Actress Nancy Marchand Is Dead at 71

News   Actress Nancy Marchand Is Dead at 71 Actress Nancy Marchand, whose stage career stretched over five decades and whose television series included "Lou Grant" and "The Sopranos," died June 18 at her home in Stratford, CT, after a long bout with cancer. In an eerie coincidence, June 19 is her birthday. She was 71.
Nancy Marchand in The Cocktail Hour.
Nancy Marchand in The Cocktail Hour. (Photo by Photo by Martha Swope)

Actress Nancy Marchand, whose stage career stretched over five decades and whose television series included "Lou Grant" and "The Sopranos," died June 18 at her home in Stratford, CT, after a long bout with cancer. In an eerie coincidence, June 19 is her birthday. She was 71.

Ms. Marchand won four Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Mrs. Margaret Pynchon, the patrician, imperious publisher of the fictional Los Angeles newspaper at the center of the hour-long television series "Lou Grant," a spin-off of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," starring Edward Asner. She recently scored another triumph on the small screen as Livia Soprano, the murderous Mob grandmother of the popular cable series, "The Sopranos."

The Buffalo-born Ms. Marchand's stage credits numbered in the dozens, beginning in 1946 at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, where she appeared in The Late George Apley. She made her New York City debut in 1951 playing a bit part in The Taming of the Shrew at City Center. She got to play Kate in the same play just three years later at the Antioch, Ohio, Shakespeare Festival.

Indeed, her early years were filled with works by the Bard, including Love's Labour's Lost (as the Princess of France); King Lear (Regan); The Merchant of Venice (Nerissa); Romeo and Juliet (Nurse); A Winter's Tale (Paulina) and Much Ado About Nothing (Ursula). She also acted in classics by Brecht, Shaw and Chekhov.

Ms. Marchand was a member of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre in the institution's early years in the late 1960's. There, she appeared in The Alchemist and Yerma. In 1968, she acted in Cyrano de Bergerac at Lincoln Center, and in 1971, as Queen Elizabeth in Schiller's Mary Stuart. She was also an original member of the A.P.A. theatre company. In recent years, Ms. Marchard made occasional appearances in Off-Broadway plays, including Jon Robin Baitz's The End of the Day at Playwrights Horizons. In that work, she essayed the double role of a doctor in a Los Angeles clinic and the matriarch of a wealthy old London family. As in many of her other parts, she communicated effortless authority and a dryly sarcastic, WASP-ish sense of humor. Her final New York stage turn, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Irish Repertory Theatre, could be considered typecasting, such was here comically upright bearing. Those starchy, condescending characteristics were also on vivid display in another late-career stage triumph, A.R. Gurney's The Cocktail Hour. Of the latter performance, New York Times critic Frank Rich wrote, "Just to hear the actress order a refill of her martini -- a frequent occurrence -- is to get a lesson in comic timing and inflection.

Still, as she proved by playing a grasping, scheming Mafia mother in "The Sopranos," Marchand possessed considerable range. Other notable stage roles included the lauded 1980 revival of Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven; Paul Zindel's And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, in which she acted opposite Julie Harris and Estelle Parsons; the Peter Shaffer comedies Black Comedy and White Liars at the Roundabout Theatre Company; Cinderella at New York City Opera; and Jose Quintero's 1960 staging of Jean Genet's The Balcony at Circle in the Square. She won an Obie Award for the latter performance.

Ms. Marchand's husband, actor Paul Sparer, with whom she often acted, died last November.

--By Robert Simonson