Grimes appeared in more than a dozen Broadway shows. Born in Lynn, MA, on January 30, 1934, she had a distinctive voice that lent itself to a variety of accents she sported throughout her career.
She made her Broadway debut in Ben Bagley’s short-lived 1956 musical comedy sketch revue The Littlest Revue, which introduced songs by a gallery of future songwriting stars including Charles Strouse, Sheldon Harnick, and Lee Adams. She was working in one of Julius Monk’s Upstairs at the Downstairs revues when she was spotted by Noël Coward, who cast her in his comedy Look After Lulu, which had a short run, but proved the beginning of a long artistic collaboration between the two that led to plays, a musical, and one of her two Tony Awards.
Though not particularly well-known in 1960, she was chosen to star in the title role of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, written by Meredith Willson in his first musical since his blockbuster The Music Man. Molly Brown tells the story of a penniless country girl from Colorado who dreams of conquering high society. The dream almost costs her her life when she books passage aboard the Titanic, and acquires her nickname performing heroics in one of the lifeboats.
Grimes won the 1961 Tony Award as Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her performances as Molly Brown, but had the misfortune watch as her great role was nabbed by Debbie Reynolds when it came time to make the film version of the musical. She won her second Tony in 1970, as Best Actress in a Play, for her performance as Amanda in a revival of Coward’s Private Lives.
Grimes bounced back in 1964, starring as the sexy ghost Elvira in the musical adaptation of Coward’s Blithe Spirit, titled High Spirits, opposite Beatrice Lillie. According to her Playbill Who’s Who, Grimes is remembered for “stopping the show nightly with her rendition of ‘Home Sweet Heaven,’ sung while flying thirty feet through the air with the help of an invisible harness.”
Later in her career she starred in Neil Simon’s 1976 play California Suite, and played the grand dame Dorothy Brock in David Merrick’s original Broadway production of 42nd Street in 1980.
Grimes did not make a major splash in films, but appeared on many dramatic and variety programs (she reportedly turned down the leading role in the sitcom Bewitched), eventually starring in her own ABC-TV series, The Tammy Grimes Show.
Grimes was part of a family of showbiz stars. She was married to Tony-winning actor Christopher Plummer from 1956 to 1960, and is the mother of Tony-winning actress Amanda Plummer.
A Look Back at the Career of Tammy Grimes: