Judith Anderson Overview:

Legendary character actress, Judith Anderson, was born Frances Margaret Anderson-Anderson on Feb 10, 1897 in Adelaide, Australia. Anderson appeared in over 50 film and TV roles. Her best known films include Rebecca (as Mrs. Danvers), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (as Big Momma Pollitt), Laura (as Ann Treadwell), And Then There Were None (as Emily Brent), Salome (as Queen Herodias) and Cinderfella (as Jerry Lewis' Wicked Stepmother). She also appeared as matriarch Minx Lockridge from 1984 through 1987 on the NBC soap, Santa Barbara. Anderson died at the age of 94 on Jan 3, 1992 in Santa Barbara, CA and was cremated and her ashes given to family or friend.

Early Life and Career

Judith Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson on February 10th, 1897 in Adelaide, Australia to Jessie and Margaret Anderson. As a child she went to see a performance by opera singer Nellie Melba, and soon after discovered a passion for the stage. Although her initial goal was to become an opera star, she proved to have little skill with music but found more success with her elocution and drama classes. While attending Norwood Motialta High School, Anderson won several acting competitions.  Clearly a better thespian than singer, Anderson then decided to pursue a career on theatrical stage rather than the opera house. Like many young actresses, Anderson began her career playing ingenue-esque characters for amateur theatre companies wherever she could. In 1915 she made her professional stage debut at the Theatre Royale in Sydney Australia, playing Stephanie in A Royal Divorce with the Julius Knight Company. The company then toured throughout Australia, where Anderson was taken under the wing of the company's leader, Julius Knight. The highly regarded British stage actor saw her potential as an actress and took it upon himself to teach her the ways of the stage.

While touring with the Company, many of her American co-stars managed to convince the young Anderson to continue her career in American, rather then England, as was her original plan. She crossed the mighty Pacific, arriving in Hollywood with a letter of introduction of none other then Mr. Cecil B. DeMille. However, once DeMille saw Anderson, he showed little interest and was completely dismissive in the average-looking actress. She then packed her bags and took a midnight plain to New York to concentrate on what she knew best: the stage.

American Stage

Her first few months in New York were miserable. She made the rounds to all of the theater agents, only to be met with rejection after rejection. However a few months into her search, she finally found work with the Emma Bunting stock company. It wouldn't take long for the tenacious hard-worker to be noticed and after spending a year with Emma Bunting, she then began touring the country with various other companies. She toured the country for three years, building her reputation and skill-set as an actress. In 1922 she made her Broadway debut in the play On the Stairs, using the stage name Frances Anderson. The next year she officially changed her stage name to Judith Anderson for the Sam. H. Harris produced Peter Weston. In 1924 Anderson starred in her first successful Broadway hit, Cobra and followed that up with the equally as popular, The Dove. Now an established Broadway actress, she returned to Australia for a touring production of three separate plays, one of which was the Cobra.

By the 1930s Anderson was one of the most prominent theatre actresses of the world and would remained one of Broadways most shining stars for the next three decades. She also speared in several Old Vic Company productions in London while occasionally returning home to tour Australia. When she returned from her first tour in Australia, Anderson lit up the stage with her critically acclaimed performance in Anna. She then starred in successful plays such as As You Desire Me, Mourning Becomes Electra, Firebird, and Conquest. In 1933 she made her film debut in the 20th Century Fox crime drama Blood Money, however, it would be years before she would again grace the silver screen. In 1936 She starred in the Gunthrie McClintic produced Hamlet opposite John Gielgud at the empire theater. In 1937 she crossed the pond, arriving at the Old Vic Theater to play Lady MacBeth opposite a young Laurence Oliver in Michel Saint-Denis's production of MacBeth. She later repeated her critically acclaimed performance at the New Theatre.

Film and Stage

When Anderson returned the States, Anderson decided to give Hollywood another shot. In 1940 she was cast in the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca as the eerie housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. In the film, Mrs. Danvers mentally tortures and manipulates the young Mrs. de Winter, the unwanted second wife to her employer, Maxim de Winter, played by MacBeth co-star, Laurence Oliver. The film was an absolute smash hit both at the box-office and with the critics. It would go to receive nine Academy Award nomination including Best Writing, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and a Best Supporting Actress for Judith Anderson. Although Anderson would not win, the film itself won Best Picture. She followed that up with the Busby Berkeley drama Forty Little Monsters. She remained in Hollywood in 1941, releasing three films that year, Free and Easy, Lady Scarface and All Through the Night. She then returned to New York to star in the Margaret Webster production of MacBeth, this time staring opposite Maurice Evans. She remained on the stage into 1943, this time as Olga in the 1943 revival of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. The play was such a resounding success that it graced the cover of Time Magazine.

She returned to Hollywood in 1943, working on the WWII moral booster Stage Door Canteen. In 1944 she appeared with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Vincent Price in the Otto Preminger film-noir Laura. The next year she starred in the crime-mystery And Then There Were None, opposite Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald. In 1946 proved to be busy year for the Australian actress appeared in Jean Renoir romance The Diary of a Chambermaid, Specter of the Rose, and The Strange Loves of Mather Ivers. 1947 proved to be equal as busy a year, again appearing in three film, Pursued, The Red House and Tycoon. After completing the latter film, she returned to New York, ready to perform on The Great White Way. At the tail end of 1947 she starred as the titular character in the Euripides classic Medea, produced by none other than former Hamlet co-star John Gielgud. The play was a huge hit, with Anderson garner a large chunk of the plays praise. For her efforts, she was award the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Drama. Would revive the character multiple times, in multiple countries, through out her career.

Later Career

By the 1950s, Anderson began to appear less on the big screen and more on the little, concentrating on TV and stage work. She could be seen on television series such as Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, The Billy Rose Show and Producers Showcase. She did grace the big screen every once in while, usually in as part of a large ensemble cast in large historical epics such as Salome and The Ten Commandments. In 1953 she starred in the Charles Laughton directed play John Brown's Body opposite Raymond Massey and Tyrone Power. The year she followed that up with another successful play In the Summer House. She traveled west to Hollywood in 1958 to appear as Big Momma Pollitt in the big screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Later that year she appeared in her penultimate Broadway play Comes a Day. In 1960 Anderson was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire, thus making her official title Dame Judith Anderson.

By the 1960s, Anderson was content with making mostly rare television appearances. In 1960 she won an Emmy for Best Leading Actress reviving her role as Lady MacBeth in MacBeth opposite Maurice Evans. She also appeared in other made for TV movies such as Cinderella, The Ghost of Sierra d Cobre and The File on Devlin. In 1970 Anderson was final able to realize her dream of playing the titular role of Hamlet in a national tour as well as an engagement at Carnegie Hall. She then returned to the screen, acting in slew of made for TV movies, such as A Man Called Horse, The Borrowers, and The Chinese Prime Minister up until the mid-1970s. In 1982 she made her final Broadway appearance in a revival of her biggest hit Medea, this time playing the nurse.  Two years later she appeared as High Priestess T'Lar in the blockbuster Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The next year she made her final television appearance as Minx Lockridge in the Soap Opera Santa Barbara, after which she quietly entered retirement after over seven decades in the Show Business. In 1991 she was name a Companion of the Order of Australia "in recognition of service to the performing arts." Judith Anderson died on January 3rd, 1992 in Santa Barbara, California. She was 94 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Anderson was nominated for one Oscar, she never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1940Best Supporting ActressRebecca (1940)Mrs. DanversNominated

Anderson was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame .

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Judith Anderson Quotes:

Martha Ivers as a girl: You don't own the whole world.
Mrs. Ivers: Enough to make sure you're always brought back to me.

Mrs. Ivers: I'm sorry, sorry you ever left here. Sam, for old time's sake?

Mrs. Ivers: I know why you offered to tutor Martha. I know why you've made Walter do his daily lessons with her. I know why you want him to live here. A scholarship for Walter, that's why! But I'm not a foundation, Mr. O'Neil. I don't care if Walter drives a truck or goes to Harvard. Probably be a lot happier driving a truck.

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Best Supporting Actress Oscar 1940

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Judith Anderson Facts
Won Broadway's 1948 Tony Award as best actress-dramatic for playing the title role in Medea -- an award shared with Katharine Cornell for Antony and Cleopatra, and Jessica Tandy for A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1959, she repeated the same role on television. In 1982, she received a Tony nomination as best actress-featured role-play for playing the supporting role of the Nurse in Medea, repeating that performance in a 1983 telecast of the play.

She was awarded a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1960 Queen's new Years Honours List for her services to the performing arts.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 3, 1991-1993, pages 17-19. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001.

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Theater Hall of Fame

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