When I asked the Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker, professional photographer, and mother of four, Madeline Smith Scoular, to be the model for the character, Wally Liebenow, in the illustrated Lux Blox-themed science fiction novel, Mars is for Misfits, I actually had no idea how interesting and outspoken she was. I just liked her face and imagined she would be a great model for the teacher in the illustrated version of Mars is for Misfits. But the more I got to know Madeline, the more I realized she was a great fit and was as much a muse for the character as a model.
In the story, the free spirited and brilliant Wally Liebenow, has to go all the way to Mars to teach the way she wants to teach. Madeline has also had to make choices that flew in the face of much of what she had been taught growing up and the prevailing group-think that exists in her chosen path of the arts.
Madeline, from acting and modeling to photography and documentary film-making, you have worked in the arts your whole life. The issue of conformity is very interesting to me. Artists and intellectuals were once hailed for having original thoughts, being leaders, going against prevailing currents, and setting out on their own course- yet we now seem to be in a time of extreme conformity, especially in the arts. Is this your impression?
I agree. Like you I tend to fight conformity. I feel like I spent my whole life trying to make everyone else happy and then realized one day that it was impossible. I like to be liked and that was a problem because it’s hard to be liked and speak your mind. Why can’t we be considered artists or creatives if we don’t think and believe as we are told we should? There seems to be some standard belief system that they (whoever they are) says we artists are supposed to have? And I don’t fit into that box. Boy, it is so much easier to fit into their box and be liked and accepted. But ‘easier’ just doesn’t work for me. If I don’t have my word, what do I have?
Your mother was a pretty fearless supporter of life issues in a very liberal area of Washington D.C. when you were growing up. That must have had some influence on you. Tell us about what it was like growing up in Washington D.C..
I think growing up where I did, it's natural that you hear about politics more than most people do. It’s part of our lives living in D.C.
I grew up on Tracy Place, down the street from Robert McNamara and lots of Embassies and so forth, in the same house my father had grown up in, and his father before him. Actually, my grandmother had lived with her in-laws in our Tracy Place house when my grandfather was in Italy in WWII. Pretty cool history there. We belonged to the Chevy Chase Club and vacationed on the Delaware shore. My dad might have gone into politics, but he was a big drinker and gambler and I think he thought that he had way too many skeletons in his closet to follow that dream.
You’ve had a lot of interests, from acting, photography and modeling to making documentaries and raising a family. What have we missed? What advice do you have for young women who are thinking about what they want to do with their life?
Yes, family is the absolute most important thing to me. I love being a mom and if I had started earlier I would maybe have had more children.
Funny, if you asked me at 20, I would say I would have one child. I feel like my soul shot into my body when I gave birth, like I really became ME when I became a mom. It sounds weird. I know. But after running from it for so long, I finally found what and where I was supposed to be, by becoming a mom. And I like myself more as a mom. Having four children is not easy but it sure is fun and never dull.
As for advice for young women, geez, I would say, whatever it is, you can do anything you set your mind to. When in doubt, just go for it. Truth is, I’m kind of a chicken. I’m not all that brave. Age and children have given me strength. I moved to L.A. because I had a dream. I was young and that made it easier to be crazy and brave or pretend. I still marvel that I actually did that! And leaving L.A. and moving to South Florida was totally a leap of faith too. I was terrified! But how can you know if it is for you or not unless you try?
When I’m faced with big decisions like moving or travelling, I try to think, ‘what will I remember in 10 years?’ ‘Will I remember staying home and watching the Voice or will I remember taking that trip to the mountains?’ ‘Will I remember living in L.A. following a dream or not trying at all?’ It was worth the ride.
You met the man you would marry, John Scoular, while you and he were working as models. That’s pretty romantic! Is the romance still alive? And if it is, how do you guys make your life work as well as it seems?
I did! John is a pretty romantic guy. He’s the type of person who notices a sunset and remembers things I say which helps keep the romance alive. On our first date, we walked in the moonlight along the water in Marina del Rey and talked for hours. Last night we walked down our driveway in the woods of South West Florida, holding hands, admiring the moon and the stars. That’s John. He reminds me to slow down and enjoy and admire beauty. Life gets busy and it can be stressful with work and expectations. There is nobody I would rather grow old with and nobody who knows me better (and still likes me I think/hope).
What do you think our role as citizens ought to be? What can one person do in a world that sometimes seems so crazy?
What is your number one advice for young people who don't know what they want?
What is your number one parenting tip?
Congratulations on your documentary film on the Artificial Reef Project and the accolades it has received. Tell us a little bit about.
”Paradise Reef” is a documentary film about the artificial reef project here in Naples, Florida. It was a cool project about real people trying to make a positive difference in our ecosystem. I love that it was in our hometown town and I got to work with my talented husband. The added bonus was that we won Emmys. It was just a good project all around. It aired on WGCU-PBS TV too.
Trailer for Paradise Reef.
The character Wally Liebenow, in the Allen Crowley novel, Mars is for Misfits, is inspired by Madeline. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7 “Girls go to Mars”.
WILLIAM S. COHEN SCHOOL
Waldtraud “Wally” Liebenow’s 6th Grade Classroom
A large flat ochre rock sat upright on a walnut tripod on a large ancient desk. At first it looked like any stone you might find. But it contained a fossilized alien-looking crinoid half submerged in its calcite prison. An inscription in the stone below reads:
“Under the plainest rocks you’ll find a bustle of life. Most teachers don’t look under rocks. And great teachers know rocks aren’t even rocks.”
-- Carmela Liebenow
“My goodness, did your mother teach as well?”
The woman he was addressing had spent an hour helping kids make 26 soda volcanos and had not had a chance to clean the plaster of Paris from her arms.
She looked over at the limestone and smiled.
“She was a teacher. In fact, I actually grew up in the teacher college she created with my father.”
An enormous cuckoo clock chirped eleven times on the wall behind her.
The man stared at the strange clock behind what he thought was an equally strange woman.
He did not like strange things.
He sat on an antique-looking wooden shipping crate. The exterior painted with things like “dangerous cargo”. “Live Animals”. “Do not place hands within!”
He was a big man, weighing in at about 300 pounds. His six-foot five inch frame showed few signs of being a former all-state basketball guard.
If Waltraub Liebenow represented anything to Sammy “Longshot” Simpson it was an obstacle to brush away in his clean sweep as the new principal.
“Miss Liebenow, we need teachers that follow the district and state guidelines. Your class seems more of a jungle and antique shop than a classroom.”
A myna bird in a cage echoed, “District and state guidelines, district and state guidelines!”
He looked at the black bird and felt his temples thumping.
“My children helped create this classroom.”
“Precisely my point.”
“It’s more their world than ours, Mr. Simpson.” Everyone called him Longshot but her.
“I want them to experience the power they have to effect it.”
“It’s not their school and it’s not their world, at least not yet.” He said, looking at the Myna bird half expecting it to chime in again.
“It’s our job to enforce the policies and practices that the state and regional boards have determined are best for the students.”
“Best for the students!” Squealed the Myna.
“That is annoying. Does it do this in class?”
“Actually, it doesn’t. He must really like you.”
Longshot Simpson had waited his turn. His wife told him, 'it was a smart move to be a gym teacher' instead of working construction like his father and brothers.
He obliged his wife and began his career in earnest. He enjoyed working as a gym teacher and coach. He took the night classes and earned his master’s in educational administration.
He put his time in and opportunities came along. Assistant principal for three years in Falmouth. Another six years as an AP in Bath. Ron Berns gave him his chance when Berns had a stroke at his mothers-in-law on Thanksgiving.
But Ron Berns was a hippy at a hippy school. A Maine hickory nut. He had recruited teachers from out of state. And the worst hire, in his estimation, that Ron Berns ever made was Waltraub Liebenow.
Simpson disliked her intensely. What made it worse was he didn't understand what agitated him more. Was it his feeling that she thought that she was better than him or that she might be correct?
He found himself staring again at the rock with the inscription.
“What does that even mean? ‘Rocks aren’t really rocks.’ Why would a “Great teacher” know that?”
“What Carmela was trying to get at is that we shouldn’t assume that things are what we call them. They aren’t their names. Nobody ever got wet from the word water.”
“I don’t follow. A noun is a person, place, or thing. When you say, “that's a rock.” everyone knows what you mean.”
“I agree that they think they know what you mean. But calling it a rock doesn’t tell you anything about the rock. Like calling a student a child doesn't tell us very much about that child, does it?”
“I think she was overthinking things!” He started to giggle, trying to stifle a condescending affect that fell flat.
“Probably.” Wally said, and smiled.
“You’ll need to start submitting daily lesson plans. Follow the school guidelines. Teach the mandated curriculum expected for students at grade level. Is that too much to ask?”
“On the contrary.” Said Wally, as she looked at his hair and eyes.
For a moment, Longshot felt as though she was looking at him tenderly, which threw him off balance.
“Good. I think. What’s that odor?”
“Well, between sixth graders, a terrarium, and an aviary, you got lots to choose from.”
“Don’t you find that all these animals and plants and cuckoo clocks are distracting the students? God knows their attention span is low enough as it is.”
“The students care for and feed these plants and animals. They know their taxonomy and can tell you about the places they come from. They planted the blueberries last spring. Now we serve them in the cafeteria. They tend a two-acre farm across the street. These youngsters make things that do things. They sell what they grow. They read to the younger children what they write.”
“I have heard all about the things you are doing at Cohen. But these extras take time away from the business at hand. I see no evidence that these fun extras convert to higher test scores. The tests are going to be here before you know it. What have you done to prepare for the MGAP or the TerraSAT?”
The Myna bird screeched “BIZ nesss a Tand, BIZ nessss a Tand, Pruh Pear Em Gap. emmmmmgop. GAp.”
The bell rang in the hall and children began coming back into the room from recess.
Longshot had unwittingly given Wally a great gift. She now knew that her decision was a good one. He had failed the test.
He had also failed to notice what was plainly laid out on Wally Liebenow’s otherwise pristine desk: an acceptance letter to the Martian Educator’s Program.
She was already on her way to get candy bars.