“Growing up I wanted to be everything and anything that had to do with acting,” she explains. “I went to Webster College when it was still a small Catholic women’s college. I majored in speech and drama and as soon as I graduated I headed straight for New York.”
Her first big break came when she replaced the ingénue in Cactus Flower on Broadway. She went on to work with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and then got a starring role in the movie Blume in Love. Shortly thereafter she met Neil Simon. Their whirlwind courtship and marriage in 1973 changed her life.
“My agent at the time suggested that I try out for Neil’s new show “The Good Doctor,” Mason recalls. “I got a callback and met Neil on the first day of rehearsals—October 1. By the 25th we were married. His wife had passed, and he was raising his two daughters alone. He was in a very fragile place, which I didn’t fully understand until I got into it. If I’d known better I never would have done it.”
The marriage lasted ten years and during that time Mason curtailed her career to care for the Simon girls. The year they married she had made Cinderella Liberty, which earned her first Oscar nomination (she would go on to receive three more). Simon wrote several films in which Mason starred: The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two, Only When I Laugh, and Max Dugan Returns.
Once they divorced, Mason went back to nurturing her career with several other movies as well as appearing in prime-time television series such as “Army Wives,” “Madam Secretary,” and “The Good Wife.” She has a recurring role in “Grace and Frankie,” the hit Netflix series starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. She has also gone back to the stage and recently starred in a revival of Watch on the Rhine at the Arena Theater in Washington, DC.
“Some of my best times have been on stage,” explains Mason, “to say nothing of the extraordinary clothes I got to wear. Tony Walton designed a beautiful wardrobe for me in The Good Doctor. I loved what Ann Roth did for me in The Goodbye Girl and The Cheap Detective. And Oscar de la Renta made my clothes forChapter Two. The most beautiful fabrics—I don’t think I ever looked better!”
For the past 18 years Mason has made Abiquiú, New Mexico, her home.
“My friend Shirley MacLaine, who has a house there, called one day and said she had seen some fabulous land that I should buy. I went out, looked at it, and bought it. I had no idea what I was going to do with 250 acres, but somehow it all evolved.
“I’ve always loved gardening,” she adds, “and I’ve always been interested in organic and the alternative methodology of health and fitness. So I started educating myself about the land. There were a lot of local active advocates for organic farming, and I began to learn about Rudolf Steiner and biodynamic farming. I hired someone who worked for a small seed company called Seeds of Change. One thing led to another and I began to focus on growing medicinal herbs and invited local herbalists to visit the farm and advise me.”
Mason formed a partnership with a giant herbal enterprise and has grown the business substantially. Now, after selling the business and the land, Mason has made another bold move—this time, here to Washington.
“This will be the fourth house I’ve built,” says Mason. “I have several dear friends in the area and it’s close enough to New York. So far it has been magical.” She is at peace with herself and has an appreciation and understanding of the forces that led her to this point. One thing she misses: her racing-car days.
“I had such a great time, and now being so close to Lime Rock I just might try it again.”
And with that twinkle in her eye, you can bet she will.