Lois Smith

For Canadian ballet dancer, see Lois Smith (dancer).
Lois Smith

Smith in 1955
Born Lois Arlene Humbert
(1930-11-03) November 3, 1930
Topeka, Kansas, US
Occupation Actress
Years active 1952—present
Spouse(s) Wesley Smith (1948–1970; divorced)

Lois Smith (born November 3, 1930) is an American actress.[1] She has played supporting roles in films including East of Eden, Five Easy Pieces, Resurrection, Fatal Attraction, Fried Green Tomatoes, Dead Man Walking, Tumbleweeds, Twister, and Please Give. In television she has performed in series that include The Americans, True Blood, and Desperate Housewives.

Smith is also known for her extensive work in the theatre, receiving two Tony Award nominations for originating the role of Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1990) and for the role of Halie in a revival of Buried Child in 1996. She also starred in an acclaimed Off-Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful in 2005 for which she received an Obie Award for Best Actress, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a Drama Desk Award. Smith is an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2007 for her outstanding contributions to the theatre.[2] In 2013 she was given a Lifetime Achievement Obie Award for excellence in Off-Broadway performance. In her career she has also taught, directed, and written for the stage.[3]

Personal life

Smith was born Lois Arlene Humbert in Topeka, Kansas, the youngest of six children of Carrie (née Gottshalk; 1897-1982)[4] and William Humbert (1895-1950), who worked for a telephone company. Her father died in 1950 at age 54.[5][6] Her family included her two sisters, Alice and Marvelle, and three brothers, William, Dilman, and Phillip, all of whom are now deceased. Her father moved the family to Seattle when Lois was eleven years old, and he was heavily involved in the church. William would put on plays at church in which young Lois would perform. She went on to study theatre at the University of Washington but did not graduate. At age 18, in 1948, she married Wesley Dale Smith, whom she met in college; they divorced in 1970. The couple had one daughter, Moon Elizabeth Smith.[7][8]

Around 1951, Smith and her husband decided to leave Seattle and moved to New York City to begin their professional careers. After she worked with Elia Kazan on East of Eden, he encouraged her to study with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, which she did. She was also mentored in her early years in New York City by John Van Druten. In November 1955, she was featured on the cover of Life Magazine.


Smith in True Blood

Smith made her television debut in 1953 on Kraft Television Theatre. In 1954 she appeared as the daughter of Mary Astor in a Studio One production. She performed on many series through the 1950s and 60s, guest starring on Naked City, The Doctors, Dr. Kildare, and The Defenders. In 1956 she appeared with John Cassavetes in Bring Me A Dream, a teleplay by John Vlahos, and she appeared as Felicia in Noon on Doomsday, written by Rod Serling. In 1959 she was given the lead role of Cindy in the teleplay Cindy's Fella, a modernized version of Cinderella, opposite James Stewart and directed by Gower Champion.[9]

In 1960 she performed in The Master Builder as Hilda and as Julie in Miss Julie in public television specials. Also in 1960 she appeared as Lena in a teleplay based on Victory by Joseph Conrad, and she appeared in a teleplay version of Men In White by Sidney Kingsley as Barbara Dennin. She appeared on four episodes of Route 66, and in 1967 she performed in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night on CBS Playhouse with Shirley Booth. In 1970 she performed along with Kim Stanley in a television special of Tennessee Williams plays titled Dragon Country.

In 1978 Smith played the lead role of Stacey MacAindra in a teleplay Stacey based on The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence. In 1980 she appeared in the television film The Jilting of Granny Weatherall as the daughter of Geraldine Fitzgerald, and in 1981 she played the role of Bertha in a television film version of The House of Mirth.

She played supporting roles in the Emmy-nominated television films Rage of Angels (1983), The Execution of Raymond Graham (1985), Switched at Birth (1991) and Skylark (1993). She also guest starred on two episodes of The Equalizer and one episode of Thirtysomething in 1991.

In 1991 she also portrayed Alice, the mother of Thelma Todd in White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd and in 1995 she portrayed Margaret, the mother of Bess Truman in the Emmy-winning television film Truman. She has also guest-starred on episodes of The Practice, Frasier, Just Shoot Me!, Touched by an Angel, Cold Case and Law & Order.

In 2002 she appeared in The Laramie Project and in 2004 she portrayed Anna Howard Shaw in the Emmy-winning television film Iron Jawed Angels. In 2007 she guest-starred on four episodes of ER as Gracie and in 2009 she appeared in A Dog Year with Jeff Bridges. She played Adele Stackhouse, the grandmother of Anna Paquin's character on True Blood and she played the mother-in-law of Felicity Huffman's character on Desperate Housewives.

Soap opera fans have seen her on daytime in many recurring and guest-starring roles over the years, first playing the psychotic wife Zoe Cannell on Somerset (1972-1974), Eleanor Conrad on The Doctors (1975-1977), Ella Fitz (the co-conspirator of evil Alma Rudder) on Another World (1982-1983), Mrs. Oakes on The Edge of Night (1983), Elwinna Pendergast on All My Children and as Dorian's imperious aunt Betsy Cramer on One Life to Live (2003-2004).


Smith made her Broadway debut in 1952 at age 22 in the play Time Out For Ginger as Joan, opposite Nancy Malone as Ginger and Melvyn Douglas as their father. She followed this in 1955 with The Wisteria Trees, a play that starred Helen Hayes. In 1956 she performed opposite Helen Hayes in The Glass Menagerie. Also in 1955, she was given the lead role of Josephine Perry in Sally Benson's play The Young and Beautiful which ran for 65 performances at the Longacre Theatre.[10]

In 1957 Smith originated the role of Carol Cutrere in Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, which also starred Maureen Stapleton. In 1958 she was directed by José Ferrer in Edwin Booth.

In 1973 she returned to Broadway to appear in a revival of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill. In 1975 she performed the role of Gaby in the play Harry Outside by Corinne Jacker. She also played the lead female role in the play Touching Bottoms by Steve Tesich in 1978 opposite Harold Gould. In 1979 she played the role of Denise in the play Hillbilly Women by Elizabeth Stearns at the Long Wharf Theatre. In 1987 she played Jessie Bliss in The Stick Wife by Darrah Cloud with the Hartford Stage Company.

In 1988, Smith was cast with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago as Ma Joad in their play The Grapes of Wrath, an adaptation of the 1939 Steinbeck novel that had first been adapted as a film in 1940. Smith originated the stage role, and after going on tour, the production reached Broadway in 1990 and Smith earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play.[11]

Also in 1988, Smith originated the role of Mrs. Campbell in The Man Who Climbed The Pecan Trees by Horton Foote. In 1989 she performed in an Off-Broadway production of Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare in the role of Mistress Overdone.

In 1995 Smith starred as Halie in a revival of Buried Child by Sam Shepard at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company which transferred to Broadway in 1996, and for which she received her second nomination for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. In 1997 Smith played the role of Betty in Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson Off-Broadway in a cast that included Philip Seymour Hoffman. In 1998 she played the role of Kandall Kingsley in Impossible Marriage by Beth Henley in a cast that included Holly Hunter. In 2001 she starred in the title role of Mother Courage and Her Children, and in 2002 she starred in a revival of The Royal Family as Fanny Cavendish with Amy Morton as her daughter Julie, both plays with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.[10]

In 2005, Smith starred in an Off-Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful as Carrie Watts with the Signature Theatre Company for which she received an Obie Award for Best Actress, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a Drama Desk Award.

In 2010 she performed the role of Vera in After the Revolution by Amy Herzog for which she was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award. In 2012 she originated the role of Mable Murphy in the play Heartless by Sam Shepard and in 2013 she starred in a revival of My Old Friends by Horton Foote. In 2014, she starred in a new play by Jordan Harrison titled Marjorie Prime, originating the title role of Marjorie at the Mark Taper Forum.[12] She is featured in the new play by Annie Baker, John, which opened Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre Company on July 22, 2015 and ran to September 6.[13]

From 1965 to 1967 Smith starred in several plays as a company member with the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia with Andre Gregory. She has been an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company since 1993. She was also previously a company member with the Studio Ensemble Theatre with Curt Dempster.


Smith made her film debut in 1955 directed by Elia Kazan in the Oscar-winning East of Eden alongside James Dean, Julie Harris, and Jo Van Fleet. Her next film was the western Strange Lady in Town which starred Greer Garson. Smith then focused on television work, not making a film until The Way We Live Now in 1970. She then earned critical acclaim for her role as Partita Dupea, the sister of Jack Nicholson's character in Five Easy Pieces (1970) which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and for which Smith won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1972, she played a supporting role in Up the Sandbox, which stars Barbra Streisand. In 1976 Smith played another supporting role in Next Stop, Greenwich Village alongside Shelley Winters. In 1980 she appeared in Resurrection which stars Ellen Burstyn, and in Foxes (1980) as Mrs. Axman. In 1981 she was directed by Arthur Penn in Four Friends, and in 1983 she appeared in Reuben, Reuben. In 1984 she played Daryl Hannah's character's mother in Reckless. In 1987 she was directed for a second time by Bob Rafelson in Black Widow and appeared in Fatal Attraction which stars Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, the film being abnominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 1988 Smith played a supporting role in the Robert De Niro action-comedy Midnight Run directed by Martin Brest. In 1990 she was directed by Peter Weir in the Oscar-nominated film Green Card. In 1991 she played a supporting role alongside Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes, and in 1995 she appeared in the ensemble film How to Make an American Quilt. Also in 1993 she played the mother of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and in 1994 she was in Holy Matrimony with Patricia Arquette. She played the mother of Susan Sarandon's character in the Oscar-winning film Dead Man Walking in 1995. In 1996 Smith played the aunt of Helen Hunt in Twister. In 1999 she played a supporting role in Tumbleweeds which stars Janet McTeer, and in 2001 she was directed by Sean Penn in The Pledge. In 2002 she was directed by Steven Spielberg in Minority Report which stars Tom Cruise. In 2004 she played the mother of Laura Linney's character in P.S.. In 2005 she played the older version of Elizabeth Reaser's character in Sweet Land.

In 2006 Smith portrayed Helen Bessolo, the mother of George Reeves, in Hollywoodland and in 2008 she was directed by John Madden in Killshot. In 2010 Smith played a supporting role in Please Give directed by Nicole Holofcener and in 2012 she appeared in the Disney film The Odd Life of Timothy Green.


  1. "Lois Smith". Theatre in Chicago. 10 March 2008. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  2. "Theater Hall of Fame Members". TheaterHallofFame.org. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  3. Lee, Felicia R. (2 April 2013). "Lois Smith and Frances Sternhagen to Share Obie Lifetime Achievement Award". New York Times Blog. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  4. Carrie Humbert at FamilySearch.org; accessed 10/18/14
  5. William Humbert at FamilySearch.org; accessed 10/18/14
  6. "Overview for Lois Smith". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  7. "Lois Smith profile". FilmReference.com. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  8. https://soundcloud.com/american-theatre-wing/episode327. Retrieved 18 October 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. http://www.steppenwolf.org/ensemble/members/details.aspx?id=38 accessed 10/18/14
  10. 1 2 "Lois Smith Credits" playbillvault.com, accessed 10/18/14
  11. "Lois Smith on Working With Tennessee Williams, Horton Foote, Sam Shepard, More" broadway.com, accessed 10/18/14
  12. " 'Marjorie Prime' a Tender Comedy Starring Lois Smith" The New York Times, accessed October 18, 2014
  13. Clement, Olivia. "World Premiere of New Annie Baker and Sam Gold Collaboration, 'John', Begins Tonight" playbill.com, July 22, 2015
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