Maureen Stapleton died on March 13, 2006 at the age of 80; she was an American actress in film, theater and television.
Born Lois Maureen Stapleton in Troy, New York on June 21, 1925, the daughter of John P. Stapleton and Irene (néeWalsh), and grew up in a strict Irish American Catholic family.
She once said that it was her infatuation with the handsome Hollywood actor Joel McCrea which led her into acting.
She made her Broadway debut in the production featuring Burgess Meredith of The Playboy of the Western World in 1946.
That same year, she played the role of Iras in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” in a touring production by actress and producer Katharine Cornell.
Her breakthrough came in 1950, when she won the lead role in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo.
Williams had Italian actress Anna Magnani in mind to play the role of widow Serafina delle Rose, but Magnani declined, afraid her English was not good enough.
The producers were unable to find an actress for the part until Clurman recommended Stapleton.
She won the part after repeated auditions. Stapleton appeared opposite Eli Wallach, a friend of hers from acting school. Stapleton played an Italian-American widow, and Wallach played the truck driver who convinces her to love again.
When the play opened in February of 1951, New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson raved about Stapleton’s performance, especially her ability to portray both Serafina’s earthy, coarse nature and her emotional breakthroughs.
Stapleton won her first Tony Award for her performance in 1951.
A mid-1960s revival of The Rose Tattoo helped Stapleton launch a comeback.
She won an Emmy in 1967 for Among the Paths to Eden, a television adaptation of a Truman Capote story.
In 1970, she was again nominated for an Academy Award for her work in Airport. She won her second Tony Award for her role in Neil Simon’s play The Gingerbread Lady, in 1971.
She won an Emmy for 1975’s Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, about a couple who fall in love at a dance hall, and was nominated for an Oscar for her appearance in the Woody Allen film Interiors in 1978.
Finally, her fourth Oscar nomination, for playing famous anarchist Emma Goldman in the 1981 Warren Beatty film Reds, led to an Oscar for best supporting actress.
The same year, she received a Tony nomination for The Little Foxes, in which she performed with Elizabeth Taylor.
(Magnani’s English improved, however, and she was able to play the role in the film version, winning an Oscar.) Stapleton played in other Williams’ productions, including Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton and Orpheus Descending (and its film adaptation, The Fugitive Kind, co-starring her friend Marlon Brando), as well as Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic.
She was an alumna of the famous Actors Studio in New York City, led by Lee Strasberg. She became friends with Marilyn Monroe, who was only one year younger than Stapleton.
She was impressed with Monroe’s talent, and always thought it was a shame that Monroe was rarely allowed to play roles beyond the ditzy blonde.
By comparison, Stapleton thought herself lucky: “I never had that problem. People looked at me on stage and said, ‘Jesus, that broad better be able to act.'”
She admitted to having a drinking problem and confessed that she would head for the vodka right after the curtain went down.
Liquor was a fixture in her dressing room but she claims that she never appeared on stage drunk.