Acting Up and Staying Busy
In “As You Like It”, Shakespeare declares that “the world is a stage”. His various “stages” of life could also be interpreted as occurring in ACT I, II, & III. While most of Diane Mullins’ life revolved around family and community, her entry into the acting world was unique, interesting and fascinating. It seems appropriate to view her life in those terms. She shares her story:
ACT I: Dorothy Diane DeWess entered the first stage of her life in Chicago, Illinois on September 3, 1932. Due to her father’s work, the family lived in several cities but eventually moved to Memphis where they remained. She had a happy childhood but always felt in the shadow of her older brother, David. “He was very popular while I was a wallflower”, says Diane. When she was six years old, she survived a freak accident after falling one and one-half stories down an elevator shaft. She fortunately was dressed in a rabbit fur coat, muff and tam, so that her fall was not fatal due to being wrapped in a “pillow of fur”. However, she did sustain a broken wrist and a concussion. Diane attended Memphis public schools and while attending Messick High School, met her future husband, Billy (Curly) Mullins. They married in 1951, a year following graduation.
ACT II: Diane’s husband Billy served in the Army during the Korean War. During this time, Diane worked in secretarial jobs. On Billy’s return from the Army, he began work in insurance, eventually starting his own business, A-Z Insurance Agency. Diane and Billy had three boys, Tim, Pat, and Mike (deceased). Diane became “Girl Friday” to her husband’s business. Billy was so successful that he was awarded thirty-five vacation trips. These included many U.S. cities and three trips to Hawaii and England. The Mullins were active in Colonial Baptist Church before transferring to Ridgeway Baptist.
The acting bug struck by accident. Although Diane had done some acting in high school, she never considered this as an option in her life. However, a friend encouraged her to try out for a part in a Christmas play at Germantown Community Theatre. She got the part and the “acting bug bit”, says Diane. From theatre, she saw an opportunity in the independent film industry and performed in many independent movies. These are movies usually only fifteen to twenty minutes in length, are entered into a film festival and, never seen by the public. She hired an agent and was able to make commercials for businesses and products, including: Accent Jewelry, Fed Ex, Kroger, Arkansas Lottery and one for Doritos which was entered in the Superbowl commercial contest. She has been an extra in all of the Memphis made movies, including: The Firm, The Client, Blueberry Nights, and Nothing But The Truth.
During this time, another form of acting was providing one of the most unique and fulfilling roles for Diane. She was hired to be a “standardized patient” for all of the Medical Units of University of Tennessee. In this role she was given a script to memorize and perform as a “sick” patient for the students to analyze and diagnose. A big part of the evaluation was determining the bedside manner and appropriate reactions of the students. One example was of a hysterical woman who had to cry for one and one-half minutes. Faculty watched on camera and Diane had the opportunity to evaluate as well. “What fun it was acting ‘sick’ for the students. I really felt like I was contributing in a worthwhile way”, says Diane.
In the late 70’s or early 80’s, Diane began singing with The Sweet Adelines, a barbershop harmony singing group for women. They performed in many venues including contests.
ACT III: The singing with The Sweet Adelines continued for twenty-five years. The acting for U.T. students ended in 2016. However, acting continues. According to Diane, “I am really enjoying my acting career and there must not be too many ‘old white-haired ladies’ that are in the acting business. I get called often when an old gal is needed. I am ready to go and the ham in me loves it!” In fact, she has just finished a role in an independent film called “Dear Lady Joan”.
Sadly, in 2019, Billy passed away following a two-year illness. Diane made the decision to move to Kirby Pines in 2020. Her two sons, and all but two of her six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren live nearby. “My family means everything to me and I’m so grateful that they are near me”, says Diane. Diane also likes going out to lunch or dinner with old friends, playing bridge, reading and just socializing with people. “Although I have only been at Kirby Pines a short time, I have made so many new friends and I am enjoying all the activities and programs offered. I feel very blessed and very much at home here”, says Diane.
Fortunately good health allows Diane to continue many activities. Her story reminds us that productivity, happiness and a satisfying life does not necessarily occur in one particular stage of life. The ability to have a satisfying last “scene” in our life depends on being willing to remain open to others and taking advantage of the opportunities that are available to be productive and serve others.
Wrtten by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines