Alexander, Jane 1939-
ALEXANDER, Jane 1939-
PERSONAL: Born October 28, 1939, in Boston, MA; daughter of Thomas Bartlett (a doctor) and Ruth Elizabeth (Pearson) Quigley; married Robert Alexander (an actor and director), July 23, 1962 (divorced, 1969); married Edwin Sherin (a director), March 29, 1975; children: (first marriage) Jason, Jane. Ethnicity: "Caucasian; Irish-German-American." Education: Attended Sarah Lawrence College, 1957-58; attended University of Edinburgh, 1959-60. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Birding.
CAREER: Actress, producer, and writer. Member, Charles Playhouse, Boston, MA, 1964-65, and Arena Stage acting company, Washington, DC, 1965-68; associated with American Shakespeare Festival. Chair, National Endowment of the Arts, 1993-97. Has recorded audio books, including Wuthering Heights, Random House, and Rebecca, Warner. Stage appearances include: Eleanor Bachman, The Great White Hope, 1968; Katrina, Mother Courage and Her Children, 1970; Mistress Page, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1970; Lavinia, Mourning Becomes Electra, 1970; title role, Major Barbara, 1971; Kitty Duval, The Time of Your Life, 1972; Anne Miller, Six Rms Riv Vu, 1972; Jacqueline Harrison, Find Your Way Home, 1974; Liz Essendine, Present Laughter, 1974; Gertrude, Hamlet, 1975; Catherine Sloper, The Heiress, 1976; Hilda, The Master Builder, 1977; Judge Ruth Loomis, First Monday in October, 1978; Joanne, Losing Time, 1979; Natalia, Goodbye Fidel, 1980; Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra, 1981; title role, Hedda Gabler, 1981; Annie, Monday after the Miracle, 1982; Anna, Old Times, 1983; Maxine Faulk, Night of the Iguana, 1988; Charlotte Blossom, Approaching Zanzibar, 1989; Nurse, Mystery of the Rose Bouquet, 1989; Joy Davidman,Shadowlands, 1990; Claire Zachanassian, The Visit, 1992; Sara Goode, The Sisters Rosensweig, 1993; Honour, 1998; Mourning Becomes Electra, 2002; Ghosts, 2003.
Film appearances include: Eleanor Bachman, The Great White Hope, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970; Nora Tenneray, A Gunfight, Paramount, 1971; Dorothy Fehler, The New Centurions, Columbia, 1972; Bookkeeper, All the President's Men, Warner Bros., 1976; Alicia Hardeman, The Betsy, Allied Artists, 1978; Margaret Phelps, Kramer vs. Kramer, Columbia, 1979; Lillian Gray, Brubaker, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1980; Doris Strelyzk, Night Crossing, Buena Vista, 1982; Carol Wetherly, Testament, Paramount, 1983; Addy, City Heat, Warner Bros., 1984; (and executive producer) Juanelle, Square Dance (also known as Home Is Where the Heart Is), Island Pictures, 1987; Anna Willing, Sweet Country, Cinema Group, 1987; Mrs. Shaw, Glory, TriStar, 1989; narrator, Building Bombs (documentary), Tara Releasing, 1991; Nurse Edna, The Cider House Rules, Miramax, 1999; The Ring, 2002.
Television appearances in miniseries include: Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor and Franklin, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1976, and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, ABC, 1977; Doris Ashley, Blood and Orchids, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 1986; and Blanche Kettman, Stay the Night, ABC, 1992. Television appearances in movies include: Anne Palmer, Welcome Home Johnny Bristol, CBS, 1971; Karen Walker, Miracle on 34th Street, CBS, 1973; Sarah Shaw, This Is the West That Was, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. (NBC), 1974; Frances Gunther, Death Be Not Proud, ABC, 1975; Mary MacCracken, A Circle of Children, CBS, 1977; Mary MacCracken, Lovey: A Circle of Children, Part II, CBS, 1978; Dear Liar, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1978; Barbara Moreland, A Question of Love (also known as A Purely Legal Matter), NBC, 1978; Alma Rose, Playing for Time, CBS, 1980; Sandy Caldwell, In the Custody of Strangers, ABC, 1983; title role, Calamity Jane, CBS, 1984; Nora Strangis, When She Says No, ABC, 1984; Hedda Hopper, Malice in Wonderland, CBS, 1985; Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War, NBC, 1987; Ginny Charlson, Open Admissions, CBS, 1987; Hanna Dournevald, A Friendship in Vienna (also known as The Devil in Vienna), Disney Channel, 1988; and Peggy Ryan, Daughter of the Streets, ABC, 1990. Episodic television appearances include: host, Generations, 1987; Drug Free Kids: A Parent's Guide, PBS, 1988; narrator, Sea Turtles' Last Dance, PBS, 1988; voice of Emily Dickinson, "Emily Dickinson," Voices and Visions, PBS, 1988; narrator, Sea Turtles: Ancient Nomads, PBS, 1989; narrator, They're Doing My Time, PBS, 1989; Night of One Hundred Stars III, NBC, 1990; (and executive producer) Georgia O'Keeffe, "A Marriage: Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz," American Playhouse, PBS, 1991; The Forty-seventh Annual Tony Awards, 1993; The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1993; New Year (pilot), 1993; The Forty-eighth Annual Tony Awards, 1994; narration, "Dr. Spock the Baby Doc," Nova, PBS, 1995; interviewee, "James Earl Jones," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1995; Small Steps, Big Strides: The Black Experience in Hollywood, AMC, 1998; narrator, Intimate Portrait: Eleanor Roosevelt, Lifetime, 1999; Intimate Portrait: Jane Alexander, Lifetime, 1999; and Regina Mulroney, "Entitled, Part 2," Law and Order, NBC, 2000. Co-producer, Calamity Jane (movie), CBS, 1984; segment producer, Dancing (series), PBS, 1992-93.
MEMBER: Actors' Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (member, board of directors, 1981-88), Wildlife Conservation International (member, board of directors, 1984—), Film Forum (member, board of directors, 1985-90), National Stroke Association (member, board of directors, 1985—), New York Zoological Society (member, advisory board, 1991—, board of directors, 1991), MacDowell Colony (board member), Hornecker Wildlife Institute (board member), American Bird Conservancy (board member).
AWARDS, HONORS: Antoinette Perry Award, Drama Desk Award, and Theatre World Award for Best Supporting Actress, all 1969, and Academy Award nomination, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1970, all for The Great White Hope; Golden Globe Award for most promising newcomer—female, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 1971; Antoinette Perry Award nomination for Best Actress (Dramatic), 1973, for Six Rms Riv Vu, 1974, for Find Your Way Home, and 1979, for First Monday in October; Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special, 1976, for Eleanor and Franklin; Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, 1976, for All the President's Men; Television Critics Circle Award and Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Drama or Comedy Apecial, both 1977, both for Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years; St. Botolph Club Achievement in Dramatic Arts, 1979; Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, both 1979, both for Kramer vs. Kramer; Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Special, 1981, for Playing for Time, and nominations, 1984, for Calamity Jane, and 1985, for Malice in Wonderland; Israel Cultural Award, 1982; Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress, both 1983, both for Testament; Helen Caldicott Leadership Award, 1984; Western Heritage Wrangler Award, 1984; Living Legacy Award, Women's International Center, 1988; Obie Award for Best Performance, 1993, for The Sisters Rosensweig; Environmental Leadership Award, Eco-Expo; inducted into Theater Hall of Fame, 1993; Muse Award, New York Women in Film, 1993; Lectureship Award, NIH, 1994; Houseman Award, The Acting Company, 1994; University of California at Los Angeles Medal, 1994; Outer Critics Circle Award for Distinguished Voice in Theater, 1994; Helen Hayes Award, American Express Tribute, 1994; Women of Achievement Award, Anti-Defamation League, 1994; D.F.A., Juilliard School, 1994, North Carolina School of the Arts, 1994, University of Pennsylvania, 1995, New School for Social Research, 1996, and Smith College, 1999; Margo Jones Award, 1995; Massachusetts Society Award, 1995; North American Mont Blanc de la Culture Award, 1995; Commonwealth Award, 1995; honorary Ph.D., Duke University, 1996, and Sarah Lawrence College, 1998; L.H.D., College of Santa Fe, 1997; Christopher Reeve Award, Creative Coalition, 1998; Outstanding Leadership for Achievement in Arts, People for the American Way, 1998; Lifetime Achievement Award, Americans for Arts and United States Conference of Mayors, 1999; Harry S Truman Award for Public Service, 1999.
(With Greta Jacobs) The Bluefish Cookbook, Globe Pequot (Old Saybrook, CT), 1980, 5th revised edition published as The Bluefish Cookbook: 101 Ways to Get Rid of the Blues, illustrated by Wezi Swift, 1995.
Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics (memoir), PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2000.
Also author, with Sam Engelstad, of The Master Builder (adaptation of the play by Henrich Ibsen).
SIDELIGHTS: Acclaimed for her extraordinary versatility, actress Jane Alexander has built a successful career on the stage, in film, and in television. She has also worked as a film and television producer, recorded audiobooks, and coauthored a popular cookbook. From 1993 to 1997 Alexander also headed the National Endowment for the Arts. Her book Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics recounts her time with the U.S. arts agency.
Alexander is the oldest of three children born to orthopedic surgeon Thomas Bartlett Quigley, a pioneer in sports medicine, and former nurse Ruth Elizabeth (Pearson) Quigley. Her paternal grandfather, Daniel Quigley, had been the personal physician to Buffalo Bill in North Platte, Nebraska. Alexander grew up in Brookline, a middle-class suburb of Boston, and in 1957 entered Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She left after two years to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where she was active in the dramatic club.
After leaving Edinburgh in 1960, Alexander audited a few courses at Harvard University and appeared in a student production of William Shakespeare's As You Like It before moving to New York City in 1961 to try her luck on the stage. While looking for work as an actor, she got a secretarial job and studied acting with Mira Rostova. Her first break came when she replaced Sandy Dennis's stand-in in A Thousand Clowns at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. She went on to appear in Twice over Nightly, a satirical revue, at the Upstairs at the Downstairs cabaret. By 1964, however, Alexander decided to leave New York to try to find more challenging dramatic parts in regional theater. She joined the repertory cast of the Charles Playhouse in Boston and then joined the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
At the Arena Stage, Alexander created the role that launched her career, that of Eleanor Bachman in the world premiere of Howard Sackler's The Great White Hope in 1967. The three-act drama focused on the career of Jack Jefferson—the first major role for James Earl Jones—a black prizefighter who becomes world heavyweight champion. The complex and troubled Jefferson emotionally abuses his white mistress, Eleanor, and drives her to suicide before finally losing his title to a white fighter. The following year the play went to Broadway, where it was showered with critical accolades. For her performance in that production, Alexander was awarded Antoinette Perry, Drama Desk, and Theatre World awards. When Alexander starred in the movie version of The Great White Hope two years later, she received an Oscar nomination.
Her stage career firmly established, Alexander went on to play major roles in a wide variety of plays on Broadway and elsewhere, such as Six Rms Riv Vu, Mourning Becomes Electra, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as the title role in the American Shakespeare Festival production of Major Barbara. She also appeared in several film and television roles. Among her most admired performances was her Television Critics' Circle Award-winning portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1976 television miniseries Eleanor and Franklin and its 1977 sequel, Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. Her role as Alma Rose in the 1980 television movie Playing for Time, about a troupe of women musicians at Auschwitz, was also widely respected and won her an Emmy award. Alexander has also narrated several television specials, produced television programming, and recorded audiobook versions of the novels Wuthering Heights and Rebecca.
In addition to her performing career, Alexander has coauthored an adaptation of Heinrich Ibsen's play The Master Builder. With Greta Jacobs, Alexander wrote The Bluefish Cookbook, a collection of easy recipes the pair developed in response to the plentiful bluefish that family and friends brought them during summers on Nantucket. The book covers everything from basic filleting and smoking methods to tips on steaming fish in a home dishwasher. Both New England-based reviewers and national critics appreciated the book's range, clarity, and charm. An appraisal by a Boston Globe reviewer declared: "Of all the things ever written about bluefish, this . . . is my favorite because, in its breezy elegant way, it approaches the level of wackiness found in the very personality of the bluefish." Popular with readers, The Bluefish Cookbook went into five editions in its first fifteen years of publication.
In 1993 President Bill Clinton named Alexander chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. The embattled federal agency had been mired in controversy since the late 1980s over government funding of the arts. Much of the controversy centered on art deemed by some observers to be obscene or sacrilegious—particularly photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work included homoerotic scenes and sexually provocative poses, as well as works by Andres Serrano, best known for "Piss Christ," a photo of a plastic crucifix immersed in a glass of urine. While many had been grumbling for years over whether the U.S. government should be involved at all in financing the arts, such exhibits ignited a once low-key debate, turning it into a bitter war that threatened the NEA's very existence.
Alexander accepted the challenge, and after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she was sworn into office by Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on October 8, 1993. According to a writer in Time, Alexander, who is described as liberal in her beliefs on artistic freedom, told the subcommittee overseeing the NEA in 1990: "I find it astonishing that after twenty-five years we are not celebrating the enormous success of the NEA. Rather, we're put in a position of defending it. The family of art produces ugly babies as well as beautiful ones, but we have to embrace all of that family." A few years later, she told the Detroit Free Press she was "sick of the polemics" that threaten the existence of the NEA. "I see the arts as the solution to our problems and not, in any way, part of the problem. The arts are life-enhancing, and they bring joy. The arts are a community issue. They bring us together, they do not rend us asunder."
During her four-year tenure, Alexander strengthened that organization's partnerships with other federal agencies and convened the first national arts conference, "Art 21: Art Reaches into the 21st Century." She traveled to more than two hundred communities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and gave speeches emphasizing how arts can improve schools, boost local economies, and build stronger communities. Alexander created the Arts Endowment's World Wide Web Site and initiated measures to improve communications and opportunities for artists and small arts organizations through the Internet.
During her term, the agency's funding was cut by some forty percent. Despite these cuts, Alexander saved the organization from being disbanded entirely. The NEA, which had also received criticism for its tendency to give the majority of its funding to artists in two states, California and New York, while ignoring the rest of the nation, agreed to distribute the money more fairly. In 1997, frustrated over congressional funding, a lack of attention from the Clinton administration, and her desire to return to acting, Alexander resigned her NEA post, but recounts her career as an arts administrator in the book Command Performance. Robert Brustein in the New Republic described the memoir as "at its best, an honest effort to explore the unholy marriage between politics and art, a relationship that, in this author's case, ended in a rather unhappy divorce." Tom O'Brien, writing in America, found Command Performance "a graciously written, even funny book." Hap Erstein in the Washington Times commented on Alexander's account of her tenure as arts administrator: "Other performances of hers have been more successful, and certainly more widely acclaimed, but this behind-the-scenes look at her days at the helm of the NEA shows it to be unparalleled for gratification and frustration."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Newsmakers 1994, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
America, July 29, 2000, Tom O'Brien, "Hollywood Meets D.C.," p. 24.
American Theatre, November, 1997, Ron Jenkins, "NEA Wins Vote, Loses Alexander," p. 70; September, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, "Jane Alexander: She Stoops to Conquer," p. 59.
Arts Education Policy Review, September, 2000, Margaret Dee Merrion, review of Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics, p. 38.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 15, 1993. Back Stage, May 28, 1999, p. 7.
Booklist, June 1, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of Command Performance, p. 1829.
Boston Globe, August 17, 1990.
Chicago Tribune, November 14, 1993.
Dance, December, 1997, "Trouble at NEA: Exit Alexander," p. 38.
Detroit Free Press, January 11, 1994.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, Barbara Hutcheson, review of Command Performance, p. 164.
New Republic, August 21, 2000, Robert Brustein, review of Command Performance, p. 34.
New York Times, March 30, 1993; July 31, 1993; October 16, 1993.
Publishers Weekly, May 15, 2000, review of Command Performance, p. 97.
Time, August 16, 1993.
Washington Times, November 12, 1993; October 9, 1997, Julia Duin, "Alexander's Departure Called 'Huge Loss' to Arts Agency," p. 3; May 28, 2000, Hap Erstein, "Report from the Actress Who Did Time at NEA," p. 8.