Dame Judith Anderson

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Judith Anderson
Judith Anderson in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).jpg
Anderson in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
BornFrances Margaret Anderson
February 10 1897(1897-02-10)
Adelaide, State of South Australia
DiedJanuary 3 1992 (aged 94)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
Years active1915–1987
Spouse(s)Benjamin Harrison Lehmann
(m. 1937; div. 1939)
Luther Greene
(m. 1946; div. 1951)

Dame Frances Margaret Anderson AC, DBE (February 10, 1897 - January 3, 1992), known professionally as Judith Anderson, was an Australian actress who had a long and successful career on stage and screen. A pre-eminent actress in her era, she won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award and was also nominated for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award.

She is considered one of the twentieth century's greatest classical stage actors. Despite being of short stature, she had a powerful stage presence which she successfully transferred to film and television.


Frances Margaret Anderson was born in 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia, the youngest of four children born to Jessie Margaret (née Saltmarsh; October 19, 1862 – November 24, 1950), a former nurse, and James Anderson Anderson, a sharebroker and pioneering prospector.[1]

She attended Norwood High School and was given lessons in singing and piano. After winning an elocution contest she joined a touring theater company.[2] She made her professional acting debut in 1915 (as Francee Anderson), playing Stephanie at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, in A Royal Divorce. Leading the company was the Scottish actor Julius Knight whom she later credited with laying the foundations of her acting skills.[3] She appeared alongside him in adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Three Musketeers, Monsieur Beacauire, and David Garrick. In 1917 she toured New Zealand.[4]

Anderson was ambitious and wanted to leave Australia. She and her mother traveled to California but due to her appearance, neither "cute" nor "beautiful" and her diminutive height, she was unsuccessful in the film industry.[2] They then moved to New York City, where she met with an equal lack of success.[5]

After a period of poverty and illness, she found work with the Emma Bunting Stock Company at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in 1918–1919. Within a year she was playing leading roles. In 1920 she performed in a tour of the play Dear Brutus with one of the major stars of the day, William Gillette.[2]

Anderson was married twice and declared that "neither experience was a jolly holiday."[6] Her first marriage was to Benjamin Harrison Lehmann (1889–1977), an English professor at the University of California at Berkeley. They wed in 1937 and divorced in August 1939. By this marriage she had a stepson, Benjamin Harrison Lehmann Jr. Her second marriage was to Luther Greene (1909–1987), a theatrical producer. They were married in July 1946 and divorced in 1951.

Anderson spent much of her life in Santa Barbara, California, where she died of pneumonia January 3, 1992, aged 94.[7]


Early years

Anderson made her Broadway debut in Up the Stairs (1922) followed by The Crooked Square (1923) and she went to Chicago with Patches (1923). She also appeared in Peter Weston (1923).[8]

One year later, she had changed her name to Judith (albeit not for legal purposes) and had her first triumph with the play Cobra (1924) co-starring Louis Calhern, which ran for 35 performances. Her performance in The Dove (1925) which ran for 101 performances established her on Broadway.[9][4]

She toured Australia in 1927 with three plays: Tea for Three, The Green Hat and Cobra.[10][11]

Back on Broadway she was in Behold the Bridegroom (1927–1928) by George Kelly and had the lead role in Anna (1928).[12] She then replaced Lynn Fontanne during the successful run of Strange Interlude (1929).

In 1931, she played the Unknown Woman in the American premiere of Pirandello's As You Desire Me, which ran for 142 performances. It was filmed the following year with Greta Garbo in the same role. She was in a short-lived revival of Mourning Becomes Electra (1932), then Firebird (1932), Conquest, The Drums Begin (both 1933), and The Mask and the Face (1933) with Humphrey Bogart.

Anderson made her film debut in a short for Warner Bros, Madame of the Jury (1930). She made her feature film debut with a role in Blood Money (1933).

She then focused again on Broadway with Come of Age (1934), and Divided By Three (1934). She had a big hit with the lead in Zoe Akins' The Old Maid (1935) from the novel by Edith Wharton, in the role later played on film by Miriam Hopkins. It ran for 305 performances.

In 1936, Anderson played Gertrude to John Gielgud's Hamlet in a production which featured Lillian Gish as Ophelia.[13] In 1937, she joined the Old Vic Company in London and played Lady Macbeth opposite Laurence Olivier in a production by Michel Saint-Denis, at the Old Vic and the New Theatre.[14]

She returned to Broadway with Family Portrait (1939), which she adored but only had a short run. She later toured in the show.


Anderson was second billed in an Eddie Cantor comedy, Forty Little Mothers (1940) at MGM. She stayed at that studio for Free and Easy (1941) then went over to RKO to play the title role in Lady Scarface (1941).

In 1941, she played Lady Macbeth again in New York opposite Maurice Evans in a production staged by Margaret Webster. This ran for 131 performances. She reprised the role with Evans on television, firstly in 1954 and then again in 1960 (the second version was released as a feature film in Europe).

George Sanders, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson in the film Rebecca

Anderson received a career boost when cast in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). As the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, she was required to mentally torment the young bride, the "second Mrs. de Winter" (Joan Fontaine), even encouraging her to commit suicide; and to taunt her husband (Laurence Olivier) with the memory of his first wife, the never-seen "Rebecca" of the title. The movie was a huge critical and commercial success, and Anderson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.[15]

She returned to films to make four movies at Warner Bros: All Through the Night, and Kings Row (both 1942), Edge of Darkness, and Stage Door Canteen (both 1943).

In 1942–1943, on stage she played Olga in Chekhov's Three Sisters, in a production which also featured Katharine Cornell, Ruth Gordon, Edmund Gwenn, Dennis King, and Alexander Knox. Kirk Douglas, playing an orderly, made his Broadway debut in the production. It ran for 123 performances.[16] The production was so illustrious, it made it to the cover of Time.[17]

from the trailer for the film Laura (1944)

Anderson returned to Hollywood to appear in Laura (1944). Returning briefly to Australia she toured American army camps.[18] Back in Hollywood she appeared in And Then There Were None (1945), The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). Anderson had rare top billing in Specter of the Rose (1946), written and directed by Ben Hecht. She returned to support roles for Pursued (1947), The Red House (1947), and Tycoon (1947).

In 1947, she triumphed as Medea in a version of Euripides' eponymous tragedy, written by the poet Robinson Jeffers and produced by John Gielgud, who played Jason. She was a friend of Jeffers and a frequent visitor to his home Tor House in Carmel, California.[19] She won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance.[20] The show ran for 214 performances and then toured throughout the country.


On the big screen, Anderson played a golddigger in Anthony Mann's western The Furies (1950) and made her TV debut in a 1951 adaptation of The Silver Cord for Pulitzer Prize Playhouse. She guest starred on TV shows like The Billy Rose Show and Somerset Maugham TV Theatre. She also played Herodias in Salome (1953).

She returned to Broadway with The Tower Beyond Tragedy by Jeffers (1950), and toured Medea in German in 1951. She was in a New York revival of Come of Age in 1952.

On May 10, 1953 she starred, together with Burgess Meredith, in a one-hour radio adaptation of Black Chiffon on Theatre Guild on the Air. She also starred, with Leora Dana and Martyn Green, in the American television adaptation of the same play which was broadcast on April 20, 1954 as part of ABC's The Motorola Television Hour.

In 1953, she was directed in a staged reading by Charles Laughton in his own adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét's John Brown's Body with a cast also featuring Raymond Massey and Tyrone Power. Then she had a role In the Summer House (1953–1954) on Broadway.

Anderson in the trailer for The Ten Commandments

On television she was in Macbeth (1954) with Maurice Evans for which she won The Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Single Performance,[21] and The Elgin Hour. She appeared in several episodes of The Star and the Story and an episode of Climax! as well as playing Memnet in Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments (1956).

In 1955 she toured Australia with Medea.[22]

In 1956 she was in a production of Caesar and Cleopatra for Producers' Showcase.

Anderson appeared in a 1958 adaptation of The Bridge of San Luis Rey for The DuPont Show of the Month and played the memorable role of Big Mama, alongside Burl Ives as Big Daddy, in the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). She followed it with a return to Broadway, in the short-lived Comes a Day by Speed Lampkin (1958).

Anderson reprised her performance as Medea for TV in 1959; in the same year she appeared in a small-screen adaptation of The Moon and Sixpence with Laurence Olivier. She had a role in the Wagon Train episode "The Felizia Kingdom Story", and appeared in several episodes of Playhouse 90 and one of Our American Heritage.


In 1960, she played Madame Arkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull first at the Edinburgh Festival, and then at the Old Vic, with Tom Courtenay, Cyril Luckham, and Tony Britton.

That year she also performed in Cradle Song and Macbeth (both 1960) for TV. She won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for once again playing Lady MacBeth.[21] She had supporting roles in Cinderfella (1960) and Why Bother to Knock (1961). Also in 1961 she toured an evening of performances from Macbeth, Medea, and Tower.

She then starred with Martin Landau and Diane Baker in The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, a 1964 American made-for-television horror–thriller film.

She received acclaim for her lead performance with Charlton Heston in a TV version of Elizabeth the Queen (1968). She followed it with The File on Devlin (1969) and A Man Called Horse (1970).


In 1970, Anderson realized a long-held ambition to play the title role of Hamlet on a national tour of the United States and at New York's Carnegie Hall. As a 73-year-old woman playing a young man, her performance was recognized as bold, but was widely criticized: "Ultimately Anderson’s experiment with Hamlet stands as an audacious, boundary-defying act, yet one that also demonstrates the very fixity of the boundaries it was attempting to cross." Anderson herself described the experience as a "heartache and a tragedy."[23]

She also had roles in The Borrowers (1973) and The Chinese Prime Minister (1974).

Returning briefly to Australia, she guest-starred in Matlock Police and had a role in the film Inn of the Damned (1974).

Spoken word

Anderson also recorded many spoken word record albums for Caedmon Audio from the 1950s to the 1970s, including scenes from Macbeth with Maurice Anderson (Victor, in 1941), an adaption of Medea, Robert Louis Stevenson verses, and readings from the Bible. She received a Grammy Award nomination for her work on the Wuthering Heights recording.[24]

Later career

In 1982, she returned to Medea, this time playing the Nurse opposite Zoe Caldwell in the title role. Caldwell had appeared in a small role in the Australian tour of Medea in 1955–1956.

In 1984, she appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as the Vulcan High Priestess T'Lar.[25]

That same year, she commenced a three-year stint as matriarch Minx Lockridge on the NBC serial Santa Barbara. When asked why, she replied "Why not? It's practically the same as doing a play."[26] She had professed to be a fan of the daytime genre – she had watched General Hospital for twenty years – but after signing with Santa Barbara, she complained about her lack of screen time. The highlight of her stint was when Minx tearfully revealed the horrific truth that she had switched the late Channing Capwell with Brick Wallace as a baby, preventing her illegitimate grandson from being raised as a Capwell. This resulted in her receiving a Supporting Actress Emmy Nomination although her screen time afterwards diminished to infrequent appearances.[27]

Her last movies were The Booth and Impure Thoughts (both 1985).


Dame Judith Anderson was a major star on Broadway throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. While not conventionally beautiful, she was a striking figure with a powerful presence on stage and screen.[28] Her effortless style and perfect timing made her one of the greatest classical stage actors of the twentieth century.

For her performances, she won two Emmy Awards, for Best Actress in a Single Performance in Macbeth (1954) and for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role again playing Lady MacBeth (1960), and a Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance in Medea (1947). She also nominations for a Grammy Award for the recording of Wuthering Heights and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca.

Anderson was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1960 and thereafter was often billed as "Dame Judith Anderson."[29] And, on June 10, 1991, in the 1991 Australian Queen's Birthday Honours, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), "in recognition of service to the performing arts."[30]


  • Madame of the Jury (1930, Short)
  • Blood Money (1933) – Ruby Darling
  • Rebecca (1940) – Mrs. Danvers
  • Forty Little Mothers (1940) – Madame Madeleine Granville
  • Free and Easy (1941) – Lady Joan Culver
  • Lady Scarface (1941) – Slade
  • All Through the Night (1942) – Madame
  • Kings Row (1942) – Mrs. Harriet Gordon
  • Edge of Darkness (1943) – Gerd Bjarnesen
  • Stage Door Canteen (1943) – Judith Anderson
  • Laura (1944) – Ann Treadwell
  • And Then There Were None (1945) – Emily Brent
  • The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) – Madame Lanlaire
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) – Mrs. Ivers
  • Specter of the Rose (1946) – Madame La Sylph
  • Pursued (1947) – Mrs. Callum
  • The Red House (1947) – Ellen Morgan
  • Tycoon (1947) – Miss Braithwaite
  • The Furies (1950) – Flo Burnett
  • Salome (1953) – Queen Herodias
  • Macbeth (1954, TV Movie) – Lady Macbeth
  • The Ten Commandments (1956) – Memnet
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) – Big Momma Pollitt
  • The Felizia Kingdom Story (1959 tv series - Wagon Train) - Felizia Kingdom
  • The Moon and Sixpence (1959, TV Movie) – Tiare
  • A Christmas Festival (1959, TV Movie) – Narrator of the final offering
  • Cradle Song (1960, TV Movie) – The Prioress
  • Macbeth (1960, TV Movie) – Lady Macbeth
  • Cinderfella (1960) – Wicked Stepmother
  • Don't Bother to Knock (1961) – Maggie Shoemaker
  • The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964, TV Movie) – Paulina
  • Elizabeth the Queen (1968, TV Movie) – Queen Elizabeth I
  • The File on Devlin (1969, TV Movie) – Elizabeth Devlin
  • A Man Called Horse (1970) – Buffalo Cow Head
  • The Borrowers (1973, TV Movie) – Aunt Sophy
  • The Underground Man (1974, TV Movie) – Mrs. Snow
  • The Chinese Prime Minister (1974, TV Movie) – She
  • Inn of the Damned (1975) – Caroline Straulle
  • Medea (1983, TV Movie) – Nurse
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) – T'Lar
  • The Booth (1985, TV Movie)
  • Impure Thoughts (1985) – The Sister of Purgatory


  1. Birth Registrations Genealogy SA. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Judith Anderson Your Dictionary. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  3. Judith Anderson The Sun (Sydney), January 2, 1927. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Story of Judith Anderson The New York Times, February 15, 1925. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  5. Anne Heywood, Anderson, Frances Margaret (Judith) (1897 - 1992) The Australian Women's Register, May 2, 2019. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  6. Desley Deacon, Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage (Kerr Publishing, 2019, ISBN 978-1875703067).
  7. Eric Pace, Dame Judith Anderson Dies at 93; An Actress of Powerful Portrayals The New York Times, January 4, 1992. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  8. Judith Anderson's First Chance Weekly Times, March 26, 1927. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  9. Judith Anderson The Sydney Morning Herald, December 17, 1926. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  10. Anderson, Frances Margaret (known as Judith) 1897–1992 SA Memory. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  11. Robert Dixon and Veronica Kelly (eds.), Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s–1960s (Sydney University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1920898892).
  12. New Play for Judith Anderson The New York Times, April 13, 1928. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  13. Lillian Gish, Dorothy and Lillian Gish (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973, ISBN 068413571X).
  14. Judith Anderson Has London Success The Sydney Morning Herald, December 4, 1937. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  15. The 13th Academy Awards 1941 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  16. Tad Mosel and Gertrude Macy, Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell (Little, Brown and Company, 1978, ISBN 978-0316585378).
  17. TIME Magazine Cover: Katharine Cornell, Judith Anderson & Ruth Gordon TIME, December 21, 1942. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  18. Judith Anderson in Australia The Sydney Morning Herald, July 11, 1944. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  19. Jack Hicks, James D. Houston, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Al Young (eds.), The Literature of California: Native American beginnings to 1945 (University of California Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0520222120).
  20. Medea Tony Awards Broadway World. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Awards & Nominations Judith Anderson Television Academy. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  22. Judith Anderson – a magnificent Medea Tribune (Sydney), October 19, 1955. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  23. Fiona Gregory,Crossing Genre, Age and Gender: Judith Anderson as Hamlet The Journal of American Drama and Theatre 26(2) (2014). Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  24. Judith Anderson] Recording Academy Grammy Awards.
  25. Star Trek III's T'Lar In a Very Different Role Star Trek, March 14, 2016. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  26. Peter W. Kaplan, Dame Judith Anderson To Appear In New NBC-TV Soap Opera The New York Times, June 11, 1984. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  27. Santa Barbara (1984–1993) Awards IMDb. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  28. Steve Shelokhonov, Judith Anderson Biography IMDb. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  29. Patt Morrison, Dame Judith Anderson, 93; Acclaimed for Classic Roles Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1992. Retrieved July 7, 2022.
  30. Anderson, Judith (Dame) National Library of Australia. Retrieved July 7, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Deacon, Desley. Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage. Kerr Publishing, 2019. ISBN 978-1875703067
  • Dixon, Robert, and Veronica Kelly (eds.). Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s–1960s. Sydney University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1920898892
  • Gish, Lillian. Dorothy and Lillian Gish. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. ISBN 068413571X
  • Hicks, Jack, James D. Houston, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Al Young (eds.). The Literature of California: Native American beginnings to 1945. University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0520222120
  • Mosel, Tad, and Gertrude Macy. Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell. Little, Brown and Company, 1978. ISBN 978-0316585378

External links

All links retrieved January 24, 2024.


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