Betty Thomas

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Betty Thomas
Betty Thomas (cropped).jpg
Thomas at the Emmy Awards Governors Ball in 1994
Betty Lucille Nienhauser [1]

(1947-07-27) July 27, 1947 (age 73)
OccupationActress, film and television director
Years active1975–present
Spouse(s)Douglas Thomas (?-present) [2]

Betty Thomas (born Betty Lucille Nienhauser, July 27, 1947) [1] is an American actress, director, and producer of television and motion pictures. She is known for her Emmy Award-winning role as Sergeant Lucy Bates on the television series Hill Street Blues . [3] As of March 2018, Thomas is one of just two directors (and the only solo director) to have multiple films on the list of seventeen highest-US-grossing female-directed films. [4] Additionally, two of her films are in the top twenty-five highest-US-grossing female-directed films. [5]


Early life

Thomas was born Betty Lucille Nienhauser in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1947 to Nancy (née Brown) and William H. Nienhauser, Sr. [6] [7] She graduated from Willoughby South High School, Willoughby, Ohio, in 1965. After high school Thomas attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Upon graduating Thomas worked as an artist and taught high school before becoming a part of The Second City Chicago premiere source for improvisational theater. [8]

Second City

Thomas came to her entertainment career by a circuitous route. While working as an artist and school teacher she became a waitress at The Second City to earn extra cash for a trip abroad. While waiting tables Thomas was encouraged to try out for the troupe, and subsequently joined the company. [9]

She was praised for her brassy and outspoken performances, and became the first woman to direct one of their MainStage theatre productions. [10] Thomas also worked with several up and coming Second City alumni, most notably Bill Murray. [11] When The Second City opened a Los Angeles branch, Thomas moved west.


Acting career

Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, Thomas received many bit parts in low-budget films like Chesty Anderson, USN (1976), the Robert Zemeckis film Used Cars (1980) as well as sketch comedy films like Tunnel Vision (1975), and Loose Shoes (1980), the latter of which featuring Second City classmate Bill Murray. [9] She also appeared in the 1989 film Troop Beverly Hills , starring Shelley Long. [12]

While Thomas had been building her career in comedy, her breakthrough role as an actress came when she was cast in the role of police officer (later Sergeant) Lucy Bates on the TV series Hill Street Blues (1981–87). Over the course of the series her character goes from inexperienced rookie to confident sergeant. She received seven Emmy nominations for best supporting actress, and took home the award for the 1984–85 season. [13]

Directing career

After having lied to a Variety reporter about planning on directing a Hooperman episode, she was given a real opportunity by the show's executive producer, and from there her directing career began. [14] After making several other acting appearances, Thomas began directing episodes of Hooperman in addition to the premiere episodes of Doogie Howser, M.D. in 1989. She went on to direct episodes of Arresting Behavior and several episodes of the HBO series Dream On, the latter of which earned her an Emmy for best director. [13] Thomas is nicknamed "The Midnight Queen" because of her preference for nighttime shoots. [15]

In 1992 Thomas took the next step in her directing career with her feature debut Only You . A slight, playful romantic comedy; Only You was a departure from Thomas's experience on Hill Street Blues or her subsequent television directing. Wayne Rice, the film's producer and screenwriter, said that Thomas was chosen to direct due in part to the film's plot in which a man is on a hapless quest to find the perfect woman would be considered inherently sexist without a female director. [16]

Three years following the release of Only You Thomas directed The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), a satirical vision of the 1970s television series The Brady Bunch . The Brady Bunch Movie was a box office hit with domestic ticket sales of $46,576,136, nearly quadrupling its $12 million budget and making it at the time one of the highest-grossing films directed by a woman. [3]

She followed The Brady Bunch Movie with other successes, including Private Parts (1997), Dr. Dolittle (1998), 28 Days (2000), and John Tucker Must Die (2006). 2009's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel became the first female-directed picture to gross more than $200 million and made her the most successful woman director to that time at the box office. [17] In 2012, Thomas directed a low-budget online series called Audrey for the WIGS YouTube channel. [18] In 1998, her Tall Trees productions company was signed to a first look deal with Columbia Pictures. [19]

In 2001, Thomas won the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award of the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, presented by the Los Angeles chapter of the Women in Film Organization. [12]




Executive producer



TV series

1989 Hooperman Episodes: "Goodnight, Sweet Hooperman", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Morning and Night", "In the Still of My Pants"
1989 Doogie Howser, M.D. Episodes: "Doogie The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "The Ice Queen Cometh"
1990 Mancuso, FBI Episodes: "Night of the Living Shred", "Shiva Me Timbers", "Murder of Pearl"
1990 Parenthood Episodes: "Thanksgiving with a T that Rhymes with B that Stands for Basketball", "I Never Invested for My Father"
1991 Sons and Daughters
1991 Midnight Caller Episode: "Her Dirty Little Secret"
1991 Shannon's Deal Episode: "Matrimony"
1992 On the Air Episode #1.6
1996 The Late Shift Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials, 1997
1990–96 Dream On 18 episodes
Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, 1993
2006 The Loop Pilot episode
2015 Grace and Frankie Episode: "The Fall"

TV movies

Acting roles

YearTitleRoleDirector / creatorNotes
1976 Tunnel Vision Bridgit Bert Richards Neal Israel, Bradley R. Swirnoff
1976 Jackson County Jail WaitressMichael Miller
1976The Last Affair Henri Charr
1976 Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy Party Guest #1Ed Forsyth
1977 Dog and Cat WaitressBob Kelljan
1978 C.P.O. Sharkey Seaman Daley Aaron Ruben
1978 Outside Chance KatherineMichael Miller
1980 Used Cars Bunny Robert Zemeckis
1980 Loose Shoes Biker Chic #1Ira Miller
1981The Nashville GrabMaxine Pearce James L. Conway
1982 Twilight Theater Perry Rosemond
1982 Homework Reddogs SecretaryJames Beshears
1983When Your Lover LeavesMaude Jeff Bleckner
1985 ABC Afterschool Specials Dr. Mary LewisGuy Fraumeni
1987 Prison for Children Angela Brannon Larry Peerce
1981–87 Hill Street Blues Sgt. Lucy Bates Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, 1985
1989 The Tracey Ullman Show Miss Belts, Gym Teacher Ted Bessell, Art Wolff Segment titled "Francesca: A Physical Education"
1989 Troop Beverly Hills Velda Plendor Jeff Kanew
2018 Kidding Herself Michel Gondry Episode: "Green Means Go"

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