Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 5. Tuesday, 7 Jan 1992.
From: Ken Steele <
Date: Tuesday, January 7, 1992
Subject: The Death of Dame Judith Anderson
[Ed. Note: Doubtless many other SHAKSPEReans have already heard the
sad news of the death of Dame Judith Anderson at age 93, but as a small
tribute to the great actress I reproduce here (without permission)
the obituary from the *Los Angeles Times* (as reprinted in the local
*Hamilton Spectator*). -- k.s.]
Actress played classic and campy roles:
Dame Judith Anderson dead at 93
Dame Judith Anderson will be remembered as one of the last grande dames of
the world's stages and films. The Australian-born actress, whose potent
portrayals of complex and tormented women, died Friday. The quintessential
Medea, Lady Macbeth and the obsessively deranged Mrs. Danvers of *Rebecca*
The tragedienne, whose gifts vastly exceeded the handy Hollywood label of
"character actress," had been living near Santa Barbara, Calif. for
more than 20 years. It was one of her last roles -- as the camp, imperiously
dotty matriarch on the soap opera *Santa Barbara* -- that brought her
dominating presence and luxuriantly marbled voice to a generation who had never
seen her command the stage in the ardent, demanding roles she adored, from the
works of Eugene O'Neill and Euripides to Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare.
She died at home, said a spokesman. In August, she spent 18 days in a
hospital for an undisclosed ailment. No cause for death was disclosed.
With her signature interpretations of theatre's classic roles -- particularly
Medea -- she was first among the dwindling ranks of grande dames of the
stage. In her 70s, she even dared the role of Hamlet -- to no great reviews.
Her stagecraft earned her the extravagant tributes of theatre lovers.
In Berlin, they once strewed rose petals from her car to the stage door. In
London, she performed in only two plays, but that was enough to earn her
the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire from the Queen
Her hypnotically malevolent housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, in the 1940 Alfred
Hitchcock classic *Rebecca*, brought an Oscar nomination, and her two
television performances as Lady Macbeth earned her twin Emmys. One of
those shows alone played "to an audience that would have taken us 33 years to
reach on the stage," she sighed. Although she insisted she hated the "cold,
cold" eye of the camera, it was TV and movies that ultimately registered her
face and voice with vaster audiences.
In her 80s, Anderson cheerily signed on for her soap-opera role, several years
after her grand-nephew teamed with Leonard Nimoy and talked her into
playing a bat-eared Vulcan priestess in *Star Trek III*. But it was her
theatre roles like Medea and Lady Macbeth that left the enduring impression of
an actress forever stalking the stairs with bloodied daggers. "People
always think of me as playing these terrible, terrible women, but I've really
played very few of them -- Medea, Gertrude, Lady Macbeth... yes, Mrs. Danvers
in the movies... but no one remembers the pleasant people I've played --
Mary, the mother of Jesus, and so many others."
Still, it was as the stage's leading player of tragic, powerful villains that
she often excelled. Although she once remarked wistfully that she wished
she was beautiful, her features seemed custom-made for the onstage torments of
O'Neill and Williams, and endured in memory long after the milkmaid miens
of Hollywood faded. "There are so many strange, alluring, hateful, lovable,
weird, tender, ugly women of history and of life," Anderson once said.
"I want to delineate all of them."
In a career that began when she stepped onstage in 1915 in an Australian
touring company, she eventually performed opposite William Gillette,
Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Errol Flynn, Raymond Massey, Tyrone
Power and Ronald Reagan in the film *King's Row*, as the wife of the
doctor who amputates Reagan's legs.