Judith Light

Judith Light

Light in 2015
Born Judith Ellen Light
(1949-02-09) February 9, 1949
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
Residence California
Education St. Mary's Hall–Doane Academy
Alma mater Carnegie Mellon University
Occupation Actress, producer
Years active 1968–present
Spouse(s) Robert Desiderio (1985–present)
Website www.judithlight.com

Judith Ellen Light (born February 9, 1949) is an American actress and producer. She is a two-time Tony Award winner.

Light made her professional stage debut in 1970, before making her Broadway debut in the 1975 revival of A Doll's House. Her breakthrough role was in the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live from 1977 to 1983, where she played the role of Karen Wolek. For this role, she won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. She later starred as Angela Bower in the long-running ABC sitcom Who's the Boss? from 1984 to 1992, and later starred in many television films and short-lived series. She played the recurring role of Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2002–2010) and Claire Meade in the ABC comedy-drama Ugly Betty (2006–2010), for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 2007.

She received her first nomination for a Tony Award in 2011, for her performance in the original Broadway play Lombardi. In 2012 and 2013, Light won two consecutive Tony Awards for Best Featured Actress in a Play, for her performances in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties. From 2013 to 2014, Light played the role of villainous Judith Brown Ryland in the TNT drama series, Dallas. In 2014, she began starring as Shelly Pfefferman in the Amazon Studios critically acclaimed dark comedy-drama, Transparent for which she received Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, and Critics' Choice Television Award nominations.

Early life

Light was born in Trenton, New Jersey,[1] the daughter of Pearl Sue (née Hollander), a model, and Sidney Light, an accountant. Light graduated from high school in 1966 at St. Mary's Hall–Doane Academy in Burlington, New Jersey. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in drama.[2] She recalled the university as "rigorous" and "amazing".[3] Afterwards, she started out on stage, making her professional debut in Richard III at the California Shakespeare Festival in 1970.



Light made her Broadway debut in A Doll's House in 1975.[2] She also starred in the 1976 Broadway play Herzl. Light also acted for such theatre companies as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.[4] In the late 1970s, Light went through a real crisis after a period of not landing any parts.[3] Broke, she almost quit acting, because she felt that she was not contributing to the theater.[3]

Light at the Governor's Ball following the 1989 Annual Emmy Awards

In 1977, Light was called by her agent to audition for an understudy role in the ABC soap opera One Life to Live. Having wanted never to be attached to a soap opera or a sitcom, she initially rejected the idea, until she was told that she would have a daily salary of $350.[3] At the audition, she realized that "the format reaches a lot of people", and that she could thereby "make a difference" and "make money" at the same time.[3] Instead of landing an understudy role, she was recast in the role of Karen Wolek, a role that had previously been portrayed by actresses Kathryn Breech and Julia Duffy. This role was quite lucrative for Light and spawned one of the show's most-remembered storylines; Light's character became an alcoholic prostitute after she became bored with her life as a housewife. On trial, Karen saved her friend Viki Lord Riley (Erika Slezak) from being convicted of killing Karen's pimp, Marco Dane (Gerald Anthony) by admitting to the entire town, including her faithful husband, Dr Larry Wolek (Michael Storm), that she had been a prostitute. Light's portrayal of Karen brought the show critical acclaim and is credited with garnering One Life to Live ratings successes from the late 1970s into the early 1980s.[5][6] Light's dramatic, confessional courtroom performance of a housewife-turned-prostitute on the witness stand is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in television by TV Guide.[7] In 1980, this won Light her first Daytime Emmy Award for "Lead Actress in a Daytime Drama Series"; the scene in which she confessed her guilt in court is held in such high esteem that it is used in acting classes to the current day.[8] Light recalled: "I was scared before those courtroom scenes. I was afraid to put myself out that much. With the agony of pulling it out piece by piece and having the prosecutor stick the knife in her gut, I couldn't help but let everything spew out of her."[9]

Light won another Emmy in the role in 1981.[10] She appeared in an episode of St. Elsewhere in its first season, called "Dog Day Hospital", in which she played a housewife who became pregnant for the ninth time even though her husband claimed he had had a vasectomy. In an effort to punish the doctor who botched the job she took an operating room hostage though it was later revealed that her husband had not had the procedure.

Light at the 1992 Emmy Awards


After this success on daytime, Light landed the leading role of assertive advertising executive Angela Bower on the ABC sitcom Who's the Boss?.[2] Co-starring Tony Danza, who played her housekeeper (and eventual lover), the show ran for eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. The series was successful in the ratings, consistently ranked in the top ten in the final primetime ratings between the years of 1985 and 1989, and has since continued in syndication. TV Guide ranked Who's the Boss? as the 109th best sitcom of all time. Along with her work in Who's the Boss?, she also starred in the several television films, including Stamp of a Killer (1987) alongside Jimmy Smits, critically acclaimed biographical drama The Ryan White Story (1989) where she played the mother of HIV/AIDS positive teenager Ryan White, and Wife, Mother, Murderer (1991), in which she played Audrey Marie Hilley.

After Who's the Boss?, Light starred in another ABC sitcom, Phenom, which ran for one season, 1993–94, before being canceled. In 1998 she starred in another short-lived sitcom, The Simple Life on CBS.[2] She spent most of the 1990s starring in made-for-TV and feature films such as Men Don't Tell and 1997's Too Close to Home, which co-starred Ricky Schroder.


In 1999, Light returned to the stage in the off-Broadway production of Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. She earned strong reviews for her portrayal of university professor battling ovarian cancer, and reprised the role for the national tour.[2][11] Light shaved her head for the role of Vivian Bearing, a literature professor battling ovarian cancer, in the play.[12] She returned to television with the recurring role of Judge Elizabeth Donnelly in the NBC legal crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2002.[13] She appeared in 25 episodes of series from 2002 to 2010. In 2004 she starred in another short-lived CBS sitcom, The Stones.[14]

Judith Light at The Town Hall in 2012

In 2006, Light joined the cast of the ABC comedy-drama series Ugly Betty as Claire Meade, the mother of Alexis and Daniel. She was recurring guest-star during first season and was promoted to series regular as of second. She appeared in show until series finale in 2010. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2007, and well for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2008, for her performance in show.[4] In 2011 she starred in two failed television pilots: ABC's sitcom Other People's Kids and USA Network drama Eden.[15][16] In 2014 she starred opposite Henry Winkler in another ABC pilot, The Winklers.[17]

Light appeared in the number of films in 2000s. She co-starred opposite Chris Messina and Jennifer Westfeldt in the 2006 romantic comedy film Ira & Abby. In 2007, Light starred as a radical Christian woman in the independent film Save Me.[18] Light's character, Gayle, runs a Christian ministry known as Genesis House, which works to help gay men recover from their 'affliction.' She is challenged by the arrival of Mark, an ill gay man who reminds Gayle of her dead, gay son, and the movie chronicles the challenges of the two as they learn to accept each other as they are. In 2014 she appeared in films Last Weekend opposite Patricia Clarkson, and played the role of Melanie Lynskey's character mother in We'll Never Have Paris.[19][20]

In 2010–11, Light appeared as a witty alcoholic Marie Lombardi on Broadway in the play Lombardi and received a nomination for the Tony Award, Featured Actress in a Play.[21] She appeared in the play Other Desert Cities on Broadway from 2011 to 2012 and won her first Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Silda.[22] In 2013, she appeared on Broadway in the play The Assembled Parties and on June 8, 2013, won her second Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of 'Faye'.[23]

In 2013, Light joined the cast of TNT's continuation of the television series Dallas, in the role of Judith Brown Ryland, mother of Harris Ryland (despite being only three years older than Mitch Pileggi who plays her TV-son).[24][25] She received positive reviews for her pecurring performance as villainous Judith in Dallas and Entertainment Weekly named her "scene-stealer" of series.[26] In 2014 she was cast opposite Jeffrey Tambor in the Amazon Studios critically acclaimed dark comedy-drama series, Transparent created by Jill Soloway. She plays Shelly Pfefferman, ex-wife of the transgender character played by Tambor.[27][28] The pilot episode debuted on February 6, 2014 and later episodes premiered on September 26, 2014.[29] Light received Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film nominations for her performance.[30][31]

In 2015, Light returned to Broadway as Madame Raquin in Thérèse Raquin starring opposite Keira Knightley and Matt Ryan.[32]

Personal life


Light is Jewish.[33] She has been married to television actor Robert Desiderio since 1985,[34] when they met while co-starring on One Life to Live. They have no children, and reside in California. She speaks French fluently.


Light is a gay rights activist[4] and helped former Who's the Boss? co-star Danny Pintauro in coming out. She has done work for many LGBT charities. She sits on the board of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and spoke at the 1993 March on Washington. In 1998, she had a library named after her at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

She is also a prominent AIDS activist and played Ryan White's mother in the 1989 TV movie on his life The Ryan White Story. Also, she sits on the board of Point Foundation, a LGBT organization that provides financial support, mentoring, leadership training and hope to meritorious students who are or feel marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.[4]

On April 1, 2010, Judith Light joined Cyndi Lauper in the launch of her Give a Damn campaign to bring a wider awareness of discrimination of the LGBT community as part of her True Colors Fund. The campaign is to bring straight people to stand up with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community and stop the discrimination. Other names included in the campaign are Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Mraz, Elton John, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Kardashian, Clay Aiken, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.



Judith Light, 2007
Year Title Role Notes
1996 Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer's End Herself
1996 A Step Toward Tomorrow Anna Lerner
2000 Joseph: King of Dreams Zuleika Voice
2005 Ira & Abby Arlene Black
2006 A Broken Sole Hilary
2007 Save Me Gayle
2012 Rhymes with Banana Herself
2012 Scrooge & Marley Narrator
2014 Last Weekend Veronika Goss
2015 We'll Never Have Paris Jean
2015 Digging for Fire Grandma


Year Title Role Notes
1977 Kojak Laetitia Palmerance Episode: "Monkey on a String"
1977–83 One Life to Live Karen Wolek Series regular
1983 St. Elsewhere Barbara Lonnicker Episode: "Dog Day Hospital"
1983 Family Ties Stacey Hughes Episode: "Not an Affair to Remember"
1983 Intimate Agony Marsha Television film
1984 The Mississippi Episode: "Home Again"
1984 Remington Steele Clarissa Custer Episode: "Dreams of Steele"
1984 You Are the Jury Elizabeth Harding Episode: "The Case of the People of Florida vs. Joseph Landrum"
1984–92 Who's the Boss? Angela Bower Series regular, 196 episodes
1986 Charmed Lives Angela Bower Episode: "Pilot"
1987 Stamp of a Killer Cathy Proctor Television film
1989 The Ryan White Story Jeanne White Television film
1989 My Boyfriend's Back Vickie Vine Television film
1990 In Defense of a Married Man Laura Simmons Television film
1991 Wife, Mother, Murderer Marie Hilley/Robbi/Teri Television film
1993 Men Don't Tell Laura MacAffrey Television film
1993–94 Phenom Dianne Doolan Series regular, 22 episodes
1994 Betrayal of Trust Barbara Noël Television film
1994 Against Their Will: Women in Prison Alice Needham Television film
1995 Lady Killer Janice Mitchell Television film
1996–97 Duckman Ursula Bacon 'Honey' Chicken Voice, 3 episodes
1996 A Strange Affair Lisa McKeever Television film
1996 Murder at My Door Irene McNair Television film
1997 Cow and Chicken Nurse (voice) Episode: "Space Cow/The Legend of Sailcat"
1997 Too Close to Home Diana Donahue Television film
1998 Carriers Maj. Carmen Travis Television film
1998 The Simple Life Sara Campbell Series regular, 7 episodes
2002 Spin City Christine Episode: "O Mother, Where Art Thou?"
2002–10 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Elizabeth Donnelly Recurring role, 25 episodes
2004 The Stones Barbara Stone Series regular, 9 episodes
2006 Twenty Good Years Gina Recurring role, 3 episodes
2006–10 Ugly Betty Claire Meade Series regular, 72 episodes
2011 Nurse Jackie Maureen Cooper Episode: "Rat Falls"
2012 The Exes Marjorie Episodes: "A Very Wrong Engagement" and "Sister Act"
2013–2014 Dallas Judith Brown Ryland Recurring role, 18 episodes
2014 Raising Hope Louise Episode: "Dinner with Tropes"[35]
2014–present Transparent Shelly Pfefferman Series regular


Year Title Role Notes
1975 A Doll's House Helene Vivian Beaumont Theater
1976 Measure for Measure Francisca Delacorte Theater
1976 Herzl Julie Herzl Palace Theatre
1999-2000 Wit Vivian Bearing Union Square Theatre
2002 Sorrows and Rejoicings Second Stage Theatre
2005 Colder Than Here Myra Lucille Lortel Theatre
2010-2011 Lombardi Marie Lombardi Circle in the Square Theatre
2011-2012 Other Desert Cities Silda Grauman Booth Theatre
2013 The Assembled Parties Faye Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
2015 Thérèse Raquin Madame Raquin Roundabout Theater at Studio 54

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Film or series Result
1979 Soapy Awards Outstanding Actress One Life to Live Won
1980 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Won
Soapy Awards Outstanding Actress Won
1981 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Won
1998 GLAAD Media Awards Vision Award Won
2007 TV Land Awards Favorite Working Mom Who's the Boss? Nominated
Prism Awards Best Performance in a Comedy Series Ugly Betty Won
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
2008 TV Land Awards Mad Ad Man or Woman of the Year Who's the Boss? Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Ugly Betty Nominated
2011 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Lombardi Nominated
Tony Awards Best Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
2012 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Other Desert Cities Won
Tony Awards Best Featured Actress in a Play Won
2013[36] Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play The Assembled Parties Won
Tony Awards[37] Best Featured Actress in a Play Won
2015 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Transparent Nominated
2016 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Nominated
Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Thérèse Raquin Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won


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  4. 1 2 3 4 "TV Guide".
  5. Denis, Paul (1985). Inside the Soaps. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 103. ISBN 0-8065-0940-6.
  6. Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 589. ISBN 9780879728212. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
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  8. "'Guiding Light' Wins Top Daytime Emmy". Observer–Reporter. Washington County, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. June 5, 1980. p. 8. Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  9. "Judith portrays ex-hooker sensitively" by Steven H. Scheuer, Boca Raton News, September 28, 1979. p. 10
  10. "'General Hospital' tops Emmy list". St. Joseph Gazette. St. Joseph, Missouri. Associated Press. May 20, 1981. p. 104. Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  11. Alan W. Petrucelli (1999). "It's 'Wit,' Not Judith, That's Light". Theater Mirror. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  12. Farrah Weinstein (August 22, 1999). "Style & Substance: Judith Light". New York Post. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  13. "Judith Light". Variety. February 25, 2002. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  14. Brian Lowry (March 11, 2004). "Review: The Stones". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  15. Nellie Andreeva (March 8, 2011). "ABC Pilot Castings: Natalie Dormer To Star In 'Poe', Judith Light Joins 'Kids'". Deadline. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  16. Stuart Levine (March 11, 2011). "USA's Eden finds its Light". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  17. Nellie Andreeva (March 17, 2014). "Judith Light To Co-Star In ABC Comedy Pilot 'The Winklers'". Deadline. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  18. "Save Me". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  19. Dennis Harvey (June 20, 2014). "Film Review: Last Weekend". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  20. Justin Chang (March 13, 2014). "SXSW Film Review: We'll Never Have Paris". Variety. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  21. "2011 Tony Nominations Announced! THE BOOK OF MORMON Leads With 14!". Broadwayworld.com. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
  22. Jones, Kenneth. "'Once', 'Clybourne Park', 'Porgy and Bess', Audra McDonald, 'Salesman' Win Tony Awards" Playbill.com, June 10, 2012
  23. Gans, Andrew. "Nominations Announced for 67th Annual Tony Awards; 'Kinky Boots' Earns 13 Nominations" playbill.com, April 30, 2013
  24. "Judith Light Heads to Dallas" tvguide.com
  25. "Dallas Spoilers: Debuts, Deceptions and Deaths" tvfanatic.com
  26. Mandi Bierly (March 4, 2014). "PopWatch PSA: You really need to watch Judith Light snort cocaine on 'Dallas'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  27. Erin Whitney (February 7, 2014). "'Transparent' Could Be 2014's Groundbreaking Show". Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  28. Dustin Rowles (February 14, 2014). "5 Reasons Why 'Transparent' Is The Best Of The New Pilots On Amazon Instant". UPROXX. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  29. Ariana Bacle (August 27, 2014). "Jeffrey Tambor transitions in emotional 'Transparent' trailer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  30. Erik Pedersen. "Critics' Choice Television Awards Nominations 2015". Deadline. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  31. http://variety.com/2015/film/awards/golden-globe-nominations-2016-nominees-full-list-1201658166/
  32. Gordon Cox. "Matt Ryan, Judith Light Join Broadway's Therese Raquin". Variety. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  33. Goldstein, Gary (September 19, 2008). "Los Angeles Times". The Los Angeles Times.
  34. Gerry Waggett (2008). The One Life to Live 40th Anniversary Trivia Book: A Fun, Fact-Filled, Everything-You-Want-to-Know-Guide to Your Favorite Soap!. Hyperion. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4013-2309-7.
  35. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3573688/
  36. "Tom Hanks, Bette Midler and Steve Martin among 2013 Drama Desk Nominations". Retrieved 2013-04-30.
  37. Brooks, Katherine (April 30, 2013). "Tony Award Nominations 2013: Best Musical, Best Play And More Contenders Announced For The 67th Annual Show". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
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