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Lily Tomlin discusses the "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe"

BROADCAST: Sep. 27, 1988 | DURATION: 00:51:16


Tomlin talks in depth about the characters she has created and played (Trudy the Bag Lady, Kate, Agnus Angst, Chrissy, Lynn, Marie, ) in the play "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" by Jane Wagner. Tomlin talks in detail about each character and inspirations and influences behind each, especially Trudy.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel She answers to the name of Trudy, and I ran into her and she's absolutely astonishing, truly is. So, there you are, waiting for -- you're Trudy.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, I'm Trudy sometimes.

Studs Terkel I'm delighted to meet you.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, yeah. Glad to meet you, Studs.

Studs Terkel It's interesting, so you're waitin' for that light to change.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, don't cross in between. If you get hit, they take you to city hospital, they don't have a bed, they kill ya.

Studs Terkel That's, so it's walk, you worry by the -- You -- The sign, says "Walk --

Lily Tomlin Walk, don't walk. I'm standing here at the corner of Walk Don't Walk. Waiting for these aliens from outer space to show up.

Studs Terkel You got that hat, you're wearin' a hat.

Lily Tomlin This umbrella hat?

Studs Terkel I like -- What's an umbrella hat?

Lily Tomlin Umbrella hat protects against sunstroke, rain and muggers.

Studs Terkel It protects a what?

Lily Tomlin Against sunstroke, rain and muggers. For some reason, muggers steer clear of people wearing umbrella hats.

Studs Terkel It also works as a satellite dish, did you --

Lily Tomlin Satellite dish. I hear this sizzling sound like white noise and then I know it's trance time. That's how I met my space chums, I was in one of my trances watching a scene from somebody's life. I suddenly sensed others were there watching with me.

Studs Terkel That's Lily Tomlin, as you know, and she is Trudy, the bag lady who who communicates not simply with people on this planet, but elsewhere, and it's a magnificent evening of theatre. As you know, it's in search, it's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." And it's Lily Tomlin and the script by Jane Wagner. It's at the Shubert Theatre and it's a remarkable experience seeing it because it's a play. There are various characters aside from Trudy. Trudy is more or less the narrator.

Lily Tomlin Kinda tour guide through humanity.

Studs Terkel A tour guide?

Lily Tomlin Yeah, trying to show, you know, the space chums. They're down here. The space aliens who her -- Who are her space chums are here looking for signs of intelligent life, they've been through all the cosmos. And Trudy is sort of their tour guide trying to find a few signs.

Studs Terkel Now, do they, Trudy's friends what are they, just simply from outer space, they have no names.

Lily Tomlin They're from a higher bio-vibrational plane.

Studs Terkel Is that what they're from? Do they find --

Lily Tomlin Well, they finally deduce from everything they observe about about us and about this planet is, I think they become rather affectionately attached to us, you know. In fact, at one point Trudy says, you know, "Frankly, I think they find us quite captivating." So, and the -- In the -- She takes them to try to give them peak experiences, you know, and one of the peak experiences she strives to show them is the goosebump experience.

Studs Terkel And the goosebump experience is --

Lily Tomlin And there's no way to quite describe verbally how that happens, but that's really sort of the pivotal essence of the play in some way, because because just as all the people on the stage are connected and all the people in Trudy's world are connected. Then the audience becomes connected too, to everything they're watching.

Studs Terkel She would have come to those other people.

Lily Tomlin And to each other.

Studs Terkel And they all connected.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, and that's the design.

Studs Terkel And this turns out to be a play about a half-a-dozen or so, at least, seven or eight different characters. Trudy is the connecting the narrative, but also connects those visitors, outer space. So they find a certain aspect --

Lily Tomlin And they also decide that intelligence is just the tip of the iceberg, you know, in terms of all the qualities we have as a species. And they opt a little more, instead of -- Trudy's been searching for the meaning of life. And and she's begun to believe that there is no meaning, perhaps, you know, I mean you get you you suspect that that's maybe where she's at, and she -- And with the help of this -- And showing and showing all of us to the space chums, she kind of regains her awe and her and her awe at the mystery of life.

Studs Terkel At the very end, of course, she's Trudy, she's not cynical, her -- Trudy is just observing, what does she say about reality?

Lily Tomlin "Reality is nothin' but a collective hunch. I could take it in small doses but as a lifestyle I found it too confining. "

Studs Terkel The thing about Trudy is that she makes sense. This is the bag lady we pass, or bypass, I should say, in certain streets of Chicago. The neighborhood where I live is an area such as that, it's a combination of haves and have-nots. They are within yards of each other and yet planets apart, and there is Trudy, and one day Trudy helped me with a vending machine. The quarter, I wanted to get a "Sun-Times", it didn't work, and I lost four quarters. And one day, Trudy -- We never said a word, I just -- she just pushed her shoulder against it three or four times, about 20 quarters fell out. I took my 4, she took the rest, and that's it. But that's Trudy.

Lily Tomlin Yeah. Oh, Trudy can -- Trudy knows, Trudy is beyond the system.

Studs Terkel She's beyond the system.

Lily Tomlin Yeah. She -- And for being odd -- Whatever she's gone through and suffered, she, she has -- I think what happened, I mean the way I interpret what Jane has done is, as the author, is because she has Trudy, Trudy says it, she's a creator --In her -- In her --When she was living in the system she was a creative consultant for big companies. You know, she's "Who do you think thought up the color scheme for Howard Johnson's? And who had the idea to package pantyhose in a plastic goose egg?" So she's responsible for all these things, see and -- But the thing she's most -- Of course, when she had -- When she finally has a breakthrough is when she was hired as a creative consultant to the Nabisco, you know, cracker company and she said to Mr. Nabisco, 'cause it was her job, she says, "It's my job to come up with a snack inspirations to increase sales. I had this idea to give cracker consciousness to the entire planet. I said, 'Mr.', I said, 'Mr. Nabisco, you could be the first to create, you could be the first to create the concept of munching for the third world. We got an untapped market here. These countries got millions and millions of people don't even know where their next meal is comin' from. So the idea eatin' between meals is somethin' just never occurred to 'em.'" And she says what she says, "When I heard myself saying this, must have been when I went off the deep end." So so in my own interpretation of what Jane has done it's like if whether Trudy did that or not, committed that and whether she really did you know create the color scheme for Howard Johnson's or package pantyhose and a plastic goose egg, or do all the, any number of other designer things that are just -- And then the ultimate tr-- The ultimate thing she could do to opportunism and negativism and it was to create the concept of munching for the third world, right? This aberration that just to increase sales she would lose such a skip in thinking and feeling.

Studs Terkel What makes this evening of theater so great, and by the way, it's a book form, too. It's a beautiful book. But we'll talk about the book as well as the remarkable illustrative photographs in it. But more than that, what makes this evening is that Trudy in everything she does has a ring of truth to it. She is wonderfully crazy. As I always wonder why there aren't more Trudy's in the world. [Maybe there are?] It's because of our values anyway. Trudy somewhere went off the deep end, Trudy did, and she's this bag, but --

Lily Tomlin But the irony is it's like she got consciousness, see. She became totally conscious, then, of what she'd done and which kind of -- What she'd been doing, what the system really represented. And that breakthrough, she says, you know, she says, "Maybe evolution gave me a breakdown so it could have a breakthrough."

Studs Terkel The point is, you just hit it! We call it a breakdown, she had to break through, because Trudy --

Lily Tomlin Yeah, she says, "Maybe my mind didn't snap, maybe it was just trying to stretch itself into a new shape." More, you know, more conscious, aware, compassionate understanding of what what she was really doing in her life.

Studs Terkel Leaving that conventional world of success and whatever it might be, she found something over and beyond that shows this is pretty meaningless stuff, when you get right down to it. And that's Trudy's -- so Trudy, to me, is a key to intelligent life in the universe though she be called a bag lady.

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel See, that's one of the big thing. So there's Trudy. Now she connects with other people, there's Kate. That's when Kate appears. Few of -- We'll come to others. Kate of a wholly -- She's on this planet with Trudy, but seemingly of a different planet entirely. As far as her life, Kate's upper-class.

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel Rather bored, seemingly.

Lily Tomlin In fact, there is a condition that sociologists have coined as "affluenza."

Studs Terkel "Affluenza."

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel That's Kate, and we find her in a beauty salon somewhere.

Lily Tomlin Who's had a -- She's been given a bad haircut which is about as horrible an experience as a person of her stature and position could have. Because she says, she says, coming she says to her friend who's in the salon with her, she says, she says, "I tell you coming here today was so humiliating. There were people in the streets actually staring at my haircut. People who normally would be intimidated. So that, to me, that's the, that's the crux of Kate's character, is that this woman is so vulnerable that she has to arm herself so against, you know, the ordinary person in the street she doesn't really want them to look at her because she's too vulnerable, really, and so in the end that's what's so beautiful 'cause Trudy says, they meet in a rainstorm and Trudy offers her her umbrella hat and she's con-- And you can see Kate has been transformed ,however small the increment is, Kate's consciousness has been has been opened to some degree because she -- Trudy says to her, I mean, Kate is telling it, and she's telling that she says she met this bag woman and who it was, that they were standing -- They had begun laughing at a joke, which is the old Carnegie Hall joke, see, which is something that Trudy plays on people in the street. Just to make contact."

Studs Terkel "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

Lily Tomlin Yeah, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?", and Trudy says, "I run up and I yell, 'Practice!'" You know, so as it turns out they are all kind of, they've all converged, the prostitutes, Kate and Trudy have somehow this ch-- They have this chance, or not such a chance meeting somewhere in the vicinity of Carnegie Hall and they've all just heard the same concert. The prostitutes and Trudy may have heard it by standing in the alley and with the stage door open because the doorman knows them or something and Kate has been to the concert. And Kate says, and it's pouring rain, and they're -- They start laughing together at this joke. These disparate people laughing together. And then Kate says, "And then the bag woman did this dearest thing, she offered me her umbrella hat. She said that I needed it more than she did because my one side of my hair was beginning to shrink," and she laughs uproariously, the same woman who said earlier in the play, "You know, normally these same people would be would be intimidated."

Studs Terkel And she took the hat.

Lily Tomlin And she took the hat. That's the point.

Studs Terkel And so now we come to somethin'. That umbrella hat from the bag lady to the upper-class, Grosse Pointe, you're from Detroit, they say Grosse Pointe, Lake Forest here, suburb, and so now her consciousness now might be opened.

Lily Tomlin Right. The umbrella hat might connect her to humanity as this connects Trudy.

Studs Terkel So this is a play that has a tremendous impact. Of course, as you only probably gather, it's hilarious, of course, it's -- Audience roars, but at the very end, the audience is roaring, there's a standing ovation, but there's something else, there's tremendous poignance and there's a revelation here. And that's why they --

Lily Tomlin I think I, you know, I I just go on, I can just wax on and on about the play, but for me what Jane, for Jane to set up in the beginning. You know, you don't know that she's setting it up, you don't know that she's telling you and then to make it happen. I mean this whole, to turn the play to the audience and the audience becomes a part of the play, that is so wonderful.

Studs Terkel Trudy as well as the others, her colleagues, who become her colleagues one way or another in different parts society, we'll come to the two hookers, Brandy and Tina, but there's all connection! Everyone is connected one, one they're a couple of kids, twins, born to another group, to Edie. -- Well, to Lynn, rather.

Lily Tomlin To Lynn and Bob.

Studs Terkel Let's take one little break and then we'll pick it up with Lily Tomlin, we're talking about her performance. I say, was about to say it's a one-person evening of theater, no, it's a half-a-dozen at least, or more. It's a play at the Shubert Theatre until the twenty-third of October. And it's it's an experience, of course, obviously. You needn't bank upon the critics, all of whom acclaimed it, quite obvious, but as well as audience. But it's a personal experience seeing it that's rather different from theater as we've known it. We're resuming now. I know that one of your idols years ago I saw as a kid was Ruth Draper who lived long long some time ago. I say long ago now because a generation every five years and Ruth Draper had this one-woman show of characters. Yours continues further, but also includes every, almost every development of our day in it whether it be a crazy scientific breakthrough for better or for worse.

Lily Tomlin Right.

Studs Terkel Whether it be political stuff. Or if it be socia-- But the feminist movement, I suppose, is kind of the catapult for it, isn't it, of what's happened in the past 20 years?

Lily Tomlin Right. Well, because the play the play is sort of concerned with that from about, you know, from 1970 and to the present. And and, I don't know why it just feels right that that just worked out that that was sort of. Because so many value the different paths and the choices and things that people are making or taking or attempting. I mean that's also what the play's about, too is just all these disparate paths that we all try, that we all take and think we're doing the right thing, or. And then the overview, it's, you know, it's really just our common humanity that means anything.

Studs Terkel That's what it amounts to, so it's our common humanity. I mean the -- There are the kids -- oh, those damn kids! And so, no, I'm comin' out to Agnes Angst. So now we come to someone that could be a punk rocker or a kid of the -- Agnes Angst, she speaks, she's full of vitality, vital is the word she uses, vital.

Lily Tomlin I thought when we were when we were developing the play, of course in our old show, "Appearing Nightly", we introduced Jane and Jane Wagner and I introduced Lud and Marie, who then were probably in their late 30s. Because it was set, their particular piece was set in the '50s and so their daughter, that piece in that original play was called, "Lud and Marie meet Dracula's daughter", because they had this teenage daughter who was just out totally, you know, contemptuous and awful.

Studs Terkel Their daughter, Janet.

Lily Tomlin Yeah. So when we, when Jane started working on this new play, on the search and she'd already begun developing Agnes and everything and then and then she began to give me and she suddenly said to me, "I've decided. Agnes is going to be Lud and Marie's granddaughter." I thought it was just like, perfection to me, for this leap in the generations and for these these for Lud and Marie now and they'd be in their 60s or early 70s and they've got this teenage punk granddaughter.

Studs Terkel 'Cause the daughter's left.

Lily Tomlin 'Cause the daughter's left, right.

Studs Terkel The daughter has her own problems.

Lily Tomlin Yes.

Studs Terkel And she left.

Lily Tomlin And so now, so if you -- You don't need to see the two plays with any -- continuity but for, you know, for me and for my own sense of of the work. It was delightful to me to have this connection. This further connection.

Studs Terkel So Agnes is, what? Agnes is --

Lily Tomlin She's 15, she -- Well, here's, Agnes -- She comes from a, her father's a, you know, a bioengineering science, scientist, a gene splicer, she says. She says, "You know, his wor-- he works on some new bioform he thinks he'll be able to patent. He doesn't get that I am a new bioform." She's she's called up the radio psychologist because she's been locked out of the house, she's a latchkey kid, has been for years, she lived -- First of all, she -- her history would be that her mother is a is a radical feminist who is a performance artist. Doing, you know, very pretentious performance art, obviously. And so she -- as a little girl she participated in the art pieces even, we learn that in the course of the play, and then she had this scientist father who is bio-- you know, bioengineering, so she has all these, she has this tremendous amount of kind of like a progressive advanced input. And then at some point she and her mother, I mean she and her father, her father and her mother's divorce, and she's lived the first part of her life probably with her mother and now she has to go live the second part of her life with her father and his and her new stepmother. And and so here's a kid just you know, it's a typical kid just [wrenched?], a very bright precocious kid --

Studs Terkel She's also street hip, too.

Lily Tomlin Very street hip, because she's been because I'm saying, the father's very rigid, probably, science-oriented disciplinarian wants things in a certain way, the mother's terribly free and progressive and and she's been exposed to these radically different worlds gone from a big city to a small town. She's very rebellious she's she's something of an artist herself. And she's at this crisis in her life where she's behaved so badly she's so rebellious and has behaved so badly that her father has changed the locks on the door so that when she comes home with her latch key to get in and she's just and she's just stunned because her girlfriend won't take her in, because her girlfriend's parents think that she's a bad influence on her and all, all the doors have been shut to her now, so she turns to the radio psychologist. And doesn't get any help there, either. So you have this -- And she finally, she says to the psychologist, she says, "Yes, I have other family but we have nothing in common except that we are all carbon-based lifeforms." And of course we don't know it, but she's talking about Lud and Marie, who are her grandparents.

Studs Terkel There they are, in rockers, are there in a small town--

Lily Tomlin Right.

Studs Terkel Lud and Marie's more or less accepting that everything is goin' along they're kind of strange in their own way. Along there's a knock on the door, and there she is.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, and this kid hung in chains and her head shaved and dyed pink and the zippers all over and everything and screaming, you know, filled with despair and anger and, and she turns up on Lud and Marie's doorstep.

Studs Terkel And so now you have a scene of Lud and Marie, and so you have

Lily Tomlin These generations -- You know, because

Studs Terkel

Lily Tomlin A generation gap. You know, because what inspires us, I know from Jane is, well, first of all this whole clash of cultures is so it's just the truth. I love to see like you see like some nice middle-aged, you know, ordinary couple driving like in a, you know, a Nova or something, a little simple car, and in the back seat they've got like this kid with a big Mohawk that's like, you know,you know waxed-up so it's brushing the top of the car. And it's such an incredible image. That these and because we're, you know, people think these kids are so strange. Well, where do you think they come from? They come from just, they come from all of us.

Studs Terkel I've seen the other day. This is along Lake Shore Drive, which is an affluent street, Lake Shore Drive and there's a doorman and it's obvious people live up there they have a lot of dough, who come through the doorman? These gypsies, these kids about 14, 15 outrageously dressed, pink hair, ragged, and the doorman is nodding at them, because they're the kids of the people livin' up there!

Lily Tomlin Right, exactly.

Studs Terkel So what you and Jane have done [unintelligible] is the sources are everywhere. I guess there's no time such as this one in the history of the human race, of course, there's high technology. That's part of what you're talking about, too, TV and everything. So your sources are what? Are just newspapers, anything, an item you pick up, or?

Lily Tomlin Well, just, you know, just being, just your own absorption of what goes on and loving all these different types and everything and seeing them up against each other and not know-- And the -- Like, even take my audience, which is -- Thank heaven is so broadly, you know, such a broad spectrum of people. And I used -- Someone who used to work for me used to come backstage in the beginning and when she first started working for me, she is very smart, anyway, and she'd say, "There's a thousand people out there tonight, 500 of whom wouldn't be caught dead together in the same room." You know? And so the idea that they're there to me is wonderful. I love to see --

Studs Terkel That's one of the mysteries to me, and of course this is part of your genius, yours and Jane's, is that this is very hip stuff we got here. At the same time, hip stuff, I almost said it patronizingly, toward those who I think might not get -- But they do. The fact is, middle America is there, hip fringes are there, people just seeking something. The audience was definitely pretty much a cross-section of the country and they're standing up and so they rec-- there's something they did, they laughed. It was the laugh of recognition.

Lily Tomlin I think, I'll tell you what I think it is, because I get the letter. I've never got such great letters from on any project as I have this play. And I -- I mean, when you came backstage that night, you know, and and I knew that you would love the play and had a great experience from it and it's what I yearn to give the audience every night because I know when it works and when it's really beautiful, people do get goosebumps, they are thrilled or they are, they're so moved and so joined and I said to you. And I -- What I -- What gets reflected in the letters I feel almost it's like, it's like people, it gives people a high opinion of themselves.

Studs Terkel Now we come to something --

Lily Tomlin You know?

Studs Terkel So their self-esteem, which generally takes a beating these days, those so-called quote unquote ordinary people quotes about that, there's no ordinary person, each one is different, but they they feel, "Nothin' I can do." It's a -- You give them that self-esteem, that's what you're talkin' about.

Lily Tomlin Well I, you know, I don't know what even words to say, I'm just saying I know I have people who have written me and say, you know, it makes me proud to be a human. It makes me --

Studs Terkel Proud to be a human!

Lily Tomlin Yeah!

Studs Terkel Didn't say "proud to be an American, or a Chicagoan."

Lily Tomlin No, proud to be a human!

Studs Terkel Proud to be a human.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, like it's almost like suddenly, there's something, because that's what it's really about, is this species is like is is this kind of reverence and and and captivation with the species, see, like what, you know, what what an incredible, you know, what an incredible thing we are.

Studs Terkel So at the end, yeah [unintelligible. What a piece of work or whatever is man, woman --

Lily Tomlin When Trudy turns on the audience and she says, you know, she says, "The play is soup.", the audience the audience --

Studs Terkel We've gotta to come to that, Trudy.

Lily Tomlin But it's so hard to explain all this, and

Studs Terkel it's so interwoven -- Before we come to soup and art and Andy Warhol, obviously, Trudy on art is very important but she's also trying to show, guide our friends from the other sphere. What this human species is all about. And Trudy's suddenly taken in [rapture of diversity? of the unversity?] she suddenly finds awe. But now we've gotta come to, now we've gotta come to just as we had "Walked, don't talk", how she judges that when you cross the street. This is art. This is soup. Perhaps she could lay it out a little.

Lily Tomlin Well, she's try -- She says, she says, "They find it hard to grasp some stuff comes easy to us. Like, I show 'em this can of Campbell's tomato soup. I say, 'This is soup,' and then I show 'em a picture of Andy Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's tomato soup. I say, 'This is art. This is soup and this is art. Art, soup, soup, art.'" And then she takes and she switches 'em behind "Then I switch 'em behind my back. And I say, "Now, which one is this? No, no, this is soup and this is art." So this is a running things through the play where they can't quite grasp these two images.

Studs Terkel But it's also a takeoff on all kinds of stuff. But she's always commenting. There's a political com-- somewhere along the line politics enters, one way or another and you're talking about power.

Lily Tomlin And what she fi-- What's so beautiful is ultimately the space the space chums, what they see is, they finally do understand what art is and they because Trudy takes them to a play to get the goosebump experience and she says and she says, "There we are standing together in the dark. I feel one of them tug my sleeve, he whispers, 'Trudy, look!' I said, 'Yeah, goosebumps. You really like the play that much?' They said, 'It wasn't the play gave me goosebumps, it was the", she says "It wasn't the play gave 'em goosebumps, it was the audience, I forgot to tell 'em to watch the play. They been watching the audience."

Studs Terkel And they got the goosebumps watching the species, which is us, and Trudy's the guide and she discovered that they got goosebumps from this crazy species, of which she is a part.

Lily Tomlin Yes.

Studs Terkel But a very knowing part, now, thanks to the umbrella hat and everything else she did. And if this umbrella hat she passes on to --

Lily Tomlin Kate.

Studs Terkel Kate eventually.

Lily Tomlin And it's Kate finding the suicide note, too, you know?

Studs Terkel Oh, the suicide note, yeah, Kate, who is

Lily Tomlin very bored -- And it's funny, this suicide note has had this great impact on her life really, because she because, in a way, who is more dismissed than this than you know, this woman who's so rich who has only the money to arm her so that she has to even dress and be so pulled together that so no one would even dare look at her in the streets, I mean she's so formidable. You know, that off-putting. That she doesn't want that, she doesn't have to deal with that. So who could be more vulnerable or more fear--

Studs Terkel Easily wounded.

Lily Tomlin More afraid, easily wounded.

Studs Terkel More afraid.

Lily Tomlin More afraid. And

Studs Terkel

Lily Tomlin afraid. Fear, you're talking about here. And so when she realizes the letter, the suicide note that she finds, whom she doesn't, she has no idea who it belongs to, it was just a note in the street. And she in trying to figure out she's evaluating why this person wrote this suicide note because there's no no big tragedy, no, you know, no no terminal illness nothing, and she decides that this note was written she says,"Just a lifetime of being dismissed." And she's suddenly real-- I mean, and then she makes that identification herself. She the last person in the world you think is dismissable but she probably feels, she probably has the lowest self-esteem of all.

Studs Terkel And now she has this fear. She has low self-esteem because the guy she's married to, she almost lost a finger, a piece of a finger, didn't she? The guy didn't even know it!

Lily Tomlin The tip off her finger. Yeah, she says he, to this day he has yet to notice.

Studs Terkel She had it cosmetized, though. So it was cosmetically --

Lily Tomlin Yeah, she has it replaced,

Studs Terkel yeah, new fingertip. But coming back to the suicide note. But suppose I die or something and a note's found in my purse. They'll think it's me wantin' --"

Lily Tomlin She says, "Yes, supposing I got hit by a car."

Studs Terkel Yeah. So that's that.

Lily Tomlin So they saw the dilemma about, you know, and of course, and people laugh uproariously at this because we've all had something that we, you know, moved around the house and written our note written ourselves notes about where we put it and we can't remember where we put it.

Studs Terkel But now you got somethin' else happenin' here about the nature of what Trudy, what Trudy has said it, 'cause Trudy's a real person, Trudy and Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner have done. It's something it could be tragic. You know, it is suicide, of course. But why are people laughing? Because of the very nature. That's what this is the genius of Jane and you, the nature of life which is the tragic comic sometimes the line of demarcation is not even there. It's funny. It's tragic comedy.

Lily Tomlin And then there, but there's also the element that I think I think what people sense too, whether they do consciously or they're able to articulate it, is you sense that this is also represents Kate, is part of Kate's growth. You know, her realization that she's connected to that person in that letter too. I mean that she's not so different from that girl in the letter. Even though she doesn't know who she is. But suddenly she realizes that maybe she connected, dread that she couldn't she says, she doesn't know what did she can't throw the letter away. She doesn't know what to do with it, you know. And so why is she says she says, "What is it about this phantom person that is so compelling?" She can't, she reads the letter over and over again, she keeps it, she's kept it, she's moved it from place to place. She can't bring herself to throw it away because somewhere intuitively, unconsciously she senses there's a connection between her and then suddenly she realizes it. And, and just this whole -- so she really has this epiphany. Kate has this real awakening, you know, that allows her to take the umbrella hat.

Studs Terkel So you see you have, you say epiphanies here, different revel-- Moments of sudden revelation that we're connected whether we like it or not. That's what Jane and you are saying. You can't help but be connected, the umbrella hat is there. We're connected like, you know, we have to come to, if you don't mind, you realize I'm exploiting Lily Tomlin here and her artistry, when we come another break we have to talk about others who are also connected seemingly out of nowhere and yet connected. The women who were friends in younger days part of a movement and part of common experiences and we'll come to them and the birth of a couple of kids of one and the guy she meets. That's part of, that also connects with Trudy and with Kate and with Agnes Angst and with --

Lily Tomlin And with Chrissy, too.

Studs Terkel And Chrissy, we haven't even talked about Chrissy.

Lily Tomlin It's all very subtle, 'cause Chrissy --

Studs Terkel Let's hold Chrissy for this moment and take another break and return to Chrissy, we're talking to Lily Tomlin. And as you probably know it's been acclaimed here wherever she plays by critics as well as by audiences at the Shubert Theatre now through October twenty-third. And it is a theatrical experience it's another kind of experience too, seeing it, and watching the audience pretend that you are from that other planet, and you're watch -- which I did, by the way, and you watch the audience and never have I seen an audience respond to a performance on stage as in this particular case at the Shubert Theatre. We'll resume after this message. So resuming with Lily Tomlin, Trudy, Kate and we'll come to Tina and Brandy, a couple of hookers, they're involved. But you mentioned Chrissy.

Lily Tomlin Yeah. Chrissy, so Chrissy is, you know, the young woman you see in the early part of the play who is at an aerobics class, and, you know, she says she's dyslexic, "I don't type, file or spell well," she's "I feel I'm creative but somehow I lack talent to go with it." I mean, nothing works for Chrissy, you know, she's like a person who's chasing the American dream and the myth about an American female and whether you know, how to be this and how to be that and how to be everything, and --

Studs Terkel She also can't lie!

Lily Tomlin She can't lie.

Studs Terkel She gets fired!

Lily Tomlin She's very sensitive. Yeah, she can't lie, because she she said, "I lost my job at the answering service because I wouldn't lie for people who wanted me to say they were out when they weren't." She says, "These days, integrity is not a required skill."

Studs Terkel So she's the innocent --

Lily Tomlin She's the innocent --

Studs Terkel Who wants to accept all the values that will make her the full complete woman.

Lily Tomlin Yeah. And she does. And then you realize that, and what I mean I hate to, I mean I'm not telling anything anybody shouldn't understand, but this is part of the the accumulation of detail in the play because most people many many people see the play over and, you know, two or three times because it's hard and then they'll come and they'll say to me, you changed something, didn't you, because see they get more they have anyway, of course, Chrissy is the one who writes the suicide note, but very few people realize that the first time they see it. Because she talks about it, she says, "Once I tried to commit suicide."

Studs Terkel Ah, so it is connected there. So it's Chrissy.

Lily Tomlin And she talks about being dyslexic and then and she says the worst fear, she says, "I have this constant fear of being out of work, and yet whenever I'm working I have this constant fear of being fired." Because she cannot hold a job because she can't seem to fit into the system the way she can't seem to play the way she's supposed to play in some way or she just lack, you know, she or, her classic line, of course, is she says, "All my life I've wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific." So she's fed all the media stuff, you know, she probably jumps through all the hoops she buys the right kind of clothes but she just doesn't know how to focus in on, you know, you think if you have the right image you can be any --

Studs Terkel She doesn't know how to pretend! See, isn't that --

Lily Tomlin Is that it? Well, you're gonna help me with that

Studs Terkel

Lily Tomlin She can never be President of the United States, see. Well, you're gonna help me with that character.

Studs Terkel She doesn't know how to pretend! And she says, "Integrity is not an acquired skill."

Lily Tomlin Yeah. A "required", a required skill.

Studs Terkel Not a required skill.

Lily Tomlin Right. And then at the end you know she says, she says, you know, "I have another job interview." 'Cause she's "I've been on four", when you, when you first meet her, she says, "I've been on four job interviews today, talk about being bushed. No matter what kind of job you have, it's got to be easier work than looking for one." So here's this creature going from job to job all the time. Then she says, she says, "Wish me luck. I've got another job interview. You know, it requires no skills, I'll just be hooking people up to biofeedback machines." She's "At least I won't be lying to them."

Studs Terkel See, one of the mysteries of Lily Tomlin this is the question, this is asking now the actress --

Lily Tomlin But you see, one thing I want to mention to you, I hate to interrupt you, but, see, Lynn she worked -- it's very subtle, but Lynn says, "I had to fire Chrissy."

Studs Terkel Lynn, by the way, we'll come to Lynn, Lynn said, "I had to fire Chrissy." Lynn is another --

Lily Tomlin It's very subtle, it's much later in the play, you know.

Studs Terkel So, how do you, this is a simplistic question. It's in the flash, you become, each one is absolutely credible at that moment, the changes, of course, are split from one person to another. Hold it. And yet the audience believes at that with you as much so that's part of the craft, I suppose, they are. It's you, you believe it, I suppose that's it, isn't it?

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel There's a voice change, of course, but it isn't that, it's more than that, there's a character change. So what's the --

Lily Tomlin I think I believe it, yes.

Studs Terkel Is there any particular --

Lily Tomlin How I do it or something?

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Lily Tomlin No, I think, I mean I think, "Practice!"

Studs Terkel This is an old bebop musicians' joke, that this one, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, man, practice!" And you deliberately you deliberately use this old joke and that becomes the connecting link. It's a humor that they recognize now. So there is, there is Chrissy and that's throughout there's Trudy, the guide with the umbrella hat, and there's Kate and there's the punk kid, Agnes, of the strange combination Agnes Angst and her grandparents, Marie and Lud, and now we come to a whole seemingly new cast of characters and yet become connected. So we start with --

Studs Terkel So we start with Lynn, who is a woman who's just having a divorce and we pick her up where she's having a garage sale. And also all the objects of her her life with her husband, she has twin boys. And she's in, so she's transported back into time. She puts an old, she has a lot of old tapes, you know, maybe from feminist rallies and in feminist, you know, like land, you know, signposts in history and she start she picks up a tape and she realizes it's like it's the Women's Strike for Equality which was 1970, and she put that in her old tape deck there, in amongst all these this junk from the garage sale and of course that's another connection because Trudy has all this junk. And when when you come to Lynn, Lynn says, "How could anybody accumulate so much junk?"

Studs Terkel Oh, Trudy, by the way, saves all that junk at the very beginning, and along the line, and what does she say?

Lily Tomlin She says, "You people call me crazy 'cause I save this junk, what should we call the ones who buy it?" So anyway, so Lynn is transported back in time by listening to this tape and we go back and we and we and we are, we see the past 15 years of her life. And we meet her friends Edie and Marge and these three women who are totally different, different, they're each on -- Edie's a radical, Marge is a, they're three points on a spectrum, Lynn being sort of a middle-of-the-roader.

Studs Terkel And they also knew Janet, who's the mother of Agnes Angst, the daughter of Marie and Lud.

Lily Tomlin Right. And then of course, we said Chrissy even works for Lynn, but that's a subtle point.

Studs Terkel Because Lynn --

Lily Tomlin Lynn becomes a woman executive.

Studs Terkel A woman executive.

Lily Tomlin Who even has to fire Chrissy, because Chrissy has no skills. She says "Can you use somebody with no skills?"

Studs Terkel And integrity is not worth anything. You were saying --

Lily Tomlin It's so hard. It just, it's so it's really it's it's so it's a reflection of all the couples who started out in the in the early part of the women's movement and all the hopes, like Lynn says at one point she's so filled with and idealism, and she says, she's just talking about the women's movement, she says, "This is about moving the whole species forward, not just half of it." You know?

Studs Terkel And then she meets this guy, Bob, at a transcendental meditation center --

Lily Tomlin Right.

Studs Terkel And Bob seems more of a feminist than the women, you know.

Lily Tomlin Right.

Studs Terkel And seems like a nice guy.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, and he is.

Studs Terkel And now they both have a couple of kids,the twin --

Lily Tomlin And they're trying to make, they're trying to make a new kind of marriage, you know, as so many couples did. And and it was just like too early on the continuum of evolution we just couldn't seem to do it with any great any great proportion, you know, guys just didn't want to do the housework. They didn't want to share the chores to that degree. You know, at one point Lynn says, you know, it's hard. She says, "I'd rather just do it myself. It's more work to get you to do half of it than, you know, then I might as well do it all."

Studs Terkel And so there's a split because Bob gets involved with his Aikido instructor.

Lily Tomlin Well yeah, because he wants, he wants, they want a new. They want a new relationship, they want an relationship of equality. They want to be equals themselves, they want to work together. But it's so hard, you know, they're so conditioned and Lynn is trying to be everything she's trying to be supermom, wonder working woman, willing wife she's got a -- trying to be an executive, trying to be a mother. One of my favorite parts in the book which is not in the play is when she says , you know, she says, confiding to somebody, you know, one of her girlfriends, she says, "This morning I went to kiss the twins goodbye. They saw Hildy", who's the governess, like, or the nurse for the kids, "They saw Hildy coming in and they left me and ran to kiss her hello." So this fear of her, of them bonding with Hildy.

Studs Terkel But the two boys become rather interested --

Lily Tomlin And then the boys, but the boys, so I mean, I know we just run over ourselves talking about it because it's so detailed and so rich. But the little boys are these little twins who turn out, you know, and so there's great comedy in the fact that they're like these two little terrors. But in the end, like there's a whole sequence where they use, you know, they've been trained to use Bataka encounter bats to, you know, to release their hostilities. I mean, their mother says, you know, "You know our agreement: If you're going to fight, use your Bataka encounter bats." And then at some point the principal calls and they've wreaked havoc at school with their Bataka bats, she's "I didn't know they'd taken the bats to school." But you find out really if you think about it in the end they were really defending Edie and Pam's little boy, that Edie and Pam are two lesbians who have a 'baster baby', which was common in those days. People think it's a joke in a sense, a lot of people who aren't knowledgeable about about that aspect of history.

Studs Terkel You say,

Lily Tomlin 'baster baby' -- Yeah, you use a turkey baster, for artificial insemination. That was a, that was done, there are lots of baster babies in the world today.

Studs Terkel And this 'baster baby' becomes quite a --

Lily Tomlin A child prodigy.

Studs Terkel

Lily Tomlin Virtuoso. Right.

Studs Terkel But the two twins also --

Lily Tomlin And the twins become one of these little socially conscious --

Studs Terkel Yeah, what did they -- their encounter with Santa Claus --

Lily Tomlin When they're divorced, when Lynn and Bob are signing the divorce papers they're riding down the elevator together, and, and Lynn. And they're very tearful and she's heartbroken and doesn't really want to lose her marriage. But it's over with him and because Bob's fallen for somebody else 'cause in a way he's been it from his point of view he's been neglected in a sense you know, because. But so in the ride down in the elevator Lynn turns to him and she says, "I took the boys to see Santa Claus. When Santa Claus asked Robert what he wanted for Christmas, Robert said a nuclear freeze, and then McCord yanks Santa's beard off and said, 'What animal got killed for this?'" And of course, then she and Bob have a, you know, they were able to laugh at that together. And then she says, "Maybe we did some things--" she says, "I mean for a kid that age to have the spirit to confront Santa Claus and what he thought was a moral issue, maybe we did some things right after all."

Studs Terkel Maybe we did something right after all. We're gonna take our last break and we fully exploited Lily Tomlin, absolutely. You talk about a minimum wage. This is a sub-minimum wage of zero. By the way, we happen -- we're talking about the play, the theater which the Shubert until October 23rd, the book. This is the first I know of a book by Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin, starring Lily Tomlin, it's the book "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." The book became a best seller, it's rather interesting. That is a serious -- I don't mean a -- I mean a serious bestseller and the book itself is some excellent reading, you howl out loud, and seeing the play or not seeing the play, and the book is published by Harper & Row. And it's interesting how the book itself.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, Jane adapted the play to the page and she, I think she did a great job.

Studs Terkel There are several sequences. I noticed that the play was adapted to the page.

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel Usually it's the page to a play.

Lily Tomlin Right.

Studs Terkel And with the different photographs --

Lily Tomlin And so because the play is so visual and we use sound effects to such an interesting effect, she had to make all that read -- you know, translate.

Studs Terkel But this is a case of something double happening, the book and the play the book, "The Search for Signs" -- It's a great title, because that's what it's about, the search for signs of intelligent life in the universe. I doubt whether the visitors in the other sphere would have found it unless they had a guide like Trudy, who did have that what others might call a breakdown, but you would call a breakthrough. And that's what it's about. Let's take our last break and this is going to be the last lap, I call it. And so resuming for the last lap with Lily Tomlin and now as bit by bit, it becomes the play. It was a play without realizing it in which all there was a connecting link and every one of the characters in one way or another is connected. Even Kate. The upper class woman havin' her hair done by a guy named Bucci suddenly raised that Bucci earlier, there was a scene or later there's an encounter with a couple of hookers named Brandy and Tina and we heard that one of their tricks was, she wouldn't want to give his name away, was Bucci. But she felt he had a lot of trouble she she'll put this guy through beauty salon. So there's a connecting link.

Lily Tomlin And she says, "And the deal was, he had to do my hair free for the rest of my life." And so you picture her there at the salon with Kate, you know, maybe in the next, you know, waiting --

Studs Terkel So they could be --

Lily Tomlin And she might even get preferential treatment to Kate.

Studs Terkel Over Kate!

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel So you're really talking about life. You're talkin' 'bout the world, a life in -- My mother used to say, "Life in the big city." Give us life in the big city and also in small towns, too, because there's become Lud and Marie, represent that I suppose a part of it but there's a crazy admixture, references are made to almost everything, there's the nature of television itself and the role it plays in our lives throughout there, and also talk about political figures in power. Why does it Henry Kissinger -- Trudy is talking about -- was it Trudy?

Lily Tomlin No, it's Lynn, Lynn, when she's just, you know, she's so expounding about the beginning of the women's movement, how it's going to change the world, she says, "Once women, when women get equality, social and economic equality, they'll be no more wars." I mean, she's just totally idealistic about it. And then she says, "Can you believe Henry Kissinger actually saying that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac? The bombing in Vietnam shows what it takes for him to get it up." Then she says, "Women don't want to fight. We'd rather sit around in a circle and process."

Studs Terkel Do you, by the way, on that thing, here's where I'm gonna disagree with you about women and -- 'Cause here we have powerful women who have made it and there's --

Lily Tomlin And they have war.

Studs Terkel Margaret Thatcher.

Lily Tomlin Well, that's what I mean, but it's meant, but that's why I try to play it, with a little bracket around it.

Studs Terkel I've giving you a [rip?].

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel I'm giving you a slight --

Lily Tomlin Well, that's part, but that's part of what we're trying to say, too.

Studs Terkel There's Margaret Thatcher, and Shanta Gandhi and Jeane Kirkpatrick. They're pretty military-minded people.

Lily Tomlin Golda, too.

Studs Terkel Golda, too, by the way. In fact, Golda didn't even recognize --

Lily Tomlin But, you see, but, you know, then the argument then feminists would make the argument with you, you know, that they are really functioning as men in a man's world, you know, and rather than bringing the qualities of a female --

Studs Terkel You know this writer named Riane Eisler? Her name is Riane Eisler, did some book on early, oh, it's about pre pre-patriarchal societies and all -- It deals with this theme what it could be from the very beginning once that altered -- She's implying there was once another civilization long before the patriarchal civilization came in.

Lily Tomlin Was it any better?

Studs Terkel Different one. Yeah, that's her implication.

Lily Tomlin But I don't think we're going to get any better unless we get con-- You know, we all have to get conscious. We don't have to be --

Studs Terkel But Trudy's the one. We have to always come back to Trudy, because she after all is the guide, she after all is the one who broke through, and she after all is the one with the umbrella hat that is a satellite dish and she does know what's going on and she's very wonderful, and she does connect them all so. But at the end she herself makes a discovery. She's not cynical throughout, she's just saying, "This thing is soup, art" -- Do that "soup, art" again, because that appears several times with variations on a theme.

Lily Tomlin Well, she like it, at one other point she says, you know, she says she's fixed -- She's changing or she's fixing up and fluffing up, she's "Pardon me while I fluff up my space chums are due any minute we're having drinks with Richard Leakey, settle some questions we got about evolution. They think like me; if evolution was worth its salt, it should have evolved something better than survival of the fittest. Yeah, I think a better idea would be survival of the wittiest, at least that way creatures that didn't survive coulda died laughing." So she, she's fixing up and -- I forgot what I was gonna make that connection for ya. I can't think of what it was now.

Studs Terkel About art and --

Lily Tomlin Oh, then she says, then she says, you know, she says, "Come to think of it, I don't know where Leakey is." She's been searching for the Upanishads. She says, "Come to think of it, I don't know where Leakey is, either. Listen, I'm scratching Leakey," she says to the space chums, she says, "All you really need is me. Besides, too many cooks spoil the soup." And, of course, that kicks it off, and she says, "Soup." And she digs in her cart and she says, "This is soup, and this is art." And she's back on it again. And she's back on it again, you know, and every time you come back to her she's trying to she's trying to teach them the difference between soup and art.

Studs Terkel But at the very end this is all adding up to her own discovery, too, of the wonder.

Lily Tomlin Right. Of the mystery of life.

Studs Terkel And there's where the awe comes into it.

Lily Tomlin Yeah.

Studs Terkel She recognizes awe.

Lily Tomlin She looks, she's looking at the stars and she says, she says, "I became even more awestruck at the thought I was in some small way a part of that which I was in awe about."

Studs Terkel Yeah. So she, by the way, that's a very -- we haven't pointed out, it's a very moving moment. And throughout there are these, interspersing of these moments of great poignancy and epiphany, you call them, it's true, but very moving and immediately there's a laugh and there's a hilarity of the humor of it all and that's what is part of it. So at the end she sees that. And finally, there's a note her visitors have been here and have gone back.

Lily Tomlin Right. They've been called to go to a higher place.

Studs Terkel And so she finds a note from them and they -- she finds out that they have discovered something here.

Lily Tomlin Yeah, she says -- That's when they -- She's taking them to the theater to get a goosebump experience because she wants, she said, "I had a -- I got goosebumps once that way." And and that's when they were standing there standing in the back of the theater in the dark and one of them tugs her sleeve and said, you know, and says, "Look! Goose--" She says, "Yeah, goosebumps. And so did you really like the play that much?" They said it wasn't the play gave them goosebumps, it was the audience. I forgot to tell 'em to watch the play. They been watching the audience." And then, this is the most beautiful part for me, you know, as she says, "Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark laughing and crying about the same things just knocked them out. They said, 'Trudy, the play was soup. The audience, art.'" Now, I give --

Studs Terkel Well,you know, it's very moving. And that's what --

Lily Tomlin Well, at that point in the play it is, you know, I mean. And it's the last thing anybody expects.

Studs Terkel And of course it's a very beautiful theater. Jack Kroll of Newsweek, among the, all the critics, but what he says, it is a dazzling, and this is the phrase, "divinely human comedy." It is a divinely human comedy, that's what it's about. And Lily Tomlin's been very gracious. She's performing in a couple of hours. You got it there and thank you very much just to remind the audience it's at the Shubert Theatre through August -- October 23rd, and the book is called "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." The book's a beauty. Harper & Row, the publishers, and thank you very much.

Lily Tomlin Thank you, Studs.