Monday, March 13, 2006

 

Maureen Stapleton (1925-2006)


Four-time Oscar nominee and one-time Oscar winner Maureen Stapleton has passed away at 80. A quick look back at some of her career highlights.
  • Lonelyhearts (1958): Her feature film debut also earned her her first Academy Award nomination for supporting actress in this fair but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to transfer Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts to the screen. Stapleton though was superb.
  • Airport (1970): The prototype of the '70s disaster film craze earned Stapleton her second nomination, though she lost to co-star Helen Hayes' cutesy stowaway. However, Stapleton's performance was the better of the two, bringing true pathos to a woman who realizes her husband is so desperate he is going to do something terrible and there is nothing she can do to stop it.
  • Plaza Suite (1972): Walter Matthau was the real star in this adaptation of Neil Simon's stage hit and Stapleton's segment may have been the weakest of the three, but she did her job.
  • Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975): Stapleton truly shined in this made-for-TV movie as an older woman finding new life and love in ballroom dancing. The movie later inspired the stage musical Ballroom.
  • Interiors (1978): Stapleton earned her third supporting actress nomination for Woody Allen's first attempt at straight drama and whenever her character came on screen, she gave the movie a vitality that the rest of it was sadly lacking.
  • Reds (1981): The fourth time was the charm for Stapleton who won the Oscar for her work as Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty's bloated telling of the Russian Revolution. Interesting sidenote: Of that year's acting winners, Stapleton was the youngest at merely 56.
  • Johnny Dangerously (1984): I was never a fan of this Michael Keaton comedy, but Stapleton was a hoot as his mom.
  • Cocoon (1985): One of the great ensemble of older actors, Stapleton was fine as Wilford Brimley's wife, even though many of the other actors got much meatier scenes.
  • Heartburn (1986): Nora Ephron's underrated roman-a-clef of her marriage to Carl Bernstein included a sly turn by Stapleton as Meryl Streep's therapist.

  • There were many other titles I've never seen — I've heard that 1987's Sweet Lorraine was a particularly great moment for Stapleton.

    RIP Maureen Stapleton.


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    Comments:
    Maureen Stapleton had some memorable moments in film, but it's probably as a stage actress that she truly distinguished herself - so it's worth mentioning some of her triumphs. She was twice the recipient of the Broadway Tony Award - first for originating the role of Serafina Delle Rose in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, and again nearly 20 years later an an alcoholic actress trying to get her life back on track in Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady. She didn't get to repeat either of these successes in their respective film adaptations - Anna Magnani, for whom Tattoo had been written, didn't feel her English was strong enough to attempt the role on stage in 1951, but by 1955 was willing to make a try at it. Neil Simon would retool The Gingerbread Lady as a vehicle for his then-wife, Marsha Mason - the new version was called Only When I Laugh.

    The actress also received Tony nominations starring alongside Irene Worth as a pair of hysterical spinsters in Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic, in S.N. Behrman's turn-of-the-century drama The Cold Wind and the Warm with Eli Wallach, playing the role she would later recreate on film in Plaza Suite, and as tragic Aunt Birdy opposite Elizabeth Taylor's scheming Regina in the all-star revival of The Little Foxes.

    She played the leading role in two separate Broadway productions of The Glass Menagerie, ten years apart. She would also reprise her performance in The Rose Tattoo in a Broadway revival in 1966. All in all, she starred in six productions of Tennesee Williams' play on Broadway - possibly a record.

    There's a theater named after Maureen Stapleton not far from where I live. It's on the campus of Russell Sage College in Troy, NY - Stapleton's home town, which Oscar buffs will remember her thanking (along with everyone she'd ever met in her entire life) in her acceptance speech for Reds.
     
    I didn't think to add in my rush for an appreciation that she is yet another of the few (though not as few as before) who scores an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar.
     
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