Tracey Ullman at 1990 Emmy Awards
|Birth name||Trace Ullman|
30 December 1959 |
Slough, Berkshire, England
|Medium||Television, film, music, theatre, books|
|Nationality||British and American|
|Genres||Sketch-comedy, social commentary, satire, character comedy, parody|
|Spouse||Allan McKeown (m. 1983; his death 2013)|
|Notable works and roles||Various in The Tracey Ullman Show
Rosalie Boca in I Love You To Death
Eden Brent in Bullets Over Broadway
Various in Tracey Takes On...
Frenchy in Small Time Crooks
Sylvia Stickles in A Dirty Shame
Various in Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program
Best Light Entertainment Performance
Trace Ullman (born 30 December 1959) known as Tracey Ullman, is an English television, stage, and film actress, as well as a comedian, singer, dancer, director, author, screenwriter, and businesswoman of dual British and American citizenship.
Her early appearances were on British TV sketch comedy shows A Kick Up the Eighties (with Rik Mayall and Miriam Margolyes) and Three of a Kind (with Lenny Henry and David Copperfield). After a brief but high-profile singing career, she appeared as Candice Valentine in Girls on Top with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
She emigrated from the United Kingdom to the United States where she starred in her own network television comedy series, The Tracey Ullman Show, from 1987 until 1990. She later produced programmes for HBO, including Tracey Takes On... (1996–99), for which she garnered numerous awards. Ullman's sketch comedy series, Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, ran from 2008 to 2010 on Showtime. She has also appeared in several feature films. She is currently working on a new comedy series for the BBC.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Music career
- 3 Television career
- 4 Film career
- 5 Theatre
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Filmography
- 8 Theatre
- 9 Discography
- 10 Charting singles
- 11 Awards and honours
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 Further reading
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Ullman was born Trace Ullman in Slough, Berkshire to Dorin (née Cleaver), her British-Roma mother and Anthony John Ullman, her Polish Roman Catholic father. Anthony had been a Polish soldier evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He subsequently worked as a solicitor, a furniture salesman, and as a travel agent. He also brokered marriages and translated for the immigrant Polish community. Both of Ullman's parents took notice of her talents. "He used to say in his thick Polish accent, 'My leetle Tracey ees going to be actress.'" Ullman recalled of her father. On the subject of her name: "My real name is Trace Ullman, but I added the 'y'. My mother said it was spelled the American way, but I don't think she can spell! I always wanted a middle name. My mum used to tell me it was Mary but I never believed her. I looked on my birth certificate and I didn't have one, just Trace Ullman."
In an interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross, Ullman revealed that when she was six, her father, who had been recovering from a heart operation, died of a heart attack in front of her while the two were alone and he was reading to her. He was fifty years old. "When that happens to you as a child, you can face anything. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. If something great happens, you’re like, 'Wow, that's great that happened, because it could have been crap. The most disappointing thing happened when you were younger ... You’re just braver and if good things happen you're really grateful."
Ullman, who had been living an upper-middle class life, was transported to Hackbridge with her older sister and her mother, who could barely make ends meet without their father's income. Mother Dorin would go on to take a host of odd jobs. "My mother was always doing strange things like driving parts around for a garage, all covered in oil and paid 10 pounds a week. But she was very funny, and our defense against hardship was having a great sense of humour." On a separate occasion, on the subject of her mother's jobs, Ullman recalled: "[Mom] worked in a laboratory, testing food, and would bring home samples for our dinner. Sometimes she'd have to report that formula X had been found unfit for human consumption." Despite reality, Ullman's mother maintained that they were middle-class. "My mother always insisted on middle-class because we had money at one time. We're really lower-middle."
Ullman credits her sense of humour to a feeling classlessness as well as her working-class roots. "It comes from being classless, I think. My father was Polish and he died when I was six. And from being a little girl who went to gymkhana and had ponies, and went to a private school, and lived in a big house we suddenly didn’t have any money any more and had to go to a State school. And my mother’s family is all from South London, and we have a lot of uncles and friends over there. And when my father died they were very supportive, and they used to come down for the weekend - all these hoards of South London oiks. They used to invade our big Posh Bucks home and use the swimming pool, ride the ponies, and they were so funny these blokes; they really affected my sense of humour ... But I think the man who really affected my sense of humour was my uncle Butch, he was called Butch Castle. He was a decorator from South London - lazy old sod. An he’s got the sharpest mind I’ve ever known; he’s so hysterically funny. And I wanted to be like him."
In the aftermath of her father's death, her mother would slip into a deep depression and spend a lot of time in her bed. In an effort to cheer her up, Ullman, along with her older sister, Patti, created and performed a nightly variety show on the windowsill in their mother's bedroom. “It was originally the Patti Ullman Show. So I’m a spin-off of my sister’s show, as she likes to point out.” In the show, Ullman would mimic neighbours, teachers, family members, and celebrities such as Julie Andrews and Édith Piaf. "Some kids can play the piano or kick a football; I could just impersonate everyone." She would also perform alone for herself after everyone had gone to bed. "I'd stand in front of the mirror and talk to myself until I fell asleep. I'd interview myself as women with problems. Women in documentaries who had three kids and chain-smoked and husbands in prison that hit them." Her mother would eventuality remarry to a man who she has described as a maniac who drove a London taxi and had a son who stole. "We weren't the Brady Bunch, let me tell you." The marriage brought an end to the children's nighttime show. "There was a new person in her bed now and I couldn't do my nightly performance any more. I was nine years old and my show had been cancelled." Alcoholism and domestic violence became a common occurrence in the household. The marriage resulted in the family moving around the country with Ullman attending numerous schools. Her flair for mimicry helped her while attending state schools. Her upper-crust accent proved to be a liability when it came to her interaction with classmates. "I had to talk like them to avoid being beaten up."
Ullman wrote and performed in school plays, and it was here that she caught the eye of a headmaster who recommended that she attend a "special school." "I thought he meant a school for juvenile delinquents." Eventually her mother agreed and at age twelve she won a full scholarship to the Italia Conti Academy. Despite the encouragement she received from family, friends and teachers, her big boost of confidence came from a very unlikely source: a clairvoyant who predicted that she would become famous, especially in America. Some of her earliest work included an appearance on The Tommy Steel Show when she was thirteen, and as a model for My Guy magazine.
She would end up loathing Italia Conti saying, "I hated the pressure that many of the children were under. Many of the kids were forced to grow up too fast, their careers were being decided for them before they were 13. If I went to an audition then they’d always choose the sweetest, prettiest kid. I wasn’t obviously beautiful so I used to miss out." She has also alleged that the owners taught their own children and that a certain level of favourtism seemed to exist. She also felt that the education she was receiving was of very little use. "I used to have this teacher, and first thing he'd say in class was: 'Let's all be dustbins!' Right, and I'll play the lid.'"
The treatment she received at school led to her spending more time in pubs than in class. Despite her tardiness, she passed her O levels. Ullman's interest in theater began to wane and her family could no longer afford tuition. She then set her sights on becoming a travel agent like her late father.
At sixteen, she was goaded into attending a dance audition by some school friends. Despite not taking it seriously, she found herself headed for Berlin, cast in a German ballet version of Gigi a week later. The gig provided an escape from her unhappy life in Hackbridge. Upon returning to England, she joined the "Second Generation" dance troupe, performing in London, Blackpool, and Liverpool. Her dancing career would come to an abrupt halt when she forgot to wear underwear during a performance. She subsequently branched out into musical theatre and was cast numerous West End musicals including Grease, Elvis The Musical, and The Rocky Horror Show.
Disillusioned with the entertainment industry, Ullman sought full-time employment by working in a paper products distribution company. Her boredom with the job led to her competing in a contest at London's Royal Court Theatre, "Four in a Million"; an improvised play about club acts. Ullman created the character Beverly, a born-again Christian chanteuse. The performance was a big success and won her the London Theatre Critics Award as Most Promising New Actress. At this point the BBC became interested, which led to a successful career in television. She would soon go on to become a household name in Britain, with the British media referring to her as 'Our Trace.'
With fame came intense scrutiny of her personal life. The press began printing untrue and exaggerated stories, soliciting information from people who knew her. An ex-boyfriend sold his story about his life with her to News of the World. "He appeared on television with my dog saying, 'I'm going to tell you about the real Tracey Ullman. Aren’t we Lilly?'"
When she hastily married Allan McKeown in 1983, it made front page news all over the country with the press placing bets on how long the marriage would last. It would last nearly thirty years until his death in 2013.
Ullman, who had already made a name for herself as a comedian with her BBC comedy series Three of a Kind, had a chance encounter with the wife of the head of the punk label Stiff Records, Dave Robinson, which led to her recording her first album. “One day, I was at my hairdresser, and Dave Robinson’s wife Rosemary leant over and said, ‘Do you want to make a record?’ I was having some of those Boy George kind of dreadlock things put in and I went, ‘Yeah I want to make a record.’ I would have tried anything.” Ullman's future husband, Allan McKeown, had reservations about her launching a music career and tried talking her out of it. “When I first met Miss Ullman, I was a tv producer, and I called her into my office in London and I told her that she had a big career in comedy, and she said to me, ‘Well actually, I’m doing a record next week,’ and I said, ‘Now listen here Miss Ullman, if I know anything about show business, is that you shouldn’t get involved with singing. Imagine how stupid I felt about four months later, I’m in London driving around and I hear, ‘And now, the Top of the Pops, Tracey Ullman with ‘They Don’t Know About Us.’” recalled McKeown in 2010.
Ullman went on to succeed as a singer. Her 1983 début album, You Broke My Heart in 17 Places, featured her first hit single, "Breakaway" (famous for her performance with a hairbrush as a microphone); the international hit cover version of label-mate Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" number two in the UK, and number eight in the US. MacColl sang backing vocals on Ullman's version. In less than two years, Ullman had six songs in the UK Top 100.
Follow-up singles, a cover of Doris Day's "Move Over Darling," which reached number eight in the UK, and the cover of Madness's "My Girl," which Ullman changed to "My Guy's Mad at Me," were released. (The "My Guy" video featured the British Labour Party politician Neil Kinnock, at the time the Leader of the Opposition)
Ullman's songs were over-the-top evocations of 1960s and 1970s pop music with a 1980s edge, "somewhere between Minnie Mouse and the Supremes" as the Melody Maker put it, or "retro before retro was cool," as a reviewer wrote in 2002. Her career received another boost when the video for "They Don't Know" featured a cameo from Paul McCartney; at the time Ullman was filming a minor role in McCartney's film Give My Regards to Broad Street. Ullman released her second album, You Caught Me Out, in 1984. To date, this is her last album.
Ullman gave up her music career after an incident that occurred on a German television show. "The host said to me, 'Tracey Ullman. Hello!' I said, 'Hello' and he went, 'Guffaw, guffaw. Crazy as ever!' Then I was standing in the background and he slung a rat over my shoulder. I thought, 'That's it, I don't want to do this anymore.'"
While she has chosen to end her recording career, she has continued singing in film, television, and theatre.
Ullman got her first television acting job when she was seventeen; a Heinz soup commercial wearing a cow's head.
Before venturing into television comedy, she tried her hand at serious drama, but said that she found that she was not cut out to be a straight actress: "I really thought I was great when I did a quite serious soap opera for the BBC. I played a nice girl from St. John's Wood. 'Mummy, I think I'm pregnant. I don't know who's done it.' Then I would fall down a hill or something. 'EEEEE! Oh, no, lost another baby.' It seemed all I ever did was have miscarriages--or make yogurt."
In 1981, the success of her performance in the Royal Court Theatre's production of Four in a Million led to many offers; one being the chance to move into television comedy. The BBC was quick to cast her in the sketch comedy programme A Kick Up the Eighties. The network was so impressed with her that it offered her her own series. She initially turned down the offer. "My first reaction was you must be joking, as women are treated so shoddily in comedy. Big busty barmaids and all those sort of cliches just bore me rigid." She also had reservations due to a lack of female contemporaries. "At that time English women were't really allowed to be funny on television. I didn't have any examples. I mean, I didn't have a Gilda Radner, Carol Burnett, Lilly Tomlin. I mean, my only point of reference, quite honestly, was the Benny Hill girls." Eventually a deal was made with the proviso that she would get to choose the show's writers, have script approval, and choose the costumes. She would also be allowed to do her own material and characters. Three of a Kind co-starring comedians Lenny Henry and David Copperfield debuted in 1981. In an interview with Amanda Root for The Musical Express magazine, Ullman was asked about critics labeling the show 'non-sexist humour.' Did it exist? "Not unless it’s cleverly done. When we did Three of A Kind we kept getting sketches sent in about me as a traffic warden, or me being a busty barmaid. Writers that have no idea about women - their typical way of starting a sketch is to say, Tracey is sitting there, filing her nails and chewing gum, as if all girls are stupid. Sketches beginning like that used to really get on my nerves. But as soon as we found the right team of writers, they weren’t into that sort of thing, so it worked out OK."
In 1982, she would meet future husband, Allan McKeown, a television producer with his own production company, Witzend Productions. McKeown first discovered her when he happened to catch her in an episode of Three of a Kind. The two would eventually work on a television pilot together for Central Television, A Cut Above, about a 1960s hairdresser (McKeown’s former profession) who meets a posh girl (Ullman). “Pilot didn't work, but I got a husband out of it," said Ullman in 1990.
In 1983, she signed on to star in a comedy about four women sharing a flat together, Girls on Top (provisionally titled ‘’Four-Play’‘, ‘’Bitches on Heat’‘, and ‘’Four Fs to Share’‘). She was cast as the promiscuous gold digger Candice Valentine. The show would not go into production until early 1985 due to an electricians strike at the studio where the series was set to film. Originally intended as a starring vehicle for her, the show, co-starring comedians Dawn French, Ruby Wax, and Jennifer Saunders (who also wrote the scripts), would continue after Ullman bowed out after the first series. In her book, “Bonkers: My Life in Laughs,” Saunders writes, “If Ruby taught us how to write funny, then Tracey was a lesson in how to act funny. She was by far the most famous of us, having starred with Lenny Henry in ‘Three of a Kind.’”
In 1984, it was announced that “Five Faces of Tracey,” a five-part series starring Ullman as five characters, one character and a totally new story each week, was to be produced in July of that year written by Ruby Wax and herself. The series never came to fruition.
The Tracey Ullman Show
In 1985, Ullman was persuaded by her husband Allan McKeown to join him in Los Angeles where his television production company was stationed. She was no stranger to the United States as she had promoted her music career there, appearing and performing on an array of American talk shows. She had also just promoted her film Plenty there. The US was introduced to a singer and dramatic (semi-comedic) film actress; not the television comedian as in homeland. She initially had her sights set on a film and stage career in America, believing that there was nothing in the way of television for her there. "I didn't believe there was anything above Webster standard. I was wrong."
Her British agent put together and began circulating a videotape containing a compilation of her work in Hollywood. The tape landed in the lap of Craig Kellem, vice president for comedy at Universal Television. "I could not believe my eyes. It was just about the most extraordinary piece of material I'd seen in a long time." He wanted production on a series to begin immediately for her.
A deal was struck right away with CBS television, who went from ordering a pilot to ordering a full series two weeks later. A script for I Love New York, a show about a "slightly wacky" British woman working in New York was written by Saturday Night Live scribe, Anne Beatts. Ullman hated it and the deal deteriorated.
Recalling the project, Ullman: "We'd just hit on an idea, then some white-haird executive - very, very important - would come in from the race track and say, 'I don't like that idea. I think Tracey should be a caring person. I think there should be a kid in this. Now, I'm just pitching here. I don't know if this is funny. But I think Tracey should love this kid and maybe there's a moment where she tells the kid something about life.' And I'd say, "look - I don't want to work with little kids being cute who I eventually adopt'."
She was also turned off by the industry's materialistic attitude. "Literally, you start your first meeting and already they're thinking about three years' syndication. 'You're going to be worth $13 million. You're going to be a very rich young lady.' I'd say, 'I don't want to talk about the millions of dollars now. Can we put that on hold? I just want to talk about something good'."
Ullman’s agent sent producer James L. Brooks some tapes of her work, convinced that he would be a good fit for her. Upon review, Brooks not only convinced her to stay in Los Angeles, but to drop the CBS deal and work with him. She was pregnant at the time and the prospect of staying put in Los Angeles was an attractive idea.
Brooks felt that the sketch format was best way to show off his star's assets: acting, singing, and dancing. "Why would you do something with Tracey playing a single character on TV when her talent requires variety? You can’t categorize Tracey, so it's silly to come up with a show that attempted to."
Brooks, who had had a very successful career producing television sitcoms, had stepped away from the medium years prior opting for career in film. Ullman's material was so good that it lured him back to television. "I started showing [her work] to people like you'd show home movies," revealed Brooks. "I was just startled by the size of the talent. I got chills."
Fearing that she hadn't yet found a footing in American comedy, Brooks sent her tapes of American sitcoms and variety shows to watch while at home pregnant. She also visited The Museum of Television and Radio, a center in which she would later be inducted into. Ullman had in fact grown up watching American television in the 1970s. Two things stood out to her: the vast number of female comedians, as well as their not having to be conventionally attractive to be funny. "It was very true of my childhood that women needed to be sexy in order to be funny."
Brooks assembled a team of writers and a deal with Fox television was made. The network was looking to create its own original programming. Ullman's show would be the first of two series produced.
Scouting for a supporting cast to play opposite Ullman began. Dan Castellaneta, a relative unknown, was asked to read for the show after he was spotted by Ullman at Chicago's Second City. Castellaneta's portrayal of a blind man who wants to be a comedian brought her to tears instead of making her laugh. Actress Julie Kavner had co-starred in Brook's spin-off series to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, starring Valerie Harper. Kavner played Harper's younger socially-awkward sister Brenda, a role for which she won an Emmy Award. Kavner was at the top of the list of people Brooks' wanted to be part of the show. Brooks on Kavner: "When somebody's intrinsically funny--you know, in-their-bones funny --they never have to work at (being funny), so they're free to work on other things. We were all nuts about her work. She was the person we most wanted to work with Tracey." Actor Sam McMurray read for a guest spot on the show playing William, lover of thirteen-year-old valley girl, Francessa's (Ullman) father. McMurray recalling his casting: "The first Francesca sketch, they said, 'Play the guy not so gay.' And I said 'I disagree.' I had a big mouth then—still do. I said, 'I think he’s more the woman. I think he's more out there.' So I read and I read it big, and they cast me. It was just a one-off, and then we were on hiatus. I did the one week, and I had a friend coincidentally who used to write, a guy named Marc Flanagan, and he was on the show as a staff guy. He called me up and said, 'Did they call your agent?' I said, 'No, why?' He said, 'They wanna make you a regular.'" Another actor who was originally cast for a guest shot which led to becoming a series regular was choreographer, Joseph Malone. The show now had its cast.
Singer-songwriter George Clinton provided the theme song to show, "You're Thinking Right." Dancer Paula Abdul, who had not yet found fame as a singer, was hired to choreograph the show's dance numbers.
Being that the Fox network was so new to the world of television production, there was not an established bureaucracy yet that the show would have to contend with. This afforded the ability to take risks and the freedom to try things that the other major networks would never allow. The series landed an initial twenty-six episode commitment deal, unheard of for a television comedy. The Tracey Ullman Show debuted on 5 April 1987. Describing the show proved difficult. Creator Ken Estin dubbed it a "skitcom". A variety of diverse original characters was created for her to perform. Extensive makeup (including prosthetic), wigs, teeth, and body padding rendered her recognizable. One original character created by Ullman back in Britain was uprooted for the series: long-suffering British spinster, Kay Clark.
A typical episode of The Tracey Ullman Show consisted of three sketches, one including a song and/or a heavily choreographed dance routine. Brooks was keen on showing off all of Ullman's abilities. "It’s 'Can you juggle this and keep throwing on more plates?' I’m constantly amazed." Ullman opened and closed the show as herself, adding her trademark, "Go home!," which she would shout at the studio audience, to the closing. The show was shot on film, a departure from previous variety shows which were shot on tape.
Looking to add "bumpers" (before and after commercial breaks) to the show, two cartoon shorts were created: "Dr. N!Godatu" and "The Simpsons." The Simpsons would go on to be spun-off into their own television series.
By the time the The Tracey Ullman Show ended in 1990, the show was awarded four Emmy Awards; Ullman won three, one in the category of Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1990. The show earned the Fox network's first ever Emmy win.
In 1991, Ullman filed a lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox in Los Angeles Superior Court over profits from the later half-hour incarnation of The Simpsons. She wanted a share of The Simpsons ' merchandising and gross profits and believed she was entitled to $2.5 million of the estimated $50 million Fox made in 1992. The Fox network had paid her $58,000 in royalties for The Simpsons as well as $3 million for the 3½ seasons her show was on the air. According to an article As Ullman had continued her professional relationship with former producer Brooks, only the studio and not Brooks was named in the suit. Brooks was allowed to videotape his testimony as he was in the middle of filming I'll Do Anything, in which Ullman appeared. The suit was ultimately dismissed. Ullman wasn't the only one to file a lawsuit, "Tracey Ullman Show" executive producer, Ken Estin, filed a similar suit against Fox claiming that his contract called for him to receive 7.5% of revenues from "The Simpsons," including a portion of merchandise. Despite the loss, Fox made a deal with Ullman for an undisclosed sum.
Ullman returned to television in 1993. Instead of network she chose cable television. Two specials were produced, Tracey Ullman: A Class Act for ITV, and Tracey Ullman Takes On New York for HBO. A Class Act took a humorous jab at the British class system and co-starred Monty Python's Michael Palin. Takes On New York, produced exclusively for HBO, focused on a more American subject: New York City. Tracey Ullman Show alum, Dan Castellenta teamed up Ullman for "New York." Both specials drew critical praise and garnered numerous awards. Due to the enormous success, HBO became interested in doing a "Takes On"' series, and Ullman, along with her husband Allan McKeown, set up production on Tracey Takes On... in Los Angeles in 1995.
Tracey Takes On... premiered on 24 January 1996. Each episode would focus on a topic for Ullman to "take on" and examine. The series would have two to three long sketches, and many small interview-styled bits, with her many characters commenting on that week's topic. Unlike the Fox show, Tracey Takes On... was shot on location, not filmed in front of a live audience. Ullman also only portrayed upwards of twenty characters in frequent rotation for the series. Having a single subject set for each installment gave the show focus, leading to consistency. Making the switch from network television to a cable afforded free rein to do and say what she wanted. Only her Kay character from her former Fox series was carried over, as she was the sole creator. With "Takes On," Kay would officially become her longest-portrayed character to date.
A kiss with Tracey Ullman Show alum Julie Kavner kicked off the series' first episode. Ullman portrayed characters both male and female, made up of many ethnicities. This included an Asian doughnut shop owner, a Jewish housewife from Long Island, a gay male air steward, a Middle Eastern cab driver, and an African-American airport security guard. The series won eight Emmy Awards, numerous CableACE Awards, and a host of other media awards. In 1997, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series. In 1998 the series was published in book form, Tracey Takes On.... The series was also awarded GLAAD Media Awards for its portrayal of gay and lesbian characters in both 1998 and 1999. Tracey Takes On... completed its four-season run in 1999.
Purple Skirt and Oxygen stint
In 2001, Ullman took a break from her character-based work and created a fashion-based talk show for Oxygen Network, Tracey Ullman's Visible Panty Lines. The series was spun-off of Ullman's e-commerce clothing website, Purple Skirt which was launched a few years prior. Interviewees included Arianna Huffington and Charlize Theron. The show lasted for two seasons and ended in 2002.
Return to HBO
A pilot for a Tracey Takes On... spin-off, Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales was filmed in 2003. The show spotlighted just one character, Ruby Romaine. No series was commissioned, and the pilot aired as a one-off comedy special.
Upon her naturalisation in the United States, it was announced in April 2007 that she would be making the move from her 14-year working relationship with cable network, HBO, to Showtime. Ullman created a brand new series for the network, inspired in part by her recent naturalisation. The show focused on America: "The good, the bad, and the absolutely ridiculous" (it's tagline).
Ullman credits both senior programmer Robert Greenblatt, as well as the network's list of hit shows, as having influenced her decision to switch networks. Greenblatt was a young development director during her Tracey Ullman Show days, and was enthusiastic to get her over to Showtime. Five episodes were ordered for the first season.
For the first time since the early years of her career at the BBC, she not only created a new line-up of original characters for the show, she also chose to impersonate famous ones. Tracey Ullman's State of the Union debuted on 30 March 2008.
It's been fascinating to watch Ullman evolve from, say, Imogene Coca and Carol Burnett to something leaner and meaner, like a young Whoopi Goldberg. Or Lenny Bruce, with his surreal jive and need to shock. Or Lily Tomlin, signalling in coded transmissions through a worm hole to some parallel universe. Or Anna Deavere Smith, chameleon and exorcist, seeing around corners and speaking in tongues. Or, of course, Robin Williams, before all the bad films and worse career choices, a brilliant mind unmade of equal parts politics and paranoia, music video and psychotherapy, a scrambled shaman egghead and Jack–in–a–Pandora's box. Think of America as performance art.
Ullman commented that the United States is "now able to laugh at itself more," embracing more satiric humour, rather than deeming it "unpatriotic." Now that she is a citizen, she joked that she "won't end up in Guantánamo Bay," for speaking her mind.
The show ran for three seasons.
Return to network television
On 20 March 2014, it was announced that she was tapped to co-star in the upcoming CBS sitcom pilot, Good Session. The pilot for the single-camera comedy was written and executive produced by Matt Miller (Chuck) with actor James Roday (Psych). Ullman's character, Ellen, was described as an 'astute, straightforward therapist who uses her own brand of insight and humor to inspire the couples she helps to tell the truth.'
Return to British television: The Tracey Ullman Show (2015)
On 4 March 2015, it was announced that Ullman would return to the BBC with a new six-part comedy series, The Tracey Ullman Show for BBC One. It will be her first project for the network in thirty years, and her first original project for British television in twenty-two years. The press release states that she will play 'a multitude of diverse and distinct characters living in, or visiting, the busy global hub that is the UK.'
Other notable work
In 1995, Ullman became the modern-day cartoon voice of Little Lulu. In 1999, she had a recurring role as an unconventional psychotherapist on Ally McBeal. Her performance garnered her an Emmy Award and an American Comedy Award.
In 2005, she co-starred with Carol Burnett in the television adaptation of Once Upon a Mattress. She played Princess Winnifred, a role originally made famous by Burnett on Broadway. This time Burnett took on the role of the overbearing queen.
Along with her television work, Ullman has featured in many films throughout her career. Her first theatrical film was a small role in Paul McCartney's 1984 film Give My Regards to Broad Street. This was followed by a supporting role in the 1985 Meryl Streep drama Plenty.
After the cancellation of The Tracey Ullman Show in 1990, she made her starring début alongside Kevin Kline, River Phoenix and Joan Plowright in I Love You to Death. Ullman has also appeared in lead and supporting roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Nancy Savoca's Household Saints, Bullets over Broadway, Small Time Crooks, A Dirty Shame, and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. She was nominated as Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her work in Small Time Crooks in 2001.
Ullman portrayed Mother Nature in the 2007 romantic-comedy film, I Could Never Be Your Woman, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Ullman acted as creative consultant on the 2006 DreamWorks feature, Flushed Away.
Ullman signed on to voice along with Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Lloyd, Sigourney Weaver and Emma Watson in the computer-animated The Tale of Despereaux.
Stock footage of Ullman was used in the film The Queen (2006) with Helen Mirren. In 2014, Ullman played the mother of Jack the Giant Killer in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Into the Woods.
Aside from television, film, and music, Ullman has an extensive stage career.
On 6 October 2014, it was formally announced that Ullman would star in a limited engagement of The Band Wagon, beginning 6 November through 16 November 2014 at City Center. The production will be directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Ullman worked with Marshall previously on the television adaptation of Once Upon a Mattress. "The Bang Wagon" marks the third time Ullman teamed with actor, Michael McKean. The two previously appeared together in "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Tracey Takes On..." (McKean also directed), and now "The Band Wagon."
Ullman married producer Allan McKeown on 27 December 1983. They have two children; Mabel, born in 1986, and Johnny, born in 1991. Mabel works for the Labour Party; Johnny is an actor and musician. On 24 December 2013, McKeown died at his home from prostate cancer, just three days before the couple's thirtieth wedding anniversary. Ullman's mother, Dorin "Doreen" Skinner died in a fire at her retirement flat on 23 March 2015. She was eighty-five years old.
Ullman became an American citizen in December 2006 and now holds dual citizenship in the United States and the United Kingdom. The results of the 2004 United States presidential election, and a comment made by actor Tom Hanks, prompted her desire to naturalize. “Tom Hanks was standing in a corridor at a party and I said something, and he was just very nice, and he went, ‘Oh, yeah. I know that but you’re British. You know, you don’t have to put up with that stuff ... I went, ‘No. Actually I’ve been here a long time.‘ I thought, that’s it. I’m going to join in. So I took the [citizenship] test.” In 2006, she topped the list for the "Wealthiest British Comedians," with an estimated wealth of £75 million. In 2015, Ullman's wealth was estimated to be £77 million, making her the wealthiest female British comedian, and the second richest British actress.
Ullman has described herself a British Republican in the past. "An M.P. once suggested I be put in the Tower of London for saying derogatory things about the royals." She recalls her father-in-law once saying: "Why do we pay these people millions of pounds to be better than us?"
|1980||Mackenzie||Lisa MacKenzie||TV series|
|1981||Screenplay||Karen||Episode: "Happy Since I Met You"|
|A Kick Up the Eighties||Various||TV series|
|1981–83||Three of a Kind||Various||TV series|
|1985||Girls on Top||Candice Valentine||Series one only; additional material credit|
|1987||Saturday Night Live||Herself (uncredited)||Episode: Garry Shandling/Los Lobos
"Hollywood Mom" (sketch)
|1987–1990||The Tracey Ullman Show||Various|
|1989||I, Martin Short, Goes Hollywood||Tina Wise||TV film|
|1991||The Full Wax||Herself||Episode #1.4|
|The Simpsons||Emily Winthrop
|Episode: "Bart's Dog Gets An F"|
|1993||Love & War||Dava Levine||Episode: "The Prima Dava"|
|Tracey Ullman: A Class Act||Various||Additional material credit|
|Tracey Ullman Takes On New York||Various|
|1995||The Little Lulu Show||Lulu||First few episodes|
|1996–99||Tracey Takes On...||Various||Creator; writer; executive producer; second unit director (season 4)|
|1998–99||Ally McBeal||Dr. Tracey Clark||Episode: "Troubled Water"
Episode: "The Real World"
Episode: "The Playing Field"
Episode: "Theme of Life"
|2001–02||Tracey Ullman's Visible Panty Lines||Herself||TV talk show series|
|2003||Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales||Ruby Romaine
|Directorial debut; writer; executive producer|
|2004||Will & Grace||Ann||Episode: "Looking for Mr. Good Enough"|
|2005||Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed||Herself||Writer|
|Once Upon a Mattress||Princess Winnifred||TV film|
|2006||Dawn French's Girls Who Do Comedy||Herself||3 episodes|
|2008||Mumbai Calling||Telephone Voice||7 episodes|
|2008–2010||Tracey Ullman's State of the Union||Various||Creator; writer; director; executive producer|
|2011||Kennedy Center Honors||Herself||Tribute to Meryl Streep|
|2014||How I Met Your Mother||Genevieve Scherbatsky||Episode: "Vesuvius"
Episode: "The End of the Aisle"
|Sofia the First||Marla||Episode: "Mom's the Word"|
|2015||Shakespeare Uncovered||Herself||Episode: "The Taming of the Shrew With Morgan Freeman"|
|The Tracey Ullman Show||Various||Six-part BBC One comedy series; in-production|
|1984||Give My Regards to Broad Street||Sandra|
|1986||Jumpin' Jack Flash||Fiona|
|1990||I Love You to Death||Rosalie Boca|
|Happily Ever After||Thunderella - Moonbeam|
|1992||Death Becomes Her||Toni||Scenes deleted|
|1993||Robin Hood: Men in Tights||Latrine|
|Household Saints||Catherine Falconetti|
|1994||I'll Do Anything||Beth Hobbs|
|Bullets over Broadway||Eden Brent|
|1996||Everyone Says I Love You||Scenes deleted|
|Small Time Crooks||Frenchy|
|2004||A Dirty Shame||Sylvia Stickles|
|The Cat That Looked at a King||The Cat (voice)||Video|
|2005||Corpse Bride||Nell Van Dort (voice)
|Kronk's New Groove||Ms. Birdwell (voice)||Video|
|2006||Flushed Away||Creative consultant|
|2007||I Could Never Be Your Woman||Mother Nature|
|2008||The Tale of Despereaux||Mig (voice)|
|2014||Into the Woods||Jack's Mother|
|"They Don't Know"||Dave Robinson|
|"Move Over Darling"|
|1989||"Monster in the Mirror"||Laura DiTrapani|
|2013||"Queenie Eye"||Simon Aboud|
|1976||Gigi||Theater des Westens Berlin|
|1977||Second Generation||Blackpool and Liverpool|
|1978||Elvis The Musical||London Astoria|
|Oh! Boy||London Astoria|
|1980||The Rocky Horror Show||Janet||Comedy Theatre|
|1981||Four in a Million||Beverly||Royal Court Theatre|
|1981–82||Dick Whittington||Dick||Theatre Royal, Newcastle|
|1982||Rita, Sue and Bob Too||Bob's wife||Royal Court Theatre|
|She Stoops to Conquer||Kate Hardcastle||Lyric Hammersmith|
|Bows and Arrows||Henrietta||Young Writer's Festival|
|1983||The Grass Widow||Carmen||Royal Court Theatre|
|1990||The Taming of the Shrew||Kate Hardcastle||Delacorte Theater|
|1991||The Big Love||Florence Aadland||The Orpheum Theatre|
|2005||Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed||Self||The Fonda Theatre|
|2011||My City||Elizabeth Lambert||Almeida Theatre|
|2012||What About Dick?||Aunt Maggie
The Countess von Kuns
|The Orpheum Theatre|
|2014||The Band Wagon||Lily Martin||New York City Center|
- 1993: Puss in Boots
- 1984: Forever – The Best of Tracey Ullman
- 1992: The Best Of Tracey Ullman: You Broke My Heart In 17 Places
- 1996: The Very Best of Tracey Ullman
- 2002: The Best of... Tracey Ullman
- 2002: Tracey Ullman Takes on the Hits
- 2010: Tracey Ullman - Move Over Darling: The Complete Stiff Recordings (2-disc set)
- 1983: "Breakaway" – No. 4 UK; No. 70 US
- 1983: "They Don't Know" – No. 2 UK; No. 8 US
- 1983: "Move Over, Darling" – No. 8 UK
- 1984: "My Guy" – No. 23 UK
- 1984: "Sunglasses" – No. 18 UK
- 1984: "Helpless" – No. 61 UK
- 1985: "Terry" – No. 81 UK
Awards and honours
Ullman is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning actress. To date, she has been nominated twenty-four times.
In April 2009, it was announced that Ullman would be awarded a Lifetime Achievement BAFTA Award the following May. She became the first recipient of the Charlie Chaplin Lifetime Achievement Award for Comedy on 9 May 2009.
- 1988–Funniest Female Performer of the Year
- 1988–Funniest Female Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication, The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1989–Funniest Female Performer in a TV Special (Leading or Supporting) Network, Cable or Syndication, Tracey Ullman: Backstage
- 1990–Funniest Female Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication, The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1991–Funniest Female Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication, The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1992–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Performer in a Television Special, Funny Women of Television
- 1994–Funniest Female Performer in a TV Special (Leading or Supporting) Network, Cable or Syndication, Tracey Takes on New York
- 1996–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Performer in a Television Special, Women of the Night IV
- 1998–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Leading Performer in a Television Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 1999–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Guest Appearance in a Television Series, Ally McBeal
- 1999–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Leading Performer in a Television Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 2000–American Comedy Award Funniest Female Leading Performer in a Television Series Tracey Takes On...
- 1983–Best Light Entertainment Performance, Three of a Kind and A Kick Up the Eighties
- 2009–Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1995–Best Performance in a Comedy Series, Tracey Ullman: Takes on New York
- 1996–Best Actress in a Comedy Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 1996–Best Variety Special or Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 1989–Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program, The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1990–Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program, The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1990–Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, The Best of the Tracey Ullman Show
- 1993–Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, Love & War
- 1994–Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Programme, Tracey Ullman: Takes On New York
- 1997–Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 1999–Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, Ally McBeal
- 1988–Best Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical
- London Critics' Circle Award
- 1981–Most Promising New Actress, Four in a Million
- 2006–She Made It
- 1998–Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical, Tracey Takes On...
- 2008–Best Actress in a Series, Comedy or Musical, State of the Union
- 1999–Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, Tracey Takes On...
- 1991–Taming of the Shrew
- 1991–The Big Love
- 1995–Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television
- French, Dawn; Wax, Ruby; Saunders, Jennifer (1986). Girls on Top. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0586068929.
- Ullman, Tracey (1998). Tracey Takes On. Hyperion. ISBN 9780786863402.
- Ullman, Tracey; Clark, Mel (2006). Knit 2 Together: Patterns and Stories for Serious Knitting Fun. Stewart, Tabori and Chang. ISBN 9781584795346.
- Guinness Book of British Hit Singles 7th Edition
- Archive of an Entertainment Weekly story by Frank Spotnitz on 1992 lawsuit
- Tracey Ullman "Awards"
- Emmy Awards for The Tracey Ullman Show
- Emmy Awards for Tracey Takes On...
- Works by or about Tracey Ullman in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- "Fifty Shades of Grey author earns £75m in four years from worldwide hit making her the country’s fourth wealthiest author….but JK Rowling holds on to the top spot". The Daily Mail. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
- Ullman, p. 98.
- The International Who's Who 2004. Psychology Press. 2003. p. 1712.
- Look in TV Annual (Independent Television Books Ltd, 1984), p. 67.
- Tracey Ullman biography. Movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved on 2 September 2011.
- "Tracy Ullman Takes on the 'State of the Union'". NPR. NPR. March 25, 2008. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- "The Paley Center for Media | She Made It | Tracey Ullman". She Made It. 30 December 1959. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
- "MUM'S THE WORD OF THE STARS". New York Post. 9 May 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
- Butler, Robert (January 3, 1993). "TELEVISION / How to get away from the class system, or not: Tracey Ullman is big in America and back in Britain. Robert Butler met her". The Independent. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- "Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed". n/a. 15 May 2005. HBO.
- Graustark, Barbara (November 12, 1984). "Tracey Ullman Is Sitting Pretty as the Queen of Parody and Pops". People. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- Ullman, p. 141.
- "Seventies teen mag My Guy gets one-off relaunch". The Daily Mail. Daily Mail Online. October 23, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- John J. O'Connor TELEVISION REVIEW; A Case of Multiple Personalities. New York Times. 24 January 1996
- Tracking Tracey. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
- History Of The RHPS. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
- Portman Films: Tracey Takes On. Retrieved 1 April 2007.[dead link]
- The BPI Awards 1984. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
- . Stiff Records Official Web Site. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
- A Decade Of Revolution The Thatcher Years. Retrieved 2 April 2007.
- Biography. tracey-ullman.com
- . Promo Poster of Tracey Ullman MTV Guest VJ.
- Rosenberg, Howard (April 17, 1988). "QUEEN OF THE SKITCOM : Tracey Ullman Has Lost Her Prized Anonymity, but Her Ratings Have Fox Grinning". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
- "Tracey Ullman Is Sitting Pretty as the Queen of Parody and Pops". Barbara Graustark. (People Magazine). Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- "Tracey Ullman biography and filmography". Tribute.ca. Tribute.ca. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- "Watch Out For Ullman She's A Master Of Accents, A Wiz At Changing Personalities. The Star Of "I Love You To Death" Might Even Tuck Away Your Mannerisms For Future Reference.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philly.com. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- O'Connor, Thomas (September 25, 1988). "TELEVISION; Tracey Ullman: She's a Real Character". The New York Times. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
- Farr, Louise (February 20, 1988). "Enter Ullman, Swinging from a Rope and Singing 'Goldfinger'". TV Guide: pg.36.
- Zehme, Bill (August 27, 1987). "Foxy Lady". Rolling Stone. ISSN 0035-791X.
- Lawsom, Tim; Persons, Alisa (2004). The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who's Who of Cartoon Voice Actors. University Press of Mississippi, pp. 112. ISBN 1-578-06696-4.
- Haithman, Diane (June 15, 1989). "Julie Kavner: a Private Person in Many Roles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
- Herzog, Kenny (December 27, 2011). "Sam McMurray - Random Roles". A.V. Club. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
- "Joseph Malone". Go 2 Talent Agency, Inc. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
- Spotnitz, Frank (23 October 1992). "Ullman to Fox: Eat My Shorts!". Entertainment Weekly. p. 8(1). Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- "Ullman loses 'Simpsons' suit". Variety. Associated Press. 21 October 1992. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- Groening, Matt (2002). The Simpsons season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart's Dog Gets an F" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Tracey Ullman: A Class Act. BBC Comedy Guide. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- Tracey Ullman – Takes On New York. BBC Comedy Guide. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- GLAAD Commends Tracey Ullman Series for Inclusivity. Glaad. 24 January 1996. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- The Characters. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- . Tracey Ullman. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- Tracey Ullman's Visible Panty Lines Website (via Internet Archive)
- "Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed". HBO.com. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- 2005 Emmy Nominations. HBO.com. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- A KING, A COMEDY QUEEN & A RADIO ACE: SHOWTIME DEALS A ROYAL FLUSH. Sho.com Announcements. 16 April 2007.
- Lyneka Little Q&A: Tracey Ullman. Wall Street Journal. 21 March 2008.
- Tracey Ullman on Ira Glass and becoming a citizen. USA Weekend. 31 January 2008.
- Showtime Picks Up Tracy Ullman Sketch Comedy. Broadcasting & Cable. Alex Weprin. 18 January 2008.
- Comic turns celebs into recurring characters. Variety. Cynthia Littleton. 7 March 2008.
- Tracey Ullman State of the Union. Variety. Brian Lowry. 20 March 2008.
- State of Tracey Ullman's 'Union' is strong. USA Today. Robert Bianco. 27 March 2008.
- Jonathan Storm: Tracey Ullman takes her licks at the U.S. Philadelphia Inquirer. 29 March 2008.
- America (The Cable Show). New York Magazine. John Leonard. 24 March 2008.
- Tracey Ullman plays characters real and imagined on 'State of the Union'. Canadian Press. 25 March 2008.[dead link]
- 'How I Met Your Mother' recap: Mom's the word'. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
- Tracey Ullman to Co-Star in CBS Comedy 'Good Session'. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
- "Tracey Ullman returns to BBC with own comedy show". BBC News. 4 March 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "BBC celebrates its commitment to comedy with raft of new commissions". BBC. 4 March 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
- HBO Family: The Little Lulu Show. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
- E! Online Features – Awards – Emmys '99 – Blow By Blow. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
- A. Stanley The Affable Princess Is Back as Queen. NY Times. 16 December 2005
- The Tale of Despereaux. Coming Soon. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
- Tracey Ullman in Talks to Join Disney's 'Into the Woods' (Exclusive)
- Lloyd Webber, Imogen (October 6, 2014). "Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean & Laura Osnes Will Star in The Band Wagon at Encores!". Broadway.com. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- "Tracey Ullman's Husband, Producer Allan McKeown Dies at 67". The Hollywood Reporter. 26 December 2013.
- "TV star Tracey Ullman tells of sadness at loss of mother in flat fire tragedy in Holtspur, near Beaconsfield". Bucks Free Press. 26 March 2015.
- "Inquest opened after flate fire that claimed the life of Doreen Skinner, mother of Tracey Ullman, in Holtspur near Beaconsfield". Bucks Free Press. 27 March 2015.
- "'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, January 28th, 2010". MSNBC. 29 January 2010.
- Wyatt, Edward (1 April 2008). "With U.S. citizenship under her belt, Tracey Ullman sharpens her satire". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- "Where the funny money is". Chortle. 29 December 2006.
- "'Lifetime Bafta award' for Ullman". BBC News. 8 April 2009.
- Past Recipients. Wif.org. Retrieved on 2 September 2011.
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- Tracey Ullman at the Internet Movie Database
- Tracey Ullman at the Internet Broadway Database
- Tracey Ullman discography at Discogs
- Tracey Ullman – Stiff Records
- Tracey Ullman Facebook page
- Interview magazine cover story, January 1989: Tracking Tracey