Women in the Sciences… a trilogy

1. Mary graduated with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Georgetown University in the summer of 1969. We had been in DC for six years by this time and we had two small boys. John was born in 1966, but other than taking a little time to give birth, Mary continued her studies. I don’t know how she did it, but then I was never able to fathom the incredible things Mary accomplished, while others couldn’t. By this time, I had been at Arena Stage for six years and was anxious to work in a theatre where my acting talents were appreciated more than being the reliable assistant stage manager. Plus, we were anxious to “get out of Dodge”.

You see, Mary had a National Science Foundation Fellowship… a tax-free stipend to help her get through graduate school. Since we were living in Virginia, we paid taxes there and when we were filling out our tax forms we were informed that if Mary had to perform any duties, either real or implied, that her monies constituted employment, as was taxable income. You can imagine… if we had to pay taxes on Mary’s $2300 and my $40 a week salary… there was no way we could do it. We finally were able to obtain letters from Mary’s professors and from the NSF that Mary’s grant was, indeed, tax-free… we sent them off to the state of Virginia and eventually received an acknowledgment that we were off the hook. Here’s the rub… in the 5 years since we thought we had our tax situation solved, there had been a regime change in Virginia. We got a letter stating that we owed taxes and penalties for six years. Their rationale was that the government couldn’t give money without expecting something in return… therefore, the grant must be taxable. In a panic, we found an attorney… actually an uncle of one of my theatre friends, who agreed to take our case pro bono. He said we’d probably lose at the state level, but we could prevail at the national level and it would give him a chance to argue before the Supreme Court. We didn’t have much choice. We wrote to the State of Virginia, saying we refused to pay and for them to take us to court. A rather terse reply informed us that it didn’t work the way. We had to pay and then we could take THEM to court to try to get the money back. We couldn’t pay… so we just ignored it.

Within a month, the state of Virginia had attached our bank account… we didn’t have much, less than $200, but it was all we had. Virginia also sent a notice Arena Stage to garnish my salary. I asked if they had to do it, they checked with their attorney and it was determined that the weren’t required to honor Virginia’s demand for my money, so I asked them not to. We still had a couple of months till Mary’s graduation and my stint at Arena Stage was over. We didn’t dare put any money in our bank account. Have you ever had to pay cash for everything you buy? Rent, groceries, gas, babysitters… especially when you have no cash, and no way to get any!

We finally left Virginia as fugitives from justice…. in 1973, I was touring in a play…”Summer and Smoke” with Eva Marie Saint and one of the stops on our tour was the National Theatre in DC. The theatre company had arranged housing for the company at a hotel in Arlington. Mary and I looked around and found a hotel, in the same price range in DC and we stayed there. No sense in tempting fate.

2. When we got to NY…. Mary was awarded a Post-Doc fellowship at Sloan-Kettering, in Rye, NY. (about 25mi from the city) She was one of six fellows… the only woman. The guys were all great, really smart… and most of them were married and had already started their families. (as Mary and I had). Her fellowship didn’t start until Jan. 1970…. we moved to NY in Oct. Luckily, I had a tiny role in a Broadway play… Arthur Kopit’s “Indians”, with Stacy Keech, Sam Waterston, Charlie Durning… Manu Tupo… all big names. I was playing Jesse James. The name was much better than the part. I had three lines and sang a snatch of a song in the saloon scene. The show was in trouble and closed the 1st week in December, so it was propitious that Mary’s fellowship kicked in January 1. When the administrators met Mary and the other recipients for their first formal meeting, the brass of Sloan-Kettering explained the pay scale. There was a $3,000 stipend for each fellow with an extra $500 for each dependent. So, if you were married and had two children, that would mean an extra $1,500 for the year. When they got to Mary, they said, “You don’t get it because you’re married”. Mary said to them… “You don’t understand, my husband is an actor”. And then they said…. “Well… he might get a job!” The glass ceiling of the sciences!! Long story, short, I stayed home with the boys that first year… collected unemployment most of the year. I loved that year I got to spend with my boys. In many ways, I think I got the gift of spending a LOT of time with my sons, that few fathers… especially in those days got to experience. We lived in a neighborhood in Rye… parts of Milton Point were very posh, but we were in a little 2 block area of mostly summer cottages. We had talked our landlord into “winterizing” his cottage and we lived there. We had no hot water heater… water was heated by the furnace … so you had to take really quick showers. I was about the only man that was in the neighborhood during the day… so after school, all the neighborhood kids were knocking on my door and saying, “Can Mr. Cox come out and play?”

3. After a year of touring with “Summer and Smoke”, our final stop was in L A. “Deliverance”, was a big hit, and all of a sudden I was being offered roles that I wouldn’t even have heard about before. As soon as the play closed, I was offered a TV Movie with Elizabeth Montgomery… ( I loved Lizzie) and as soon as I finished shooting “A Case of Rape”, (which won all kinds of awards and was the highest-rated TV Movie for 10 years), I was offered a series of my own, “Apple’s Way”. Luckily, Mary was finishing up her Post-Doc, so I rented a house in Westwood and Mary packed up Brian, John and our dog, Trixie and she drove them out here to California. Mary had gone to school, solid, from the time she was five, now she was in her early 30’s. For the first time in our married life, we didn’t need her fellowship money to make ends meet, so she decided to take some time off. Well, it was only a couple of months till Mary got antsy and felt she needed to do something. We were living in Westwood, so one day she went to the UCLA chemistry department…. she introduced herself. Anyone who knew Mary would know how difficult that was for her since she was excruciatingly shy. Anyway, she said she’d just finished her Post-Doc and was offering to help out. They did NOT want her in the building. She was aware but had never had it driven home as forcefully, that all of those guys were scrambling for research grants. They were terrified she might do SOMETHING to attract a grant and that they might lose out. THEY ASKED HER TO WASH TEST TUBES… Within the next year, Mary made a remarkable discovery about herself. She realized that she loved being a mom. She didn’t turn off her brain… she started writing… she read 10 books a week. I only, ever, heard her atrticulate… her decision to walk away from the sciences. Most people don’t know, but Paul Verhoeven had a Ph.D. in Chemistry. One night she and Paul were talking about it. Both agreed… they loved the discipline to get to the ultimate goal but at the end of the day… they each felt that it was a little “bloodless”. Mary never regretted walking away from her career in Chemistry.