Frances Sternhagen

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Frances Sternhagen
Frances Sternhagen 1962.jpg
Frances Sternhagen (1962).
BornFrances Hussey Sternhagen
(1930-01-13) January 13, 1930 (age 85)
Washington, D.C., United States
Spouse(s)Thomas Carlin (1956-1991) (his death) (6 children)
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Frances Sternhagen
Frances Sternhagen 1962.jpg
Frances Sternhagen (1962).
BornFrances Hussey Sternhagen
(1930-01-13) January 13, 1930 (age 85)
Washington, D.C., United States
Spouse(s)Thomas Carlin (1956-1991) (his death) (6 children)

Frances Hussey Sternhagen (born January 13, 1930) is an American actress. Sternhagen has appeared On- and Off-Broadway, in movies, and on TV since the 1950s.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Sternhagen was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John M. Sternhagen, a U.S. Tax Court judge, and Gertrude (née Hussey).[2] Sternhagen was educated at the Madeira and Potomac schools in McLean, Virginia. At Vassar College she was elected head of the Drama Club "after silencing a giggling college crowd at a campus dining hall with her interpretation of a scene from Richard II, playing none other than Richard himself". She also studied at the Perry Mansfield School of the Theatre, and New York's Neighborhood Playhouse.[1]

She met her husband, actor and drama teacher Thomas Carlin (who died in 1991), at The Catholic University of America. They had six children — Paul, Amanda, Tony, Sarah, Peter, and John — several of whom are also professional actors and musicians.

Stage career[edit]

Sternhagen started her career teaching acting, singing and dancing to school children at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and she herself first performed in 1948 at a Bryn Mawr summer theater in The Glass Menagerie and Angel Street.[1] She went on to work at Washington's Arena Stage from 1953–54, then made her Broadway debut in 1955 as Miss T. Muse in The Skin of Our Teeth. The same year she had her Off-Broadway debut in "Thieves' Carnival" and her TV debut in "The Great Bank Robbery" on "Omnibus" (CBS). By the following year she had won an off-Broadway Obie Award for "Distinguished Performance (Actress)" in The Admirable Bashville (1955–56).

She has won two Tony awards, for "Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic)": in 1974 for the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor based on Chekhov stories (which also won her a Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play"); and in 1995 for the revival of The Heiress, based on the Henry James novella. She has been nominated for Tony awards five other times, including for her roles in the original Broadway casts of Equus (1975) and On Golden Pond (1979), both later made into Oscar-nominated movies with other actresses, as well as for Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (1972), the musical Angel (1978) which was based on Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, and the 2002 revival of Paul Osborne's Morning's at Seven.

Her best-known Off-Broadway role was her feisty portrayal of the title character in 1988's Pulitzer prize-winning drama Driving Miss Daisy which was originated by Dana Ivey at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Sternhagen took over the role after the show moved to the John Houseman Theatre and played it for more than two years. (Jessica Tandy later won an Academy Award playing Daisy in the 1989 movie.)

Off-Broadway awards include two nominations for the Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Actress in a Play" in 1998, for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Irish Repertory Theatre[3] and in 2005, for the World War I drama Echoes of the War.[1]

She also won Distinguished Performance Obie Awards for The Room and A Slight Ache (1964–65). In 1998 she won the Dramatists Guild Fund's Madge Evans & Sidney Kingsley Award for Excellence in Theater. She starred in the 2005 revival of Edward Albee's Seascape, produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Booth Theater on Broadway. She had also appeared in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee's All Over in 1971, with Colleen Dewhurst and Jessica Tandy. Her previous Broadway role was in the summer 2005 production of Steel Magnolias with Marsha Mason, Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, Lily Rabe and Rebecca Gayheart.

Film roles[edit]

Sternhagen made her film debut in 1967's New York City high school drama Up the Down Staircase, which starred Sandy Dennis.[4] She has worked periodically in Hollywood since then. She had character roles in the 1971 Paddy Chayefsky's classic The Hospital, in Two People (1973) and in Billy Wilder's Fedora (1978). She appeared in Starting Over (1979) which starred Burt Reynolds; with Sean Connery in Outland (1981); and with Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights, Big City (1988). She played Farrah Fawcett's mother in See You in the Morning (1989), Richard Farnsworth's wife in Misery (1990), and John Lithgow's psychiatrist in Raising Cain (1992). Sternhagen starred in Frank Darabont's suspense/thriller The Mist, released on November 21, 2007. She also appeared in the family film Dolphin Tale (2011).

Television roles[edit]

She may be best known to TV audiences as Esther Clavin, mother of John Ratzenberger's Boston postman character Cliff Clavin, on the long-running series Cheers for which she received two Emmy Award nominations. She also played Millicent Carter on ER, Bunny MacDougal, mother of Trey, Charlotte's first husband on Sex and the City (another Emmy Award nomination) and in Law & Order, among other network dramas and sitcoms, and worked for many years in soap operas such as Another World, The Secret Storm and Love of Life. She played two roles on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. She recorded a voiceover for a May 2002 episode of The Simpsons ("The Frying Game").

In summer 2006, she finished her 24th Broadway role, then guest-starred on TV's The Closer, playing Willie Rae Johnson, the mother of Brenda Leigh Johnson, the lead character. Sternhagen appeared on twelve episodes of The Closer, which is no longer in production. She is also recognized as "Mrs. Marsh" from a series of television commercials for Colgate toothpaste that aired in the 1970s.

Voice acting[edit]

She read as the title character in the Stephen King novel Dolores Claiborne in a 1995 audiobook recording. She also voiced characters in 13 episodes of "The CBS Radio Mystery Theater", in the 1970s and 80s.


1967Up the Down StaircaseCharlotte Wolf
1967Tiger Makes Out, TheThe Tiger Makes OutLady on Bus
1971Hospital, TheThe HospitalMrs. Cushing
1973Two PeopleMrs. McCluskey
1978FedoraMiss Balfour
1979Starting OverMarva Potter
1981OutlandDr. LazarusSaturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1983Independence DayCarla Taylor
1983Romantic ComedyBlanche Dailey
1986Resting PlaceEudora McCallister
1988Bright Lights, Big CityClara
1989CommunionDr. Janet Duffy
1989See You in the MorningNeenie
1990Sibling RivalryRose Turner
1990MiseryVirginiaNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1991Doc HollywoodLillian
1991Walking the DogAntique DealerShort film
1992Raising CainDr. Lynn WaldheimNominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1998It All Came TrueAmy
2000Midnight GospelRuthShort film
2001LandfallEmily Thornton
2001Rising Place, TheThe Rising PlaceRuth Wilder
2002HighwayMrs. Murray
2007Mist, TheThe MistIrene Reppler
2009Julie & JuliaIrma Rombauer
2011Dolphin TaleGloria Forrest
2014And So It GoesClaire
1956Westinghouse Studio OneBettyEpisode: "The Arena"
1957Westinghouse Studio OneMaryEpisode: "My Mother and How She Undid Me"
1957Goodyear Television PlayhouseElizabeth BarnesEpisode: "The House"
1959Play of the WeekEvaEpisode: "Thieves Carnival"
1961Play of the WeekEpisode: "In a Garden"
1962Broadway of Lerner and Loewe, TheThe Broadway of Lerner and LoeweTheatre-GoerTV movie
1962Nurses, TheThe NursesMrs. HarrisEpisode: "The Lady Made of Stone"
1964Defenders, TheThe DefendersLouise KileyEpisode: "May Day! May Day!"
1964Profiles in CourageMiss KoellerEpisode: "Mary S. McDowell"
1967NET PlayhouseEpisode: "Infancy and Childhood"
1967Hallmark Hall of FameAbigailEpisode: "Soldier in Love"
1967-1968Love of LifeToni Prentiss DavisTV series
1971NET PlayhouseSegment: "Foul!"
1971Another WorldJane OverstreetTV series
1972Great PerformancesWilma AtkinsEpisode: "The Rimers of Eldritch"
1974Secret Storm, TheThe Secret StormJessie ReddinTV series
1974Great PerformancesPaulinaEpisode: "Enemies"
1977The Andros TargetsMrs. MasonEpisode: "In the Event of My Death"
1978Who'll Save Our Children?Nellie HendersonTV movie
1980Mother and Daughter: The Loving WarMrs. LloydTV movie
1980Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, TheThe Man That Corrupted HadleyburgMary RichardsTV short
1983PrototypeDorothy ForresterTV movie
1984Dining Room, TheThe Dining RoomVariousTV movie
1985SpencerMillie Sprague7 episodes
1986-1993CheersEsther Clavin7 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
1987At Mother's RequestBerenice BradshawTV movie
1987Once AgainTV movie
1990Follow Your HeartCloe SixburyTV movie
1991American Experience(voice)Episode: "Coney Island"
1991Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, TheThe Days and Nights of Molly DoddDoraEpisode: "Here's a High Dive Into a Shallow Pool"
1991Golden YearsGina Williams7 episodes
1991Law & OrderMargaret LangdonEpisode: "The Serpent's Tooth"
1992She Woke UpNoelleTV movie
1992Tales from the CryptEffie GluckmanEpisode: "None But the Lonely Heart"
1993Labor of Love: The Arlette Schweitzer StoryMary RaffertyTV movie
1994Vault of Horror ITV movie
1994Road Home, TheThe Road HomeCharlotte Babineaux6 episodes
1994ReunionTobie YatesTV movie
1995Outer Limits, TheThe Outer LimitsJean AndersonEpisode: "The Choice"
1997Law & OrderEstelle MullerEpisode: "Legacy"
1997-2003ERMillicent Carter19 episodes
1998Con, TheThe ConHadabelleTV movie
1998To Live AgainConstance HolmesTV movie
2000-2002Sex and the CityBunny MacDougal10 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2002Laramie Project, TheThe Laramie ProjectMarge MurrayTV movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2002Simpsons, TheThe SimpsonsMrs. Bellamy (voice)Episode: "The Frying Game"
2004BeckerNaomiEpisode: "Subway Story"
2006-2012Closer, TheThe CloserWillie Ray Johnson14 episodes
2012ParenthoodBlanche BravermanEpisode: "Road Trip"
1955Skin of Our Teeth, TheThe Skin of Our TeethMiss T. Muse
1955Carefree Tree, TheThe Carefree TreeWidow Yang
1960Viva Madison Avenue!Dee Jones
1962Great Day in the MorningAlice McAnany
1965-1966Right Honourable Gentleman, TheThe Right Honourable GentlemanMrs. Ashton Dilke
1967Dolls House, AA Dolls HouseNora
1967-1969You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's RunningHarriet / Edith / Muriel (standby)
1968-1969Cocktail Party, TheThe Cocktail PartyLavinia Chamberlayne
1969Cock-A-Doodle DandyLoreleen
1970Blood Red RosesVarious (standby)
1971Playboy of the Western World, TheThe Playboy of the Western WorldWidow Quin
1971All OverThe Daughter, The Mistress (standby)
1971Mary StuartMary Stuart, Queen Elizabeth (understudy)
1972Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, TheThe Sign in Sidney Brustein's WindowMavis Parodus Bryson
1973-1974Good Doctor, TheThe Good DoctorPerformer
1974-1977EquusDora Strang
1978AngelEliza Gant
1979-1980On Golden PondEthel Thayer
1981Father, TheThe FatherLaura
1981-1982Grown UpsHelen
1983-1984You Can't Take It with You
1985Home FrontMaurine
1995Heiress, TheThe HeiressLavinia Penniman
1999Exact Center of the Universe, TheThe Exact Center of the Universe
2002Morning's at SevenIda Bolton
2005Steel MagnoliasClairee
2013The MadridRose


  1. ^ a b c d Joy, Cara."Frances Sternhagen in Talks to Join Company of Broadway Magnolias", November 22, 2004
  2. ^ "Frances Sternhagen Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  3. ^ Lefkowitz, David."Brian Murray & Frances Sternhagen Take Irish Journey, Mar. 22", March 22, 1998
  4. ^ "Frances Sternhagen Credits", accessed August 27, 2011

External links[edit]