Actress Anne Meacham, Frequent Interpreter of Tennessee Williams, Dead at 80

Obituaries   Actress Anne Meacham, Frequent Interpreter of Tennessee Williams, Dead at 80 Anne Meachum, the stage actress perhaps best known for her work in several plays by Tennessee Williams, died Jan. 12 at her home in Canaan, New York, her friend, actress Marian Seldes, told Playbill.com. She was 80.
Anne Meacham in Garden District.
Anne Meacham in Garden District. Photo by Friedman-Abeles Photos

Ms. Meachum was the original Catherine Holly in the 1958 Off-Broadway premiere of Williams' tale of decadence and denial, Suddenly Last Summer. She won an Obie Award for her work in the York Playhouse production, which also starred Hortense Alden and Alan Mixon.

"[Tennessee] was so protective of it and frightened by it," she said of the play to Williams biographer Donald Spoto, "although I think he knew it was one of his best plays, and that in Catharine Holly he created one of the greatest roles ever written for an actress." For his part, Williams thought Meacham tore into the role "like a tigress."

Playwright and actress worked together again in 1969 for In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel at the Eastside Playhouse. They collaborated again in 1974 for the little remembered The Gnädiges Fräulein, a play Williams had written with Ms. Meacham in mind. The writer continued to write parts for her, though some of these projects never came to fruition.

Anne Meachum was personally close to Williams as well, and sometimes that friendship came with a price, as she discovered on an infamous 1969 trip to Japan. When the two arrived in Tokyo on June 21, the dramatist was strung out on pills and alcohol, and disorderly. Negative press reports emerged, and when Williams began to accuse Ms. Meacham of stealing his pills, she called Tennessee's brother for help. The writer eventually flew back to the States alone, while the actress closed up the house they had been staying in.

Anne Meacham also had a strong artistic connection with actress-director Eva LeGallienne, who cast her as Nina in The Seagull and Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible, both in 1964, and as Lady India in Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. All three shows toured the nation as part of LeGalliene's National Repertory Theatre. Other career highlights included an Off-Broadway production of Hedda Gabler, which won her a second Obie Award.

Anne Meacham—a fragile, angular beauty with dark hair, a high forehead and large eyes— was born July 21, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois. She was educated at the University of Rochester, the Yale School of Drama and the Neighborhood Playhouse, where Ms. Seldes was her classmate.

She made her professional debut in Bridgeton, Maine, in the summer of 1946. Her Broadway debut came in 1952 in the short-lived The Long Watch, for which she won the Clarence Derwent Award. Other Broadway credits include Ondine, opposite Audrey Hepburn and directed by Alfred Lunt (1954); Eugenia with Tallulah Bankhead (1957); The Legend of Lizzie (1959); Moonbirds (1959); and A Passage to India (1962). Her final Broadway appearance was as Gertrude in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1967.

On television, she was recognized as Louise Goddard on the soap opera "Another World."

On the occasion of the permiere of In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, Williams wrote a piece about actresses for the New York Times. It included the passage, "Anne Meacham is another actress with whom I've had consistently pleasant relations. Why? Not because she is beautiful, which she is, but because there's nothing she won't say or do on a stage without any sign of embarrassment. She has a totally unconventional kind of elegance."