Nancy Marchand

Nancy Marchand
Nancy Marchand

Nancy Marchand was born in 1928 in Buffalo, New York.   She had built up extensive stage experience before coming to television and then on to film.   Her films include “Me, Natalie”, “Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon”, “The Hospital” and “The Bostonians”.   She is most famous though for two television roles, Mrs Pynchon in “Lou Grant” and Livia Soprano in “The Sopranos”.   Nancy Marchand died in 2000.

Ronald Bergan’s “Guardian” obituary:

For most people, Nancy Marchand, who has died of lung cancer the day before her 72nd birthday, will be remembered as Mrs Margaret Pynchon, the imperious, but essentially fair-minded and liberal owner of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune, in the 1970s television series, Lou Grant. City editor Grant (Ed Asner) complained about her superior and sardonic air, but most journalists would love to work for someone like Mrs Pynchon.

Hers was also one of the few TV roles showing an intelligent woman in a powerful position, who managed to suggest that strength and warmth need not be mutually exclusive. Marchand once described Mrs Pynchon as “a strange combination of being very imposing and down-to-earth”. She won four Emmy awards for the role, each of which acted as a leg of a coffee table in her home.

More recently, however, Marchand managed to obliterate this perception of herself as a patrician woman by brilliantly playing Livia Soprano, the monstrous, whin ing, half-senile, domineering mother of mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the Home Box Office series, The Sopranos. She never forgives her son for putting her into a nursing home, and becomes the cause of much of his guilt. “I think Livia is the first role I’ve ever had where the makeup crew tries to make me look bad,” March-and commented. “I may be getting older, but I don’t look quite that decrepit.”

In fact, Marchand started off a long way from the well-groomed, tasteful ladies with which she became associated on the small screen. She was in at the exciting beginnings of TV drama in America, her most famous role being Clara, the lonely, plain young school- mistress in the original 1953 live broadcast of Paddy Chay- evsky’s Marty, opposite Rod Steiger in the title role.

“I got the role of Clara because I wasn’t cutesy,” Marchant explained. “I never have been – and I had a bony face.” The actress was a close friend of Chayevsky’s, appearing in several of his television plays, including The Catered Affair and The Bachelor Party, making her feature debut in the film version of the latter.

But, despite the wider recognition of television, Marchand had a long, varied and distinguished stage career. After studying at the Actor’s Studio – with the likes of Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and John Cassavetes – she made her New York debut as the Tavern Hostess in The Taming Of The Shrew in 1951, going on to play many larger Shakespearean roles, including Nerissa, in The Merchant Of Venice, the Nurse, in Romeo And Juliet, and the Princess of France, in Love’s Labours Lost. It was while acting in Shakespeare and Shaw at the Brattle theatre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that she met and married Paul Sparer, with whom she acted, on and off, until his death last November.

In 1960, she won an Obie award for the role of the Madame of the kinky brothel in Jean Genet’s The Balcony. It was then back to the classics at the American Shakespeare festival at Stratford, Connecticut, and the Lincoln Centre repertory theatre, where she was splendidly regal as Queen Elizabeth in Schiller’s Mary Stuart.

In 1980, commuting between Lou Grant in California and New York, Marchand triumphed on Broadway in a revival of Paul Osborn’s back-porch family comedy, Mornings At Seven, as the youngest, and most homely, of four sisters. Among her best film roles were Mrs Burrage, in James Ivory’s The Bostonians (1984), the Los Angeles mayor, in The Naked Gun (1988), and as a crusty, snobbish dowager waking up audiences in the soporific Sabrina (1995) – somehow managing to combine elements of Mrs Pynchon and Livia Soprano.

In real life, Marchand, who is survived by two daughters and a son, was very different from the strong-willed characters she played.

“I’m always very uncomfortable with people,” she once admitted. “It’s something that I get upset with myself for, but that’s the way I am. But I love people. And when I’m on the stage, I can embrace people and still feel safe. There are a lot of different facets to my personality that I don’t use all the time in my house, or in everyday life, that I can experience and share when I’m on a stage.”

• Nancy Marchand, actress, born June 19 1928; died June 18 2000

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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