Seldes as Bertha in Ondine, 1954
August 23, 1928|
New York, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 6, 2014
New York, New York, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Julian Claman (1953–1961; divorced)
Garson Kanin (1990–1999; his death)
Marian Hall Seldes (August 23, 1928 – October 6, 2014) was an American stage, film, radio and television actress whose career spanned over 60 years. A five-time Tony Award nominee, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for A Delicate Balance in 1967, and received subsequent nominations for Father's Day (1971), Deathtrap (1978–82), Ring Round the Moon (1999) and Dinner at Eight (2002). She also won a Drama Desk Award for Father's Day. Her other Broadway credits included Equus (1974–77), Ivanov (1997) and Deuce (2007). She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.
Seldes was born in Manhattan, the daughter of Alice Wadhams Hall, a socialite, and Gilbert Seldes, a journalist, author and editor. Her uncle was journalist George Seldes. She had one brother, Timothy. Seldes's paternal grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and her mother was from a "prominent WASP family," the "Episcopalian blue-blooded Halls." She grew up in a creative environment, studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Her maternal aunt, Marian Wells Hall (died 1972), was a prominent interior decorator.
Trained for the stage, Seldes made her Broadway theatre debut in 1948 in a production of Medea. She went on to an illustrious career in which she earned five Tony Award nominations, winning her first time out in 1967 for A Delicate Balance. In addition to performing in live theatre, Seldes began acting in television in 1952 in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production that marked the first of many guest star roles. She also performed in a number of motion pictures and in radio plays. In the mid-1960s, Seldes recorded five albums for Folkways Records of famous works of literature. Between 1974 and 1982, she appeared in 179 episodes of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. In 1992 she appeared as Murphy Brown's eccentric Aunt Brooke.
Seldes studied with Sanford Meisner, Katharine Cornell and Martha Graham. Actor Laura Linney said, "Marian is our touchstone to those theatrical ancestors. She provides an inspiration that makes you want to reach outside of yourself to something more potent and powerful." Seldes was a member of the drama faculty of The Juilliard School from 1967 to 1991. Her students included Christopher Reeve, Robin Williams, Kelsey Grammer, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Patti LuPone, Val Kilmer, and Kevin Spacey. In 2002 Marian Seldes began teaching at Fordham University, Lincoln Center.
Seldes appeared in every one of the 1,809 Broadway performances of Ira Levin's play Deathtrap, a feat that earned her a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records as "most durable actress." Seldes was also well known for her readings of short stories in the "Selected Shorts" series hosted by Isaiah Sheffer at New York City's Symphony Space. In December 2008, for their annual birthday celebration to "The Master", The Noël Coward Society invited Seldes as the guest celebrity to lay flowers in front of Coward's statue at New York's Gershwin Theatre, thereby commemorating the 109th birthday of Sir Noël. Marian Seldes was the recipient of a 2010 Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Lifetime Achievement Award. "All I've done is live my life in the theater and loved it," she said at the time. "If you can get an award for being happy, that's what I've got." In 2012, Seldes played knife-wielding socialite Mabel Billingsly in the film adaptation of Wendy Mass's popular children’s book Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, written and directed by Tamar Halpern.
Personal life and death
Seldes had a daughter, Katharine, by her first marriage to Julian Claman. They were divorced in 1961. Seldes stated that the marriage to Claman was violent. "If I sound a little vague about that marriage, it's because I don't understand the person in it. Me. I literally didn't know that people could be abusive." Seldes left the marriage after her father noticed marks on her face. Seldes was married to screenwriter/playwright Garson Kanin from 1990 until his death in 1999.
Partial listing of her work
- Ondine (1954)
- The Chalk Garden (1955)
- The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1964)
- Tiny Alice (1964)
- A Delicate Balance (1966)
- Before You Go (1968)
- Mercy Street (1969)
- Equus (1974)
- Deathtrap (1978)
- Painting Churches (1983)
- Three Tall Women (1993)
- Ivanov (1998)
- The Play About the Baby (2001)
- 45 Seconds from Broadway (2001)
- Dinner at Eight (2003 revival)
- Deuce (2007)
- La fille du régiment (2008)
- Our Sister Emily (TV movie): Played Emily Brontë (1950) (television debut)
- Sure As Fate (TV showcase): Played Lady Macduff in Macbeth (1951)
- Westinghouse Studio One: Played Bell Giles in "The Laugh Maker" (1953)
- Gunsmoke: Played Mrs. Cullen in "Indian White" (1956)
- Have Gun Will Travel: Played Christie Smith in "The Bride" (1957), and Mollie Stanton in "The Teacher" (1958)
- Perry Mason: Played Mary K. Davis in "The Case of the Screaming Woman" (1958)
- The Court of Last Resort: Played Roberta Farrell in "The Frank Clark Case" (1958), and Mary Morales in "The Mary Morales Case" (1958)
- Half Hour to Kill: Played Joyce Field. Half Hour to Kill was a proposed but unrealized television series mystery show with episodes hosted by Vincent Price and planned to occasionally star him as well. Released to the home movie market as Freedom to Get Lost, with Price playing scientist Gene Wolcott and Seldes playing an undercover security agent tracking him. The episode is available on the DVD titled Vincent Price – The Sinister Image. (1958)
- The Rifleman: Played two roles, a saucy woman named Hazel and, in the sick son's fevered delirium, the spirit of widower Lucas McCain's wife and Mark McCain's mother (Margaret), in "The Vision" (1960)
- Branded: Played Beela, an Indian housekeeper, in "The Bar Sinister" (1965)
- Murphy Brown: Played Murphy's Aunt Brooke in "I'm Dreaming of a Brown Christmas" (1992)
- Wings: Played Eleanor Kingsbury in "Death Becomes Him" (1995)
- One Life to Live: Played Dorian Lord's mother (1998)
- Cosby: Played Elaine in "One Foot in Your Mouth" (1996), and Virginia in "The Greatest Gift" (1998)
- Sex and the City: Guest-starred as Mr. Big's mother Mrs. Big in "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (1998)
- A Nero Wolfe Mystery: Portrayed Mrs. Robilotti in "Champagne for One" (2001), and Mrs. Pitcairn in "Door to Death" (2001)
- Frasier: Played Betty, Ronee's mother (Wendie Malick), in "Miss Right Now" (2004)
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Played Peggy Kendall in "Haystack" (2007)
- The Light in the Forest (1958)
- Crime and Punishment U.S.A. (1959)
- The Big Fisherman (1959)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
- Fingers (1978)
- The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag (1992)
- Truman (1995)
- Tom and Huck (1995)
- Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press (1996) Documentary, as herself
- Affliction (1997)
- Home Alone 3 (1997)
- Digging to China (1998)
- The Haunting (1999)
- If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
- Duets (2000)
- Town & Country (2001)
- Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
- Ballets Russes (2005), narrator
- August Rush (2007)
- The Visitor (2007)
- Leatherheads (2008)
- The Extra Man (2010)
- The Roan Stallion by Robinson Jeffers (1963)
- The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein (1963
- Theodore Bikel: "Songs of Songs" and other Bible Prophecies featuring Marian Seldes as Shulamite (1964))
- Tower Beyond Tragedy by Robinson Jeffers (1964)
- Phèdre by Jean Racine (1964)
- Prayers from the Ark: French and English Poems (1964)
- Theatre Guild on the Air Played Julia in 1984 (1953)
- "CBS Radio Mystery Theater" Appeared in 206 episodes
Awards and nominations
- 1967 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play: A Delicate Balance
- 1971 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance: Father's Day
- 1983 Outer Circle Critics Award for Best Actress in a Play: Painting Churches
- 2010 Tony Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1971 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play: Father's Day
- 1978 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play: Deathtrap
- 1998 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play: Ivanov
- 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play: Ring Round the Moon
- 1999 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play: Ring Round the Moon
- 2001 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play: The Butterfly Collection
- 2001 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play: The Play About the Baby
- 2003 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play: Dinner at Eight
- 2006 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play: Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams
- "Marian Seldes profile at". Filmreference.com. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "Marian Seldes to headline her latest stage return". The Villager. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "Marian Seldes biodata at". Yahoo! Movies. April 20, 2011. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "Marian Wells Hall, Decorator, Was 76". The New York Times. March 2, 1972.
- "Seldes discography". Smithsonian Folkways.
- Witchel, Alex (June 14, 2010). "The 60-Year Stage Life of Marian Seldes". The New York Times.
- by Kevin Spacey, "Kevin Spacey pays tribute to the Juilliard teacher who gave him 'wings'", New York Post, October 10, 2014
- "Ira Levin, Author of Hit Mystery Play Deathtrap, Dies at 78". Playbill. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- "No. 4 in Long Play Runs, 'Deathtrap' Will Close". The New York Times.[dead link]
- "Spotlight On: The 2012–2013 Broadway Season". TonyAwards.com. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- Berkvist, Robert (October 7, 2014). "Theater: Marian Seldes, Regal Presence of Broadway, Dies" (56647). The New York Times Company. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest 41 (2): 32–41. Spring 2015.
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