Caroline Langford had been through plenty of ups and downs over the years.
The ups: her movie career and marriage to one of Israel’s most desired man at the time, writer/director/actor Assi Dayan (son of former Israeli defense and foreign minister Moshe Dayan).
The downs: two failed marriages, postpartum depression, the decision to give son Lior to a foster family and financial difficulties that put her in constant fear of becoming homeless.
So it made sense for Langford to call her new one-woman show “The Ups and Downs of Caroline Langford,” which debuted Feb. 16at the MATI Israeli Community Center in the West San Fernando Valley.
It’s her ability to laugh at herself — and at life — that has allowed the woman in her 50s to make it this far.
“You know, even in the most difficult times in my life, when I had nothing and I was close to becoming homeless, I found humor in things,” she said. “That’s what always helped me in life. … If you don’t have humor, it will be much more difficult for you. That is something I inherited from my dad, who was a very funny man.”
Langford’s father, Barry Langford, was a well-known director for the BBC in England during the 1960s and ’70s. When the family moved to Israel when Caroline was 14, Barry became one of the major forces behind the creation of Israeli TV. After Caroline’s mother fell in love with a British dentist and moved to England with him, Caroline and her brother, Jeremy, stayed in Israel with their dad.
“It wasn’t easy growing up with him,” she said. “Many of the problems I have today and the mistakes I’ve made are because I was raised by him. He wasn’t an honest man and used to lie about everything. … A year ago, my father passed away, and it was very difficult for me because we had unsolved issues between us, and I couldn’t fix them anymore, not by myself.”
Although she arrived in Israel in her early teens, Langford was never able to rid herself of a British accent, which proved appealing to the Israeli ear. With her curly blond hair and big blue eyes, she became a popular actress in candid camera movies, such as “Hayeh Ahaltah Otah” (“Smile! You’ve Been Pranked”), and feature films like 1986’s “The Delta Force” with action hero Chuck Norris.
Langford’s hard times began after her very publicized divorce from Dayan. She gave their son, Lior, to a foster family on her kibbutz when he was about 2.
“It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but when I wanted to get him back, there was a lot of pressure from the Dayan family, who opposed that. So I left to New York, where I walked dogs for a living.”
She and her second husband, whom she divorced after four years, struggled financially.
“He was kind of a dreamer,” she said. “When I was complaining that they are going to evict us, he was saying: ‘Why do you worry so much?’ He didn’t want to bother with money issues and lived day by day. It was the first time I realized how people end up on the street. I was pregnant with my second child, Daniella, and I was afraid we’ll be homeless.”
Eventually, Langford moved back to Israel with little Daniella and regained custody of 14-year-old Lior, rekindling their relationship. (Today, Lior works as a journalist and is participating in a docu-reality show called “Mechubarim” — “Connected” in Hebrew. The show documents his daily life and his relationships with his wife, mom and dad. So Langford, after a long absence, finds herself back on Israeli TV.)
Her life changed again when she tried to send an e-mail to a friend in the United States and someone else — Gil Beckenstein, an Israeli living in Los Angeles — wrote back indicating that he had received her note instead. This chance meeting was the beginning of a love affair — first online, then by phone and finally in person.
“I was really anxious about it,” Langford said. “I told him: ‘I’ve changed. Don’t expect the same girl you saw in the movies. I’ve gotten older; I look like Dr. Ruth.’ … I didn’t want him to be disappointed.”
Two weeks after he returned to the States, he asked her to come and be with him. Langford didn’t need to think twice. She took Daniella and flew to Los Angeles, where they got married. They now live in Woodland Hills with two bulldogs.
These days, Daniella is 18 and living in Israel, where she is going to study in Herzliya, which provides the time for Langford to rediscover her love for acting. In her one-woman show, she tells about her life, movies, marriages and her struggles with the Hebrew language — and all in Hebrew. After the success of her first show, she is considering taking the show to Israel and translating it to English for the American audience.
“That’s how the Israelis know me, with this heavy accent and not-so-perfect grammar,” she said.
Langford also is working on a novel, loosely based on her family story, starting in London in the 1930s. It tells the story of an abused wife, married to a narcissist — “my parents,” she said.
“I had tried to write this book about 20 years ago and couldn’t. One day, I was looking through boxes and came across this manuscript, which at the time was maybe 50 pages. I remember I sat on the floor and read through it and thought, ‘This isn’t half bad!’ Suddenly I found myself scanning it into the computer and continuing on with it.”
Looking back at the twists and turns her life has taken, Langford said she’s happy about where she’s ended up.
“Give me back my young body, but let me keep the mind I have today, and I would be perfect.”