6-minute interview with ……………………… Diana Kyle

What made you do this role?

Diana Kyle
Diana Kyle

It’s actually quite a funny story.  I was living in Burbank in a cute set of duplex bungalows when a new neighbor named Trace Devai moved in. We were both in the entertainment business and spoke frequently. I invited him to a performance of “A Hatful of Rain” last year that I produced and also played the role of a drug kingpin that was written for a man to play.  He’d been doing some research on Ma Barker and other gangsters and was toying with the idea of a screenplay. After he saw this performance in Hatful, he decided to write a stage play for me based on the life of Ma Barker. Trace always says that living next door to me is like “living with Bette Davis”…and honestly, who could have played Ma Barker to the hilt more than Bette Davis? Except Joan Crawford!

How much research did you do?

There’s not much about Ma to be found on the Internet or in books.  She actually seemed pretty boring, and there are two theories on her real involvement in the Barker/Karpis gang.  One camp makes her out to be a bloodthirsty killer and the other portrays her as a dotty old woman sitting in front of the radio listening to Amos n’ Andy, and the like.  I think we’ve kind of made a hybrid out of these two ideas, with a little insanity thrown in.  Trace did massive amounts of research on the genre, and from what little we could find about Ma herself. I’d say a bit of artistic license was used in our production, but I don’t think Ma would mind.

Did you discover something interesting about Ma Barker that is not known?

I did indeed.  Kate Barker really wasn’t the wild eyed killer as she’s portrayed in films such as “Bloody Mama”, with Shelley Winters. Ma never actually went on the bank robberies and never was arrested.  She never toted a tommy gun though she knew how to shoot.  It just looks better to have her to wave a weapon aroune, chomping a cigar, since it lends credence to the mystique.  She travelled with her sons, got them out of prisons, and basically was a den mother to her brood.  I think that’s how they were able to stay afloat for 20 years, when the likes of John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde had “careers” of no more then 3 or 4 years before they were brutally gunned down.

How would you define Ma Barker?
I believe Ma Barker was a very misunderstood woman.  She clearly loved her four boys, to a fault, and this led to her ultimate demise with her remaining son Fred on January 16, 1935. This was the tail end of the Depression, and she and her boys as a young family suffered extreme poverty.  With these young mouths to feed, any mother would have done anything to survive. However, Ma clearly took this survival mode way too far.

Was this the most intense role you have played?

Oh, this role by far! I have many other productions under my belt and have done a lot of musical theatre.  My toughest role, before Ma Barker, was the title role in MAME!  Not as much dialogue, but replace half of THE GHOSTS OF MA BARKER script with music, and nineteen costume and wig changes, and Mame Dennis is the toughest role of my life prior to portraying the infamous Kate Barker.

What do you have coming up, and do you have a site?

I have a vaudevlle legends review in the works and do readings around Los Angeles for various play groups.  I’ve got a film coming in pre-production that I’ll wait to announce.  As far as a site goes, I do not have an official one but that is being planned.  I’ve been so busy becoming Ma for the last 6 months that time has flown, and my dog is ready to divorce me! I do have a link to Internet Movie Data Base, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1737452/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1. My acting reel is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF1QD90eH54.