Ashley made her Broadway debut in 1959's The Highest Tree. Listed in the Playbill as Elizabeth Cole, she played the role of Jane Ashe in a cast that included Kenneth MacKenna, Diana Douglas and a young Robert Redford. Below is her first Playbill Who's Who bio:
"Miss Cole, who studied for the theatre at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she appeared as Abigail in the off-Broadway production of The Crucible, is making her Times Square debut in The Highest Tree. A native of Ocala, Florida, she moved with her family at age six to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was educated at Louisiana State University. Off-Broadway audiences saw her also in Sartre's Dirty Hands. Most recently she was in the Theatre Guild's production of Marcus in the High Grass with David Wayne."
Two years later, Ashley received critical acclaim for her performance in Phoebe and Henry Ephron's play Take Her, She's Mine, about a father who must accept the fact that his teenage daughters are growing up and getting ready for college life. She played Mollie Michaelson opposite Art Carney as Frank Michaelson and Phyllis Thaxter as Anne Michaelson.
The New York Times' Howard Taubman wrote: "As Mollie, the older daughter who goes off to college, Elizabeth Ashley is so pretty, and fresh that those Harvard and M.I.T. men would have to be awful grinds not to set their caps for her." Ashley won the 1962 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance.
After understudying the leading ladies in Roman Candle and Mary, Mary, Ashley appeared in the original 1963 Broadway production of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. She and Robert Redford starred as newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter alongside Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Banks and Kurt Kasznar as Victor Velasco.
Howard Taubman praised the "bubbling, rib-tickling comedy" and remarked that "Miss Ashley's bride is a delectable, ardent scatterbrain." She received her second Tony Award nomination for her work.
Ashley's next career highlight came in the 1974 revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She took on the role of Maggie opposite Keir Dullea as Brick, Fred Gwynne as Big Daddy and Kate Reid as Big Mama.
The New York Times' Clive Barnes described the production as "gripping" and "memorably staged" and praised Ashley's work. He wrote: "Sensuous, withdrawn, composed and determined, Miss Ashley's Maggie vibrantly combines charm with grit. She can stand outside a conversation like a cobra, or flutter in like a bird. Splendid."
Ashley received her third Tony Award nomination for her performance.
Forty years and eleven Broadway shows later, Ashley is back on the Great White Way in the current revival of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It With You. She plays The Grand Duchess Olga opposite James Earl Jones as Martin Vanderhof, Rose Byrne as Alice Sycamore and Annaleigh Ashford as Essie Carmichael. The production began previews Aug. 26 and officially opens Sept. 28 at the Longacre Theatre.