More and More of Her Dreams Are Coming True
When the roof fell in, literally, on the theater Ilene Kristen had worked so hard to establish in New York’s Sheridan Square, Ilene pulled out of the project. She didn’t need the roof to hit her to know it was a losing proposition. Ilene, who plays Delia on Ryan’s Hope has tremendous energy and ambition. Sometimes it seems there would be no way for all her dreams to be fulfilled - except that, the more you get to know Ilene, the more you realize how many of her dreams HAVE been realized. She’s always wanted to be an actress, and, of course, has been since teenage. Sure, her first show “Henry, Sweet Henry” was a big flop, but then, she’s been in some great successes since, like “Grease.”
That’s where she met John Travolta, who remains such a good pal that they had a big reunion when he was in New York filming “Saturday Night Fever” with ex-daytime actress Karen Gorney. Ilene thinks the world of John, and says, “it’s not amazing what’s happening to him, but it’s all wonderful. That’s show business and at least he deserves it. He used TV to his best advantage. We’ll see what happens to him after this.”
We’ll also see what happens to Ilene, because there sure has been a lot happening these last few months!
For example, there was Ilene’s giving up the theater when a new location couldn’t be found to keep her Jean Renior movie theater project going.
There was Ilene’s moving into a new apartment in the same neighborhood where her family had lived when she was a kid.
“I couldn’t leave this area, it’s important to me,” Ilene said of her neighborhood. Lots of people unfamiliar with New York don’t realize that neighborhoods do exist in the city, making it like lots of small towns combined into one huge metropolis.
“I moved into my new apartment earlier this year and I’m still decorating it. It never ends. I go antiquing, still hitting the same places as before.”
Ilene moved just two blocks away from her former apartment which was a one bedroom duplex. Her new place is larger than the old, and more convenient.
“I wanted to stay within a ten block radius - there was no question of that!” said Ilene of her househunting.
This was Ilene’s year for the stage, too. She has done more plays in the first few months of this year than many actresses do in New York in a lifetime.
She had agreed to do a poetry reading of Dana Foley’s very personal poems. While she was rehearsing that reading, which graudally developed into a full scale production, she heard that a new script by Nicholas Kazan, Elia Kazan’s son, was being done at another off-off Broadway theater.
“Thought I should at least try out for it,” she said, having read the script and found it very funny.
Sure enough, she got the part of the dipsy, dumb blond Southern actress who is sent into a nest of nuts who plan to bomb their own community unless their demands are met. And what demands - a write up in “People,” a job with a public utility corporation, two pizzas, and no bussing in perpetuity.
It was a crazy, frenetic play and Ilene was an absolute show stopper as the sexy blond.
“I got reviewed in the Times,” Ilene told me with great enthusiam. “It’s the first time I was reviewed in the New York Times. My name’s been in the paper before, but my work was never reviewed there.”
The review said she was “sexy and instantly seductive.” The whole audience can attest to that. She was also very funny and totally different from the Delia we’ve all come to know on TV.
Her work in “Street Venus,” the poetry production, was different, too. It showed her as vulnerable and young and part of the confused young generation.
Ilene herself, however is not confused. As the years progress and her experiences expand, she gets more and more certain of herself.
This last year she ended one romance and began another. It was not easy for her, breaking up with her Joey, the song writing partner of her musical moments, but it was a step she knew she was ready to make.
Starting her own movie theater wasn’t easy, either. She worked hard and long to get her Jean Renoir operating, and had so many difficulties with it.
She was beginning to build up an audience on the lower east side where she had a theater rented on Second Avenue. Turned out that theater was operated by an unsavory element, so she moved out and into the former playhouse on Seventh Avenue South. That’s where the roof fell in just a few weeks after she had a gala party for the American Film Festival.
Tht party was attended by many film celebrities including Al Pacino, who became friendly with her that night.
Still, it was a thrill and surprise when Pacino and Robert De Niro together attended a performance of “Street Venus” to see her. “It was just very nice having the two of them there together,” she said of that occasion.
She did the poetry because, “I liked the stuff and I liked the people.”
Liking people gets her into many a situation, including the W.P.A. Kazan play. “I thought it was hysterical and I love Nick Kazan.”
The play WAS hysterical, and there’s talk of moving it to another theater. Ilene hopes so, because she enjoyed all the people who she worked with on the show and feels Kazan’s play deserves more of an audience.
During the time she was doing all three shows - Ryan’s Hope, by day, the Kazan in the evenings and the poetry on weekend nights at 11 P.M., she contracted a virus which she could not shake off, since there was no time to rest.
She finally had to miss one performance of the poetry reading, which disturbed her, but with laryngitis and exhaustion leaving her without energy and voiceless, there was no alternative.
We’ve often read stories of ailing actors who go on stage and perform as if nothing is the matter. “Well, it’s true!” Ilene said to me.
I knew it was, because I attended her performances when her voice on the telephone and in my living room, while we had herb tea, was a croaking whisper. Yet on stage it was strong and seductive, and on Ryan’s Hope the usual Delia.
Ilene loves working on stage, and is delighted that so many scripts have come her way this year. “People are starting to hand me plays, it’s exactly what I wanted to have happen,” she said of another one of her dreams coming true.
Threre are many places she’d like to work, not just Broadway, but fine off-off Broadway theaters as well.
“I’d like to work at the Actor’s Studio, for example, even just a reading,” she remarked when she invited me to attend another reading, but at new Dramatists.
Ilene was playing a motorcycle girl whose face was destroyed with acid. “She’s supposed to wear a motorcycle helmet all the time,” she said, “I don’t know if we’ll do the reading that way, but it would be fun!”
Ilene continues her interest in small antique pocketbooks which used to hang on the brick walls of her former apartment. She loves shawls and was wearing them and displaying them long before they became a popular fashion.
Petite and very thin, with well formed arms and thights, Ilene could easily dress wrong for her type, but she had an instinct for unusual, dramatic clothes which do the most for her exotic beauty.
Asked how she managed to get through the period when she had the virus and was working three shows, she remarked, “You do what you have to do.”
“The other day I saw the Ryan’s Hope show that I did the same day I had laryngitis and you can’t tell there’s anything wrong with me!” she seemed quite surprised.
People in the theater love seeing her act. In fact, Leonard Melfi just wrote a new play for her called “The Flower Girl.” Ilene and fellow actors did a reading for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in April. Only time will tell what will become of that play.
I aksed if she’d be going back into the movie theater business and she said, “I doubt it, there’s no place cheap enough to move into. Besides, I prefer the acting.”
She was far from sorry she had the experience of being a movie theater producer, however.
“The theater gave me a lot of confidence,” she said, “I know now I can attempt anything I set my mind to doing.”
It’s difficult for us to realize Ilene used to have those same doubts about success that most of us face, that she used to hestitate to tackle new projects, for fear she would not be able to complete them properly.
No longer does she feel that way.
This is a multi-talented girl whose co-workers admire her for her dedication to her work, her constant need to try new things in her profession, and her unwillingness to settle for second best in anything.
Ilene’s also special in that she is eager to help others in her profession. She has a warm, kindly attitude towards newcomers to the field, and is eager to advise and assist them.
She has tremendous enthusiasm and it is contagious. Working with her on a project makes you feel all gung ho, because that’s generally her attitude. Even in the midst of the worse adversity, she tends to find something humorous to say, something to laugh at and make you feel better.
She plays Delia to perfection - but the real Ilene Kristen is as giving and honest as Delia is taking and deceitful. One thing they share - they are both fascinating, complex and very lovely to look at ladies!