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Ocean's 100

May 24, 2007 By:
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Jane Seymour
A spritely splash of color on a white-hot spring steambath of a day, artist/actress Jane Seymour sees herself, tellingly, as ... teal.

And then some. "Actually," says the English-born beauty with the porcelain rose complexion of purity if not abetted by rose-colored glasses, "I think of my life as [colored in] red and teal -- red for passion, and teal, a color found in nature and the color of the ocean."

Ocean's 13? Ocean's 100: That's the number of her art works to be exhibited this Memorial Day weekend at the nationally-renowned Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor, N.J., where Seymour's bright brushstrokes of still lifes and landscapes are still major draws after a decade of deliberative dips and dances on the canvas of colors.

Canvass her about her career -- which includes Emmys and eminent performances on Broadway, screen and TV -- and see why Seymour, the onetime golden girl of two-timing James Bond in "Live and Let Die" and a two-time Golden Globe winner, has sought out the artful life. Her answer is almost artless in its watercolored candor.

Painting as a gloss on the pain she has suffered or a paean to her ability to overcome it? "I started to paint when my life was as ugly as could be; some people would have hit the bottle -- I don't drink -- but I hit the paintbrush," she says.

And it has been a collector's hit since. But not before she came face to face with surreal vicissitudes that would have made Dali delirious. The dark colors that stained a prominent career and life were mixed in a vat of vitriol and tossed at her with the abandon of a Pollack run pell-mell. "I started painting out of a time of adversity," she says of taking up the brush soon after the benchmark of turning 40 and being burdened by nearly unbearable strokes of misfortune and slaps at her soul.

"My father died of cancer, my husband had been unfaithful and he left me in bankruptcy -- he had been my business manager -- and I very soon was faced with prospects of not knowing where to live," she recalls.

But it was at a book signing for one of her tomes that she saw a sign of the times to come, when one of her fans in attendance turned out to be a painter whose advice on her art -- "He came by my house and saw the simple finger paintings I had done and encouraged me" -- drew her out of the corner life had painted her into.

Turning that corner meant not accommodating the bleakness but the brash blush of beauty. "Instead of painting angst and anger and sadness and despair, I painted serenity and peace," says Seymour, seizing on oils, sculpture, watercolors and mixed media to mix it up.

She is straight out of central casting now for "Portrait of an Accomplished Artist" whose credits read "inspired by Chagall and Matisse" and whose life has turned into an intriguing mini-series of maximum results.

But then, Seymour is no stranger to miniseries; indeed, at one time, she was dubbed its queen, acquiescing to the royal role of majesty of the TV medium.

The one-time ballerina stepped into the spotlight especially with her role as an American Jew in Europe caught amid the catastrophe that was the Holocaust in the adept adaptation of Herman Wouk's War and Remembrance in 1988.

The 30-hour, World War II-set series -- acclaimed and accomplished for its outstanding and astounding attention to detail -- brought the actress accolades and an Emmy nomination. But, in a way, Seymour, who earlier traveled "East of Eden" -- and to the awards podium to pick up one of her Golden Globes -- was now coming home.

She was all too familiar with the fate of those interned in concentration camps and subjected to the savagery of their fellow man.

Of War and Remembrances

"This is a role that wasn't acting for me," she says of portraying Natalie Jastrow Henry. "It went a lot deeper."

How deep her life? Enough to conjure memories and images of what her own parents went through in a real life of war and remembrances: Those of her British-born father of Polish-Jewish roots, many of whose family members died in the camps; and her Dutch mother, who was thrown into a prisoner-of-war camp for three years upon the Japanese invasion of her homeland.

And now, suddenly there was their daughter, shooting scenes in Auschwitz for the series, in which she lost weight as a way to serve as avatar for those who suffered before her.

See Jane run at the truth: It was all so edifying and enervating as both she and the director, the late Dan Curtis, got sick on the set, forcing it to be closed down for two weeks.

It all closed in on her, too, bringing Seymour closer to her Jewish roots: "I had to learn Hebrew and Yiddish, and how to bless the candles" for the role.

And if there was a song in her heart, it had a Yiddish accent since "I also had to learn a little nursery song which I sing in the film, 'Rozhiunkes Mit Mandlen.' And I've never forgotten when I called my father and told him about this little song that I had to sing."

She reached out and touched him. "I sang it to him on the telephone and he burst into tears."

It tore at his own past: "The last time my father had heard the song was when his grandmother had sung it to him."

What sang out to Seymour was a redefined religious awakening. "For the first time I felt -- I felt Jewish."

It wouldn't be the last time. The joy generated from her art -- "It's the happiest I can be, going to art shows and seeing my 'babies' exhibited" -- is cradled in the comfort she felt growing up as Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg, daughter of John, an obstetrician, and Mieke van Trigt.

"By the time my parents met, they were so glad to be alive," she says of their post-painful entanglements with the war that brought warmth rather than wariness.

"It was a wonderful home, and it was always about living a happy life."

Somewhere in time, Seymour has seen the light and the love -- the oft-married star has been wed happily to actor James Keach for the past 14 years and given birth to a chamber quartet of kids -- including twins born to her and Keach in 1995.

Of course, she has given birth to so much more also: Careers in design, fashion, writing, producing -- which includes the prospects of presenting a TV film about what her parents experienced. "Most people don't realize that there were Japanese concentration camps. There are so many stories of people who went through that experience; it's a good story worthy of being told."

Turned down by a network, the conceit may turn up elsewhere, says Seymour. "My sister [Sally Frankenberg] and I are thinking about doing it as part of our autobiography."

Make book on her persistence and empirical approach to her empire; the British government certainly has acknowledged Seymour's sensational page-turning life, bestowing upon her the honor of membership in the Order of the British Empire. And if her portrayal of Natalie Jastrow Henry is etched in the memories of millions, it may find its next brush with greatness at the hands of the artist herself. "I'm thinking of doing a portrait of Natalie, from the performance I gave," says Seymour.

Certainly she has given back before to her fans for art's sake, including a portrait of "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman," the high-plains healer this anything-but-plain-Jane played on TV in a series and series of movies beginning in the early '90s.

That portrait "speaks to who that woman was; I want to get to the soul of the person" when painting him or her.

It wasn't the sole time she felt such a kinship. "Natalie haunts me yet," confided Seymour.

Not haunting but hilarious, however, was her portrayal of the mother of all saucy mischief makers in "The Wedding Crashers" last year, in which Seymour offered a version of wedded blitz that blindsided her screen daughter's befuddled boyfriend. It was a prescient performance for an actress who would later that year appear on TV's "How I Met Your Mother."

"Crashers" raised the roof enough to have the Fiddler reaching for his glasses. It was Seymour's especially touchy-feely scene that now bares a naked truth about the 56-year-old actress whose sexiness transcends the ages -- even her 1987 pictorial for Playboy played with the imagination more than image as her siren call was one clothed in ... clothes.

The serious artist has her comic side, too, as appearances in a series of contemporary TV comedies such as "Modern Man" and "In Case of Emergency" attest to. But in case of an emotional emergency all she has to do is pick up her paint brush for a therapy Dr. Quinn would quickly applaud.

And that nostrum for life's nastiness is amply displayed at the Ocean Galleries this weekend, an appropriate venue for the artist/actress to commemorate Memorial Day, sharing her artistic insight into a life shaped and shared with memories both tragic and triumphant.

And colored, tellingly, in ... teal.

Info to Go
"The Art of Jane Seymour" is being shown May 26 to May 28 at Ocean Galleries, 9618 Third Ave., Stone Harbor, N.J. Receptions with the artist are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday evenings. For information, call 609-368-7777 or visit: www.oceangalleries.com.

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