Emmy, Tony and Oscar winner
Lenox, MA – Maureen Stapleton, a formidable actress whose five-decade career included two Tony Awards, an Oscar and an Emmy, died March 13 at her home in Lenox, Massachusetts. She was 80 years old.
Stapleton first gained widespread recognition in 1951, with a bravura performance as the earthy widow Serafina delle Rose in the debut Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo. Largely unknown at the time, she won the role after Italian actress Anna Magnani, whom Williams had originally pursued, passed due to concerns about her limited command of English. Her performance earned Stapleton her first Tony.
Seven years later, Stapleton was the beneficiary of a similar scenario when she was cast as the lead in Williams’ Orpheus Descending after Magnani declined yet again. Critical raves followed, and before long Stapleton began to receive television and film offers as well. She received her first Emmy nomination in 1958 for a television adaptation of All the King's Men, and the following year she was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress in her film debut, an adaptation of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts.
As she achieved greater success, Stapleton began to develop problems with alcohol, weight gain and anxiety, the latter of which included fears of airplanes and elevators, among other phobias.
Some of her personal challenges may have been rooted in her upbringing. Born June 21, 1925, in Troy, N.Y., Stapleton described her father as a heavy drinker who had a tempestuous relationship with her mother. Perhaps as an escape from her volatile home life, Stapleton found refuge at the movies, where she dreamed of one day appearing on the big screen herself.
In 1943, at 17 she left home for New York City, determined to make it as an actress. She studied at the New School, and later at the Actors Studio, where her contemporaries included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Julie Harris and Eli Wallach.
Following her success with The Rose Tattoo, Stapleton remained busy for the remainder of her career. Her other stage work included the comedy The Cold Wind and the Warm, Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, The Little Foxes, and The Gingerbread Lady, for which she won her second Tony.
Stapleton appeared in numerous live productions during the early days of television, and went on to appear in episodes of such series as The Naked City as well as several made-for-television movies, including the acclaimed drama Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, opposite Charles Durning. She won an Emmy in 1967 for Among the Paths to Eden, an adaptation of a story by Truman Capote.
She also starred in dozens of feature films, including Airport (for which she earned an Oscar nomination), Woody Allen’s Interiors (another Oscar nomination) and Reds, Warrnen Beatty’s epic about author and communist activist John Reed, for which she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as anarchist Emma Goldman.
From 1949 to 1959 Stapleton was married to Max Allentuck, a producer and general manager of several stage productions, with whom she had a son and a daughter. Following a divorce from Allentuck she wed screenwriter David Rayfiel, to whom she was married from 1963 to 1966.