Retired actress, singer, and songwriter Mary Haskell always had a passion for music, and growing up in Beaumont, a small town outside of Houston, Texas, she was one of the loudest voices in the cherub church choir.
“You know, [a voice] where you didn’t need a microphone, you could hit the back of the hall with, as we say, your pipes as your instrument. I’ve really just been a part of music my whole life,” said Haskell.
She realized music would be her career when she auditioned as a 17-year-old for a summer performing job at Six Flags Over Texas.
“I was getting paid minimum wage, probably seven dollars an hour, to crank out five shows a day, six days a week, and yet I loved every minute of it,” she said.
After this summer, Haskell’s passion for music soared and she realized it was what she wanted to study. So, in 1976 Haskell came to OleMiss to pursue a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance.
“There was no musical theater major,” Haskell said. “If there was, I probably would’ve seriously considered it. But, at that point in time in the 70’s, you either chose theater, which was acting, or you chose music. And of course, my DNA is music.
Haskell sings a song gifted to her husband Sam from Dolly Parton
From the beginning, she immersed herself into the music world including auditioning for a prestigious song and dance group on
campus called, “The Group.” It was during the audition that she met her husband, Sam Haskell, whom she married 38 years ago.
“I heard this, “Oh My Gosh!” I was like, How rude! Who is that!?,” she said. “Of course it turned out to be this young man named Sam Haskell who came up and said, ‘You’re amazing. You’re going to make this group. They’d be crazy not to cast you.”
While at Ole Miss, Haskell placed both as Miss University and Miss Mississippi and competed for Miss America, claiming the performance part throughout all of the competitions were her very favorite parts.
“I adored coming back home and serving as Miss Mississippi,” Haskell said. “A lot of times people want to just win the crown and be done with it, but honestly the year I served, was the year I really fell in love with the state and why I eventually moved back.”
After graduating, Haskell briefly performed in Dallas, Texas before landing a spot in Disneyland as a dancer and a singer at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.
“I know the odds were certainly against me to go out there and say, I want to sing and dance and act, and that it actually happens, and actually make a living at it,” she said. “I do realize and appreciate the rarity of that.”
Ten years later, Sam and Mary wanted to have children, and Haskell realized it was time to take a step back from performing.
“I was working and touring and I knew there was just no way I was gonna leave the house and go to a theater six nights a week with babies at home, so I naively thought, well I’ll just do television, how hard can that be?” she recalls.
She debuted in her first series at the time called Sisters. Not only has Haskell performed on stage and television but she also has recorded four albums, which she only began at the age of 50. Now, Haskell splits her time between Los Angeles and Oxford. She loves the slower pace of life in Oxford compared to Los Angeles.
“Life here is so much more at ease, the community, the spirit, the warmth, the pace, it’s so lovely.” Haskell said.
Even though Haskell is retired, she is staying active and giving back to her community in a variety of ways including helping the Ole Miss theater department, serving as a member of the Ole Miss Women’s Council, helping at First Presbyterian Church, the Food Pantry, and many others. She believes that women giving back to their community is in their DNA.
“It is that thing in our nature that makes us want to nurture,” Haskell said. “If you have children you do it there, but whether if you have children or not, we tend to be wired in the workplace, wired in this world of ours, to see a problem, see a need, and want to step in.”
But, even with the magic of Oxford where she attended school, she knows there is always something exciting waiting for her back in LA.
“Although we call Oxford home, we still have work, family, and of course, three grandsons ages 2, 4, and 6, who live in LA and as they say, where the grandchildren are, you shall be also,” Haskell said.