Linda Lavin was, and by far still is, a successful and talented Broadway actress. Long before her introduction to the Broadway stage however, she had already had more exposure to the arts and entertainment industry than most children her age. She grew up in Portland, Maine, of Jewish parents, and was strongly encouraged by her mother, Lucille Potter Lavin, to pursue the arts. After all, Lucille was a renowned talent in her own right and had performed numerous times in concerts, radio and early television. However, as Linda explains, "ultimately she gave up her career, because it was not easy or acceptable for women in those days of a certain culture and certain class, the middle class, to be on the stage and also have a husband and a family. But there was always singing the house. She had her own radio show in Portland, Maine and when I was a little girl I used to go with her every Wednesday night and sit in the control booth and watch her do her show."
As a teen, Linda was encouraged to learn and practice playing the piano, something she readily admits was more fear-inducing than fun. "It was always acting, singing and dancing that I loved. Not the horror of performing on the piano in front of an assembled audience of quiet people. I'd forget the piece just before I went out to do the concerto, the panic was too great . This was not anything that gave me pleasure. This was fulfilling somebody else's dream." In addition to piano lessons, she was taught to sing by her mother.
Linda during college years
In her senior year, Linda went to audition in a local play, "Smiling The Boy Fell Dead," and landed the part of Dorothea. It was ultimately the play's producer who encouraged her to realize her full potential and pursue acting full time. Torn between wanting to act and her parents's wish for her to attend college, she compromised and enrolled in "The College of William and Mary" in Virginia, but majored in Drama and performed in every play that was possible to do. During summer breaks, she headed for New York to audition for Broadway plays.
Her first Broadway performance was, "A Family Affair," where she was in the chorus, and later she landed the part of Lois Lane in the 1965 musical "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman," and went on to win a Drama Desk Award for her performance in "Little Murders."
After college, Broadway became her home away from home, until she accepted the part of Alice Hyatt in the new television series, "Alice," and was propelled into a new role and a new Hollywood life almost overnight. She recalls the early days of "Alice" in 1976 very well. "A new town, all that pressure -- driving on the freeway is scary enough! It was a brand new life and very exciting. As for her character, even to this day Linda is considered a role model for women across America. As she states, "I discovered that the character of Alice Hyatt represented 80% of the working women in this country, the blue and pink collar women. Hundreds of women have come up to me and said 'It was because of watching Alice that I could get through another day with the baby in a high chair. I knew that if she could do it, I could do it. I could go back to school, I could get off welfare, I could change my life.'"
In a film with her first husband
Ron Leibman in 1979.
However, as she says, "Stars don't often outlive their series ... once the series ends, you have no clout. One needs to look at the reality. When "Alice" ended, I asked myself, ‘What are you? An actor? You can't play the star. Where are your roots?' Mine were in the theater. I knew I'd better find out if there was a life for me after "Alice."" During her Alice years, Linda was the highest paid performer in a half-hour series at that time, and admits she enjoyed her years there but, as she points out, "when it's over, it's over."
Since "Alice," she has appeared in numerous Broadway plays over the years, as well as appeared in two additional television series, "Room for Two," which ran from 1992 to 1993, and "Conrad Bloom" in 1998. However, she also had a strong desire to explore new horizons, which ultimately led her to the teaching and directing arenas. Recently she started a program to help young girls between the ages of 12-14 with self-esteem issues to assist them in overcoming shyness and help them realize their full potential.
Linda in 2001, on stage with Michelle Lee
in "Tale Of The Allergist's Wife"
Linda keeps up a New York apartment as well as a home in Wilmington, North Carolina, which she discovered when she was producing a television film. She married current husband, Steve Bakunas, in 2005 and together they purchased and renovated a warehouse in Wilmington, transforming it into "Red Barn Studio," a combination art studio, theater and venue for art, acting and music classes. She has an active role in producing and performing in many of it's productions. To see the current schedule of performances, check out Red Barn Studio for more information.
Performing in the play, "Driving Miss Daisy," with Maxwell Paige in 2009.
Previously, her first marriage to actor Ron Leibman ended in 1980, and a tumultuous second marriage to Kip Niven, who appeared several times as guest actor on "Alice," ended in divorce in 1992. Niven sued for $11 million dollars as part of the settlement but in the end lost the case. Linda does admit to keeping in touch with Niven's two children, Jim and Katie, whom she helped raise and has a good relationship.
As for her TV son, Philip McKeon, who played Tommy on "Alice," she says "he could write once in a while! I am his mother! Actually, he's doing very well as a director. It would be fabulous to see him again."
Linda leaving a threater in New York City, 2008. Photo Credit: TMZ