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Sada Thompson dies at 83


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Per the New York Times:

 

Sada Thompson, Actress Known for Maternal Roles, Dies at 83

By BRUCE WEBER

 

Sada Thompson, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actress known for her portrayals of archetypal mothers, from the loving family caretaker and the world-weary, had-it-with-the-kids older woman to the brutalizing harridan and mythical adulteress and murderess, died Wednesday in Danbury, Conn. She was 83.

 

The cause was lung disease, said her daughter, Liza Sguaglia.

 

Ms. Thompson had an unusual stage career in that she became a star in New York but was not often on Broadway. She made her name in the 1950s as Off Broadway came to prominence, in plays like “The Misanthrope” and Chekhov’s “Ivanov,” and throughout her career she performed in regional theater productions.

 

But when she was on Broadway, she made an impression. She won a Tony in 1972 for playing four separate parts — three daughters and their aged mother — in the four vignettes that constitute George Furth’s “Twigs,” directed by Michael Bennett. Her tour de force performance was widely praised, but Ms. Thompson returned to Broadway only twice more, in short-lived shows.

 

By then she had established herself as “one of the American theater’s finest actresses,” as Walter Kerr described her in The New York Times. She had distinguished herself on Broadway in Edward Albee’s sardonic “American Dream,” in which she played Mommy, the cartoonishly overwhelming wife of a spineless husband, and in Samuel Beckett’s bitterly comic “Happy Days.” Here she played Winnie, a woman facing inevitable doom — she spends the first act buried up to her waist and the second act up to her neck — with determined good cheer.

 

“Yet beneath these bright superficials,” Clive Barnes wrote in The Times, “Miss Thompson was able to suggest something a good deal deeper, every so often permitting the enamel to crack, the brightness to darken, and letting us glimpse the piteous fears of mortality in Winnie’s heart.”

 

Away from Broadway, her repertory expanded and her reputation grew. In 1970, in what was probably her star-making performance, she opened Off Broadway in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” Paul Zindel’s melodrama about a slatternly, self-deluding and tormenting mother of two troubled daughters and the elderly boarder she cares for to pay the rent.

 

In the summer of 1971 she appeared at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford. Conn., as Christine Mannon, the Civil War-era equivalent of the vengeful Clytemnestra, in “Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neill.

 

After “Twigs,” Ms. Thompson spent much of her time working in movies and especially on television. She played Mrs. Gibbs in the 1977 television film of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” with Hal Holbrook as the stage manager.

 

Most notably, from 1976 to 1980 she starred as Kate Lawrence, the matriarch of an upper-middle-class family in Pasadena, Calif., in a landmark show, created by Jay Presson Allen, who had adapted “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for the stage, and produced by Mike Nichols. Its title — “Family” — announced its intention: to be a simple presentation of the fundamental unit of American life. It largely succeeded, melding ordinary daily conflicts with the heightened drama necessary for television entertainment.

 

“Family” dealt straightforwardly with issues like the marital problems of the Lawrences’ eldest daughter (played at the time by Meredith Baxter Birney); the discovery by the teenage son (Gary Frank) that his long-time best friend was gay; and the distress of the youngest daughter (Kristy McNichol) on overhearing her mother saying that she sometimes wished she hadn’t had her.

 

“ ‘Family’ represents an extremely difficult television project in that it is trying to salvage the familiar stuff of soap opera for the less superficial probings of the contemporary drama,” John J. O’Connor wrote in The Times during its first season, adding that Ms. Thompson and James Broderick, who played her husband, “achieved a remarkable combination of low-keyed intensity and powerful impact.”

 

Ms. Thompson was nominated for an Emmy four times in the show’s five seasons, winning in 1978.

 

Sada Carolyn Thompson was born in Des Moines on Sept. 27, 1927. When she was a girl, her family moved to Fanwood, N.J., where her father, Hugh, became an editor of Turkey World and other farm journals. Sada discovered the power of storytelling when her mother, Corlyss, took her to the movie “The Man Who Played God,” and she was turned toward acting when her parents took her to the Cole Porter musical “Red, Hot and Blue.”

 

“That was it,” Ms. Thompson recalled in 1971. “To me it was total enchantment. I had to be part of it.”

 

She graduated with a drama degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), and she and some fellow students started a summer stock company in Mashpee, Mass. Eventually she and Donald Stewart, whom she met at school and married, moved to New York, where her first professional credit was in 1953, in the original reading of “Under Milkwood,” Dylan Thomas’s poetic rendering of life in a Welsh town, directed by Thomas himself.

 

“His idea of rehearsals was to hear one reading and say, ‘Perfect, let’s go out for a beer,’ but he was a kind, courteous gentleman,” she once said.

 

Ms. Thompson lived in Southbury, Conn. In addition to her daughter, of Burbank, Calif., her survivors include her husband, a former executive for Pan American Airlines, and a brother, David, of Gloversville, N.Y.

 

Her career was peppered with performances in classic works in far-flung theaters. She starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Lillian Hellman’s “Little Foxes” in London, toured Scandinavia with the Scandinavian Theater Company in Wilder’s “Skin of Our Teeth” and played Lady Macbeth at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego.

 

“I’d miss not being able to tell a story every night,” she once said, describing why she was loath to give up the stage or the screen. “That really thrills me, that is the greatest! Thousands of years ago, when some caveman told his family about the fight he had that day with a dinosaur, and, in the telling, became the dinosaur, and became himself in the fight — well, there’s your first actor.”

 

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

 

Correction: May 6, 2011

 

An earlier version misstated the character Ms. Thompson played in the 1977 television film of "Our Town." It was Mrs. Gibbs, not Mrs. Webb.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/arts/sada-thompson-actress-known-for-maternal-roles-dies-at-83.html?_r=1

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Now this one really makes me sad, i L O V E D her on FAMILY, the DVD of the first two seasons came out a couple of years ago and i went to buy it as it was one of the best series oever to hit TV and she was one of the best actresses to do the same. She came from Broadway but TV showcased her talents for every TV viewer. She was so R E A L ! All the other actors on that show were excellent also, but she still stood out, Matthew Broderick's dad, as the father, Meredith Baxter Birney as the ice queen blonde daughter, Gary Frank as the hunk son, Kristy McNichol as the tomboy youngest daughter. I will never forget how i wanted to kick my tv set in when the Emmy was handed out, not to Sada Thompson for Family one year but to the fake actress in the lousy show instead, lindsay wagner for Bionic Woman, what a travesty that was! Sada Thompson was a one of kind, terribly REAL and quite gifted actress, TV will never produce one as great as she was.

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They only released the first 2 seasons on DVD. Sound familiar?? :lucydisgust: I get a channel on my cable that shows "The Waltons" and "Our House" (with Wilfred "I Have Diabetes And I Like Oatmeal" Brimley. I think "Family" would fit nicely in the lineup. Sadly this great little series is just pushed off the side!

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They only released the first 2 seasons on DVD. Sound familiar?? :lucydisgust: I get a channel on my cable that shows "The Waltons" and "Our House" (with Wilfred "I Have Diabetes And I Like Oatmeal" Brimley. I think "Family" would fit nicely in the lineup. Sadly this great little series is just pushed off the side!

I dun't thin it ran that long anyway, the first two seasons are on just the one box by the way.

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"Family" had a 5 Season run. I watched the whole original series when I was a teen. I know the first two seasons are in one set but I don't understand why we can't have the rest. It's really unfair to start these DVDs and then not let us enjoy the whole series. :rolleyes: There's so much utter CRAP being released, and we can't get a complete "Family" or be allowed to finish our original "Newhart Show" collections. BAH!! :lucyblah:

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"Family" had a 5 Season run. I watched the whole original series when I was a teen. I know the first two seasons are in one set but I don't understand why we can't have the rest. It's really unfair to start these DVDs and then not let us enjoy the whole series. :rolleyes: There's so much utter CRAP being released, and we can't get a complete "Family" or be allowed to finish our original "Newhart Show" collections. BAH!! :lucyblah:

Yeah, guess it did not sell well enough, too bad, it was one terrific show, well acted, great drama, a R E A L story about a normal family and the daily problems they face just hanging around. Sada was so dignified in her role, you felt, as many have said about ILL that you were eavesdropping on the family when you tuned in, that's how real they were. I agree about what you said, so much CRAP being released and so many gems not being available. BY the way, Mary Tyler Moore is on sale here, every season for 19.99. I'm still waiting for the next season of Mad About You, another HIT show that stopped at season two only to have a BEST OF come out instead, or was it season three that it ended with? God, i am so O L D !

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Just went to the site DEEP DISH and saw this beautiful obit for Sada, seems she was nominated for NINE Emmys, won one for Family although she was nominated for that show four out of it's five seasons. She also won a Tony award, Drama Desk etc for her Broadway work. She not only played Miss Daisy in Chicago, many roles on Broadway for which she got noms, but did you know she had the original role that Betty Garrett played on All in the Family, she bowed out after one appearance due to creastive differences with norman lear, MY KIND OF GIRL!!! She also won another Emmy for playing Carla's mom on CHEERS, forgot about that one, very versatile actress!

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Just went to the site DEEP DISH and saw this beautiful obit for Sada, seems she was nominated for NINE Emmys, won one for Family although she was nominated for that show four out of it's five seasons. She also won a Tony award, Drama Desk etc for her Broadway work. She not only played Miss Daisy in Chicago, many roles on Broadway for which she got noms, but did you know she had the original role that Betty Garrett played on All in the Family, she bowed out after one appearance due to creastive differences with norman lear, MY KIND OF GIRL!!! She also won another Emmy for playing Carla's mom on CHEERS, forgot about that one, very versatile actress!

She never appeared on AITF to my recollection. Sounds like a boo-boo to me! ;)
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Yeah, guess it did not sell well enough, too bad, it was one terrific show, well acted, great drama, a R E A L story about a normal family and the daily problems they face just hanging around. Sada was so dignified in her role, you felt, as many have said about ILL that you were eavesdropping on the family when you tuned in, that's how real they were. I agree about what you said, so much CRAP being released and so many gems not being available. BY the way, Mary Tyler Moore is on sale here, every season for 19.99. I'm still waiting for the next season of Mad About You, another HIT show that stopped at season two only to have a BEST OF come out instead, or was it season three that it ended with? God, i am so O L D !

Because it was on sucky Sony which is NOTORIOUS for not completing their series releases on DVD. Thank goodness, Shout Factory has picked up many of the "gauntlets" that Sony's dropped, among them AITF and MAY.

 

Aside from the first three seasons and the "Best of" that Sony's released, Shout! in the past year has released Seasons 4 and 5 and hopefully, will complete the series all the way to the end. :D

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Because it was on sucky Sony which is NOTORIOUS for not completing their series releases on DVD. Thank goodness, Shout Factory has picked up many of the "gauntlets" that Sony's dropped, among them AITF and MAY.

 

Aside from the first three seasons and the "Best of" that Sony's released, Shout! in the past year has released Seasons 4 and 5 and hopefully, will complete the series all the way to the end. :D

Now you see, that i dun't get at all, All in the Family was a number one show and yet, you see, nobody buys the dvd, same as what happened with Mary Tyler Moore, and the reason The Lucy Show and Beverly Hillbillies took so long to come out, same for Andy Griffith and my beloved Mad About You, same for Hill Street Blues, 3000 Emmy awards and nobody buys the series, all number one shows and we get nothing, or limited runs or a couple of seasons on dvd, what gives? I guess it's that SONY or who releases it like you said.

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She never appeared on AITF to my recollection. Sounds like a boo-boo to me! ;)

 

Sada did accept the role as Frank's wife but dropped out very fast. There are no eps of her actually playing the role on AITF, it was that fast a decision; based on her missing her family and NY stage work. Lear denied any difficulty working with Sada. Sounds to me like it was a trial thing right from the get-go. And can you imagine her in the role, anyway?? I sure can't! Think Sada could play the ukelele or stand on her head??! :lucyshock:

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She never appeared on AITF to my recollection. Sounds like a boo-boo to me! ;)

I think they said she did one episode and then had CREATIVE differences with lear so maybe they recast the role and did not even air the one with her playing Betty Garrett's role of the neighbor.

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I always thought of Sada as a rather stern character. I took my info from Archie & Edith & Mike & Gloria": The Tumultuous History Of "All In The Family, . Lear soon found out a bad choice had been made in casting her, and action was taken ASAP. A quote from him: "Thank heavens she came to me early enough. Had we made a couple of shows with her, it (swapping her out for Betty) would have been impossible." Sada was almost another Darin or.... Becky!

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Sada won her Tony for the play "Twigs," in which she played three sisters and their mother. Lucy said she would have loved to have starred in that play and wished she had been offered it.

OMG you always have the GREATEST facts, no wonder you wrote that great LUCY book, FAQ whihch i purchased today, everybody go out and order it soon, it comes out next month, can't wait to get it! I saw Sada GET that Tony, i remember it well, she was one helluva of an actress.

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I always thought of Sada as a rather stern character. I took my info from Archie & Edith & Mike & Gloria": The Tumultuous History Of "All In The Family, . Lear soon found out a bad choice had been made in casting her, and action was taken ASAP. A quote from him: "Thank heavens she came to me early enough. Had we made a couple of shows with her, it (swapping her out for Betty) would have been impossible." Sada was almost another Darin or.... Becky!

Thanks for that Putty, i only went by what i read in one or two obits. And nobody would have wanted to see another casting disaster like the NEW Becky, she was horrible and nothing like the well rounded original, LOL!

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Sada won her Tony for the play "Twigs," in which she played three sisters and their mother. Lucy said she would have loved to have starred in that play and wished she had been offered it.

 

Why does my feeble memory tell me Carol Burnett played the same role for one of her CBS specials back in the day? Or am I imagining that?? lucydisgust.JPG

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