Frances Sternhagen

Last updated

Frances Sternhagen
Frances Sternhagen 1962.jpg
Sternhagen in 1962
Born (1930-01-13) January 13, 1930 (age 92)
OccupationActress, former teacher
Years active1951–2014
Thomas Carlin
(m. 1956;died 1991)

Frances Hussey Sternhagen (born January 13, 1930 [1] ) is an American actress; she has appeared on- and off-Broadway, in movies, and on TV since the 1950s. [2]


Early life and education

Sternhagen was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter and only child of John M. Sternhagen, a U.S. Tax Court judge, and Gertrude (née Hussey) Sternhagen.[ citation needed ] Sternhagen was educated at the Madeira and Potomac schools in McLean, Virginia. At Vassar College, she was elected head of the Drama Club "after silencing a giggling college crowd at a campus dining hall with her interpretation of a scene from Richard II , playing none other than Richard himself". She attended the Catholic University of America as a grad student, where she met Thomas Carlin, her future husband, to whom she was married from 1956 until his death in 1991; the couple had six children. [3] She also studied at the Perry Mansfield School of the Theatre, and at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse. [2]

Stage career

Sternhagen started her career teaching acting, singing, and dancing to school children at the Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and she first performed in 1948 at a Bryn Mawr summer theater in The Glass Menagerie and Angel Street . [2] She went on to work at Washington's Arena Stage from 1953–54, then made her Broadway debut in 1955 as Miss T. Muse in The Skin of Our Teeth . [4] The same year, she had her off-Broadway debut in Thieves' Carnival , and her TV debut in The Great Bank Robbery on Omnibus (CBS). By the following year, she had won her first Obie Award for "Distinguished Performance (Actress)" in The Admirable Bashville (1955–56). [5]

She has won two Tony Awards, for Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic): in 1974 for the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor [6] (which also won her a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play);[ citation needed ] and in 1995 for the revival of The Heiress . She has been nominated for Tony Awards five other times, including for her roles in the original Broadway casts of Equus (1975) and On Golden Pond (1979), as well as for Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (1972), the musical Angel (1978), which was based on Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel , and the 2002 revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven . [6]

She portrayed the title character in 1988's Pulitzer prize-winning drama Driving Miss Daisy , which was originated by Dana Ivey at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Sternhagen took over the role after the show moved to the John Houseman Theatre and played it for more than two years. Her off-Broadway awards include two nominations for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play in 1998, for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night (which starred her own son, Paul Carlin, as her character's son, Jamie Tyrone) for the Irish Repertory Theatre [7] and in 2005, for the World War I drama Echoes of the War. [2] She also won Distinguished Performance Obie Awards for The Room and A Slight Ache (1964–65). In 1998, she won the Dramatists Guild Fund's Madge Evans & Sidney Kingsley Award for Excellence in Theater.[ citation needed ]

Sternhagen appeared as the Daughter in the original 1971 Broadway production of Edward Albee's All Over with Colleen Dewhurst and Jessica Tandy. In the summer of 2005, she starred in the Broadway production of Steel Magnolias along with Marsha Mason, Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, Lily Rabe, and Rebecca Gayheart. She also starred in the 2005 revival of Edward Albee's Seascape , produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Booth Theater on Broadway.

In 2013, Sternhagen was awarded the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement. [8] She is included in the New Rochelle Walk of Fame.

Film roles

Sternhagen made her film debut in Up the Down Staircase (1967), which starred Sandy Dennis. [9] She has worked periodically in Hollywood since then. She had character roles in the 1971 Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital , in Two People (1973), and Billy Wilder's Fedora (1978). She appeared in Starting Over (1979); opposite Sean Connery in Outland (1981); and in Michael J. Fox's Bright Lights, Big City (1988). She played Farrah Fawcett's mother in See You in the Morning (1989), Richard Farnsworth's wife in Misery (1990), Lillian in Doc Hollywood (1991) and John Lithgow's psychiatrist in Raising Cain (1992). Sternhagen starred in Frank Darabont's 2007 science-fiction horror film The Mist . She also appeared in the family films Dolphin Tale (2011) and And So It Goes (2014) (her last acting appearance to date).

Television roles

She may be best known to TV audiences as Esther Clavin, mother of John Ratzenberger's Boston postman character Cliff Clavin, on the long-running series Cheers , for which she received two Emmy Award nominations. She also played Millicent Carter on ER ; Bunny MacDougal, mother of Trey, Charlotte's first husband on Sex and the City (another Emmy Award nomination); Willie Rae Johnson (mother of Brenda Leigh Johnson (played by Kyra Sedgwick) on The Closer ; and Law & Order , among other network dramas and sitcoms. She worked for many years in soap operas such as Another World , The Secret Storm , Love of Life and played two roles on One Life to Live . She recorded a voice-over for a May 2002 episode of The Simpsons ("The Frying Game"). She is also recognized as Mrs. Marsh from a series of television commercials for Colgate toothpaste that aired in the 1970s.

In summer 2006, she finished her 24th Broadway role. [10] Sternhagen appeared in 12 episodes of the program.

Voice acting

She read as the title character in the Stephen King novel Dolores Claiborne in a 1995 audiobook recording. She also voiced characters in 13 episodes of CBS Radio Mystery Theater in the 1970s and 1980s.[ citation needed ]


1967 Up the Down Staircase Charlotte Wolf
1967 The Tiger Makes Out Lady On Bus
1971 The Hospital Mrs. Cushing
1973Two PeopleMrs. McCluskey
1978 Fedora Miss Balfour
1979 Starting Over Marva Potter
1981 Outland Dr. Marian Lazarus Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1983 Independence Day Carla Taylor
1983 Romantic Comedy Blanche Dailey
1986 Resting Place Eudora McCallister
1988 Bright Lights, Big City Clara Tillinghast
1989 Communion Dr. Janet Duffy
1989 See You in the Morning Neenie
1990 Sibling Rivalry Rose Turner
1990 Misery Deputy VirginiaNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1991 Doc Hollywood Lillian
1991Walking the DogAntique DealerShort film
1992 Raising Cain Dr. Lynn WaldheimNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1998It All Came TrueAmy
2000Midnight GospelRuthShort film
2001LandfallEmily Thornton
2001 The Rising Place Ruth Wilder
2002 Highway Mrs. Murray
2007 The Mist Irene Reppler
2009 Julie & Julia Irma Rombauer
2011 Dolphin Tale Gloria Forrest
2014 And So It Goes Claire
1956 Westinghouse Studio One BettyEpisode: "The Arena"
1957 Westinghouse Studio One MaryEpisode: "My Mother and How She Undid Me"
1957 Goodyear Television Playhouse Elizabeth BarnesEpisode: "The House"
1959 Play of the Week EvaEpisode: "Thieves Carnival"
1961 Play of the Week UnknownEpisode: "In a Garden"
1962The Broadway of Lerner and LoeweTheatre-GoerTV movie
1962 The Nurses Mrs. HarrisEpisode: "The Lady Made of Stone"
1964 The Defenders Louise KileyEpisode: "May Day! May Day!"
1964Profiles in CourageMiss KoellerEpisode: "Mary S. McDowell"
1967 NET Playhouse UnknownEpisode: "Infancy and Childhood"
1967 Hallmark Hall of Fame AbigailEpisode: "Soldier in Love"
1967–1968 Love of Life Toni Prentiss DavisTV series
1970 The Doctors Phyllis CorriganTV series
1971 NET Playhouse UnknownSegment: "Foul!"
1971 Another World Jane OverstreetTV series
1972 Great Performances Wilma AtkinsEpisode: "The Rimers of Eldritch"
1974 The Secret Storm Jessie ReddinTV series
1974 Great Performances PaulinaEpisode: "Enemies"
1977 The Andros Targets Mrs. MasonEpisode: "In the Event of My Death"
1978Who'll Save Our Children?Nellie HendersonTV movie
1980Mother and Daughter: The Loving WarMrs. LloydTV movie
1980 The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg Mary RichardsTV short
1983 Prototype Dorothy ForresterTV movie
1984 The Dining Room VariousTV movie
1985 Spencer Millie Sprague7 episodes
1986–1993 Cheers Esther Clavin7 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
1987At Mother's RequestBerenice BradshawTV movie
1987Once AgainUnknownTV movie
1990Follow Your HeartCloe SixburyTV movie
1991 American Experience (voice)Episode: "Coney Island"
1991 The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd DoraEpisode: "Here's a High Dive Into a Shallow Pool"
1991 Golden Years Gina Williams7 episodes
1991 Law & Order Margaret LangdonEpisode: "The Serpent's Tooth"
1992She Woke UpNoelleTV movie
1992 Tales from the Crypt Effie GluckmanEpisode: "None But the Lonely Heart"
1993Labor of Love: The Arlette Schweitzer StoryMary RaffertyTV movie
1994Vault of Horror IUnknownTV movie
1994 The Road Home Charlotte Babineaux6 episodes
1994ReunionTobie YatesTV movie
1995 The Outer Limits Jean AndersonEpisode: "The Choice"
1997 Law & Order Estelle MullerEpisode: "Legacy"
1997–2003 ER Millicent Carter19 episodes
1998 The Con HadabelleTV movie
1998To Live AgainConstance HolmesTV movie
2000–2002 Sex and the City Bunny MacDougal10 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2002 The Laramie Project Marge MurrayTV movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2002 The Simpsons Mrs. Bellamy (voice)Episode: "The Frying Game"
2004 Becker NaomiEpisode: "Subway Story"
2006–2012 The Closer Willie Ray Johnson15 episodes
2012 Parenthood Blanche BravermanEpisode: "Road Trip"
1955 The Skin of Our Teeth Miss T. Muse
1955The Carefree TreeWidow Yang
1960Viva Madison Avenue!Dee Jones
1962Great Day in the MorningAlice McAnany
1965–1966The Right Honourable GentlemanMrs. Ashton Dilke
1967 A Doll's House Nora
1967–1969 You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running Harriet / Edith / Muriel (standby)
1968–1969 The Cocktail Party Lavinia Chamberlayne
1969Cock-A-Doodle DandyLoreleen
1970Blood Red RosesVarious (standby)
1971 The Playboy of the Western World Widow Quin
1971 All Over The Daughter / The Mistress (standby)
1971 Mary Stuart Mary Stuart / Queen Elizabeth (understudy)
1972The Sign in Sidney Brustein's WindowMavis Parodus Bryson
1973–1974 The Good Doctor Performer
1974–1977 Equus Dora Strang
1978 Angel Eliza Gant
1979–1980 On Golden Pond Ethel Thayer
1981 The Father Laura
1981–1982Grown UpsHelen
1983–1984 You Can't Take It with You Unknown
1985Home FrontMaurine
1993 A Perfect Ganesh Margaret
1995The HeiressLavinia Penniman
1999The Exact Center of the UniverseUnknown
2002 Morning's at Seven Ida Bolton
2005 Steel Magnolias Clairee
2005–2006 Seascape Nancy
2013The MadridRose

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