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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on