Anita Hollander chats about how she lost her leg to cancer, how she continued her singing-dancing-acting career, and how she came to write her one-woman show, Still Standing.
Susan Dansby: You wrote a show about your experience.
Anita Hollander: Yes, Still Standing is what I call a musical survival guide for life’s catastrophes. It’s 15 songs that I wrote over a period of 16 years about my experiences. I had started writing the songs in ‘77 after my first operation while I was at Carnegie-Mellon – on a dare.
One of my favorite teachers said, “You know, well, you do nice songs. You sing Joni Mitchell and James Taylor very well. But really, your own voice is not there.” And I said, “Well, what do you want me to do? Write my own songs?” And she said, “Yes.”
And that next morning, to spite her, I had written two songs. And she said, “Yeah, that’s what I meant.” And 16 years later I had written 15 songs about the experience which took me through the second operation and getting married and having a baby and having a career as an actress and learning what was funny about having one leg and what was not funny.
And I ended up with an hour-long show which was mostly – in the end, I put all those songs together because I was inspired by a question that one of my dearest friends who died of AIDS asked me before he died and he said, “You know, you’re so positive. How did you get from there where you were with all that cancer and everything from there to here? How did you get from there to here?”
Susan Dansby: And that’s one of my favorite songs in the show [“Epilogue”].
Anita Hollander: Isn’t that funny? Because that was an epilogue that was stuck on the end of the show because it was my answer to Michael’s question – my friend Michael’s question. The whole show was really me trying to say, well, here’s what you have to live for and here’s what can help you and here’s… because I didn’t know how I had done it.
I just knew I had made it through those years. So it’s turned out that the show has a universal appeal to people – anybody who is going through something. And it doesn’t have to be cancer. And it doesn’t have to be an amputation. It doesn’t have anything to do with disability, just anything. People have really responded so positively over the years, you know. I mean, I’m no platinum seller –
Susan Dansby: Well, hopefully, everybody will check it out on iTunes because…
Anita Hollander: And Amazon.com too
Susan Dansby: And Amazon.com. Because I downloaded it and just loved it; just loved it because I loved seeing the world through your eyes and through your experience. And there’s really some fun stuff in there, too. What is that song? Mommy’s a Mermaid?
Anita Hollander: Oh, that’s funny, you read my mind. I was going to mention Mommy’s A Mermaid because that was a song I wrote for my daughter while she was still in my tummy when I was pregnant. Because I knew that my daughter was going to have to deal with the fact that people would stare at her mother. And I wanted her to have something in mind when that happened.
And a little boy in our building saw me swimming one day and said, “How does she swim with one leg,” to his mom in the elevator. And his mom said, “Well, you know Anita. She sings and she swims and she’s so beautiful.” Now she said that – I didn’t. And he looked up at her and said, “She must be a mermaid.” Because he had put those three things together.
So they told me about this and I said, “Wow, I’ve got to write a song like that.” And so, I wrote Mommy’s a Mermaid from the perspective of the little girl whose mom has one leg. And her mom says, “Don’t worry when people stare because you know your mom is a mermaid.” And she says, “You know, I believe it. Mommy is a mermaid.” And my daughter was – I used to sing it to her when she was in the womb. She came out of the womb; and by the time she was four, she was performing that song.
And she performed it at Disney World, and she performed it at the White House with me. And, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get her on the recording of it – which I really wanted to do. But it was impossible at the time for us to record her doing the song.
But she spent a good deal of her life – she’s 20 now – but a good deal of her life was spent performing that song. And she loved doing it – which I’m so lucky to have a daughter who actually liked the songs that I wrote for her. And sang them for people – no matter what. She would even suggest it. I never had to say, “Would you please sing the song?” She’d go, “Can I sing the song?” It is my favorite and it’s a lot of other people’s favorite song on the CD.
More about Anita Hollander:
Anita Hollander’s Bio
Anita Hollander’s Journey from Cleveland Child Actor to LAMDA
The Role Where Anita Hollander Offered to Lose Her Leg in the Second Act
Doing ‘Jacques Brel’ With a Bucket and a Pole