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A morning after for Maureen McGovern

The singer, famous for movie theme songs, made a splash in the '70s and then dropped out of sight. Her career reclaimed, she's ready for the road.

By Associated Press
Published September 4, 2005

[AP photo]
“To me, singing is basically a form of prayer. I get this great joy when I’m singing — whatever I’m singing. I missed it when I left it.” —Maureen McGovern

NEW YORK - At 56, Maureen McGovern finds herself quite literally - and happily - homeless.

The Grammy-nominated singer best known for the song The Morning After has placed her Los Angeles home on the market, given up her New York apartment and put all her worldly possessions into storage.

For the next year, she's hitting the road.

"It's kind of exciting," she says. "I'm free as a bird."

Until August 2006, McGovern will be appearing as Marmee in the road production of Little Women, taking the musical in which she starred on Broadway through more than 30 cities, including Tampa from March 7-12.

"The hardest part is what to leave behind," says the self-described pack rat who has amassed various collections - including antique bells - over the years. "It's time to let go!"

And, of course, it's time for some really good luggage.

"Sturdy luggage," she gently corrects over lunch at a snazzy hotel restaurant. "Good luggage is a waste of money. Make it sturdy luggage. The airlines will destroy it anyway."

As daunting as a year on the road might sound, McGovern seems unfazed. It's a quality that Susan H. Schulman, director of Little Women and a friend since the two met on the road in Pittsburgh in 1981, admires.

"You know, a lot of people just can't do it. They get out there and go, "Ooh. Wait a second. I have to pack now?' " Schulman says. "I couldn't do it. I see a suitcase and have a nervous breakdown. She doesn't. She just packs up her stuff and she goes."

McGovern goes for one good reason: Pretty much ever since she was discovered - singing in a Ramada Inn lounge outside Cleveland, no less - the road has been McGovern's friend.

"My whole life's been a tour," she says with a laugh.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, McGovern came out of the gate hard. When she was just 23, she was tapped to sing The Morning After for the disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure. The soundtrack promptly went gold, the song itself won the Academy Award in 1972, and it earned her a Grammy Award nomination for best new artist.

"I'll always be remembered for The Morning After," she says. "It's a great song. Thirty-three years later, I still get letters from people. They respond to the hopefulness of the song."

Yet the song's inspirational lyrics belied her own life, which was falling apart: Her mother was dying of colon cancer, and she was going through a divorce, suing her manager and deep in debt.

McGovern soon became a movie soundtrack darling, singing We May Never Love Like This Again for 1974's The Towering Inferno and the Oscar-nominated songs Wherever Love Takes Me from the 1974 film Gold and Nice to Be Around from the 1973 film Cinderella Liberty.

She also sang Can You Read My Mind for the original Superman movie and the tune Different Worlds, which became the theme of the ABC series Angie, in 1979.

Her successes seemed impressive on paper, but McGovern was disillusioned, feeling as though she lacked control over her own career.

She never got to pick her songs, or even the keys in which they were sung. Producers were muddling gems with bizarre orchestrations. And she was finding herself booked to sing at suburban lounges in front of bored businessmen.

By the late 1970s, she simply dropped out.

"I wasn't going to record again until I could sing something really from the heart," she says. "That was a scary time in the '70s. I wouldn't go back there for anything."

McGovern even went so far as to create an alter ego: Glenda Schwartz, the name she used when she gave up the business to work as a secretary in a public relations firm, fielding calls and making coffee.

"I'd go to the south of France, I'd go to the Philippines, to South America, and be treated like royalty," she recalls. "And I'd come back and be Glenda Schwartz with a typewriter.

"I used to think at the time, "What am I doing wrong? Why is this so hard?' I wasn't alone, of course. I've found out that other artists have faced it, too. Even with a hit. It was a hard learning curve for me."

Eventually, McGovern returned - on her own terms.

She made her Broadway debut in 1981, replacing Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance, and quickly followed opposite Raul Julia in Nine and with Sting in Three Penny Opera.

Her recordings have ranged from contributing to Amen! A Gospel Celebration in 1993, to lending her voice for the 1995 Winnie the Pooh song album, Take My Hand, to a luscious collection of love songs in the 1998 Grammy-nominated The Pleasure of His Company.

Along the way, she belted out George Gershwin standards, sang with the Boston Pops, honored Mel Torme at the Hollywood Bowl, played a guitar-strumming nun in the Airplane movies, sang duets with Placido Domingo and even penned the children's musical The Bengal Tiger's Ball.

"To me, singing is basically a form of prayer," McGovern says. "I get this great joy when I'm singing - whatever I'm singing. I missed it when I left it."

Tragedy even helped her reconnect with her most famous song. After her youngest niece fell ill with a neuromuscular disease, she began singing The Morning After with added emphasis.

"I never really understood the enormity of it," she says, happy to say that her niece is in her second remission. "Now I really felt it."

Last year, McGovern released the CD Works of the Heart to offer inspirational music for patients and caregivers. Besides countless benefits, she has volunteered for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for more than a quarter-century.

Now she's back on the road, having packed up her two dogs, grabbed a few favorite DVDs and readied herself to become the matriarch of a new bunch of singers.

"I think in life, you have to have an overabundance of hope. And you have to laugh," she says. "I can think of a gazillion things that were devastating to me over the years, but when you look at the world, you have to laugh, you have to move forward and you have to give back."

[Last modified September 2, 2005, 10:31:04]

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