JoAnn Delores Ratner
July 15, 1931
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||October 15, 2023 (aged 92)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Actor, teacher, author, casting director|
(m. 1950; div. 1955)
(m. 1965; died 2006)
|Children||2, including Julie|
Joanna Merlin (born JoAnn Delores Ratner; July 15, 1931 – October 15, 2023) was an American actress and casting director who worked with Stephen Sondheim and starred in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. She wrote two acting guides and was a faculty member of New York University's graduate acting program. From 2000 to 2011, she was known for her recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Judge Lena Petrovsky.
JoAnn Delores Ratner, who later took her mother's maiden name, was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1931, to Toni Merlin and Harry Ratner, a Jewish grocer. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Russia. Her family also included her older sister, Harriet Glickman, who would go on to gain recognition for helping persuade Charles M. Schulz in 1968 to add a black character to his Peanuts strip, which he did with the introduction of Franklin.
Merlin first acted on stage at age 11, joining a community theatre production, Too Many Marys. Merlin's family moved to Los Angeles when she was fifteen. She attended UCLA, though did not graduate, and later studied under Michael Chekhov, learning his world-renowned acting technique. She was described as the last student of Chekhov who was still alive and teaching.
Merlin made her first screen appearance in Cecil B. DeMille's film The Ten Commandments in 1956. Five years later, she made her Broadway debut in Becket before playing Tzeitel in Harold Prince's production of Fiddler on the Roof. She left the cast of Fiddler on the Roof before the end of its tour to take care of her two small children, but Harold Prince gave her the opportunity to become involved in casting with a more flexible schedule. Company was the first musical for which Merlin served as the casting director. She was also in charge of casting for such plays as Follies, Evita and Sweeney Todd.
After making appearances in several feature films, including the movie Fame, in which she played Miss Olivia Berg, a classical dance teacher; Merlin appeared in the NBC crime drama Law & Order in 1992 as a defense attorney. Like many actors from that show, she went on to play other characters in the Law & Order franchise - another defense attorney in the original show and a more recurring role as Judge Lena Petrovsky, a judge who was very stern, by-the-book, and scolded or sanctioned, at various times, ADAs Casey Novak (Diane Neal) and Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) and Detective (now Lieutenant) Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), in its first spin-off Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In the latter role, she appeared in 43 episodes, across every season between the years 2000 and 2011.
After a marriage to Martin Lubner in the 1950s ended in divorce, Merlin was married to David Dretzin from 1965 until his death in 2006, from an injury sustained in a car accident. They had two daughters: Rachel, a documentary filmmaker; and Julie, an actress.
|1956||The Ten Commandments||Jethro's Daughter|
|1958||Weddings and Babies||Josie|
|1975||Hester Street||Jake's Landlady|
|1979||All That Jazz||Nurse Pierce|
|1982||Soup for One||Allan's Mother|
|1982||Love Child||Mrs. Sturgis|
|1983||Baby It's You||Mrs. Rosen|
|1984||The Killing Fields||Sydney Schanberg's Sister|
|1985||Year of the Dragon||Casting Director|
|1986||Big Trouble in Little China||Casting Director|
|1987||Prince of Darkness||Bag Lady|
|1987||The Last Emperor||Casting Director|
|1988||Mystic Pizza||Mrs. Araújo|
|1990||Mr. and Mrs. Bridge||Casting Director|
|1991||Class Action||Estelle Ward|
|1992||The Lover||Casting Director|
|1993||Little Buddha||Tibetan Casting: New York|
|1993||M. Butterfly||Casting Consultant|
|1995||Jefferson in Paris||Casting Director|
|1996||MURDER and Murder||Doris|
|1998||City of Angels||Teresa Messinger|
|2001||The Jimmy Show||Emily|
|2003||Just Another Story||Sadie|
|2007||The Invasion||Joan Kaufman|
|2008||Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn||Producer, Co-writer and the role of Jesse Sylvester|
|2008||The Wackness||Grandma Shapiro|
|2010||Sarah's Key||Mme. Rainsferd|
|1960||CBS Repertoire Workshop||Musya||Episode: "The Seven Who Were Hanged"|
|1962||Naked City||Gloria Werminski||Episode: "King Stanislaus and the Knights of the Round Stable"|
|1963||The Defenders||Katy Martinez||Episode: "The Bagman"|
|1964||East Side/West Side||Lucia Lopez||Episode: "It's War, Man"|
|1967||The Winter's Tale||Paulina||TV movie|
|1978||The Last Tenant||Mrs. Farelli||TV movie|
|1980||Nurse||Nan Riley||TV movie|
|1981||ABC Afterschool Specials||Inez Marin||Episode: "Starstruck"|
|1982||Another World||Dr. Emily Cole||Soap Opera|
|1983||Jacobo Timerman: Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number||Unknown||TV movie|
|1986||Amazing Stories||Marie / Wealthy Lady||Episode: "Gather Ye Acorns"|
|1989||CBS Schoolbreak Special||Marian Rosenberg||Episode: "A Matter of Conscience"|
|1990||Murder in Black and White||Dr. Bromberg||TV movie|
|1991||L.A. Law||Assistant District Attorney Ellen Kennedy||Episode: "Pump it up"|
|1991||A Marriage: Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz||Dolly Stieglitz||TV movie|
|1991||In a Child's Name||Frances Silvano||TV movie|
|1992||Baby Talk||Unknown||Episodes: "Scenes from a Marriage"|
|1992–1993||Law & Order||Carla Bowman||2 episodes|
|1993||Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage||Rose Profaci||TV movie|
|1993||Northern Exposure||Nadine Fleischman||Episode: "Birds of a Feather"|
|1996||The Prosecutors||Unknown||TV movie|
|1996–1997||New York Undercover||Carmella McNamara||4 episodes|
|1997||All My Children||Judge Brauer||Soap Opera|
|1994–1998||Law & Order||Deirdre Powell||3 episodes|
|1999||Black and Blue||Ann Benedetto||TV movie|
|1999||Witness Protection||Mrs. O'Connor, Cindy's Mother||TV movie|
|2004||The Jury||Jackie Ochs||Episode: "Too Jung to Die"|
|2008||The American Experience||Family Member|
|2010||Frontline||Herself||Episode: Digital Nation"|
|2011||The Good Wife||Loni Goslin||Episode: "In Sickness"|
|2000–2011||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Judge Lena Petrovsky||43 episodes|
|2013||Homeland||Grandma Lois||Episode: "Tin Man Is Down"|
|1961||A Far Country||Replacement Performer|
|1964||Fiddler on the Roof||Tzeitel|
|1973||A Little Night Music||Casting Director|
|1976||Pacific Overtures||Casting Director|
|1978||On the Twentieth Century||Casting Director|
|1979||Sweeney Todd||Casting Director|
|1981||Merrily We Roll Along||Casting Director|
|1982||A Doll's Life||Casting Director|
|1987||Into The Woods||Casting Director|
Awards and nominations
|Year||Award||Category||Film or series||Result|
|1988||Casting Society of America Artios Award||Best Casting for a Feature Film, Drama||The Last Emperor||Won|
|2009||Strasbourg International Film Festival Award||Best Actress||Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn||Won|
- "Graduate Acting Faculty Directory". New York University. Archived from the original on August 27, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- "Joanna Merlin" Profile. Memim.com. Accessed October 2015.
- Sandomir, Richard (October 28, 2023). "Joanna Merlin, Known for Her Work Both Onstage and Off, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved October 28, 2023.
- Slotnik, Daniel E. (April 3, 2020). "Harriet Glickman, Who Pushed 'Peanuts' to Add a Black Character, Dies at 93". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
- Eaker, Sherry (November 10, 2000). "Audition Advice From an Industry Vet: Joanna Merlin". Back Stage. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Erickson, Hal. "Joanna Merlin - Movie and Film Biography". All Movie. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- "Joanna Merlin". The Michael Chekhov Association. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Greg Evans (October 16, 2023). "Joanna Merlin Dies: Original Fiddler On The Roof Tzeitel, Longtime Judge On Law & Order: SVU Was 92". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
- Michael Starr (October 16, 2023). "Fiddler on the Roof actress Joanna Merlin dead at 92". New York Post. Retrieved October 16, 2023.