WHEN ANNE Jackson was about 11 and having one of many arguments with her mother, she decided it was the perfect moment to commit suicide by jumping out the kitchen window.
Her mother grabbed her and, as she recalls, "squeezed my cheeks till my lips went oval, and hissed, 'I never wanted you, you little bitch. You've been a trial to me since the day you were born.'"
"I never loved you either," said Jackson. "You're mean and cruel and I wish you were dead."
Sent to her bedroom, Jackson deliberately plunged a needle into her thumb and smeared the blood across her upper lip so it would look as if her mother had wounded her. The ploy apparently worked. At any rate, she was allowed to see "Saratoga," Jean Harlow's last movie and the proximate cause of the agrument.
At 14, Jackson came home one afternoon to find her mother, usually an obsessively neat woman, alone with a kitchen full of unwasted breakfast dishes, a stream of water spilling from the icebox pan onto the floor, and yelling, at no one, "Go on with you! I'm a decent woman; don't you dare call me filthy names!"
Stella Jackson was institutionalized for the last year six years of her life.
Anne Jackson has just written a book about all this, and she seems amazed that she wrote it. She was all set to burn an early, incomplete draft, she says, until her artist son Peter told her, "It's not a work of art until it's finished."
"I'm still in a daze that anybody's asking me about it, that I went through with it," says Jackson, sitting in the bright and somewhat flamboyantly furnished living room of the Upper West Side apartment she shares with Eli Wallach, her husband.
When they first started working together, Jackson and Wallach were called the "proletarian Lunts." But their current standard of living - in Manhattan and Easthampton, surrounded by art, Wallach's fabulous clock collection and an abundance of theatrical and literay friends - is hardly proletarian.
Jackson has come an awesomely long way from the scrapes of her colorful but difficult childhood, and she has used the opportunity of a book contract to close the psychological gap. She has done it, too, with a lot less affectation and a lot more skill and feeling than many of her recent show-business-memoir-writing predecessors.
"Early Stages" is partly Jackson's effort to understand her cold, rigid, snobbish Irish Catholic mother and her whimsical, Croatian Marxist father, who called himself, picturesquely, "Citizen John Jackson." It is also an unusually detailed and vivid chronicle of a poor childhood, capturing the look and feel of a grimy Pennsylvania town called Job's Hole (after the bilical Job) and then the teeming Brooklyn of the 1930s.
What she set out to write was "as naive and as full a description of a childhood as I could," she says. In the process, she consulted her sisters and other family sources but mainly her own astonishing memory.
She was not consciously trying to explain, she insists, the factors that could propel a girl from the Pennsylvania coal country to a serious stage career in, over a span of 30 years, such a plays as Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke," Murray Schisgal's "Luv" and Alan Ayckbourn's "Absent Friends" (in which she and Wallach appeared at the Kennedy Center two years ago)
"I don't like how-to- books," says Jackson. " . . .And I said up front that I didn't want to write a celebrity book." (But from the wistful way in which she sifts through memorabilia, it is obvious that Jackson could write a traditional theatrical reminiscence, a project she admits she is contemplating.
"My God, was Eli beautiful!" she exclaims on finding a picture from the 1961 production of "Rhinoceros." "He was adorable-looking with hair!")
Even if it wasn't meant that way - and how hard not to in the wake Christina Crawford's tell-it-all "Mommy Dearest" - Jackson's book traces the subtle process by which show business sometimes gets its hooks into children who are barely aware it exists.
"Both the Croats and the Celts are argumentative as a people," says Jackson, whose wide features and red hair could hardly be anything but a composite of those two nationalities.
Her father often talked exuberantly of literature and ideas and taught his children to sing everything from "O sole mio" to "The Internationale." He was a barber and beautician, too, who once sat her down in the in the window of his store in Tarentum, Pa., for a grueling public demonstration of a permanent wave.
Her mother was a coldly melodramatic woman given to organizing frequent exoduses, with children, back to her own mother's house. She was ashamed of poverty, ashamed of their surroundings and ashamed of her ungenteel, irreligious immigrant husband.
When two nuns came by the Jackson' Brooklyn apartment one day to convince Citizen John to put his daughters into parochial school, he let them have it.
"If my children steal or lie, I do correcting," he said. "No Hail Marys 10 times, no mumbo jumbo or hitting breast and whining to priest, 'Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. . .' I don't like whole idea of confessing to stranger, calling him Father; he is not father. I am father. I am entitled to that respect . . .Virgin Mary is not their mother. Priest is not their father."
After a final appeal from the two nuns, who had listened patiently through his tirades, he told them: "Why would I throw my children into den of lions? No, your profession makes you biologically unsound to handle youth. . . ."
"We'll pray for you and your family, Mr. Jackson," said thenuns in parting.
"All right," he replied. "No hard feelings, girls."
His wife was mortified. "You've undermined me and my faith, John," she told him. "These children will never be able to set foot in church again."
At first, when Jackson was planning her book, she thought of her father as a "charming eccentric . . .the one I could show to the public," and of her mother as "the rigid Irish Catholic who never wanted me." She had intended to play up her father and play down her mother and present a memoir of "ordinary people, just folks."
But an unplanned sense of depth gradually crept into her portraits of both parents. In the book, she tells of how her father once cooked and ate his daughter's pet rabbit to punish Anne for letting it out of the yard. And she tells of how her mother took her to Coney Island one afternoon when she was alone and desperate for some excitement.
It is this balance and depth that makes "Early Stages" a pleasure. Those things and a trivial technical point: Bucking every trend, Jackson has presented her story chronologically, reminding us that straightforward narratives do, after all, have a certain intrinsic power.
"I really feel very proud of having written the book," says Jackson.
If the book gave her a boost, she may have needed it. The Wallach family - Eli, Anne and daughters Roberta and Katherine - appeared together this winter in a production of "The Dairy of Anne Frank" that a number of critics sharply criticized. There were suggestions that Roberta was too old to play Anne and might never have been asked to by anyone but her parents.
Roberta Wallach has since gone to California to make a movie, but, says Jackson, "I'm hoping that she will do a play again."
The Wallach's daughters obviously did not have to look far for the inspiration to make careers as actresses. If there is any simple explanation for what started Jackson herself acting, it may have been a desire to escape rather than imitate the world of her parents.
Whatever the cause, when she first performed in neighborhood theatricals organized by her old sister, she found that "the power of making an audience laugh wasjoyous. And you never forget it once you do it. . .I began to feel that if I wasn't going to get all the hugging that I wanted to get elsewhere, I was going to get it there."
At 17, she sought out Herbert Berghof, then teaching acting at the New School in Greenwich Village. Jackson arrived for her interview, she says, in "bobby socks and bubble-gum shoes," and carrying a carefully calculated copy of "Ulysses" under her arm.
"I wasn't going to be reading 'Junior Miss' when I went to be interviewed for Herbert Berghof's class," she says. "I needed desperately to be considered intelligent as well as clown. I wanted people to take me seriously."
Whatever Berghof may have thought of her combination of literature and attire, "he's obviously got to pay some attention," says Jackson. "And he did - he bit."
Several months later she was studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse under Stanford Meisner, learning how to have "the freedom to behave as though it were really happening now, to rid the actor of all those actorish things."
She took a dance class from Martha Graham, who arrived dramatically in black and began talking about the pursuit of beauty as a "cosmic mission," and about "strength and physical freedom."
"She didn't want pretty poses," says Jackson. "You were going to cut the air and stand like a young woman and a man was going to carry the seed."
Jackson's big break came when she entered the John Golden talent auditions, a gigantic open casting call attended and judged by agents, producers, directors and stars.
She made it through the first two rounds doing a simple piece from "Anne of Green Gables," but then decided to switch to the tart's speech in John Steinbeck's "The Moon is Down," dramatizing the character's social disease with liver-colored greaspaint on the corners of her mouth and under her eyes.
She had barely begun this speech when an appalled contest official came charging down the aisle. "Oh, Jesus, kid!" he exclaimed. "What are you pulling? . . . You don't pass for a hooker, kid. Wash that crap off your puss and come back flashing freckles. . . ."
She did. She won. And she was soon cast in a road tour of "The Cherry Orchard," with Eva le Gallienne. "It was just a glorious experience to see Chekhov," she says. "I thought that's what the theater was going to be like always."
In those wartime and postwar days, Jackson met Maureen Stapleton, Lee Grant, Wally Cox and Marlon Brando, all struggling young actors like herself. But Brando, she recalls, seemed to need to struggle less than the rest.
"He had just gotten out of 'I Remember Mama' when I knew him. He'd get the jobs. He'd be the precocious one."
Jackson sublet her $35-a-month room on tower Fifth Avenue to Brando when she-took a job in summer stock. And on her return, "I got all these weird ladies who came down the hall looking for Marlon. . . . Marlon indulged in childish pranks. He was a scamp and a devil and coming around with the ladies and doing naughty things."
And in a 1946 showcase of Tennessee Williams' "This Property Is Condemned," she met Elijah Wallach, a young ex-medical corpsman fresh from overseas service.
"We had a lot in common," Jackson writes. "Neither of us could sing; both of us loved to act; we were both ambitious and idealistic; and we endowed each other with the most extraordinary virtues."
She goes on to describe a cold Sunday morning in 1946 when she and Wallach were in bed together in her small Fifth Avenue room. There was a knock, a "Who's there?" and the reply from outside: "Citizen John Jackson."
Wallach dressed frantically and jumped out the window into an adjoining alley, but when Anne Jackson finally got around to opening the door, her father was gone. She later learned that he had had his suspicions she might not be alone, and his suspicions had been butressed when he saw "a man running down the street in the snow, combing his hair." CAPTION: Picture 1, Anne Jackson with husband Eli Wallach in "Absent Friends" at the Kennedy Center in 1978: "The proletarian Lunts."; Picture 2, Anne Jackson in 1935.