Carrie Nye, Mainstay at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Dies at 69

Obituaries   Carrie Nye, Mainstay at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Dies at 69
Carrie Nye, a seductive Mississippi-born actress who found an artistic home at Massachusetts' Williamstown Theatre Festival, died July 12 at her home in Manhattan. The cause was lung cancer, according to the New York Times. She was 69.
From top: Carrie Nye in a 1960 Williamstown photo of Skin of Our Teeth; Joel Grey and Nye in 1977's Platonov.
From top: Carrie Nye in a 1960 Williamstown photo of Skin of Our Teeth; Joel Grey and Nye in 1977's Platonov. Photo by Williamstown Theatre Festival

Though a critics darling and considered an actor's actor by her colleagues, she collected only a half-dozen Broadway credits. She was nominated for a Tony Award for one of those (Half a Sixpence in 1965) and a Drama Desk nomination for another (the 1980 revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner). Her more common artistic base was the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where—appropriately given her upbringing—her first appearance was as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. She was 21 at the time.

She went on to play other Southern-fried roles, such as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Zelda Fitzgerald in Clothes for a Summer Hotel (her final appearance at Williamstown, in 1989), as well as Hedda Gabler. Occasionally, Tennessee Williams visited the festival and discussed her roles with Ms. Nye. In all, she appeared in 24 WTF productions over 31 years, making her one of the most regular players in Williamstown history.

Austin Pendleton, another Williamstown regular during the festival's early decades, said that when Ms. Nye played Zelda in Clothes for a Summer Hotel , "that beautiful but bewildering play actually worked, I thought. She emerged one night from an exhausting rehearsal devoted to plumbing the secrets of the play. We went for a drink. I asked her how things were going. She said, 'We must contact Tennessee's physician, and find out exactly what combination of drugs he was on when he wrote this play, and then take them ourselves. Therein lies our only hope.'"

Ms. Nye was known for her wit, and eccentric Southern manners. Slim, sloe-eyed and blonde, she was often compared to Tallulah Bankhead. She had occasion to play the outrageous actress on television in "The Scarlett O'Hara War," and Kaufman and Hart based her character in The Man Who Came to Dinner on Bankhead.

Carrie Nye was born on Oct. 14, 1936, in Greenwood, MS. Her father was a bank president and her mother was a housewife. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, MO, and went on to the Yale School of Drama. She went directly to Williamstown after graduating. She made her Broadway debut one year later, in 1960's A Second String, a Shirley Booth vehicle that lasted 29 performances. She then followed Betsy Von Furstenberg into a role in the Broadway hit Mary, Mary. Other Broadway credits include Ruth Gordon's A Very Rich Woman and John Guare's Cop-Out. Off-Broadway, she was in the original production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound, Ghosts and in a 1963 Circle in the Square production of The Trojan Women, which ran 600 performances and ranks as the only the only Greek tragedy to have run more than 500 performances either on Broadway or Off-Broadway. Ms. Nye played Cassandra to Mildred Dunnock's Hecuba.

She also did extensive regional work at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT; the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in Madison, NJ; and the Phoenix Theater Company in Purchase, NY.

In 1964, she married her fellow Yalie, future talk show host Dick Cavett. Cavett survives her. Together they bought Tick Hall, a historic home Stanford White built in Montauk. It burned to the ground in 1997. Ms. Nye lost family possessions and photographs going back five Mississippi generations. The couple hired architects to create an exact replica of the famed house. "It was impervious to time, to change," Ms. Nye said. "It was a remarkable piece of architecture, like living with a great painting. It improved you. I had to have it back." The enterprise was the subject of the documentary "From the Ashes: The Life and Times of Tick Hall."

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