Delany, Dana

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Delany, Dana



B orn Dana Welles Delany, March 13, 1956, in New York, NY; daughter of Jack and Mary Delany. Education: Wesleyan University, bachelor’s degree, late 1970s.

Addresses: Management—Brillstein Entertainment Partners, 9150 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 350, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


A ctress in television, including: Love of Life, 1979-80; As the World Turns, 1981; Threesome (movie), 1984; Liberty (movie), 1986; Magnum, P.I., 1986-87; Sweet Surrender, 1987; China Beach, 1988-91; A Promise to Keep (movie), 1990; Wild Palms (miniseries), 1993; Donato & Daughter, 1993; The Enemy Within (movie), 1994; Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story (movie), 1995; Fallen Angels, 1995; For Hope (movie), 1996; Wing Commander Academy, 1996; Superman (voice), 1996-2000; The Rescuers, 1998; The Patron Saint of Liars (movie), 1998; Sirens (movie), 1999; Resurrection (movie), 1999; Shake, Rattle and Roll (miniseries), 1999; Final Jeopardy (movie), 2001; Pasadena, 2001-02; Presidio Med, 2002; A Time to Remember, 2003; Baby for Sale (movie), 2004; Kidnapped, 2006-07; Desperate Housewives, 2007—. Film appearances include: The Fan, 1981; Almost You, 1985; Where the River Runs Black, 1986; Masquerade, 1988; Patty Hearst, 1988; Moon Over Parador, 1988; Housesitter, 1992; Light Sleeper, 1992; Tombstone, 1993; Exit to Eden, 1994; Live Nude Girls, 1995; Fly Away Home, 1996; Wide Awake, 1998; The Curve, 1998; The Outfitters, 1999; The Right Temptation, 2000; Mother Ghost, 2002; Getting to Know You, 2005; Drunkboat, 2007. Stage appearances include: A Life, Morosco Theatre, Broadway, 1980-81; Blood Moon, Production Company Theatre, New York City, then Los Angeles, CA, 1983-84; Translations, Plymouth Theatre, Broadway, 1995; Dinner With Friends, Variety Arts Theatre, New York City, Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, Wilbur Theatre, Boston, all 2000; Much Ado About Nothing, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA, 2003. Also worked as a cocktail waitress, museum ticket seller, and antique shop assistant.

Awards: Emmy Award for best actress in a drama series, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for China Beach, 1989 and 1992.


B est known for her work on the television series China Beach, Pasadena, and Desperate Housewives, actress Dana Delany also has extensive film credits and a background in theater. Among her best known films are Tombstone and Housesitter. Delany began her career on soap operas and the New York stage.

Born on March 13, 1956, in New York City, Delany was raised in wealth and privilege with her brother and sister in Stamford, Connecticut. Her family gained its financial position because her grandfather invented a toilet flush valve, the Delany valve, in 1928. Delany received her education at the prep school Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, as part of the first class to admit girls. She became interested in theater there. Delany then attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she earned her undergraduate degree in the late 1970s.

After leaving school, Delany moved to New York City to become an actress. She briefly worked as a cocktail waitress, then was employed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a ticket seller. Delany was also an assistant at an antiques shop before landing her first role. She began her career on a soap opera, Love of Life, playing Amy Russell from 1979-80. After Love of Life was cancelled, Delany moved to the stage. She spent 1980 to 1981 appearing in the Broadway production of ALife, then spent a year on another soap, As the World Turns, as Haley Wilson in 1981.

Many actors and actresses consider soaps a good training ground, but Delany was not as enamored by the experience. She told Karen Heller of the Toronto Star, “Well, I loved soaps in college, but when I was on them I found I was learning some bad habits that I thought were very detrimental to my career. You take shortcuts. You don’t make the choices to try the interesting things—at least I didn’t. You just try to see how little work you can get away with. It was very dangerous.”

Because of her experiences, Delany decided to leave As the World Turns and attend an acting school in New York City to receive more training in her craft. Returning to acting in 1983, she appeared in the Production Company’s Blood Moon, written by Nicholas Kazan. Delany played an naïve pre-med student who tries to gain life experience in the first act, but is raped and tries to take revenge on her attacker in the second. Reviewing the play, Mel Gus-sow of the New York Times commented, “she has two roles to play and she does them both with authority.”

When Blood Moon moved to Los Angeles, Delany went with the production and stayed. She focused on television roles for much of the 1980s, including playing the titular character’s girlfriend for two seasons on Magnum, P.I. In 1987, Delany had a central role on the short-lived situation comedy, Sweet Surrender. She also did the occasional film such as 1985’s Almost You and 1986’s Where the River Runs Black. By 1988, Delany had featured roles in three bigger films: Masquerade, Patty Hearst, and Moon Over Parador.

In 1988, Delany had the first break of her career when she began playing the main character and moral center of the acclaimed television program China Beach. The drama focused on the lives of women serving in the armed forces during the Vietnam War and stationed in a U.S. base near Da Nang. While the series had low ratings, critics roundly praised the show and it developed a cult following of enthusiastic fans who appreciated its sophistication, deft handling of war time relationships, and fresh perspective on the conflict.

Delany’s portrayal of Colleen McMurphy, an unsen-timental nurse, was highly regarded. The Washington Post’s Tom Shales wrote of her performance, “As McMurphy, Dana Delany is fascinating—pure and simple. Or rather, pure and complex . As Mc-Murphy, she is full of provocative surprises, able to make swings from implacable to vulnerable with complete conviction. Some performers are just innately and inescapably watchable, and she’s one of them.”

Despite numerous awards, including two Emmy Awards for Delany, and a rabid fan and critical base of support, China Beach was cancelled by ABC in 1991, but proved popular in reruns which aired on Lifetime in the early 1990s. Delany’s work in the role touched many viewers, including veterans, even as it neared the end of its run. A year after the show was cancelled, she told Parade’s James Brady, “[In 1991], when I was up for an Emmy Award, a man wrote me to say that, after seeing the show, he stopped drinking and went into treatment—and he sent me his Purple Heart just in case I lost. And I did. So now I have his Purple Heart, which is a lot more important.”

After the demise of China Beach, Delany appeared in a number of films in the early 1990s. In 1992, she appeared in two films: Housesitter, a comedy with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn; and Light Sleeper, opposite Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon. Delany’s roles were diverse: She appeared in the 1993 Wyatt Earp western Tombstone as traveling actress Josephine Marcus, then played an S&M domi-natrix in the panned comedy Exit to Eden in 1994.

While having big-screen success in this time period, Delany also took on television roles, primarily in movies and miniseries. Of working in both film and television, she told Steve Bornfeld in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “As an actress, you really need to do both these days. Television has been very good to me and I’m not a snob. And the roles are better for women than they are in films.”

In 1993, she was delighted to play Charles Bronson’s daughter—and superior—in the violent cop movie Donato & Daughter. The pair have tension because of the death of her brother, a cop, but are forced to work together to catch a serial killer. That same year, Delany appeared in the miniseries Wild Palms, created by Oliver Stone. Though Wild Palms was dismissed by critics, she enjoyed her work on the stylized melodrama. In 1995, Delany played the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, in the biographical television movie Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story.

After a return to the stage in 1995 in the New York production of Translations, Delany continued to move between film and television in the mid to late 1990s. In the 1995 film Live Nude Girls, she played a smug married woman who reunites at a dinner with her female friends since childhood to talk about their lives. She also took on challenging television movie roles like 1998’s The Patron Saint of Liars and the 1999 sci-fi remake of Resurrection. In the former, she played a married pregnant woman who leaves her husband to live at a home for unwed mothers, while in the latter she was the central character who gains healing powers after living through a car crash which killed her husband. In this time period, Delany also provided the voice of Lois Lane in the animated Superman series.

In the early 2000s, Delany appeared in a few smaller films, such as 2002’s Mother Ghost and 2005’s Getting to Know You, but primarily focused on television. In addition to roles in television movies such the 2001 thriller Final Jeopardy, she took starring roles in a number of television series. One high profile role came in 2001 with the prime-time soap opera Pasadena. Delany played Catherine Greeley McAllister, an uptight, high society woman who is part of an old money family with many dark secrets.

The actress drew on her own background growing up in Stamford, Connecticut for the role. She told Valerie Kuklenski of the Daily News of Los Angeles, “I just had to remember what it was like living in Connecticut and then I got it . People hide everything in Connecticut. I grew up in that atmosphere of ‘everything’s fine; let’s not talk about problems.’” Yet Delany enjoyed the role, telling Bart Mills of the Boston Herald, “I love the character because she’s so far from what I am. I’ve always been aware of the need to give back, and here I am playing someone so unconcerned about others . Americans sometimes like to pretend everyone here is equal, but we’re not, not at all.”

Though the dark soap received critical kudos, it failed to attract an audience and was cancelled after only a handful of episodes aired. Delany moved into another television show the following season, playing Dr. Rae Brennan in the short-lived medical drama, Presidio Med. Created by the team behind China Beach, Delany’s oncologist character was envisioned as Colleen McMurphy ten years later. Despite the pedigree and impressive ensemble cast which included Blythe Danner, the edgy show was canceled during its first season as well.

After the demise of Presido Med, Delany did some stage work, including appearing in Dinner with Friends in three cities and as Beatrice in a San Diego production of Much Ado About Nothing in 2003. Playing Beatrice marked the first time she performed Shakespeare. She then took roles in television movies, like the family drama A Time to Remember and the adoption drama Baby for Sale.

In 2007, Delany returned to series television by taking a role in the established hit prime-time drama Desperate Housewives. The actress had auditioned for the series in 2004 and had been offered the role of Bree. Delany turned it down three times, and Marcia Cross became the perfect housewife. As Desperate Housewives was a hit, Delany regretted not taking the part, but she had misgivings after Pasadena and she had just finished a demanding project. Series co-creator Marc Cherry remembered Delany when he added a new character for the 2007-08 season, the complex Katherine Mayfair.

Delany’s Mayfair lived on Wisteria Lane more than a decade ago, was friends with Susan Mayer, moved away under mysterious circumstances, and has moved back with her teenaged daughter and a younger husband. Her secrets were central to the show’s plotline in the 2007-08 season, though Delany was expected to remain with the show for several more seasons. Praising her work in Desperate Housewives, John Caramanica of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Delany is sharp, vibrant, and, most crucially, emotional, even if her character is meant to be essentially emotionless. Her hair, her eyes, her teeth—every part of her comes together to connote terror lurking just beneath the surface.”

Delany appreciated the opportunity afforded to her by the show and television in general. She told Karen Tay of Auckland, New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times, “I have to say almost all my best work has been on television, just because the roles were more interesting. Television has always been a great medium for women and the fact that Desperate Housewives offers these great roles for women over 40 is such as dream, you know. Because it gets harder the older you get and luckily I haven’t had to deal with that yet.”



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—A. Petruso

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