On The Cover: Kathy Kinney as Mrs. P.
Kathy Kinney is truly a character. The actress, famous for her role as the indescribable Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show, has now donned a new dress as Mrs. P., the loveable Irish-ish lady who inspires children’s love of reading on her website, MrsP.com. We met up with Kathy/Mrs. P. at the most suitable place for two bookish gals, the New York City Public Library, to talk about reading, her super cool Be A Famous Writer Contest, and how life makes you turn a corner to become who you were meant to be all along.
Photos: Gabbeli Photography
Mrs. P. is a wonderful character to play. She’s this wonderful woman who loves reading and encourages kids to read. People can visit mrsp.com to hear me read classic fairy tales. Parents can enjoy this experience with their kids, who can come home from school and visit Mrs. P. The site is interactive and one of the things I’m most proud of is that we’ve managed to keep the website free. Oh, did I mention that it’s free?
Yes, you did. [laughs]
Yes, it’s free! We wanted kids to have a safe place to go on the Internet, where they could read and really use their imaginations. We hope that it fosters a love of reading in kids.
As Kathy, what were some of your favorite books to read as a child?
I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Little House on the Prairie books were my favorites. I always wanted to make the slushy out of maple syrup and fresh snow, but I don’t know if there’s any fresh snow anymore. [laughs] But I would read pretty much anything. My mother would take me to the library, take me in the children’s section, and I would stay there until she came back from looking at her books. I always had a huge stack, and I would beg to go to the library. Luckily, my mother loved the library as much as I did.
I remember getting my first library card, and it being such a big deal. Do you remember getting yours?
I was about six years old. As I grew older, that was the place I chose to hang out. It felt like home.
And now Mrs. P. is hosting the 4th annual Be A Famous Writer Contest. Let’s talk about that.
The contest began on September 1st. Kids can enter their work, from 250-1000 words, and I will read the two grand prize winners’ stories on MrsP.com. We have great judges this year. One of them is Julia Roberts, which is very exciting. And we found out that teachers are using this contest in their classrooms. The winners will have their stories illustrated and can choose to receive either an e-book or an actual book of their work. The hardest part is choosing the stories because they’re all so incredible. These kids are like all little Shakespeares!
Any of the things I accomplished in my life I never planned on. I never planned on being an actor. I told people I was going to New York to write the Great American Short Story because it seemed too overwhelming to write the Great American Novel. I wound up living in the 2 places I swore I would never live—in New York and L.A... The circumstances began rolling and I became an actor. My good friend Cindy Ratzlaff worked in publishing, but she wanted to be an actor. And since she never liked doing things alone, I went with her and that’s how I got into acting. We have husbands who don’t like to travel—or maybe they don’t like to travel with us, we’re not sure—so I’ve been to some of the most romantic cities in the world with her. It was after a trip to Prague that we wrote the book, Queen of Your Own Life: The Grown Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. What’s interesting about life is that life has a way of making you turn the corner.
Now, two of your most famous characters, Mimi Bobeck and now Mrs. P., require you to be in a costume. What is it like to be in character like that?
Well, I did that for 9 years in the vivid colors of Mimi, but what I love most about Mrs. P. is that I just put the glasses on and she doesn’t require a lot of makeup. But she’s been an evolution. The first dress we tried for Mrs. P. was an old castoff of Mimi’s. Then I put on the red glasses and after a bit we decided on the red wig. Now what would she sound like? Would she sound like me, or like she’s from Minnesota? We finally decided to make her Irish, but with more ish than Ire.
[laughs] She seems to be a natural extension of you, Kathy.
She is. I love Mrs. P. because my background is in improvisation. About a month ago, we were Skyping with a school, and I had to look into a camera, and I thought it was going to last for 20 minutes and an hour later I was still talking with the kids. I think it was the most fun I’ve had in 30 years. I told the kids I had 1234 pets, give or take a few. Then the kids started asking me questions and one asked if I had alligators. I said, “Yes I have three. They live in the basement next to the bowling alley!” They asked me about where Mrs. P. lived, and I said that she lived in a huge house off the coast of Wisconsin with her pets and her best friend, the Tooth Fairy. I told them that she used to date Jack Frost, but he only wanted to nip at her nose! [laughs] The kids loved it, but I think I enjoyed it more.
With children it’s about honesty. When adults come to the Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza which I do with Drew, they come ready to laugh. With kids, it’s more real and spontaneous. It’s very exciting.
You’re also on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
I’m so enjoying that. I’ve been doing it for three years, but time has no meaning for me. At this point in my life, I’m working for two groups of people: for kids and women who are in the middle of their lives. It’s shocking how hard you have to work to get something good for both of them on the air.
What can people look forward to next with Mrs. P.?
Well, the elves are working all the time. There are so many things happening right now, and they’re all amazing. We want to continue to bring quality and a safe place for kids to read on the internet.
I love the fact that it’s actually you reading, as opposed to a cartoon version of you. There’s something special about having a real person to look at while you read and listen along.
I completely agree. I tell kids all the time that reading is cool, and so are they. And to know that we’re inspiring kids to read is a thrilling thing. I’m honestly having so much fun right now; I couldn’t ask for a better thing than to be Mrs. P.
To learn more about Mrs. P., including how to enter the Be A Famous Writer Contest, click here.