Cathy Moriarty: Disappearing Act

Whatever happened to the Oscar-nominated star of Raging Bull? Cathy Moriarty drops a few hints about her lost decade.

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It doesn't happen to doctors or lawyers or teachers or busdrivers. They don't leave work one day and just disappear. They might call in sick, they might change offices or firms or schools or routes, but they don't evanesce like dew in the desert. Not so with actors. Actors vanish. A confluence of forces can push them from the screen, from the mind, seemingly from the landscape. Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow.

One of the disappeared was Cathy Moriarty. Remember her? Plucked from obscurity at age 18, an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for her work opposite Robert De Niro in Marty Scorsese's 1980 masterpiece, Raging Bull? She went on to do Neighbors in 1981, and then...what? A void. A silence. A gaping hole in the filmography.

I wondered what had happened. Had she gone off to raise kids and kumquats in the Valley? Had she holed up in a dingy Hollywood apartment with her cats and her cheek-bones and her limited store of memories? I hadn't a clue. Few did. Calls were made. Feelers put out. We heard she was living in a small apartment in Beverly Hills. She wanted to talk about her comeback. A breakfast meeting at the Four Seasons was arranged.

I sit at a corner table and wait. She walks in. Tall, blonde, still easy on the eyes. The voice husky and mellifluous. She slides her cigarettes and lighter onto the table.

"No smoking section," I say. "Do you want to move?"

"No, I'll try to make it," she says. No trace of the Brooklyn accent. She orders coffee and a dish of strawberries. Two middle-aged Hollywood hucksters suddenly materialize. One guy introduces himself and reminds Cathy that she met him and Robert Davi in Utah at the Sundance Film Festival. She pretends to remember. When he leaves, she says, "I know Robert Davi, but I don't know that guy, and I've never been to Utah." But hey, that's okay. If people are seeing her where she's never been, that's got to be better than not being seen in places where she is. That's the way it was--up until last year.

"I've come a long way," she says. "I've been around forever...okay? Almost 13 years. And I'm starting to accomplish things. I'm where I'd like to be." As if to reassure herself, she says--and will continue to repeat, like a mantra, throughout the interview--"I'm in control, I'm happy. I'm at ease. I'm calm."

In the past ten years, Moriarty appeared in a total of three movies, and chances are you've only heard of two of them. Now, suddenly, she's been jump-started. In the past 12 months she's made three more movies--all of them with people you've heard of. If she keeps up this pace, she might soon have a sandwich named after her at the Stage Deli.

The first new film is Indian Runner, a 1960s era drama written and directed by the noted actor-pugilist, Sean Penn. Moriarty says, "Sean called me and said, 'What will it take for you to do this picture?' I said, 'Ask me.' "I ask her about Penn's managerial style and social skills. After all, we're not talking about Robert Bly here. Moriarty will dish no dirt. "He knew exactly what he wanted," she says. "It was a pleasure working with him." Uh-oh. I can sense we're not going to be rubbing up against much hard-edged reality here.

Moriarty seems surprised when I ask what Indian Runner is about. She hesitates and worries her brow. She seems stumped, which surprises me. After all, I'm not asking her about the refinancing of Poland's national debt. Maybe she read only her own scenes and has no idea what the story is about. Maybe she's forgotten how to do publicity. When I give her this opportunity to type her film, all she can say-- after some very long moments pass by--is, "God...it's a film about people." As opposed to, say, a film about protons? Given this precis, I decide to forego asking about her two other films, Soapdish, with Sally Field, Kevin Kline, and Whoopi Goldberg, and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, with that man for all period pieces, Armand Assante.

Instead, I ask Moriarty if we might take a walk back in time to see both how it all began and what went wrong. For she has, in a sense, been reborn. The last ten years have been painful ones, emotionally and physically. If, as she says, her winning the role of Vickie LaMotta in Raging Bull was "her ticket to heaven," it hasn't been a direct flight.

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