Tony Nominee and Emmy Winner Rosemary Murphy Dies at 89

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09 Jul 2014

Rosemary Murphy
Rosemary Murphy

Rosemary Murphy, a veteran stage actress who was thrice nominated for a Tony Award, and won an Emmy for playing Sara Delano Roosevelt in the 1976 TV mini-series "Eleanor and Franklin," died July 5 in her Upper East Side apartment in New York City. She had recently been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. She was 89.

Ms. Murphy appeared in more than a dozen Broadway shows over nearly five decades. She collected her Tony Award nominations for her performance as Dorothea Bates in Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment in 1960; the comedy Any Wednesday in 1964; and for the original 1967 staging of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, in which she played the salty sister Claire to co-stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. She returned to A Delicate Balance in 1996, when it was revived on Broadway, as a replacement actress in the role of neighbor Edna.

She was a favorite of Albee, also appearing in his adaptation of The Ballad of the Sad Café in 1963 and the 1968 double-bill of The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream. She made her Broadway debut in 1950 in The Tower Beyond Tragedy. The show didn't last long, but her next, the Thomas Wolfe adaptation Look Homeward, Angel, did, running a year and a half after its fall 1957 debut. Other credits included Gore Vidal's Weekend in 1968, Paul Zindel's Ladies at the Alamo in 1977, Tina Howe's Coastal Disturbances in 1987, and Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings in 1999.

Off-Broadway credits included The Learned Ladies, Cold Sweat and a revival of Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others.

Rosemary Murphy starred a good many films, including the notable movies "Walking Tall" (1973), "Ben" (1972), "Julia" (1977), in which she played Dorothy Parker, Woody Allen's "September" (1987) and "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995), Tamara Jenkins' "Savages (2007) and Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" (2008)—the latter two, opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman. But her best known cinematic credit was probably one of her first, the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," in which she played Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor to Gregory Peck's lawyer Atticus Finch. She also repeated her stage performance in Any Wednesday in the play's 1966 film version.



"Eleanor and Franklin" was so successful that it was followed up "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" in 1977, with Ms. Murphy again starring alongside Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann as the title characters. The sequel won her another Emmy nomination. She was also a regular on the 1970s series "Lucas Tanner," which starred David Hartman.

Rosemary Murphy was born Jan. 13, 1927, in Munich, the child of a U.S. diplomat. She was raised in Paris and didn't set foot on U.S. soil until 1939. She attended Manhattanville College and studied acting with Sanford Meisner. She then returned briefly to Germany, where she appeared in a film and a stage production of Peer Gynt.