out laughing. Julia Barr had decided it was her business to put us at ease with her: She succeeded.
Alone with me, she was more contemplative: "Before I was divorced, two years ago, there was a lot of underlying tension and pressures in my life. I was either unaware of them because they were underlying, or I was aware but just couldn't face and analyze them. That was the hard part."
I wonder if those feelings had anything to do with sadness I noticed the last time we met. "Could be," she admitted. "When my husband and I decided not to live together anymore, I was petrified. Because I had never, ever, never, in my life lived alone. I was scared to death."
That is not an unusual emotional reaction to living alone. Growing up in Indiana, a much-loved only child, Julia Barr was used to being pampered and the center of attention. When she says she never lived alone, she means it. She went from the nest of home, to college, to Buffalo (to be with the man she loved) to marriage.
"It's a funny thing. Now, I hate to use this expression, but my living alone has made me 'get more in touch with myself.' I really know more of what I like and don't like. I'm not as frantic as I used to be. Not as frantic, particularly, about social life.
"I used to want to spend time with somebody -- always. Now I find myself really enjoying my time alone. Right now I'm not dating anyone in particular and that's fine. After a date, I'm liable to want to get back to my apartment and doodle. I'm a great doodler -- I read, do needlepoint, cook, water the plants, just things around the apartment." Julia pauses, then slowly choosing her words, "I'm not so worried about impressions as I used to be."
Hers is a common story. And I wonder what she thinks of all the well-meaning people who married a few years ago with hopes of forever and always. Now so many of them, including her, find their marriage shattered and life on one's own is not only healthy but necessary.
"I also though marriage would be forever, but it would seem to be a wrong thing to do if you're perpetuating something that is harming both people.
"I think every new idea, trend, or movement that comes into vogue brings negative as well as positive effects. Women's Lib has brought a lot of positive things to both men and women. But I also think it opened a Pandora's Box. All of a sudden, women are not supposed to be housewives anymore. They have alternatives and I think sometimes those alternatives confuse the issue of what a relationship is all about. The alternatives offered to women have caused, I believe, a great deal more divorce."
Julia believes that therapy, too, can be misunderstood. "Sometimes therapy and self-awareness are interpreted as, 'Well, I got to be me and I can't be me with this person.' Sometimes I think the issue gets clogged. The world is people and if it becomes a be-all end-all situation, the relationship doesn’t work. You can't live in a vacuum.
"Still, I don't feel a sense of failure about the divorce or marriage," she says with quiet resolution. "Marriage is not something I regret or resent having gone through. There are certain things that happen in life: Things we have no control over except how we choose to deal with them. And there are other things that we do make decisions about, like deciding to get a divorce. That's something you have to live with. You have to be very sure of what you're doing. But no, I have no regrets."
Julia is not as skeptical about relationships as she initially was about her divorce. In fact, she had a year-long romance that recently broke off. "That was for the best." But she is a little leery of remarriage and children.
"It took me a long time to look at other people as other people, rather than as extensions of myself. When you become 'more in touch with yourself,' I think you learn to stop running around and trying to find somebody to fit into your mold. I'm not skeptical of marriage," she says, smiling, "I'm just going to take my time the next time around."
Having a child is another thing she has decided to hold off on. Many women in their thirties feel a time clock pressing them to decide whether to have children or not, for health reasons. They often feel it's a 'now or never' decision. Julia nods her head in agreement, signaling to me that it's something she's thought about and come to terms with.
"You have to have a lot of patience. And I think it's very important to be with the child at least for the first year. Having a child would depend on the situation with the man. Could we share responsibilities? Would he make me feel less anxious about staying at home? I think the most important thing is not how old you are when you have a child, but how ready you are.
"The couple next door to me recently had a baby. Sometimes in the morning while I'm in the bathroom putting on my makeup, I'll hear her in the bathroom giving her son a bath. I think about the difference in our lifestyles. Those twenty minutes that I spend getting ready, she is devoting to a son." Julia sighs, then smiles. "You really have to be ready."
For the time being, Julia Barr's career seems to be the most important facet in her life, although she is quick to explain that a career isn't all she wants. She understands that supreme success comes with total dedication. "I prefer a balance."
She began working in the theatre while in college, acted in some regional plays in Buffalo, then did some television. There was a short-lived role as Reenie Szabo on "Ryan's Hope" before she landed the role of Brooke English on "AMC" three years ago. In the last year, Brooke has grown greatly. Her sensitivity, intelligence and emotions are suddenly in full view. She has become a far more interesting character.
"When Brooke first came on the show you saw her primarily as a young woman whose background naturally influenced the way she felt about people. She was rich and snobby. She was very manipulative, spoiled, willful and selfish. She couldn't see people other than what they could do for her. But I don't think she was aware of it.
"Since her affair with Mark Dalton (played by Mark LaMura) she's allowed herself a little vulnerability. It was unrealistic for her to fall in love with someone and think she could change him, but it's made her grow. She realizes that life doesn't necessarily revolve around her.
"For a while she was hitting the depths of depression," Julia says sympathetically of Brooke. "Thinking negatively about herself, carrying on with someone like Eddie Dorance -- she just lost respect for herself. I think she's gaining it back, though."
A mischievous grin crosses Julia's face: "WE don't want her to get too good. I think she'll always be slightly willful, sharp-tongued, someone like Phoebe Tyler. But she's much more interesting to play now. For the longest time, she was with Dan Kenicott and all those two characters talked about was his studies; it got a little boring. Brooke is far more three dimensional now."
More than anything, Brooke's affair with Mark was the impetus for her change. The sexual pull between the two was nearly animal, and in a way, dangerous, because it blinded both of them. Blinded Mark, because he was involved with someone whom he did not love. And blinded Brooke, because she felt that their sex life might bind them permanently.
"Mark was the first man to ever tell Brooke off. So he became unavailable and a challenge," Julia explains. "As I said, her love for him was unrealistic. I do think their relationship will change and grow, (Already they have been able to become close friends) but I don't think they'll ever get back together.
"There was a time when I didn't like Brooke at all," Julia says crinkling her nose. "She was -- is -- selfish. If I met her on a social occasion, I would be wary of her. We share a certain narcissistic quality, though. I hope I have it to a lesser extent. I think we all go through a very narcissistic age when we're young. And if you don't come to grips wit the fact that the world doesn't revolve around you, you're going to remain self-centered. Sooner or later most of us grow up." Again, that self-mocking grin. "It just took me a bit longer than most."
Julia seems to believe that she and Brooke share many qualities. "I like her sense of humor. She does have a certain amount of compassion when her interests aren't directly involved. I think I have a great capacity to be compassionate, like Brooke, when I'm not directly involved. When I'm involved, it becomes harder for me."
Interestingly, the people whom Julia enjoys working with most of "AMC" are the other "bitchy women," Susan Lucci (Erica Cudahey) and Ruth Warrick (Phoebe Tyler):
"For the longest time I was intimidated by Ruth. She is such a grand lady and I felt we weren't on par in certain respects. But it's a business: We're two actresses who are doing a scene. We have great talks. I love working with her. And she has such energy! She can go 24 hours a day. She puts most of us to shame.
"I enjoy working with Susan. I like her as a person. We don't rehearse too much because the scenes we do are so totally bitchy. When we do rehearse, we get our lines down, then go off and have nice conversations. Susan and I are similar in one way, I think we both channel our tempers into those scenes."
Julia also loved working with Larry Fleischman (ex-Benny Sago), whom she considers one of her best friends. "When we get together we don't talk about acting. Mostly, we talk about our love affairs," Julia giggles.
When not on the show, Julia takes voice lessons, acting classes, reads, and tries to run. I'm kind of lazy. I'll put disco music on and jump up and down for fifteen minutes! A friend of mine says if you can get 15 minutes of any kind of exercise every day it's good for the heart and redistributing weight, so I try. I also visit friends. Whatever I do, the days go very quickly.
There is something so fresh about Julia Barr. She appears to have a 'no apologies' outlook on life, but with none of the combativeness people tend to carry with that attitude.
She smiles broadly, "There's a certain reserved and then off-beat quality to me. I think people think they're talking to two different people sometimes."
Is there anything in Julia Barr's life she hasn't changed, but wants to? With total seriousness, she says, "It's taken me a long time to realize that anything worth having is going to take a certain amount of input. I've really been negligent in applying myself.
"There are times when I think, 'Julia, you didn't devote much time to that show.' I tended to have a passing interest in things. Never really seeing them through. That's started to change and I think it's part of growing up.
"Recently, I've been taking voice lessons. And it has only been in the last couple of months that I decided to devote a lot of effort to it. Before I would think, 'Well, gee, if I take two singing lessons a week, and I take a musical comedy class, which means going through rehearsals with a scene partner, it's going to cut into my life!' I had to say to myself, 'what are you talking about? That is your life!'
"I always felt like I was skimming along, getting by, never really getting involved. I think sometimes, if you have a certain look or versatility you can get away with it."
Julia sums it up: "More and more I've come to face the fact that your life and your work are all intertwined and everything should take as much time and effort in order to produce a certain amount of satisfaction."
She's quiet for a few seconds. The seriousness slowly is replaced with a grin. She has finished her lunch of one coffee yogurt and two cups of coffee and she is eyeing the remains of my pastrami sandwich. She is eyeing it with the same zeal as a child. "Do you want some?" I ask. "Well, you said you didn't want anyone sharing it with you," she answers. I had said that to someone else. Before. "You can have some if you want," I say. Now I'm grinning, too. She picks up the sandwich and munches delicately. "Oh, if you insist," Julia Barr says.