Thompson, Sada (1929—)

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Thompson, Sada (1929—)

American actress. Born on September 27, 1929, in Des Moines, Iowa; daughter of Hugh Woodruff and CorlyssElizabeth (Gibson) Thompson; attended Carnegie Institute of Technology; married Donald E. Stewart.

Debuted professionally, University Playhouse, Mashpee, Massachusetts (1947); made New York debut (1953); won three Drama Desk Awards (1956–57, 1969–70, 1971–72); won two Obie (Off-Broadway) Awards (1964–65, 1969–70); won Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Award for Best Actress, Drama (1972); nominated for five Emmy Awards (1976 [twice], 1980, 1991, 1995); nominated for three Golden Globe Awards for best TV Actress, Drama, for "Family" (1977, 1979–80); won Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, for "Family" (1978).

Selected stage roles:

appeared as Eliante in The Misanthrope (1956), Valerie Barton in The River Line (1957), Dorine in Tartuffe (1965), Beatrice in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1970), Emily, Celia, Dorothy, and Ma in Twigs (1971); selected television roles: Mary Todd Lincoln in "Sandburg's Lincoln" (1975), Phoebe Rice in "The Entertainer" (1976), Kate Lawrence in "Family" (series, 1976–80), Mama Lozupone in "Cheers" episode (1991); Virginia McMartin in "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" (1995). Also appeared in the San Diego Globe production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth which was broadcast live on PBS in December 1982.

Actress Sada Thompson's career on stage and television has spanned over five decades and earned her numerous acting awards. She was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1929, the daughter of Corlyss Gibson Thompson and Hugh Woodruff Thompson. She was first drawn to acting while a student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. She decided to pursue an acting career and made her professional debut on June 30, 1947, at the University Playhouse in Mashpee, Massachusetts, in the role of Harmony Blue-blossom in The Beautiful People. For the next five years, she performed regularly in a series of dramas at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the Henrietta Hayloft Theater in Rochester, New York. In 1951, she made her first television appearance, on the "Goodyear Television Playhouse"; she would appear frequently in non-recurring

roles on television into the 1990s. Her New York City stage debut came in May 1953 at the Kaufmann Auditorium. The critical acclaim she received for her work in New York led to further stage roles over the next two decades in theaters and Shakespeare festivals from Phoenix to Connecticut to California to Wisconsin. Professional honors Thompson received during the 1950s and 1960s include two Obie Awards as well as Drama Desk Awards for her roles in The River Line and The Misanthrope.

In 1961, Thompson appeared in her first film, You Are Not Alone, then returned to the theater. In 1966, she signed a year-long contract with the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco where in 1974, she would portray Madam Ranevskaya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. In 1970 at the Mercer-O'Casey Theater in New York, Thompson appeared in her best-known stage role, as Beatrice in Paul Zindel's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Her turn as a bitter, sarcastic woman who often submits her two daughters to emotional abuse earned her both a Drama Desk Award and an Obie Award, and led to her first Broadway role: a four-character part in 1971's Twigs at the Broadhurst Theater, in which she performed as Celia, Dorothy, Emily, and Ma. Her performance brought her a 1972 Tony Award for Best Actress. She subsequently took Twigs on tour for the 1972–73 season.

By the mid-1970s, Thompson began to concentrate on television roles. In 1975, she was cast as Mary Todd Lincoln in the television miniseries "Sandburg's Lincoln," for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 1976; she also received a second Emmy nomination that same year for her performance in "The Entertainer." Also in 1976, Thompson began a regular role as matriarch Kate Lawrence in the acclaimed series "Family," garnering three Golden Globe nominations (1977, 1979, and 1980) and winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1978. Though she usually played in dramatic roles, Thompson also gueststarred on the comedy series "Cheers" in 1991, for which she was again nominated for an Emmy. Between 1977 and 1998, she starred in 15 made-for-television movies and miniseries, most notably in "Our Town" (1977), "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1981 and 1985), "Alex Haley's Queen" (1993), and "Any Mother's Son" (1997). Her appearance as accused child molester Virginia McMartin in "Indictment: The McMartin Trial" (1995) brought her her sixth Emmy Award nomination at age 66.


Bair, Frank E., ed. Biography News: January–February 1975. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1975.

Herbert, Ian, ed. Who's Who in the Theater. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1977.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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Thompson, Sada (1929—)

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