Oscar Actors: Anderson, Judith–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage, Tony Award; Grammy Nom)

Updated June 30, 2020
Judith Anderson Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: Upper-middle; father share broker; mother nurse

Race/Nationality: Aussie


Education: private school, but didn’t graduate


Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut: 1951; age 54

Stage Debut: 1915; age 18

NY Debut: 1918; age 21

Broadway Debut: 1922; 25

Film Debut: Blood Money, 1933; age 37

Breakthrough Role:

Signature Role: Medea (Tony, tours for many years)Oscar Role: Rebecca, 1940; lesbian housekeeper; 43

Other Noms:

Other Awards: Medea, 1947; Tony Award; age 50; Grammy Nom, 1960s

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: character actor

Last Film: Impure Thoughts, 1985; age 88

Career Output:

Film Career Span: 7 decades

Marriage: 2; first professor; second theater producer


Death: 1992; age 94

Anderson made her stage debut in 1915 in Sydney and her first New York appearance in 1918. She gave memorable stage performances as Lavinia Mannon in “Mourning Becomes Electra” (1932), a role for which Rosalind Russell gained Oscar nomination in 1947, as Gertrude to John Gielgud’s “Hamlet” (1936), and as Lady MacBeth in “MacBeth” (1937, 1941). She essayed the title role in “Medea” several times (1947, 1949).

In 1960, she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Anderson made her first film appearance in 1933 in “Blood Money.” She was often cast in unsympathetic, malevolent, and sinister roles, of which her most memorable and famous is the Oscar nominated housekeeper in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (1940), which won the Best Picture Oscar.

She played Big Mama in Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” to great acclaim.

Anderson’s last film role was in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984).

Oscar Alert

In 1940, Judith Anderson competed for the Supporting Actress Oscar with Jane Darwell (who won) in “The Grapes of Wrath,” Ruth Hussey in “The Philadelphia Story,” Barbara O’Neil in “All This, and Heaven Too,” and Marjorie Rambeau in “Primrose Path.”

Dame Frances Margaret Anderson, AC, DBE (February 10, 1897–January 3, 1992), known professionally as Judith Anderson, was an Australian actress who had a successful career in stage, film and television. A preeminent stage 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 20th century’s greatest classical stage actors.

Frances Margaret Anderson was born Feb 10, 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia, the youngest of 4 children born to Jessie Margaret (née Saltmarsh), a former nurse, and Scottish-born James Anderson Anderson, a share broker and pioneering prospector.

She attended a private school, Norwood, where her education ended before graduation.

She made her professional debut (as Francee Anderson) in 1915, 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. She appeared alongside him in adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Three Musketeers, Monsieur Beacauire and David Garrick. In 1917 she toured New Zealand.

L.A. and NY

Anderson was ambitious and wanted to leave Australia. Most local actors went to London but the war made this difficult so she decided on the US. She travelled to California but was unsuccessful for four months, then moved to New York, with an equal lack of success.

After a period of poverty and illness, she found work with the Emma Bunting Stock Company at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in 1918–19. She then toured with other stock companies.

She made her Broadway debut in Up the Stairs (1922) followed by The Crooked Square (1923) and she went to Chicago with Patches (1923). She appeared in Peter Weston (1923), which only  short run.

One year later, she had changed her acting forename (albeit not for legal purposes) to Judith and had her first triumph with the play Cobra (1924) co-starring Louis Calhern, which ran for 35 performances. Anderson then went on to The Dove (1925) which went for 101 performances and really established her on Broadway.[10][6]

She toured Australia in 1927 with three plays: Tea for Three, The Green Hat and Cobra. Back on Broadway she was in Behold the Bridegroom (1927–28) by George Kelly and had the lead in Anna (1928). She replaced Lynn Fontanne during the successful run of Strange Interlude (1929).

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

In 1931, she played the Unknown Woman in the American premiere of Pirandello’s As You Desire Me, filmed the following year with Greta Garbo in the same role. It ran for 142 performances. She was in a short-lived revival of Mourning Becomes Electra (1932), then did Firebird (1932), Conquest, The Drums Begin (both 1933), and The Mask and the Face (1933, with Humphrey Bogart). Anderson then focused on Broadway with Come of Age (1934), and Divided By Three (1934).

She had a big hit (305 performances) 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.

In 1936, Anderson played Gertrude to John Gielgud’s Hamlet in a production that featured Lillian Gish as Ophelia. 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.

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

Oscar Role: Rebecca

She received a career boost when cast in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). As the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Anderson 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 Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

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, a role she reprised with Evans on television, firstly in 1954 and then again in 1960 (the second version was released as a feature film in Europe). This ran for 131 performances.

She made some films at Warner Bros: All Through the Night, Kings Row (both 1942), Edge of Darkness, and Stage Door Canteen (both 1943).

In 1942–43, 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 123 performances. The illustrious production made it to the cover of Time.

Anderson returned to Hollywood to appear in Laura (1944). She briefly returned to Australia to tour American army camps.[21] She was back in Hollywood to appear 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).

Tony Award

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 won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance. The show ran for 214 performances. Anderson then toured throughout the country with it.

On the big screen, Anderson played a gold digger 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 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.

She was Herodias in Salome (1953) and played in Black Chiffon on The Motorola Television Hour.

In 1953, she was directed by Charles Laughton in his adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét’s John Brown’s Body with Raymond Massey and Tyrone Power. Then she did In the Summer House (1953–54) on Broadway.

On television she was in Macbeth (1954) with Maurice Evans, and The Elgin Hour. She was 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

In 1955 she toured Australia with Medea.

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). “I don’t profess to know much about films”, she said. “I seldom see one.”

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 later years she starred as Minx Lockridge in the daytime NBC soap opera Santa Barbara from 1984 until 1987.

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.[citation needed]

She also performed in Cradle Song and Macbeth (both 1960) for TV. She had support roles in Cinderfella (1960) and Why Bother to Knock (1961).

In 1961 she toured an evening in which she performed Macbeth, Medea and Tower.

Anderson was in The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) for TV.

In 1966 she was on stage in Elizabeth the Queen which received poor reviews.

She received acclaim for her lead performance in a TV version of Elizabeth the Queen (1968, with Charlton Heston). She followed it with The File on Devlin (1969) and A Man Called Horse (1970). The latter was her first feature since Why Bother to Knock.

In 1970, she realized long-held ambition to play the title role of Hamlet on a national tour of the US and at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Grammy Nom

She recorded many 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 nomination for her work on the Wuthering Heights recording.

Anderson returned briefly to Australia. She guest-starred in Matlock Police and was in the film Inn of the Damned (1974).

Her other credits that decade included The Borrowers (1973) and The Chinese Prime Minister (1974)

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 1955–56. She was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.

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

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.”

She was 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. After leaving the series, she was succeeded in the role by the quarter-century younger American actress Janis Paige.[citation needed]

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

Anderson was married twice and declared that “neither experience was a jolly holiday.”  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. (born 1918). Luther Greene (1909–1987), a theatrical producer; they were married in July 1946 and divorced in 1951.

Anderson loved Santa Barbara, California, and spent much of her life there. She died there, of pneumonia, in 1992, aged 94.

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.”

On 10 June 1991, in the Queen’s Birthday Honors, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), “in recognition of service to the performing arts.”

Desley Deacon’s biography, Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage in 2019.