Boomers remember Shelley Long as the erudite Diane Chambers from the hit series Cheers, a role which earned her an Emmy Award and two Golden Globes. Today, younger audiences recognize her as Claire and Mitchell’s mother and Jay Pritchett’s zany ex-wife, DeDe, on Modern Family. In addition, she works in films, like the Hallmark favorite, Holiday Engagement, which is now available on DVD, or Lifetime’s The Merry In-Laws, which airs later this month, in which she plays Mrs. Claus to her former Cheer’s cast-mate George Wendt’s Santa. We were thrilled to have a chance to talk to Shelley recently. We learned that while she’s played a grandmother several times, she’s still waiting for the real-life privilege. Here are a few other things she wanted to share with you.
What’s the best piece of advice you learned from your grandparents?
Shelley Long: My paternal grandmother – everyone called her Pudge – died while I was still quite young, so I don’t have as many memories of her. But I have wonderful memories of hanging out with my maternal grandmother, who was always generous with her hugs and kisses. She gave the best hugs! When she hugged you, you felt yourself very literally surrounded by love. So – while it’s not verbal advice – what I learned was the importance of touching the people we love, or even people we know who may be going through a rough time or just having a bad day. For me – even in Hollywood – people seem more reluctant to touch one another. And I think it’s so important not to lose that moment of affection, that moment of love. Words are important. But sometimes a hug says things that words just can’t.
I also inherited from my grandmother a lifelong love of drugstores! I would go shopping with her and she made sure that our first stop was always the drugstore, where I was allowed to pick a toy. Every time we went shopping, this was our ritual.
What traditions have been passed down in your family?
SL: Writing cards. I come from a family that loves greeting cards! I’m not as good as the rest of my family about sending cards and things – sometimes I don’t hit the specific dates. But I do try to stay in contact with my family – aunts, uncles, cousins. So I started a tradition of my own. During the holidays, I send a large decoration to family members for the holidays, like poinsettias. I love the feedback I get. It just means so much to know that you were able to show love in a way that was truly appreciated.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your relationships?
SL: I’ve realized over and over again how important it is to be lovingly candid. You don’t have to spill everything to everyone, but when something isn’t working – especially in the relationships that mean the most – you need to speak up. And not just about the really big things. Those little things can hurt, too. It’s like walking around with a pebble in your shoe. If you take the time to get rid of the pebble, you’re going to be much more comfortable, and more productive, too. And honestly, you feel such gratitude when that pebble is gone! It’s an act of love, to speak up like that. There have been times in my own life when people close to me haven’t told me about something that was bothering them. Some of them didn’t bring the issue up for years. That’s wasted time.
There are times when I get scared about being honest, or as I prefer to think of it, being candid. Honest is a place that’s uncomfortable for the other person. But candid addresses things lovingly. The most important thing – and the hardest – is to forgive the other person before you start talking. But when you lead with forgiveness, the conversation is an act of nurturing and of love – for yourself, and for the other person.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
SL: Surviving a divorce. I don’t even want to talk about it. I can’t yet. Maybe next time we speak. But now it’s just . . . shock. Raw. Overwhelming. I have no objectivity. My faith is stronger now. I use it daily, leaning on the grace of God.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
SL: Let’s put it this way: I’m still learning how to be a good mother. But in the last 10 years, I’ve really learned how to be a good daughter. And that is making me a better mother, too. My mom doesn’t like to speak on the phone; it’s a challenge for her because of her hearing. So my daughter and I make trips to see her whenever we can, either separately or together. We’re all close, and I’m proud of that.
I also have two friends – Bindi and Jacquie – who have known me almost from the moment I was born. There was a point at which I really needed to connect with childhood friends and they took me under their wings. I’m really proud to have this relationship and I cherish it.
In terms of work – and it surprises me a little to say this – I think I’m most proud of the work we did on Cheers. We had an amazing cast and together we made something really special.
Do you have a favorite recipe you’re willing to share?
SL: I might as well say it. I’m not a very good cook. Sometimes I get lucky – or filled with the Holy Spirit – but I’m not very good on my own. I’m a great appreciator of food – and really good cooking. I’m in awe of good cooks.
What’s the best-kept happy secret about aging?
SL: It’s a blessing. And I like that people tend to be more respectful. There have been times when I’ve observed a lack of courtesy in business and in life but, as I get older, I find that people are more deferential and I like it. They call me Miss Long on the sets, and I like being Miss Long. There’s an affection that comes through when they say it. It’s nutritious and nurturing. Really quite wonderful.