Magazine article The New Yorker

High Kicks

Magazine article The New Yorker

High Kicks

Article excerpt

The actress Molly Shannon bounced along the High Line in a black peacoat and blue leggings. Auburn-haired, cockeyed, as transparent as freshly Windexed glass, she was trying to make out her old apartment on West Fifteenth Street, which was somewhere behind that building (she made a cookie-jar reach) . . . or maybe that one, over there (a sideways dart and crane) . . . if the High Line were only slightly higher (tippytoes) . . . well, you couldn't really see it.

At the age of forty-six, Shannon has returned from Los Angeles to make her Broadway debut; she just stepped in as the floozy Marge MacDougall in the Neil Simon musical "Promises, Promises." After she noticed a male model in a muscle shirt brooding at a photographer down the walkway, Shannon recalled that when she first moved to New York, from Ohio, "I was eighteen and I had poodle hair, but I felt so hot. The photographer who took my headshots, Andrew Rosenthal, did this"--she mimed squinting through a lens and recoiling. "He said, 'Why are you so ugly?' His name was Andrew Rosenthal--put that in your notes!" She slapped her thigh gleefully.

Back then, Shannon said, "I was auditioning for soap operas with monologues from 'Agnes of God'--'Mama, mama, don't burn me!' " Then she realized that if she went even more intense she could get laughs. On "Saturday Night Live," where she starred from 1995 to 2001, Shannon introduced such indelible characters as the spazzy schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher and the brassy, age-defying hoofer Sally O'Malley. They were tributes to a broken home: "Sally O'Malley is a female version of my dad, who was this tough, wild, dapper Irishman, and Mary Katherine Gallagher is an exaggerated version of me, of the anxious, high-alert kid I was."

When Shannon was four, she was in a car crash that killed her mother, her cousin, and her younger sister; badly bruised her and her older sister; and left her father wearing a leg brace. "It was just sad and horrible," she said, over a soy latte in the Chelsea Market. "I struggled so hard to catch up and feel normal, and then I became very career-driven. When I was thirty-five, I went for a blow-dry at Supercuts and the woman said, 'When are you going to have a baby?' and I was, like, 'Oh, my God! I've got to buckle down. …

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