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What ever happened to Louise Lasser?

The pig-tailed actress celebrates a birthday today.

Image: The Everett Collection

There are a few things that are distinctive to the year 1976. For some, the Bicentennial might come to mind, or perhaps the Montreal Olympics and Nadia Comaneci. When it comes to television, 1976 was the year of Louise Lasser.

That year, Lasser rocketed to fame on the satirical soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She appeared on dozens of magazine covers for promotion, becoming an overnight sensation.

But Lasser wasn't some unknown actress discovered by Norman Lear and propelled into stardom. She had put in work on shows like The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and McCloud before her big break.

Lasser's life didn't exactly match the success she saw on camera. The actress had a tumultuous relationship with Woody Allen in the 1960s, becoming a couple when she was just 21 years old. The two were married in 1966 and divorced by 1970.

"He was very possessive," Lasser told The Toast in 2013. "And he… It's all some mish-mash, because you're at those ages that you don't know what's going on anyway. You don't string it together yet."

Years of depression lead to a very public breakdown several years later, at the height of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman's success.

Lasser told People Weekly in 1976 everyone involved with the production of the soap opera was put on a rigorous schedule, "the equivalent of a movie a week," for 26 straight weeks. 

The exhaustion lead to one famous instance in which Lasser was arrested after trying to buy a dollhouse at an antique store. At first, Lasser refused to leave the store after she couldn't pay for the gift. When the cops showed up to diffuse the situation, they found a small bag of narcotics in her purse. 

The incident was played out in the first season of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, where the titular character suffers a breakdown on a trip to New York City.

There was also another famous incident on Saturday Night Live that included a bizarre monologue featuring Lasser sitting on a floor, behind-the-scenes drama with Chevy Chase and Lasser's refusal to perform certain sketches. (For the record, she's not banned from the show.)

Luckily, Lasser recovered from her breakdown to shoot a second season of the soap opera, but she left the series in 1977 and it was rebranded as Forever Fernwood.

Since then, Lasser has taken a step back from public life. Although she continues to act, her appearances on television and in films are a little more sporadic than what they were in the 1970s.

Lasser currently owns an acting studio in New York City close to her one-bedroom apartment. She's also started gettting in touch her Jewish faith.

"Only really recently in the last year or so have I found myself incorporating, feeling lucky I had that background," Lasser told The Toast. "I thought it was a pretty hip backbround, do you know what I mean?"

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