Dewhurst, Colleen (1924–1991)

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Dewhurst, Colleen (1924–1991)

Canadian-born actress who won Tony Awards for her work in All the Way Home (1960) and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on June 3, 1924 (some sources cite 1926); died of cervical cancer in South Salem, New York, on August 22, 1991; attended Downer College of Young Ladies (now Lawrence University), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Academy of Dramatic Arts; married James Vickery, in 1947 (divorced); twice married and twice divorced actor George C. Scott; children: (second marriage) two sons, Alexander and Campbell.

Selected stage work:

Made acting debut as student (1946); made professional debut as one of the neighbors in Desire Under the Elms at the ANTA (1952); appeared as Lady Macbeth at the New York Shakespeare Festival (1957), Caesonia in Caligula at the 54th Street Theater (1960), Mary Follett in All the Way Home, for which she received the Tony Award (1960), Abbie Putnam in Desire Under the Elms at Circle in the Square (1963), Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at the Delacorte (1963), Amelia Evans in Carson McCuller's Ballad of the Sad Cafe at the Martin Beck (1963), Sara in More Stately Mansions at the Broadhurst (1965), Hester in Hello and Goodbye (1969), Shen Teh in The Good Woman of Setzuan at the Vivian Beaumont (1970), Gertrude in Hamlet at the Delacorte (1972), Christine Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra at Circle in the Square (1972), Josie Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Morosco, for which she received her second Tony Award (1973), Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Belasco (1977).


The Nun's Story (1959); Man on a String (1960); A Fine Madness (1966); The Last Run (1971); The Cowboys (1972); MCQ (1974); Annie Hall (1977); The Third Walker (Can., 1978); Ice Castles (1978); When a Stranger Walks (1979); Final Assignment (Can., 1980); Tribute (Can., 1980); The Dead Zone (1983); The Boy Who Could Fly (1986); Obsessed (Can., 1988); 11/4/1988 (1989); Bed and Breakfast (1989); Termini Station (1991); Dying Young (1991). Appeared regularly on television, including as Inez in No Exit, Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, and as Medea; played a running part as Candice Bergen 's mother on the series "Murphy Brown."

The daughter of a professional hockey player and a Christian Science practitioner, Colleen Dewhurst had an early ambition to be a pilot. Criticized for her lack of academic seriousness, she dropped out of Downer College for Young Ladies and worked as a dental receptionist before enrolling in New York's Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she studied with Harold Clurman and Joseph Anthony. To support herself, she worked as a switchboard operator, an usher at Carnegie Hall, and an instructor at a reducing gym. She made her New York debut in 1946, while still an acting student, playing the role of Julia Cavendish in The Royal Family. In 1952, she had a small part in a production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, in which she would later play the leading role of Abbie Putnam. Dewhurst did not appear on Broadway again until January 1956, when she played both a Turkish concubine and a virgin of Memphis in Tamburlaine the Great. That same year, she met Joseph Papp, founder and director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and he cast her as Tamora in his production of Titus Andronicus. This was the beginning of a long association with Papp, who was probably most responsible for launching her career.

Dewhurst was a passionate actress, tall, robust, with a throaty voice and a laugh that Walter Kerr of The New York Times once described as "wolverine." She won Tony Awards for her roles of Mary Follett in All the Way Home (1960) and Josie Hogan in a revival of O'Neill's A Moon for

the Misbegotten (1973), as well as several Obies for her off-Broadway performances. Throughout her career, Dewhurst was closely identified with the plays of O'Neill; she played Christine in his Mourning Becomes Electra and Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night. "I love the O'Neill women," she told Rex Reed in an interview for Conversations in the Raw. "They move from the groin rather than the brain. To play O'Neill you have to be big. You can't sit around and play little moments of sadness or sweetness. You cannot phony up O'Neill."

She was equally well suited to Shakespearean roles, notably Kate in Taming of the Shrew, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, and Gertrude in Hamlet. Other outstanding performances were in Athol Fugard's Hello and Goodbye (for which her portrayal of the embittered prostitute Hester won her the 1969–70 Drama Desk award), Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan (1970), and Betti's The Queen and the Rebels (1982). As well, she played Lillian Hellman in Bentley's Are You Now or Have You Ever Been … ? (1978). Dewhurst made sporadic appearances in films (which she referred to as "my famous cameos") as well as on television. She was seen in a recurring role on the situation comedy "Murphy Brown," for which she won one of her three Emmys. In one of her final New York appearances, she portrayed Carlotta O'Neill , wife of Eugene O'Neill, in the one-woman play My Gene (1987).

In 1947, while studying acting, Dewhurst had married fellow student James Vickery. The marriage ended 12 years later, after which she was twice married and twice divorced from actor George C. Scott, with whom she often performed. Her two closest friends were actresses Zoe Caldwell and Maureen Stapleton . Dewhurst was the president of the Actors' Equity Association from 1985 to 1991 and was active in a number of theater causes, including those that lent support to actors afflicted with AIDS. The actress died of cancer, at age 67, in 1991.

suggested reading:

Dewhurst, Colleen, with Tom Viola. Colleen Dewhurst: Her Autobiography. NY: Scribner, 1997.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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