By Kelli DeWalt
The hit series “Gossip Girl” may dish some pretty dicey rumors, but Margaret Colin, who plays the catty mother of Blair Waldorf, knows where real gossip thrives: on the Hofstra campus. That’s where Colin first learned her craft, thirty years ago.
A Long Island native, Colin chose the University because of its great reputation and fabulous alumni such as Francis Ford Coppola and Madeline Kahn. Hofstra also provided her with a generous scholarship and grant aid, which was important because she’s one of five kids. Fortunately, she says, it worked out for the best.
“My first semester there, I was enormously comfortable. I was cast right away,” Colin says.
The professor who cast her and became her mentor was Dr. Richard Mason. “He didn’t really take anyone under his wing; he focused the laser of his attention on you. So, he hurt you and tortured you at the same time,” she says.
Fellow drama student Jean Tafler remembers Margaret in college as having “a sophistication that was beyond her years at Hofstra . . . she was always 30 years old.” She’s not surprise by her success because, “with that maturity and sophistication, she was more savvy about the business side than the rest of us.”
Tafler recalls that when Margaret and two other girls were on the publicity crew for one of the shows at the University, their supervisor was another student, Tom Savage. Whenever he had notes for them, he wrote on the board “Tommy’s Angels” – a reference to the then popular television show “Charlie’s Angels.”
While most actors struggle for years after college before landing a substantial role, Colin received hers in her junior year at Hofstra. “I was doing a ‘Clearing in the Woods’ when an actor came to see me and left his agent’s card backstage. I auditioned and got a job.” That job was “The Edge of Night” a half hour soap opera on Channel 7. While she went back to take classes a couple of times, she never graduated, yet she would like to.
“I think I have to set a better example for my children and actually get my degree. . . I wouldn’t mind going back to school for it but I’m not going to take math. So, if Hofstra felt like giving me an honorary degree I’d be really thrilled,” Colin says.
From “The Edge of Night,” Colin starred in such popular soaps as “As the World Turns” and “Now and Again,” as well as movies such as “Pretty in Pink” and “Independence Day.” Currently she’s on the ever-popular “Gossip Girl.”
Colin was given the pilot and was impressed by its flashiness. “After you do theater you need a money gig,” she says. “It was a put together, slick and glamorous show that was shot in New York.”
The show soon became a success and with that success came perks. “I love the clothes,” she says. “Watching that wardrobe room explode with more and more designer bags — it’s become very contagious.” She’s also impressed by her costars’ instant fame as well as hers. In reference to Leighton Meester and Blake Lively, she says: “I’ve never seen anyone with only a year and a half of being on a television series under their belt, be on the cover of W and Vogue.”
While Colin hasn’t been on the cover of the latest fashion magazine, she has a following of her own. “I can’t go to high schools; I can’t go see my cousin and nephew in plays because I’d be swamped,” she says. “It’s very entertaining. I’ve never been on such a television hit such as this and certainly not for this demographic.”
Colin’s favorite episode was one in which all her models for her show at fashion week disappeared. “It was such a wonderful out of control moment and she was so sabotaged by these vicious young women,” she says. She also admits how brutal her own character can be: “I think Eleanor at her best is an absolutely, wonderful reason why Blair is so obnoxious.”
Hope Lybeer, a 15-year-old from Georgia and avid viewer of the show, expands on this point, noting that Eleanor is always very strict and critical with her daughter Blair, because she doesn’t want anyone to do something that would detract from the ‘Waldorf’ name.”
In real life, Colin is the honorary co-chair of “Feminists for Life,” an organization of women who oppose abortion. She heard about the organization from her mother, who was an active member. “The idea that the unborn don’t have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the rights to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, she didn’t accept and neither did a lot of people 36 years ago,” says Colin.
She believes that the early feminists were very much in support of a child’s right to be born and she doesn’t see this view as conservative. “I think it’s a kind of radical idea that you want everyone to be born,” she says. “You want everyone that’s been created to be born, wanted or unwanted, planned or unplanned.”
Colin takes pleasure in this often controversial subject and enjoys speaking to people about it, especially the younger generations who grew up with abortion as right. She was even invited to the White House along with her friend, actress Patricia Heaton, to speak on the subject when President George W. Bush was in office.
While Colin has been in the business since college, she has no plans of stopping any time soon. “I really want to play more dynamic women on stage, more powerful, life-changing women on stage,” she says. She’d also like to be more involved with her community. Montclair State University, near her home in New Jersey, has asked her and her husband, Justin Deas, to teach master classes.
What would she do if she weren’t acting? Colin notes that she’s also a mom, political activist and “runs an empire.” But, she adds, “I’d make an excellent president.”
Watch a clip of Margaret Colin as Eleanor Waldorf: