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When she was ten, Danielle Alexandra Huberman '79 dreamed of standing on stage in front of thousands of glittering lights, accepting the Academy award for best performing actress.
That dream does not smack of the overly ambitious, now, for the woman whose favorite song comes from "A Star is Born," and begins:
I want to learn what life is for,
I don't want much, I just want more
Ask what I want and I will sing
I want everything (everything)
"I really want to do everything," Danielle--who now calls herself Danielle Alexandra--says. "But you can do it, you really can do it", she adds, with a slight smile, "I fully intend to try, anyway."
This week, Alexandra finishes her work in an ABC movie starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, filmed over the last month in Boston. Her daily routine has not been an easy one: up at 5 a.m., study till 6, on the set at 6:30. Filming during the next 12 hours till 6:30 p.m., with a quick break for lunch, a return to Lowell House by 7 for dinner, and then back to the books, capping the night off with three hours of piano practice.
"I feel strongly that if you're going to get anywhere, you have to work like a dog"--although that's not exactly the phrase Alexandra uses in more candid moments--and then work some more. "There are too many tall blondes out there" who are willing to be "glamorous baby dolls instead of actresses," she says, and unless she is willing to grind away and to use her brains she won't be able to compete in the show business world.
And Alexandra intends to get to the top, by any and every method that she believes won't compromise her sexual, academic or human integrity. For two years before she came to Harvard, she acted in two soaps, "One Life to Live" and "All My Children." While she has been here, she has continued to keep one foot in show biz, singing in night clubs in addition to acting in Harvard theater and the occasional film. "I don't know how it's going to happen, so I'm preparing for all the possibilities," she says. Last week, she auditioned successfully for a spot as a vocalist in a $750,000 night club that will open soon on the waterfront.
It isn't all that easy living two lives, one as a professional actress and another as a student majoring in Harvard's Government Department, she says. That schizophrenic existence has been exaggerated in the last few weeks during the ABC filming, when Alexandra has been "meeting professionals at work and coming back here and being a student."
The conflict is also apparent in her Lowell House single: her book shelves are full of the normal Harvard fare, while the signed photographs of people she's performed with--John Davidson, Zero Mostel, Joan Rives--paper her walls, along with a hat collection that started, she says, when admirers sent her various hats. Even a high grade average in Government, she says, "is not at all appropriate to the theater world."
Nevertheless, Alexandra says her life as a student remains important to her. She comes from a very "Harvard" family, and grew up in Newton; all her life, she says her parents and younger sister expected her to go to Harvard and on to some professional career--lawyer, most likely. While that is still possible (Alexandra says she is very interested in legal aspects of government), it appears increasingly less likely that she will be able to give up her career in show biz.
Her theatrical career began with dancing lessons when Alexandra was four. Those dancing lessons continued until she was 16, when she switched over to singing and acting. "I don't think I wanted to be a professional dancer anyway," she says now, adding, "I was always going to use it for Broadway." She has performed every summer since junior high school--with the Boston Ballet, with the Canadian National Ballet, the Canadian National Center for the Performing Arts, on and studying at the London Royal summer at 20, appearing in "Jaws II," which folded, and taking lessons at the London Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
So why come to Harvard--where, as Alexandra admits freely, the performing arts don't get the respect they do at many other schools? "If I have to be in college," she explains, "this is the only place in the world I'd go. I was weaned on Harvard football. I think it's the best for me and I'm a perfectionist."
Harvard won't hurt her in the professional world either, she says, but it won't help all that much, either. People will look at her resume and assume she's intelligent because she goes here, she says, but it isn't really going to make her stand out. "What's going to make me different is how much I care--how much I'm willing to work for it."
Clearly, Alexandra is willing to invest much time and effort on her apparent calling. Last Monday, she went down to the Boston set for a costume fitting, and found that what she thought was a holiday was no such thing; because the filming was behind schedule, they had decided to go ahead. On her way home that evening, a three-car collision gave her a concussion, dislocated her shoulder and put her in Stillman for two days. On Saturday, she was back on the set despite the rain, with long sleeves covering her ace bandage.
The schizophrenia does take its toll in some ways, she says. Alexandra doesn't always feel either of her two worlds; "I'm very conscious that I don't fit into any group: I have a lot of friends, but not in any one area," she says. And occasionally she finds Harvard life very frustrating. "I have to hold myself back here," she says, "I want to get going with my career." But Alexandra considers herself an actress, above all, and prides herself on being able to play various roles with genuine feeling. She describes herself as "moody": sometimes, she says, she is the chic. New-York-elegant actress, sometimes she's the Harvard student in blue jeans who puts her friends at school ahead of her career. Through it all, however. Alexandra insists that she wants to be honest: "I want people to like me because of me because I'm a nice, warm, genuine person; or I want them to hate me because I'm not."
One of the less probable characters Alexandra has played--or rather, taken on whole-heartedly--is the role of the first female manager of the Harvard football team. But she says she's "not at all into women's lib. I like a little chauvinism," she says. "Opened doors, flowers--I like a man to be a man." Women, she says, can go as far as any male by using brains and energy, and the feminist movement denies many of the qualities she believes are essential to well, femininity.
Alexandra says she sees two types of people in the theater world, both professional and at Harvard. One group is made up of the people who are "really in it for show biz," she says--"all glitter, very interested in themselves, superficial." The second group--the people she'd like to emulate--see performing as a profession, and remain themselves off stage. Joanne Woodward has impressed her as such an actress, she says; an earthiness combined with depth and intelligence. "Those are the people I admire." She sounds a bit annoyed when she describes the same split in Harvard's theatrical circles, because she believes many of the people involved in theater here who have never done anything in the real world are "all glitter and talk--they think they'll have an easy time in drama because they went here."
These two different kinds of theater personalities are the subject of John Mankewiezc's screenplay, "All About Eve." Alexandra spent six months turning the screenplayinto a script for the stage--it started as a project for English 160--and now she hopes to see it performed this spring on the Loeb Mainstage if the Harvard Dramatic Club approves it.
While Alexandra appears basically confident that her effort to reach the stars will be successful--she says her agent now receives calls asking for her, so she doesn't have to audition as much as she once did--she is still slightly wary. Most of the money she earns now goes toward tuition and gifts for her family, she says, but she has bought herself a few things for the future--"things I'll want when I'm 35."
But at the moment, it seems unlikely that Alexandra will give up, at least for a while. "I want to shoot for the stars," she says, repeating a line she has said before. "I know it sounds corny, but it's how I feel."
I'm like a child who's set free at the fun fair--every ride invites me," Barbara Streisand sings in "A Star is Born." Alexandra smiles. "That song," she says, "is me."
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