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Frances Sternhagen, an Actress Known for Thriving in Mature Roles, Passes Away at 93


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Frances Sternhagen, the Tony Award-winning actress who performed main roles in stage productions of “Driving Miss Daisy” and “On Golden Pond” as formidable older ladies when she was so younger that she needed to put on growing older make-up, died on Monday at her dwelling in New Rochelle, N.Y. She was 93.

Her son Tony Carlin confirmed the demise.

Ms. Sternhagen received Tonys as featured actress in a play for her performances in two very totally different productions. In a 1995 Broadway revival of “The Heiress,” primarily based on Henry James’s novel “Washington Square,” she was Cherry Jones’s well-meaning, matchmaking Aunt Lavinia. In “The Good Doctor,” Neil Simon’s 1973 tackle Chekhov, she performed a number of roles in comedy sketches.

Ms. Sternhagen got here into her personal in mature Off Broadway roles: because the strong-willed 70-something-and-up Southern widow in Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1988, when she was nonetheless in her 50s, and the involved retirement-age spouse in Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond” in 1979, when she was 49.

She obtained Tony nominations for her roles within the unique productions of “On Golden Pond,” “Equus” and the musical “Angel” and in revivals of “Morning’s at Seven” and “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.”

People who by no means noticed a Broadway present and even went to the flicks could have recognized Ms. Sternhagen’s face from tv. Beginning within the Eighties, when she performed the controlling working-class mom of the oddball postal provider Cliff Clavin on “Cheers,” she sailed via a interval of enjoying maternal figures in memorable recurring roles in quite a few hit collection.

On “ER,” she was Dr. John Carter’s aristocratic Chicago grandmother. On “Sex and the City,” she was Trey MacDougal’s wealthy however peculiar mother. Most not too long ago she performed the mom of Kyra Sedgwick’s Southern character on the police procedural “The Closer.” She obtained three Emmy Award nominations, two for “Cheers” and one for “Sex and the City.”

Ms. Sternhagen was recognized to show down film roles as a result of they might take her away from her household for too lengthy, however over time she did seem in some two dozen movies. She was Burt Reynolds’s intensely caring sister-in-law in “Starting Over” (1979), a perfectionist journal researcher in “Bright Lights, Big City” (1988), and the cookbook writer Irma Rombauer in “Julie & Julia” (2009). Her different movies included “The Hospital” (1971), “Independence Day” (1983) and “Misery” (1990).

But stage was her first dwelling, and her profession flourished in Off Broadway productions. She made her New York stage debut at 25 in Jean Anouilh’s “Thieves’ Carnival” on the Cherry Lane Theater, and he or she received her first Obie Award the following yr, for George Bernard Shaw’s “The Admirable Bashville” (1956). She received once more in 1965 for 2 performances (“The Room” and “A Slight Ache”) and obtained a lifetime achievement Obie in 2013.

Her evaluations have been constructive from the start. “When an intellectual comedy is about to be staged, it is always a wise notion to send for Frances Sternhagen,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times in 1959, reviewing “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe,” an Off Broadway comedy. “She is the mistress of sardonic fooling.”

Frances Hussey Sternhagen was born on Jan. 13, 1930, in Washington, D.C. She was the one youngster of John Meier Sternhagen, a United States tax courtroom choose, and Gertrude (Wyckoff) Sternhagen, a World War I nurse who grew to become a homemaker.

Frances attended the Potomac School and the Madeira School, each in Virginia. At Vassar College, she initially studied historical past however was persuaded by an adviser to present drama a strive.

After commencement in 1951, Ms. Sternhagen taught briefly on the Milton Academy in Milton, Mass. When she auditioned on the Brattle Street Theater in close by Cambridge, she was rejected. “They said I read every part as if I was leading a troop of Girl Scouts out onto a hockey field,” she advised The Toronto Star a long time later.

Returning to Washington, she took theater programs on the Catholic University of America and commenced showing in Arena Stage productions.

At the identical time she started working in New York theater, Ms. Sternhagen additionally ventured into tv work; she made her small-screen debut in 1955 in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” alongside Helen Hayes, on the collection “Producers’ Showcase.” But she didn’t make her function movie debut till a decade later, with a supporting position as a highschool librarian in “Up the Down Staircase” (1967). Like many working actors, she appeared on cleaning soap operas, together with “Love of Life,” and in tv commercials.

She continued working into her 80s. Her final Broadway look was in a 2005 manufacturing of Edward Albee’s “Seascape.” Her final New York stage look was Off Broadway in “The Madrid” (2013) at City Center, enjoying the mom of a kindergarten trainer, performed by Edie Falco, who up and leaves her job and household.

In Ms. Sternhagen’s remaining movie, “And So It Goes” (2014), a comic book drama with Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, she performed a clever, snarky and chain-smoking actual property agent.

Ms. Sternhagen married Thomas Carlin, a fellow actor, in 1956, and so they had six kids. The couple had met briefly at Catholic University, acted collectively in “The Skin of Our Teeth” in Maryland and fell in love when each have been within the solid of “Thieves’ Carnival” in New York. Mr. Carlin died in 1991.

In addition to their son Tony, she is survived by three different sons, Paul, Peter and John; two daughters, Amanda Carlin Sanders and Sarah Carlin; 9 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. She lived in New Rochelle for greater than 60 years.

In 2001, Ms. Sternhagen talked to drama college students at Vassar and gave an interview to the school’s alumni publication. She revealed that as an actress she favored working from the skin in, beginning with how a personality speaks and walks fairly than along with her interior motivation. And she attributed a great deal of her private emotional growth to appearing.

“It’s through working on characters in plays that I’ve learned about myself, about how people operate,” she stated.

As for younger aspiring actors who look down on paying their dues by showing in commercials, Ms. Sternhagen instructed, “Think of it as children’s theater.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.


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