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Anderson, Frances Margaret (known as Judith) 1897-1992

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Born: 10 February 1897 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Died: 3 January 1992 [Santa Barbara, United States of America]


Educated at Rose Park. After performing with the Adelaide Repertory Theatre and, using the stage name Francee Anderson, she made her professional acting debut in Sydney in 1915 at the age of 17. Three years later, after not being successful in gaining work in Los Angeles despite a letter of introduction to Cecil B De Mille, she moved to New York and worked with the Emma Bunting Stock Company at the Fourteenth Street Theatre. She made her Broadway debut, as Frances Anderson, in On the stairs in 1922. By 1924 she had become known as Judith Anderson and her first success on Broadway came with her performance in The cobra.

In 1927 Anderson toured Australia with three plays. During the 1930s she consolidated her reputation in the theatre appearing in productions of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, The Mask and the Face (opposite Humphrey Bogart) and Hamlet (opposite John Gielgud). Anderson played Lady MacBeth in two notable productions; with the Old Vic Company in London opposite Laurence Olivier and in New York opposite Maurice Evans. She also featured in two television productions of MacBeth and was the first actress to receive two Emmy awards for the same role in separate productions. Further noteworthy performances included Olga in Chekhov's Three Sisters (1943), John Brown's Body directed by Charles Laughton (1953) and Madame Arkadina in Chekhov's The Seagull (1960). In 1948 Anderson won a Tony award for best actress for the lead role in Medea with John Gielgud. She toured this production to Australian in 1955-56. In 1966 Anderson was a special guest of the Adelaide Festival of Arts and appeared in excerpts from Medea and MacBeth in her home town. At 73 Anderson played the role of Hamlet in a production that toured the US. In 1982 she featured again in Medea, this time in a supporting role and was nominated for a Tony award for her performance.

Anderson commenced her film career with a supporting role in Blood money (1933). Noted for her supporting roles, she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Otto Preminger's Laura (1944), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), A man called Horse (1970) and Star Trek III (1982). Anderson was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for Rebecca. Anderson also featured on several spoken word recordings; she was nominated for a Grammy award for her work on a recording of Wuthering heights. From 1984 she appeared on the television soap opera Santa Barbara.

An Off-Broadway theatre was named in Anderson's honour in 1984. She was given a Living Legacy Award by the Women's International Centre in 1986 and made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1991.

Key achievements

September 1922: Made Broadway debut in On the stairs

1927: Toured Australia in three plays; Tea for three, The green hat and The cobra

1933: Made film debut in Blood money

1940: Featured in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca; nominated for best supporting actress Oscar

1948: Won Tony award for her performance in the title role of Medea

1955-56: Toured Australia with Medea

1 January 1960: Made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire; the first Australian-born actress to be given the title of Dame

1966: Appeared in Adelaide in excerpts from Medea and MacBeth as a special guest of the Adelaide Festival of Arts

1982: Nominated for a Tony award for best supporting actress in Medea

1984: The Off-Broadway theatre the Lion re-named the Judith Anderson Theatre

1986: Honoured with Living Legacy Award by the Women's International Centre

10 June 1991: Named a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)

Did you know?

The Performing Arts Collection of South Australia at the Adelaide Festival Centre holds costumes, photographs and other memorabilia related to Judith Anderson. Most unusually Anderson's ashes were also donated to the collection by her niece, Jan Read, in 1999 and these have been laid to rest at the Centre with a memorial plaque on the outside wall of the Festival Theatre.

Further reading

'Noted actress for Festival', The advertiser, 6 October 1965, p. 7

'S.A.-born actress is Dame', The advertiser, 1 January 1960, p. 3, col. h

They got their start here : a display by the Performing Arts Collection of South Australia : Lawrence Power, Dame Judith Anderson, Sir Robert Helpmann, 22 Oct 04 - Feb 05, Adelaide: Performing Arts Collection of South Australia, 2004


National Library of Australia: Australian Performing Arts (PROMPT) Collection: Dame Judith Anderson (1898-1992)

Performing Arts Collection of South Australia

University of California, Santa Barbara: Special Collections: Dame Judith Anderson Collection

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