I recently had the opportunity to interview Tony Cointreau on his latest book Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa... And Me. The book depicts Tony’s incredible personal journey from a childhood containing a devastating episode of abuse by his school teacher and the challenge with expressing emotion, to his discovery of unconditional love and lasting friendships with amazing mother figures: Ethel Merman, Lee Lehman, and Mother Teresa. He's been very fortunate to have had opportunities in the entertainment industry and to have been able to participate in charitable endeavors, but he doesn't take any of this for granted. Here’s an inside look at our interview:
What inspired you to write Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa...And Me?
During the 12 years with Mother Teresa, I would speak into a tape recorder for half an hour every night. After Mother died, [having gathered] 40 hours of tape, I decided that I had to do something with this. I transcribed the tapes and then started to write. [I learned that] people needed to know my story, and know where I came from. With these three women, it was all about soul recognition. Somewhere we had known each other’s souls before. There was unconditional love which was mutual. I don’t want to be the star. The star is the book, the message is unconditional love.
You mentioned that growing up, expressing your emotions had been difficult for you to do. How were you able to eventually open up and share them?
In LA, while I was recording there, I went to a therapist, as the memories started coming back and I decided I needed professional help. I said to myself, I have to tell her about this, but I just kept going around it. She said the words for me after 40 years. It brought me closer to my brother and to myself.
What do you cherish most from these 3 motherly figures?
Well, Ethel had a fun girl, naughty quality about her. With Lee, she would travel with [Jim Russo, my partner of 48 years, and I] often and we had a ball. With Mother Teresa, no one understood how we talked for hours and hours after work. Their unconditional love was a huge healing for me. They were there for me when I needed them, and I was there for them when they needed me. They were ordinary, extraordinary people.
What are you working on next?
I have a book coming out soon called A Light That Leads Home. It’s all about caring for loved ones and it demystifies anybody’s passing. It’s a simple how-to book. I worked with the dying for 12 years. I just gave my two hands in service. What a blessing it is on both sides to care [for those who need us].
I am really appreciative of having had the opportunity to speak with Tony Cointreau. He will be doing a reading and book signing in New York City on April 17 at 6 p.m. at The Drama Book Shop, located at 250 West 40th St. Reserve your free space for this great event by calling 212-944-0595 or by going to www.dramabookshop.com.