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 74)
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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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

Year Title Notes
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)
1990–1996 Dream On 18 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (1993)
2006 The Loop Pilot episode
2015 Grace and Frankie Episode: "The Fall"

TV movies

  • My Breast (1994)
  • Couples (1994)
  • Silicon Follies (2001)
  • Senor White (2003)
  • That Guy (2006)
  • Dash 4 Cash (2007)

Acting roles[edit]

Year Title Role Director / creator Notes
1976 Tunnel Vision Bridgit Bert Richards Neal Israel, Bradley R. Swirnoff
1976 Jackson County Jail Waitress Michael Miller
1976 The Last Affair Henri Charr
1976 Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy Party Guest #1 Ed Forsyth
1977 Dog and Cat Waitress Bob Kelljan
1978 C.P.O. Sharkey Seaman Daley Aaron Ruben
1978 Outside Chance Katherine Michael Miller
1980 Used Cars Bunny Robert Zemeckis
1980 Loose Shoes Biker Chic #1 Ira Miller
1981 The Nashville Grab Maxine Pearce James L. Conway
1982 Twilight Theater Perry Rosemond
1982 Homework Reddogs Secretary James Beshears
1983 When Your Lover Leaves Maude Jeff Bleckner
1985 ABC Afterschool Specials Dr. Mary Lewis Guy Fraumeni
1987 Prison for Children Angela Brannon Larry Peerce
1981–1987 Hill Street Blues Sgt. Lucy Bates Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll Primetime 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"


  1. ^ a b Taylor, Gemma. "Trying To Change The Colour!".
  2. ^ "Nancy Nienhauser Obituary - MO | St. Louis Post-Dispatch".
  3. ^ a b "Betty Thomas". Hill Street Blues. Paley Center for Media. Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  4. ^ "10 Highest-Grossing Movies Directed by Women, From 'What Women Want' to 'Captain Marvel' (Photos)". TheWrap. 2019-11-15. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  5. ^ Bean, Travis. "Box Office: The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies Ever Directed By Women". Forbes.
  6. ^ "". 1995-02-16. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  7. ^ "Nancy Brown Nienhauser obituary at". Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  8. ^ "Betty Thomas biodata at". Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Betty Thomas biography at". Yahoo Movies. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  10. ^ "Betty Thomas". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  11. ^ "The Thaumaturgy Department". Tumblr. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Betty Thomas Awards". Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  13. ^ a b "Betty Thomas". CelebrityNooz. 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  14. ^ "Betty Thomas". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  15. ^ Rausch, Andrew (2008). Dequina, Michael (ed.). Fifty Filmmakers: Conversations with Directors from Roger Avary to Steven Zaillian. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 239.
  16. ^ Weinstein, Steve (January 2, 1992). "A Long Way From 'Hill Street's' Beat: Betty Thomas Struts Her Comic Side in Directing First Feature, 'Only You'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  17. ^ Young, John (March 12, 2010). "Betty Thomas: Highest-grossing female director". Entertainment Weekly.
  18. ^ "Director Thomas finds passion project online". May 17, 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-05-17.
  19. ^ Lorber, Danny (1998-09-23). "Tall Trees grow at Col". Variety. Retrieved 2020-11-15.

External links[edit]