Judith Light

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Judith Light
Judith Light headshot.jpg
Light in 2008
BornJudith Ellen Light
(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949 (age 65)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
EducationSt. Mary's Hall-Doane Academy
Alma materCarnegie Mellon University
Years active1960's–present
Spouse(s)Robert Desiderio (1985–present)
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Judith Light
Judith Light headshot.jpg
Light in 2008
BornJudith Ellen Light
(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949 (age 65)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
EducationSt. Mary's Hall-Doane Academy
Alma materCarnegie Mellon University
Years active1960's–present
Spouse(s)Robert Desiderio (1985–present)

Judith Ellen Light (born February 9, 1949) is an American actress and producer.

Although she began her career on the stage, Judith's breakthrough role was in the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live from 1977 to 1983, where she played the role of Karen Wolek, for which she won two Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Light later starred as Angela Bower in the long-running ABC sitcom Who's the Boss? from 1984 to 1992, and later starred in many television films and short-lived series. She played the recurring role of Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2002-2010) and Claire Meade in the ABC comedy-drama Ugly Betty (2006-2010), for which she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award in 2007.

She received her first nomination for a Tony Award in 2011, for her performance in the original Broadway play Lombardi. In 2012 and 2013, Light won two consecutive Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for performances in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties. From 2013 to 2014, Light played the role of villainous Judith Brown Ryland in the TNT drama series, Dallas. In 2014 she began starring as Shelly Pfefferman in the Amazon Studios critically acclaimed dark comedy-drama, Transparent.

Early life[edit]

Light was born in Trenton, New Jersey,[1] the daughter of Pearl Sue (née Hollander), a model, and Sidney Light, an accountant. Light graduated from high school in 1966 at St. Mary's Hall-Doane Academy, now Doane Academy, in Burlington, New Jersey. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in drama.[2] She recalled the university as "rigorous" and "amazing".[3] Afterwards, she started out on stage, making her professional debut in Richard III at the California Shakespeare Festival in 1970.



Light as Karen Wolek in One Life to Live (1978)

Light made her Broadway debut in A Doll's House in 1975.[2] She also starred in the 1976 Broadway play Herzl. Light also acted for such theatre companies as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.[4] In the late 1970s, Light went through a real crisis after a period of not landing any parts.[3] Broke, she almost quit acting, because she felt that she was not contributing to the theater.[3]

In 1977, Light was called by her agent to audition for an understudy role in the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. Having wanted never to be attached to a soap opera or a sitcom, she initially rejected the idea, until she was told that she would have a daily salary of $350.[3] At the audition, she realized that "the format reaches a lot of people", and that she could thereby "make a difference" and "make money" at the same time.[3] Instead of landing an understudy role, she was recast in the role of Karen Wolek, a role that had previously been portrayed by actresses Kathryn Breech and Julia Duffy. This role was quite lucrative for Light and spawned one of the show's most-remembered storylines; Light's character became a prostitute after she became bored with her life as a housewife. On trial, Karen saved her friend Viki Lord Riley (Erika Slezak) from being convicted of killing Karen's pimp, Marco Dane (Gerald Anthony) by admitting to the entire town, including her faithful husband, Dr Larry Wolek (Michael Storm), that she had been a prostitute. Light's portrayal of Karen brought the show critical acclaim and is credited with garnering One Life to Live ratings successes from the late 1970s into the early 1980s.[5][6] Light's dramatic, confessional courtroom performance of a housewife-turned-prostitute on the witness stand is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in television by TV Guide.[7] In 1980, this won Light her first Daytime Emmy Award for "Lead Actress in a Daytime Drama Series"; the scene in which she confessed her guilt in court is held in such high esteem that it is used in acting classes to the current day.[8] Light recalled: "I was scared before those courtroom scenes. I was afraid to put myself out that much. With the agony of pulling it out piece by piece and having the prosecutor stick the knife in her gut, I couldn't help but let everything spew out of her."[9]

Light won another Emmy in the role in 1981.[10] She appeared in an episode of St. Elsewhere in its first season, called "Dog Day Hospital", in which she played a housewife who became pregnant for the ninth time even though her husband claimed he had had a vasectomy. In an effort to punish the doctor who botched the job she took an operating room hostage though it was later revealed that her husband had not had the procedure.

Light at the 1992 Emmy Awards


After this success on daytime, Light landed the leading role of assertive advertising executive Angela Bower on the ABC sitcom Who's the Boss?.[2] Co-starring Tony Danza, who played her housekeeper (and eventual lover), the show ran for eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. The series was successful in the ratings, consistently ranked in the top ten in the final primetime ratings between the years of 1985 and 1989, and has since continued in syndication TV Guide has Who's the Boss? ranked as the 109th best sitcom of all time. Along with her work in Who's the Boss? she also starred in the several television films, include Stamp of a Killer (1987) alongside Jimmy Smits, critically acclaimed biographical drama The Ryan White Story (1989) where she played the mother of HIV/AIDS positive teenager Ryan White, and played Audrey Marie Hilley in Wife, Mother, Murderer (1991).

After Who's the Boss?, Light starred in the another ABC sitcom, Phenom, which ran for one season, 1993–94, before being canceled. In 1998 she starred in the another short-lived sitcom, The Simple Life on CBS.[2] spent most of the 1990s starring in made-for-TV and feature films such as Men Don't Tell and 1997's Too Close to Home, which co-starred Ricky Schroder.


In 1999, Light returned to the stage in the off-Broadway production of Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. She earned strong reviews for her portrayal of university professor battling ovarian cancer, and reprised the role for the national tour.[2][11] Light shaved her head for the role of Vivian Bearing, a literature professor battling ovarian cancer, in the play.[12] She returned to television with the recurring role of Judge Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002.[13] She appeared in 25 episodes of series from 2002 to 2010. In 2004 she starred in the another short-lived CBS sitcom, The Stones.[14]

Judith Light at The Town Hall in 2012

In 2006, Light joined the cast of the ABC comedy-drama series Ugly Betty as Claire Meade, the mother of Alexis and Daniel. She was recurring guest-star during first season and was promoted to series regular as of second. She appeared in show until series finale in 2010. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2007, and well for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2008, for her performance in show.[4] In 2011 she starred in two failed television pilots: ABC's sitcom Other People's Kids and USA Network drama Eden.[15][16] In 2014 she starred opposite Henry Winkler in the another ABC pilot, The Winklers.[17]

Light appeared in the number of films in 2000s. She co-starred opposite Chris Messina and Jennifer Westfeldt in the 2006 romantic comedy film Ira & Abby. In 2007, Light starred as a radical Christian woman in the independent film Save Me.[18] Light's character, Gayle, runs a Christian ministry known as Genesis House, which works to help gay men recover from their 'affliction.' She is challenged by the arrival of Mark, an ill gay man who reminds Gayle of her dead, gay son, and the movie chronicles the challenges of the two as they learn to accept each other as they are. In 2014 she appeared in films Last Weekend opposite Patricia Clarkson, and played the role of Melanie Lynskey's character mother in We'll Never Have Paris.[19][20]

In 2010–11, Light appeared as a witty alcoholic Marie Lombardi on Broadway in the play Lombardi and received a nomination for the Tony Award, Featured Actress in a Play.[21] She appeared in the play Other Desert Cities on Broadway from 2011 to 2012 and won her first Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Silda.[22] In 2013, she appeared on Broadway in the play The Assembled Parties and on June 8, 2013, won her second Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of 'Faye'.[23]

In 2013, Light joined the cast of TNT's continuation of the television series Dallas, in the role of Judith Brown Ryland, mother of Harris Ryland (despite being only four years older than Mitch Pileggi who plays her son).[24][25] She received positive reviews for her pecurring performance as villainous Judith in Dallas and Entertainment Weekly named her "scene-stealer" of series.[26] In 2014 she was cast opposite Jeffrey Tambor in the Amazon Studios critically acclaimed dark comedy-drama series, Transparent created by Jill Soloway. She plays the role of wife of transgender character played by Tambor.[27][28] The pilot episode debuted on February 6, 2014 and later episodes set to premiere on September 26, 2014.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Light at the Governor's Ball following the 1989 Annual Emmy Awards


Light is Jewish.[30] She has been married to television actor Robert Desiderio since 1985,[31] when they met while co-starring on One Life to Live. They have no children. She speaks French fluently. Robert and Judith reside in California.


Light is a gay rights activist[4] and helped former Who's the Boss? co-star Danny Pintauro in coming out. She has done work for many LGBT charities. She sits on the board of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and spoke at the 1993 March on Washington. In 1998, she had a library named after her at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

She is also a prominent AIDS activist and played Ryan White's mother in the 1989 TV movie on his life The Ryan White Story. Also, she sits on the board of Point Foundation, a LGBT organization that provides financial support, mentoring, leadership training and hope to meritorious students who are or feel marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.[4]

On April 1, 2010, Judith Light joined Cyndi Lauper in the launch of her Give a Damn campaign to bring a wider awareness of discrimination of the LGBT community as part of her True Colors Fund. The campaign is to bring straight people to stand up with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community and stop the discrimination. Other names included in the campaign are Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Mraz, Elton John, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Kardashian, Clay Aiken, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.



1983Intimate AgonyMarshaTelevision film
1987Stamp of a KillerCathy ProctorTelevision film
1989The Ryan White StoryJeanne WhiteTelevision film
1989My Boyfriend's BackVickie VineTelevision film
1990In Defense of a Married ManLaura SimmonsTelevision film
1991Wife, Mother, MurdererMarie Hilley/Robbi/TeriTelevision film
1993Men Don't TellLaura MacAffreyTelevision film
1994Betrayal of TrustBarbara NoëlTelevision film
1994Against Their Will: Women in PrisonAlice NeedhamTelevision film
1995Lady KillerJanice MitchellTelevision film
1996Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer's EndHerself
1996A Husband, a Wife and a LoverLisa McKeeverTelevision film
1996Murder at My DoorIrene McNairTelevision film
1996A Step Toward TomorrowAnna Lerner
1997Too Close to HomeDiana DonahueTelevision film
1998CarriersMaj. Carmen TravisTelevision film
2000Joseph: King of DreamsZuleikaVoice
2006Ira & AbbyArlene Black
2006A Broken SoleHilary
2007Save MeGayle
2012Rhymes with BananaHerself
2012Scrooge & MarleyNarrator
2014Last WeekendVeronika Goss
2014We'll Never Have ParisJean
2015Digging for Fire


1977KojakLaetitia PalmeranceEpisode: "Monkey on a String"
1977–83One Life to LiveKaren WolekSeries regular
1983St. ElsewhereBarbara LonnickerEpisode: "Dog Day Hospital"
1983Family TiesStacey HughesEpisode: "Not an Affair to Remember"
1984The MississippiEpisode: "Home Again"
1984Remington SteeleClarissa CusterEpisode: "Dreams of Steele"
1984You Are the JuryElizabeth HardingEpisode: "The Case of the People of Florida vs. Joseph Landrum"
1984–92Who's the Boss?Angela BowerSeries regular, 196 episodes
1986Charmed LivesAngela BowerEpisode: "Pilot"
1993–94PhenomDianne DoolanSeries regular, 22 episodes
1996–97DuckmanUrsula Bacon 'Honey' ChickenVoice, 3 episodes
1997Cow and ChickenNurse (voice)Episode: "Space Cow/The Legend of Sailcat"
1998The Simple LifeSara CampbellSeries regular, 7 episodes
2002Spin CityChristineEpisode: "O Mother, Where Art Thou?"
2002–10Law & Order: Special Victims UnitElizabeth DonnellyRecurring role, 25 episodes
2004The StonesBarbara StoneSeries regular, 9 episodes
2006Twenty Good YearsGinaRecurring role, 3 episodes
2006–10Ugly BettyClaire MeadeSeries regular, 72 episodes
2011Nurse JackieMaureen CooperEpisode: "Rat Falls"
2012The ExesMarjorieEpisodes: "A Very Wrong Engagement" and "Sister Act"
2013–2014DallasJudith Brown RylandRecurring role, 18 episodes
2014–presentTransparentShelly PfeffermanSeries regular


1975A Doll's HouseHeleneVivian Beaumont Theater
1976Measure for MeasureFranciscaDelacorte Theater
1976HerzlJulie HerzlPalace Theatre
1999-2000WitVivian BearingUnion Square Theatre
2002Sorrows and RejoicingsSecond Stage Theatre
2005Colder Than HereMyraLucille Lortel Theatre
2010-2011LombardiMarie LombardiCircle in the Square Theatre
2011-2012Other Desert CitiesSilda GraumanBooth Theatre
2013The Assembled PartiesFayeSamuel J. Friedman Theatre

Awards and nominations[edit]

YearAwardCategoryFilm or seriesResult
1979Soapy AwardsOutstanding ActressOne Life to LiveWon
1980Daytime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesWon
Soapy AwardsOutstanding ActressWon
1981Daytime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesWon
1998GLAAD Media AwardsVision AwardWon
2007TV Land AwardsFavorite Working MomWho's the Boss?Nominated
Prism AwardsBest Performance in a Comedy SeriesUgly BettyWon
Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy SeriesNominated
2008TV Land AwardsMad Ad Man or Woman of the YearWho's the Boss?Nominated
Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy SeriesUgly BettyNominated
2011Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayLombardiNominated
Tony AwardsBest Featured Actress in a PlayNominated
2012Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayOther Desert CitiesWon
Tony AwardsBest Featured Actress in a PlayWon
2013[32]Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayThe Assembled PartiesWon
Tony Awards[33]Best Featured Actress in a PlayWon


  1. ^ "New York Times". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Judith Light - Biography.com". Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Big Think Interview With Judith Light". BigThink.com. May 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  4. ^ a b c d "TV Guide". 
  5. ^ Denis, Paul (1985). Inside the Soaps. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-8065-0940-6. 
  6. ^ Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 589. ISBN 9780879728212. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "Professional Highlights". Judith Light official website. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "'Guiding Light' Wins Top Daytime Emmy". Observer–Reporter (Washington County, Pennsylvania). Associated Press. June 5, 1980. p. 8. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Judith portrays ex-hooker sensitively" by Steven H. Scheuer, Boca Raton News, September 28, 1979. p. 10
  10. ^ "'General Hospital' tops Emmy list". St. Joseph Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri). Associated Press. May 20, 1981. p. 104. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  11. ^ Alan W. Petrucelli (1999). "It's 'Wit,' Not Judith, That's Light". Theater Mirror. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Farrah Weinstein (August 22, 1999). "STYLE & SUBSTANCE: JUDITH LIGHT". New York Post. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  13. ^ "Judith Light". Variety. February 25, 2002. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Brian Lowry (March 11, 2004). "Review: ‘The Stones’". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Nellie Andreeva (March 8, 2011). "ABC Pilot Castings: Natalie Dormer To Star In 'Poe', Judith Light Joins 'Kids'". Deadline. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Stuart Levine (March 11, 2011). "USA’s ‘Eden’ finds its Light". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  17. ^ Nellie Andreeva (March 17, 2014). "Judith Light To Co-Star In ABC Comedy Pilot ‘The Winklers’". Deadline. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  18. ^ "Save Me". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Dennis Harvey (June 20, 2014). "Film Review: ‘Last Weekend’". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  20. ^ Justin Chang (March 13, 2014). "SXSW Film Review: ‘We’ll Never Have Paris’". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  21. ^ "2011 Tony Nominations Announced! THE BOOK OF MORMON Leads With 14!". Broadwayworld.com. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  22. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "'Once', 'Clybourne Park', 'Porgy and Bess', Audra McDonald, 'Salesman' Win Tony Awards" Playbill.com, June 10, 2012
  23. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Nominations Announced for 67th Annual Tony Awards; 'Kinky Boots' Earns 13 Nominations" playbill.com, April 30, 2013
  24. ^ "Judith Light Heads to Dallas" tvguide.com
  25. ^ "Dallas Spoilers: Debuts, Deceptions and Deaths" tvfanatic.com
  26. ^ Mandi Bierly (March 4, 2014). "PopWatch PSA: You really need to watch Judith Light snort cocaine on 'Dallas'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  27. ^ Erin Whitney (February 7, 2014). "'Transparent' Could Be 2014's Groundbreaking Show". Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  28. ^ Dustin Rowles (February 14, 2014). "5 Reasons Why ‘Transparent’ Is The Best Of The New Pilots On Amazon Instant". UPROXX. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  29. ^ Ariana Bacle (August 27, 2014). "Jeffrey Tambor transitions in emotional 'Transparent' trailer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  30. ^ Goldstein, Gary (September 19, 2008). "Los Angeles Times". The Los Angeles Times. 
  31. ^ Gerry Waggett (2008). The One Life to Live 40th Anniversary Trivia Book: A Fun, Fact-Filled, Everything-You-Want-to-Know-Guide to Your Favorite Soap!. Hyperion. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4013-2309-7. 
  32. ^ "Tom Hanks, Bette Midler and Steve Martin among 2013 Drama Desk Nominations". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  33. ^ Brooks, Katherine (April 30, 2013). "Tony Award Nominations 2013: Best Musical, Best Play And More Contenders Announced For The 67th Annual Show". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 

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