Maureen Stapleton

Oscar-winning actress in 'Reds'


Lois Maureen Stapleton, actress: born Troy, New York 21 June 1925; married 1949 Max Allentuck (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1959), 1963 David Rayfiel (marriage dissolved 1966); died Lenox, Massachusetts 13 March 2006.

The actress Maureen Stapleton was a versatile, much-feted actress and winner of all three major awards - the Tony, the Emmy and the Oscar. Her film appearances were infrequent, but brought her four Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the fourth, for her superb incarnation of the anarchist Emma Goldman in Reds (1981), winning her the award.

Equally convincing whether playing tough or vulnerable, straight or comic, she was particularly noted as an exponent of Tennessee Williams's characters. In the theatre she created the heroines of The Rose Tattoo and Orpheus Descending, and acted in works by Neil Simon and Lillian Hellman. Simon's play The Gingerbread Lady, in which she starred, is generally considered to be based on the tempestuous life of Stapleton herself.

Born to staunch Irish Catholics in 1925 in Troy, New York, Stapleton had an alcoholic father who left home when she was a child. She later said that a love of movies and film magazines helped her overcome poverty and low self-esteem. After graduating from high school in 1942, she worked as a clerk for a year before setting off for New York to pursue an acting career.

Following studies at the Herbert Berghof Acting School, she made her Broadway début after telephoning the producer Guthrie McLintock and asking him who was to play Pegeen Mike in his production of The Playboy of the Western World. McLintock cast her as a village girl and to understudy Pegeen, and she actually played the role for the last week of the run.

McLintock and his wife Katharine Cornell took her into their company, and she then became a charter member of the Actors' Studio. In 1948 she played Masha in a Studio performance of The Seagull and made her television début in the drama Night Club.

In 1951 Stapleton achieved stardom with her performance as the earthy Sicilian widow in The Rose Tattoo. Williams had written the role for Anna Magnani, who felt her English was not good enough to sustain such an intensive stage role. "It was I who found Maureen Stapleton for the part," the author wrote later. "She was a very young girl at the time but nevertheless I thought she was so brilliant in characterisation that the obstacle of her youth would be overcome." Stapleton won the Tony as Best Actress and was forever identified with the play, taking the role of Serafina again in revivals in 1966 and 1973.

She also played Flora, the simple-minded young wife in Williams's 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1955), later filmed as Baby Doll with Carroll Baker as Flora, and she created the role of the passionate shopkeeper Lady Torrance in Orpheus Descending (1957). Magnani played the role on screen opposite Marlon Brando, though Stapleton appeared in the film version in another role. She also triumphed in a revival of Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1965).

In 1960 Stapleton appeared in a big hit, Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic, playing one of two sisters who devote their lives to their brother. Both Stapleton and Anne Revere, who played her sister, were nominated for Tony Awards, with Revere winning.

Neil Simon's hit comedy Plaza Suite (1968) consisted of three playlets set in the same hotel; it gave Stapleton and George C. Scott the opportunity to play three different couples and prompted the critic Martin Gottfried to comment, "It proved to me for the first time that an Actors Studio-trained actor can play comedy." Stapleton repeated one of the roles in the film version, which cast three separate actresses in the stories.

In 1971 she won another Tony Award starring in Simon's The Gingerbread Lady, playing Evy Meara, an alcoholic singer who returns from a drying-out session and attempts to rid herself of her abusive young lover. The character was largely considered to be an amalgam by Simon of Judy Garland and Stapleton herself, which the actress disputed in her autobiography, A Hell of a Life (1995). Stapleton frankly confessed, though, to a tumultuous love life which encompassed many impetuous, ill-fated affairs (including one with the stage director George Abbott that started when he was 81 and she was 43) and two failed marriages.

Stapleton's sporadic screen career began with her harrowing portrayal of an unscrupulous nymphomaniac in Miss Lonelyhearts (1958), her performance winning an Oscar nomination. She worked with the director Sidney Lumet on adaptations of Williams's The Fugitive Kind (1960) and Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge (1962), then had her first screen comedy role in the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

Her second Oscar nomination was for her long-suffering Inez Guerrero, whose mentally unstable husband (Van Heflin) takes a bomb on a flight to Rome so that his wife can get his travel insurance, in George Seaton's box-office hit Airport (1970). Woody Allen's first dramatic film, Interiors (1978) brought a third nomination, and she finally won the award for Warren Beatty's Reds, based on the life of the liberal activist and journalist John Reed.

Her other films included Cocoon (1985, as one of the elderly folk who discover a means of rejuvenation) and The Money Pit (1986, as a zany real-estate crook). On television, she won an Emmy Award for her performance in Truman Capote's Among the Paths to Eden (1967).

Celebrated by her colleagues not only for her talent, but her wit, loyalty and warmth, she was described by Tennessee Williams as "self-destructive" but "an absolute genius and one of the total innocents of the world".

Tom Vallance

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game