Judith Light

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Judith Light
Judith Light headshot.jpg
BornJudith Ellen Light
(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949 (age 65)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
Years active1960's–present
Spouse(s)Robert Desiderio (1985–present)
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Judith Light
Judith Light headshot.jpg
BornJudith Ellen Light
(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949 (age 65)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
Years active1960's–present
Spouse(s)Robert Desiderio (1985–present)

Judith Ellen Light (born February 9, 1949) is an American actress. She is best known for starring in the television series One Life to Live, Who's the Boss?, Law & Order Special Victims Unit and Ugly Betty. She has won two Tony Awards, in 2012, for her performance as Silda in Other Desert Cities, and in 2013 for her role as Faye in The Assembled Parties. Since 2013, she has appeared as Judith Ryland in the TNT series Dallas.

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. She recalled the university as "rigorous" and "amazing".[2] Afterwards, she started out on stage, making her professional debut in Richard III at the California Shakespeare Festival in 1970, before moving to Broadway to star in A Doll's House in 1975. 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.[3] In the late 1970s, Light went through a real crisis after a period of not landing any parts.[2] Broke, she almost quit acting, because she felt that she was not contributing to the theater.[2]


Judith Light at the 1992 Emmy Awards

In 1977, Light was called by her agent to audition for an understudy role in the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. Never wanting 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.[2] 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.[2] 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. 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. 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."[4]

Light won another Emmy in the role in 1981. 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 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.

After this success on daytime, she landed the role of assertive advertising executive Angela Bower on the ABC sitcom Who's the Boss. Co-starring Tony Danza, who played her housekeeper (and eventual lover), the show ran for eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. TV Guide has Who's the Boss? ranked as the 109th best sitcom of all time.

Light 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 Rick Schroder. She also starred on the sitcom Phenom, which ran for one season, 1993–1994, before being canceled.

Judith Light at The Town Hall in 2012

In 2000 she received critical acclaim when she starred on stage as Dr Vivian Bearing in Wit, Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an academic dying from ovarian cancer.

From 2002 to 2010, she had a recurring role on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Judge Elizabeth Donnelly, who served as a Bureau Chief ADA in the Manhattan District Attorney's office before being appointed to the bench in Season 7.

From 2006 until 2010, she starred as Claire Meade on ABC's comedy-drama series Ugly Betty. The role earned her an Emmy nomination.

Light appeared in a May 2006 episode of Family Guy ("Untitled Griffin Family History") wherein she voiced a cartoon version of herself obsessed with former co-star Tony Danza and making out with a constructed dummy of Tony in her house. She also recently appeared in an episode of the NBC sitcom Twenty Good Years.

In 2007 Light starred as a radical Christian woman in Save Me, an independent film. 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 2010-2011 she appeared on Broadway in the play Lombardi and received a nomination for the Tony Award, Featured Actress in a Play.[5] She appeared in the play Other Desert Cities on Broadway in 2011 and won the Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Silda.[6] In 2013, she appears on Broadway in the play The Assembled Parties and on June 8, 2013, won the Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of 'Faye'.[7]

In 2013, she joined the cast of TNT's continuation of the television series Dallas, in the role of Judith Ryland, mother of Harris Ryland (despite being only four years older than Mitch Pileggi who plays her son).[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

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


Light is Jewish.[10] She has been married to television actor Robert Desiderio since 1985,[11] 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 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.

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 GLBT community as part of her True Colors Fund. The campaign is to bring straight people to stand up with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered 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.


Film and Television
1977KojakLaetitia Palmerance1 episode
1977-83One Life to LiveKaren WolekDaytime soap opera
1983Intimate AgonyMarshaTV movie
a.k.a. Doctor in Paradise
St. ElsewhereBarbara Lonnicker1 episode
Family TiesStacey Hughes1 episode
1984The Mississippi1 episode
Remington SteeleClarissa Custer1 episode
You Are the JuryElizabeth Harding1 episode
1986Charmed LivesAngela Bower1 episode
1987Stamp of a KillerCathy ProctorTV movie
a.k.a. Dangerous Affection
1989The Ryan White StoryJeanne WhiteTV movie
My Boyfriend's BackVickie VineTV movie
1990In Defense of a Married ManLaura SimmonsTV movie
1991Wife, Mother, MurdererMarie Hilley/Robbi/TeriTV movie
a.k.a. Wife, Mother, Murderer: The Marie Hilley Story
1984-92Who's the Boss?Angela Bower196 episodes
Nominated — TV Land Award
1993Men Don't TellLaura MacAffreyTV movie
1993-94PhenomDianne Doolan22 episodes
1994Betrayal of TrustBarbara NoëlTV movie
a.k.a. Under the Influence
Against Their Will: Women in PrisonAlice NeedhamTV movie
a.k.a. Caged Seduction: The Shocking True Story
1995Lady KillerJanice MitchellTV movie
1996A Husband, a Wife and a LoverLisa McKeeverTV movie
a.k.a. A Strange Affair
Murder at My DoorIrene McNairTV movie
A Step Toward TomorrowAnna Lerner
1996-97DuckmanUrsula Bacon 'Honey' Chicken (voice)3 episodes
1997Too Close to HomeDiana DonahueTV movie
Cow and ChickenNurse (voice)1 episode
1998The Simple LifeSara Campbell7 episodes
CarriersMaj. Carmen TravisTV movie
2000Joseph: King of DreamsZuleikavoice
2002Spin CityChristine1 episode
2004The StonesBarbara Stone9 episodes
2006Ira and AbbyArlene Black
A Broken SoleHilary
Twenty Good YearsGina3 episodes
2007Save MeGayle
2006-10Ugly BettyClaire Meade72 episodes
2002–2010Law & Order: Special Victims UnitElizabeth Donnelly25 episodes
2011Nurse JackieMaureen Cooper1 episode
2012The ExesMarjorie2 episodes
2012Scrooge & MarleyNarrator
2013Last WeekendVeronika Goss
2013–presentDallasJudith Ryland

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[12]Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Featured Actress in a PlayThe Assembled PartiesWon
Tony Awards[13]Best Featured Actress in a PlayWon


  1. ^ "New York Times". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Big Think Interview With Judith Light". BigThink.com. May 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  3. ^ "TV Guide". 
  4. ^ "Judith portrays ex-hooker sensitively" by Steven H. Scheuer, Boca Raton News, September 28, 1979. p. 10
  5. ^ "2011 Tony Nominations Announced! THE BOOK OF MORMON Leads With 14!". Broadwayworld.com. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  6. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "'Once', 'Clybourne Park', 'Porgy and Bess', Audra McDonald, 'Salesman' Win Tony Awards" Playbill.com, June 10, 2012
  7. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Nominations Announced for 67th Annual Tony Awards; 'Kinky Boots' Earns 13 Nominations" playbill.com, April 30, 2013
  8. ^ "Judith Light Heads to Dallas" tvguide.com
  9. ^ "Dallas Spoilers: Debuts, Deceptions and Deaths" tvfanatic.com
  10. ^ Goldstein, Gary (September 19, 2008). "Los Angeles Times". The Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Tom Hanks, Bette Midler and Steve Martin among 2013 Drama Desk Nominations". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  13. ^ 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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