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Jane participated in The Heart Truth’s Red Dress Collection 2009 Fashion Show to help raise awareness of women’s heart disease.
Dresses (including Jane’s) from the show are being auctioned off by Jane’s charity Clothes Off Our Back. We have also decided to make Clothes Off Our Back the first official MITMVC charity. So go bid on something and help improve the lives of children across the globe.
Photos in our GALLERY.
I haven’t met her yet, but Susan Lucci’s over there. You know, I was nominated seven consecutive times for the Emmy and never won, so people always say, “Oh, you’re like Susan Lucci!” She may be the shortest person here, and I may be the tallest, but other than that, we have a lot in common!
Last month Jane attended a concert in celebration of Barack Obama’s inauguration featuring Carole King, Yolanda Adams, BeBe Winans, and the Dartmouth College choir.
Read a great interview with Jane…
Heart-Conscious Actress Jane Kaczmarek Knows ‘The Price and Privilege of Citizenship’
Editor’s Note: One may assume that seven Emmy nominations and a gorgeous husband, “The West Wing’s” Bradley Whitford, would go to actress Jane Kaczmarek’s head. Well, think again. Kaczmarek, who currently appears on TNT’s “Raising the Bar,” couldn’t be more down-to-earth, and proved it when she sat down with wOw to discuss the charity she founded, Clothes Off Our Backs.
An online auction specializing in celebrity clothing and goods, COOB raises much-needed funds for a diverse mix of children’s, international and American non-profits.And, after learning about the devastation of heart disease on women everywhere, Kaczmarek joined forces with The Heart Truth, which auctions off dresses from the celebrity-heavy Red Dress runway show to raise money – and awareness – to fight cardiovascular diseases among our nation’s women. That auction, which can be found here, runs between now and February 27th.
Read on as Kaczmarek discusses her inspiration, how fame changed her and insuring her kids grow up with charitable hearts.
wOw: Hi, Jane! How are you?
JANE KACZMAREK: Fine, thanks. I’m just getting out of the beauty parlor and I’m sitting in my car driving home, where my daughter has spent the day home sick from school.
wOw: Oh, the poor girl!
JANE: So, I hope I can answer all of your questions.
wOw: Well, thank you for your time. First off, what was the inspiration behind your online charity auction, Clothes Off Our Backs, which you and your husband, Bradley Whitford, founded?
JANE: The inspiration was literally an embarrassment of riches landing on my doorstop when my husband and I became successful television actors. I was doing “Malcolm in the Middle” at the exact same time he was doing “West Wing,” and we were just stunned by all the free stuff you get when you’re a celebrity. And we wondered if there was a way we could channel it into raising funds for children’s charities. So, in 2002 we started Clothes Off Our Backs, and have raised probably close to $4 million now, literally selling clothes that no one is ever going to where again. So we have auctions going on all year long with all sorts of different Hollywood celebrity memorabilia — clothes and scripts and all sorts of things.
wOw: Before we discuss your work with children’s organizations, how did you get involved with Red Dress and The Heart Truth, which raise awareness about heart disease among women?
JANE: Well, we pick about three different charities, children’s charities, every year for which to raise money. We are a very hands-on, mom-and-pop organization that gives people really great service and a lot of attention. Anyway, a woman named Michel Schneider, who runs operations for me, had conversations with the Red Dress people and we realized that we were a perfect match. And so we are going to be doing the auction for the Red Dress fashion show to raise money for women’s awareness of heart disease.
wOw: Prior to your involvement with Red Dress, were you aware of how many women die from heart disease each year across the world and America?
JANE: No. I was stunned because we’re so aware of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer. There are so many women’s issues that are spotlighted that I assumed one of those was the leading cause of death in women. Something I learned recently, also, is that the signs of heart disease — or heart attack — in women, are very different than they are for men. I guess most of the research has been done for men’s heart disease, and not much research done about women. And I was surprised that being both, obviously, human beings, a male and a female human being, I didn’t realize it would be that the symptoms and treatments would be that different. So I’m having my eyes opened.
wOw: There was an article, about — maybe we read the same article — not only about the different symptoms, but that most of the advice being given out to women in emergency rooms is just wrong. Women all across the nation are being misdiagnosed when, in fact, they’re having heart attacks or have another cardiovascular disease. Doctors simply are not educated enough on the differences in how to treat women and men with the same disease, basically.
JANE: To hear you say that the doctors aren’t even aware … My goodness. Well, I hope some of them come to the Red Dress auction and learn something about this, because that’s really just terrifying. We live in the United States of America.
wOw: I know.
JANE: Someone just forwarded me an e-mail about a nurse who felt she had indigestion, but she knew she hadn’t eaten in hours. It felt like heartburn. Then she said she had a major pain in her jaw and she knew that jaw pain was a big sign of a heart attack in women. And I thought, “I’ve never even heard of that before.”
wOw: I wonder why that’s a symptom?
JANE: I don’t know, but there’s certainly a lot more to find out about it. So I’m happy that we can spotlight a cause that really is not very well-known. I mean, we all know how to check for breast cancer. But this certainly seems like an awareness whose time has come.
wOw: With regard to the other organizations with which you work, I know that you rotate each year, so how do you pick?
JANE: You know, I always say, “Whoever breaks my heart the most that year.” You go through these things and it’s — I have three healthy children — 11, 9 and 6 — and I don’t think there’s anything like being a mother of healthy children and having your heart broken by the agony — not only of sick children — but by the mothers. Being the mother of a child who’s sick or who is malnourished or, you know, is in some kind of horrible distress — it’s just more than you can bear. One of my favorite causes is The Smile Train, which repairs cleft palates in children in the third world. They were someone that Clothes Off Our Back worked with for quite a few years.
wOw: That’s a great cause.
JANE: We like to do an American charity, an international and then something in Los Angeles. One of this year’s is Art of Elysium, which helps seriously ill children in the Los Angeles area through art. Another we’re doing this year is Feed America, which is a food bank. And then this one called Hope North, which is rehabilitating child soldiers in Uganda. You can’t even begin to describe the horrors of what it must be like for a child to be taken from his or her family. And one of the ways that armies get these kids in the mindset of killing is that they make them kill one of their family members. And then they conscript them in the army and, you know, these are little boys, little girls and … well, mostly boys. Anyway, Hope North is a camp where these children are trying to be rehabilitated and given some hope after this horrendous experience. Forest Whitaker is very involved in this. And also this Project Malawi — you know, everyone’s aware of Malawi, I think, through some reasons, some adoptions — and we all know what’s going on in Malawi, or we’ve heard stories about it. But, that just seemed like a good place for which we could raise money.
wOw: Well, that’s so good, because so often — what you just said about people knowing about Malawi because Madonna adopted her child from there, that tabloid context almost makes these far off countries seem less real.
JANE: Yes. Yes it does, because you assume that if movie stars know about them, then help must be on the way, and it really isn’t. I mean, you can pluck one child out of that kind of hell, but there’s so much work to be done. There’s a group in San Francisco, called Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, and they have hospitals and schools in Malawi. There are all these wonderful, wonderful, small organizations in America. At Global AIDS Interfaith – a man named Bill Rankin runs it and I know people from Pasadena who go every summer and they work in these hospitals and they work with these people. They also raise money for bicycle ambulances to get AIDS patients to the hospitals, and they give small loans to women in the community to buy sewing machines so that they can start having some kind of industry. There are just so many opportunities to help. There are so many do-gooders, as my father once called them, to which I would reply, “Well, what would you rather have? Do-badders, Dad?”
wOw: Well, there are a lot of those, too, unfortunately.
JANE: But if you do a little research about some of these small organizations … They roll up their sleeves and they really get in there and they really are making a difference. And it makes me really happy to find them and to be able to raise some money for them. You know, we’re in a tough place now with the economy. Celebrity items on auction are taking a hit like everything else, I have a mentor in Mary Wright Edelman, who runs the Children’s Defense Fund, who said in one of her books, “Service is the rent we pay for living. And the higher your financial, or intellectual gifts, the higher your rent.” When I got very lucky in show business. I realized that I had quite a rent to pay and even if we’re going to not raise as much money now as we did when we started, it’s still more than these people would be getting if I weren’t doing anything. I feel it’s something I need to keep doing.
wOw: Good, good. Now, let’s switch gears, if you don’t mind, for a second. Whenever I meet a good actress, I wonder: Why did you choose to become an actress?
JANE: I love storytelling, you know, and I think that that’s why. I recently went back and did a play. This is the first year I’ve done a play in ten years, and I forgot how much I loved the theater. When I was in high school, I did the “Miracle Worker,” playing Annie Sullivan, who teaches Helen Keller how to communicate with sign language. And I was in three productions of “The Trojan Women” in college and at Yale. The stories of the Greeks and the history that comes through in plays is so powerful. I went to Yale Drama School and did a lot of theater in New York, and then you get to a place where you say, “Eh, you know, I’d like to pay those loans back and I’d like to buy a house.” And so you come to California and you get on a TV show and try to make ends meet and live a good life and then something like “Malcolm in the Middle” happens, or for my husband the “West Wing,” and suddenly your status changes. Malcolm was a very intense seven years. I had three babies in five years, nursed them, I went through menopause, had both hips replaced … It was quite a time.
wOw: That does sound like a lot.
JANE: And then it ended and I really thought, “What do I really want to do with the rest of my life?” And spending all that time doing a television series just wasn’t it. So I took a couple of years to be at home. And this show I’m doing now, “Raising the Bar,” came along. It really fits my schedule. It’s on a cable network, TNT, so we only do 15 episodes a year, and I only work a couple days an episode, so I have much, much more time to be a mom and to be part of my community. I live in Pasadena, which is just a wonderful place to live. I take an oil-painting class and a music-theory class and a letterpress class. I’m taking all these classes again. I’ve always loved school, so I’m really having a great life. I’d also like to be doing some theater again. But, back to your original question about becoming an actress — I think I was just always curious about people and history and poetry. I’ve always loved poetry and I think that when you’re able to tell a story in a beautiful way, you’re kind of hooked into doing it. And I’ve been lucky to be able to make a living doing that.
wOw: You were talking about how your status changed after getting “Malcolm.” Was that a strange transition for you?
JANE: Yeah, it was, because I found I had to be really nice to clerks and stupid people. [Laughs] Because lovely people knew you were that loud-mouthed mother from “Malcolm in the Middle,” so when you want to scream at somebody who’s just being a dope, you have to watch it because you know they’re going to go blabbing to all their neighbors that the lady from “Malcolm in the Middle” was in the store and she’s just like she is on TV. So that kind of changed. Also, I just came back from Paris. I’ve gone to France a couple of times since the show ended and I can’t tell you, I’m like the Jerry Lewis of France or something. People in Paris love “Malcolm in the Middle.”
wOw: Oh, wow.
JANE: They would go “L-u-i-e-s. L-u-i-e-s. M-a-l-c-o-m-e. M-a-l-c-o-m-e.” I couldn’t believe it. I was going through customs and the guy jumped over that little customs cubicle and had to take his picture with me. It was very delightful.
wOw: That sounds really great. We were talking about the tough economic times and how it’s impacted online auctioning. Everybody in America is really feeling the pinch. Have you been feeling the pinch? Is there anything that you’ve sacrificed?
JANE: You know, I live so … What have I got on? I have on a pair of pants that I wore as Lois in “Malcolm in the Middle.” I have on a top that — I don’t even know where the top came from. My shoes are from Target and I drive a Honda Civic. It’s a hybrid. I mean, I live in a big, honkin’ house, but I seem to have lived sparsely. I’m not such a big shopper. But I think the recession’s giving us all a chance to think about slowing down and consuming less. For Christmas this year, we took the kids to Wisconsin, which is where I’m from. We all went back to Wisconsin and the kids got a Wii, because finally I had to break down and let my children have something to do with a video game. And my daughters got an Easy Bake Oven. And that was it.
wOw: Oh, really?
JANE: For so long Americans felt obligated to buy so much stuff! And God knows nobody needs it. My kids didn’t even really notice it. They loved being in Wisconsin and playing in the snow and going sledding and being with my parents. I think it’s a really good idea to cut back, just because we’re all drowning in so much stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly feel for the hardship of people. I don’t mean to sound glib. I know people are losing houses and horrible, horrible things, and jobs.
wOw: Well, you’re right. There are certain aspects of the recession that, I hope, will make people more appreciative of what they have. I also hope that, with the economy in everybody’s face, people will be more inclined to give back in any way that they can.
JANE: Well, you know, one of the things we’ve always done for our kids’ birthdays — partially because I hated having all this clutter — is that we choose a children’s charity for people to bring a check in for. We say, “In lieu of a gift, please bring a check for Smile Train, Children’s Defense Fund, any amount.” And, you know, usually for something like Smile Train people would bring $10, $15 dollars. But one lady gave $1,000 one year. I couldn’t believe this woman, because it was for my kid’s birthday, for Children’s Defense Fund. But you can raise enough money at a kid’s birthday party to repair a cleft palate, which only costs $250.
JANE: Yeah. So, if you raise that at your children’s birthday, you are giving some kid in the Third World a life, literally. These cleft palate children are left on the sides of roads, they have no future. If you see “Slumdog Millionaire,” my God, you see the way those children live. You can imagine living there, being born with a cleft palate. Two hundred and fifty dollars, you know, fixes that. We’ve always really done that with our kids and they still get something to open. You know, grandma and grandpa send something. It makes them aware of other kids.
wOw: Speaking of, again, imparting those ideas or behaviors on your children, what piece of advice do you remember your mother telling you growing up? Is there something that really stuck with you?
JANE: There was a lot of common-sense stuff, like be aware of yourself and don’t leave a mess for other people. Oh, here’s something: Each had a night we had to do the dishes. And I was in all the plays in high school and there were times I would come home and I wouldn’t have even had dinner with my family — and I’d come home, and the dishes would be out. And I’d say, “Why do I have to do the dishes? I didn’t even eat dinner.” And my mother said, “Because you’re a part of this family and you do dishes on Thursday nights.” And that’s really true. You have certain participation toward whatever family or group or country you belong to. And, you know, I loved Obama saying, at the Inauguration, about the price and privilege of citizenship. We have a great privilege living in this country, but there’s a price to be paid, too. People have to realize the responsibility of living in a country like this. And if it means higher taxes or living more frugally, everybody has to chip in.
wOw: Oh, I’m going to e-mail your publicist an article I just read.
JANE: Oh, I don’t have a publicist. I got rid of —
wOw: Well, it’s the recession.
JANE: No. You know what? I don’t know, I found that Michel at Clothes Off Our Back — She gets me all the publicity I need. I think sometimes people talk a little too much about themselves.
wOw: I can understand that. Well, my final question, before I let you tend to your ill daughter, is: If somebody wants to donate to Clothes Off Our Back, but doesn’t necessarily want to buy a garment, can people donate smaller amounts of, say, $10, $20?
JANE: Sure. You know, you can see on our website — clothesoffourback.org — there are places to donate. We’ve got lots of auctions going on now. There are signed scripts you can get. We have a lot of things — sunglasses, purses, things that are smaller amounts, too, if people don’t want to buy a tuxedo or a gown or something like that. The Little Black Dress line has little black dresses that celebrities have donated, plus bottles of wine that they’ve signed. So people can find a celebrity they like and get a signed bottle of wine from the celebrity. And those things are much more affordable. But, sure, we’ll take any money any way we can!