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Arts & Entertainment

Exhibition of Mary-Louise Parker’s archive features memorabilia from a stellar career

Award-winning actress’ personal items on display on Mugar Library’s first floor

Mary-Louise Parker and Robert Brustein share a moment before their onstage conversation at the Metcalf Ballroom November 17. Photo by Allen E. Dines

Actress Mary-Louise Parker was shocked when she learned that the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center was interested in acquiring mementos from her rich body of work.

Parker has won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Tony, but she was still “unbelievably flattered” that the center would want to display her correspondence, props, and script pages in an exhibition of her stage, screen, and television career. “I said yes right away,” she said.

The exhibition, which runs through February 2006 on the main floor of Mugar Memorial Library during regular library hours, includes photographs, award nomination certificates, Playbills, and programs. On November 17, Parker spoke at a Friends of the Libraries at Boston University event in the Metcalf Ballroom opening the exhibition of her archives. The evening featured an interview with her by Robert Brustein, a preeminent author and director and founder of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University.

In an interview with BU Today, Parker said that she knew her parents had saved many of her personal items and that she was pleasantly surprised to see several other keepsakes, especially an undated card she sent to director Craig Lucas. Parker had worked with Lucas on his play Prelude to a Kiss, the film and theater productions of Reckless, and the film Longtime Companion. “Love, peace, kisses, and respect galore,” she wrote on the card.

She was also touched to see a scrapbook she made for director Herbert Ross after the filming of Boys on the Side in 1995. Ross died of heart failure in 2001. “When I saw it again,” Parker said, “I just burst into tears.”

Parker’s Tony and Emmy awards are for fairly recent work — her roles in Proof (2000) and Angels in America (2004), respectively — but it was her performance as Ruth Jamison in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) that caused her career to really take off. She received rave reviews for the film, which starred such powerhouses as Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, and Mary Stuart Masterson. Parker said that she had had no idea at the time that the film, considered by many to be a classic, would catch fire.

“No matter what you put into a movie or how good you think it is or how good the reviews are, you never know what’s going to happen,” the South Carolina native said in her southern accent. “The very first movie I did was a complete flop. It was in the theaters for like a week, so I think in some ways that was a healthy thing, because after that I never had expectations of a project going one way or the other.”

Parker has just completed filming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a movie she described as a western, “but more visual and abstract than the usual western.”

Vita Paladino, the Gotlieb Center’s managing director, said that Parker’s archives are an appealing addition to the center because of “the integrity of her work. She has engineered a great career, making artistic choices — rather than choices of flash-in-the-pan-type movies for fame. I think she’s an actress who is going to be around a long time because of that.”