Frances Sternhagen (born January 13, 1930) is an American actress. She was raised in Washington, D.C.
Sternhagen has appeared on and off Broadway, in movies and on TV ever since the 1950s, and today is among the leading ladies of the New York stage with major roles continuing well into her 70s. See recent picture In summer 2006, afer recently finishing her 24th Broadway role, she will guest star on TV's "The Closer," playing Brenda's disapproving mother.
Frances Sternhagen started her career teaching acting, singing and dancing to school children at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and first performed herself in 1948 at a Bryn Mawr summer theater in "The Glass Menagerie" and "Angel Street," according to her profile on Broadway.com.
She went on to work at Washington's Arena Stage Group from 1953-54, then had 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 had an illustrious career in the New York theater ever since. As recorded in the Internet Broadway Database, , in 24 Broadway roles through 2006 she has won two Tony awards, for "Best Actress, Supporting or Featured (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, for "Best Actress (Featured Role--Play)," in the 1995 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 "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" (1972), the musical "Angel" (1978), based on Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward Angel," and the 2002 revival of "Morning's at Seven" (with two other cast members).
Her best-known off-Broadway role was her feisty portrayal of the title character in 1987's Pulitzer prize-winning drama "Driving Miss Daisy," which she created and played for over two years at Playwright's Horizon in New York. (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 Theater, and in 2005, for the World War I drama "Echoes of the War." 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 recently starred in a revival of Edward Albee's "Seascape," at Lincoln Center's Booth Theater, which closed in January 2006. (She had appeared in the original Broadway production of 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.
Frances Sternhagen made her film debut in 1967's New York City high school drama, "Up the Down Staircase". She has worked periodically in Hollywood since then. She had character roles in the 1971 classic "The Hospital," in "Two People" (1973) and in Billy Wilder's "Fedora" (1978). She acted with Burt Reynolds in "Starting Over" (1979), with Sean Connery in "Outland" (1981), 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).
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. She also played Millicent Carter on ER, had character roles on "Sex and the City" and "Law & Order," among other network sitcoms, and worked for many years in soap operas such as "Another World" and "Love of Life." She recorded a voiceover for a May 2002 episode of "The Simpsons", The Frying Game, in which Homer is sentenced to the electric chair.
Frances Sternhagen was educated at Vassar College, where according to Broadway.com, 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's Neighborhood Playhouse.
Broadway.com quotes her as telling Newsday in an August 2004 interview, "When kids are asked now what they want to be, they say, 'I want to be famous,' and they have no concept of what kind of work that involves."
She is the daughter of John M. and Gertrude Sternhagen. She met her husband, actor and drama teacher Thomas Carlin (who died in 1991), at The Catholic University of America and had 6 children with him -- Paul, Amanda, Tony, Sarah, Peter, and John Carlin -- several of whom are now professional actors and musicians.
Frances Sternhagen lives in New Rochelle, New York.