Judith Anderson

Dame Judith Anderson

Anderson in 1934
Born Frances Margaret Anderson-Anderson
10 February 1897(1897-02-10)[1]
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Died 3 January 1992(1992-01-03) (aged 94)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1915–87
Spouse Benjamin Harrison Lehmann (m. 1937–1939) «start: (1937)–end+1: (1940)»"Marriage: Benjamin Harrison Lehmann to Judith Anderson" Location: (linkback://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Anderson)(divorced)
Luther Greene (m. 1946–1951) «start: (1946)–end+1: (1952)»"Marriage: Luther Greene to Judith Anderson" Location: (linkback://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Anderson)(divorced)

Dame Judith Anderson, AC, DBE (10 February 1897 – 3 January 1992)[2] was an Australian-born American-based actress of stage, film and television. She won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award and was also nominated for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award.


Early life

Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson-Anderson in Adelaide, South Australia to Jessie Margaret and James Anderson-Anderson.[3] She attended Norwood High School, and began acting in Australia before moving to New York in 1918.[4] She established herself as a dramatic actress of note, making several appearances in the plays of William Shakespeare.


She made her professional debut (as Francee Anderson) in 1915, playing Stephanie at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, in A Royal Divorce. Leading the company was the Scottish actor Julius Knight whom she later credited with laying the foundations of her acting skills. In the company were some American actors who convinced Anderson to try her luck in the United States. She went to California but was unsuccessful, and tried New York, with an equal lack of success. After a period of poverty and illness, she found work with the Emma Bunting Stock Company at the 14th Street Theatre in 1918–19. She toured with other stock companies until 1922 when she made her Broadway debut in On the Stairs using the name Frances Anderson. Twelve months later, she had changed her name to Judith and had her first triumph with the play Cobra co-starring Louis Calhern. She toured Australia in 1927 with three plays – Tea for Three, The Green Hat and Cobra.[citation needed]

By the early 1930s, she had established herself as one of the greatest theatre actresses of her era and she was a major star on Broadway throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1931, she played the Unknown Woman in the American premiere of Luigi Pirandello's As You Desire Me, filmed the following year with Greta Garbo in the same role. This was followed by Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, Luigi Chiarelli's The Mask and the Face, with Humphrey Bogart, and Zoe Akins' The Old Maid from the novel by Edith Wharton, in the role later played on film by Miriam Hopkins. In 1936, Anderson played Gertrude to John Gielgud's Hamlet in a production which featured Lillian Gish as Ophelia.[citation needed]

In 1937, she joined the Old Vic Company in London and played Lady Macbeth opposite Laurence Olivier in a production by Michel Saint-Denis, at the Old Vic and the New Theatre. In 1941, she played Lady Macbeth again in New York opposite Maurice Evans in a production staged by Margaret Webster, a role she was to reprise later on television twice (the second version of 1960 was released to theatres in Europe as a feature film, and was the first Macbeth in color).

In 1942–43, she played Olga in Chekhov's Three Sisters, in a production which also featured Katharine Cornell, Ruth Gordon, Edmund Gwenn, Dennis King, and Alexander Knox. (Kirk Douglas, playing an orderly, made his Broadway debut in the production.)[5] The production was so illustrious, it made it to the cover of Time.[6]

In 1947, she triumphed as Medea in a version of Euripides' tragedy, written by the poet Robinson Jeffers and produced by John Gielgud, who also played Jason. She won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance. She toured in this role to Germany in 1951 and to France and Australia in 1955–56.

In 1953, she was directed by Charles Laughton in his own adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét's John Brown's Body with a cast also featuring Raymond Massey and Tyrone Power. In 1960, she played Madame Arkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull first at the Edinburgh Festival, and then at the Old Vic, with Tom Courtenay, Cyril Luckham and Tony Britton.[citation needed]

In 1970, she realized a long-held ambition to play the title role of Hamlet on a national tour of the United States and at New York's Carnegie Hall.[citation needed]

In 1982, she returned to Medea, this time playing the Nurse opposite Zoe Caldwell in the title role. Caldwell had appeared in a small role in the Australian tour of Medea in 1955–56. She was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.


from the trailer for the film Laura (1944)

In Hollywood, her striking and not conventionally attractive features meant that her opportunities were limited to supporting character actress work. She naturally preferred the stage in any event. However, she did make a handful of significant films. In particular, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). As the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Judith Anderson was required to mentally torment the young bride, the "second Mrs. de Winter" (Joan Fontaine), even encouraging her to commit suicide; and taunt her husband (Laurence Olivier) with the memory of his first wife, the never-seen "Rebecca" of the title. "Mrs. Danvers" as conceived by Judith Anderson is widely considered one of the screen's most memorable and sexually ambiguous female villains. (The Oscar went to Jane Darwell, for The Grapes of Wrath.)

This led to several film appearances during the 1940s in such films as Lady Scarface (1941), Kings Row (1942), All Through the Night (1942), Otto Preminger's Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney, René Clair's And Then There Were None (1945), Ben Hecht's Specter of the Rose (1946), and Jean Renoir's The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946). She continued to act on the New York stage, winning a Tony Award in 1948 for her bravura, legendary performance in the title role of Medea.[citation needed]

Her stage and film work continued and by the 1950s she was also appearing in television productions. On the big screen, she played a golddigger in Anthony Mann's western The Furies (1950), Herodias in Salome (1953) and Memnet in Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments (1956). Anderson gave a memorable performance as Big Momma in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). She also portrayed the Evil Stepmother in a Jerry Lewis comedy, Cinderfella, and Buffalo Cow Head in the western adventure A Man Called Horse (1970).

Anderson also recorded many spoken word record albums for Caedmon Audio in the 1950s through the 1970s, including her performance as Lady Macbeth (opposite Anthony Quayle). Other recordings include an adaption of Madea, Robert Louis Stevenson verses, and readings from The Bible. She received a Grammy nomination for her work on the Wuthering Heights recording.


Anderson began an active career in television in the early 1950s, usually starring in prestigious "event" dramas such as recreating her role as Medea in 1959 and two separate productions of Macbeth in 1954 and 1960, winning the Emmy Award for both filmed performances as Lady Macbeth. Anderson was a frequent star of Hallmark Hall of Fame productions.[citation needed]

Later career

In her later years, she played two more prominent roles in productions that took her as far away from her Shakespearean origins as possible. In 1984, she appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as the Vulcan High Priestess "T'Lar". That same year she commenced a three-year stint as matriarch Minx Lockridge on the NBC serial Santa Barbara. She had professed to be a fan, but after signing the contract, she bitterly complained about her lack of screen time. After leaving the show, she was succeeded in the role by the quarter-century younger American actress Janis Paige.[citation needed]

Personal life

Anderson was married twice and declared that "neither experience was a jolly holiday":[7]

  • Benjamin Harrison Lehmann (1889–1977), an English professor at the University of California at Berkeley; they wed in 1937 and divorced in August 1939. By this marriage she had a stepson, Benjamin Harrison Lehmann Jr. (born 1918).[8][9]
  • Luther Greene (1909–1987), a theatrical producer; they were married in July 1946 and divorced in 1951. [1]


Anderson loved Santa Barbara, California and spent much of her life there, dying of pneumonia in 1992. She was a friend of poet Robinson Jeffers, who wrote the adaptation of Medea which she starred in, and she was a frequent visitor to his home "Tor House" in Carmel, California.


Anderson was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1960 and thereafter was often billed as "Dame Judith Anderson".[10]

On 10 June 1991, in the Queen's Birthday Honours, she was named a Companion in the Order of Australia (AC), "in recognition of service to the performing arts".[11]

Partial filmography

See also


  1. ^ According to the United States Social Security Death Index Anderson's year of birth was 1897, however many sources cite 1898 as her year of birth.
  2. ^ "Judith Anderson profile at Film Reference.com". filmreference. http://www.filmreference.com/film/0/Judith-Anderson.html. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  3. ^ "Judith Anderson Biography". Yahoo! Movies. 2008. http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/contributor/1800017822/bio. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  4. ^ Anne Heywood (7 May 2003). "Anderson, Frances Margaret (Judith) (1898–1992)". Australian Women's Archives Project. National Foundation for Australian Women. http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0006b.htm. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  5. ^ Mosel, "Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell
  6. ^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Katharine Cornell, Judith Anderson & Ruth Gordon". Time.com. 21 December 1942. http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19421221,00.html. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 
  7. ^ Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra, and Robert A. Schanke, The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy (University of Michigan Press, 2005), p. 29
  8. ^ Decennial Report: Harvard University, Class of 1911 (Four Seas Company, 1921), p. 245
  9. ^ Langston Hughes, Joseph McLaren, and Arnold Rampersad, The COllected Works of Langston Hughes, page 392
  10. ^ "It's an Honour: DBE". Itsanhonour.gov.au. 1 January 1960. http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=1067253&search_type=advanced&showInd=true. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  11. ^ "Australian Honours: Anderson, Judith". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 2008. http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=870331&search_type=quick&showInd=true. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 

External links

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