Calling from a bus headed for … whatever is the next tour stop … actress Sally Struthers sounds incredibly bouncy and up beat. Not an easy task when the “Nunsense 25th Anniversary Tour,” in which she plays the Mother Superior Mary Regina, began with rehearsals in August, will be on the road until the end of January and lists more than 40 stops in 19 states, most of them one nighters. But the demands of a rigorous schedule definitely don’t faze the actress who has made her mark in all areas of the entertainment business and calls work “My favorite thing.” If touring vaudeville-style seems a change of pace for someone who has received two Emmy Awards, it’s nothing new and it’s definitely not easy. Sometimes “You are so tired you wake up in the morning and don’t know where you are,” she admitted. And, with no understudies, good health is important. ‘You keep your fingers crossed to stay healthy,” she said, only half joking.
Her journey began in 1968 when Struthers left her home in Portland, Ore., and headed for Los Angeles and the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theater. Before her first year was out, she was getting professional jobs on shows including “The Tim Conway Comedy Hour and “The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour” and soon was working so steadily she dropped out of school. (Note: The school closed soon after and, although the Pasadena Playhouse remains, the school is no more.) Then fate, in the form of writer/producer Norman Lear, stepped in and changed her life forever. Even 30 years later, the petite blonde is best known as Gloria Stivic, wife of Michael and daughter of Edith and Archie Bunker, the terrific quartet that was “All in the Family.” Lear’s ground-breaking comedy aired from 1970 to ’78 and endowed Struthers with a persona she carries to this day. It does not, however, weigh her down. “I am so grateful for that show,” she declared. “It was an opening door. It gave me a name and face people in American knew. And it was a wonderful show to work on. We couldn’t believe we got paid to laugh all day long.” Although the spinoff series “Gloria” lasted only one season, it joined the actress with her TV person in a partnership that continues, no matter what role she is playing or in what medium. Her characters are many. On the stage, she has become Truvy in “Steel Magnolias,” Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof,” one half of “The Female Odd Couple,”Miss Hannigan in “Annie” and Miss Lynch in “Grease.” She played the last three on Broadway and, as Miss Lynch, was on stage in South Bend’s Morris PAC several years ago during the show’s national tour. Her films include “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Getaway” and her TV roles, “Gilmore Girls” and “Still Standing.”
Any medium, it seems, is a good fit for the versatile Struthers. “The best part is not getting bored,” she said, although she would prefer work closer to her home in L.A. and her daughter, Samantha Struthers Rader, who, mom said proudly, “Is one semester away from getting her PhD in clincial psychology.” Currently, Struthers is leader of the surviving Little Sisters of Hoboken, who gather to present a benefit variety show to pay for the interment of their fellow nuns, victims of a poisonous vichysoise created by the convent cook Sister Julia Child of God. “Nunsense” is the first — and the best — of the many “Nunsenses” created by Dan Goggins. It has become a regular in the lineup of community groups around the country. In the hands of a first rate cast, it certainly bears seeing again. With theater offers waiting when this “Nunsense” tour ends, Struthers continues to follow an axiom from her friend actress Brenda Vaccaro, “You gotta keep moving; it creates a breeze.”
“Nunsense 25th Anniversary Tour” Starring Sally Struthers 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 2) Miller Auditorium Western Michigan University Call (269) 387-2300 or (800) 228-9858 or visit millerauditorium.com.