That Michèle Marsh has talent is evident from her rich and nuanced acting résumé — a long and successful career in a profession not known for steady work. That her career has unfolded in storybook fashion makes her story all the more compelling.
From a leading role in the movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the age of 21 to solid recurring roles in television, to lead roles in major California and Arizona theater companies, and to lately playing “hip grandmothers” in national commercials, Michèle has worked continuously.
Born in France to a composer, musician and conductor father who fought in the French resistance, Michèle Buhler was exposed early in life to culture and the value of education. As a Christian Scientist, after the war, Michèle’s father was offered a lecture tour in the United States. That tour led to her father accepting a teaching position at the Desert Sun School in Idyllwild. She was 5 when the family arrived in Idyllwild. She completed all her elementary education at Idyllwild Elementary School. “I always felt like an oddball because I was French and we were Christian Scientists,” she remembered.
But feeling like an outsider led her to being outside — summer camp at Desert Sun learning archery and horseback riding, and handling snakes at the Nature Center. “The outdoors was home to me,” she recalled. “I played under manzanita bushes and made up all these stories and fantasies.” Later, when her father moved for work to Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, Michèle discovered theater. “I was 14 or 15 and danced in the dream sequence of a production of ‘The King and I’ at the Wharf Theatre. I became passionate about theater. In Carmel, in what became prophetic, I was in a production of ‘Tevya and his Daughters,’ on which ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is based.”
Again, following her father who had been offered a position at North Carolina School of the Arts, Michèle studied acting there and received her bachelor’s degree. After graduating, she was offered a journeyman position at the American Conservatory Theatre School in San Francisco. Staff reductions forced cancellation of the journeyman program and Michèle found herself unemployed.
She heard about auditions for a production of “Oh! Calcutta!” and, although not enthused about the subject matter, did audition and wound up being booked into the Los Angeles production. While in the production, an aunt of a close friend heard about auditions for Norman Jewison’s movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof” that were being held in Los Angeles. “On advice of the aunt, I walked onto the studio lot carrying my résumé and pictures to casting director Lynn Stalmaster’s office,” she recalled. “He asked me if I could sing and dance. I said I could and he gave me two scenes and two songs and said to have them memorized for the next day. I came back the next day and performed the two songs, ‘Matchmaker’ and ‘Far From the Home I Love,’ with John Williams at the piano [Williams was arranger and conductor for the film and won his first Oscar for that work].” After the audition and screen test, representatives called Michèle on the last day before the casting decision had to be made.
“I was told Norman wants to hear you sing again,” she said. “John Williams worked with me for half an hour and then Norman came in. He listened and then walked back and forth, back and forth and looked at me. Then he said, ‘You’ve got the part.’ We were gone in London and Eastern Europe for about a year filming. It was shot in 1970 and released in 1971. It was only after ‘Fiddler’ that I realized how lucky I had been to have such a major role at such a young age.”
From that providential beginning, Michèle went on to other film roles, co-starring on television series “House, M.D.,” “West Wing” and “Desperate Housewives,” and guest turns on “Falcon Crest,” “Star-Trek: The Next Generation,” “Highway to Heaven” and “The Young and the Restless.” She appeared in major theatrical roles at the Arizona Theatre Company, Alabama Shakespeare Company, Mark Taper Forum and Shubert Theatres in Los Angeles and ACT in San Francisco. For much of its 10-year run, Michèle appeared in “Tamara,” the multi-room “environmental” theater production that ran just south of the Hollywood Bowl and became a major theatrical event in Los Angeles.
Michèle currently acts in local productions and books commercials in Los Angeles. But, she admits, she has slowed down and is moving more into writing than making trips to Los Angeles to audition for acting roles. “Since moving here full time, I have not wanted to go to Los Angeles on a ‘maybe’ basis. I don’t have the passion I once did for acting. Now I write — short stories and creative non-fiction, much of it about my early life here in Idyllwild.
“I had been very shy when I was young, and not very sure of myself. But with acting I could be someone I’m not, very brave and very strong. For me, acting was empowering and energizing. It is wonderful to be listening and be in the moment. And now, with writing it is the same. When I get inspired and something starts happening, I’m rapt.”
Michèle notes the secret to her long and successful career, other than providence, is to remain positive, energized and active.
In interview, notwithstanding her long and storied career, Michèle is soft-spoken, modest and still evinces a youthful sweetness and enthusiasm that is charming and captivating.
For more about Michèle, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michele_Marsh and www.imdb.com/name/nm0550626.