Meet Later Mom: Actress/Author/Artist/Philanthropist Jane Seymour
Actress, producer, artist, designer, philanthropist, and mother of six, Jane Seymour, 64, is a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winner, known for her roles in Live and Let Die, Somewhere in Time, East of Eden, and the acclaimed television drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Her love of art has led her to great success as a painter in watercolors and oils. In 2008, Jane partnered with Kay Jewelers to design a special jewelry collection called “Open Hearts by Jane Seymour.” In 2010, Jane launched the Open Hearts Foundation, which works to empower people to turn their personal adversity into opportunities to help others, and is also involved in numerous philanthropic causes including Childhelp, American Red Cross, and City Hearts.
I, Robin Gorman Newman, founder, MotherhoodLater.com, had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Seymour during a recent trip to New York City (Ms. Seymour lives in Los Angeles), and she is lovely (inside and out), forthcoming, accomplished, engaging, inspiring, sincere, and a delight to hang with. I thank her for taking the time to share with me and our audience. Hope you enjoy the interview.
ROBIN: You are clearly a woman who embraces change and have experienced a lot of it.
JANE: I realized very early on in life that change was actually a catalyst for something better to happen. And, as uncomfortable and painful as change might be, especially when you don’t ask for it, accepting and moving forward through it and taking experience from it, gives you an opportunity to lead a richer life.
JANE: My mom was a survivor. Everyone I know who is a child of a survivor is a survivor. You walk the walk. My mother was a very big influence in my life, and my father too. He was an amazing man. We didn’t have much money, but we went to galleries and museums, read books and listened to classical music. My mother was very much the homemaker — so I learned to how to cook, sew and create. They were both very concerned about my wanting to become a ballerina — it was absolutely not their plan. But, they respected that I had a passion in life and ultimately suggested I become a teacher, but I said I’d be unhappy doing that. To give them credit, they eventually stopped telling me what I should do and just watched and were very proud of me.
ROBIN: You’re been married four times (curently divorced), and it seems have maintained a positive relationship with your ex-husbands. How have you achieved that?
JANE: I see them all all the time, and they are friends with one another, and they joke about the time they spent with me. We’ve been able to accept what happened, while not forgetting or disregarding the good we had together. Once you love someone, you always love them. You may not be right married or to be in a relationship for a long time, but the relationship you had was valuable, and then it becomes something else, if you’re fortunate. You can figure out how to have a different type of relationship.
ROBIN: Did your parents have a happy marriage?
JANE: Yes, for all intensive purposes. They were married quite a long time, but it was like the old-fashioned marriage. They both survived World War II and were grateful to have life. They had children, and my father, who was a doctor, worked really really hard and was gone a lot, but my mother would always take us to visit him in whatever hospital he was working in. My mother was very sociable. They had tried to starve her in the concentration camps so it was all about food. Let’s have another meal! It was always about entertaining. Our house was always open to the nays and strays, we used to say.
JANE: Four I gave birth to and two step kids. As far as I m concerned, they are all my children. With your first child, you try to do everything to perfection. At the same time, I was at the height of my career. I had just starred on Broadway in the original Amadeus, which won Tony Awards, and had done East of Eden – I won Best Actress – and I had Somewhere in Time come out all in the same week. Weeks later, I announced I was pregnant. Nobody in those days did theatre, television and film, and the last thing on your mind would be having a baby.
ROBIN: Was your first pregnancy (with third husband David Flynn) planned?
JANE: Semi-planned. Not really quite at that time. I didn’t think I was going to get pregnant that easily. We had been living together and planned to get married, and I had been taking care of and spending time with Jenny, David’s older daughter, so my biological clock was ticking quite loudly. I had Katie (at age 31), and I wanted to have natural childbirth, breathe my way through it, possibly have the baby in a hot tub, have a doula, but my father was an OB/GYN in England, and he said “there is no reason to have pain, so get an epidural, and do not have a baby anywhere but in a hospital because even in the most normal of pregnancies, something can happen. And, while you may be wiling to take that risk, do you really want to know that your child who might have needed emergency help didn’t get it?!” So, I had the baby in the hospital, and it wasn’t a perfect birth. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone what happened here…..but she tried to exit from two places at some time. The doctor said he’d never seen anything like that. So, there was a lot of stitching going on. And, the interesting thing is that when Katie was pregnant with Willa, she announced she was gonna have a doula, etc., and I reminded her of the story of what happened with her. I’ve learned, though, with children that they never listen to you.
Katie turned out to be an amazing young woman. She graduated from Columbia University, is a wonderful actress and writes great comedy and does print work, and is about to have child #2. Her daughter Willa says, “Mama has a pizza in the oven.”
JANE: I love it. I always thought that grandparents were so boring. How many times do you hear “Grandchildren are so much better than children. Oh….you must see my grandchildren!” But, once you have a grandchild, that is it! It is magic. I’m still working a lot, but I’m hoping to spend more time with them.
ROBIN: You did IVF during your fourth marriage to James Keach. Was it challenging?
JANE: Yes…with the twins. We had a couple of times where it didn’t work. It was emotionally a major roller coaster. I tell anyone who tries to do it that on paper it looks easy, but in reality, it’s very hard. I had preeclampsia which often happens when you have a late pregnancy. But, the boys turned out great. They were on heart monitors for the first six months, but one is now on scholarship in Colorado playing baseball, and the other is a rock musician. They both seem to have lungs on them, and it was their breathing that was a challenge.
ROBIN: How old were you at that time?
JANE: I was 45 when I gave birth. My doctor told me that physically I had the body of a much younger woman, and I sprung back from it well. But, I didn’t gain as much weight as I should due to the preeclampsia, and I’m a small person, so I ran out of space to carry them. Good thing I didn’t have three or more.
ROBIN: How did it feel becoming a mom at 45?
JANE: I wasn’t working when I had Katie. With the twins, I was working on Dr. Quinn, so I went straight back to work. It was very very hard to hold on to that pregnancy. I brought the twins with me on the set. We had a special baby trailer. My makeup artist decided to get pregnant at the same time. She figured we’d have the same time off. And, my poor hairdresser, who is gay, all he heard all day was the two of us pumping. And, he went on to marry his boyfriend and have three children. Everyone on Dr. Quinn decided to have babies. Even the creator of the show did IVF and wound up with twins as well. There was one episode where all the babies were in one scene…..it was a nightmare since they weren’t professional babies…but very cute.
ROBIN: You’re 64, and I read in your book, REMARKABLE CHANGES, that you embrace aging.
JANE: Well….it’s better than dying. I had a near death experience a number of years ago when I played Maria Callas in Onassis. I had an anaphylactic shock. I’ve had three times where I’ve been close. That time, they had to resuscitate me. I really value life so much. I remember looking down at this body that was mine, realizing I wasn’t in it, and I totally grasped the concept that your body is really a vehicle. You need to service it like a car. You use the right gasoline and you run it. If you want to be comfortable in your body and be able to use it to the best of your ability for as long as you’re fortunate enough to have it, you have to take care of it. If you don’t care, then that’s your choice. I eat healthfully — I am a foodie and love good wine — but I never do anything too much. I exercise, not crazily. I listen to my body. I had a back injury. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. So, I wouldn’t say I’m embracing aging. I’m trying to be the best I can for the age I am. I’m not pretending to be a 40 year old.
JANE: I tried it a long time ago. I did it briefly. I didn’t do bio-identical, and I haven’t done it for the longest time. They now have ways of giving you enough hormones in a very specific area should you need it or want it. I think that’s genius, so you’re not compromising your possibility of triggering any kind of cancer. My father was one of the first doctors to use hormone replacement. He tested it out on my mother before anyone knew about it. She ended up needing a hysterectomy, but he caught her in time, and she lived to tell the tale. My mother lived to 92, had a kidney removed when she was 7, went through World War II pretty much starving, had macular degeneration, but she still kept going. She was very much an optimist. She had arthritis, but that didn’t stop her from moving around. She was never a complainer. I remember one time in America, she had some reason to go to the doctor and he ran a battery of tests, which they often do in this country but not in England. As he proceeded to tell her all the things that maybe aren’t working quite right now, she said, “Thank you very much, but I’m absolutely magnificent!” So, if I have any gem to pass on, it’s to enjoy the moment you’re in. It’s now. Be absolutely magnificent!
ROBIN: In testing hormone therapy on your mother, was your father hoping to be a pioneer for women?
JANE: I think he was just interested in what was out there. His best friend was Dr. Patrick Steptoe who did the first IVF. My father’s specialty was infertility.
JANE: They have learned from me that it’s good to have and follow your passion. They’re all very creative. It’s not something I said they have to do….it’s just something they did when they were with me. I was not able to pass on any genetic extraordinary ability to do math. It passed way over my head. But, I can draw, design, paint, sculpt. My children are very talented in many many areas of being creative. And, they embrace the idea of working hard…and value family. My kids love to cook and all the things I did with my mother. Even my sisters and their kids are the same way. What my mother taught us is practiced by every member of my family.
What I’ve learned is that every single one of them is going to be their own person…from day one…so get ready for the ride. I appreciate them all for their differences. It’s essential to give them space to become their own people and to not try to control them, but to provide them with a safe environment, give them an opportunity to see the world and have as many extraordinary experiences as possible and open their hearts and minds to every culture. Teach them to be loving people and to realize there’s always someone worse off and to try to be of service.
They grew up in Hollywood, alongside many of the infamous people, and you don’t hear anything. People who know them say they’re humble, good, smart, fun…they’re good guys. I’ve very proud of them.
JANE: I think it’s always been tough to parent, but it is very hard now. The values are different. No one has time to have a little peace in their lives and have thought. All my kids meditate. They really appreciate being able to turn off and listen to their spiritual selves. None practice any kind of religion but are very connected to the concept of being part of the universe. To be able to quiet the mind and process what is going on in your life and to find calm and focus is so important. It’s hard to focus when you have so much over stimulation coming into your life. One of my sons has ADD, and to this day, if he’s organizing things or dealing with taking care of his house, etc., oh my g-d, but with his work, he’s laser sharp, visual, amazing, very talented.
ROBIN: How was it parenting a child with ADD?
JANE: It was very frustrating because he couldn’t read or write in 4th grade. Both of his older sisters were off the charts — A in everything….AP classes. One went to Vassar, the other to Columbia. They both aced everything. I never even had a chance to look at their homework. We had a joke in the house — I used to say — “Don’t you ever do that again…we do not allow As in this house.” I used reverse psychology. “And if you get into an Ivy League university, I don’t want to know about it.” Humor works. The one with ADD has a fantastic brain — extraordinary ideas and concepts that nobody thinking in the normal way would probably see — and what I would say to people with kids like that is that yes, it’s incredibly frustrating. You want your children to be best at this and that and to fit into the box, but not every child is supposed to go to college, be good at math, or whatever. I never went to college, but I got to testify at Congress…so there ya go. You find your own place. Good parenting is helping your child find their strengths versus focusing on what they’re not doing as well as someone else.
ROBIN: If someone is contemplating motherhood at age 35+, what advice would you offer?
JANE: You need a lot of energy. Any combination of family can happen these days. There are a lot of people with kids who don’t want them or can’t take care of them. Any child that is wanted and fought for and found and nurtured, that’s a very lucky child. Being a mother isn’t necessarily about being a biological mother. There’s lots of amazing stories of people who have mothered children who never actually gave birth to a child.
JANE: I think I should have spent some time with teenagers first. The thing that people think is….”Oh….we’re gonna have a baby! And, then it’s done and now I’m a parent.” Every child is different, and there’s no handbook on it. Each child is unique and special, and the advice I’d give is to hear them — really listen — even if you don’t agree.
ROBIN: How did you balance all your career pursuits with parenting, and include self care in the mix?
JANE: It never occurred to me to take care of myself. Only recently did I suddenly stop when someone asked me “What do you want for you?” I had never asked myself that question. But, by the same token, I’m incredibly grateful for all the choices I’ve made. I got a career, I had a family. I could have done without some of the divorces and financial stuff that happened, but for the most part, I’d say I’ve had an amazing experience. And, I really appreciate life. If you don’t have downs, you can’t have ups. There were movies I turned down because I couldn’t take a child there. I took them on location for every film. I had a nanny with me because otherwise the children wouldn’t have been safe. I parented as much as I possibly could. Even to this day, I talk to my kids regularly. I know exactly what’s going. The great thing about having a family is that you have them forever.
ROBIN: What would you suggest to someone who never got married and doesn’t have family?
JANE: When I was growing up, there were a lot of kids who either didn’t have parents or had them and they were gone, and we had many who spent their formative years in our home. When you open your heart to someone and connect, you create your own family. It doesn’t have to be a DNA family. For some people, their animal is their family. There’s no reason why you can’t be a kind of a parent to somebody at any time in your life. You can be a mentor mom.
ROBIN: You founded the Open Hearts Foundation. Can you tell us about that.
JANE: What we do is single out people with a challenge in their lives and use that as an opportunity to help others. So, basically, we are a pass through foundation. We decided not to reinvent the wheel in creating a foundation, so we choose people whose stories are inspirational to everybody, and we raise money for our choice of charity. We also support programs where the message of the open heart is emphasized.
JANE: I was painting and was asked to do some things for the American Heart Association for women’s heart health. I painted a heart, and every time I painted one, I left it open. It reminded me of my mom. I started painting a sequence of hearts and really liked it. I trademarked it….was surprised now one else had.
Then, my mom, at age 92, had a stroke in England….the only thing she feared having. It was devastating. She couldn’t talk anymore. I kept going back ‘n forth to visit. We knew she was gonna die within a month or so. She had heard that I was asked to do Dancing with the Stars…her favorite show…and she managed to say “yes”. For Dancing with the Stars, I had a necklace made for myself of an open heart. I wore it to a dinner that ABC asked me to go to, and there were executives from Kay Jewelers at the dinner. They asked me about it, and wanted to work together, and I said yes, on the condition that the message is the most important. And, that’s what they’ve done. I’m very proud of Kay Jewelers who are also now with Peoples in Canada and H Samuel in England and Zales and Jared as well. They join me in supporting the Open Hearts Foundation. It’s my mothers message…..the universal symbol of giving and receiving love, and it has no boundaries.
I have another image called The Wave. I always talk about how life is like you’re on a body of water….the ocean going somewhere. And, the woo-hoo moment is when you first kiss, fall in love, make the team, win the prize, and then you come down. A lot of people are terrified when change happens. That high moment becomes frightening because they fear they may never dare to do it again. But, actually, think of the wave. It lets go of water it no longer needs, and as it crashes, it goes straight back up. If your heart and mind are open, you can be receptive of new opportunities and relationships that come, and you create a new wave.
ROBIN: You have written books for the Open Hearts Collection.
JANE: I’ve written and published four books. Open Hearts. Among Angels. Open Hearts Family. The Wave. They explain the philosophy behind the collection.
ROBIN: Any other current projects you’d like to mention?
JANE: I’m a painter, and I do about 12 art shows a year. I also design furniture, bedding, and other things. I am Executive Producer on I’ll Be Me (The Glen Campbell Story) which aired recently on CNN. I’ve made two Jane the Virgin television appearances, and will be shooting another. I have a feature film in festivals which I’m very proud of, called Bereave….with Malcolm McDowell, Keith Carradine and Vanessa Shaw. I have so much going on.
ROBIN: What else to you aspire to do?
JANE: I want to see the Open Hearts message spread. I want to see people being singled out for helping others. We hear all about the bad stories. I’m hoping to highlight organizations that a lot of people may not have heard of. I’ve always supported organizations that promote foster care and adoption. I also think the American Red Cross is fantastic. We are very supportive of many Alzheimer’s organizations, Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and St. Jude’s. Children are our most endangered species.
ROBIN: It seems like being a mom is a major presence in your life.
JANE: Very much so.