Mary for all Seasons

Mary for all Seasons

There is indeed something about Mary. The Herald reflects on a career for the ages as Mary Walsh is honoured for a lifetime of excellence in television

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If you found yourself as a contestant on Jeopardy! and were of the good fortune to have ‘Newfoundland Pop Culture’ pop up as a category, you could bet the house and farm that the name Mary Walsh would leave the lips of Alex Trebek by game’s end. 

She’s the matriarch of Newfoundland comedy, the queen of satire, and one of the most creative minds, bar none, in the history of our island’s entertainment landscape, and that’s not hyperbole. 

Pioneer, author, director, actress, producer, activist and survivor of good times gone bad, Mary Walsh is a legend in a time where the term is thrown around all too lightly by media types like ourselves. She’s done it all, and got the t-shirts (or in her case costumes) to populate a wing at The Rooms if such a thing existed.

Lifetime achievement

With her newly minted Earle Grey lifetime achievement award for acting in television from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television affirming what we all here in Newfoundland and Labrador knew for decades, it is evident that Mary Walsh is no less in demand or unapologetically busy at the fine age of 66. 

“I’m either relentlessly busy or in bed with pneumonia, can’t move atall,” Walsh jokes. “There’s got to be something there in the middle, I just haven’t been able to find it yet.”

It’s a delicate dance, the life of an entertainer, she jokes, explaining how one minute you’re en vogue, the next you’re to the wayside, like the fanny-packs of a generation of colourful band-wagoners.

“You think that sometimes people look at you like you’re something that they just stepped in,” she says. 

“Then other years you’re up for all these awards. It doesn’t seem I’m doing anything different. I’m just plugging away. It’s an up-and-down. It seems like you’re in and you’re out and up and you’re down and it feels like nobody is paying any attention to you and you can leap off Signal Hill and they won’t even cover it in The Herald. Other times things seem to really go your way for awhile. It seems to be luck I guess.”

Career highs & lows 

Walsh laughs on the ebb and flow of a career that began with a can-do-attitude comedy troupe (the legendary CODCO), spurring through the institution that is This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and highly profile engagements with The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Grand Seduction, Random Passage and Sensitive Skin. 

She jokes that her lone feature-film directorial effort, 2006’s Young Triffie, was the only movie ever to receive no stars from ‘the bastards’ at The Globe and Mail.

“It seems like I couldn’t get arrested then for awhile,” she recalls of a downward slump before her now longstanding resurgence. “People would always accept my phone calls. I’d have a great meeting and think this is going to work.” 

The consummate writer and creator, Walsh has thrown her share at the wall, with the s**t sticking more often than not. But for every Hatching, Matching and Dispatching, there was the near-misses ‘For McMoney’, about a Newfoundland family who up and moved to, you guessed it, Fort McMurray. Oh what could have been.

It all goes back to keeping busy, staying creative, and having a rack full of hats in case the bottom falls out of your favourite beanie. 

“When I was young my aunt May wanted me to have something I could fall back on. If you don’t have anything to fall back on, you can’t really fall back can you?” she muses. “What am I going to fall back on? My career on the PA system at the arcade? What am I going to do? This is my job!”

But the Earle Grey lifetime achievement award is a particularly sweet treat for Walsh, in a year where she found herself nominated for not one, but two acting honours for A Christmas Fury and Little Dog. 

More than words 

“I can’t tell you … it’s hard for me to put into words how happy I am about that and how thrilled I am,” she says of the honour. “There’s no way to say it to represent how much it makes me feel so much better about everything.”

The praise heaped upon Walsh’s revival of the short-lived but beloved dark comedy series Hatching, Matching and Dispatching is another source of immense personal satisfaction for the career entertainer. 

“Getting to do it was so great, and the whole cast coming back together again. It was such a special thing when we did Hatching. I don’t even know what the magic of it was. Even though Mark McKinney is on Superstore, Jonny is doing two shows and Sherry White was down working with Shonda Rhimes down in Hollywood, everyone made the time, carved out the time to come back and do it.” 

Never the one to skimp on breaking news for Herald readers, Walsh shares that she is already hard at work in her efforts to revive the series outright, as the critical and fan acclaim for A Christmas Fury have spurned on talks for a continuation of the zany tales of Mamie Lou Furey and co. 

“We’re really now pushing to do a new Hatching, Matching series, to reprise it,” Walsh shares. “It’s full of the biggest stars in Canada. I’m back in the pushing seat again. Keep your fingers and eyes and legs and toes crossed and hopefully we can get somewhere with it.”

Oh, and in case you forgot, Walsh is a best-selling novelist. Her debut effort, Crying For The Moon has been universally acclaimed across Canada. She’s already primed for her next literary outing; a novel titled The Little Girl Who Grew Up Next To Her Family. 

Taking the plunge 

“It was something I always wanted to do since I was about eight and then I really didn’t have the guts to do it,” Walsh said of finally taking the plunge to write her novel. “Then, because things seemed to stall, that gave me the impetus to do what I always wanted to do. 

“When that book came to the house, the actual book, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that happy. You know how they always say do what you want to do? I never really had the guts to do it, because I always felt like, even though I’m a voracious reader, there’s so many great books. I felt like I had to sound like other people or be as great as other people. I realized that in the writing of it I could only be who I was.”

In these reflective times for Walsh, there’s a fair amount of the hits thrown in with each passing stage of her career. She’s currently filming webisodes for the CBC with Cathy Jones, touring across the country and reprising their beloved 22 Minutes characters Mrs. Enid and Eulalia. And yes, Marg Delahunty is never far from the political purview.

But it was a recent deep dive into the past that had fans talking when Walsh, Cathy and Andy Jones and Greg Malone congregated on stage at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax for the first time in three decades for a meetings of the minds on CODCO, the comedy troupe that started it all.  

“It’s funny to be taken so seriously, because we worked so hard and so relentlessly in CODCO, and it cost so much to do it,” she reflects. “We were only young and we didn’t know to work together, really. There were a lot of good times and a lot of real heartbreak. We could have used some corporate person to come in. We didn’t have a director or any outside. It was just us. Cooperation is great but you don’t always get it and it does take a long time and there’s a lot of heartbreak involved. Each one of those sketches, it cost a lot, so it’s nice that someone is taking it seriously, as serious as we took it.”

Break the glass ceiling

And so it is with Walsh – at a time in her life where most artists are resting on laurels and clinging to the greatest hits, she’s at the all-too-rare impasse of glory days meets bright future, of being firmly and fondly remembered as a maverick, while continuing to blaze trails with the best of em’. 

Explaining modestly, that she like so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are ‘punching above our weight,’ Mary Walsh is just happy to have made a dent, a crack, in that glass ceiling that us island dwellers had to press against for decades.

“I feel like I’m a part of a big continuum of Canadian comedy, of sketch comedy. We were on with Kids in the Hall at the same time, as SCTV,” Walsh says. “There’s been a long history, and we’re in there, we’re part of that.”

That glass ceiling  is well and smashed through now, and we have Walsh to thank for those whacks with the sword, those wallops with the hammer.

Needed then and now, our flag-bearer in red-plated armour. Marg, Mamie, Mary. There’s a Mary for all seasons, after all.

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