Frances Sternhagen

Frances Sternhagen

Frances Sternhagen (1962).
Born Frances Hussey Sternhagen
(1930-01-13) January 13, 1930
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1951–2014
Spouse(s) Thomas Carlin (1956–1991; his death; 6 children)

Frances Hussey Sternhagen (born January 13, 1930) is an American actress. Sternhagen has appeared On- and Off-Broadway, in movies, and on TV since the 1950s.[1]

Early life

Sternhagen was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John M. Sternhagen, a U.S. Tax Court judge, and Gertrude (née Hussey).[2] Sternhagen was educated at the Madeira and Potomac schools in McLean, Virginia. At Vassar College she was elected head of the Drama Club "after silencing a giggling college crowd at a campus dining hall with her interpretation of a scene from Richard II, playing none other than Richard himself". She also studied at the Perry Mansfield School of the Theatre, and New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse.[1]

Stage career

Sternhagen started her career teaching acting, singing and dancing to school children at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and she herself first performed in 1948 at a Bryn Mawr summer theater in The Glass Menagerie and Angel Street.[1] She went on to work at Washington's Arena Stage from 1953–54, then made her Broadway debut in 1955 as Miss T. Muse in The Skin of Our Teeth. The same year she had her Off-Broadway debut in "Thieves' Carnival" and her TV debut in "The Great Bank Robbery" on "Omnibus" (CBS). By the following year she had won an off-Broadway Obie Award for "Distinguished Performance (Actress)" in The Admirable Bashville (1955–56).

She has won two Tony awards, for "Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic)": in 1974 for the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor based on Chekhov stories (which also won her a Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play"); and in 1995 for the revival of The Heiress, based on the Henry James novella. She has been nominated for Tony awards five other times, including for her roles in the original Broadway casts of Equus (1975) and On Golden Pond (1979), both later made into Oscar-nominated movies with other actresses, as well as for Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (1972), the musical Angel (1978) which was based on Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, and the 2002 revival of Paul Osborne's Morning's at Seven.

Her best-known Off-Broadway role was her feisty portrayal of the title character in 1988's Pulitzer prize-winning drama Driving Miss Daisy which was originated by Dana Ivey at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Sternhagen took over the role after the show moved to the John Houseman Theatre and played it for more than two years. (Jessica Tandy later won an Academy Award playing Daisy in the 1989 movie.)

Off-Broadway awards include two nominations for the Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Actress in a Play" in 1998, for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night at the Irish Repertory Theatre[3] and in 2005, for the World War I drama Echoes of the War.[1]

She also won Distinguished Performance Obie Awards for The Room and A Slight Ache (1964–65). In 1998 she won the Dramatists Guild Fund's Madge Evans & Sidney Kingsley Award for Excellence in Theater. She starred in the 2005 revival of Edward Albee's Seascape, produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Booth Theater on Broadway. She had also appeared in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee's All Over in 1971, with Colleen Dewhurst and Jessica Tandy. Her previous Broadway role was in the summer 2005 production of Steel Magnolias with Marsha Mason, Delta Burke, Christine Ebersole, Lily Rabe and Rebecca Gayheart.

Film roles

Sternhagen made her film debut in 1967's New York City high school drama Up the Down Staircase, which starred Sandy Dennis.[4] She has worked periodically in Hollywood since then. She had character roles in the 1971 Paddy Chayefsky's classic The Hospital, in Two People (1973) and in Billy Wilder's Fedora (1978). She appeared in Starting Over (1979) which starred Burt Reynolds; with Sean Connery in Outland (1981); and with Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights, Big City (1988). She played Farrah Fawcett's mother in See You in the Morning (1989), Richard Farnsworth's wife in Misery (1990), and John Lithgow's psychiatrist in Raising Cain (1992). Sternhagen starred in Frank Darabont's suspense/thriller The Mist, released on November 21, 2007. She also appeared in the family film Dolphin Tale (2011).

Television roles

She may be best known to TV audiences as Esther Clavin, mother of John Ratzenberger's Boston postman character Cliff Clavin, on the long-running series Cheers for which she received two Emmy Award nominations. She also played Millicent Carter on ER, Bunny MacDougal, mother of Trey, Charlotte's first husband on Sex and the City (another Emmy Award nomination) and in Law & Order, among other network dramas and sitcoms, and worked for many years in soap operas such as Another World, The Secret Storm and Love of Life. She played two roles on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. She recorded a voiceover for a May 2002 episode of The Simpsons ("The Frying Game").

In summer 2006, she finished her 24th Broadway role, then guest-starred on TV's The Closer, playing Willie Rae Johnson, the mother of Brenda Leigh Johnson, the lead character. Sternhagen appeared on twelve episodes of The Closer, which is no longer in production. She is also recognized as "Mrs. Marsh" from a series of television commercials for Colgate toothpaste that aired in the 1970s.

Voice acting

She read as the title character in the Stephen King novel Dolores Claiborne in a 1995 audiobook recording. She also voiced characters in 13 episodes of CBS Radio Mystery Theater in the 1970s and 1980s.

Personal life

Sternhagen met her husband, actor and drama teacher Thomas Carlin (who died in 1991), at The Catholic University of America. They had six children – Paul, Amanda, Tony, Sarah, Peter, and John – several of whom are also professional actors and musicians.

Sternhagen is a longtime resident of New Rochelle, New York, where she lives in the Sutton Manor historic district and is honored on the community's "Walk of Fame".


Year Title Role Notes
1967 Up the Down Staircase Charlotte Wolf
1967 Tiger Makes Out, TheThe Tiger Makes Out Lady on Bus
1971 Hospital, TheThe Hospital Mrs. Cushing
1973 Two People Mrs. McCluskey
1978 Fedora Miss Balfour
1979 Starting Over Marva Potter
1981 Outland Dr. Lazarus Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1983 Independence Day Carla Taylor
1983 Romantic Comedy Blanche Dailey
1986 Resting Place Eudora McCallister
1988 Bright Lights, Big City Clara
1989 Communion Dr. Janet Duffy
1989 See You in the Morning Neenie
1990 Sibling Rivalry Rose Turner
1990 Misery Virginia Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1991 Doc Hollywood Lillian
1991 Walking the Dog Antique Dealer Short film
1992 Raising Cain Dr. Lynn Waldheim Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1998 It All Came True Amy
2000 Midnight Gospel Ruth Short film
2001 Landfall Emily Thornton
2001 Rising Place, TheThe Rising Place Ruth Wilder
2002 Highway Mrs. Murray
2007 Mist, TheThe Mist Irene Reppler
2009 Julie & Julia Irma Rombauer
2011 Dolphin Tale Gloria Forrest
2014 And So It Goes Claire
Year Title Role Notes
1956 Westinghouse Studio One Betty Episode: "The Arena"
1957 Westinghouse Studio One Mary Episode: "My Mother and How She Undid Me"
1957 Goodyear Television Playhouse Elizabeth Barnes Episode: "The House"
1959 Play of the Week Eva Episode: "Thieves Carnival"
1961 Play of the Week Episode: "In a Garden"
1962 Broadway of Lerner and Loewe, TheThe Broadway of Lerner and Loewe Theatre-Goer TV movie
1962 Nurses, TheThe Nurses Mrs. Harris Episode: "The Lady Made of Stone"
1964 Defenders, TheThe Defenders Louise Kiley Episode: "May Day! May Day!"
1964 Profiles in Courage Miss Koeller Episode: "Mary S. McDowell"
1967 NET Playhouse Episode: "Infancy and Childhood"
1967 Hallmark Hall of Fame Abigail Episode: "Soldier in Love"
1967–1968 Love of Life Toni Prentiss Davis TV series
1970 The Doctors Phyllis Corrigan TV series
1971 NET Playhouse Segment: "Foul!"
1971 Another World Jane Overstreet TV series
1972 Great Performances Wilma Atkins Episode: "The Rimers of Eldritch"
1974 Secret Storm, TheThe Secret Storm Jessie Reddin TV series
1974 Great Performances Paulina Episode: "Enemies"
1977 The Andros Targets Mrs. Mason Episode: "In the Event of My Death"
1978 Who'll Save Our Children? Nellie Henderson TV movie
1980 Mother and Daughter: The Loving War Mrs. Lloyd TV movie
1980 Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, TheThe Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg Mary Richards TV short
1983 Prototype Dorothy Forrester TV movie
1984 Dining Room, TheThe Dining Room Various TV movie
1985 Spencer Millie Sprague 7 episodes
1986–1993 Cheers Esther Clavin 7 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
1987 At Mother's Request Berenice Bradshaw TV movie
1987 Once Again TV movie
1990 Follow Your Heart Cloe Sixbury TV movie
1991 American Experience (voice) Episode: "Coney Island"
1991 Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, TheThe Days and Nights of Molly Dodd Dora Episode: "Here's a High Dive Into a Shallow Pool"
1991 Golden Years Gina Williams 7 episodes
1991 Law & Order Margaret Langdon Episode: "The Serpent's Tooth"
1992 She Woke Up Noelle TV movie
1992 Tales from the Crypt Effie Gluckman Episode: "None But the Lonely Heart"
1993 Labor of Love: The Arlette Schweitzer Story Mary Rafferty TV movie
1994 Vault of Horror I TV movie
1994 Road Home, TheThe Road Home Charlotte Babineaux 6 episodes
1994 Reunion Tobie Yates TV movie
1995 Outer Limits, TheThe Outer Limits Jean Anderson Episode: "The Choice"
1997 Law & Order Estelle Muller Episode: "Legacy"
1997–2003 ER Millicent Carter 19 episodes
1998 Con, TheThe Con Hadabelle TV movie
1998 To Live Again Constance Holmes TV movie
2000–2002 Sex and the City Bunny MacDougal 10 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2002 Laramie Project, TheThe Laramie Project Marge Murray TV movie
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2002 Simpsons, TheThe Simpsons Mrs. Bellamy (voice) Episode: "The Frying Game"
2004 Becker Naomi Episode: "Subway Story"
2006–2012 Closer, TheThe Closer Willie Ray Johnson 15 episodes
2012 Parenthood Blanche Braverman Episode: "Road Trip"
Year Title Role
1955 Skin of Our Teeth, TheThe Skin of Our Teeth Miss T. Muse
1955 Carefree Tree, TheThe Carefree Tree Widow Yang
1960 Viva Madison Avenue! Dee Jones
1962 Great Day in the Morning Alice McAnany
1965–1966 Right Honourable Gentleman, TheThe Right Honourable Gentleman Mrs. Ashton Dilke
1967 Doll's House, AA Doll's House Nora
1967–1969 You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running Harriet / Edith / Muriel (standby)
1968–1969 Cocktail Party, TheThe Cocktail Party Lavinia Chamberlayne
1969 Cock-A-Doodle Dandy Loreleen
1970 Blood Red Roses Various (standby)
1971 Playboy of the Western World, TheThe Playboy of the Western World Widow Quin
1971 All Over The Daughter, The Mistress (standby)
1971 Mary Stuart Mary Stuart, Queen Elizabeth (understudy)
1972 Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, TheThe Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window Mavis Parodus Bryson
1972 Enemies Paulina
1973–1974 Good Doctor, TheThe Good Doctor Performer
1974–1977 Equus Dora Strang
1978 Angel Eliza Gant
1979–1980 On Golden Pond Ethel Thayer
1981 Father, TheThe Father Laura
1981–1982 Grown Ups Helen
1983–1984 You Can't Take It with You
1985 Home Front Maurine
1995 Heiress, TheThe Heiress Lavinia Penniman
1999 Exact Center of the Universe, TheThe Exact Center of the Universe
2002 Morning's at Seven Ida Bolton
2005 Steel Magnolias Clairee
2005–2006 Seascape Nancy
2013 The Madrid Rose


  1. 1 2 3 4 Joy, Cara."Frances Sternhagen in Talks to Join Company of Broadway Magnolias", November 22, 2004
  2. "Frances Sternhagen Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  3. Lefkowitz, David."Brian Murray & Frances Sternhagen Take Irish Journey, Mar. 22", March 22, 1998
  4. "Frances Sternhagen Credits", accessed August 27, 2011
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