Marian Seldes, the longtime Broadway performer and Tony winner, has died. She was 86.
Seldes was born in 1928 in New York City to a socialite mother and an author and drama critic father. Her last name was pronounced Sel-dess, not Sel-deez, as people who knew her say she was quick to point out. At six years old, she was involved in a motorboat accident when she jumped into the lake and her face was struck by the boat’s propeller. She was left with a facial scar for the rest of her life.
During her formative years, Seldes attended the Dalton School and the School of American Ballet but, ultimately, was called to acting. In 1946, she enrolled in the Neighborhood Place and made her first stage debut in 1947. Over the years, she worked with notable names such as Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, Angela Lansbury and Tallulah Bankhead. She won a Tony award in 1967 for her performance in A Delicate Balance, where she played a daughter dealing with negligent parents. In 1978, she earned a Tony nomination for Deathtrap as well as an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for never missing a performance in the show’s five-year run, which totaled 1,793 performances. The record was later broken by Catherine Russell, with over 11,000 performances in Perfect Crime, an off-Broadway production.
Seldes was also a teacher. As a faculty member at the Julliard School from 1969 through 1991, some of her students included William Hurt, Robin Williams and Patti LuPone. The Tony winner was also a writer. Seldes published a novel in 1981 titled Time Together, the story of a mother who has died and the after-effects on both of her estranged daughters. She also published an autobiography in 1979 titled The Bright Lights: A Theater Life.
She was married twice. Her first marriage was to television producer Julian Claman in 1953, but it ended in divorce in 1961 when her father noticed marks on her face, which were indications of Claman’s abuse, and told her to leave him. Almost thirty years later, in 1990, she married Garson Kanin, a writer and director. He died in 1999.
Seldes has one child, daughter Katharine Claman, from her first marriage, who was named after Katharine Cornell, the Broadway actress and producer. Katharine Claman, who goes by Katharine Clay and Katharine Andres, is a writer. When she was young, her father did not provide child support, and on her own, Seldes put Katharine through Dalton as well as Bennington College.
Seldes also appeared on television, playing Mr. Big’s mother in an episode of Sex and the City and in films, including Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts. As recently as 2007, she appeared with Angela Lansbury in Terrence McNally’s Deuce.
The Tony winner was awarded with the lifetime achievement award at the Tony Awards ceremony in 2010. She died after a long illness on October 6, 2014, in her Manhattan apartment and is survived by her daughter, three grandsons and her brother, Timothy. Seldes requested that no funeral or memorial service be held, but donations can be made to The Julliard School, which has a scholarship in her name, called the Marian Seldes Drama Scholarship.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay